. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought


Trump, or Political Emotions

I wrote this column in case anyone’s going to be teaching the election this fall.
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Trump, or Political Emotions

Dear America, if I read one more article about the Danger of Political Emotions in an election season (I mean you, Paul Krugman), I might take my own life.  If I do that and fail, will the state bring me up on charges the way it’s considering to do for Chelsea Manning, whose recent suicide attempt might be prosecuted?[1]  If Obama has an ounce of decency in him he’ll make that possibility quietly go away.

If x had an ounce of decency, x would deliver justice.  Such bad math, so emotional.  But politics is always emotional.  It is a scene where structural antagonisms—genuinely conflicting interests enforcing imbalances of power—are described in rhetoric that intensifies fantasy.

Here is the thesis of this piece, which is about the contemporary United States.  People would like to feel free. They would like the world to have a generous cushion for all their aggression and inclination. They would like there to be a general plane of okayness governing social relations.  It is hard for some to see that the “generous cushion for aggression” might conflict with the “general plane of okayness.”

When I listen to Donald Trump, I think he’s not wrong about some things, especially the awful neoliberal-Clintonian trade deals and bank deregulation that sold out the working class in the US because of a muddled idea that any wealth at all is a general social benefit.  But Donald Trump is our current best exhibit of two other pretty solid truths about politics, thinking, and feeling.

One is: A Good Account of a Problem Predicts Absolutely Nothing About the Value of a Solution.

I am a professor.  I have read three decades of essays that set up problems beautifully and then fall apart in the what is to be done section.  Sanders and Trump inflamed their audiences with searing critiques of Capitalism’s unfairness. Then what? Then Trump’s response to what he has genuinely seen is, analytically speaking, word salad. Trump is sound and fury and garble. Yet—and this is key—the noise in his message increases the apparent value of what’s clear about it. The ways he’s right seem more powerful, somehow, in relief against the ways he’s blabbing. Plus, apart from rebooting capitalism, nobody in mainstream politics is that visionary about what to do, because everyone has to be patriotic toward capitalism, since that’s come to stand for freedom.

Two: the second thing about Trump is that Trump is free.

You watch him calculating, yet not seeming to care about the consequences of what he says, and you listen to his supporters enjoying the feel of his freedom. See the brilliant interviews on Samantha Bee’s Full Frontal, where RNC conventioneers say, over and over: We’re for Trump because he’s not politically correct, PC has harmed America, and you think, people feel so unfree.[2]

Let’s sit with that.

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This Week in Shakes (more Hundreds)

My friend Martha Howard asked me to post my experiment with shakes. I might post others.  There’s a lot of variety among them, as you can already see from the last few posts.
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This Week in Shakes

Monday

The protein drink is a chalky substance diluted and well-enough flavored that a small store sample persuades you that you would drink it at home–only to find at home that, no matter how much attention you’d paid at the time, you can’t get the makeup to look as good or the hair to fall again the way it did at the original moment of optimism. I had committed to two tubs of vegan breakfast powder. One recalled the fleck of inhaled bugs and the other a bully pushing my face down thoroughly into tough wet dirt.

When it comes to experiments I commit my mouth. Five months of unquenchably pasty tongue prison ran out finally and I leaped to acquire seven new shake packs full of promise and percentages. Today: Vega One all-in-one nutritional shake in French Vanilla: 50% of daily intake vitamins & minerals, 15 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber & 1.5 grams of omega 3, plus antioxidants, probiotics and greens. Dairy, gluten & soy free, no sugar added, and 135 calories.  Complete daily essentials to help you thrive. Good for your body and the planet: clean . . . without compromise. The ampersand’s shortcut efficiency figures negativity baroquely.

My shake was green.  The world has not enough water for everyone, nor amounts sufficient to dilute this shake so that its flavor could be rejoined at the party after the chaos of getting in, finding the room with the coats, and moving outside for a quick smoke. Vanilla is a tart baby when you drink it from the bottle and a teasing allusion if you bite the bark. Vanilla is also the sex you slide into, the pleasant-event of that hand again there, or the feeling of feet arching. My tongue sought out but never landed.

Tuesday

The dread of another virtue-breakfast was nuked today by politics, a painful turn of need and interest towards hypervigilance. There was a Punch and Judy Show with all the thrill and erotic boredom of your average sexual antagonism. Punch called Judy a vampire, and then Judy threw her feminism hard, knocking his need to eat the brains he also finds repulsive.  The mob of tweeting lurkers verged with stakes for theory’s heart.

Disgust and love keep me very quiet. The chocolate version of yesterday’s foul mud was eleven additional calories, which will today be soundly punished for my own good.

Wednesday

Last night was spent battling the cat’s episodic loneliness and so this exhausted morning’s Vega Energizing Smoothie was an especially dreadful prospect, reminding me that the verb “to stomach” shows that bodies have not only their own ideas but radically private sovereign tongues. Vanilla Almondilla offers as its main gift what it doesn’t have: dairy, gluten & soy free, no sugar added.  In the Coke Zero era the ideal contribution of a food is its subtraction of dark consequences from pleasure.  90 calories, 10 grams of protein.  Xanthan gum is the aspartame of the health shake, which is also green.

Thursday

The iPad reads aloud in the kitchen this morning while I pull things together. Voice Dream offers a woman’s halting, nasal phonetic literalism to relay a scholarly book on comedy, preferring spectacle’s excesses to narrative’s enchainments. My naked partner enters the white room holding the ginger cat.  He wonders, is it the Russian model of narrative where y is the effect of x or the Aristotelian one of intensities, reversals, and consequences? Raw Protein Beyond Organic Protein Formula features Bob Marley Brand coffee: it is free of gluten, dairy, soy, fillers, artificial flavors, and good ones. I can’t stop laughing.

Friday

I spent the last night alone and so the morning was like a hotel morning with its shapeless offer of waking without obligation to be a particular way. The noise of a mind open to a limited formlessness makes breathing and blinking worth nothing in particular, and I considered taking a break from breakfast altogether because of the quiet. But the night’s move through finitude required some pause after I lifted my head up and laughed at how turtle that everyday stretching is. I say to myself get ahold of yourself.  The Vega Energizing Tropical Smoothie was wonderful, a wonder.

Saturday

I’m well-acquainted with the genre of the Skype dinner date with old lovers. After recipe hunting left me numb, today’s shake was my dinner protein, Vega Reparative in Berry–a revoltingly sweet attempt at Nestle’s Quick Strawberry. I reenacted to my love a scene from Domestic Violence of an old white woman telling stories on her husband, a college professor who had so abused her that she saw an angel flying round her room looking down kindly from the high white ceiling to offer advice. “I know I’m crazy,” she says softly, with her rice-paper skin like mica, pixillated, awry.

Sunday

The woman with Parkinson’s swims everyday and each day seems to diminish a little, which I sense because she always wears the same pants, of a slightly burnt orange hue. Bending stretches things out, so don’t presuppose, I tell myself, knowing that in the future a snapshot of this naked gym tableau might well portray a secret no-one could have known. We used to talk about her bad back, which we now have nostalgia for. She laughs at my Amazing Meals shake, with its grainy and delicious austerity. I dash it down as though it matters that it gets somewhere.



The Pathetic Imperative

Yesterday while driving to MLA to meet a friend whose family is slowly being worn to a nub–car accidents, drug abuse, suicide, and “natural causes” mark the meanwhile during which she’s gotten tenure, become a Buddhist, found and left lovers, considered getting another Ph.D, or writing three books, or changing jobs or buying more flats (in other words, her head’s full of noise even as her mouth sounds so clear)–a commercial came on the radio selling conscience and commitment towards foster kids.

In an age of increasing fear that new generations will fare worse than the ones that begat them, foster kids and certain populations of adoptee (bad luck if you’re born in Romania and good luck if you’re born in India) are not only being shunned as resources for family-making by the infertile but marked as populations so damaged from the get-go, so incapable of giving or receiving love, that it’s not worth cultivating individuals who hail from them. The exceptions are striking, as this segment on Romanian adoption from “Unconditional Love” attests: but the exceptions, the kids without devastating attachment disorder, can never really shake the seconds mark invisibly lasered on their foreheads. The brutal ease with which these humans are written off as unworthy of optimism slays me.

I’ve been reading lots about this problem of impaired attachment: that’s one of the research lines this blog will be tracking. A great assessment of the state of the neuropsychoanalytic literature can be found in recent work on “The Children of Duplessis,” orphans who were named mentally ill and institutionalized by the Canadian government in league with the Catholic Church (see bibliography below). Articulating neuropsychology and attachment theory, some contemporary work on these children is in its own way heartbreaking, as it tries gamely to show that not all subjects of trauma are traumatized by it, and that what happens in life can work dynamically, alleviatingly, with what didn’t happen during the child’s first 3-5 years (appropriate and reliable levels of stimulation and comfort whose absence can fundamentally change for the worse the capacities and responsivity managed by the hyppocampus and the amygdala). The plasticity of the brain works for and against the capacity to develop attachments as life goes on; the plasticity of the brain isn’t infinite, but expressed in changes to patterning, and as we know, personality is pattern, a cluster of habits, that is very hard to change and very hard to want to change.

So maybe not all traumatic events produce trauma for their addressees; perhaps all traumatized subjects don’t manifest the encounter the same way; perhaps it’s just a small percentage whose depression not just won’t but can’t respond to treatment. I can’t help but think that the widespread fear of a hardwired mental unhealth that can’t be undone, interfered with, managed, or turned toward flourishing is a symptom of some deeper knowledge people have about how uncapacious and maladaptive the world is to everyone, not just those who can’t perform the normative imperatives to produce and reproduce. I like using words like flourishing and capaciousness as a metric for what the conditions of social life ought to provide, because they seem so irrelevant to the tightening gyre that replaces the liberal/capitalist promise of building a good life with tinnily optimistic instructions for making, holding onto, and surviving the loss of a fragile one.

The commercial hit me so hard that I can’t remember it. Young kids with optimistic voices edited together in increasing density and speed said that they were foster kids (also called “waiting kids” in the literature) to whom no one has a primary commitment, that they had love to give and needs to receive it. The commercial ended with all of the young voices saying the phrase “Please don’t give up on us” with emphasis on the please and the pleading and with increased intensity that mimed, performed, and communicated anxiety.

Please don’t give up on us pleasedon’tgiveuponuspleasedon’tgiveuponuspleasedon’t…

The commercial reminded me of a belated response I had to Don’t Leave Me This Way, a great AIDS anthology I bought in the mid-1990s, one of the best ones next to Douglas Crimp’s AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism. At some point last summer I picked it up to browse and find out what I hadn’t yet learned and suddenly re-felt the anthem’s powerful disco realism about all the queer lives wasted, deemed incompetent and unworthy of intimacy and the good life, and then I started missing some individuals and the whole lot of the lost, and then, weeping, realized that the lyrics were the child’s lament about the adult world’s impaired attachments: Don’t leave me this way, I can’t survive, I can’t stay alive, without your love, don’tleavemethisway…

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Children of Duplessis CBC Archive

Wikipedia Entry on Duplessis Orphans

Perry et al, “Seven Institutionalized Children and their Adaptation in Late Adulthood: the Children of Duplessis.” Psychiatry 69 (4) 2006: 283-301.

Low and Eth, Commentary on “Seven Institutionalized Children and Their Adaptation in Late Adulthood: The Children of Duplessis.” In Psychiatry 69 (4) (Winter 2006): 314-321.