. . . . . . . Supervalent Thought


After Eve, in honor of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

On February 25, 2010, a small symposium gathered at Duke University to honor Eve Sedgwick.  There were four formal speakers—me, Tyler Curtain, Maurice Wallace, and Robyn Wiegman—and then many other testifiers and memorialists.  We were all listeners.  It was a moving and interesting night. As there were no plans by the event sponsors to publish the talks, the participants thought they’d like some record of their part in it to be part of a publicly held history not only of Eve, but of many overlapping affectional and discourse worlds.  We decided to publish them here and put out the word.  After the jump, After Eve…

after eve

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My friend Patrick
November 7, 2008, 1:58 am
Filed under: Attachment, Ordinariness, Theory of this Blog, writing | Tags: , ,

My friend Patrick W. Welch died a few weeks ago, and I’m still kind of miserable about it, and unsure if it’s appropriate to upload news of it to my research blog without processing it conceptually, as I do in so many previous posts and as I’ve tried and failed to do in relation to this event on a number of occasions.  It’s one of these events that doesn’t produce permission to tell a retroactive story explaining how his life added up to x, y, or z.  So I will just lead you to this, this, and this, more or less verbal ellipses to a situation whose unfolding into genre will just have to be attended to in slow time.  Did you notice, by the way, how very many people responded to Obama’s win by thinking about how the dead would have felt?  Someone must write about that.

PS:
Patrick W. Welch: Art Legend
Miniature Paintings 1997-2007

Saturday, December 6, 2008 6-9 pm
1407 E. 54th Place
(Laura Schaeffer’s home-based gallery, as yet nameless)
(773) 363-5935



Credibility and Incredibility

My recent work is about resistance to change, but tracks optimism, I think, because its persistence points to a glitch in the subject’s commitment to repeat that cluster of habits she recognizes as “her” personality. A glitch, as I say in my newest chapter, is an interruption amidst a transition. Ever since that Nation episode (see entry below) I’ve been torn, torn, torn. Do I want to write more like that? I’ve had an offer to do more. So part of my brain has been phrasing whatever I think in the idiom of the memorable, the pithy, and the visceral. I am having terrible polemicist envy.

If I were to do the journalism, I would want to be thinking about recasting what the good life might come to mean in the face of the bad life facing us down, the shocking, ordinary overpresence of violence in and toward bodies politic, and the increasing scarcity of nature-as-resource. I would want to be imagining how to produce a pragmatic world for an imaginary that sustains a better image of social reciprocity, a version of the kinship of care without the xenophobia of so much easily imagined belonging. And to produce a greater attachment to the kind of economic justice that would make the rich poorer, and the poor more secure.

All of that’s not yet in my vernacular skill set, however. Work is always in regress before it’s in progress. But, in that register, I can say something uncynical about political affectivity–that is, about normativity and its others, about how viscera are trained, bodies calibrated, vigilance honed, mixed feelings managed, toward remaining fluid in and making sense of a world that is both crumbling and enduring, full of obstacles and lubricants, as people make ways to live on in it.

I may follow this with versions of two columns that might or might not end up there.

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Writing Light

And how hard it is to do. I tried, in the last post, to say something about secrecy.

I don’t even care about secrecy, usually, because the scenario of exposing what’s unjustly censored has always seemed overdramatic to me, a distraction: all communication amounts to a defense, a performance of knowledge management that approximates some parts of reaching out to a thing while bracketing out others; and when information is hoarded to consolidate power, often the fact of the hoarding is overemphasized (Lies and Lying Liars, etc.) relative to the substance that was hoarded in power’s treasury (see etymology in the last post).

Think about the word “disclosure.” In the event of the revelation of the secret it just feels big because it reveals that control over history and the present has already been stolen from you (or the body politic), and thus the revelation delivers a quadruple shock (we discover and are forced to adjust to the news that we have not known a particular thing, nor known how to read the world, after all).

But I’d read an article that had excited me, and I wanted to report on how reading a thing had opened me up to a cluster of associations and bridging energies to do with my older work on the new state realism that embraces coping with terrorist secrecy by copying it and papers I’m going to write this spring countering some traditions of everyday life theorizing about encountering the present. The event of the secret, its meaning and force, is, paradoxically, how it’s shared. That was the animating revelation for me. Continue reading



George Kress, of Winder GA

The Minneapolis Airport today was stacked so deep with returning travelers that the security lines backed up across the walkway into the connecting building. I left my people at the curb in a rush with barely a kiss, though we were hours early: it was lucky, too, that I’d been anxious. In front of me an older white couple–a very large man and a smaller woman, random gray hair and a henna flip–were joking about the weather in Minnesota. I asked where they were from and we were off. It was one of those real conversations where so much gets said but it’s all in the shadow of the threat of a break should any of us stumble into the wrong tone. After the pressure to keep it going lifts it’s hard to remember what the event was, apart from the dodged bullets.

An encounter like this is an opening, but what kind? Does it eat its tail or does it matter, diluting what would otherwise be a future aversion to that kind of stranger? Once someone I met on an airplane googled me a decade later to say that he was still praying for me. Another time I got an email years later from a woman whose depression I helped lift by talking about class and loneliness and being educated out, then recommending Carolyn Steedman. On the way to Australia last year, I was adopted by an anesthesiologist from Sidney named Ian, a tiny man. He was a competitive ballroom dancer whose heart had just been broken by a golddigger, and who thought he might die from it–he’d even consulted cardiologists about it. He was traveling to competitions rather than dying–that’s what he said. He had invited me to be his guest in the Admiral’s Club because I helped him to find our gate. While there I got an email from a friend whose husband had just dumped her and she was in a heap: I reported this to him and told him I thought about love for a living, and out came the story about his broken heart and his friends not understanding how he could love this woman with all her aliveness, and I could give him that, patience with his need to be near her life drive, and with the difficulty of detaching from his optimism, compromised as its object might be. He had been a widower; she made him feel effective. Eventually she started internet dating on the sly. I always fancy that a remembered encounter might rezone the imaginary a bit. On the other hand there’s that post-adrenalin amnesia.

Minnesota led to Colorado Springs which led to Atlanta, which isn’t as good as Colorado Springs (but it was great because “the snow comes down hard and the next day it’s gone”). Snow and ice led to global warming (“they” have “agendas” to create crisis); faux global warming crisis led to faux health crises like Alzheimer’s (there were always “loonies,” what’s the big deal?). I sort of concurred, musing that the rhetoric of crisis is often used to describe long-term conditions. But I mentioned that as usual the poor would suffer from it all much worse , and talked about Jim’s cancer, the incredible labor and expense of it all, and how haunted I am at every minute imagining what would have happened if he were poor and/or alone, as surely I and so many are and will be.

At that point the conversation became more possible. Health care in Atlanta is in crisis for the poor: recently only one hospital was left to take care of the uninsured, and almost went out of business. It’s losing 11 million dollars a month. The state stepped in, now there’s equal opportunity immiseration for the institutions. The wife suggests that meanwhile, the poor keep not buying insurance. Me: well, why blame the poor for not buying insurance they can’t afford? Why should the rich live longer than the poor? She says, “Exactly.” He says “That’s the way it’s always been,” but before I could jump in to say that the endurance of injustice isn’t a good argument for it, he said: “I went to two tours in ‘Nam and I tell my kids, don’t talk to me about the poor till you’ve lived with them, lived on a half a cup of rice and some beans for three days.” I have to admit that he seemed to grow taller to me as he told this story–but we were turning a corner, and I was bending to get my bags too.

We talk about global misery, Asia and the Southern Hemispheres. He moves onto politics. “I tell my friends, get used to it, Hillary’s going to be the next president, Madam President, and that’s the way it should be because look at the difference between Bill and Bush, when Bill was in office we all made money and Bush is bankrupting us all.” He said, “the way I see it, the middle class pays for everything. With a Republican, we give all our money to the rich; with a Democrat, we give all our money to the poor. And a rich man never opened a door for me.” I laughed in delight and said I’d tell that to my students when I was trying to teach them about class, and later he gave me his card so I could quote him by name: George Kress, of Winder GA.

At some point, because this is all a blur, I asked if he had a problem with Hillary (since I do, politically) and he said, I don’t have a problem with women taking charge, and his wife grins, play pushes at him, and says, that’s right you don’t, because you took care of your brothers and sisters and you learned some things, and I said, what did you learn? “My father died when I was 14,” he said. His father cut aluminum sheet for walls and roofs and put George to work when he was six years old: “six years old with cut legs and crawling into places the men couldn’t go, it’s not right.” And “I told my children what do you want, to be down there sweating or using your heads?” And his wife says, “We have five college graduates.” I said, so you didn’t build the business for your kids to take over? George: “Hell, no!”



Supervalent Thought

Think about a phrase that resonates. A supervalent thought is a thought whose meaning resides not only in its explicit phrasing, but in the atmosphere of intensity it releases that points beyond the phrase, to domains of the unsaid. It’s a pressure. A supervalent thought produces an atmosphere, disturbs modes of apprehension, consciousness, and experience. It wedges things while inducing leaking. It’s a resource and a threat.

It’s a concept from Freud’s Dora. Freud uses it to describe an expressed thought (I don’t love you) that covers up a concealed thought that is its opposite (I love you). But the spirit of the concept is that in the penumbra an ideation, a sensed concept, generates all kinds of contradictions that can be magnetized to induce an impact beyond what’s explicit or what’s normative.