Friday, January 27, 2006

social affect contact


re your guilt justice traffic post, this started getting too long for your comment box so i'm putting it here with a link back to you instead. (obviously yours was a thought-provoking post for me!)

claudia rankine i think has a grove press book too with a blurb by charles bernstein if i remember right. (saw it once pretty cheap at labyrinth books in NYC up by columbia u but put it back, i dunno why, can't buy everything.) she also co-edited the american women poets of the 21st century book with juliana spahr which i'd LOVE to teach from sometime if somebody would give me a freakin chance.

the title Don't Let Me Be Lonely irks me because it assumes or places responsibility for one's own disposition upon others, which i think is a cop out. (go find someone to hang out with or not as you wish, i'm not gonna have to answer for it!) but it also makes a more basic appeal for human contact and interaction, which i'm all for.

the big words at stake i find intersting too but don't understand why "justice" should be (avoided?) excluded from the others, which largely seem to have again this affective component. certainly justice, and injustice, have realtime affective impacts on people's live to why not try so work through or reclaim that? anyway.

i have been thinking of the effects of the present political situation on the affective dimensions of our lives too, as poets and as people. i do have the feeling that there is this pallor that has come over us that makes it increasingly difficult to function, to get anyone to do anything. everyone's too tired, too spent, too burnt out, too dis-spirited. (i was thinking too: when has alternative poetry in DC thrived historically? during the tail end of the nixon years and through carter, and again at the tail end of the first bush years and through clinton into bush two. it had a less active/public face during the reagan years. i guess i'm just noticing something and not making a hard-and-fast argument that alternative poetry thrives in DC when liberals are in power, but at the same time i do remember well the horrible feeling that came over everything -- it was like this palpably weighty grey film -- when judicial activism put this president in the white house, and it's a wonder we've been able to do as much as we have here lo these six years.)

and so i find the "return of affect" in poetry discussions rather odd. i like what chris nealon has said about forms of address and the intimacy innate to them. social interaction, even just basic contact -- jakobson's "phatic" mode, the "hello hello?" of just making sure that channels are open and functioning -- seems to me very important and perhaps all that's really left in desparate times. perhaps i'm thinking in the back of my mind too about the recent film Downfall, about the final weeks in hitler's bunker, in which there is no genuine emotion: all is for show, masking the robotic helplessness through which the motions of life are made. (in fact there's even an surfeit of emotion. and the bush dynasty has not cornered the market on this -- think back to bill clinton's "i feel your pain" -- they've only perfected it.)

so while i find nothing revolutionary whatsoever about emotion and sentiment (which are positively everywhere in our culture in their cheapest garden variety), there is perhaps something revolutionary about human interaction, as you and rodrigo were saying (an aside: for all who attended the MLA poetry and politics panel i've heard not a single word in report of what transpired therein) but i'd want to qualify that in some substantial ways. first, i'd say that it's human interaction in which lies not the revolutionary moment but the radical moment -- getting down to the root of the matter, having stripped away first the disingenous level of emotionality and second the robotic helplessness in order to arrive, hopefully, at the most basic and intimate form of address (ginsberg's "i'm addressing you" from the poem "america") that is contact and checking-up with the other and to proceed from there.

second, i would not want to turn that human interaction (what i think you're calling "the social") over to something like complaining about what a jerk my boss is, as an instance of "the passive-aggressive structure of all bureaucracies." it's only from a certain social position (namely having a job) that complaining about what a jerk my boss is has any pretense of being a revolutionary moment of social interaction. it interests me about as much as people complaining about the traffic on their commute home: it's too easy, pointing to these powerful forces out there that are persecuting me. (note: i'm not saying you're doing this, i'm just responding to what you wrote.) i was really disheartened recently to read c. wright mills, one of the new left's godfathers, making these kinds of claims in the fifties (esp. in his book The Power Elite) only to have them taken up by the right and used against us even today. (to end affirmative action for example.) like i had a student see me the other day about an autoethnography that he has to write, he wants to talk about skateboarding culture as this marginalized and misunderstood form of practice. lots of interesting potential here, i was trying to get him to think about literacy as the way to decrease misunderstandings and whatnot, and he started to say how the cops "persecute" him and his friends, and he had to stop and correct himself: "well, not really 'persecuted,' but..."

and third, i would not want to position the radical moment of human interaction as something that takes place to the exclusion of the barricades. that is, i would want that we have, make and keep contact and use that to draw strength for resistance. the difficulty is locating the real barricades, or ones that can be realistically challenged. i kinda stopped going to protests here in DC once i realized that it's the same people running the show time and time again, that in a sense even this form of resistance is already bought and paid for. so imagine what's going on, the levels of deception and manipulation on the other side! and i've rejected the notion of "speaking truth to power." if anything this president has proven loud and clear is that power does not give a shit about truth and speaking truth to power does no good because power does not listen.

i'd rather the human contact, the social, be the source of a productive energy that can build resistance, rather feelings of powerlessness or guilt. i'm not actually sure what to do with guilt. (and after -- or because of? -- all that catholic school!) i don't think i'm interested in rendering it productive as an antidote to letting it eat away at your insides. i think i'd just rather acknowledge its existence and draw on something else.

in the little grocery store down the alley from me -- right across from the old ruthless grip arts project apparently -- as i was getting the last of my stuff i could hear this person in the store yelling about how "saddam keeps calling me up on the phone but there's nothing i can do for him until i get stable." this was a man or woman, i couldn't be sure cuz the voice was high enough but the physical features were kinda male, but anyway with alcohol on the breath, clearly homeless ("stable" was referring to domestic but possibly also medical situation) but nevertheless making some pretty cogent claims about how saddam was not responsible for 9/11 -- this "crazy" person clearly gets it in ways that a majority of "real americans" don't -- and that the black folks know what it's like to be used and then kicked in the ass by the white man. and i was agreeing with this person, adding my 2 cents and all, and they he or she said we're all just trying to be good and i said i know but unfortunately not everyone's like that. and then he or she said can i give you a kiss and then kissed me on the cheek.

literal contact -- more literal than i've meant herein, but you get the idea...


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