Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Nearly Home, Nearly Me

Watching the two Dardenne films and reading Lauren Berlant I began to feel as though I was coming increasingly close to being able to describe a general affect of my own existence that I had felt but been unable to further articulate. One of always running to catch up to the always displaced present, and in which pauses were marked both by a feeling of relaxation and guilt. To give up the chase seemed good for a moment but that moment was fleeting and the guilt of having let the present gain a further lead simultaneously motivated and depressed me. This is how I understand Berlant's idea of the crisis ordinary, as an inescapable and overwhelming experience of the world that is both exhausting but also through the work of cruel optimism, promises the potential of escape and is marks respites as "an episode in an environment that can well absorb and even sanction a little spontaneous leisure" and failing "to be able to extend the moment to activity that would dissolve the legitimacy of the optimism embedded in the now displaced world, with its promising proprietary zones, scenes, scapes, and institutions."

The idea of an elastic and thick present offered by Berlant, in which the present subsumes both past and future through their affective registration is both profoundly disturbing and possibly emancipatory. As Berlant notes at the end of her fifth chapter this mode of living which is evident in 
the subordinated sensorium of the worker, whose acts of rage and ruthlessness are mixed with forms of care, is an effect of the relation between capitalism's refusal of futurity in an overwhelmingly productive present and the normative promise of intimacy, which enables us to imagine that having a friend , or making a date, or looking longingly at someone who might, after all , show compassion for our struggles, is really where living takes place. (189)
This presents itself in everyday life in multiple ways. For example, more and more the question "how are you doing?" or its more coloquial and perhaps more apt form "how's it going?" have forced me into a pause, which invariably is overly drawn out and leads to no adequate answer. For how is one to express their opinion of events which have not yet occurred and whose presence has only been experienced affectively? This moment of attempting to take account of one's situation and allowing multiple affects to wash over one's sensorium simultaneously has the possibility to become the locus from which to realize alternate potentialities because of its openness. 

But this openness is problematized by cruel optimism's relationship of attachment and sovereignty thus explaining its disturbing and fleeting nature As Berlant states it, 
When one's sovereignty is delivered back into one's hands, though, its formerly distributed weight becomes apparent, and the subject becomes stilled in a perverse mimesis of its enormity. In a relation of cruel optimism our activity is revealed as a vehicle for attaining a kind of passivity, as evidence of the desire to find forms in relation to which we can sustain a coasting sentience, in response to being too alive. (43)
This response raises a larger question concerning the place of sovereignty in capitalism. The double movement of capitalism to simultaneously individuate and collectivize, to commodify the human, both in person and body, so that it is replaceable by others. This precarious position seems to force sovereignty into the realm of fantasy. But if sovereignty is a fantasy and one that is materially displaced from us, as Berlant notes cruel optimism forces the passing of "one's fantasy of sovereignty for safekeeping"into objects which can support its "distribution, the energy of feeling relational, general,
reciprocal, and accumulative" nature, how then is it that we gain agency even within openings, or to turn around Rosetta's fear, cracks that might allow a different understanding of living?

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