Monday, October 8, 2012

The Habitual

I am intrigued by the relationship that Berlant touches on between affect and the habitual. When she discusses the object of attachment as a safety-deposit box for personal sovereignty (which is a really compelling image), she points out that the distribution of that sovereignty through time, among other dimensions, allows its enormity to be diffused. Regarding Ashbery's poem, she suggests that the moment of interruption is a suspension of habit, and hence one of time itself insofar as habit scaffolds a narrative by which time can be measured.

I liked this: " has been interrupted and, as Badiou would say, seized by an event that demands fidelity" -- in the footnote she indicates that the object of fidelity is the totality of unknown possibilities (which is equivalent to sovereignty?), which I suppose leads to the total suspension. This works with both definitions of 'fidelity', that of loyalty as well as the degree of resolution of a representation. The digital sampling rate, the width of the slice by which an infinity of reality is composed as information, is analogous to this apprehension of reality into operable components.

That, I think, gives rise to this relationship between time and "having". She quotes Marx: "In the place of all physical and mental sense there has therefore come the sheer estrangement of all these senses, into the sense of _having_. The human being had to be reduced to this absolute poverty in order that he might yield his inner wealth to the outer world..." (31) The object is perceived as existing through time and about which we can organize habit, even as this maintenance ultimately becomes mortally tiring.

So I wonder if Berlant is saying that the work of habit is to diffuse a totalizing affect, as she states, in relation to Lefebvre, that "Habit produces a freedom for thought beyond immediacy," (63) a freedom which seems like it is a liability. Bordowitz desires to "live in the performative present of active consciousness and not in the narrative rollout of corporeal decay" (62) -- he's forced into sense-making rhythm, even as others rely on the form of their attachments (which is habitual) as a means of establishing some "continuity of the subject's sense of what it means to keep on living on and to look forward to being in the world," (24) but he recognizes that this isn't really living.

It's unclear to me whether all habit is necessarily reductive, decaffeinated, the same thing as cruel optimism itself, or if one can actually transmute the suspended, affective, sovereign moment into "an alternative ethics of living" that avoids optimism. (36) Where are those ethics found that don't deteriorate again into indifference? In Exchange Value, to "extend the moment to activity" (36) certainly proves too much, and I wonder if to succeed would almost approach something like Kierkegaard's Knight of Faith or even a Buddhist worldview.

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