Wednesday, November 7, 2012

I Second that Emotion

In reading Ahmed's Cultural Politics of Emotion, it becomes clear that pain or, the less extremely negative term she switches to, discomfort, are crucial to the creation of affective economies and from those economies, agency. What is less clear is how the condition of crisis ordinariness effects these economies and the agents they produce.

In the crisis ordinary we are all hyperactive and hyper-distracted. With so many things demanding our attention, we become unable to comprehend, discover, or create causal relationships as all events are increasingly bound up in one another. How can we talk about the current fiscal crisis without also talking about the housing crisis, the auto crisis, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq? It is because of this situation that our experience becomes disjointed and schizophrenic resulting in our construction of possibly false relationships, conspiracy theories, and misunderstandings when we cannot find the causal relationships we are searching for. The structure of conspiracy theories is thus indicative of how we structure our understanding of the world. Like the conspiracy theorist we pick and choose from a vast field of "evidence" and through a process of assemblage construct a narrative which we then recast as the authentic experience, which as Jameson notes, is rarely if at all true. The footage of 9/11 curated by ABC is a prime example of this function. The stringing together of clips, which are connected by jump cuts rather than fluid transitions, as episodic elements is understood to convey the magnitude of the event in its totality. In many ways the somewhat cliche phrase, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, is applicable. In what ways would watching footage of the entire event from a single, stationary, camera change our understanding of the event, and possibly fail to capture what the assemblage of clips does? It is this part-whole relationship that is central to conspiracy theories. On their own any single piece of evidence is meaningless, but when placed in the context of the other pieces of evidence, the conspiracy emerges. The choice of ABC to cut from the footage of someone, presumably preparing to jump from the World Trade Center, to women expressing shock at something offscreen is one of the most affective decision in the creation of the collection, but it also one that only functions because of what we do not observe. Without actually seeing the person jump, or what the women are reacting to we are left to infer causality because of proximity temporally in the collection of footage. It is quite possible that the specific person shown did not jump, and that the women were reacting to something quite different. The same argument is put in more witty fashion in the clip below:

With this breakdown of causality in the condition of the crisis ordinary, how must we then rethink our relationship to pain? Ahmed's idea of impression and the way in which pain is constitutive of bodies, particularly their surfaces, as such, is predicated on the ability to differentiate between, or identify what caused the impression. An inability to do so would undermine the validity of the affective economy. It would be tantamount to introducing a counterfeit currency. In fact this is the same action she attributes to hate groups who construct an image of themselves as having been injured, even when they might not have been, and then attribute that injury to a specific group. Complication arises in crisis ordinariness because of the number, complexity, and overlapping nature of the impressions being made.  The difficulty we have in understanding causality, or even relationships in general disrupts our ability to  distinguish bodies, or to misattribute them. How is it that a large number of Americans have a negative view of muslims, or even have an image of them as a cohesive and homogeneous entity, all the members of which desire to destroy America? This disruption has the potential to undermine our individual agency because the information upon which we base our actions would be inaccurate. What become clear, is that if we are to think of discomfort as holding the possibility of producing agency, then the need for cognitive mapping, as called for by Jameson, is incredibly prescient.

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