fraughtness

It is past one in the morning and for the last few hours I have been madly trying to put the finishing touches on a job application for an academic position. Over the past several weeks I have been feeling pressure from a number of people I know to get a job in academia. From aquaintences and colleagues at the State of Industry conference to the most intimate of relationships that are very dear to me. I have felt savaged by their explicit bewilderment and brash questions about why I am not working in academia, their well-intentioned assertions that I should be an academic, and the implication that I am basically wasting my time in my current job.

All of this is probably true. Yet I realised tonight as I have been writing my responses to the Key Selection Criteria that I am basically not yet ready. My biggest problem is that I have not demonstrated my expertise. To do this I need to publish. My greatest error has been to treat academia as an intellectual pursuit. It is not. I have over-invested in my capacity to intellectualise anything, to critically engage with it, to use highly esoteric, but powerful social and philosophical theories and to develop my own conceptual tools to genuinely understand social and cultural phenomena. None of this really matters when it comes time to get a job. I need to play the game. This shall involve me going to war, to mobilise and redirect my energies in a slightly different way.

I need to publish from my PhD, rather than simply having a list of interesting but non-expertise-based scholarly and quasi-scholarly (ie blog) publications. Most of my journal articles published have little or nothing to do with the core focus of my Phd. I am beginning to understand that the ruthlessness I have been cultivating in my current capitalist workplace needs to be redirected towards myself and my intellectual pursuits. I can feel an encroaching sadness born of the fact I need to relinquish my naive appreciation of scholarly work and recognise that it must be framed in terms of the current discourse of outcomes. I need to be ruthless with my own thinking, harness it, exploit it and produce outcomes.

What are my outcomes? I need to demonstrate them. I need to go to war against myself.

Maybe I am becoming an adult.

On being a fugitive from love

Ressentiment is a reassignment of the pain that accompanies a sense of one’s own inferiority/failure onto an external scapegoat. The ego creates the illusion of an enemy, a cause that can be “blamed” for one’s own inferiority/failure. Thus, one was thwarted not by a failure in oneself, but rather by an external “evil.”

There are a few different conceptions of ressentiment and its wikipedia page is pretty good at outlining the different definitions. As the above brief description explains, ressentiment is a projection onto the world of a painful relation of one’s self to one’s self. Most people have focused on the question of identity, of the distribution of ill will and the construction of the ‘external scapegoat’. Deleuze isolates three characteristics of Neitzsche’s ‘ressentiment’:

Deleuze interpreting Nietzsche’s conceptualization of ressentiment discusses three characteristics. First, there is the inability to admire, respect or love. Second, there is passivity. Third, there is the imputation of wrongs, the distribution of responsibilities and perpetual accusation. (Deleuze, 1983).

I have encountered ressentiment in myself a number of times and I have documented it here in different ways. Here are the top posts from my blog. There are many other instances on the topic, but not in such a sustained way. It shows that I have not really changed the way I understand ressentiment.

1. Singular Complementarity, June 17, 2005

In this post I discuss how falling in love is not a relation between two people, but the folding of two already infinitely folded zones of intensity/sensation. In the second half of the post I warn of a danger.

There is a gamble in the meeting-gesture. This, of course, is the danger.

There are folds that are so worn and habitualised they become creases that scar the surface and will never be sufficiently folded in any other way again. They are the dead areas of the surface and within such proximities there is only darkness. Even if such dark areas are already infinitely folded they operate as blunt surfaces or jaggard formations of folds. These surfaces can become weaponised gestures that are weilded when the soft comfort of complementary folding becomes the acrimony of the crease. Each gesture ceases to be a meeting and becomes an attack of weaponised surfaces. The brightness of midday is eclipised by the shadows that form at dusk. In the end, the surfaces can be so dark even the attacks become empty and instead it simply becomes the meeting of shadows. However, here and now nothing is final.

Joy can only be reclaimed by a gesture, a meeting that forms complementary folds at the speed of sensation. If all one ever brings are weaponised surfaces that are blunt and jaggard and which carry the expectation of an anxious folding to be wrought upon and by the Other so as to render a complementarity, then joy is short lived. Eventually all that is left is a blunt and jaggard surface.

Rather than the meeting of supple folds, a love born of ressentiment is born of complementary dead zones of intensity. People turn these hard jaggard surfaces of themselves to the world as a defence. The only antidote is more love and the strength and courage to envelope an other’s folds into the supple folds of your heart.

2. Now, letting go, July 5, 2005

This post was inspired by pretty epic breakup (got dumped in the US) and the song Mr Brightside by The Killers.

Destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes
‘Cause I’m Mr Brightside

The Killers track captures in a beautiful lyrical manner the required disposition for engaging with the world again after having one’s heart broken and allowing one’s self to refold the world into one’s self anew. I am currently listening to this track on repeat as a kind of hipster mantra for warding off feelings of ill will. In the post I use the analogy of the Adam and God ‘just touching’ image of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and offer a somewhat heretical reading. What if Adam was ‘letting go’ of God? Anyway. ‘Letting go’ is a process:

Sure, part of you dies, and it is gone forever, only to be resurrected in un/pleasant dreams. But there is a joy in ‘letting go’. There is. The world is refolded into one’s self. Instead of a short circuit of desire between your self and an other, the circuit opens up to the world. Another part of the world is born and that is what needs care. The eager to-come of Destiny that never does, for it is always becoming on the bright side of our souls. […]
The pain of letting go and the necessary disaffection that allows one’s self to let go of one’s past copy. We are always somewhere in between. Between two copies of ourselves. Letting go of you means letting go of my self. […]
To allow ourselves to refold the world into our selves again. This is what I now welcome and care for, like a wandering stranger whom I have chanced upon: the new stranger of my self in the world.

Wow, that last sentence is killer. I am a pretty good writer sometimes!

3. produce openings on the world October 27, 2007

I return to the common theme here of welcoming the world into myself, producing openings on the world. I draw on the famous symptomology of post-war US culture David Riesman of three ‘character’ types: tradition-directed, inner-directed, and other-directed. Riesman’s three character types are interesting because of their processual nature; they are not innate traits, but capacities of subjectivity evident only through interaction. I have large block quotes from the text to describe what these are, but the relevant bit is towards the bottom of the post, where I describe a woman of ressentiment:

Sometimes the clash between characters exists in a single person. How to produce openings on the world that aren’t filtered through the tortured, guilt-ridden ‘gyroscope’ of the ‘inner-directed’ character? It requires so much work and patience. Sometimes too much. Sometimes it is necessary to give up and accept the fact that being ‘inner-directed’ produces a resource of a sort of strength, which is entirely destructive, but which at least allows the person to exist in the world and continue struggling in impossible situations. When all recourse is exhausted then it is terribly sad especially when beautiful and intelligent people lock away the world from themselves and will never know what it means to be part of something much larger. It is terribly sad when someone becomes this character, and cannot face the world.

I do offer a description of a kind of feminist Ãœbermensch (for purely selfish reasons, because they are as sexy as fuck):

There is nothing sexier than a woman who knows her place in the world. This does not mean she subjugates herself to patriarchal norms. Rather she uses that knowledge to orientate herself in creative and life-affirming ways. Normally this requires an infrastructure of education or the grace of intuition.

4. she left the bit with the most toast crumbs, September 5, 2009

In this post I explore the more complex problem of producin new openings on the world so as to enable new foldings of the world to ‘take’ or ‘develop’

Anyway, the counter-intuitive point I have been trying to think through is the way the development of new intimacies can awaken both old and new estrangements. Folding new and exciting elements of the world into the composition of my subjectivity has somehow made me reassess my solitary existence as instead being one of loneliness. When you meet new people or rediscover old friendships you are not simply becoming intimate (at whatever degree from romantic to almost sibling-like and everything in between) you do not simply form a relation with a person as an object, but a person as a fold of the cosmos and folds of folds, whole universes of meaning.
All of this has happened over a matter of weeks and is a bit surreal, so I have come to a number of tentative, but nevertheless sufficient stop-gap conclusions.
1. The miasma of estranged intimacies and intimate estrangements I am currently experiencing is a powerful force. ‘Miasma’ in the sense of the ancient Greek ‘pharmakon’ (from which ‘pharmacy’ is derived), which can be both poison and medicine depending on the measure. Ethically I need to harness this force and use it to soberly affirm something good in the world. In this circumstance, the ‘good’ is mostly personal in character.
2. I need to be brave to affirm this force. I am brave, almost to the point of stupidity sometimes, so that is ok.
3. I need to learn to appreciate new estrangements and new intimacies whatever their composition, both the potential (that is, imagined future states of) disappointment and excitement are part of this. I am trying to do this through measures of active ‘letting go’ and ‘embracing’, rather than a paranoid-reactionary ’slipping by’ or ‘clingingness’.

There is a complexity to this process, one that requires care and, above all, patience, to let the other person or people fold the world in their own time.

5. letting go, embracing, the world

So most recently, how to ward off my own ressentiment:

I am pretty hardcore when it comes to enduring what life throws my way. It is easy when I feel contempt for most of the world and all the stupidities that it contains. I guess it is easier to think about what I won’t do.

I offer a list of axioms for warding off ressentiment, the full descriptions of each of these are in the blog post:

I won’t stop falling in love.
I won’t stop rolling the dice.
I won’t fret about not understanding.
I won’t stop inviting people into my world.
I won’t stop listening to special songs.
I won’t stop writing my poem.

What I have forgotten about ressentiment is the temporal dimension. There is a contradictory movement of dispising the present while being incapable of imagining the future or past, because any kind of temporal relation is derived from a projection of the present, ie ‘This painful present will continue” “This present is a repetition of the past, nothing changes.” This is why it is so hard to imagine a new opening on the world and a different way of relating to the world, because you become literally locked in time.

To break free of ressentiment means to break time itself; to go to war against all possible futures and all possible pasts that suck life out of itself.

Relationality and Causation

It is not human consciousness that distorts the reality of things, but relationality per se. Heidegger’s tool-analysis unwittingly gives us the deepest possible account of the classical rift between substance and relation. When something is ‘present-athand,’ this simply means it is registered through some sort of relation: whether perceptual, theoretical, practical, or purely causal. To be ‘ready-to-hand’ does not mean to be useful in the narrow sense, but to withdraw into subterranean depths that other objects rely on despite never fully probing or sounding them. When objects fail us, we experience a negation of their accessible contours and become aware that the object exceeds all that we grasp of it. This predicament gives rise to the theme of vicarious causation.

Graham Harman’s theory of vicarious causation has been copping a battering around the blogging traps recently. Rightly so. The example he provides of perceiving a pine tree is utterly contradictory. Why should the objectness of the pine tree be defined by the human-centric practice of perception? Surely the great pine tree philosophers equally misguided as Harman would lament our status as not ‘real’ objects because of our inability to ‘perceive’ the sun as a form of energy production. We only have a ‘reality’ and not merely sensuous objects when we become enemies of the trees and attack them with axes and chainsaws.

I agree with the first line in the above quote 100%. To pursue ‘objects’ from this initial thought is incorrect and leads to an impossible theory of causation. It is not human consciousness but relationality per se that ‘distorts’ or, as I prefer, produces the reality of things. There is only ‘sensuousness’ or affect and the capacity to be affected. Harman has inherited a conception of human thought as necessarily being an idealism; it is not. There is an affective threshold to thought. Thought develops through the body like an old photograph develops.

One last note, regarding this proposition from Harman:

CONTIGUITY. The various sensual objects in an intention lie side by side, not affecting one another. Only sometimes do they fuse or mix. Within certain limits, any sensual object’s neighbors can be shuffled and varied without damaging the identity of that object, as when drifting mists do not interfere with my focus on the tree.

‘Only sometimes’? How about ‘Only in reality as reality’? What I realised during my PhD and am now thinking about again for a book on ‘enthusiasm’ is that intensive relationality has a problematic contiguity. Proximity is not a function of spatial or spatialised-temporal intimacy, it is only in this ‘sometimes’ (that Harman speaks of), which is actually the temporality of Kairos (as per Negri’s essay), does reality ‘develop’ itself into a baroque architecture of events through various (virtual) threshold-singularities.