Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Here Now Is One Who Will Increase Our Loves: On the Virtues (and Loves) of Beautiful Singularities

Figure 1. Terminal at JFK Airport

I have written letters that are failures, but I have written few, I think, that are lies. Trying to reach a person means asking the same question over and over again: Is this the truth, or not? I begin this letter to you, then, in the western tradition. If I understand it, the western tradition is: put your cards on the table.—Amy Hempel, “Tumble Home”

We are neither present in the world nor absent from it.—Leo Bersani, “Psychoanalysis and the Aesthetic Subject”

I am recently back from New York City and the Medieval Club of New York’s panel, “Subjects of Friendship, Medieval and Medievalist,” and the experience—of the talks and commentary at the panel itself but also of hanging out in NYC with assorted [and lovely] persons I have known or am getting to know—has left me with more questions than I know how to answer as regards friendship, ethics, eros [broadly defined, for me, as a life-force, of which sexuality is only one powerful symptom], love, humanism, and the practices of our profession [the humanities, most broadly], all subjects that have been obsessing me of late, especially in relation to their inter- or disconnectedness with each other [and the cognitive dissonances that often result when they don’t “hook up,” and that we have to navigate every day in our traffic within the university, and elsewhere]. I have spent a long-ish amount of time reading the philosophy and theory of ethics, love, friendship, and sexuality [of course, my bibliography could never be complete], and I am feeling, finally, somewhat dissatisfied with the ideas, expressed variously by different thinkers, that my relationship to the Other [whether as someone for whom I am responsible or as someone I want to approach in love or friendship or desire] can only be accomplished through various acts of world- and self-cancellation and through leave-takings of the forms of embodiment with which I am most familiar [and for which my longing longs]. In some way [I have no idea how, really, so help me, please] I want to contest Leo Bersani’s notion that intersubjecvtivity, “as we have come to prize it in western culture . . . is a reining in, a sequestering, of our energies” [Homos, p. 124]. Or, as he also puts it, “Our complex views of intersubjectivity, nourished by an intricate consciousness of desire, have the effect of channeling our imagination of human relations into the narrow domain of the private” [p. 123]. And what is proposed, as an antidote to all this [and also to avoid a definition of “all relations as property relations”], is that
we move irresponsibly among other bodies, somewhat indifferent to them, demanding nothing more than that they be as available to contact as we are, and that, no longer owned by others, they also renounce self-ownership and agree to the loss of boundaries which will allow them to be, with us, shifting points of rest in a universal and mobile communication of being. [p, 128]
It is as if a certain de-familiarization is seen as prerequisite to truly seeing or experiencing the Other, friendship, love, sexuality, freedom, etc., and the will to de-familiarize could even be said to constitute the most insubordinate and revelatory act, one that allows everything, even history (especially history), to “come undone” and to also “come unstuck” from the “difference” that we write [often violently] upon all the forms that cross our field of vision, as forms, or figures. And the truest “community” could only be one “in which the other, no longer respected or violated as a person, would merely be cruised as another opportunity, at once insignificant and precious” [Homos, p. 129].

Yes, yes, yes, I know that everything—especially identities—as Bersani has written, “spill over” and that we “exist, in both time and space, in a vast network of near-sameness” [Homos, p. 146], and therefore, we should work very hard on new relational modes that would be, in a sense, beyond identity [with Bersani and other theorists’ “cruising” or Howie’s “think what it means to reach out in the dark” standing in as the best modes of “contact”—yet since I came of age, as it were, in the decadent gay bars and Act Up protests of Capitol Hill in the mid-1980s, I sometimes want more than the queer politics or queer ethics that always draws, for its metaphors, or inspiration, upon the material circumstances of the death-haunted and often mindless and drug-enhanced escapades of my youth—and yes, I said “mindless,” intentionally, because now, now I want the mind involved and saying that the best sexuality somehow has to involve the divestiture of the self is also like saying, how can I leave my mind behind? And why is it, whether we’re talking Plato or queer theory or theology, that escaping or shedding the self, which is also the mind which is also the body, is always seen as the best thing, the higher thing?]. And yet, I don’t want to let go of some kind of notion of identity that would be, hopefully, non-oppressive and open to its relational “allness” [as Bersani and Dutoit might say, pace Forms of Being], but which would also mark, in both time and space, the instance [or moment] of an always beautifully different singularity [or shining “oneness”—is this Bersani’s “point of rest
? I truly don’t know yet, but it could be and thereby I’d suture myself, again and again, to his thought].

And this is why, as Karl “outed” me in a recent comment to his post on “The Phoenix and the Turtle,” I do not believe that anyone or anything is “homo” [the same], and I hate the term homosexual [although, ostensibly, I am one]—could any term, similar to heterosexual, be so stupid and limiting as regards desire? To be truly “homo,” I would have to be in love [or in desire] with my clone, and let’s face it—that’s one step beyond incest; it would be the ultimate creepy encounter with the uncanny [yes, yes, I know I’m being too literal, but sometimes you have to be—let me do it sometimes, just sometimes]. The engine of desire is built on difference, or to put it another way, in the words of Elizabeth Grosz, “The ongoing production of individual differences is the internal motor, the ‘vitalist impetus’ of all of life” [The Nick of Time, p. 40]. Variation, my friends, variation, variation, variation, and this is why, as I stated at Kalamazoo last May, “we have never been homo, but we have always been hetero-queer.” [Now I suppose we could make the argument, though, that to limit one’s “mating” within a species group is a homo-ness of a type, but let’s save that discussion for another day.]

So, by way of a digression, after departing, mid-day, from Karl and Alison’s apartment in Brooklyn just this past Saturday, I ended up getting stranded at JFK airport overnight [due to the severe winter storms that had hit Ohio and Kentucky and other parts northeast]. In all of my traveling—and I have done a lot of that since I took my first overseas trip at 15 months—I have never had to stay overnight in a terminal. Of course, after seeing that my flight was cancelled [which did not become apparent until well into the evening after delays and more delays], my first instinct was to run to the nearest hotel, but since there was an outside chance I could get on a 6:00 am flight on Sunday morning, leaving the airport was not the best idea. I won’t lie: I ran through that gamut of clichéd and self-absorbed emotions that say, in one form or another: can my life get any worse than this? I want to kill myself. Why me? Why now? How will I ever survive these torments? Etc. Etc. That was for about ten minutes, maybe fifteen. Nothing is more absurd than this type of hyperbolic and misplaced self-pity. In short, it is not attractive. Then I called my friend Betsy and she reminded me that airport terminals are the perfect liminal spaces, and I should really indulge that, so I did. I proceeded to pick a vantage point from which I could watch everyone and also order martinis [the hangover the next day, my friends, the hangover], and basically . . . watch, and wonder. Yes, I like to watch, and to imagine. I imagined everyone’s private lives, the circumstances that might have brought them to this airport, and where they might be going, where they’ve been, what they’ve lost or gained, whether this is the day in which they, also stranded, reflect upon their recent losses and disappointments or upon their happinesses and pleasures, or maybe don’t think at all, like blank yet somehow humming pages, and how, ultimately, I could mean anything to any of these persons, or what they could mean to me. What if I knew them, knew them better? What are the possibilities?

And all of this immediately reminded me of how Franco Masciandaro had concluded his beautiful talk Friday evening, “Notes on Dante’s Poetics of Friendship,” with the invocation of the line, from Dante’s Paradiso: ecco chi crescerà li nostri amori [“Here now is one who will increase our loves”], which is addressed to Dante, “the anonymous pilgrim, by the equally anonymous souls concealed in light, who, appearing in the Sphere of Mercury, ‘were far more than a thousand splendors’” [F. Masciandaro]. Franco asked us to note the “plural” of their loves which “increase the moment anyone appears.” This is a moment that shares in both the infinity of a divine and “higher” [and perhaps, abstract] love but that also shows love as going out to the singular person in his uniqueness [even if anonymous, at first] at the exact moment of his arrival, which is always anticipated, and always welcome [and therefore, the divine perfection of paradise is not enough: we must have other persons, other arrivants, as it were, and they are never just anyone—how could they be? Or, am I saying that, for me, they must always be someone, someone in particular whose particularity I could relish?]. The singular person is always beautiful [and desirable] in her moment of arrival, walking, it cannot be stressed enough, in her [and only her] body. You do not know her but you will come to know her—this is the hope of love, of desire, and yet, already, even as someone anonymous, she approaches as a someone. And I can’t, or don’t want to, submit this beautiful image from Dante to Bersani’s idea, again in Homos, that the “psychology of desire” is an “essentially doomed and generally anguished interrogation of the other’s desires,” and therefore, all potentially revolutionary acts of love and desire “return over and over again, to relations of ownership and dominance” [pp. 123, 128].

To return to my original feelings of dissatisfaction, and by way of further explanation, I’ll just offer here some bits and pieces from the papers and comments delivered Friday evening [including my own], and also from some recent reading of my own, all of which have led me to start questioning, more and more, the abstractions [for lack of a better word], and also the modes of messianic delay and distancing and self-undoing and dis-attachment, even death, upon which so many of our discourses on ethics, friendship, love, and eros seems to be built, and from which I suddenly want to tear myself. There is no order in any of this; think of it as just a random, free-associative catalog even. So . . . .

In Derrida, we have the idea that it “is thanks to death that friendship can be declared. Never before, never otherwise. And never if not in recalling (while thanks to death, the friend recalls that there are no friends). And when friendships is declared during the lifetime of friends, it avows, fundamentally, the same thing: it avows the death thanks to which the chance to declare itself comes at last, never failing to come” [The Politics of Friendship, p. 302]. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, we have Nietzsche’s idea that amity or friendship is a “continuation of love in which possessive craving of two people for each other gives way to a new desire and lust for . . . a shared higher thirst for an ideal above them,” and we are also exhorted, not to love of the neighbor, but rather to “flight from your neighbor and to love of the most distant.” For Maurice Blanchot, friendship is an “incommensurable relation of one to the other” in which “the other is the outside drawing near in its separateness and inaccessibility” [The Writing of Disaster, p. 50]. In Giorgio Agamben’s conception, friendship is a “de-subjectivization at the very heart of the most intimate perception of self” [“Friendship,” Contretemps 5 (2004): p. 6]. In Levinas’s conception of the face, “the face of the other is verticality and uprightness; it spells a relation or rectitude. The face is not in front of me but above me. . . . The ethical rapport with the face is asymmetrical in that it subordinates my existence to the other” [Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers, pp. 59-60]. From Aquinas, we hear that in “the love of concupiscence, we draw to us what is extraneous for us, for we love other things . . . in so far as they are useful or delectable to us. But in the love of friendship . . . similitude is the cause of love, for we do not love someone in this way unless we are one with him, and similitude is a kind of unity.” With Deleuze and Guattari, we should praise molecular flows over molar unities as well as “interbeing”: a “transversal movement that sweeps one and the other away, a stream without beginning or end that undermines its own banks and picks up speed in the middle” [A Thousand Plateaus, p. 25], leading Foucault to wonder if what we need now is to “de-individualize by means of multiplication and displacement” [“Preface,” Deleueze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, p. xiv]. Count on as many fingers as you like [Freud, Lacan, Laplanche, etc.] all the psychoanalytic thinkers who view love and desire as lack or even as an aggressively destructive narcissism, or further, a death-drive. And following that, with Edelman, we could embrace that death-drive and insist that “the fate of the queer is to figure the fate that cuts the thread of futurity” and to define ourselves by that “mortality” which is “the negation of everything that would define itself, moralistically, as pro-life” [No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, pp. 30, 31]. And from Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit, in a striking passage from Forms of Being, we are asked to consider how we might emit a kind of light,
a light hidden behind psychic darkness, blocked by our expressive being. To lose our fascinating and crippling expressiveness might be the precondition for our moving within nature, moving as appearances registering, and responding to the call of, other appearances. No longer darkened by the demand for love, we might be ready to receive something like the splendor, the ‘dazzling radiance,’ that Homer’s ‘blazing-eyed Athena’ casts on the humans she protects. [p. 70]
Perhaps, in the end, I do somehow align with Bersani, when he writes that the “human subject does of course exist and act discretely, separately; but its being exceeds its bounded subjectivity” [“Psychoanalysis and the Aesthetic Subject,” Critical Inquiry 32 (2006): p. 170], although I do not think our being can exceed our bounded bodies [without which our selves lack certain, I think, important vehicles of expressivity and feeling], regardless of Deleuze and Guttari’s [and others’ wild hopes to the contrary]. And this brings me back to the first philosopher who may be partly to blame [at least, in the western tradition] for insisting we view love [and even ideation] as something beyond or exterior to the body, beyond ourselves: Plato, who, in the Symposium, traces a route of a “higher” love from a love of bodies to a love of souls to a love of laws and then on to a love of wisdom. Further, in Socrates’ words, the “beautiful will not appear . . . in the guise of a face or hands or anything else that belongs to the body. It will not appear . . . as one idea or one kind of knowledge. It is not anywhere in another thing, as in an animal, or in earth, or in heaven, or in anything else, but itself by itself with itself” [Plato, Symposium]. This idea of somehow “breaking through” the self and even the world to a more divine or “higher” perspective [and perhaps, in Bersani, to a more enworlded “allness”], continues to haunt all of our critical discourses—on ethics, on friendship, on love, and even on sexuality—and asks us, I really believe, to become angels, or other sorts of floating disembodiments, and not human beings.

According to Jonathan Lear, in his beautiful essay “Eros and Unknowing,” the really critical moment of the Symposium is the sudden and drunken disruption of Alcibiades, who expresses frustration over Socrates’ refusal to sleep with him and who is also locked in what he thinks is a struggle with Socrates over the sexual possession of Agathon. For Lear, the privileging of a conception of the divine, or “higher,” love signifies what he believes is the tragedy of the Symposium, where to follow Socrates’ account of love is to “become disdainful of one's own mortal nature, treating it as not part of one’s true self,” and this is what also “accounts for Socrates’ indifference” to Alcibiades “erotic suffering”:
Socrates has made the journey, he has become as divine as humanly possible, and though he remains in the human realm, he is no longer part of it. He looks on the humanity of the human world with the indifference of the gods. Alcibiades is, of course, as human as they come. He is trapped in the human erotic . . . . insofar as Alcibiades is trapped in the human-erotic, he can, from Socrates’ perspective, go fuck himself. It does not matter to Socrates what the consequences are. From the vantage of Athenian culture, this encounter between Alcibiades and Socrates must be judged a failure of inestimable cost. Nothing less is at stake than the future of one of [the] world's great civilizations. And yet, from a divine point of view, human politics is by and large a distraction. It just does not matter which particular form the distraction takes. [Open-Minded: Working Out the Logic of the Soul, p. 164]
But it matters a great deal, actually, to Lear, and also to myself, “which particular form the distraction takes,” and our aim should be “not to leave the human realm behind, but to get deeper into it—its smells, feels, textures, and the imaginary meanings we give to them,” for “it is this particular [embodied] subjectivity with which we are pregnant: and it is from this that we give birth to beauty” [p. 166].

Lear’s thinking here, heavily indebted to Freud's idea that the individual “cannot be understood other than as a response to certain forces that permeate the social world,” accords well with the insight of cognitive science that, in the words of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, reason “is not disembodied, as the [Western] tradition has largely held, but arises from the nature of our brains, bodies, and bodily experience,” and further, “reason is not, in any way, a transcendent feature of the universe or of disembodied mind. Instead, it is shaped crucially by the peculiarities of our human bodies, by the remarkable details of the neural structure of our brains, and by the specifics of our everyday functioning in the world” [Philosophy in the Flesh, p. 4]. The peculiarity of the human body is exactly what Alcibiades cannot get around in his struggle with Socrates by whom he feels “completely possessed,” and while Alcibiades is clearly locked in a repetitive and neurotic “acting out” against Socrates, which does not allow him to grow or expand as a person, Socrates’ indifference to him further impedes his ability to individuate. In Freudian terms, Socrates essentially refuses to confront Alcibiades’ transference, which, in Lear’s words, is “in essence a form of political engagement” [p. 152].

As is well known, what I would call Alcibiades’ bad education had disastrous consequences: he vandalized the statues of the temple of Hermes by breaking off their genitals, profaned the Eleusinian mysteries, and ultimately decamped to Sparta where he betrayed Athens’ military secrets. The undoing of Alcibiades through Socrates’ indifference becomes the undoing of Athens itself, and the fault is not in Alcibiades’ inability to ascend to a higher plane of awareness—to get beyond the particular body of Socrates to an idea of a higher virtue, for that, after all, is only human—but in Socrates’ unwillingness to descend to Alcibiades, in other words, to love him, not necessarily sexually, but as person in need of a certain affectionate regard, a regard, moreover, grounded in an attachment to the human world and its well-being. And maybe this is why I was so swept away recently by Cary Howie’s book Claustrophilia, in which he writes in two sentences everything I am trying to say here: “to say I am enclosed in your mouth and I am enclosed in your hand is to inscribe a difference at the heart of you” and “being inside you is always simultaneously being beside you, irreducibly.” For me, the beautiful only really appears “in the guise of a face or hands or anything else that belongs to the body”—and this is where I am placing my bets, and pinning my hopes. If I have any sort of radical politics, it is only to say that I will never stop waiting for those who might still arrive and increase my loves, here, and now, while we can still experience and reckon all the accounts of our affections. Perhaps what I really want is a neo-Epicureanism.


Jeffrey Cohen said...

There is more to say here than could ever be contained in the anemic form of a blog post comment, especially early in the morning, especially during a week when the United States government has screwed me over by its mandation that my clock be set back an hour, thereby disaligning me from my body's temporal rhythm. And giving me cranky children and sleepy students and yawning colleagues.

BUT that seemed a heartfelt post, Eileen, and there is much I'd like to connect myself to in it ... and much I admit I don't quite get (my failing not yours!). For my sleepy brain (and I admit I read your post just before going to bed, then returned again to it first thing in the morning) I yearn to have it reduced to a pithy thesis: less death, less dissolution and sacrifice, more affirmation?

The concrete detail of touching rom afar the lives that pass in a JFK terminal speaks loudly for what you are trying to do, but is somewhat paradoxical: you swerve away from the "why me?!" of individuality to imagine the capaciousness of other lives as they pass, then swerve back (through numerous citations of theorists) to rejection of giving up on singular mind/body, or of giving up on an anchoring wholeness.

I'm not so sure D&G and Foucault belong in the death-haunted section of your quotations; in my experience they are, all three, as affirmative as you are, even if not quite as invested in reserving something integral. Though of course Epicureanism, like Stoicism, like the Lucretian atomism that is making such a return to literary theory, is motivated by the fact of living in the face of death.

More later; sorry for that fragment, but a little girl has just coughed herself awake.

Anonymous said...

The photo of the dormitory reminds me vividly of the school-cum-orphanage in which I lived between the ages of 8 and 13 (except there were not so many pictures on the walls and we did not have bed spreads). Why did you use it for your talk? Far from feeling enclosed there I remember being able to run amok in all kinds of ways that would not have been possible if I had lived at home (but I suspect that would have changed if I stayed there into adolescence).

It reminded me that one hot summer night when I was about 9 or 10 we all prised up the blocks in the old parquet floor of one dormitory(it had once been a large upper reception room in a grandish house) and left little notes to the future beneath them. I wonder if they are still there?

Eileen Joy said...

Sarah: the reason I used that photograph of the dormitory/orphanage beds for my talk was to invoke the image of the university in which we are all together but lying alone in our lonely beds, close, but not touching. Of course, I see the image as isolating, while also evoking closeness to others, and since you actually lived in a school-cum-orphanage [do you mean: boarding school?], the photograph evokes altogether different emotions. My mother and her sisters, who all grew up in Ireland, went to boarding schools, and my mother always tells me it was one of the happiest periods of her life. I love the story of the hidden notes: you should go back and look for them and thereby contact your younger self.

Jeffrey: one of the reasons I included the quotation from the Amy Hempel novella was to kind of signal ahead of time that I was going to offer a post that, while it may not be as well organized or even coherent as other posts I have written, that it might be the *truest* thing I have ever tried to write, and also to signal ahead of time that I knew I was taking some risks here, and it not might all make sense, but I had to write it [it doesn't all make full sense to me, which Is why I inserted several parenthetical asides basically asking for help--help!]. I love the Hempel novella: it is in the form of a very long letter that a woman in a sanitarium writes to a painter with whom she is in love even though she has only met him once. And by also invoking Hempel's line, "Is this the truth, or not?" I guess I was also trying to leave this post very open to response, as a kind of call to assistance in trying to parse all this out: love, reality, etc.

As regards a pithy thesis: yes, more affirmation--but specifically of those who are present to us, not just distant. This is why the airport terminal: because I don't *know* these persons, but they *are* physically proximate to me, and contact is possible, not just cognitively. And because I am *seeing* them, I don't forget myself, because they are there, in a sense, *for* me. I was a bit tired and it was late-ish for me, too, when I was writing this, so I forgot to add that part of what prompted this post was the photograph you shared of your and Alex's hands [or wrists, really, but implying hands, and implying crossing], which can only be *your* and Alex's hands and which exist together in a beautiful moment of present-ness and between-ness [between you and Alex but also between you and Alex and everyone with whom you shared that moment]. They are not just anyone's hands or just anyone's bodies and they are partly beautiful because I know what they are [recognition of particular body parts, but also specific persons] and what they can do.

I did not mean to throw Deleuze and Guattari and/or Foucault in as examples of the death-haunted discourses from which I want to flee. They were more in there to stand in as example of something I am also worried about: self-undoing. But of course, we've debated this on this weblog A LOT, haven't we? Of course, it goes without saying that I have lots of affinity with the writings of D&G, but in the daily traffic of our lives, think how important those molar unities [specific persons, inhabiting the bodies we recognize] are to us, and yes, we're smart, and we know we're really teeming masses of molecular flows [and maybe just hosts for microorganisms!], but molar unities: we need them, and we want them.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Eileen, thanks for that very helpful elaboration.

The post comes at a time when I have been thinking quite a bit about such intersections as well -- that's why I wrote recently about appreciating how as an academic I can often touch lives in affirmative ways, and the pleasure that gives me (reading a tenure file; composing a thoughtful review; helping an odd project find a home). Another line of thought that's been haunting me also intersects your airport vignette: two or three days a week I leave for work at 7 AM so that I can get SOMETHING done before the department awakens. Around 7:12 my car arrives at the intersection of 23rd and H streets, where the traffic light is always red and -- oddly -- I am always the only one waiting. Lines of pedestrians walk in front of my car, a few feet before me. These are people treading to or from the Foggy Bottom Metro, mainly on their way to their jobs. They mainly wear sad faces. They mainly do not know that they are being observed.

As each visage passes I wonder about the life behind such evident weariness, what daily destination could write sadness on their brow and lips and gait, what world they have left behind and perhaps would have preferred to stay within. Of course, every now and then someone is smiling, or involved in a passionate discussion (with themselves or a companion) ... but for the most part, because this is early morning, the faces that pass speak of tiredness and tristesse.

These passers-by don't know how much they touch my life. They remind me not to dwell within that kind of face (something I could easily do, I think). They remind me to always think about the complexity and history of those people who do enter my life during the day that follows, instead of seeing them as intrusions into a present.

When I took Alex to work with me last, I pointed out this daily parade at 23rd and H, and he dubbed the intersection the Corner of the Unhappy.

Eileen, I do like very much how this piece seems differently voiced from many others you've composed. Its restlessness suits its theme. I applaud your willingness to experiment.

Finally, one of my favorite Deleuzian lines has to do with the absolute necessity of preserving the molar -- of keeping a bed in which you can sleep each night, of retaining a home. I'll see if I can find it exactly; it's more eloquently expressed than my little paraphrase.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Just found this nice quote in Deleuze's "Letter to a Harsh Critic." It's about the molecular, though, not the molar; still I can't resist sharing.

"And then there was my meeting with Félix Guattari, the way we understood and complemented, depersonalized and singularized -- in short, loved -- one another. Out of that came Anti-Oedipus, and it takes things a step further. I've wondered why one general reason for some of the hostility toward the book is simply the fact that there are two writers, because people want you to disagree about things, and take different positions. So they try to disentangle inseparable elements and identify who did what. But since each of us, like anyone else, is already various people, it gets rather crowded."

More later!

Eileen Joy said...

Here's to the Corner of the Unhappy: I love it. I love those kinds of moments, and I had quite a few of them riding the Q train in New York. And if, while there, you can also be listening to one of the soundtracks from Kieslowski's "Trois Coleurs" trilogy, it can almost become a religious experience [seriously, or do I mean: haha? Take your pick, but I'm one of those people who, sadly or not, do believe that our lives need a soundtrack, and I grew up in a house where the music, literally, never stopped--my father always had something playing on his Bose hi-fi, practically 24/7, and I've turned out the same--at home, in my office, and in transit; I even leave music on for my dog while I'm away].

Thanks for that quotation from Deleuze [and keep 'em coming]--I like that image of their collaboration very much and sometimes I wish the example of their very significant work together would help undo how in thrall our institutions are to the monograph, but it doesn't. That was partly what I was trying to get at in my talk in NYC, also--the ways in which the radicality of the most important theoretical work of the past 30 or so years has made no dents, so to speak, in the managerial structures of the humanities itself. It's so disheartening sometimes, but that's also why your recent thinking about how, as an academic [and aside form your own scholarship], you want to privilege, maybe, the "work" you do to affirmatively *affect* the professional lives of others is so so so so so so so so so so so [enough sos?] important. In short, we've simply got to be more generous, while also, I hope, writing great books [and thereby *moving* people in a different register].

dan remein said...


so i've been not commenting save a few funny ones here and there. perhaps that's why this deserves a LONG! warning.

phew! I have commented before on your moments of most intense and compelling 'anti'-Bersani [and i realize this is not such a clear cut moment for you, now, more than before]. It is your elaboration of certain points of commonality which might be at least fragmentarily grasped between Forms of Being and your insistence that we continue to insist on the particularity of ourselves and the particular beings that we love which interests me most about this post (in addition to its compelling tone and composition, its generosity to a theorist you want so desperately to posit an alternative to. Your citation of Derrida on friendship and its relationship to death, and radical infinitude reminds me perhaps all too obviously of his The Gift of Death , and his jewgreek willingness to be so generous to that Christian's reading of the Binding (a topic ITM has certainly not under-discussed).

What is important about The Gift of Death , and indeed, Kierkegaard (I am reading through the book which Auden edited as a presentation of his take on the 'essence' of the Dane's work, complete with an introduction on christian apologetics, recently reprinted by nyrb), is the importance of singularity and particularity--even if this is only because of a certain kind of relationship to finitude, to the borders of the self and subject. For Derrida, the difficulty [this is not an exhaustive list] is in part, how to maintain relationship with one singularity without this being a) an economic relationship of an exchange of some sort of capital (in the best case scenario this is the sort of problematics Stein deals with in Three Lives , in the worst scenarios this is of course 'revenge')--how can it go beyond calculable justice; or, b)how singularity can be 'given' to one without doing violence to all others--how can there be an an-economic hospitality to more than one singularity at once.

I think it is, in part, this problem for which I prize and cherish, and indeed, relish, even the most strange and striking moments of Forms of Being , and also, though to a lesser extent, Homos . Even in the most strangely half-surfer half-Heidegger moments of Bersani, I find a fantastically compelling desire for a respect for at least a certain singularity which is cloaked in maintaining sameness and dispersed-ness, and rejecting individuality.

If there is a problem with this, its that I am just not sure he takes death--my death and the death of those I love or want to love--seriously. In a way, Homos is about responding to cultural changes in queer theory which he sees as sanitizing, or making gay-ness more acceptable. In this roundabout way, Bersani is highly vested in preserving the texture of a certain kind of particularity--that of an anti-utopian oppositionality which he locates in the, for lack of a better word, 'style,' of certain kinds of gay men. That is to say, Bersani is bound up, perhaps from a different side, in an infinitely impossible approach to the same kind of hope Derrida is--although i do not think we could get Bersani to ever> admit to this.

What emerges from this in terms of what only appears as a purely theoretical problem is both the importance of human singularities--even Caputo-ian 'we have never been human and there is no fuisis/techne opposition' [a talk i got to see him give at duquesne university last friday!!] singularities, and the potential violence to every other singularity inherent in such formulations. But this is in no way an anti-historical question.

I am so so glad Eileen, that you make a sweeping gesture an question why it is that in theology, philosophy, and criticism, that we always want to banish the self. I am not so sure as you are about the self, as perhaps you can tell from what's above. But I do know from some harrowing experiences that the certain kind of christian-ascetic denial of the self is all-too-easily translatable into our secular critical, poetic, artistic, etc. practices. The pharmakon of affect helps here, but being what it is, certainly brings its risks. There is perhaps an opposition hiding here between ascetic religion which is gnostic in nature and generous religion which might be affective and even worldly. Yet i think that thinking about the texture of feelings offers of the hope of a way to approach singularity w/o having to have a sort of elegant modern subject. I am marked in my now very much past experience both by an experience with a particular kind of Christian practice and belief which makes me suspiciously of anything that can be recoded or translated simply as 'denial of the self', and at the same time have enough trouble with my 'self' on a day to day basis, that am certainly sympathetic to the idea of being light, of being dispersed over time and space and things. In this context, Bersani offers me a way to get out of one of the biggest troubled of late-western poetics--that of expression. expression perhaps could have gone by the way-side more easily if Heidegger wasn't a nazi.

What do you think, eileen, about singularities that aren't 'selves'? Is there room at all for us to be simultaneously only 'part of the world registering the world' as in the last chapter of Forms of Being ? Can we think of affective links being multiple between singular beings in singular bodies that will die which are not just I want YOU, with all the violence that that entails, but as arising from part of our world (when world is meant in its germanic etymological senses of time/place with the horizons Heidegger's elaborates for them?). Perhaps part of what Bersani can mean to me is not a take him or find an alternative, but can we have singularities without western selves (and then we don't have to affirm them or deny them violently), how can we rigorously think love as emerging horizontally , co-extensively, with the world which sometimes takes the form of a singularity, one which is particular and will die.

AND, one last thing. Perhaps this is why I am a medievalist. One who is concerned with history and with deep time, and relationships across it. I think these relationships are going to be the place to help form those singularities without selves in the first place. Here's a title: "Love in Time."

Anonymous said...

A school-cum-orphanage is what it was (such things no longer exist here). Running amok was not always about happiness (sometimes it was). Definitely didn't fit into the 'jolly hockey sticks' idea.


Jeffrey Cohen said...

Singularities ... or individuations? Here are a few more quotes that I think speak to Eileen at the airport, and Eileen connecting to us readers of ITM through love:

"A concept, as we see it, should express an event rather than an essence ... What we're interested in, you see, are modes of individuation beyond those of things, persons, or subjects: the individuation, say, of a time of day, or a region, a climate, a river or a wind, of an event. And maybe it's a mistake to believe in the existence of things, persons, or subjects. The title of A Thousand Plateaus refers to these individuations that don't individuate persons or things" (Gilles Deleuze, On A Thouseand Plateaus")

"Never interpret; experience, experiment." (Gilles Deleuze, "Breaking Things Open, Breaking Words Open")

"I think subjectification has little to do with any subject. It's to do, rather, with an electric or magnetic field, an individuation taking place through intensities (weak as well as strong ones), it's to do with individuated fields, not persons or identities. It's what Foucault, elsewhere, calls 'passion.' This idea of subjectification in Foucault is no less original than those of power and knowledge: the three together constitute a way of living, a strange three-dimensional figure, as well as the greatest of modern philosophies (and I say this without joking)" (Gilles Deleuze, "Breaking Things Open, Breaking Words Open")

"Subjectification isn't even anything to do with a 'person': it's a sepcific or colelctive individuation relating to an event (a time of day, a river, a wind, a life ...) It's a mode of intensity, not a personal subject ... If there's a whole ethics in this, there's an aesthetics, too. Style, in a great writer, is always a style of life, too, not anything at all personal, but inventing a possibility of life, a way of existing. It's strange how people say that philosophers have no style, or that they write badly. It can only be because they don't read them." (Deleuze, Life as a Work of Art")

"Subjectification as a process is personal or collective individuation, individuation one by one or group by group. Now, there are many types of individuation. There are subject-type individuations ('that's you ...' 'that's me...'), but there are also event-type individuations where there's no subject: a wind, an atmosphere, a time of day, a battle ... One can't assume that a life, a work of art, is individuated as a subject; quite the reverse. Take Foucault himself: you weren't aware of him as a person exactly. Even in trivial situations, say when he came into a room, it was more like a changed atmosphere, a sort of event, an electric or magnetic field or something. That didn't in the least rule out warmth or make you feel uncomfortable [JJC says: !], but it wasn't like a person. It was a set of intensities. It sometimes annoyed him to be like that, or to have that effect. But at the same time his work fed upon it." (Deleuze, "A Portrait of Foucault")

Eileen Joy said...

Dan: thanks so much for such a sensitive and engaged set of comments on my post. You're really a perfect interlocutor for me right now [as is Jeffrey]. You are "right on" in seeing that I am having a difficult time trying to posit an alternative to a theorist [Bersani] that, in a way, and deep down, I really love. I find that if I go back to "Homos" with fresh eyes, again and again, that I am drawn more closely to it, and to seeing, as I indicated to Karl in my comments on his essay on "The Phoenix and the Turtle," that there really is not a "before" [anti-sociality] and "after" [pro-relationality] Bersani, and it is more what you said in your rich comments, that in both "Homos" and "Forms of Being" there is, somehow, in your words, a

"fantastically compelling desire for a respect for at least a certain singularity which is cloaked in maintaining sameness and dispersed-ness, and rejecting individuality."

Something that I think is a kind of taboo subject within queer studies, but which I sometimes think we need to at least *try* to talk about and grapple with, is the *gendered* nature of the discourse, or to put it another way: is there a gendered queer theory and how could we talk about that? In other words, what does it mean that certain queer theorists, who are usually male or what I would call male-centered [I place Sedgwick in this camp] always seem to appropriate modes of what are [okay, *traditionally* *historically*] typically male "homo"-sexual practices, such as cruising, anality, bare-backing, and even what I would call a kind of, for lack of a better term, fucking-to-death, and certain queer theorists who are usually female [i.e. Dinshaw but also Sara Ahmed, especially in her most recent work on phenomenology] seem more interested in various modes of more face-a-face-sans-intermediare affective contact, including the kiss? Okay, now HUGE disclaimer: please don't everyone attack me for my essentialist move [or question?] here. I was afraid, even as I was typing them, to type these words!!! I'm afraid now [and I'm not stupid: I know, personally and impersonally, how fluid sexual practices are and all the ways in which sexual desire is structured in transversal fashion]. It's just this sense I always have, a sense that nags and nags at me, that queer theory is gendered [or "sexed"?] in certain ways ["ways" that don't necessarily have to be attached to certain "male" or "female" theorists, per se--I think, for example, Cary Howie combines both, as does Judith Halberstam and Jose Esteban Munoz who has called Edelman's queer theory the "gay white man's last stand"--and therefore I am really talking about masculinist and feminist "ways" of doing queer theory] and the mode of cruising/anti-person/death drive always seems to predominate over the mode of, let's say, the non-violent/loving touch, the kiss.

For myself, personally, and this is partly my problem with Bersani [never mind Edelman], I am trying as hard as I can to be somewhat on my guard against the theories that see, in the annihilation of the self, or person a certain ecstasy [or even an ultimate freedom] that I cannot for the life of me separate from all of the religious discourses that aim for the same "release" from the singular person/body. It's just a caution I want to take, to always suspect that kind of discourse [as I know you, too, Dan, are on your guard].

Of course, think what happened when Levinas, in "Time and the Other," but also in other writings [including "Totality and Infinity"] decided to describe the penultimate ethical mode as the feminine caress [and thank you, Nicola M. for recalling me to this aspect of Levinas's thought!]. I myself am somewhat enamored of this bit [and it relates to our conversations here]:

"It is only in showing in what way eros differs from possession and power that I can acknowledge a communication in eros. It is neither a struggle, nor a fusion, nor a knowledge. One must recognize its exceptional place among relationships. It is a relationship with alterity, with mystery--that is to say, with the future, with what (in a world where there is everything) is never there, with what cannot be there when everything is there . . . . There where all possibles are impossible, where one can no longer be able, the subject is still a subject through eros. Love is not a possibility, it is not due to our initiative, is without reason; it invades and wounds us, and nevertheless the *I* survives in it." ["Time and the Other," pp. 88-89]

And further:

"A phenomenology of voluptuousness . . . seems to confirm my views on the exceptional role and place of the feminine, and on the absence of any fusion in the erotic. The caress is a mode of the subject's being, where the subject who is in contact with another goes beyond this contact. Contact as sensation is part of the world of light. But what is caressed is not touched, properly speaking. It is not the softness or warmth of the hand given in contact that the caress seeks. The seeking of the caress constitutes its essence by the fact that the caress does not know what it seeks. This 'not knowing,' this fundamental disorder, is the essential. . . . The caress is the anticipation of [the] pure future, without content. It is made up of this increase of hunger, of ever richer promises, opening new perspectives onto the ungraspable. It feeds on countless hungers." ["Time and the Other," p. 89]

Now, there are all *sorts* of problems with Levinas's characterization of the caress as "feminine"--I get that, believe me--but more important, is his idea that Freud, in a sense, got it all wrong re: the libido [and in this sense, Bersani also gets it wrong, if he can't conceptualize a libidinal/desiring relationship to the other outside the terms of possession and dominance and hence, hey, let's get rid of the idea of other persons, they don't really exist, neither do I, but the world does, etc.], because "possessing, knowing, and grasping are synonyms of power," and the "relationship with the Other [big "O": alterity] is the absence of the other [small "o": specific others]; not absence pure and simple, not the absence of pure nothingness, but absence in the horizon of the future, an absence that is time. This is the horizon where a personal life can be constituted in the heart of the transcendent event," which is, in a sense, in Levinas's words, a "victory over death" ["Time and the Other," p. 90].

Who, I would ask, historically, seeks to dominate, to possess, to "fuse"/cancel out? Who wants to die, just a little, every time, in the [erotic] encounter? Is this a human propensity? Is it universal? Transhistorical? Transcultural? Is it beyond gender, beyond sex? I honestly don't know. What do you think?

Dan, I must say, that your reading of Bersani is really intuitive, and I am influenced for the better by it. I am curious to hear you expand on what you say is one of the "biggest troubles" of late western poetics: that of expression. Can you expand on this [if you even have time]?

As to your question posed to me re: singularities that are not selves, and what do I think about that, I like your thinking very much here, although for all of our intelligence and reading and philosophizing, can we ever really get beyond the "I want *you*" that we direct to singular others, again and again? I don't think so [and there is even a thrill in those moments I'm not willing to ever give up, and which doesn't have to be violent or possessive in the conventional/western-centric sense], but I think we will have to follow the lines of your rich thought here [which is following the best of Bersani, especially as concerns that "light" he evokes so beautifully in "Forms of Being"], regarding how, in your words, we can maybe

"rigorously think love as emerging horizontally , co-extensively, with the world which sometimes takes the form of a singularity, one which is particular and will die."

Yes, yes. As to "Love in Time,:" please write that, please do.

Jeffrey: thanks for the further quotations from Deleuze. I love them, of course, especially the idea of the person as an "event" which is beyond persons but not necessarily individuation [of more weak or more strong intensities]. I think that provides a very useful place for me to re-mull much of what I am struggling with here. In Deleuzan intensity, as well as in Bersani's "points of rest," and even "light," I can see a path toward some idea of a singularity that would be worth hanging onto and that doesn't completely cancel out the person, or self. And "event" [and also the anecdote about what happened when Foucault walked into a room] brings the idea of "presence" to mind, hopefully in fruitful ways. And in line with this, Nicola M. emailed the other day and recommended I read Hans Gumbrecht's "Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey," so that's sitting here on my desk now and I've just started it [Cary Howie is mentioned in the acknowledgments]. It looks beautiful, and I'm sure I'll have thoughts to share on it soon.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

That was very well said, and I would even expand "the non-violent/loving touch, the kiss" list to include a little more, stealing a word from the death drive side of the equation: "the non-violent/loving touch, the kiss/anti-person/pro-multiplicity." And then I would add to these great queer theorists like Dinshaw the [poststructuralist French] feminists to whom queer theory owes such a debt, while sometimes forgetting their affirmative bent: primarily Helene Cixous, one of my favorite and most Joycean writers, but also Luce Irigaray and to an extent Kristeva.

Eileen Joy said...

And it goes without saying, too, although I should have said it, that Deleuze & Guattari are on that non-violent/multiplicity side of things. Of course, I really don't like engaging in this kind of binary thinking, but I just think it's there somehow, running through the circuits of the subterranean levels of some of these discourse, which is also to say: they're historically structured! And thanks, too, for recalling to mind the French feminists, especially Cixous who would not in *any* way shy away from some of the aspects of gender/sex that, I guess, I'm sometimes afraid to speak to [for fear of being labeled an essentialist, or worse, stupid].

Nicola Masciandaro said...

For me, the beautiful only really appears “in the guise of a face or hands or anything else that belongs to the body”—and this is where I am placing my bets, and pinning my hopes. If I have any sort of radical politics, it is only to say that I will never stop waiting for those who might still arrive and increase my loves, here, and now, while we can still experience and reckon all the accounts of our affections. Perhaps what I really want is a neo-Epicureanism.

What is the body? I do not know. I do not even feel qualified to ask, or to care. The way I follow your 'holding on' to the body is as insistence as something that happens through and with the body And what happens through and with the body does not come from somewhere else. Rather what happens through and with the body is the body's own happening, so I hear your holding on the body as a holding on to happening itself, to here and now as you say, to actuality, to the body as the place, the only place of temporal presence. Beauty does not appear "in the guise of" faces, hands, etc. but is a way of their very appearing.

Also, Dante's embodied other whose coming increases our loves seems very much like a 'horizontal' fulfillment of the 'vertical' theological economy of the cosmos in the first place, of the other-than-God which adds to God, "I was a hidden treasure and loved/desired to be known," and so forth.

Have you seen Critchley's Infinitely Demanding? I haven't, but it certainly seems to be about deverticalizing and embodying Levinas, as thus very relevant to this and the direction of your thoughts, desires at the panel.

How lovely and cool that being stuck 'on the ground,' in and with one's body leads to affirming it as the *only* place to be!

Eileen Joy said...

Nicola: I understand your question, "what is the body?", and your answer, "I don't know," very well--it is, after all, an historical question which, thanks to historians like Tom Laqueur and Roy Porter and sociologists like Bryan Turner and Mike Hepworth and philosopher-theorists like Deleuze and Foucault, etc., we are understanding better than we used to. But we can still, nevertheless, talk about certain bodies and how they are "present" to us in particular time and places, and why that might be meaningful [and also, how it might be important and meaningful to be recognized as a particular kind of body in a certain time and place]. But yes, as you say, I *am* trying to hold on to an idea of the body [and further, of the human body--which is not to say I don't care about other bodies, because of course I do, but one thing at a time, as they say] as something that "happens" and that could not happen without particular forms of embodiment, let's say.

Now, you recommended I read Gumbrecht and I am and I am so glad for it. His book ["Production of Presence"] is just the sort of thing I've been looking for--it's helping me, even here, in so many ways. I especially love his suggestion that we "conceive of aesthetic experience as an oscillation (and sometimes as an interference) between 'presence effects' and 'meaning effects'" [p. 2]. Now, substitute "body" for "aesthetic experience" and I feel I am getting closer to what I'm trying to say here in all these posts and comments of late. I love your idea, too, of Dante's paradisal arrivant as

"'horizontal' fulfillment of the 'vertical' theological economy of the cosmos in the first place, of the other-than-God which adds to God, 'I was a hidden treasure and loved/desired to be known,' and so forth."

Although, for me, God is not necessary, the ultimate "not-there." So what approaches me, in the body, today or tomorrow, is both the vertical and the horizontal, always together, always insistent and incumbent upon my gaze. God becomes, so often, it seems to me, the ultimate abstraction of an ethics that should always be more, "on the ground," so to speak. Although I've always been enamored of Levinas's notion that in those moments that one person gives herself over, completely, to another, God comesn into existence, shudders, as it were, passes through, briefly, into carnation. If there is a God, it is only in that, at least for me.

Karl Steel said...

Okay, I'm on my way out the door for the evening, so I haven't finished reading ALL the comments here. I've got so far only as Jeffrey's first set of quotations, BUT I so want to respond. If I'm repeating something someone's already said (and I'll find THAT out tomorrow morning), my apologies.

First thing is remembering the only time I had what was absolutely an out-of-body experience: while meditating, age 17, in 1988, I groused in my floating consciousness about the snorer whose noise distracted me; of course the snorer was me. I found the experience at once frightening and utterly useless, and, apparently, soporific, boring, and somewhere between quaint and irritating. I never sought out meditation again, unless you want to count the ecstasy of rocknroll a few years later at, say, Crash Worship shows (precisely the kind of event, and feeling, evoked by your reference to the "often mindless and drug-enhanced escapades of my youth"). But what could I BUILD on this except pure pleasure, pure ends? How can such an experience guide me, walk with me, in my day-to-day life? It couldn't.

JJC quoting D&G: So they try to disentangle inseparable elements and identify who did what

And doesn't Zizek do that, in elevating Deleuze over Guattari? Or is it the other way around?

DR: I am so so glad Eileen, that you make a sweeping gesture an question why it is that in theology, philosophy, and criticism, that we always want to banish the self.

My sense is that it's not so much the self (which its sense of the self-possession), or identity (with its sense of the perpetuation of some core stasis), or god help us the subject (which has only a fantasy of the self), but rather of singularity, whatever is you in that given moment, that given contact, and that requiring us to give up, transcend, elude, dissolve, whatever that singularity leads, finally, to disembodied angels (or unbounded, but only bodied, fuckmachines?): which EJ thinks--if I can speak out of her brain--just ain't the way to go. So, yeah, DR, I'm with you when you say this: What do you think, eileen, about singularities that aren't 'selves'? I think that's EXACTLY the way we want to go. (and I don't quite, at least not without the D&G, get the distinction JJC makes between singularities and individuations, unless he wants to push away from the sense that there's anything isolatable in these shifting contacts &c as the SINGULAR).

More tomorrow.

Karl Steel said...

EJ: can we ever really get beyond the "I want *you*" that we direct to singular others, again and again?

Absolutely we can. I hate to bring this back to modes of pleasure I best experienced in my epicurian 20s, but there's the collective, or, more accurately, the party, which is, I suppose, the ethically neutral version of participation in the rally or mob. I'm enough of a believer in mass action--or, to take this another way, enough of a fan of D&G on the horde, on the pack--to want NOT to privilege the singular-I/ singular-you relationship to the exclusion of all other kinds of relationships. But can we have the horde without the dispersal of the particularly embodied singularity? I dunno.

NM: Beauty does not appear "in the guise of" faces, hands, etc. but is a way of their very appearing.

Word. If I get you, this might be what I was getting at in my Phoenix and Turtle discussion of the "truth of the moment": they're not a sign of something, but rather the thing itself. Or, if I don't get you right here, I know I wanted to (EJ) talk about certain bodies and how they are "present" to us in particular time and places, and why that might be meaningful. And now I'm trying here to figure out the distinction between 'presence effects' and 'meaning effects,' and wondering whether 'meaning effects' slide us out of presence. The difference here is the singularity as pure ends rather than as means.

And, finally, I wonder--as with the horde thing above--about the different POLITICS each of these conceptions lead to: self vs. identity vs. subject vs. individuation (or singularity), or face-focused vs. ass-focused....

Eileen Joy said...

Karl: I totally agree with you regarding the mode of the party--indeed, part of the impetus behind BABEL was to create just such a multiplicity pleasure-zone within medieval studies, but I still maintain that we [or you, or I, or someone else] have a hard time getting over the "I want you" that is directed to singular others, and is this really a problem at the end of the day? I don't think so. I just don't think we should limit that exclamation, or statement, ever, to only *one* other, but to many, *singular* others, and that includes non-humans, and even non-living material forms, which is why I think, ultimately, aesthetics always has been and will continue to be important to me, as a site of ethics, of beauty, of desire, of wonder, of suffering joys, of pleasure, and of love.

And thanks, Karl, for invoking the "dread" term "politics"--we simply must think about that more, or, not neglect its implications, meaning, as you indicate: how might all this thought we're expressing here move in the real world as politics, as life-politics, as livable lives?