by EILEEN JOY
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
—W.B. Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”
I have so much pleasure in putting together these thoughts from all of you, I am thinking a pleasure session/panel at SEMA [Southeastern Medieval Association] in the fall: where each person can more fully speak their mind. Also, I think, new theory begets new art . . . . My paper will be also a paper sculpture garden? Each member of the audience will receive a small paper to form into the shape of his/her thoughts.
—Anna Klosowska, email correspondence
I have had such a difficult time articulating my feelings and thoughts about this year’s Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, I think, partly, because I was just overwhelmed [and in a good way] by all of the thought-provoking and even moving papers I heard, and also because of the roving pack of BABEL-ers who, no matter where I went, were always there to have fun and engaged conversation with me. The conference was festive, it was serious, and at times, even dark and sad [as Jeffrey has already blogged about]. The conference also had its unexpected sublime moments, such as when, apropos of almost nothing, at the dinner table on Saturday, Brantley Bryant recited by heart Yeats’s “Sailing to Byzantium,” or when, in the BABEL suite late one night, two angels arrived with bags filled with french fries that, no matter how many of them you ate, they never ran out, and the same evening, three beers were poured into 9 or so glasses and lasted until dawn, or when Cary Howie ended his presentation on BABEL’s pleasure panel on Friday with these lines from Miranda July’s story “The Shared Patio”:
Look at the sky: that is for you. Look at each person's face as you pass them on the street: those faces are for you. And the street itself, and the ground under the street, and the ball of fire underneath the ground: all these things are for you. They are as much for you as they are for other people. Remember this when you wake up in the morning and think you have nothing. Stand up and face the east. Now praise the sky and praise the light within each person under the sky. It's okay to be unsure. But praise, praise, praise.Having recently been dumped by Kate Moss, the Tiny Shriner was a little more quiet than usual, and when we offered [perhaps unwisely] to embrace him in a group hug and to “praise” him, he let us know in no uncertain terms that we should, um, “back off.” So we did. Hopefully, he’s back where he belongs on his shelf now in JJC’s office with his besotted antelope and bisexual boomerang, but Tiny, we miss you already, and could you please tell the boomerang to make up its mind?
For me the highlight of the conference were the two BABEL panels on seriousness and pleasure, which just raised so many questions [distressing *and* critical-productive] and offered so many arresting images [and even calls—properly understood as “shout outs” or “listen!” or “come forth in this” or “come forth out of *there*” or "look at yourself, looking at him/the object of your study, who is looking at you" or “remember to love, or to have hope”], that I am still trying to process all of them. But thanks to Julie Orlemanski, a PhD student at Harvard, who raised a very provocative question at the end of the pleasure panel having to do with the consideration of harm [are there any harms in pleasure?], I find myself mainly dwelling upon that panel, and since, initially unbeknownst to me, Julie instigated a very lively email correspondence with Karl, Anna Klosowska, and Nicola Masciandaro on this subject, I decided to bring that dialogue into this space where we can all share in it, and hopefully, move this subject of pleasure—raised so sensually, and also sentimentally, and with levitation, by the panelists at Kalamazoo—into new [pleasurable, yet perhaps more ethically acute] grounds. Our panelists—Carolyn Dinshaw, Peggy McCracken, Nicola Masciandaro, Cary Howie, and Anna Klosowska—raised for us so many issues related to pleasure: the risks of taking pleasure/enjoyment in antiquarianism, which might be deemed too sentimental or even un-scholarly and might even be queer [Dinshaw], pleasure “without concepts,” which might also be pleasure without taxonomies, pleasure without/against reason [McCracken], the pleasure of assuming the world might be for you, after all, and facing it, with pleasure, as a gift [Howie], foolish cathexis as a form of happiness and pleasure that also refuses the powers of terror [Klosowska], and the pleasurably float-y gravity of the medieval [Masciandaro]. And the questions were also raised for the panelists, but perhaps not fully answered [or should we say, exhausted]: when is pleasure serious? does it need to be ethical? etc. Although I also think "the ethical," however you might define that, was operative in all of the papers, but perhaps it's a question of making those lineaments more distinct. I don't know.
But first, an aside: I was thinking today about my own relationship to pleasure and whether or not I ever have any. The thing is, I work all the time [maybe too much], but I also love my work, find pleasure in it [I think], and can’t live without it. My work is my one great love affair, and that’s okay, but I don’t always pause, either, I don’t think, to consider what other pleasures might be out there. Yes, I’m a bit of a hedonist, too, as some know, and I do build time into my schedule to “get lost”—these are usually several- or more-day affairs in which everything is unplugged, so to speak, but when you have to set aside time to engage in hedonism, what kind of hedonism is this, anyway? Is it pleasurable [of the melting variety], or is it a frenetic sort of grasping or running after pleasure [always knowing the boat that takes you back to work is slowly pulling into the harbor from somewhere]? And of course, if you put me in a crowd of almost anyone, I will have my fun, because I love company, especially riotous company, and take pleasure in it. I wonder, though, in opposition to this pleasure-as-vacation/getaway or pleasure-as-party, of what happens when pleasures are very, very small and quiet and apart from the madding crowd, such as that moment Jeffrey illustrates in his “Kalamazoo 2009” post when, in the midst of a party at the Kalamazoo B&B, he “was sitting on the grand front porch alone for a few moments, enjoying a glass of wine and the warm stillness of the evening.”
I do not often take such moments, but I was thinking of them today when I was walking my dog Sparky as I always do down the city blocks. I live downtown, and while there are many parks around, most days Sparky and I just walk around the neighborhood and there is one house in particular at which I always like to stop in order to do something that I can only think I do because it is pleasurable, and also because time stands still, every time, in the moment of doing it, and because I also think it has become, for me, the cultivation of a small pleasure that is also a moment of seriousness. There is a very old dog, a Chow mix, who lives about two blocks away and who is always kind of cowering in his backyard, hiding behind a piece of plywood leaning against the house, when we pass by. This dog has a face I cannot even begin to describe: it is as if a very wise and old soul lives inside this dog, which is to say, this dog is a very wise and old soul. He is afraid and almost shakes if you come too near the fence, and I would guess he has been, or is, beaten. At the same time, you can tell he wants you to stay and converse with him—this is all hard to explain, in any case. But he will only approach you if you somehow get lower to the ground than he is and also if you position yourself in such a manner that you are looking another way. So I just sit down on the sidewalk with my back to his yard and against the wire fence, and Sparky, being Sparky, just sits down, too, and while we are looking across the street at other matters, this dog slowly approaches and puts his nose through the fence onto my shoulder. And we just sit there, not moving, nose to shoulder, until we [I and Sparky] do move, get up, start heading home, and telling the Chow, see you tomorrow. The moment at which the Chow’s nose touches my shoulder is a moment of exquisite pleasure, as is telling him so long [but who am I talking to?], and one that I always want to repeat. Is this a selfish pleasure? Could it cause harm, or does it, if even temporarily, undo harm? I honestly don’t know, but here is what Julie Orlemanski, in an email to Anna and Karl, wrote shortly after the Congress, and the responses to her that have arrived thus far, and here’s hoping for more [!], and maybe even for Travis Neel to tell Karl he has got Aelred's Spiritual Friendship all wrong [!]:
Anna, your talk suggested terror as a possible other of pleasure – and boredom, shame, and “the concept” were also candidates. The panel often sounded so positive – yes, yes, yes – praise, embrace, kiss, affirm – that it made me want to ask about what might not be pleasure, how pleasure could be missed, misrecognized, lost, harmed, attained at an unacceptable cost. At points, the praxis that the panel sketched seemed to me to veer toward what Karl calls “dissolution into wholeness or panpsychism (mysticism).” It may not be necessary to think in binaries, but with regard to ethics, doesn’t it seem necessary to consider the question of harm, of protection from? I was not yet convinced of an articulation of the nexus between pleasure and ethics, or between affect and relation.Karl Steel>
Part of this question has to do with my own dialectical habits of mind, via Hegel and Adorno, in which the moment of negation is so important. In dialectical thought, at least as I understand it, the other’s quality of being-for-itself, which Karl mentions, fundamentally transforms my original desire, revealing ways it was inadequate, ways it failed both the other and me in its first form . . . I am transformed in time by my ongoing relation to the object . . . . I find subject/object relations in Adorno to be quietly, almost paralyzingly ethical . . . . So, is the medieval habit of discretio, the attention to a taxonomy of affects, totally unnecessary? Are there no dangers of pleasure? Particularly, everyone on the panel seemed to affirm the sociality and relationality of pleasure – but is there not a solipsistic risk or tendency or errancy of pleasure? Is it enough to assert that pleasure is social? Peggy McCracken’s paper struck a chord with me, regarding my own recent work on lepers. The kissing of lepers is a practice of affective piety that often seems a very intimate, affective, tactile misrecognition. While McCracken’s paper emphasized that the saint wanted her relics to be returned to their loving home (the mutuality of desire), to what extent can we treat this as a truly social relation? To what extent is there solipsism or projection or wishful thinking in this account of the lover of bones? Does it matter when it is not bones being kissed, but lepers, living subjects whose bodies have marked them out as involuntary subjects both of abomination and veneration?
I'm writing in part to say I'm not sure that I CAN answer your question. My interest in phenomenology has not been systematic; it's been more a matter of picking it up, since it seems to be much in the air lately. I found myself enraptured by Cary Howie's Claustrophilia, which will be most helpful to you if you acquaint yourself first with the Heideggarian notion of 'unconcealment.' I have found some considerations of care and the body in animal studies also particularly helpful, work like Leonard Lawlor's This is Not Sufficient and Ralpha Acampora's Corporal Compassion. My very limited reading in classical phenomenology--say, Hussurl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty--suggests to me that none of them are especially ethical thinkers. Levinas, if we can think of him as thinking in a phenomological mode, is of course the ethical thinker par excellence: but my experience is that I've done much better reading introductions to Levinas than in reading Levinas himself (The Cambridge Companion is quite good). In terms of bad affect, the resistant feeling, the notion of the sky's indifference, well, I could probably recommend something a lot less valuable than Aelred of Rievaulx's On Friendship, which, much to its credit, always figures friendship as a choice that excludes others. There's no love there without a 'theft of resources' from others who may need them just as much.Anna Klosowska>
As to the others and unothers: I now understand the stakes, but just as I am post-Heidegger, I am also fashionably post-dialectic, preferring instead multiplicities. Below are some thoughts that reflect that, which could be entitled “Four Ethical Figures of Pleasure”:Dan Remein>
-- taking an afternoon siesta in the same back yard. Something about being safe sleeping in the vicinity. That figure combines abandon and distance as a model for thinking through what pleasure and respect are;
-- it is a cruel custom to keep a distance from other people in speech and body, but a mouse saying “I love to touch everyone” is different from an old teacher saying “I love to touch everyone”: to theorize specific positionality;
-- I enjoy—love—restraint and reserve, which for me is a form of touching, like in tango where both partners compromise their balance to find a balance of two that moves dangerously and elegantly through space and time, on the very edge of despair. If you take one out at any moment, the other falls on his/her face! THAT I like;
-- respect for innocence: I really don’t feel there is a grey zone here where the differential is great—when it’s small there is a possibility. For instance, there is absolutely no way to confuse caress and child abuse, to take more than is given. I don’t have a theory of this, though. And I know people in different positions (models and painters—or similar positionality) who confuse the two, but I think that is an act of desperation on their part; something’s broken inside. This is not a theorized zone for me, but in practice, I feel no doubt & see no “continuum,” rather sets of discrete categories.
. . . optimism is a small weak thing which disrupts the events of the closed economies--empties them so they can be emptied again and again: this is the movement of plenitude--not the being there but the constantly passing through!Nicola Masciandaro>
1) The question. What are the reasons we are drawn into thinking about the other of pleasure (which as I understand it here means both the 'opposite' of pleasure and its L'Autrui)? The question and possibility of harm is always there of course, the practical-ethical question, am I harming? am I being a selfish idiot? etc. But there is something else going on here, which seems like trying to get pleasure RIGHT, trying to be right about it, not make a mistake, a desire to discriminate before discrimination, to ensure a path for our discrimations. This is inevitable and necessary, and I went about it through the lust/love:heavy/light correlation as a measure for pleasure's quality. But I also want to keep this question as close to the ground as possible as a practical question, in Marx's sense of truth as a practical question (theses on Feuerbach) and in the Heideggerian sense of being=doing (cf. ethos, habitus, second nature). As I understand it pleasure is all mistakes, errancy, our wandering towards something we know not what, hence something that can be rectified only through a *better* error. I.e. only attending to our real experience of pleasure, by looking pleasure in the face and in the face of its other, can we start to see, be more awake to our deepest/highest pleasure-giving desires. For some reason I always think of discrimination in relation to the nose, as a knowledge faculty that can simultaneously catch the scent of something missing, distinguish each moment between it and everything else, and also enjoy the very presence of what it seeks . . . . Hence also my emphasis on the body (aka 'the seat of happiness') as the space of pleasure. This kind of finding one's way *through* pleasure is less about finding a rule or map or path for it from the outside than following it from within, keeping as close as possible to the interior of desire, staying within the honesty of its desire for itself so it can take you through your own taking of pleasure. This is totally in tune with what Eileen is saying about the ethics of commentary in her response to JJC's dark side, and reminds me of part of my becoming spice commentary paper: "Such open movement (which I here want to follow, without following) is at once instrumental and intrinsic. It is instrumental in that it takes you where you would not otherwise go. It is intrinsic in that it is orients you only to your own going. This means a movement that is neither teleological nor auto-teleological, neither labor nor play, and both."
And I would emphasize the BOTH here, pleasure is work, and work is always for others, absenst and present. Which also reminds me of the service and honesty comments that have come back to haunt me (lovingly) from Eileen at the “Getting the Medieval Studies We Want” panel. Honest pleasure, how pleasures become honest, is I think a wonderful issue to think through in response to the ethics of pleasure question, as we are surrounded by and complicit in all kinds of dishonest, fake pleasures (gratifications), and can even be led (by the nose!) into believing all kinds of bullshit about what we want, miseducations of pleasure. Honesty is a beautiful bottomless vertiginous thing. A tiny bit goes a LONG way (cf. unknowing). And if we are talking about what anchors pleasure's authenticity (its goodness and being on the way beyond "goodness"), I think honesty is pretty damn near to it. About the other other of pleasure, pleasure's opposite, I would also add worry to the list as a kind of sister to boredom, a non-ecstatic being elsewhere. Pleasure is an exercise, an movement, an energy. Our being 'up' for pleasure, capable of it, is robbed by worry as a draining, dissipating activity. As Dante understood, pleasure belongs to agency: "For in all action what is principally intended by the agent, whether he acts by natural necessity or voluntarily, is the disclosure or manifestation of his own image. Whence it happens that every agent, insofar as he is such, takes delight. For, because everything that is desires its own being and in acting the being of an agent is in a certain way amplified, delight necessarily follows, since delight always attaches to something desired." Apparently Karl disagrees, and loves to worry . . . . Try not to worry, it is difficult, but not impossible! See what that DOES. This is not some subjective solipsistic mumbo-jumbo, not the affect of a cogito, or the dropping out kind of western buddism that Zizek loves to ridicule. Saying no to worry, dialectically negating it, is an historical act that fundamentally alters one's relation to the world and shifts one's own and others' position within the massive economies of worry that swirl around us. Not worrying is a political act and I can think of nothing more beautiful, powerful, alive, sexy than someone who does not worry. Translate this to the context of scholarship. How much of it is deeply about worry, about ethical policing, anxieties, guilt, pointing to the problem, trying desperately to be right, or important, without daring to even come close to the possession and enjoyment of the good it seeks?
2) "Dissolution into wholeness or panpsychism (mysticism)": I do not understand what is at stake here, nor the equation of these terms, though being a firm 'believer' in the infinite mystery of individuation (even god cannot explain that! hence for the scholastics it belongs to "concreatio," something exceeding and out of the control of the creator) I feel the silliness of "wholeness" and would prefer "unity" as a reality binding, but with such a light touch!, difference. That is unity as a primordial fact, the fact that there is a world and by golly we are all in it, the unity of life. Anna and I will write next month something on *dislocation*, so maybe that will define a kind of dissolution that we might want, a dissolution within unity, that keeps within the oneness of being someone. Here Mo's [Pareles] queer swarm gives an interesting model. The unity of life, of what teems, is like the unity of swarm, but a swarm is not a solution or liquid of lost identities though it still knows how to flow. Panpsychism is hardly mysticsm (or vice-versa) though they may certainly meet within pantheism. See Panpsychism in the West by Skrbina and the new volume Mind That Abides with contribution by Graham Harman et al. But of course I have now 'come out' as a panpsychist and maybe even a mystic (whatever that is). A cosmocentric subject? A person who exerperiences the ecstasy of the inexplicable presence of her own event, who desires "to be everything" (vide Bataille)? A being-in-the-world that has to fling itself mothlike on the flame of love? An insistence that the questioner, like the musk-deer, really contains the answer? One possibility is that Karl is concerned with irrationality, with mysticism as mystification. Mysticism as I think about it is a departure from *system* and *project* (cf. Gershom Scholem's "Not system but commentary is the legitmate form through which truth is approached"), is auto-commentarial (cf. Julian) rather than institutionally instrumental, but it departs for a HERE, for the surface dimensions of experience that are strangely (typically in the interests of someone's arbitray power) swept under the rug of flags and values and ideologies. So the question is what would/does mysticism dissolve? What/who would want to preserve itself against mysticism's dissolving power? The "state"? "Culture"? The "self"? All of these I would group under the heading Religion. So yes I do desire mysticism that dissolves religion in all these senses, or at least perforates them pleasurably, what Reza Negarestani would call "positive disintegration." I think human beings are very good at creating and preserving, but are not so good at destroying (Bataille's nonproductinve expenditure or depense) and hence are driven to resort to self-destructive forms of destruction (war, despoilation, etc). So mysticism as positive disintegration, that sounds very sane. Or as Eileen's Guthlac paper put it, without putting it: Fuck religion, love God. I.e. keeping the queer sex in religion is such a positive disintegration. Cf. the situationist Raoul Vaneigem's work on the free spirit heretics and Simon Critichley's work in progress on the same.
Will have more to say about this tomorrow, and also have a long-planned post on Aelred that I hope to write (which writing will perhaps be shipwrecked upon Travis Neel): I remain convinced that love is always a choice, and, since we cannot choose everything, our love is always choice to remove attention from others who may need it as much, if not more. Even Argus had to sleep. And sometimes love is a violence too, when it is directed at a beloved who would rather be simply not harmed, who would rather be benignantly ignored, who would rather be marked out, minimally, from the motion of the world as something to be left alone, for itself.
I feel it's also important for me, first, to note that my need to work, to read, to research, even to write, is not, I think, a pleasure, necessarily, but neither is it a symptom of some lack. It is the thing I do, and I would suffer terribly without it; but the doing is also, in its way, suffering.
Finally, for what was supposed to be a quick comment, I also feel its necessary to quote a bit I threw off early in the discussion, when Anna K. asked what I meant by "post-plenitude." I wrote:
I don't like ideas of wholeness or completeness or fulfillment [update: or, for that matter, unity. Or honesty, or authenticity, although I understand Nicola means all these words vertiginously] Too often I think we have 'lack' on the one side (psychoanalytically) and dissolution into wholeness or panpsychism (mysticism) on the other. I don't like the binary, and I don't like that those are the only options. I like to think more phenomenologically/ethically, where things, including ourselves, reserve something to themselves, have their 'secrets,' if you like, a being-for-themselves that is--with all due respect to the lovely Cary Howie--not for us, utterly indifferent to us. But let's NOT think that indifference as lack, as frustration, but rather, encountering the specific of another in all its particularity, in all its refusal to give everything of itself up to us, let us wonder at it, and protect it, from others and even from our own inquiries and desires. I like to think, then, that the place in between the lack and plenitude is something like the hapax from Dan's paper, the word that is itself, full of meaning, but not a meaning that would give itself to us wholly, but that nonetheless--contra Jan Ziolkowski--need not frustrate us by its lack or be absorbed by our own plenitude (or absorb us into it).
I've read this three times already and find myself with too much to say and no time to write. So I will observe that the dog story was my favorite pleasure I've heard narrated in a long time, and would ask if its transformation into story was an increase in pleasure, a pleasure of another order, or indifferent to pleasure?
Finally, what about Patty Ingham's question: are not many pleasures unsavory? are not most scholarly pleasures retroactive (we labor over research and later find it pleasurable)? isn't deferral integral to much pleasure?
Eileen, thank you so much for collecting this treasure, multiplied by each person's distinctive voice. Nicola, "daring to come close to possession of the good we seek," Dan -- "optimism is a small weak thing which disrupts the events of the closed economies--empties them so they can be emptied again and again: this is the movement of plenitude--not the being there but the constantly passing through!," and Karl imagining a place between lack and plenitude that is so exquisitely attentive: "who would rather be marked out, minimally, from the motion of the world as something to be left alone, for itself." I like how the different voices are "impossibly and inevitably" [Nicola] more, and sometimes echo each other improbably: Julie and Nicola's errancy! making a special place to set out Peggy McCracken's beautiful theory of the non-conceptual. I think we all (in that room, the 100 of us) undersigned with our pleasure the different voices speaking. Earlier, I gave away Cary's words to someone as a talisman against a bad day. On figuring the relation between pleasure and ethics: I am here, thanks to Carolyn Dinshaw. Also, my praise and gratitude echoes Jeffrey Cohen's praise: thanks to the fairy godmother to every medievalist in this country: Bonnie Wheeler. Here are the many people in power who do no harm: how is that even possible? What are the magic forms and words they repeat? And now I find myself by that fence, with that nose on my shoulder, with my nose on that shoulder, because it was him, because it was me. What to do? I am here because, at some point, I was just brave enough to trust Eileen and Sparky, who came in many different guises before they magically appeared as their particular selves -- or I would not be here. Ethical=the nurturing/encouraging/defending of that possibility wherever/however, esp. if you see it threatened, I think. . .even if your nose goes someplace unusual. . . which brings me back to nose :o)
Yes, Jeffrey, writing the story of the dog was a pleasure [maybe even increased the pleasure I already get in it, but of another order, one that partakes in *reflective* pleasures, the always-after pleasure of looking back to increase, somehow, what was felt, but which cam never be that], but it also risks, I think, a certain violation of what I would even call a sacred and private moment that maybe should only ever belong to the dog, to me and the dog, etc. I am very much influenced here by Karl's powerful and powerfully moving paper at Kalamazoo this year, and by his comments here which repeat the "point," as it were, that some things must be allowed to retain their secrecy, their "only-for-myself-ness." Although to even articulate what it might mean for a *creature*, whether dog or Eileen, to retain its secrecy, its only-for-itself-ness, is to participate in a very human project, I think, of meaning-making, or at the least, meaning-pointing [pointing to meaning while also saying, stand back a little].
Of course many pleasures are unsavory [I think that's why Anna mentioned child abuse in her comments], yet it will always be difficult to draw lines around these pleasures and to define what "unsavory" is: unsavory how, and for whom, or on whose behalf? "On whose behalf" is the key phrase for me because, whatever your pleasures, do no harm, I guess, but what about doing harm to oneself and what is *my* part in that as I watch *you* doing it? There is a question then, too of whether some pleasures are more "sick" or pathological than others, and if so, by whose/what standards? Who is to judge? Again, we might adopt a minimum standard: first, do no harm, to yourself or anyone else. Wouldn't it be a daring thing to say, we won't allow you to harm yourself, even if it's *just* yourself? But, oh, this is a veritable minefield.
I want to disagree that most scholarly pleasures are retroactive: we labor over research and later find it pleasurable, although I think that *is* definitely the standard and even generally accepted model and it goes something like this: this is damn hard work, and I suffer for and in it, but once it's done, and published, I hold it up and say, I did this and boy do I feel good about it [this is not necessarily the same thing that Karl is talking about when he says his work is a kind of suffering, but it is also just *what he does"]. I want to say, and maybe for the first time, and here, that I think my entire career has been oriented, even in a sort of ex-stasis [standing outside, literally, and feeling the bliss of that, which is also terrifying], AGAINST that very model. I want everything I do, scholarship-wise, to be about what I can enjoy now, in the doing of it. I have never known anyone more than myself less concerned about where anything of mine ends up [seriously; this is dead truth, and I think everyone who knows me knows this is true], I just want to be DOING IT all the time. I wish we could have a model of scholarship in which we realized better that what comes later is always just that: later, when we might not evne be there. Yes, I know we have to publish to survive, so please don't everyone jump all over me, and I do publish, all the time--it's just that, I'm almost never thinking about that and if I *were* thinking about it too much, as most are, I wouldn't be enjoying myself, as I truly am. Yes, writing and research can be hard and laborious work, but the thrill for me is always in, I guess, what I'm even doing right now: writing, writing, writing, putting words together, and trying to just, put something, anything [an idea, an argument, an image, an historical narrative, a constellation, etc.] into motion. Putting things into motion and being *in motion* with everything that has been put into motion, in my writing, is pleasurable, and I am addicted to it, like a drug. So, no, my pleasure in my scholarship is not retroactive, it is right now, and that can be dangerous, I know, because I almost never think of outcomes. Deferral is overrated.
Well, deferral isn't *always* overrated, as Anna's example of the tango illustrates, but let's not get too literal. Sometimes, I am saying, deferral is overrated--it participates, as a concept, in a regime of lack, of punishments and rewards. Fuck that.
Karl [again]: just a little bit on your opening comments here, because Eileen, as does Argus, also has to sleep, but I want to quibble a bit with your idea of love as choice. But first I want to also AGREE with several things you say here: yes, when loving, we sometimes remove attention from some and place it on others, and perhaps also, we love those who don't want to be loved by us and then, perhaps, we *harm* those people/creatures/entities. I get all that, but I guess I want to also resist the notion that love is always, somehow, an object choice, and there are therefore certain "objects" that glow or darken as a result of the attention they receive, or don't receive. For me, love is also a kind of force field that may not even be directed to any particular objects or persons at all but actually radiates out toward the entire world and loves everything in it, or practically everything. Now before everyone jumps all over me I am decidedly NOT talking about some kind of goofy "I love everyone & everything!" kind of love. I am talking, rather, about a sort of orientation to the world that is always fixed/attentive upon its possibilities, rather than upon its already-thereness as an object. We have, of course, attraction to all sorts of *specific* persons and objects, which we sometimes call love, and which usually ends badly. The love that I want to try to practice does not fixate upon specific persons and objects, although it certainly *lands* there on occasion and, if I'm lucky, helps to light things up from within and *between*, but more importantly, the love I'm for is a kind of clearing of space that allows for something to be left alone as well as for something to unfold in just the way it always needed to whether I was there or not, but it didn't have the space, either, maybe, before I cleared it. This also means love as a kind of making way for natality, for things to be born that you couldn't anticipate. I think it is possible to love this way, and bad as I am at it, I see this as the only way to love.
Blog-land is exciting! Thank you very much for inviting me into the Babel discursive energy-field – where I am dazzled by the velocity of response, proximity of community, and general luster. A few sundry thoughts before bed....
My question at the panel emerged from the questions I've been putting to my medieval sources, questions of the interrelationships of pleasures and harm (or – and I’m not sure how closely related – of recognition and misrecognition). Such inquiry, I hope, doesn’t have to flatten one term into the other. (Equating pleasure with harm perhaps became a semi-automatic move of literary interpretation awhile back & is something that I heard the “pleasure panel” speaking brilliantly & lyrically against.) However, for me, tracing the kaleidoscopic imbrications of pleasures and harm has been my way of charting social topographies of the past, of what was as stake in social relation....
I love Benjamin’s concept of the dialectical image, “where thinking comes to a standstill in a constellation saturated with tensions,” – and I think this saturation with tensions (“where the tension between dialectical opposites is greatest”) has played a large role in my scholarly selecting of examples and sources. Textual moments maximally charged with potentials of pleasure and harm, of recognition and misrecognition, are where I'm currently staking my search for illumination... Anatomizing relations between pleasure and harm, of course, must put forward, implicitly or explicitly, CONCEPTIONS of pleasure and harm – and in my struggle to come to what these might be, I have found myself MOST entangled with and implicated in the past (thus, Benjamin: “It is not that the past casts its light on what is present, or what is present its light on what is past; rather, image is that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation.”) The BABEL panel wonderfully wove medieval and medievalist pleasures, and for me opened on so many possibilities of thinking otherwise& anew. So far, I'm enjoying my own precarious activity (in motion!) between enjoying the past, judging it, curating it, and reviving it – naïve? or disreputable? in isolation, but which I'm hoping I might enact in concert to produce some kind of sustainable, meaningful praxis.
Eileen, help me to understand why I disagree with your separation of pleasures so much. I think that I am not as willing to separate temporalities as you are; I want to keep them thick, and allow for a simultaneity of past and present. But maybe I have been reading too much Proust.
So, I would say that your diurnal encounter with the sad dog and Karl's moving paper about the lonely "only-for-myself-ness" of the perishing animals are intensifications of singular moments, even singularities or (if we want to get all Duns Scotus/Gilles Deleuze) haecceities. They belong to each other. They are not separable.
So was "the sacred and the private" violated by such intensification? The answer for me is a definitive no: I can't think of a better way to honor, cherish, love, regard those encounters. Had they not been shared, they would have been diminished.
Eileen, I will have that/a model ready for you by next KZoo: Anagogy!
Speaking of which, I think we should not resist taking seriously (in the lightest possible way) the odors, the perfumes and stenches of things, the moods and atmospheres of our work, its alluring vicarious causations, as the very means or carrier of its pro-duction. Wonderfully, this is something, like bodily odors, one is both responsible for and does not have control over, maybe the deepest kind of external effect of habitus (ergo odor sanctitatis). And yet it is in a very real way the primary sense of something, of a person or a text say, how it feels, how it comes across, in an instantaneous and ongoing "long before" what it officially means.
Meanwhile, just a few refractions of already articulated ideas. About results, outcomes. Isn't it funny how deferral or belief in belonging to results is a kind of forward-looking nostalgia, a homesickness of the future? As if the project would stand in for oneself, but elsewhere! I hear in Eileen's "AGAINST" something akin to: "I come to the most important point: it is necessary to reject external means. The dramatic is not being in these or those conditions, all of which are positive conditions (like being half-lost, being able to be saved). It is simply to be. To perceive this is, without anything, to contest with enough persistence the evasions by which we usually escape. It is no longer a question of salvation: this is the most odious of evasions. The difficulty--that contestation must be done in the name of an authority--is resolved thus: I contest in the name of contestation what experience itself is (the will to proceed to end of the possible). Experience, its authority [right ynough for me], its method, do not distinguish themselves from the contestation" (Bataille). Am also reminded of: "Commentary thus means praxis, not without, but freeing itself from results, from anxious care about what does not belong to us. Accomplishing nothing, commentary becomes capable of everything and so constitutes the potentiality of a hermeneutic whose teleology and instrumentality fundamentally differ from, but do not necessarily contradict, the dominant thesistic standards of academic discourse. Commentary is knowledge-production as immanent to its labor, whether of writer or reader" (Becoming Spice). And this, which I found yesterday in Agamben's Profanations, and very in tune with the spirit of the pleasure panel I think: "To live respectably and to live happily are two very different things, and the latter will not be possible for me without some kind of magic; for this something truly supernatural would have to happen" (Mozart). What is NOT supernatural?
Here the call of the Speculative, as something restoring the world to its natural magic, to "the absolute contingency of the cosmic abyss" (Reza N.), makes much sense. So another name for the kind of work some of us desire would be Speculative Medieval Studies. Who or what is a speculative medievalist? Maybe someone for whom the medieval is the speculum that the world was thought be to in the middle ages. Maybe someone who simply and merely speculates with the medieval. Maybe a speculative realist who quixotically conflates reality with the medieval so as to pilgrimage towards and unknown universe. Maybe a mirror-trapped narcissus releasing the fragrance of her contemplation of herself as another. Maybe . . .
p.s. This just landed in my inbox, which I hear in the voice of Cary Howie: "Why don't you do something utterly unique - instead of cooperating with what has been knocking you down, what has been causing you to stumble so badly, why don't you cease cooperating with it?"
Jeffrey, thanks so much for your further prods to thought here [urging me to consider better attending to the thickness different temporalities create when they are brought into contact with each other and therefore, each moment is not diminished by every other moment that recalls it, necessarily], and I also think your prod here makes a beautiful echo with Nicola's most recent call, "Saturation!"
Indeed, is not much of the anguish we sometimes feel [or that *I* am feeling here, perhaps, in having *opened* my private moment, my and the dog's private moment, through writing, to everyone else, which *might* be selfish on my part]--is not this anguish borne out of a kind of *compulsion* to separate everything out from everything else? And isn't this, in some way, very medieval [discretio, as Julie reminds us; taxonomies, also, I would say]. This brings in human agency as well which I so very much want to keep talking with Karl about, and never stop talking about [hence our title for our shared presentation at Kalamazoo next year: "It's Never Enough"], because I think that, even though there are SO many moments that will always remain stuck in, and maybe even desire to be stuck in, and with Karl, have a *right* to be stuck in/left alone with themselves, how can we even begin to contemplate this state of affairs, to draw closer to it [without touching/harming anything/anyone in it], such that our senses might be enlarged and the world, even, thicken in our descriptions of it, of these moments of all-to-itself/myself? This is where I see the importance of the human, and human agency, to the thickening of the world, to its possibility-ness, its being-possible. I will admit I am somewhat under the influence at present of Thomas Carlson's beautiful book, "The Indiscrete Image: Infinitude and the Creation of the Human," where Carlson quotes Augustine [from "Tractates on the First Epistle of John"]:
"For all lovers of the world, because they dwell in the world by their loving, as they dwell in the sky whose heart is on high and yet walk by their flesh on the earth--all lovers of the world, then, are called the world."
And here's the part that [I hope] Karl might like [I can even hear Karl's voice is *parts* if not all of this], where Carlson writes,
"The task, I think, is to see the incomprehensibility of the human as a function of its inextricable ties, both mortal and natal, with the world--and to see that world, itself no more captured or conquered by picture than is the human, as one in which and for which love opens rather than closes possibility and temporality. We need, in other words, to 'become a question' to ourselves, affirmatively, by asking ourselves 'into' the world, and we need to think the birth of the world as emerging from a love of it." [p. 215]
Don't tell the book I'm working on right now, but I'm diving into this discussion briefly. On this quote:
We need, in other words, to 'become a question' to ourselves, affirmatively, by asking ourselves 'into' the world, and we need to think the birth of the world as emerging from a love of it.Which reminds me of a discussion, perhaps somewhere in here, about what counts as a fact. When we start talking about "the world," I'm reminded of "facts," of "the body," or indeed of the "we": what do we cut away in order to arrive at any of these collective words? What gets identified as "fundamentally" world, fact, we, body? Or, to put the question another way, what do we mean when we say "the world"? When we start talking about "sharing a world," what gets occluded? On whose terms are the feelings, objects, stances, etc. that make up the world (dis)identified? And in what sense is this concept "world" useful? Or to what ends has it been put? Or, how is a stance of "wonder" and "love" a way of manufacturing a "good conscience"?
Karl: too many fantastic questions, too little time *this morning*, but I am coming back to this soon, okay? To say briefly now: for me "world" denotes a state of affairs in which *nothing* could be occluded, as you put it, and it would be a world that would be always overflowing itself, and it would have *nothing* to do with facts, but I'll return to this with more coherent thoughts in a bit.
For Julie, and because of your interest in faces, especially in relation to the situation of the leper, I think you will like reading [or at least be provoked in interesting ways by] Alphonso Lingis, who, along with Edith Wyschogrod [but in very different ways] is one of Levinas's best contemporary readers. Check out his essay, "Animal Body, Inhuman Face," which is included in Cary Wolfe's edited volume, "Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal," and where he writes:
". . . Does not the gaze of another, which touches us lightly and turns aside, and invokes not the glare of our gaze but the darkness our eyes harbor, refract to us the summons of the impersonal night?
And then when we make contact with the face of another, we make contact with the wounds and the wrinkles of the skin, surface of exposure of susceptibility and vulnerability.
The suffering we see may well be a suffering that does not seek to be consoled: Neitzsche warned against imagining that we should alleviate a suffering which another needs and clings to as his or her destiny--the inner torments of Beethoven, the hardships and heartaches of the youth who has gone to join the guerrillas in the mountains, the grief of someone who has to grieve the loss of her child. To be afflicted with his or her suffering requires that we care about the things he or she cares for.
Another's words of greeting open a silence for our words but also for our reticence and our tact before the importance, urgency, and immediacy of the demands of animal packs and constellations of things. " [pp. 181-82]
Think, Julie, of all the realms and constellations of relationships, to both pleasure and suffering, as well as the saturation of [social] tensions that might open within the terms:
Julie, thank you so much for this! I enjoy your voice very much!
You are the CAUSE (Aristotelian) to our pleasure mining (Speculative)!
Huzzah for Julie!!!!!!!!!!!!
Title: Ask me what you think pleasure is, and I will tell you everything and then everything more...A whole conference of pleasure becomes imperative, one session at SEMA appearing inadequate. It is not sex (as Freud thought), it is pleasure that everything is (or not)--that covers "it", no? (it=the whole world and its appurtenances)
Jeffrey: I applaud you--but what is at work, I wonder, where we will not be led there? Why so much need to talk about pleasure? (as in vain would you inflate the sails of this discussion again with the wind of one name (writing), they will gather to themselves all sorts of winds and race, spilling over, like crazy spinning tops not proper sailboats!)
Julie: have you by any chance put your finger on the answer to the question right above? Have we been told to equal pleasure and harm? Please elaborate? (if we were, this fruity proliferation would be partially accounted for-maybe :o)
So you don't think I am not fruitily/futilely/crazily compelled myself, here I am:
hmmm...I am beginning to wonder if Eileen's anguish over the violation of sacred and private (in which I very profoundly share--to such extent that it has prohibited me from acting a certain way, as well as writing, painting, and doing all sorts of things that leave a record, or better: can be commodified in some partial way, sold, accounted for, used, etc.; for me, you will not fail to note, scholarship written in a foreign language is one of the very few ways in which I am allowed to mediate, to compromise the very human need to make a living (additionally mediated as "for my children"), with the prohibition of creating graven images, or whatever the hell "it" is that Eileen described, as her reluctance to speak of the Sacred--just to be clear, though: it is not in any way a prohibition that comes from the outside, as in: a "rule" I live by--rather, it's an unexamined impulse, "nose")----- is not that another face of Karl's "when we start sharing a world what gets occluded. . . wonder and love a way to manufacture good conscience"?
On the one hand, the last thing you want is to give birth to the world on purpose (horror!--Rosemary's baby, etc.) (manufacture good conscience,or a commodity such as a book.etc)
On the other hand, a book (or even a field that includes good conscience) is not JUST that--a book is a commodity but also it is a thing with wings that makes a difference between happy and unhappy day, for someone, somewhere
On the yet other hand, yes there is such a thing as choreographing the drama of your own life--giving shape to what you give birth to, licking it to shape as it were, and I absolutely live to do this (pleasurably--guided by my nose in that) (although of course once you've given birth to some world, you're responsible for it--so my nose has blinkers on it, just as Karl says :o)
I wonder if we all don't have very discrete categories (which we loove to infringe, and test, and affirm--not simultaneously) (and which some of us, but a few only, violate even--but that pains me) where we exercise discrete operations, and an artist is the only person allowed to reframe/reformulate them. Incidentally, that is usually a person who is more than usual attuned/sensitive to the possibilities and consequences of that change, of that (to borrow your words Eileen) "clearing of space . . . making way for natality, for things to be born that you couldn't anticipate"
Does this have ANYTHING to do with your guys' thinking about "Am I a primary source YET?" (I mean, authority to define definition)
An obnoxious person, someone who refuses to give pleasure, or gives the wrong kind to the un-right person at the inappropriate time, or insists on giving us pleasures that we'd rather be without, is like an artist but whose intervention we reject Conversely, if we look at people who act really--I'm going to borrow the Greek word, "idiot"--defined as someone who acts in their own way, guided by idiosyncratic pleasure imperative not shared by one more soul--especially people who are harmful idiots-- as artist, say a certain kind of dancer, life becomes much more amusing.
Kisses to all (who need kisses). Make it AIR kisses to some--perhaps many, as I am getting older and markedly less adorable :o)
With age, everyone [including Anna] gets markedly more and not less adorable. This is just my peculiar vision of things.
So, a little confession here: I have spent all of today, and maybe part of yesterday, too, kind of haunted by Karl's idea, following Aelred's "On Friendship," that
"There's no love there without a 'theft of resources' from others who may need them just as much."
Love as a "theft of resources"--I mean, I just can't wrap my mind around it. I mean, I *can* of course wrap my mind around it and understand perfectly *how* love can be figured/enacted this way, but I also want to ask if love [and also wonder] can be figured as *states* of being that are precisely the opposite of the theft of resources and might even be the donation/gift of resources? I guess I am also asking Karl, then: can you explicate in more detail how love, following Aelred, or whoever, takes resources away? Because I don't see love as having only a certain reserve [a *quantity*] that can be doled out either here or there; but I am not sure, either, how to articulate what its non-quantitative aspects might be, and am hoping for some help here.
And regarding more of Karl's fundamentally important questions here,
"What gets identified as 'fundamentally' world, fact, we, body? Or, to put the question another way, what do we mean when we say "the world"? When we start talking about "sharing a world," what gets occluded?"
I can only say, for now, and perhaps to Karl, how can you help me to define 'world' in such a manner that it eludes facticity and the occlusion of anything, "body" or otherwise? By "world," I think I mean whatever it is my mind can comprehend as existing at any given moment, but also everything my mind can't comprehend. At the same time, and I won't play coy [otherwise, why did I bring in that Carlson quotation?], "world" does not denote for me, on some level, that which comes into being through my thinking/imagination. I hear Karl, at the same time, reminding me of everything that does not need or require my thought at all to exist. And yet, I can't help but try to imagine even that into a worldliness I could conjure somehow. I think this is, somehow, a human desire, and an ethical good, too.
Eileen, thank you so much for the reference to Alphonso Lingis and the beautiful quote from his essay. His work has been recommended to me before, and that essay sounds like a profound way into his thought and to thinking the face. Anna, thanks for your generosity and the effervescence of your words! In answer to your question, when I was talking about the equation of pleasure and harm, I was thinking about ideological critique in general – the way, as critical thinkers, we’ve become adept at catching our own pleasures in their complicity and inextricability from structures of domination and oppression – structures of harm. Part of critique has become a game of “gotcha!” – pleasure, containment, pleasure, containment, pleasure…. The BABEL Pleasure Panel seemed to me to be resisting ideological critique, at least as a first approach to pleasure. Zizek’s provocative “Enjoy your symptom!” might by an interesting phrase to think with/against the more phenomenological / ethical framings of pleasure I heard there. Nicola, I LOVE your idea of a Speculative Medieval Studies, and I think at least once a day, with great curiosity and anticipation, about the question of next year’s panel, “Am I a Primary Source?” I am urgently wondering if so, and what sort! Karl, I’ve been interested for quite awhile in these questions you raised – “When we start talking about ‘the world,’ I'm reminded of ‘facts,’ of ‘the body,’ or indeed of the ‘we’: what do we cut away in order to arrive at any of these collective words? What gets identified as ‘fundamentally’ world, fact, we, body?” I’ve been considering the “reality effects” or “authenticity effects” that “the body” is called upon to create or to guarantee in both medieval and modern discourses, a practice which opens up (for me) a treacherous ground between phenomenology and the rhetorical deployment of phenomenology….
Wondrous swarms of thoughts unleashed by everyone’s words! Just three quick notes, a stop-gap for a “real” response as I prepare for my journey back to England….
-- AESTHETIC / ANESTHETIC: while the dyad pleasure/harm reproduces, sort of, the aesthetics/politics, or aesthetics/ethics pairings, one might think back productively to the root “aisthitikos,” the sensory experience of perception, and what is the other of THAT – anesthetics, stupor, opiate, ecstasy, trauma? aesthetic experience vs. anesthetic experience… How does this map re: pleasure?
-- Oscar Wilde enjoying the literary past: ''One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughing.'' What kind of pleasure is satire, irony, decadent reading? All tropic language, literary meaning is a declining away from (decadere) proper sense…. Does Wilde, decadence, irony, or satire have any place for the medievalist?
-- Lovely Liza Blake’s insistence on the necessity/ pleasure/ injunction to read Deleuze remains for me to pursue further, in order to think, among other things, not tensions but intensities, saturation with intensities, vibration…. So I am still working toward thinking with those, to making my tensions, dialectics, and binaries take flight!
Julie: if you're not careful, we'll exhaust you, so hurry up and get to England and don't look back [haha]. First, what a wonderful proposition to get us thinking pleasure along the axis of aesthetic/anesthetic--this is just fantastic and bears further ruminations, of course. But I wanted to dwell here for just a moment on these comments of yours:
"as critical thinkers, we’ve become adept at catching our own pleasures in their complicity and inextricability from structures of domination and oppression – structures of harm. Part of critique has become a game of “gotcha!” – pleasure, containment, pleasure, containment, pleasure…. The BABEL Pleasure Panel seemed to me to be resisting ideological critique, at least as a first approach to pleasure."
I think you are definitely picking up on something here that was, indeed, present [or not present] in the papers offered at the BABEL "pleasure" panel, and it is intimately [if unconsciously] connected, I think, to a spirit that somewhat hovered over this session: that of Eve Sedgwick who, in an essay entitled "Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You're So Paranoid You Probably Think This Essay Is About You" [in the collection "Novel Gazing"], discusses what Ricoeur called a hermeneutics of suspicion, or paranoid reading practice [in which the reading/critique becomes a sort of "pathologizing diagnosis"], and in such readings, in the words of D.A. Miller [in "The Novel and the Police"],
"Surprise . . . is precisely what the paranoid seeks to eliminate, but it is also what, in the event, he survives by reading as a frightening incentive: he can never be paranoid enough."
Paranoia, then, in Sedgwick's terms, "requires that bad news be always already known." Paranoia *can* be a "form of love," in Sedgwick's opinion, but it is also the most ASCETIC form of love: "the love that demands the *least* from its object," and it also forms a really *rigid* relation to temporality, "at once anticipatory and retroactive."
Against paranoid, or skeptical, readings [in which you always find what you know ahead of time is going to be there: violence and coercion, for instance], Sedgwick offers the idea of reparative reading, in which, if there are terrible surprises [paranoid reading's purview], there may well be good surprises as well. Here is how Sedgwick elaborates:
"Hope, often a fracturing, even a traumatic thing to experience, is among the energies by which the reparatively positioned reader tries to organize the fragments and part-objects she encounters or creates. Because she has room to realize that the future may be different from the present, it is also possible for her to entertain such profoundly painful, profoundly relieving, ethically crucial possibilities as that the past, in turn, could have happened differently from the way it actually did." ["Novel Gazing," pp. 24-25].
Ultimately, the “desire of a reparative impulse is . . . additive and accretive. . . . it wants to assemble and confer plenitude on an object that will then have resources to offer an inchoate self.” So here we come to "plenitude" again [a term that both Dan Remein and Karl have offered different views of in this comment thread], which I think was really operative in the BABEL pleasure panel, at least as far as exploring *good* affects might be concerned. This is something we want to keep considering, so Anna and Nicola have organized 2 panels for Kalamazoo next year on "The Post-Abysmal" [1. The Post-Abysmal I: Beauty, Poetry, Smallness, Dialethia and 2. The Post-Abysmal II: Beloved, Plenitude, Optimism, Explosion"] that will help us further this discussion. In their precis for the panels [which please god let them be approved] Anna and Nicola write:
This session is resolutely “post”: post-post-modern, post-lack, post-plenitude, post-humanist, post-Heideggerian, post-Blanchot, post-silence, post-death, post-speculative realism, even. With Michael Snediker, our Respondent, we create “epistemologies not of pain, but of pleasure; aestheticize not the abdication of personhood, but its sustenance” (Queer Optimism, 41); with Alain Badiou, we want “a theater of capacity, not of incapacity” (Handbook of Inaesthetic), as we “return to the place of life” (Saint Paul); and with Giorgio Agamben, we want to speak the “language in which the pure prose of philosophy would intervene at a certain point to break apart the verse of the poetic word, and in which the verse of poetry would intervene to bend the prose of philosophy into a ring” (Language and Death, 78).
Well, hmmmm, that's a tall order. Let's see what happens!
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