The most important argument here is that it is the reader who must adapt to the poem, not the poem or the poet to the reader.
— Laura (Riding) Jackson: Against the Commodity of the Poem (Part I) | Andrea Rexilius
after one of our guest lectures a student in my section handed me her assignment and whispered with a droopy face, “when are you going to teach the class.” her friend had doodles all over hers, basically a bunch of floating hashtags: #flawless. “i woke up like this.” bored in class. surfbort. i’m supposed to reprimand them for surfing the internet but i have mixed feelings. the more settled i am the less important attire is and my confidence exudes what clothes can’t. one of my students works at wells fargo and has the timidity befitting it; was so paralyzed by the prospect of writing the first short essay that they turned in a page with one typed sentence, along with a dispirited email about the impossibility of work. but he turned in the second essay and he’s a beautiful writer. doesn’t know how talented he is. students divulge things in class they might’ve never told anyone, especially because it’s an lgbtq course. their unsteady admissions in casual packaging are little experiments. teaching is really hard.
you know the kinds of interactions that could be classified as therapeutic? not the traditional denotation of “healing,” but the combinations that replicate the therapeutic relation –– wherein you begin to understand or see something about yourself strictly through the stark contrast of you vis-a-vis the other. the analyst is silent, pokes, provokes. you come to conclusions by playing out your drama on their blank facade.
i met someone recently who elucidated all my dark crevices. like, in a flash – just in the span of a day. the way that the dark corners have bled into my interior. this person’s unhasty approach, their gentleness, the grounded air about them. depth is unimaginably subtle. it’s easily steamrolled and overpowered if you aren’t careful with it.
i willingly dove headfirst into superficiality. it was my response to many things, including political depression, and it’s a choice i’m having to come to terms with now that i have the means to withstand more grey. (i am admitting to you, to whoever, that this is a privilege i’m deeply afraid of misusing.)
in DC at the ASA i sat down to lunch with one of my favorite professors in the overpriced hotel restaurant. i asked him how he was so calm and composed during his panel and he said – not arrogantly, more matter-of-factly – that oftentimes he looks around and knows he’s smarter than most of the people in the room, so he’s able to draw confidence from that. he gave the example of the roundtable we’d just left and the white affect, the strangled and clunky atmosphere; the presenters trying their best to endure and simultaneously match the awful conference space; to be neutral, professional, smart, new. i told him i admired that because exactly the opposite was the case with me. if in any way i might be “smarter” than anyone else, i only ever register it as my own deficit. i’m not able to locate the onus or liability; i think i relativistically and somewhat accurately became convinced during the last 5 years that there wasn’t one. my self-hatred kicks in because i don’t have any mirroring or anyone who recognizes me. a good friend is always trying to tell me that the reason i don’t connect with people is because i’m “special,” “a genius baby,” an “indigo child,” like my grandparents insisted. i told the prof about the process i underwent during the last 5 years, or the experience of learning how not to speak. first with the trauma of having nowhere to go after i finished undergrad, and the nomadic/homeless life i lived for a year. the decimation of my confidence. and then the non-profit job i worked, which carried its own special heartbreak, and the 4 restaurants i worked in until i finally quit last may. i told him about the fact that i was trying to make connections in the heartless conditions of all-male kitchens, which essentially meant trying to have any interesting or insightful conversation, and what an utter failure it was. all people did in the restaurants is tell me “you think too much” and comment on my physical appearance. reduced to utterly nothing. michael says the problem is that i “give other people too much credit” (said humorously) and because i try to act like i’m on the same level as everyone else. when i told the professor this, he said that it seemed i might have hang-ups about authority. that because my politics are anti-hierarchical, i’m refusing to view myself as an authority, and keep trying to interact with every person i encounter as an equal. “you are disoriented about your position in the room; you don’t know where you stand. teaching really helps with that, because you have a position in the room and you aren’t unclear about it.” i go, “so you think i shouldn’t be afraid to view myself as an authority or treat other people like they’re not the same as me?” and he goes “yeah. because you’re not.”
and then he said to me, “you know, now that i think about it. it might not just be a problem of authority but also a problem of intimacy.”
"what do you mean?" i asked.
"well, it sounds like you’re suffering from refusals of intimacy. it sounds like you kept trying to experience intimacy with all of these people and you weren’t able to."
i felt, like, a wave of conviction and sadness, and mustered, “yeah. i mean that’s my whole thing with the academic atmosphere, you know.”
"exactly. and the problem with our department is that intimacy is extended or promised and then withdrawn, over and over again. i think that makes people crazy, especially if it is especially triggering for you. frankly, it sounds like you’ve been through some trauma."
it was the first time i understood my time outside of the academy as “trauma,” but also the first time i ever had a way of understanding the way i recoiled from others’ coldness. refusals of intimacy are triggering for me. the smallest slights break my heart and i’m always pre-empting them. a friend makes jokes that when people are cold to me, “they don’t know who they’re playing with. you’re gonna outdo their ice with your ice, but your ice isn’t real.”
could it be true that my icy performatives have actually calcified into superficial habits, though failed miserably at transforming me into someone who does not feel? i’m just thawed, half frozen and half not. but it was so shameful to meet someone who made me see my own superficiality. there are many ways to know what you are, to see what you’re doing. but i think of the hardt/berlant talk about love being a place where people are willing to admit they want to become different. i think there’s a kind of knowledge that is only powerfully transmitted through speed and touch.
people self-protect through the mantra “no safe spaces,” but i want to be a person who helps make this short life safe.
(posting because i’m excited to see what happens and will keep updating you guys here)
Un/Lucky Break: Detachment, Negativity, and Fantasy in Sex, or the Unbearable
This panel began both as a direct engagement with and an interrogation of the CFP. In considering the organizers’ call to think about attachment “in conditions of non-relation, where relation has lapsed or has never properly existed,” we converged around the suspicion that there might not be such a thing as non-relational attachment at all; can one ever describe the terms of ecological catastrophe, for example, as non-reciprocal or unrelated, without underestimating the potential for activity or passivity on either side? In addition, we would like to inquire as to what part intentionality plays in attaching to our objects. Here we conjure Merleau-Ponty and Karen Barad on touch and take interconnectivity even at the molecular level as a point of departure –– not merely to suggest that attachments may never be structured by choice, but to ask to what degree they actually are.
In a certain sense, a considerable portion of the CFP congeals into the crisis-ordinary or impasse question, “how do we detach from our objects?” We are interested in whether it is indeed possible to detach from an institution, a lover, or a concept, when it repeatedly proves inadequate or unwise to maintain relationship, or at worst –– when it does not love you back. Moreover we are interested in why so many are asking these questions about attachment now, in 2014, and in reading them specifically as politically charged. If this topic is so timely and resonant, has a collective attachment expired on a mass scale, and what expired forms of relation did the organizers initially have in mind?
Berlant and Edelman’s recently published Sex, or the Unbearable directly addresses some of these questions at the same time that it generates a new set of problems, and we are particularly curious about the way it might elucidate our own attachment to inhospitality vis-à-vis fantasy and repair. Is fantasy-attachment the best kind of attachment because it is the only kind? Do Berlant and Edelman abandon us at the “triumph of impossibility”? We ultimately aim to establish the stakes of interrogating attachment and address why, and in what ways, attachments might be worthy of being produced.
lol this is great. you know, i went to a symposium the other day and sat next to a girl i don’t know very well. she texted me afterward to say she had the impulse to grab my hand during the presentations and i told her i had to leave early because the talks were so boring, like package peanuts in a cardboard box. she wrote back “i know, but that’s why. what would have happened in that space if we had misbehaved…like if we had kissed instead of fuckin paying attention? would they have thought we were sick and that society must be defended from us?” haha. i told her that i often think about how no one ever just stops somebody they’re attracted to in the street and says, “i want you” or “hey. you’re fucking beautiful.” overt desire is so good and should happen more often. plus i dig capricorn women, so…
yesterday i was on the brink of some kind of crazy. i was really feeling it when i went to my department. one of my dissertation chairs asked, why are you wearing a hoodie and winter hat when it’s 80 degrees outside? well, it’s much cooler inside most places, i said, and besides, it [the owl hat] is my thinking cap. i couldn’t quite figure out why i felt embarrassed about admitting that i spend so much time indoors. aren’t we all supposed to be huddled at our desks inside somewhere? or was i supposed to shed layers in the interim to make other people comfortable, to make it seem like i could have been out playing in the sun before i went in to talk about my dissertation? the other contributing factor to this whole thing is that i ended up carrying my desktop computer around campus, which solicited a lot of comments. it was mostly bad planning on my part. i wanted it at the coffee shop, and then there was no way i was going to leave it in the car at the university. i started to think of this poem that mary ann campau would read at gatherings when i was still in high school, a poem she wrote about a woman who carried a big turd into the abco where she would go shopping. i woke up this morning and pulled mary ann’s book, like a waterweed ghost, off the shelf. i was struck by this section, which i have vivid memories of mary ann performing:
Awake at dawn, Sally calls her bowels her sibyl
foretelling the day omens omens
Her B.M. is the closest thing she’s come to sex in years
Magnificent crescendo of anticipation
needing aching sweet pain pushing
everything opening everything coming
then the splash
Cool droplets bombard her bottom
She says that’s her bidet
Sometimes she turns and surveys what she’s done
puts left hand on hip, right hand waves
an invisible cigarette while she growls
her best Bette Davis, What a dumppp!
there was something beautiful to me about this section when other people at the readings would laugh and laugh to create some distance. perhaps it was something about autoerotic capacity that moved me. perhaps it was because i knew what was coming next, the scene of Sally’s abjection. that shit was a little too close to home, and i was not open to that undoing. it produced a deep discomfort that i guarded against. then i found myself doing this weird thing yesterday. the university is certainly no abco, but i definitely brought some of the crap that it produces right to its door in a way that made other people uncomfortable. and what is storage about the whole thing is that i am not coming apart (nothing is more uncomfortable in academia than openly addressing mental health issues). i’m just really into what i’m doing right now. so the brink of some kind of crazy is teaching me, or reminding me really, about how much distance/sanitation/rejection it requires to maintain the proper academic subject.
y’all, so i’m going to UC irvine in a few weeks to talk about attachment in sex, or the unbearable and i wanted to ask you a question that might help me think through one of edelman & berlant’s central concepts. they talk a lot about the failure of knowing how to attach to the world (so an affective blockage that might manifest as an epistemological shortcoming) and thus the need to be pushed into acknowledging new/other aspects of living. another way to view the question is, what does one do with her own bad faith, when s/he is frankly sick of her own seriousness (in the sartrean sense)? when one encounters their own disavowal as a way of life.
this is a long way of contextualizing my question, which is: what do you do when you’re sick of yourself, and your “habits of doing the work of being oneself no longer works, not even in a fake or fantasmatic way”? what practical measures do you take to shake yourself up? what actions do you take when your own “epistemological and affective dressage no longer provides knowledge or pleasure?”
i got into grad school BP
this is lyle’s way of being way too modest can we get a party up in here
post-sex sumptuousness and invincible contentment are also available from the sun
tell me what’s sexier than getting into bed midday with the sun baked into your bone marrow and the trapped heat making aromatherapy of coconut tanning lotion and sweat
you will be hard pressed
Dread slices between noticing the mood made by the abrasion of loneliness and the discovery that nothing at the moment compels the drives or action toward cultivating anything, or even pretending to: this aggressive passivity is where fantasy offers consolation for living on while failing to provide a reliable cushion.
— Lauren Berlant on Eve Sedgwick in Sex, or the Unbearable
All these decades, I’ve moved through San Francisco pursuing my straight white literary activist girl pursuits but with joy in the people pursuing theirs and in the range and variety of life. Those mornings in Golden Gate Park, when I lived on that side of town, when the drummers were doing their thing on Hippie Hill, the roller disco royalty gyrating on skates, the old Chinese people doing their martial arts (with big pink fans, once, a whole flock of old ladies like flamingos), the bullfighters practicing sans bulls in the Panhandle, the swing dancers on the little bridge by the De Young, the saxaphonists and digeri doo guys playing with tunnel reverb, the runners running, the weddings and tourists and museum goers and cyclists and houseless campers and the archers at the far west where the gay men used to cruise before online shopping for sex: it felt like a world with room for everyone. I keep coming back to the sign an old woman held up at Occupy Wall Street: “We are fighting for a world where everyone matters.”
This is why I’ll pay my respects to Esta Noche even though I was never a Latina drag queen and why it pains me to see it and so many other institutions helping the old San Francisco be a world in which many worlds fit, in which everyone mattered, evicted, erased, outpriced. Those worlds are going out like lights as it becomes the brave new world of newcomers—and we always welcomed newcomers, but this many with this much clout are extinguishing what came before and not arriving in San Francisco but replacing it with a strange surburbanized dudely young version of the good life that doesn’t have room for Latina drag queen bars, apparently. Or bookstores. Or the Coltrane Church. Or ladies who are nearly 100 and here by grace of rent control who could tell you wonderful stories about the San Francisco of the 1930s and 1940s. Or the godfather of the Mission and the Galeria de la Raza.
Remember that Bernal Hill is where some Sandinistas trained once upon a time, before anyone dreamed the Google Bus would be stopping at its foot, remember that we were the great portal for Zen in the west with San Francisco Zen Center, remember that we have been a great generator of magazines—Rolling Stone, Artforum—that moved, of ideas that stuck, starting with the environmental movement at least since the Sierra Club was founded on Kearny Street in 1892 and Earth Island Institute 90 years or so later, of liberation for queer people at least since North Beach was full of lesbian and drag bars and Jose Sarria (may s/he rest in regal festivity) was running for Supe in 1961 and the drag queens were beating the cops with their purses and heels at the Compton Cafeteria Riot long before Stonewall, remember that the Mission mural scene was all about art that wasn’t white or gentrifying, remember that the Alcatraz occupation came out of Native Americans here who inspired a whole continent of indigenous people, remember that Asian rights and identities were often defined from here around the I-Hotel and its cultural center and activists and the great Asian writers of this region, remember that Valencia Street was lesbian bars and appliance stores before the new fancy came in, remember that the support for so many movements, and sometimes the big ideas, came from here. Will they again? I’m worried.