Momentary Affects

a single emotion, each day in 2011

Archive for January 2011

010.365 Tucson, Arizona

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‘Words are deeds’ was one of Freud’s famous edicts for the power of language. Words can change the substance of a moment, of a momentary affect.

In Tucson, Arizona on Saturday, a 22-year old, Jared Lee Loughner, stepped out and shot six people dead, and left others, including the US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, critically ill.

There is plenty of talk about Loughner’s mental state. He suffered from mental illness, and links are being made to his actions and his heavy drinking and marijuana use, social isolation and an inability to empathise with others.

Loughner also, it emerges, had a grievance with Giffords for not answering a question about grammar. Reported on the Guardian website:

Some, however, are seeking to connect Loughner with a fringe, far-right political thinker who shared the 22-year-old’s obsession with grammar and how it supposedly plays a central role in government mind control programmes.

Former friends have recounted that Loughner had a fixation for grammar and words, saying that he challenged Giffords at a previous public meeting with the impenetrable question: “What is government if words have no meaning?”

In one of his video diatribes posted on the internet, he said: “The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar. You control your English grammar structure.”

Some reports have connected this with the arguments of David Wynn Miller – or as he styles himself, Judge David-Wynn: Miller – whose near-impenetrable, capital letter-heavy website expounds the notion that grammar is used to control the populace, and that by inserting colons or hyphens into your name you can escape taxable status by becoming a “prepositional phrase”.

Miller appears one of those people for whom the subject has become too excessive a condition of experience.

It is a stark question: What is government if words have no meaning? Another stark question posed on US news channels, one asked by the woman who managed to take the second magazine of bullets from Loughner’s hand long enough for him to be overpowered: how can someone hate so much?

Or another question: what kind of grievance can a rejection spur? An unanswered question and a 22-year old man driven to kill.

I found myself caught up in an initial wave of indignant anger at Sarah Palin, the US governor of Alaska, who advocates “don’t retreat, reload” as political cant, and published on her website a list of congressmen and women ‘in her sights’ for political targeting; the symbol she and her campaign team used on the website for the targeting were the crosshairs of a gun target. (Later, I hear on the radio that another political candidate in the recent US election put the initials of his opponent on a gun target, and shot at them.)

On Twitter, I began re-tweeting the links to (and righteous vitriol towards) Sarah Palin’s website. A follower notified me that Palin had offered her condolences on Facebook. My response was facetious, short and crude. The next morning, embarrassed, I avoided looking at what response it may have garnered. There was none.

A grievance. We associate grievances with the world of work, of taxation, of unfair actions leading to long but often low-level resentment. For what was Jared Loughner grieving? Perhaps grievances are stronger emotions than capitalist corporate structures have allowed them to be. They are flattened into pancake emotions, stretched thinly over time, without the weight or substance to suffocate, but there, always, heavy and uncomfortable. But perhaps a grievance is a strong emotion, a consuming affect, something that undoes the standard chain of events. Perhaps too many grievances at work have extracted from situations the grief, and left only the resentment.

In David Wynn Miller’s Quantum Dictionary is this entry:


Another typical entry is this:


There is no entry for grief, grievance, emotion, hurt, hate, resentment, or any other emotion. Only nouns of things, such as DROGUE (a sea anchor) and VASSALEE (servant).Sometimes words are deeds, and sometimes they are not.



Written by alockwood

January 10, 2011 at 4:13 pm

009.365 Truth, Politics and Embarrassment

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I am sitting in Vins, a cold and light bar in St Pancras station, where a young French couple are sitting on a low sofa opposite, drinking white wine. He has a Louis Vitton scarf wrapped around his neck and has put one leg up on the other knee, and he is shaking it, but not necessarily impatiently. They kiss. An old couple enter, the man pulling a heavy suitcase on wheels. They cannot decide where to sit. Finally, they move off out of my line of sight, beyond the brick arch that I have found and forced myself into, as it is home to the only plug socket, it seems, in the whole of this multibillion pound hub of coming and going. We are all waiting. For trains, for electricity, for the Eurostar, for time to catch up to where we want it to be.

I haven’t bought a drink. My stomach feels drilled out. My throat and eyes are on the edge of another heave. Last night an early this morning: beer followed by red wine followed by white followed by vodka. A leaving drinks in Green Lanes. Dinner in Finsbury Park. A Russian New Year party in Canary Wharf. Trying to fit too much in, literally and figuratively, and it burst out of me, violently, over the veined marble of a friend’s penthouse bathroom. From the balcony you can see across the whole of London. There, the Shard. There, the old Naval College at Greenwich that Lauren and I would walk past on our way home from Café Rouge or the cinema, and give grace, be thankful for our night, our walk home. It was if it was all ours, then.

I remember one of the first times I saw Lauren. She was standing at the window in our offices in London Bridge, watching the sunset. She was giving thanks for her life. Two friends had recently died in a car accident. They were barely 20.

Earlier, a scrap of newspaper on the Euston road and a headline, half-caught: ‘Happiness is a High Rise’. But I could not enjoy the sunrise this morning, as unadulterated as it was. Nor could I visit an old, old friend who I had promised to see. And I avoided, missed, circumvented the other friends who I was staying with while they were at lunch; before they arrived back home.  I snuck out of their flat, and sent a text. Embarrassed it said.

We choose how we feel. Or, at least, we adapt our bodies and motions to accept certain affects. We invite their coming through the actions that best bring them to surface. And they burst through us, they are uncontrolled. Retching. After vigorous massages there can come a healing crisis where toxins are purged from the body, and rather than be relaxed you can fall into a tremendous sickness. For a short while.

Today I have invited embarrassment to burst out from where it has been hiding. Although it is without shame. Perhaps what I mean by we invite their coming through the actions that best bring them to surface is that today I was ready to feel embarrassment in front of people: particularly these people.

How does it feel? It feels as if I am flattened out like dough, and that there is a greater surface of me exposed to the world. That is my embarrassment. But there is no shame. I know that I can be rolled up again, into a ball, my insides hidden again. If there was not this knowledge, the exposure would be unbearable. Like dough rolled too thinly, I would begin to tear.

Perhaps it is something to do with wholeheartedness. That is the term that Brené Brown uses to describe those individuals living a full, compassionate, loved life. It is also the term that emanates from Jeremy Waldron review of lying in politics in the current London Review of Books. It resonates in front of me, inside my legs and arms and spit.

One cannot be wholehearted and lie, deceive. Can one? Perhaps. As Waldron says, drawing on Hannah Arendt’s essay ‘Truth and Politics’:

Maybe too there is a difference in politics between the lies we tell to get things going and to mobilise our supporters, the lies we tell about our own hopes, passions and wholeheartedness, on the one hand, and systematic deception on the other.

In politics and in the political economy of living, of everyday feelings, one can lie and still be wholehearted, if the lie is used to mobilize our thoughts, hopes, passions, friends, is it a wholehearted lie, or, in the belief of Kant and Derrida, does speaking a lie always mean one stops speaking? Speaking from the heart?

The young couple have left. The older couple who could not decide where to sit have been waiting, and now they come and take the sofa. The woman in well dressed. Her black patent leather shoes are exquisite and expensive. She calls the man round. But then she picks up her coat from the sofa and they disappear again. Perhaps they have decided the sofa is too low. Or the seats are too cold, as we are facing the main entrance.

Or perhaps they do not like the idea of being subjected to my observation. Perhaps they too have felt some embarrassment, deep within their legs and gut. Although they do not know why, and will never know, perhaps once the feeling is felt it is held, it requires at some point an invite to emerge, to fling itself out of their old but still able bodies. Perhaps it will dissipate away, like bubbles in champagne. Like time, electricity, in this shelf of land constantly shifting, moving, passing before the glass doors of the bar.

Written by alockwood

January 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm

Posted in Embarrassment

008.365 Not business-as-usual (at #netrootsuk)

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The crowd has been promised something else: definitely not business-as-usual. If anyone states the facts about social media (“blogging is good!”; “Twitter is the future!”) they are to be shot; or at least thrown out. Perhaps one of these threats is a joke—Sunny Hundal, by default today the name and face of The Left, and chair of the conference says that only one of the panellists is actually funny.

Is it him? No, it’s Clifford Singer, the man behind and, who holds his piece together with wit and laughter. Because they, of course, are not business-as-usual for conference presentations. But it’s sharp. Engaging. He wins friends.

The conference is about change. Political action. About the Left (Comrades or not) taking back online space from the Right in the face of cuts deeper, faster and bigger than has ever been faced. Now is not, says Hundal, time for business-as-usual.

Less than 30 minutes later, the #netrootsuk hash tag on Twitter is full of grumblings, frustrations, anger with the speakers. “I thought they said it would be different?” “Why is this woman (Polly Toynbee) going on and on and…”

If you look around the conference hall, you would not know that there was such seething frustration. As one attendee (Laurie Penny) writes “We’re listening politely while arbiters of the centre-left mow the grassroots into a neat bourgeois lawn”; someone replies, “I find it ironic @PennyRed is tweeting about the bourgeoisie from an I-Pad, the product for people who have it all”.

Left vs. Left. Left vs. Right. Clever banter. Antagonism. Another tweet: “If everyone’s Tweeting, is anyone listening?” Not business-as-usual, right?

I sit, numbed a little by shyness. Polly carries on for another fifteen minutes. Fact, facts. More facts. I check my phone. My signal has gone. That at least it good.

You cannot numb the ‘bad’ emotions without also numbing the ‘good’
Brené Brown, a social science researcher at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, has spent a decade researching shame, shame resilience and human connection. One of her key findings is that “You cannot numb the ‘bad’ emotions without also numbing the ‘good’”.

I go and sit in Congress Room 1 waiting for the Investigative Journalism and Blogging session. A tall, blonde woman comes and joins me in the back row and says hello. I mouth the word back but there is no sound. We’re both early—it doesn’t occur to me just yet that she might hate the interstices between organised purpose (‘coffee breaks’) as much as I do—and we sit, waiting, checking on the schedule, thumbing papers and fiddling with time.

I realise suddenly that if I talk to her I will have, in some unclear way, satisfied what I came for. I lean into her space, the open chair between us where I have built up a pile of books, folders and laptop, and ask her if she had come with an organisation. She points to her name badge. UCU, it says. We’re in the same trades union; we are members of the same industry. Affinity.

‘I thought if I wrote it there and someone saw it they might start talking to me,’ she says.

I explain that I’m a lecturer. But I didn’t put that on my badge. I say that I wrote my name as small as possible so no-one would talk to me, and in saying it, I realise it is true. But I say it with a smile, laughing, and I break eye contact, so she cannot fully see what I have exposed. We exchange information. Positions, UCU affiliations. Then she smiles and ties her hair back. I notice and trace the lines of her ear, how the internal curves of the cartilage, covered by skin, are listening, hearing, ‘breathing in messages’ as Polly Toynbee said earlier (when I had hope for her talk, at the very beginning…)

‘If I come to these things and don’t talk to anyone, I’ve the type of personality that gets upset,’ says the tall blonde woman.

A truth for a truth. She heard mine, then, and shared hers.

Talk to people you did not know
I’m very good at listening, although I am convinced it is she who has the pretty ears. She tells me about her workplace, the redundancies, the reasons for coming to the conference today. She talks with seriousness. I know I am always serious when I meet people. It’s my comfort zone. But she smiles too. By the time the talks begin for the session the numbing shyness has lifted. The belief that I should be somewhere else has gone, too.

Why is this simple but almost impossible act, between people who do not know each other, not the focus of the conference? Why does the conference rely on themes, arguments, agreements, presentations, graphs and keynotes to facilitate (obstruct?) this? Or does everyone already know everyone else?

The session drags on. The speakers don’t know how to respectfully keep to time. The chair does not intervene. The speakers read out from PowerPoints we could digest in five minutes online. Questions come, with barely any time left. I need the men’s room. I’m frustrated that the ‘workshop’ has turned into a lecture. One man leaves in disgust. I’m frustrated now, as I wasn’t in the earlier session. You cannot numb the ‘bad’ emotions without also numbing the ‘good’. But if you feel the good, you will also feel the bad. It’s worth it.

Time runs out, and the tall blonde woman leaves to get her lunch before the next session begins. I watch her go. I grab my things and go, too. No-one will go home upset. We talked to people we did not know.

What could I achieve if I always talked to people I didn’t know?

Written by alockwood

January 8, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Shyness

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