Momentary Affects

a single emotion, each day in 2011

Archive for the ‘Embarrassment’ Category

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