Momentary Affects

a single emotion, each day in 2011

Posts Tagged ‘January10

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

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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