Driven , inexorably driven we say. I am here because I must be here, and yet that is not true of course. We dip and twist as if caught in an exquisite paradox, as if held here in this elegant ‘interminable’ deadspace, as if twisting in the wind of some awful faceless conspiracy. It is not so. And since it not so, we dream, wait and hold onto the agony of the as if since it alone allows us to weep without knowing it.
It is a sad thing when a friendship ends – and such is the
nature of the world that all things end. One can, for so long, hold out the
prospect that what at the time seemed like a misunderstanding can be redeemed. But
that too must pass, it seems, that too must die and the past is recast anew in
the light of that passing. I’m done, we say, but are we really? I have tried to
engage in useful work of mourning. But when I say ‘I’m done’, I have clearly only
just begun to think over and over about words said, about moments and choices
made, about responsibility, blame and recrimination. The repeating is like a death
grip. Endlessly I revisit those moments. I wonder what I might have said
differently, I torment myself with those possibilities. If only .....
The ending of a friendship draws one’s attention to the gut-wrenching
fragility of them all, to the vulnerability of our social bonds and their endless
hopeless devastating volatility. If there is anything to be done it is, it
seems, to assess the extent to which a friendship can be repaired, and the
extent to which one is prepared to prostrate oneself before the alter of that
friendship, humbly taking on the responsibility for what is always already
radically shared. To take on the responsibility for the end of a friendship is
sometimes the only way to bring it back to life, but at what cost? Is the friendship
more important than a truth that will all over again destroy it? Is the
friendship more important even than one’s own sense of self-worth? Ask yourself
this: could you prostrate yourself before it knowing that you have no reason to
take on the burden of the friendships’ ending?
Determining that also brings with it questions as to the ‘original’
nature of the imagined friendship. Was it based simply on mutual self-interest?
Was one agent of the friendship more inclined to set aside time and effort to
help the other? And was there ever a time during the friendship when mutual
care and mutual investment were really even-handed? Is such a thing ever possible?
It might just be that friendship is a kind of masochistic
impulse in which one allows oneself to be continually taken up and used, not,
necessarily in those grand earth-shattering ways, but in the tiniest of ways.
And the fantasy work of the friendship is what allows one to put the smallest
of injuries aside, to make sense of them only as anomalies, as small glitches
in the free-flowing balance of the friendship. And we do this over and over
again. We allow the small injuries, we explain them away.
But we do not accept
them. To do so, I think, would be to change fundamentally, and, perhaps, productively,
all our social relations. It would be, perhaps, to find the key to being more
than one. A key therapeutic question arises in this moment: do I destroy my
friendships because I cannot stand to be more than one? Do I destroy these
social bonds because they always hurt and I cannot make peace with that hurt?
We might also ask this: is the most intimate arena of
friendship an arena of vulnerability that points to the always-already flawed
nature of the social itself? And would recognising that flawed and mutable
nature be an opening of ourselves to something new? Perhaps the greatest lie
under which we have been forced to labour since the advent of mercantilism has
been precisely this: when the surplus care of any friendship remains hidden,
the friendship continues to function.
The move I wish to make in trying to reclaim this friendship,
then, is going to be this: I will no longer attest to a false mutuality but
will bear witness to the mutability of the social bond. Once I have done that
work, I can begin the mourning work.
In case anyone was not paying attention, Gibson's tone and his extraordinary lack of compassion is precisely how the 'compassionate conservatives' go about their business. Its strikes me as yet another clear demonstration of the false paradox of US conservatism: there is no room, structurally, for any compassion in a conservative outlook, unless it is clearly and brutally demarcated to embrace only those who live according to a highly restricted and romanticized male-centered heterosexual idyll in which gingham and apple pie swirl around a turgid miserable shit-sucking kernel that is utterly, utterly dark, intellectually bankrupt, and without humanity.
I didn't need any proof of the above but, every so often, public discourse delivers something so pure, so clear, so devastatingly ontologically dark, as to bring us back into a relation with the passion of politics and what that passion is all about: my enemies really are my enemies, really, without question.
If ever there were a demonstration of the poverty of liberalism it is in this kind of confrontation where bland recourse to' inclusivity' in the face of hate-based politics is utterly impotent.
In this context, I find Jodi's analysis (over at I CITE) of a recent Zizek piece quite fascinating and apposite. She is absolutely right to admonish Zizek for his banal mode of analysis and his falling into the liberal trap of thinking plurality, inclusivity as some kind of democratic guarantee: where is the agon in all that?
I am tormented by the impossibility of grieving in public. This is because I am a wasp, of the first order - that peculiar mousey type of wasp that finds even East-coast U.S. wasps rather loud and brash (this observation, by the way is meant to point up the craziness of my worldview, not a criticism of he American personality, whatever that might be). English wasps seem to favour a paired-down, silent, lonely model of grief. Alone with the night of the soul, private, 'at one' with one's feelings (or perhaps just sitting around for a while on empty).
My Italian colleague tells me that in Italy, people grieve together, sleep at each others' houses and eat and drink and feel together as a community, grieving very much in large groups. I find this such a lovely idea, but I know I would go mad with all the noise, all the overt weeping and wailing, the 'performativity' of it all.
Our way must seem so strange, so cold, so empty to him. I think it is precisely at times like this that I become who I really am - English with a capital E. This is not something that comforts me or makes me proud - quite the contrary. I feel as if gripped by a deadly quietude, a quietude that has haunted me most of my life. I am awkward in it, red-faced, uncomfortable with grieving, uncomfortable with grievers and I am dreading the public performativity of V's funeral, although ritual is absolutely right and I also know not to go would be the worst thing for me. I must mark her passing in some way, even if I feel as dry as a twig, ready to snap under the strain of 'being in grief'.
My deadly quietude, something I hate and have sought to overcome most of my life is so profoundly at my core, so who I am, that I grieve with extraordinary silence. I find talking to others very hard, with the exception of A and P, who are both lovely and know what to say and what not to say.
I grieve, I think, as one who is utterly alone, and I cannot grieve any other way. A and P have struggled all week with others. They too have found the burden of being 'in grief' with others sometimes too much to bear, but they are brave enough to go out and face it. I admire them.
I have spent most of this week hiding under my duvet and only got up yesterday to feed my poor cat.
A few seedlings I planted in a seed tray 2 weeks ago have now impertinently germinated: I am so angry at them for daring to show their impudent stupid little heads.
I am feeling this more and more - deep resentment at everyone who walks past my window, at every laughter, at every smile, at every re-run of Friends.
Occasionally (very rarely, in fact) I am caught short by the extraordinarily intense mark of intention that makes itself felt in my writing. It is not that I seek this out or look to say, say and say in a way that is of or for 'me', but that, sometimes, very rarely, I am surprised by the strong impression of encountering myself talking back to me from the 'page'.
Quite why one passage should strike me like this and another doesn't is extremely difficult to ascertain. In such moments I am called to question the popular wisdom in enlightened liberal educational institutions that characterises the programme of education as enabling students to find their own voice.
This emphasis on the search for that singular vocality in writing, for that indelible trace that cannot and will not unhinge itself from the acousmêtre of the author, is grounded in a notion hat the best of writing is always the most original, the most unique, the most individuated.
And yet, those moments that seem to 'speak' to me of me, those intensely reflexive turns in the written prose that speak back are precisely those things I dislike in my writing, Only when I am able to write as if in control of the materials – only as if unfolding an idea in full and erudite spontaneity, as if in short, I were someone else – only then do I feel that the writing is good, secure. In shot, writing is always for me a kind of effacement.
I want to purge those embarrassing Northern vowels, that mark of suburbia, of the Midlands, of bland, safe lower bourgeois, poorly educated autodidact. I want to write as if I were from a glorious and aristocratic generation of emigré Jews, of dissident Palestinians, of Hungarian violinist, of African rebels, or Cuban guerillas; of Clarissa Furtwangler, Szagylyn Passmaker, Hyacinth Smortlyna, Mahmoud Kobal, Cruella Rozhdestvinsky. Wouldn't it be great to be that, to be other than this white, bland, suburban bore?
When students begin to write critically, intelligently, creatively, perhaps the last thing we should do is encourage to write as themselves. Who on earth wants to do that? Why not encourage them to write as if.
AND YET.... In this tendency to efface ourselves is precisely located the operation of a certain power at its most unmediated, in this feigning of boredom with oneself, with the routinely quotidian white. To play act as if in turmoil with oneself, to march endlessly through the detritus of one's average life in search of something else, something new, something Other, is the act of a class terminally ensnared in luxury, in excess without telos, without suffering. It is the feigning, the colonising , the ruthless appropriation even of the pain this class inflicts as if to say – we cause you harm and yet we maintain the right to own your suffering, to colonise it with our soft and whining pettinesses.
Here then is precisely the burden: to rage against self is to play act as if powerless; and yet to valorise the care of that same self is to enact that brutality of a self-obsession in the face of the cruelty inflicted on others.
No way out. No way out???
In that encounter with the self, as if speaking back to oneself from the written page, then, one experiences a moment of extraordinary uncanniness when the promise of some kind of way out is glimpsed if only for a moment: the self becomes performative, split, epistemologically impossible, the creepy doppelgänger that promises both a death and a rebirth.
I am you, speaking back to to you. Who do you think you are?
I am currently undergoing some cognitive behavioural therapy. I was referred by my employers who though I might benfit from changing my perspective on stress.
I must confess to having been (and still being) extremely sceptical about it all. As my friend Olga points out, in sound Freudian terms, the repressed will always return. I guess my anxieties about it also come from my commitment to the Lacanian moment, to the subtleties and strikingly helpful interventions Lacanian therapy can make. I suppose this is where my profound and almost pathological distrust of personality therapies comes from (especially anything to do with Jung): I have always found them hopelessly reductive about personality, as if types analysis were a good beginning to divining what makes us unhappy, unable to function as we would like to. Of course, the fact that a whole train of managerial sub-Jungian modes of testing has grown up is testament, perhaps, to the conservatism of the Jungian orientation. But, we must remember, as Lacan reminds us in Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Freud was no progressive himself.
So, my worries about CBT go something like this: the emphasis seems to be on ‘helpful’ and ‘unhelpful’ ways of thinking. This is the bit that struck me as deeply naïve on the Royal College of Psychiatrists website:
CBT can help you to change how you think ("Cognitive") and what you do ("Behaviour"). These changes can help you to feel better. Unlike some of the other talking treatments, it focuses on the "here and now" problems and difficulties. Instead of focussing on the causes of your distress or symptoms in the past, it looks for ways to improve your state of mind now.
The emphasis on the here and now, especially the terms on which it constructs that ‘here and now’ as in some sense easily recoverable, is what worries me. I’m no Derridan, but haven’t we long since learnt to question such casual notions of the nowness of now? So what might this now mean here? How does CBT attempt to construct that now and are there any similarities with other modalities of practice? What is striking is that the sessions I am taking seem to be regressing slowly from the here and now to the causal – in other words, a kind of hidden Freudianism is at work here, a secretive second text in the analysis that speaks only hesitantly, but speaks nonetheless: there is cause, meaning, hidden agency in your past that speaks now slowly but is there, makes itself felt. I feel almost as of that past is held out of sight, held in abeyance in order that I might be hurried on my way…. good little soldier...
But is that something I should say? Is
saying it something like bringing it into being, or is saying it the
start of a diagnosis, a naming that leads to fixing?
I have often wondered how to write
about loneliness without soliciting intervention. In a sense it's no
problem at all because real loneliness would be to write and hear no
response, no come back, no authorship, nothing. And yet isn't writing
justthat, just this empty greyness that opens up
without end – onwards and onwards it stretches like a long and
hopeless dirt track never reaching, never twisting enough to make he
journey anything other than an inbetween, a kind of noplace.
The emptiness of writing is there,
though, is connected to something more, something quite pressing and
urgent, something so large, so heavy that it feels as if it'll crush
me. I am talking about my own profound loneliness, my own profound
hostility to myself.
I have for some time been withdrawing,
moving away from the role of the bon viveur, the host who
laughs and jokes, offers food and makes merry. And I'm not sure why.
Friendships are as tight and meaningful as ever, and work, although
deeply frustrating, is as rewarding in its own way as ever.
What has changed, I think, is my body:
I have for some time been struggling with extraordinarily low levels
of energy, finding it hard to move, to sleep, to think, to
concentrate on the simplest task. I am breathless, sore, tetchy and
irritable. I find company difficult, and I am constantly on the edge
of a mild but pervasive depression that will never quite leave, but
never quite arrive.
Today I am working from home. And I
can't help wonder if this has something to do with it: perhaps it is
a problem that has been building for some time, but work is becoming
increasingly complex and debilitating. I am haunted by a sense of
radical detachment from myself and from my work (I have always been
one of those who invests too much in that relationship). Colleagues
are wonderful, professional and kind and always seem pleased to talk
or to share or just to be around me (and I love them dearly), so why
do I feel so lonely?
When I think about other lives, other
people's ghastly situations, abject poverty, danger, starvation, or
even deep deep unhappiness, I wonder how I dare even speak of my
It is shameful.
And yet it is there. Some of my friends
struggle with this every day of their lives – depression, illness –
and I have always admired their ability to find ways of coping, find
strategies for continuing to operate extraordinarily effectively.
I, on the other hand, seem singularly
ill-equipped to deal with the slightest change in my body. It's as if
I have become its slave. It despises me an torments me. It intervenes
in ways that make even the slightest simple daily operation (chairing
a meeting for example) almost impossible.
It hates me and I am lonely. The two
things are one and there is no way out.
There I said it, but should I have?
Yet there is a kind of poetics of
loneliness that I can't help being drawn to.
The poetics of despair, not the poetics
of self-pity, is highly attractive to me and has drawn me to some
dark and dangerous places. I love to tarry here and to touch the
edge, to feel the space beyond – all empty, without light or heat
It draws me to it, thrills me.
Perhaps there is something in me that
takes pleasure from this despair, attaches myself to it as to the
Real. It sticks into my body, stops me from assimilating effectively
to the rhythm of the machine, holds me above the blandness of total
symbolisation (and thus annihilation).
It might be that for me to live as one
lonely is to live as one who is not a slave. Slavery to the Real
might be my only place from which to rail against the machine.
At he moment, being caught here in this
predicament between machine and Real, between rhythm and mass is as
There I said it: I enjoy my loneliness.
It is my dark sibling that keeps me awake and makes me bristle and
hurts me and tuns me around, but who will never allow me to slip away
I am sick. I have been now for several
days and I do mean sick... (abdominal pain, vomitting - you get the picture)
I tell you this not for the usual
blog-tick reasons (i.e. as if I wanted to share or unload or tell you
all about me, me, me). That's part of it, of course – feeling sorry
for oneself can be its own kind of delicious, even when it seems to
be too overwhelming to get out of bed in the morning. No, the main
purpose of my writing here and now is to try to make sense of
something I've hinted at before
and something that is beginning to really dig in for me – the
cultural work of infirmity, or, perhaps more precisely, the political
economy of sickness.
This week was going to be a crunch week
– several crucial meetings with university managers about strategic
matters, and a crucial meeting with colleagues about other crucial
matters and so on. What has amazed me (and I say this not from some
kind of unrelenting egotism, but rather from a position of genuine
surprise) is that I am not indispensable and that, after all, the
world continue to rotate and my not being at those meetings has not
bought the universe crashing down around my ears.
Part of me of course is dismayed - what
do you mean, you can all continue to function without me? I cherish
being needed in ways that are bordering on the pathological. This is
bad (very bad), but I can't help it. Perhaps it's about the joy of
seeing another alleviated when you can help, or perhaps its really to
do with my own ego (in both the informal and Freudian senses if the
Another part of me is intrigued by some
of the ways in which the relations of production can absorb and make
room for sickness, even integrate it, account for it, make explicit
provision for it whilst also nonetheless marking it out as stigma,
sign, semiosis in excess.
What is particularly intriguing here,
it seems to me is that, if my hypothesis that capitalism incubates a
situation in which, for example, fat bodies are becoming increasingly
transgressive, then why this extraordinary attempt to absorb
sickness, to accommodate to it? Bodies are commodities, producers of
labour hours, site of productive force; they situate for of the
political economy of health that drives medicine; they are the
material foundation of most cultural production. So.... why this
I have colleagues and friends who
suffer untold indignity and pain at the hands of their
life-threatening illnesses. They bring to that suffering not just a
simple stoicism (to call it that is to reduce it to the most banal
and pointlessly comforting narrative), but a rage against it. They
hate being sick; it makes them crazy; it impacts profoundly on their
lives and their 'excess' lies far beyond what I am trying to
articulate here. What is striking about their story is the extent to
which they are not easily assimilable to a single narrative. Their
excess, their sickness, is not reducible to mere plurality or
ambivalence, but to an impenetrable and inassimilable whole, a unit
so in and for itself as to refuse naming, refuse articulation,
symbolisation. In that sense, its is an excess that threatens
Has the excess in sickness 'itself'
been co-opted to the rhythm of the machine? Has infirmity become a
kind of economy to itself?
There is something in Marx's theory of
commodity fetish to help us here (but only as a starting point):
capitalism fetishes and thereby freezes, paralyses what it cannot
fully assimilate: excess, what falls beyond the body and cannot be
transformed into surplus, is thus something in late capitalism that
must be attended to. The excess (and for our purposes, lack
and excess, over-abundance and paucity are structurally equivalent)
is something which must in some sense be spiritualised, or, at least,
enchanted. In this sense, the political economy of sickness is thus
the political economy of one instance of aura, of the magic of the
To be sick is thus in some sense to be
hallowed: I have been struck at how many of my colleagues have been
kind (they are always kind and they are good and decent people but
the tone of that kindness is as in some sense hushed, respectful,
conceding a space and place to me that is not there when I am well).
The political economy of sickness is
thus Gothic in a very meaningful sense – with sickness comes
the externalisation of anxieties about mortality, contagion, and the
grim materiality of bodies, and a charging of those bodies with the
sacrament of suffering, so central to he Judao-Christian tradition,
and at the heart of the capitalist poetics of sickness. In hat
poetics, suffering, which is invariably both an impediment to but
also caused by capitalist production, must be taken out of the
economy, magicked away to a place where the perverse hagiography of
suffering can unfold itself without calling the general political
economy into question. As in Gothic fiction, the capitalist poetics
of sickness are thus a secretion of a simple exchange value,
performatively reproduced back to us as if it were in some sense
Blessed are the poor and sick for they
shall inherit the world.
would that I were an other, another, someone susceptible to this gaze I turn here and there, over and over, around and around through the spaces of buildings full of people raging with disenfranchisement, a sourness hat eats, picks, prickes and spikes like so many spasms, so many panics, so many knives in the belly
would that I could take us all, my colleagues and me, to a place where the serene and calm work of care for others could unfold without impediment, and meet the day with he knowledge that this day will brighten, enliven and enlihten others
would that the other could grow there, spread and nourish itself, and that we were instrumental in its coming-to-be
would that the sound of another were the sound of joy, of wholeness, of complete self-contentment, not the chatter of one's own imagination, one's own doubt, anger, insecurity and dismal boredom at oneself
would that the sound of a knock at my door were not the sound of obligation or of another day lost to another crisis or another deadline missed, another colleague disappointed, another compromise of principle
would that the sound of the phone were not the sound of indignation, of reminders of tasks still to complete, of days filled with yet more inanity, more administering, more sprawling in the detritus of another's labour
would that community were the heart of our labour and that our labour were not so beholden to, complict with, instrumental in, susceptible to the rhythm of the machine, the petty indignities of acquiescence, co-opting, complying, making ourselves all fit to the template, the model, that image, the thing that haunts us.... that which they want
would that the days were brighter, that the air were sharper and the space in my head for thought were less cluttered, more serene, more calm
would that the table I sit at were less oppressive, less demanding, less of a reproach
would that the world were not so small, that space were bigger, time
were slower amd the inexorable decline into infirmity and the indignity
of a body breaking were less inevitable, less predetermined, less
would that I were someone else, somewhere else, thinking other thoughts, being other beings
But I am here and here I must stay, here I must do and be and here I will ultimately end