I Feel Uncomfortable
August 29, 2014
I am sitting in my charming garret room in a beautiful European city. Meanwhile, colleagues and students begin to wrap up the proceedings at the Noise Summer school in which I have been an active participant for the past three packed days. They are just a short walk away over ancient cobbled streets, and yet I wrap things up here to my real discomfort (how much I lose by not seeing the faces of my friends and getting to feel the always changing energy in the room!) And yet, my surroundings here are ever more physically embracing than those of the rigid lecture hall where we sat together for so many hours). So, I forfeit the comfort of the group as one act of self care anticipating the forthcoming discomforts of my own body as I will shortly hurl across thousands of miles for hours and hours, confined and crammed into airplanes and departure lounges.
I begin with these self-evident tradeoffs because the production, affect and theory of discomfort—produced, discussed analytically by some and uncomfortably between others, felt by many—proved to define many of the events of the seminar, most obviously my own “talk” which I continue to try to engage in digital and embodied spaces, in collective while sometimes personal voices, in the writing and sharing of this blog post (students at the seminar found the experiment confusing, distracting, and perhaps distasteful, at least in the lived encounter of it; I suggested that I was trading affect for content, the primacy of building this complex digital #eventanglement over the coherence of the lived moment, and my own authority and control over potential creativity and collectivity. I also shared that the trade-off might prove to be ineffective. It was an experiment…)
In her talk at the seminar, “Affective Noise in Darren Aronofsky’s Pi, Tarja Laine delineated two kinds of chaos: ordered or pure, i.e. that with ever increasing disorder. She argued that the pain of a migraine, more than a discomfort surely, opens for Aronofsky (and the viewer) aesthetic and intellectual access to the creative and disorienting potentials of paranoia, anxiety, suffering, and clarity. The #ev-ent-anglement certainly conforms to the first iteration of chaos (if it can even be said to be chaotic at all, ordered as it is by the truly rigid architecture of its site), and reiterates one of Patricia MacCormack’s central contributions to the seminar in her talk “Affective Aesthetics: Ethics, Ecstasy and Ecosophy.” There she argued “as soon as art makes you recognizable to yourself, art has lost its ecstatic capacity” by which she means, I think, a marvelous, rare, and radical state of freedom and creativity where the I is lost in a state of becoming “undifferentiated from the world and our own unknowability.” She explained that pain, like art, can sometimes provide one such escape route to that place of radical openness.
Meanwhile, Marta Zarzycka used her talk, “It’s all in the Face: Portraits, Children, Affects, Conflicts” to share, discuss, and contemplate the gruesome history of representing suffering through the images of faces of children, again asking us to consider the trade offs of the potential responses to such images: shock, monetary donations, paralysis, affective attachment, paternalism or maternalism, disavowal. She explained later in a plenary how scholars of images of atrocity have varying calculi for these images’ visibility and viability: refusing to show them even as they analyze them, giving audiences quick exposure, letting them sit with their discomfort. Each an ethical choice made from a range of possible positions regarding the political affect of images/experiences of pain.
Minou Norouzi showed us her own film, “Everything,” as well as an evening of media programming around masculinity, discipline, brutality, and the visualization of suffering. To all, audience members responded, again perhaps self-evidently yet nevertheless honestly and frequently, “I felt uncomfortable.”
But I conclude where I began, with the ethical and lived tradeoffs and potentialities of discomfort. For some in the room this affect— like the many other forms, ideas, and feelings of pain discussed/experienced across the seminar—was potentially productive, creative, inspiring or moving; ordered chaos, perhaps. For others, I think, discomfort was at times a disenabling place of pure chaos from which they couldn’t think, move, act, contribute. Some students were making this clear (on this #eve-ent-anglement), in seminar, informally, and in conversation.
What the Noise and larger feminist community makes of these varying theories, experiences, and politics of affect is one of our community’s current battlegrounds. We’ve had them before. Feminism isn’t pure, simple, or self-evident. What’s more critical is how we handle such debates as a community: with what norms, methods, and practices of care, conversation, and consideration.
I look forward to some of your thoughts (here on the #ev-ent-anglement!) on the political and personal efficacy of affect, and how we might engage it, in ways that are at once productive and sensitive. I also remind you to look deeper into this #ev-ent-anglement where you will find words, poems, videos, photos, essays and more that exhibit a range of eloquent feelings and thoughts about these central issues.