On emotions
Selective notes on: Ngai, S (2005) Ugly Feelings. London: Harvard Educational Press.

Dave Harris

Chapter on tone outlines  the  problems, discussed by some really big hitting philosophers including Adorno and Heidegger.  Affect is crucial in guiding modifying or amplifying all the other activities of consciousness, including perception, but it is not present in its actual manifestations.  It is located somewhere else. [For me, having just read Proust on the way that his romantic gaze works, it is clear that affect involve synthesising elements of the past to the present, that the present components work as signs or symbols].  As I have said in my own summary, you can read this as a kind of early phenomenology, with notions of the through- and- through-interconnectedness-of-subjective-time.  Much of this will be taken for granted, of course.  Proust can be picked up for using the term ‘symbol’ because that implies some shared experiences and understandings, with precisely the effects that Bourdieu describes in the operation of the habitus, including social distanciation implied by being especially ‘cultivated’ or intuitive as an artist.

Ngai makes an ingenious point in the process of reviewing Melville’s Confidence Man, that the same notion of an important absence informs the idea of value in capitalist systems.  Things have settled down now, but in antebellum America, the monetary system was still pretty haphazard, with people writing their own scrips as IOUs or promissory notes, which eluded best of all to the idea that value was somewhere else, not even embodied in the pieces of paper.  The system was also horribly vulnerable to fluctuations in confidence.  The style of the novel also offers a kind of allusion to an absence, since the characters never exactly speak directly of the system, and we readers have to infer it.

Ngai relies on the work of Tomkins, a psychological researcher whose interests include the study of micro-expressions on the human face. Affect amplifies perceptions etc he argues, later ‘resonates’ with their elements (a term Deleuze likes a lot) as a better descroption of how emotions transmit without actually amplifying. There is an interesting methodological aside in this work. Tomkins studies facial expression using very high speed cameras to capture facial expression, but the more detailed the record, the more elusive they became.

There is also discussion of how the emotions of the subject (reader, viewer) engage: sympathy (the writer’s intention) when I feel what the character feels, or projection (aka empathy) ( the subnject’s enagagement). Ideally both work in harmony,but this is depicted as perverse and unsettling in the Confidence Man, the stupidity of the dupe, the appalling lack of concern, and also the need to defend ourselves against premature concern. This meshes with Kantian disinterestedness : the implication however is that disinterestedness is itself a form of affect (a version of Bourdieu’s point that it is an aesthetic itself). In Adorno  (on the aura), disinterests is accompanied by ‘melancholy’ and ‘serenity’.

Envy a classic ugly feeling. About perception of inequality but disvalued, as personal, based on ressentiment ( itself degraded by everyone).Clearly linked to degraded subjects who feel it –proles and women. Both assocd feminine and less tolerated in them. Good eg ambivs felt towards negv emotns expressed by women. Led to anxiety among feminists esp. [and thus denial] eg in films like Single White Woman – jealous friendships lead to violence etc., f friendships generally probc. Denied etc but there is a lot of aggression and hostility in debates among feminists (some examples 135f, incl crit of Butler 136) so must be constrv to some extent. Poss even rely on antagonism.

Leads to v good discussion feminist film criticism. Proposes not redv binaries or psychoan [with Freud’s Group Psychology and the analysis of the ego as key text] , but reworking via discourse of envy and emulation. These depend on but are diff from usual concepts identity and desire. Emuln, mimicry NOT only about wishing to be that person. Can be aggressive, spoiling eg in parody or satire [and in the film analysis, imitation leaves original f as a substitute for her copy via a mirror effect] Freud’s mistake to confuse fantasy identification as full merger of self with actual mimicry [NB the text looks v much like it develops the concept of role model!]  NGai says Freud reserves latter to discuss relations between girls and mums where it becomes a kind of hysteria. Former is something ontological and based on male personality, form of fantastic identification with father etc –literal imitation/identification ends in pathology of male homosexuality. F seen as exemplary case of such identificn.. hence f itself becomes centred round emulation/identification. Inducements to emulation, incl envy, thus become linked to f.,and envy partic contagious among f ( as in example of mass hysteria).HOwever, SWF shows an aggressive lack of contagion among 2 f protagonists [whole notion of singleness is also undermined, since one of them used to be a twin and this explains her collective personality which undermines the other] .Whole example shows identification not only route to pol solidarity though – antagonism also has imp critical role [and so by extension, so does envy]
Those who give envy a purely destructive appropriating or spoiling role include Klein. Ngai says poss to include this spoiling as a rejn of the idealized object of desire. Same with Freud on jealousy. Again rejn of idealizn allows more organic form of solidarity to emerge – or a more fluid position open to negotiation and politics [close to a kind of calculation of mutual interest despite personal feelings] . [Useful to crit empathy here as a form of imperialism of the Same, as only sentimental identification etc] Almost accepted in Freud where negv feelings force a kind of solidarity, a theme found in lots of others (166). Differences included via invagination for Derrida. However, can be recuperd as in SWF by argument that only petty and minor diffs characterise fem envy.

On to ‘irritation’ as ‘minor, low intensity negative affect’ (174) via a novel Quicksand where it is all-pervading – characters ‘offish’ leads to Aristotle on irritation as for not normal reasons. Links back to Bartleby [and an earlier chapter on race as involving something unusually animated, physical, disturbing – this writer is a black woman].Sim ambigs with raciality as with gender – diffs to be celebrated incl by white modernists, but notion of irritation more prodv than this.

Irritn as mood, unfocused rather than specific emotion.  Ambig in referring both to minds and bodies hence metaphors of feeling sore etc. {and hints of importance of skin in racial politics]  Novel can be read as search for an object to pin it all on – certainly frequent irritn as variety of petty details – smell of food etc, inappropriate teacups {bit like Proust on minor breaches of taste etc] ,but extended to ‘serious’ issues too, like racism. Seems therefore politically weaker than other negv emotions like anger (acceptable only if it is properly located and deployed though, says Aristotle – too little makes you a slave, too much makes you vexatious).
This can irritate the reader too –why do people put up with so many minor insults etc. So what should approp response be, esp to racial insults? Can be matter of sanctimoniousness as well as politics. Expect approp response again from insulted subject.
Reader identificn can be with or against subjects –‘volunteered passion’ ( 189), where reader supplies the approp emotion [kind of legit otherness?] . Irritn produces neither v clearly – offishness [black people are not to be patronised or othered etc] . Can lead to irritated crit of author. Vol passion seems delibly blocked by vagueness – an ‘aggressive kind of weakness’ (190) . Busts racial sttype of black people as over responsive, animated [and crits reponse of white people who are equally animated when dancing or applauding etc].
Shows again that not simple or permanent – in the novel, disidentification can lead to identification with another aspect of black culture. Imp to avoid excessive identification which must lead to conformity, nor to have to constantly choose with each example. Ambigs continued in ‘indirect free narration’ style. Also enable narrator to distance herself now and then (and she does so when discussing the politics of representing black skin) [Lovely aside about Marx’s carbuncles unable to be hidden in polite society producing a ‘sarcastic body’ (206) – Kipnis apparently who has made a video ‘Marx: the Video’ ].Leads to more on irritations as disturbing the otherwise pleasing bodies in the white gaze.
Overall effect to deny easy identificns of black bodies with meaning, either for or against, to insist each one has to be interpretd and deny that black people must always identify or disidentify. Denies easy oppositn surfaces and depths, insists that blank spaces be allowed to be what they are and not repression.

Then anxiety. Future-oriented or expectant, not already filled. Spatial di too –projected on to others,including projd on to patients by psychoanalsysts [source is a record of his own analysis by LA! –The Future Lasts a Long Time, 1993] Freud sees it as originating outside, though, as a threat or nasty experience of expulsion, with projection part of the symptoms, although no real discussion of projection even though deployed a lot. She proposes to find egs in fiction, via notion of ‘thrownness’.

Anxiety covers a lot of ground and is widespread in West – actual examples imply a scepticism though – eg ‘middle-class anxiety’. Also gendered. M anxiety genuine, in Freud,  based on castration, f versions only react with ‘nostalgia and envy’ (213). M embody anxiety, esp intellectuals, long tradn m melancholy, now associated being over civilized and bookish. Conveyed as a journey [!] or quest, using terms about being thrown or falling, vertigo etc.
As in Vertigo: hero as private investigator/scholar, vertical di to his intell distance  emphd. F figs odd and duplicated, screens for femnty [projn – geddit]. Appears first as corseted [because of injury], freedom and mascty will involve throwing it off. Eventually all the women will also be thrown, out of windows etc. Lots of detailed analysis of the film ensues ( 220—6).

Links Hedidegger and the thrownness of Dasein, its Da, [actualization], becoming fact. Anxiety arises as a turning away from this factuality, a surrender to complexity. Anxiety from a mood of turning away, not an expression of an inner state..Moods as imp and originary as understanding. As also in Kierkegaard where affect and concept inextricably linked. Understanding also a projection [the other way round?]. Weird stuff ensues, including notion that thrownness of Dasein is never complete,possibility inherent just as with understanding.  Leads to weird stuff on anxiety and fear – latter involves a shrinking back, former to something indeterminate, alluding to the world itself in which Dasein thrown. Also conveys possibs though and notion Dasein as authentically in the world [gtee of objectivity of the world?] Exper of anxiety unifies implicit notions about Dasein and the world, reveal the structure of the relation ( 235)
Then Melville’s Pierre. Plot is that P is trying to engage in intell wk but this is complicated by relationships with diff sorts of women [could also be The Red and The Black]. [Discussion ensues 237 -46] .
Overall, anxiety seem to characterise masculine struggles with nothingness and m quests for truth and agency. Suggests no solid ground, but this strangely relocates indivdlizn., again via a distancing. Takes form of an aversion to negvty itself.

Stuplimity seems to refer to being battered by language into a numb sort of passivity [or maybe not] Some excellent examples of poetry/prose that plays with repetition and arbitrariness like the piece made up of a list of all the words in Moby Dick beginning with ‘un’  (258—9) –  and also ‘Moby- dictation’, based on the material described by the sub-sub librarian [?]. Or collections of found words [positively Oulippian here but described as pomo parody—some Oulippians are mentioned later e.g. 262]. [another excellent example 260]. To induce fatigue in the reader. As polar opposite to busyness and stupefaction [so linked, she is going to argue?]. Both terms imply an ignorant reaction on part of reader/viewer. Potentially experimental though, and might be linked.  [I quite like this.  I can see this leading to a justification for boredom and being overwhelmed when teaching, say, methods courses.  The usual approach is to try to avoid boredom by having fun, but there is a critical distance that arises, as well as, of course the delayed pleasures of narrative conclusions and so on.  It might even be possible to generate some sort of empathy with a poor idiot being asked responses to 70 questions, as well as asking what makes academic work boring compared to more popular accounts, and what we are to conclude from this about our culture generally and academic culture specifically].

Certainly, repetition has its good side: no other than Lacan has argued that repetition involves a demand to find something new as well as understanding why it produces boredom (262).  The same goes with 'stupendous proliferation of discrete quanta', as in white paintings, or in very very detailed installations [lovely examples 263].  The point is to illustrate how language combines things and orders them in agglomerations.

This is another example of her own negative emotions can become important in aesthetic experience.  Even the sublime can be thought of as an ugly feeling, contrast it with the beautiful, and relating to the notion of excess, the huge scale of nature or massive force producing awe and dread.  Yet the kantian sublime does not grasp the sort of proliferation described above.  What the sublime does do though, is restore and inspire rather than produce permanent inadequacy, finding comfort in the ability to contrast one's self as a creature of reason, and this was Kant's purpose, to let us experience 'an uplifting transcendence'(267).  [So as usual, if people explain the intended aesthetic and cognitive impact of boredom, it delivers a sense of satisfaction that we are doing something important but difficult, and that we will be a better person afterwards?  Reminds me of my attempt to compare slogging through a methods text with doing boring training before a rugby match].  These feelings for Kant rise above the initial negative feelings, and the sublime is the basis for the claim of universal validity. 

Maybe only nature has this uplifting effect, though, and works of art drag us down back into the senses.  It is too involving.  Sublimity implies a safe distance.  Anyway, the intention is to induce boredom.  Again, though, the absence of immediate or positive affect can lead to new aesthetic understandings, in helping us grasp pure reason [the same argument is made for emotional disinterestedness].  However, boredom can stupefy and inhibit reason.  There is a need for a new word to describe the new aesthetic stuplimity.  This rescues the sublime from its spiritual and transcendent roots and its connection with romanticism.  It combines boredom and astonishment, holding both together in a tension [a bit like reading this book!].  It appears in the secular and in the more mundane or 'dirty' forms of language.

This feeling is discussed by Deleuze as the difficulty in moving from actual objects and words [aka 'quaqua' in Beckett] to the virtual and to concepts, [or from repetition to difference].  What exist seems stubbornly self sufficient.  However, the sublime bit encourages us to persist.  [A Beckett example ensues, How It Is 273 - 4] [I think the idea is that we focus on what connects the characters, finally giving up by a search to find empirical laws in the repetitions.  It reminds me of Deleuze arguing that Proust's characters finally get exhausted by are trying to find empirical examples or demonstrations of emotions like love or jealousy, and are desperately 'forced to think' about the essential].  Or in the constant comic disasters of characters like Keaton [which finally leads us to see that there is an order or logic to what is happening].  Unlike the sublime, the stuplime starts with the immediate and mechanical, and our understanding emerges through repetition rather than taking a leap into the sublime.  Understanding becomes exhausting, working through the detritus.

So this is different from simple hypnotic tedium [which can itself lead to higher states of consciousness, she reminds us ].  This involves absorption not indifference.  It is both anti spiritual and anti cynical.  It requires attention to detail, including its absurdity.  Lacan has an example (279), describing the emergent qualities of a collection of empty matchboxes, revealing multiplicity and thingness, as well as absurdity.  This is the structure of 'rise and fall'.

However, this is only a particular kind of boredom, and there are others, including 'metaphysical boredom', where nothing can offer shock value, and 'cynical boredom, which often demands more than we are willing to give' (281).  That is because not all repetitions are alike either (some seem to be farcical).  Repetition must be understood as Deleuze understands it, as indicating difference, and this can be a way of resisting empirical repetition.  This tendency to resist is 'an indeterminate affective state'(284), more open, not yet defined in terms of a particular emotion, a neutral state.

This might be what Jameson means by the waning of affect, (285 - ) discussed with free floating feelings, no longer pinned down precisely.  Categories of time are replaced by those of space.  The simulacrum is the postmodern form.  It offers a kind of commercialised sublimity, but is capable of still generating euphoria [the example given is Jamieson on postmodern objects, as pastiches, heaps of fragments]. Ngai points out that this concept retains the notion of the heap, some notion of a whole.  She also notes that fragmented literature specifically still preserves the supposedly outmoded subjective feelings of anxiety and alienation.  Perhaps the issue is one of discussing forms of coherence, which might include loosely organised and unstable forms, like heaps, something that might appear incoherent in terms of conventions or aesthetic ideals.  The same goes for the term consistency, which might mean [mechanical or organic solidarity].  Coherence can also be emergent.  It all points to looking at types of coherence.  Deleuze is on the same track with his notion of the passive synthesis.  [Lots more on Gertrude Stein].  We can see this in the carefully elaborated apparently random conglomeration of modern art, poems that seem to be accidental and so on.

[There are also hints of passive resistance or the fatalism of the masses as in Baudrillard].  Deleuze apparently sees a possible strategy of resistance by taking everything literally and in detail in a spirit of false submission, reducing to absurdity and working to rule [with a reference to something called DR—not referenced].  This is what Deleuze calls humour, pursuing consequences.

Paranoia, explaining the popularity of conspiracy theories including X files.  That example is an exception to the normally gendered notion of conspiracy and political thrillers.  Jamieson suggest that this is a discussion of the role of the postmodern intellectual, to pursue infinite networks.  This explains paranoia not as a mental illness but the fear of the social system, including the intellectual as enemy of the system, which can take the form of objecting to grand narratives.  Some feminists have also attempted to claim paranoia is a general model, drawing on Freudian hints that it might take a feminine form in jealousy.

Some notion of the system seems essential, including notions of patriarchy, even though their abstraction is debatable.  Denying the status of general concepts risks reducing critique to subjective emotionalism.  At the same time, paranoia clearly overlaps with ordinary fear.  Paranoia has its place in the development of the subject, as in Klein, and it might be the price to be paid for subjectivity in capitalism.

Sometimes this notion of paranoid fear has become enacted in American female poetry [discussed 303 F].  There is a fear about unintended collusion.  This work also raises the issue of 'the vexed a relationship between poetry and theory' (304) of concern to feminist writers in particular [weird examples 304, 305].  [Somehow] it is related to the issues of readerly and writerly texts.  Writerly characteristics are found in classic as well as post modern novels.  This provides a 'belated' (307) quality to post readings.  This is not just an historical matter.  It connects with an argument that says that 'language-centred writing'is really just trying to imitate [literary] theory.  It is likely that both avant-garde writing and post structuralist theory emerged in parallel, providing this sense of lag or delay.

Kristeva on the pre-semiotic, and Deleuze and Guattari on the rhizome both lead to the suggestion that the best examples of post structuralist theory are found in poetry.  Certainly, we can see trends in poetry as helpfully illuminating post structural theory, and vice versa: both refer to textual politics and to the critique of liberal humanism, both stressed difference and a multiplicity, flux and ambiguity.  Yet reading both appears to be redundant: they fit too closely.  This is particularly affected feminist poetics.  Poetic explorations have often been associated with the feminine, as Braidotti notes [best of all accounts is the one in Gynesis, however, which connects with the conspiracy theory version of feminist critiques discussed later], as in Deleuze is importance of becoming - woman.  For Braidotti, this can looks like the dethroning of the rational subject at the wrong time, just when women were becoming liberated into taking their place as one.

There are also critics of feminist writers for claiming that the avant-garde must necessarily produce feminist discourse, as in Kristeva or Cixous (312f).  Feminist writing might be recycling the old sexual oppositions, reworked as linguistic characteristics [such as fluidity/consistency].  Normal language is seen as feminine as opposed to the rational masculine discourse.  Feminist language becomes 'a belated modernism'(313) [for somebody called Ross].  Feminist theory has only discovered rules which have been acted on all along. Ngai notes the similarity with conspiracy thrillers, where the operation of the system is finally exposed.  There is also a similar claim about the political possibilities of avant-garde writing.  [Apparently there are considerable critiques now, both of 'language feminism', and those based on an argument that the avant-garde is indeed a masculinist cultural foundation, and thus subject to feminist critique, not participation, 315].

If former is always political, they can be no politically neutral language.  Perhaps we should accept that there are masculine and feminine languages.  If masculine forms have dominated, even poststructuralist discourses can only be valued by feminists.  A feminist aesthetic, specifically, remains elusive.  Some feminists have argued that linguistic categories should not be gendered, and that therefore there is no specific feminine form, despite its political advantages.  Butler and others have noted the difficulties of avoiding masculine binaries in their critiques, for example.  The suspicion of deeper complicity produces a sense of paranoia.

More poetic possibilities are discussed 318--31 [one, by Spahr, seems to involve systematic indeterminacy and that the gender of the speaking subject, with an open comment about the difficulties of ignoring gendered pronouns—a kind of lipogram in gender. Ngai notes the paranoid tone where everything seems to be connected to everything else, and these links must always be spelled out.  The commentary, which seems to adopt official psychiatric descriptions, indicates watch imminence by belatedness compared to the spontaneity of life communication, and the commentator stands for the poet herself].  [This certainly complicates the notion of feminine writing!].  Yet this paranoia is also supposed to prompt thinking, to realise the situation.

In the afterword, we discuss disgust, and never really the subject of particular theories of poetics [except in the work of anthropologists like Mary Douglas].  Kristeva's abjection is reconceptualised in terms of desire and even jouissance.  Proust has similar complications in the relations of the narrator to women, who are both beautiful and disgusting.  Others have shown the link between desire and disgust—John Waters [Henry Miller].  Why this long neglect?

Again we find a turning away in Bartleby, or refusal to consume.  Melville also describes other characters who are repugnant as well as fascinating.  There is no attempt to pass in the Goffman sense.  Apparent tolerance often conceals contempt.  Disgust is therefore the 'ugly feeling par excellence'(334), and even Kant said art could not redeem it.  It is the negation of beauty, an absolute other.  It imposes itself on us, knows that we want it, prevents disinterestedness.  However, it is at least never ambivalent confusing, it always produces a definite response, unlike any of the other ambiguous emotions discust above.  It blocks sympathy.  However, it does invite agreement with others, and is more active than, say, contempt [sharing the same sort of calmness as toleration, she argues] faith