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

Dave Harris

[A very dense and erudite piece of work on the 'negative' emotions and their possible role in aesthetic, maybe political, experimentation and creativity. This theme is pursued in each case -- I especially liked the argument about envy producing a distance from the idealized desired object, and the positive dimensions of irritation and boredom. The argument is sustained with references to big hitters like Deleuze, Freud, Jameson or Heidegger, and illustrated with lots of examples of experimental writing and poetry, and films. I was often lost, especially in the literary leaps between topics which seemed based on wordplay half the time,  but I did like the more familiar bits about feminist film theory and politicized feminism. The ugly emotions here prevent some of the more simple forms of solidarity based on easy identification].

Negative emotions offer a necessary ambiguity in the fully administered world.  An early example is Bartleby, where an office worker remains equivocal and this turns into passive dissent which becomes ambiguous politically.  The book examines literary examples and standpoints particularly.  Bartleby is a kind of metaphor for literature or arts, relatively autonomous but ambiguous, and granted autonomy at the price of powerlessness.  Nevertheless, at least this powerlesness can be symbolized and worked on, theorized,  in this case, through the literary depictions of ugly feelings. Emotions are seen as 'unusually knotted or condensed "interpretations of predicaments"'(3).  Negative affects particularly reveal 'obstructed agency'.  Art suffers here especially, arising from the entanglements between the aesthetic and the political.

Negative emotions are ambivalent, but are sufficiently autonomous themselves not to be easily reduced, to ressentiment, for example.  They are the critical potential.  We must not romanticize, however, and we must also remember the tremendous power of capitalism to recuperate negative feelings like alienation or work insecurity.  Jameson on the waning of affect ignores this recuperation, although it is true that the emotions no longer link up clearly with social action as in the 'classical political passions'(5).  This also makes negative emotions assessable to the politics of both the left and the right.

Although Hobbes or Machiavelli saw fear as central to politics, aesthetics is a more suitable area to explore these issues, beginning with Kant.  In the 17th century, certain '"Affect Theorists"'tried to explain musical genre as causing specific emotions.  There is a lot of philosophical interest these days, including work by Massumi.  Attention is devoted here mostly to feelings that arise when we encounter art.  Normally, the 'grander passions' get most attention, but she wants to focus on those which are 'explicitly amoral and non cathartic', offering no therapeutic release.  Most of the one she discusses block out the other emotions, replacing them with an enduring flatness.  She discusses some of them in particular contexts such as feminist politics or racial representations.

This is an alternative to the usual academic literary criticism, in that it juxtaposes texts of different genre.  This is done to expose a possible theoretical groundwork which might be explored further in each case [she offers an alternative to the usual feminist readings of the film, for example].  In particular, there is an 'intimate relationship between negative affect and "negative thinking"'(8), in the sense of ideology critique.  Politics based on Bartlebyian stances ensue [cf. the positive role of apathy in Baudrillard, or in withdrawal for the autonomists]. 

Ugly feelings are connected with irony.  They induce further '"meta-responses"' (10), since it is common to talk of shame about feeling envious, regret for feeling shame.  This alone produces 'ironic distance' far more than the usual grand passions and sentiments.  There are more constructivist, and not just expressive.  Even their weaker intensity and impassivity helps.  Hence the preference for the Confidence Man rather than the 'rage-driven epic Moby Dick' [and other choices like the irritating Quicksand].  All these texts are considered minor to the canon.

Ugly feelings are negative in the sense that they are associated with pain and also with social stigma and negative values—envy is seen as petty, for example.  They seem energized by repulsion or phobia, movement away from the things.  They are 'explicitly agonistic' (11).  Even the negativity is operational rather than grounded in particular values.  This is what makes them convenient to show how dilemmas are linked up, for example between real and representational dimensions.  The example is in animatedness, a characteristic allegedly of African Americans, which links to 'the rhetorical figure of apostrophe (in which a speaker animates or "gives life" to non human objects by addressing them or subjects capable of response)'(12), and this links in turn to the aesthetics of animation, especially of black people.  Although this seems at the opposite end to the passivity of Bartleby, both examples show the problem of 'suspended agency', being puppet like. 

The same themes persist in paranoia films, and again these are read differently, as revealing inertia rather than intense emotion and moments of high action, the 'narrative expansion' in which the time of the discourse becomes longer than the time of the story [illustrated in corny scenes like the pages of a calendar being ripped off, shown indirectly in paranoid films -- see below]: this demonstrates paranoia as objectless, unlike the suddenness of fear.  The films convey a 'conspicuous inactivity'(14), which produces unsettling or confusing responses, including confusion about what it is that we are feeling, 'a meta-feeling'.  This is an effective state itself, a familiar one, linked to the feeling of loss of control [lots of good examples ensue, for example of Double Indemnity, 14 – 17  -- here, there is a shift between the subjective time of the story-teller, and the objective time in which he is exposed, which leads to a permanent unease that things are moving in the background and they will impact on us, and a split between limited subjective and real objective perceptions etc. Or another film The Conversation in which subjective dilemmas are seen as a part of wider social ones 17f]. This picks up on themes of entanglement of selves and corporate conspiracies, discussed by Jameson [v good in Parallax View, for my money, or the JFK films, or how about The Matrix, before it got spiritual ] . These offer examples of quiet destabilization, to contrast with sudden disruptions of bursts of stronger emotions, they are minor, more ambiguous.].

Envy works in a similar way.  It always seems unjustified, too personal.  It is, however, the only negative emotions that focuses on inequalities, but it is still more general, unlike jealousy.  The same kind of discord between subjective and objective states can be found—indeed, all the negative emotions share this, including animatedness: here the ambiguity turns on whether we are referring to a highspiritedness or a 'puppet like state'(21), something mechanical.  Inside and outside or subjective and objective also characterizes anxiety, the tension between psychological interiors and bodily exteriors.

The central ambiguity arises from the 'relatively weak intentionality' (22) of negative feelings, their lack of a precise object, even for envy and disgust.  The link with action is less strategic, more diagnostic, equally connected to inaction, or, at most, towards negating specific objects or actions, developing 'epistemological skepticism'.  The same goes for attempts to represent these feelings in art, which have also been ambiguous -- ugly forms of animation such as claymation, or the blurring of distinctions between females, self and other, or between phantasmic identification and other forms of mimesis [discussed below].  The same goes with philosophical discussions of aesthetics and the role played by the emotions [23 F - only hinted at in my notes here and there].  Beneath it all is the problem of emotions in general, seen in the discussions of the differences between emotion and affect, for example, turning on whether a subject is required or not for the likes of Grossberg and Massumi. 

There are broader issues about whether subjective feelings can be understood in terms of materialism, and a general move to restore emotion, at least in literary criticism, as a counter to positivist or highly technical forms of analysis: post structuralism in particular appear to be indifferent to concrete social experience, if not to question the whole notion of experience.  Now the argument is that feelings are as 'fundamentally "social" as the institutions and collective practices that have been the more traditional objects of historicist criticism' (25) [and Williams on structures of feeling is held up as a noble exception -- see Zembylas on this].  Initially, the psychological difference between affect and emotion was designed to help distinguish objective and subjective feelings.  Grossberg and Massumi have argued that the emotions require a subject, but also a specific function and meaning as opposed to the more objective and unstructured states of affect, specifically not structured by a narrative.  This is the same difficulty addressed by Williams, to refer to social experiences which have effects but which are not well defined or classified.  This is intended to be anti positivist, and only effects are to be analyzed.

Ugly feelings are the interesting cases.  They are less narratively structured, and less intentionally connected to objects, which gives them a certain ambiguity.  Their link with politics is not directly a strategic one.  Yet this makes them useful to diagnose situations, especially those where actions seems to be blocked.  This escapes the debate about any differences between affect and emotion, and the difference here can be taken simply as a difference of intensity or degree, less focused at one end, but still capable of conveying meaning and organizing.  Again, ambiguity can lead to productivity, as in some of the film examples discussed below.

The concept of tone is also useful to describe how particular affective values are made meaningful through whole texts.  The point this time is to avoid the oversubjective analysis that says readers sympathetically identify with the feelings of characters: tone points to 'unfelt but perceived feeling'(28).  The term has been used by critics to turn away from purely individual and subjective reactions, and to point instead to how particular texts can show 'nuance and implication' especially when designed 'to produce and sharpen social distinctions' (29).  The term has actually been implicit in other traditions, describing the text's 'global affect', for example, especially in ideology critique. 

The term is important, yet raises problems for analysis.  If we move away from readers, where are the affects actually felt?  How is tone actually generated?  [Some of this is aimed specifically at Jameson discussing the tone of postmodern simulacra].  We should see tone instead as 'the dialectic of objective and subjective feeling' (30) as with the negative emotions above: in film noir, there is a systematic alternation of subjective and objective perspectives, for example.  Nevertheless, the concept is necessarily amorphous, and the first chapter below tries to pursue it through The Confidence Man, with its shifting boundaries between economic and affective activity.

The on animatedness  addresses the issues of affects in mechanical reproducibility.  Again, it is both subjective and objective, intentional and unintentional.  The representation of races, animatedness becomes positively ugly [and far more connected with mechanization and racial notions of emotional excess].  It particularly addresses the theme of 'obstructed agency' (32) and its connection with politics.  Obstructed or suppressed agency runs through the subsequent discussion, although when discussing femininity, emotions come to the fore, but as something overdetermined: discussions of envy show the issues most clearly.  The trick is to disentangle it from ressentiment, or rather to develop the critical implications of the concept -that there is nothing particularly moral 'about being poor, weak, or disenfranchised' (34).  Envy also claims no moral high ground, and shares a low status, as a typical lower class resentment, personal dissatisfaction rather than proper political engagement, 'moralising pathos' (35).

The discussion of irritation rather than anger encourages exploration of the link between politics and aesthetics, and helps criticize some existing forms of racial cultural politics.  Anxiety is seen as a classically male form of emotion, involving a male fantasy of themselves as 'thrown', a 'passive body hurled into space' (36).  The special term stuplimity expresses the feelings of encountering 'vast but bounded artificial systems' producing repetitive and mechanical responses, but in the form of 'comic exhaustion rather than terror'.  The ugliest of all feelings is disgust, but again it has a role in challenging repressive tolerance.

[now some detail]

Chapter 1 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 synthesizing different 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 alluded 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 that it ‘resonates’ with their elements (a term Deleuze likes a lot) as a better description 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 subject’s engagement). 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’.

Animatedness. Stop frame animation developed in America in the early 20th century, and turned into the technique of claymation.  At first, it was seen as a reversion to photography, but also reveals an 'ideological fantasy'(90) of animating matter, to produce an advanced technology [encouraged by the early attempts to animate tools so they seem to be autonomous].  Humans, by contrast, seen inert, alluding to a kind of ambiguous Fordist vision of human agency, and raising issues of the impact of mechanical reproducibility.  In terms of affect, there is a parallel with 'being moved'[really a fanciful literary connection].  This is eventually to become racialized.  [The example is the claymation TV show The PJs]. 

There are connections with lumps becoming animated, including vocal lumps which choke human speakers [with implications for agency], via  a poem by Yau, Nietzsche on responsibility and the promise, and Asian stereotypes as silent and inexpressive, inscrutable or hyperactive.  Melville saw this as a characteristic of the Irish, others have attributed these characteristics to Jewish, Mexican, or African-American persons, so that animatedness, 'exaggerated emotional expressiveness' becomes characteristic of the ethnic other (94).  Emotions become corporeal too, which assist the idea of race or something to do with bodies. Readers are invited to be animated, or at least moved by texts as something involuntary and corporeal.  This includes agitational [geddit?] texts.

Vivid and agitated bodies become 'a spectacle for an ethnographic gaze' (97) [the example here is Uncle Tom's Cabin].  Such bodies can appear as 'a kind of ventriloquism : language from an outside source'.  This leads to a discussion of apostrophe, where entities are given life by being addressed by a first person speaker, a kind of ventriloquism: silence means a kind of muted response (in this case, Tom is ventriloquized by scripture as he prays).  This provides a thrill for the spectators.  It is also used to demonstrate a political effect (in this case, Tom's devotion lends support for a Christian condemnation of slavery) - Ngai sees this as a paradoxical combination of passivity and human agency [which leads to another leap to an essay on postmodern automata...]

Films like Modern Times show that the human body has become automated, made the object of the gaze or a spectacle.  This affects all bodies, but some more than others, especially '"the ridiculous, the lower class, or ... woman"'(99).  By extension, all third world subjects are subjected to this process by first world theorists [!].  The struggle for feminists is not only to animate oppressed women but to help them own it.

Overall though, animatedness depicts both repetitive movements and also spontaneity, as in surrealist psychic autonomism.  This can be seen as a connection between emotions and the mechanistic and their relations in human agency.  Bodies can be both limited and machine-like but also highly elastic, energetic and therefore potentially subversive [hinted at in Eisenstein, apparently].  This ambiguity is particularly important when racial bodies are depicted, for example in terms of animated television programmes, or coverage of high profile trials of black people: the interest is in depicting race live on television as well as in animations.

Live television has become even more important as an ideological justification of the medium.  We can see the issues also with some animated comedy—The PJs [lengthy commentary ensues 102 F].  Apparently, characters were represented in foam figures.  It was seen as hostile to black people by some black groups, as stereotyped and demeaning.  For the first time, the characters were urban poor black people, and this was seen as inaccurate in the name of 'mimetic realism' (104).  An accompanying claim was that these depictions would affect the social status of African Americans.  There is also a sense that it was necessary to represent black experience as single and unitary, which contradicted the claims of mimetic realism [and introduced 'simulacral realism'].  The puppets also exaggerated features in ways which offended advocates of both kinds of realism and risked caricature, although the deliberate depiction of 'the grotesque and/or ugly, as a powerful aesthetic of exaggeration, crudeness, and distortion' (105) was once 'summoned by African American artists' to rebuke caricature.

The programme was used to make social comment, and to deal with racism, but 'in a larger socio-economic context rather than as a problem of prejudice between individuals' (106).  This made it critical of government institutions.  It also focused on community rather than family, was often critical of welfare and charity, and exposed injustice in an ironic way.  Racism is not just a matter of stereotyping, and the struggles were not primary about imagery but power - 'a Foucaldian rather than a liberal humanist critique of racism'[about institutions rather than individuals].  Sometimes the series approached 'daring and divisive agit pop' (107 [SIC -a misspelling of agitprop?].  Issues of representation were sometimes dealt with, but primarily with relation to black television culture, and were nearly always playful and irrerevent.  [There seems to be much intertextuality with references to other black sitcoms].

Comedy has always had to tread the line between depicting pipes and lapsing into stereotypes, though.  Classical liberal critique of stereotypes needs to bear this in mind, because depictions are often severely limited, and racial minorities have less control over them.  The tradition of racist representations is never far.  Unfortunately, the three dimensional figures can still be traced back to earlier two dimensional racist stereotypes [this is partly technical, apparently, since the figures are fragmented in order to make manipulation easier [explained as a crucial element of fordist techniques in cel animation, 110].  [Apparently this risk at producing an exaggerated animation, with echoes of Uncle Tom again].

However, these old racist notions are easily evoked [one example is an early depiction of a black puppet throwing itself about in a dance - reminds me of white liberals].  They can produce simultaneous attraction and repulsion [with a link to early black performers establishing empathy with the audience's racism].  Yet there is also a defiance, producing 'disjunctive in us' (113): humans anthropomorphize puppets, 'but the puppet also mechanizes the human'[with traditional puppetry]

Envy is a classic ugly feeling, about a perception of inequality but disvalued, as personal, based on ressentiment ( itself degraded by everyone). It is clearly linked to degraded subjects who feel it –proles and women. Both are associated with the feminine and less tolerated in them. It offers a good example of the ambivalences felt towards negative emotions expressed by women. This led to anxiety among feminists especially [and thus denial] eg in films like Single White Female – jealous friendships lead to violence etc. Female friendships are seen as  generally problematic. This is 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 constructive to some extent. It is possible that relationships even rely on antagonism.

Leads to very good discussions of  feminist film criticism. Ngai Proposes not reductive binaries or psychoanalysis [with Freud’s Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego as key text] , but reworking interpretation via a discourse of envy and emulation. These terms depend on but are different from more usual concepts of identity and desire.  Emulation, mimicry are NOT only about wishing to be that person, and they can be aggressive activities, spoiling, for example in parody or satire [and in the analysis of SWF, imitation leaves the original female as a substitute for her copy via a mirror effect] Freud’s mistake was to confuse fantasy identification as a full merger of self with actual mimicry [NB the text looks very much like it develops the concept of role model!]  Ngai says Freud reserves mimicry to discuss relations between girls and mums, where it becomes a kind of irrational hysteria. Fantasmic identification is something ontological and based on the development of the male personality, a form of fantastic identification with father etc –literal imitation/identification ends in pathology of male homosexuality. The female is seen as exemplary case of such identification hence the female itself becomes centred round emulation/identification. Inducements to emulation, including envy, thus become linked to the female and envy is particularly contagious among females ( as in examples of mass hysteria).

However, SWF shows an aggressive lack of contagion among the 2 female 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] .The whole example shows identification is  not the only route to group formation and thus political  solidarity though – antagonism also has an important critical role [and so by extension, so does envy].
Those who give envy a purely destructive appropriating or spoiling role include Klein. Ngai says it is possible to include this spoiling as a rejection of the [dangeroulsy conformist] idealized object of desire. It is the same with Freud on jealousy:  again a  rejection of  idealization is involved and this allows a 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]. [This is useful to criticize empathy as a form of imperialism of the Same, as only sentimental identification etc.]. The argument is  almost accepted in Freud where negative feelings can force a kind of solidarity, a theme found in lots of others (166). Differences are included via invagination for Derrida [handily feminist notion says Ngai] . However, the argument can be recuperated, and this appears in SWF, by the argument that particularly petty and minor differences characterize specifically female envy.

On to irritation as ‘minor, low intensity negative affect’ (174) via an early novel Quicksand where it is all-pervading – the characters are particularly  ‘offish’,leading to Aristotle on irritation as arising when something occurs not for normal reasons. There is also a link back to Bartleby [and an earlier chapter on race as involving something unusually animated, physical, disturbing – this writer is a black woman]. Similar ambiguities arise with raciality as with gender – it is conventional to argue that differences are to be celebrated,  including by white modernists, but the notion of irritation more productive of insight than this.

Irritation is a mood, unfocused rather than a specific emotion.  It is ambiguous in referring both to minds and bodies, hence metaphors of feeling sore etc. [and hints of the importance of skin in racial politics]. Quicksands can be read as search for an object to pin specific emoptions on – there is certainly frequent irritation caused by a variety of petty details – the smell of food, inappropriate teacups [a bit like Proust on minor breaches of taste etc] ,but irritation is extended to ‘serious’ issues too, like racism. Irritation seems therefore politically weaker than other negative [and more 'serious'] emotions like anger (but anger is 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 an appropriate response be, especially to racial insults? Responses can indicate sanctimoniousness as well as politics.

It is common to expect an appropriate response again from the insulted subject. However, reader identification can be with or against subjects –‘volunteered passion’ ( 189), where the reader supplies the appropriate emotion [a kind of legitimating otherness?] . Irritation produces neither stance very clearly –  instead there is offishness [but this is better than black people being patronized or othered etc] . Such effects can lead to an irritated criticism of the author, though. Volunteered passion especially  seems deliberately blocked by vagueness – an ‘aggressive kind of weakness’ (190) . At least this busts the racial stereotype of black people as over-responsive, animated [and the response of white people who are equally animated when dancing or applauding black performers etc]. This discussion shows again that emotions need not be simple or permanent – in the novel, disidentification can lead to identification with another aspect of black culture. It is important to avoid excessive identification which must lead to conformity, nor to have to constantly choose with each example.

Ambiguities are continued in ‘indirect free narration’ style of this novel, which also enables the 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].

The overall effect is to deny easy identifications of black bodies with meaning, either for or against, to insist each one has to be interpreted and deny that black people must always identify or disidentify. The novel also denies easy an opposition surfaces and depths, and insists that blank spaces be allowed to be what they are: if black people go blank about their identity, this is not always a sign of repression.

Then anxiety, as something future-oriented or expectant, not already filled with meaning. There is a spatial dimension too – anxiety is projected on to others, including projection on to patients by psychoanalysts [the source is a record of his own analysis by Althusser –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 he has no real discussion of projection even though deployed a lot. Ngai proposes to find examples 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. Male anxiety is seen as genuine, in Freud,  based on castration, while again female versions only react with ‘nostalgia and envy’ (213). Males embody anxiety, especially intellectuals, part of a long tradition of male melancholy, now associated being over-civilized and bookish. Anxiety appears in the context of a journey [!] or quest, using terms about being thrown or falling, vertigo etc.

As in Vertigo: hero as private investigator/scholar, with a vertical dimension to his intellectual distance emphasized. The female figures are odd and duplicated, screens for femininity [projection – geddit!]. The hero appears first as ambiguous sexually, corseted [because of injury], freedom and masculinity will involve throwing it [and his other hangups] off. Eventually all the women will also be thrown, out of windows etc. Lots of detailed analysis of the film ensues (220—6).

Links are drawn with Hedidegger and the thrownness of Dasein, its Da, [its actualization], becoming fact. Anxiety arises as a turning away from this factuality, a surrender to complexity.  Anxiety  arises thus from a mood of turning away, not an expression of an inner state. Moods are as important and  and originary as understanding, argued also in Kierkegaard where affect and concept inextricably linked. Understanding is also a projection [the other way round?]. [Weird stuff ensues, including the notion that the thrownness of Dasein is never complete, that possibility of being is inherent just as with understanding.  More weird stuff on anxiety and fear – the latter involves a shrinking back, the former to something indeterminate, alluding to the world itself in which Dasein thrown] . Also conveys possibilities,  though, and Dasein becomes authentically in the world [a guarantee of the objectivity of the world?]. The experience of anxiety unifies implicit notions about Dasein and the world, reveals the structure of the relation ( 235)

Then Melville’s Pierre. Pierre is trying to engage in intellectual work 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 characterize masculine struggles with nothingness and male quests for truth and agency. The emotion suggests no solid ground, but this strangely relocates individualization, again via a distancing. Takes form of an aversion to negvty itself. [heroic male battles on knowing it is all really hopeless and groundless etc?]

'Stuplimity' seems to refer to being battered by language into a numb sort of passivity [or maybe not]. Some excellent examples are provided 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]. It is intended to induce fatigue in the reader, as a polar opposite to busyness and stupefaction [so linked, she is going to argue?]. Both latter terms imply an ignorant reaction on part of reader/viewer. Boredom is potentially experimental though, and might be linked to creativity. 

[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, finally encountering 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 overwhelmingly detailed installations [lovely examples 263].  The point is to illustrate how language combines things and orders them in agglomerations.

This is another example of how negative emotions can become important in aesthetic experience.  Even the sublime can be thought of as an ugly feeling, contrasted with the beautiful, and relating to the notion of excess, the huge scale of nature, infinity 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.  Art can be too involving.  Sublimity implies a safe distance. However, the intention is to induce boredom.  Again,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 exists 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 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'. [I think you need as much cultural capital as a Lacan to see the whole beneath the parts]

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 - ) 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 commercialized sublimity, but is capable of still generating euphoria [the example given is Jameson 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 organized 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,presumably Difference and Repetition].  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.  Jameson suggest that this is a discussion of the role of the postmodern intellectual, to pursue infinite networks[reminds me of the permanent indecisveness noted in Deleuze by Negri] .  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 as 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 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 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's 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 the former is always political, there 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 [not claimed] 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 realize the situation.

In the afterword, we discuss disgust, never really the subject of particular theories of poetics [except in the work of anthropologists like Mary Douglas].  Kristeva's abjection is reconceptualized 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, a 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 or confusing, it always produces a definite response, unlike any of the other ambiguous emotions discussed 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]

Disgust is urgent and specific, and invites disagreement.  It can be seen as the opposite of desire [used in this case to refer to 'the vaguely affective idiom' referred to mostly in literature, or (337) referring to attraction to multiplicity and fluidity, almost anything that exceeds 'the symbolic status quo'(338) [actually Kristeva].  It offers a broader range than does disgust: the latter also shades off into indignation or complaint, although these tend to be domesticated, and this is like the way of managing envy to avoid it turning into class hatred.  Disgust has also been hijacked to explain notions of racism or homophobia.  In more democratic societies, this shades off into [safer] contempt and indifference: true disgust fears infection.

It is hard to find any virtue in it.  The right wing version is not the only one.  At the same time, it is dubious to claim that it is inherently immoral.  It is sometimes addressed to disgusting and dangerous objects, for example such as rotten meat.  It is condemned by those who wish to promote 'sympathy identification and compassion'.  It might help resist Marcuse's repressive tolerance, however and repressive desublimation: these are used to pacify politics and manage opposition. Ngai agrees that something that is merely tolerated tends to be ineffectual, and art is an excellent example.  Postmodern culture shows best a connection between excessive tolerance, pluralism, and commercialism.  The same goes for postmodern criticism [of art, but also more generally?].

This might explain why desire is more theoretically attractive—it seems 'especially consonant with critical or aesthetic pluralism'(343), with 'hegemonic pluralism' including that found in academic life, the 'academically routinized concept', as well as the 'poetics of desire' (344).  Critical discourses wanting to exclude some options are themselves excluded.  [What about those that wish to exclude academic discourse itself?].  Desire becomes simply a way of including all heterogeneity.  Pluralism has become the dominant idea politically, used to exclude Marxism especially.

Tolerance must be seen as both positive and negative.  Disgust can at least prevent contempt, as well as patronising benevolence, both of which assume that the object is unthreatening and unimportant.  A new set of aesthetic and political possibilities are opened up, although there were also self evident limitations.  However, some 28th century works have developed the notion [examples 346 F - one involves a religious parody where a woman eats a cockroach, and this apparently leads to an awareness of interdependence between humans and the natural world, as a way of spiritually redeeming disgust {already recuperated in the bush tucker trial on the celebrities in the jungle show}.  Another example, there is a poet who specializes in linguistic disgust (348), 'decoupling art from beauty', trying to become deliberately intolerable and therefore incapable of being absorbed, but through being obtrusive, not through passive resistance [sounds a bit like De Sade].  The poet also tries to show how fascination is connected with disgust, or over consumption.

Disgust is therefore the pole case to support ugly feelings.