Homesickness and the In-between

The Affect & Inquiry Symposium was an eye-opening experience for me, as a novice to the literature, providing case studies that were easier to grasp than dense theoretical arguments. I especially appreciated talks that demonstrated the many different ways I could use the idea of affect within my own academic interests. I was particularly intrigued by the second full panel titled, “Feeling Out of It.” Since Brook has laid out concise yet insightful interpretations of the panel’s arguments, I’d like to offer a few additional thoughts about one of the talks in particular.

Especially useful and interesting for me was Sean Scanlan’s talk, “What does globalization feel like?” He presented a case study of two pieces of literature about international airports analyzing two different types of homesickness, global and radical.  Examining “A long way home” and “The terminal man,” Scanlan was able to articulate meaninngs of homesickness as a collision of two selves: the old self of the past, who once belonged to its original home, and the new, who has gained new insight through broader understanding, or the experience of “affect.” Scanlan describes his idea of “global homesickness” as the combined feelings of displacement and detachment from a literal or local “home” along with a new attachment to various non-local, even non-state, entities. One feels loss in the excess of new possibilities and realizes that the cherished idea of wholeness is an illusion because a genuine feeling of wholeness is impossible. The “radical homesickness,” on the other hand, is experiencing a lack of choice, being barred from affiliating with desired groups. The individual feels powerless because his/her national and ethnic affiliation is unwanted by the people in power, usually the felt experience of a refugee or exile. In answering his own question of the weighing valence of homesickness, whether or not homesickness could serve as a positive function or act as resistance to global inequality, he notes that the global corresponds to the former and radical to the latter.

In thinking about global homesickness, I wanted to ask Scanlan if the feeling of nostalgia could be further articulated. I began to think about the state that induces homesickness and nostalgia: the state of in-between. The temporal and spatial in-betweens are the past and the present selves that you have to face within continuous global mobility. The feeling of in-between includes the loss and longing for home, that is, feelings of nostalgia, and could include the possibility of going back home, or even frequent visits to home. But you never fully belong to the past self precisely due to the newer experience.  You are ambivalent about the past and the present because you feel detached from both. In other words, your changed perspectives do not welcome you to your mental and psychological construction of home, as you are now able to observe your past with a set of critical eyes, yet you feel displaced as a global nomad within your ability to be mobile. You’re constantly afloat, but stuck in the in-between.


Vis a Vis: Staring Down, Shaking Up, and Moving On

“Vis a Vis”
 by Rachel Walerstein

Brick red is not red.
It is not the fluorescent death of trees;
not the transformation of blood
breathing; nor is it stable.

Brick red is a wall telling you
“Keep going- but not this way.”
Circumvent, imagine the geography
of a red that says, “go.”
Find the soft places, the broken,
the willing to try again.

Instability does not have to be a
mark of solubility.
Not every wall crumbles always either.
Red does not need to mean, “stop.”
Rather, the question now is:
if you can’t go this or that way,
where might possibility lie?

(Do not get hung up on lies;
they are simply permission
to come up with something close to truth.)

Brick red is resemblances
pastiched in a wall facing you.

Can you face it too?

          I wrote that poem sitting in my office last semester- my first semester as a graduate student actually- while trying to not deconstruct in the process of writing a response to Derrida’s Of Grammatology (I was only half successful). I’m beginning with this poem not because I think it’s any good, but because I’m trying to practice an intergenre method that reintroduces me into my work. “Ah, but Rachel, you’re the one writing this post! Doesn’t that mean you’re always already in it?” Well, not exactly random disembodied voice, and Derrida might back me up on that. This poem, for the “me” at the moment I wrote it, as well as now, is a meditation on the terror of imposter syndrome which imposes itself during moments of creative blockage.

          Blockage is an important word, one of many in fact, that came out of this weekend’s symposium. What is it that blocks our thinking we are actually scholars (or whatever you feel like you’re an imposter at)? How in turn does that block our capacity to produce scholarship that excites us? What blocks our scholarship from being exciting? Why, in other words, isn’t our work seductive and sexy in the way only a nerdy bibliophile might imagine possible?

           I turn now to Jasbir Puar’s talk, “Conviviality: New Methods for No Future” in the hopes of explaining why I think my research should be sexy. Her talk explored the confluence between affect theory and disability studies, and the potential induced in placing the two in dialogue with one another. I won’t pretend I have any awesome quotes to duplicate here, because that would assume an ability that I, as someone who is partially deaf, just do not have. Which was one of the major points of her talk: that the structure of the academy- physical, logistical, monetary, and its overall atmosphere- are debilitating for those who find themselves within it. But I found what she had to offer by way of rethinking  how we approach the problem of making academia accessible resonated with the problem of unsexy scholarship. Which is weird. Bear with me, unbearable though it might seem. I promise I have a point.

           Which is this: that for many of us, scholarship is the sex we want to want to have, as Lauren Berlant put it. We want to seduce the problems we came into our respective programs with into an articulate form, one which resembles a product of this labor of the mind. In a different sense, we want to enjoy the process of tangling and untangling the critical “why” questions which never seem to go away. And we want to do so in order to (hopefully) make the world a better  place. What Puar points out is that the understanding of the body as never really coherent that comes from disability studies can be used to think about the ways in which the affective environment of academia debilitates our bodies, splitting the body from the minds, splitting us from the vitality that would allow our ability to engage in the process of scholarship to flow. In short, we are blocked.
My group's creative reimagining of academia's blockage's during Saturday morning's intergenre workshop.

My group’s creative reimagining of academia’s blockages during Saturday morning’s intergenre workshop.

          Thus, Puar has been working to develop a theory of “conviviality”: of experimenting with being in the event of a debilitating encounter and using the affects generated to dismantle, complicate, and reimagine the blockage in politically productive ways. This, at least, is how I understood her to be deploying the term. If not, well, I apologize: but only insofar as in doing so I practice the kind of re-navigation I describe in the above poem, and that I sense Puar to also be suggesting we do. In some ways, I don’t know that it’s all that important I get things exactly right. Affect theory, Puar’s talk, and my own philosophical disposition seem to enjoy the messiness of imprecision- it’s what leaves channels open for further questioning and modification. Precision, like a brick red wall, is halting. And I know: I’ve walked into many a brick wall while deep in thought.

            Precision is also a turn off. If you’ll forgive my generalizing a moment: Just like you wouldn’t be turned on by most of Cosmopolitan’s weird sex tips (the donut one still confuses me), the transformation of the academy into a machine of precise knowledge production is also a major turn off. It shifts us into a “cog” mentality that alienates us from the work we love in a distinctly Marxian way. We are the cognitariat, and in being forced to be on all the time, are subsequently turned off in ways that matter beyond what it means for the work we produce; it matters for the kinds of people we end up becoming.

So what’s the take away from all of this?

1) You don’t need to avoid brick walls, you just need to think of new ways to hang out with and around them.
2) Jasbir Puar has radically shaken up critical theory in ways that, I think, are for the better.
3) I am a poet.
4) Somehow sex and scholarship are the same thing, if only because after writing and researching all day you really just want to raid the fridge for some cake and then do it all over again (This may be just me).
5) I ramble.

“After Depression: The Sovereignty of the Senses”

“After Depression: The Sovereignty of the Senses”

Ann Cvetkovich’s keynote lecture at the Affect and Inquiry Symposium held at the University of Iowa, 3/29/2014

In the third keynote lecture at the Affect and Inquiry Symposium, Ann Cvetkovich addressed the connections between her prior works, specifically Depression: a public feeling,” and her upcoming book on the sovereignty of the senses. Cvetkovich divided her lecture into two parts: mediations on the queer method of working with artists and a turn to her new project, “After Depression: The Sovereignty of the Senses.”

Part I: Mediations on the Queer Method of Working with Artists

In this section, Cvetkovich considers the work of queer artists, such as Allyson Mitchell and Sheila Pepe, as sites of exploration. Cvetkovich opens the lecture with the statement that her discussion of crafting (the final section in Depression: a public feeling) emerged through being in and working with spaces of art and discussing art with her “fellow travelers,” meaning the artists themselves, to engage forms of conviviality and collegiality.

Cvetkovich describes art as having a tension or, more specifically, embodying contradictory feelings of being. Tension, argues Cvetkovich, provides a talisman or a touchstone for her work. To illustrate, Cvetkovich turns to Mitchell’s work “Hungry Purse: The Vagina Dentata in Late Capitalism.” The installment both interests and repulses the viewer in a “cringy, grimy” way.  Mitchell’s installation demonstrates the complex relationship between art and capitalism. “Hungry Purse” demands we confront the tension and examine how aesthetics and politics work together. Additionally, Cvetkovich questions, “What are the political stakes of pursuing a career as an artist?”


Mitchell, “Hungry Purse”

An Archive of Feelings: A Sequel

Cvetkovich addresses her own work, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures, which develops a queer approach to trauma. She discusses her relationship with artist, Tammy Rae Carland, who borrows Cvetkovich’s title for an art installation that uncovers the historical narrative of queer trauma. Cvetkovich uses Carland’s work to illustrate how an object can quire affect solely based on the feelings attached to the object. In addition to Carland’s work, Cvetkovich also considers the work of A.L. Steiner, Ulrike Muller’s “Herstory Inventory” and Allyson Mitchell’s “Girl’s Journey into the Well of Forbidden Knowledge.” Ultimately, these projects illustrate the importance of archival work and affective intensities of lived encounters.


Carland, “An Archive of Feelings: My Inheritance”


Cvetkovich addresses the relationship between the public and private spheres. She asks, “What happens when we bring the private into the public arena?” To demonstrate, Cvetkovich turns to her relationship with the visual artists. She argues that brining the creative into scholarship allows for social and affective networks that focus on the queer method and document the relationship between different genres.

Bibliographic Altar

Discussing her scholarship on Depression, Cvetkovich describes her own bibliographic altar which consists of different stacks of objects for each chapter of the book. These stacks include songs, books, photographs, and various trinkets and objects. Cvetkovich defines her disparate archives as having separate affective feelings. Cvetkovich’s bibliographic altar makes concrete and material what can be inchoate and abstract. She claims that the altars make room “for crazy thoughts to become reality” and labels their physical surfaces as places “to find ideas.”


Transitioning into a discussion of genre, Cvetkovich addresses the different modes of writing in Depression. She posits that what is learned in scholarly, academic spaces can work in tandem with the visual and textual arts. She suggests that, although creative modes of writing may seem experimental, they represent another way of thinking. She calls for the defamiliarization and collapsing of binaries between scholarly writing and creative works. We might, maintains Cvetkovich, embrace crafting as a new way of writing that is attuned to the senses; affect, she states, is a transmutual atmosphere.

Part II: “After Depression: The Sovereignty of the Senses”

Cvetkovich begins the second section of her lecture by discussing crafting as a mode of forging a connection between mind and body. This project, argues Cvetkovich, arose from moments in Depression that needed further articulation; these moments, according to the author, “felt messy.” She particularly points to her description of Lauren Berlant’s concept of “slow death.” Using Berlant as a framework, Cvetkovich wants to understand sovereignty as being learned and experienced over time. By placing sovereignty alongside the senses, Cvetkovich is able to give the term “sovereignty” a queer feeling and orientation. Moreover, this move allows Cvetkovich to rethink what she calls the “good life,” or mediations of happiness. Cvetkovich posits that we don’t always know what happiness is and we can’t always trust our feelings and emotions. To illustrate the concept of “feeling messy,” Cvetkovich speculates that “I now know I should end [the title of my project] with a ‘?’” Taking a cue from Cvetkovich, and reading the title as “After Depression: The Sovereignty of the Senses?” allows readers to connect the messiness of knowledge production to sensory experience of affect studies.

The Archive

Cvetkovich turns to high theory and queer affect studies to better understand sovereignty. The author claims that theory allows her to “stitch together” disparate bodies and understandings of sovereignty from African diaspora studies, slavery, and ownership; ultimately this “stitching” makes room to grapple with the ongoing depression surrounding the legacy of slavery. Cvetkovich suggests that sovereignty is essential to indigenous studies that raises very real questions of land and land rites. The focus, then, is on the tension between cultural forms of sovereignty (notions of home, attachments to land) and politics.

Queer affect studies opens possibilities for dialogue and cultivates forms of aliveness. For Cvetkovich, it’s a relationship between sensory experience and art. Her interests lie in the environmental installments of queer art and its relation to sovereignty.

Queer Art

To illustrate her project, Cvetkovich turns to Zoe Leonard’s visual project with the camera obscura, a metaphor derived from Marxism to depict the ideology as the world upside down. Leonard’s camera obscura asks its viewers to feel and sense as a mode of knowledge production. The project questions, “How does seeing take place” and invites viewers to consider their positionality in relation to sight.


Cvetkovich asserts that she wants to think about art through an indigenous frame. She concludes by asking, “How do we see land, history, culture and contested spaces?”


This summary and analysis are not meant to be comprehensive but, rather, are the key points I understood and took away from Cvetkovich’s lecture. I hope that these moments (or events) will capture the interest of others who attended the lecture and offer a spring board for conversation. I would like to spend a brief moment touching on my favorite part of the lecture: Cvetkovich’s bibliographic altar.

Cvetkovich’s concept of the bibliographic alter raises many questions about what is present / absent in traditional academia. While this discussion was briefly taken up during the Q&A, I would like to elaborate on it here. A scholarly bibliography accounts for what is read and understood but leaves out (and possibly erases) the affectual responses of its author. In this way, traditional bibliographies are inadequate for documenting emotion. Cvetkovich’s own bibliographic altar coupled with Tammy Rae Carland’s “Archive of Feelings” create space to account for affect in the process of knowledge production. These types of object-oriented archives seem very important, then, in considering our own positionality and lines of sight. They allow us to consider sensory and affectual experiences and, in doing so, embrace multiple perspectives of understanding.

post by Heidi Renée Aijala



Intergenre Workshop: Crossing the Scholarly/Creative Divide

Writing this blog makes me wish that I were more experienced with the sort of “intergenre” modes exhibited by the panelists, so that I could use more than words in describing my experience and its implications. The first thing that I noticed, upon entering Public Space One, was how different that location felt from the earlier panels. In the basement of a church, the art gallery and stage seemed almost insular, hidden from the harsher version of “public” in academic classrooms and auditoriums. The art installations set up along the walls, in fact, added up to something less like an art gallery and more like a domestic space…they didn’t call attention to themselves as “art” so much as they were integral with a multipurpose room, more casual and yet somehow more public, in the sense of being intimately shared. The conversations that took place there seemed more casual, as well—less anxious about scholarly image.

I say that the atmosphere was the “first thing I noticed,” but the above observations were not formulations in my mind so much as vague sensations (affects). It is only after considering the discussions opened up by this panel on the possible restrictions of institutional spaces/genres that I realized the force I felt had to do with an opening up of affects that are usually held inside when sitting or speaking in classrooms.

The panel began with an explanation of “intergenre,” a combination of scholarly research and presentation with creative modes usually kept separate. Each panelist gave a performance that demonstrated the potential of crossing genres in the project of generating knowledge. In the first piece, an improvisational performance narrating the overlap between Kim Marra’s personal history and her archiving of women and horses in the nineteenth century, it was difficult to remain neutral, given the depth of emotion in the speaker’s voice. The most surprising aspect might have been hearing scholarly language spoken with the sort of embodied emotion that is usually absent, as the speaker launched into a brief, self-accusatory rant concerning her complicity in the historical exploitation of horses. What might seem to be scholarly jargon on the page was revitalized as meaningful, being reconnected with emotion.

The other three performances also contributed to a sense of the potential, even the necessity, of enacting scholarship using genres usually associated with creative work, whether through incorporating personal memoir with historicism, a ‘National Toxicity’ awareness tour, or even a full-fledged carnaval in Iowa City. In different ways, each performance reinforced the sense of scholarship opened-up, of becoming more than discourse or words on a page. In particular, Loyce Arthur and Sarah Kanouse’s works went beyond the individual project or performance to bring scholarship and artwork to a larger public, creating intergenre routes, monuments, and events. The artwork at the entrance also allowed for and thematized public interaction, whether through the internet or through posters and fliers.

The theme of interaction continued in the “charrette” following the performances, which included discussions as a whole group and in smaller sections. To the whole group, Naomi Greyser posed the question: “Where is knowledge being made and what does it feel like?” Historicist Lisa Heineman noted that, at least in the domain of history, knowledge is not usually produced using first-person narrative. There did not seem to be a consensus about knowledge-production in the academy as a whole, except to emphasize that anything which doesn’t feel like “work” is suspect. Further, while each department has its own quirks about what is considered “scholarly” and what ought to remain individual or personal, the project of intergenre research holds out the promise of producing more knowledge by overcoming the limitations of scholarly practice, filling in the blind spots left by practices designed to keep the body/emotions of the scholar out of scholarship.

One idea seemed to resonate for me in both the larger group and in the smaller groups that completed the charrette, which allowed for participation in more intimate discussions between departments/positions in academia. In considering comfort-levels with different types of work, Naomi Greyser suggested that perhaps “normative modes of scholarship” are just as uncomfortable, if not more so, than intergenre modes which might seem uncomfortable at first because they are unfamiliar. I liked this point because it calls attention to the violence that we do to ourselves without being aware of it, bringing ourselves in line with expectations that are either real or imagined. While it might be scary and momentous to perform creatively in front of people, it is the everyday discomfort that we hardly notice which seems to need more attention.

Each group created a list of what seemed the most fruitful ideas, and these large sheets were posted on the wall. Placing the productions of scholarly conversations in the same room with artwork added to my initial sense of the room as somehow more open and hybrid than other spaces. In short, the panel seemed a particularly effective way of including multiple voices without playing down the differences that arose—as those differences were so much more visible in a less uniform space.

My impression of the conference as a whole coincided with many of these ideas, the chief among which was embodying knowledge. I am convinced, even more than before, that thoughts themselves are affects, physical phenomena that have physical impacts. Everyone might not agree—I have also noticed, throughout the symposium and the conference, that the idea that thoughts might also be affects, or at least integrally connected with affect, still seems to have only partial acceptance. In other words, we often slip into the tendency to use the terms “emotion” and “affect” interchangeably, while holding thought/intellect in a realm apart. Breaking such habits is difficult, but important: Bringing knowledge and feelings together might be another way to describe the exigency of affect theory writ large. Somehow physical encounters and discussion seem even more important when working with affect—which is my roundabout way of thanking the organizers for this opportunity.


Feeling Out and In: The simultaneity of displacement and attachment

“Feeling Out of It”: Space/Time/Global Capitalism

The second full panel of the Affect and Inquiry Seminar hosted by the University of Iowa addressed the different political, geographical, temporal and gendered ways in which we “feel out of it” in contemporary life. The theme that linked these talks together, a familiar theme that extended across this conference in so many deeply moving ways, was the notion of “feeling out”; one I can’t help but imagine was informed by José Esteban Muñoz’s “Feeling Brown, Feeling Down” thesis. And very much in line with the lessons we walked away with this weekend, experiencing the Affect and Inquiry Symposium both reminded me of the ways in which I “feel out of it” so often, as a graduate student, as a partner and a friend, as a human moving through the world at this moment in time, and also how much this experience made me feel very much “in it” (in the opportunities for conversation, in the sense that I share affective affiliations beyond my own identifcatory capabilities, that I am, in fact, not alone in feeling detached and disoriented through our efforts to very simple “be in” the world. In this way, “Feeling Out of It” brought many of the arguments and discussions we heard and had this weekend to the forefront of my mind. What is it that we are out of? Or in to? And how do those (dis)attachments feel? Even in introducing my own relationship to the title I am reminded of Jasbir Puar’s critique of intersectionality and the limits of an identity-based politics. For while I (and we all) operate from certain spatio-temporal orientations within global capitalism, my sense of “out” differs in significant ways from many of the topics in the talks delivered on this panel. Am I, I wonder, the “global elite” traveler identified by Sean Scanlan in his talk on globalization and homesickness? Even in a brief conversation with another audience member following this panel who feels a different kind of homesickness, as a first generation resident in the United States with parents who hail from eastern Europe, I realize that our mutual feeling of being “out of it” is not one based on identification, but on our capacity to affectively engage with one another, and the variegated apparatuses that both beckon us and make us feel “out”. “Feeling Out Of It” thus brought to the fore questions about (non)relationality and the affective (dis)attachments across spaces and times in a contemporary moment of global capitalism that is itself, as Lauren Berlant reminded us in her talk, a time of crisis.

The panel addressed, though in very different ways, the increasing sense of disattachment or exploitation from space and time as a result of globalization and/or neoliberalism. But in addition, we also learned about alternative affective interconnections made possible through forces of capitalist expansion, even in the face of spatial displacement, temporal diffusion, and neoliberal oppressions. In his talk asking us to consider “What Does Globalization Feel Like?”, Sean Scanlan argued that we might consider the force of narrative constructions of homesickness as both a way of highlighting the nuanced effects of globalization on our contemporary lives, but also as a literary device which itself impacts globalization at different registers. Globalization, Scanlan argued, is not only a question of shifts in technology and capital; it is a profound social condition constitutive of contemporary life. And, as we might imagine, the realities and effectivities of globalization feel, and feel differently, across, between, and in spite of different spatial, temporal, embodied practices. Alternately, Kimberly Lamm’s talk on “Girl Sounds: Voice, Affect and Neoliberal Femininities” addressed the figure of the girl as an audible presence which is both used as a figure to support the neoliberal project (through the cultural configuration of singers like Taylor Swift), and also is a force that might audibly disrupt the capital and political oppression of girl-ness (in the work of sound poet Tracie Morris and her poem “A Little”). Lamm challenged us to think more carefully about how “the girl” is figured as a neoliberal symbol, through the familiar tropes of “at risk” and “can do”, dichotomous representations of the girl which foreclose potential modes of agency and interaction, but nonetheless can be called into question in work like Morris’ sound poetry, Finally, Rebecca Wanzo, in her talk “Feeling Right(s), Feeling Time”, discussed the relationship between affect and time, specifically in the ways “amazement” speaks to a profound disjuncture between a conservative politics of looking backward and a progressive politics of futurity. Using Walter Benjamin’s critique of progress as a departure point, Wanzo asked us to consider how do we account for our political/affective relationships to progress itself as an ideal (and as a temporal framework) in discussions over women’s rights, feminism, the reproductive body, and the state.

My brief summaries of these arguments are not meant to narrow, or even fairly represent, the arguments made in “Feeling Out Of It.” To be sure, many readers of this blog were (hopefully) in attendance and walked away with perhaps different interpretations of these arguments. I summarize here only to offer my interpretive overview of the panel in an effort to convey my own sense of how these arguments circulate around questions of space, time, and global capitalism. Interestingly, each of these scholars offered us a glimpse into the tensions between a socio-spatial sense of both alienation and attachment through their archives (whether it be a question of positionality, displacement, or political tension). And the affectual binds between either of these processes, attachment or alienation, are nonetheless intense, meaningful, and potentially political. Thus to be removed or outside of the power which works to determine your own positionality within a spatial-temporal framework does not suggest one is in a place outside of productive affective potential. Not only that, but each of these projects helped to remind us that the ways in which we feel politics, and the ways in which politics might feel, are diffused across spatial, temporal, and embodied actualities. “Feeling Out Of It” is thus linked to the sensory experiences of sovereignty (I now know I should end that with a “?”) outlined by Ann Cvetokovich, in that we access and exercise affective-political disruptions through different sensorial rhythms like Lamm’s reading of the “aural punctum”. The panel also addressed some of the questions Berlant asked in her keynote address in our considerations of how we think through politics in times like these, and what types of transitions might we make given the opportunities and limitations of our contemporary politics. “Feeling Out Of It” very much engaged these types of questions, asking what kinds of affective political experiences are (im)possible when we are, in between spaces and out of synch. I feel maybe those are better alternatives than being truly “in” the spaces and times of global capitalism’s march across the globe and into history. It seems like being “out of it” might offer alternative affective-political possibilities for imagining our own potentiality. It’s this practice of imagination, uncomfortablity, and creativity that I am, enthusiastically, very much “in” to.

B. Irving

March 30, 2014