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

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