juice of my heart.

White Blush – Juice Of My Heart (Official Video) from carolrhyu on Vimeo.


What are the pleasures of revenge? What do they look like?


It’s easy enough to know what revenge looks like. It’s much harder to picture its pleasures. This is because revenge tends to be depicted not as a matter of enjoyment but of getting even, righting wrongs, setting the world straight. It looks like slicing off the hands that give commands. Those fucking hands. Or force-feeding the unapologetic shit-heads their own crap, which isn’t your mess to clean up. Revenge isn’t bound to a principle of symmetrical retribution. It expresses the anger of being wronged. And anger, some people say, isn’t the best measure of fairness. John Locke so worried about the escalating bloodshed of revenge that he believed creating government was humanity’s only hope for level-headed justice. Revenge is rage without restraint.


But Sue’s anger melts as blood splashes her face like a refreshing rain. No longer enraged, she smiles and laughs. A bit to her own surprise, too. Sue has found pleasure in excess. All that blood and vomit — they are excesses, traces of the body escaping itself, like the scream of a Francis Bacon painting. Excess is a vitality that loosens the organization of a body. Dancing is an excess that frees the body from the stagnant rhythms and mechanical movements induced by work. This is why Sue turns on a stereo; as the philosopher Gilles Deleuze notes, music “strips bodies of their inertia, of the materiality of their presence: it disembodies bodies.” And Sue disembodies bodies, all right, literalizing the philosophy she reads in her down time. But she’s not content to enjoy the signs of excess gushing from others; she wants to feel an excess flowing through herself, to disembody the body shaped by her job, to enliven her postures, her facial expressions, her gait. So Sue dances, in reverie.


And instead of further hacking away, she tries to get the wrongdoers to dance with her; she toys with them to share in the pleasures of the moment (but they don’t seem to get it). Sue is generous, not sadistic or resentful; her soul doesn’t squint. She doesn’t have a taste for bloodshed per se but for the vitality therein — a vitality expressed most in dancing.


Of course, nothing proves that the revenge episode is an event rather than a fantasy. The diner’s dull hues contrast with the hazy lights that hint at a dream state. Sue doesn’t dream big; she knows her bucket symbolizes the American Dream, an empty container except when it holds a load of crap. And Sue disregards the bucket’s demand to “Invest in America,” knowing that hard work won’t save her from a douchebag boss, rid of an asshole clientele, and bring her happiness. Instead of working hard, Sue hardly works. She is startled when the cop enters, as if snapped back to reality from a tiny daydream. And when the cop spots the finger, he doesn’t react with shock but annoyance; the finger points less to a crime than an offense, the gag of a waitress who finds pleasure in dreams of excess that become little gestures.


As if winking, Sue smiles with satisfaction when she sets down the mug of coffee. Without waiting to see the cop’s reaction, she walks away. In her revenge fantasy, Sue doesn’t walk away; she enjoys watching the reactions of her victims. That pleasure is thus not quite her own, dependent as it is on the pain of others. Fantasizing, on the other hand, is a little pleasure of its own, created by oneself and independent of boss and customer. Daydreaming is a lateral pleasure that sidesteps the slumps of everyday life. For a moment, it keeps Sue afloat.


Revenge is a pleasure defined by wounded attachments. Fantasy is a dream pop pleasure of one’s own dance. The juice of my heart is an excess that vitalizes my life, joyfully.


blotting out man.


But now, while we have loitered, the clouds have gathered again, and a few straggling snow-flakes are beginning to descend. Faster and faster they fall, shutting out the distant objects from sight. The snow falls on every wood and field, and no crevice is forgotten; by the river and the pond, on the hill and in the valley. Quadrupeds are confined to their coverts, and the birds sit upon their perches this peaceful hour. There is not so much sound as in fair weather, but silently and gradually every slope, and the grey walls and fences, and the polished ice, and the sere leaves, which were not buried before, are concealed, and the tracks of men and beasts are lost. With so little effort does nature reassert her rule, and blot out the traces of men.

— Henry David Thoreau, “A Winter Walk”


for the new year.


For the new year. — I’m still alive; I still think: I must be alive because I still have to think. Sum, ergo cogito: cogito, ergo sum. Today everyone allows himself to express his dearest wish and thoughts: so I, too, want to say what I wish from myself today and what thought first crossed my heart – what thought shall be the reason, warrant, and sweetness of the rest of my life! I want to learn more and more how to see what is necessary in things as what is beautiful in them — thus I will be one of those who make things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love from now on! I do not want to wage war against ugliness. I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse the accusers. Let looking away be my only negation! And, all in all and on the whole: some day I want only to be a Yes-sayer!

— F. W. Nietzsche, The Gay Science


making the geologic now.


I want to call attention to a new publication from Punctum Books: Making the Geologic Now: Responses to Material Conditions of Contemporary Life, edited by Elizabeth Ellsworth and Jamie Kruse. The book is free to download. There’s also an interactive ebook version. Here’s the book’s description from Punctum:

Making the Geologic Now announces shifts in cultural sensibilities and practices. It offers early sightings of an increasingly widespread turn toward the geologic as source of explanation, motivation, and inspiration for creative responses to conditions of the present moment. In the spirit of a broadside, this edited collection circulates images and short essays from over 40 artists, designers, architects, scholars, and journalists who are actively exploring and creatively responding to the geologic depth of “now.” Contributors’ ideas and works are drawn from architecture, design, contemporary philosophy and art.  They are offered as test sites for what might become thinkable or possible if humans were to collectively take up the geologic as our instructive co-designer—as a partner in designing thoughts, objects, systems, and experiences.

Recent natural and human-made events triggered by or triggering the geologic have made volatile earth forces sense-able and relevant with new levels of intensity. As a condition of contemporary life in 2012, the geologic “now” is lived as a cascade of events. Humans and what we build participate in their unfolding. Today, and unlike the environmental movements of the 1970s, the geologic counts as “the environment” and invites us to extend our active awareness of inhabitation out to the cosmos and down to the Earth’s iron core.

A new cultural sensibility is emerging. As we struggle to understand and meet new material realities of earth and life on earth, it becomes increasingly obvious that the geologic is not just about rocks. We now cohabit with the geologic in unprecedented ways, in teeming assemblages of exchange and interaction among geologic materials and forces and the bio, cosmo, socio, political, legal, economic, strategic, and imaginary. As a reading and viewing experience, Making the Geologic Now is designed to move through culture, sounding an alert from the unfolding edge of the “geologic turn” that is now propagating through contemporary ideas and practices.

I had a chance to meet Liz and Jamie a month ago at a workshop on Emotional Elements, where they presented their Amulets for Infrastructure project. The amulets are designed to be material acknowledgments of the fragility of bridges, highways, the electrical grid, and so on. Liz and Jamie want to call attention to

the in-difference that both human-designed infrastructures and geo/meteorological events ‘feel’ towards humans—while also acknowledging the capacity of non-human things and events to create difference.  This is especially the case when  geologic events assemble and re-assemble with infrastructure independently of human desires, with consequences that reshape human lives in profound and irrevocable ways.

Liz and Jamie’s remarks were compelling, especially in light of Hurricane Sandy which had struck earlier that week and actually prevented them from attending the workshop in person (they joined over Skype, which had its own mishaps). The event of Sandy was very much a participant in the workshop, and Liz and Jamie asked what we might learn directly from the event. Their discussion of imbrications between the human and the geologic were quite timely and provocative, and there’s bound to be more of that in Making the Geologic Now. Well worth a look!


when the static thickens (vii).

6 | peeling away the upholstery [ ecoart ]


 The Upholsterer — Kitchen. 2008. 


Impasse” is the name for the space where the urgencies of livelihood are worked out all over again without assurances of better futurity while proceeding along by ways of adaptive improvisation and adjustment. People can be destroyed in the impasse, or be discouraged while maintaining composure or creatively managing things. Or they might refuse to adapt, becoming political or depressed, or both.1

—Lauren Berlant

There is no other aesthetic problem than the introduction of art into everyday life.2

—Gilles Deleuze

Gathered as things among other things, people prolong their stay in the impasse through the maintenance of dated, frail, or cracking attunements and orientations. Such is mere adaptation, a reactionary stance that struggles to keep defunct or damaged rhythms afloat; one becomes debilitated, committed to salvaging a shipwrecked life rather than leaving it behind, no matter the exhaustion, strain, and pain incurred. Cruel optimism.


Making it through the impasse demands invention rather than recalibration — creative rather than adaptive practices of detachment energized by new orientations, attitudes, and postures. It calls for, as a first step, the development of an intensified sensitivity — an active rather than adaptive process — to the things magnetizing the ordinary atmospheres of the impasse as well as things that may tug us elsewhere.


Ecoart is an example of what might push that first step, an expression of the aesthetic problem presented by Deleuze. Ecoart is not a particular medium or work. It can be anything, from acrylics being brushed onto a canvas to the colors splashing across a sunset stroll. It emerges as a dark precursor. Because ecoart can generate wonder for some while leaving others cold, it is haecceitic through and through. In other words, ecoart is atmospheric, an emergent atmosphere that sweeps up one as a thing among other things. It thus creates rather than adapts; it amplifies the noise of things, jolts familiar rhythms, ventilates atmospheres of the ordinary, and potentially breaks the impasse.


Robbie Rowlands’s sculptural and site pieces, showcased throughout this series, may be exemplary for some in generating ecoartistic experiences. The descriptions of one critic capture well the ecoartistic potential of Rowlands’s work:

Rowlands bases his sculptural work on things that exist at the fringes of our awareness, utilitarian objects such as lampposts or desks. He refashions them into something altogether different yet in a way that never allows their original identity to be shed. The mass produced and functional designs are softened and framed in terms of a new aesthetic, giving the object a renewed energy or sensibility. The effect is to reveal hidden potential in what had come to be regarded as outmoded. If the former object is largely unrecognizable in the new sculpture, the process is not one of violence, rather there is a sense of redemption, as if the object has been liberated from obsolescence, from forgetfulness. This redemptive sense is twofold; on the one hand the object has become something else, inhabiting a new and often sensuous form. On the other hand we can’t help reading this new form back into the old; we sense that the change is not entirely arbitrary, that maybe this new energy, this emerging beauty and potential was always there in the original object, even as it was sat on, written on, or passed by on the way to work. As such his work enables us to reflect upon the wider process of change, upon what our relation with things might suggest about us, and perhaps invites us to inject a little more care into the quotidian realm.3

I myself am attracted more by the site-work than the particular sculptures if only because the former countenance the withdrawal of things into atmospheres that offer no specific angle of entry. Outdoor installations (such as “Screening”, “Only 30 – Detroit”, and “Fell for Silo”) foreground their haecceitic dimension in their interaction with sunlight shifts and seasonal changes. The indoor installations (“The Offering” and “The Upholsterer”) take ordinary spaces (a church and a kitchen) and unleash the thing-power therein. In any case, Rowlands’s pieces magnetize ecoart atmospheres that, for some, cultivate an ecological disposition and aesthetic attunement to things.


Opening an exit from the impasse requires an ecological disposition attentive to things of various scales. The neoliberal impasse, for example, is not a structural crisis in the logic of capital alone; it is furnished in part by economic markets, but as “imperfect self-regulating system[s] in a cosmos composed of innumerable, interacting open systems with differential capacities of self-regulation.”4 To a cosmic tune not determined in advance of its emergence, neoliberal “force-fields” jive with heterogeneous, interactive force-fields of many types (e.g. cultural, biological, climatological, geological, theological, etc.). The neoliberal impasse here opens when the neoliberal force-field attains a relative durability despite the fluctuations in other force-fields impinging them from without. At the same time, that impasse is also fueled by a multifaceted neoliberal ethos lodged in lower registers of life. Therein, the neoliberal ethos produces and patterns bodies, thought-feelings, postures, activities, and expressions into the space-time of ordinary neoliberal life. We might be tempted to characterize the neoliberal (or any) impasse as both systemic and subjective were it not for our attentiveness to things and their preindividual (haecceitic) dimension. Moreover, too rigidly splitting the neoliberal (or any) impasse into macro and micro levels also forgets that things defy ontological scaling — that there is no difference in kind between things that would make them discrete entities. An ecological disposition accounts for how the impasse is operative on “different scales of time, agency, creativity, viscosity, and speed” by recalling that the impasse is composed in part by atmospheric things.5


Because we don’t know in advance which things situate us in the impasse and how, our ecological disposition must be enriched by an aesthetic attunement to things. That such an attunement is aesthetic emphasizes its affective grasping of what cannot be clearly cognized: when sensibility is sharper than cognition. What slips into consciousness from aesthetic attunement to an ordinary atmosphere is an approximated ecology of things.6 Aesthetic attunements to the neoliberal impasse, then, entail feeling out for the things clustering therein, to test out one’s affective attraction to wearying and damaging things. Dealing with the neoliberal impasse, in other words, demands more than attending to the “subjective grip” exerted upon populations by the “state/media/neoliberal combine” to reinstate their “faith” in neoliberalism.7 The neoliberal impasse isn’t managed by simply attributing failures of neoliberal endeavors to insufficient de/regulation, limited corporate greediness, or the favored policies of whatever political party — all projects of the human estate, more or less. The ordinary atmospheres of the neoliberal impasse are also comprised of neoliberal thingsan ecology of neoliberal things whose membership and magnetism exceed human control; even nonhuman things upkeep the neoliberal impasse. I suspect that, for example, the widespread resuscitation of faith in the American Dream during the Great Recession amongst America’s college graduates who, upon a string of failed job searches, have moved back into their parents’ home is sustained not only by ideological fantasy, discursive practices, social normativities, and market performances; it’s also a matter of simple immersion in the noise of neoliberal things that generate and upkeep the ordinary atmospheres of bourgeois accoutrements and aspirations. Might the simple ambience of various things in and about bourgeois milieus make one feel right at home with a neoliberal ethos even if one doesn’t acknowledge such thing-power? Neoliberal things, in part but ultimately irreducible to instrumentalized objects and consumer goods, are neither inert nor inconsequential, even while their maintenance of ordinary atmospheres of the neoliberal impasse generally passes below the radar of recognition. Because faculties of recognition are ill-suited to grasp those things formative of the neoliberal impasse, they and their supportive subject-object universe might be suspended in favor of an aesthetic attunement that, on new affective registers, is sensitive to the pulse of those things vitalizing the impasse. An aesthetic attunement puts an ecological disposition into contact with things in transformative circuits of style and affect (e.g. Sasha and the lollipop screwdriver) that potentially chisels away at or blasts apart the impasse.


An ecological disposition turns one’s attention to the legion of things making up an impasse and how it — both those things and the impasse — might be otherwise. An aesthetic attunement opens affective registers shaped in part by the things prehended by them, except when it does not (remember, results are not guaranteed!). Forced by an encounter with things that resonate together as ecoart, they hold the subject-object dimension in abeyance long enough to potentially open visions of and even paths to new vistas beyond the impasse. Might aesthetic attunements to Rowlands’s works be crafting a “story of objects asserting themselves as things” that enacts a “changed relation to the human subject?”8 Might things turn out to be other than consumables and we other than dedicated consumers? Might the neoliberal impasse be left behind?


Perhaps. But only after a wave of things engulfs us in its noise, for a while.



1Lauren Berlant, “After the Good Life, the Impasse: Human Resources, Time Out, and the Precarious Present,” lecture delivered at the London School of Economics Gender Institute’s “Gendering the Social Sciences” lecture series, 4 February 2009. Podcast available at http://richmedia.lse.ac.uk/publicLecturesAndEvents/20090204_1830_afterTheGoodLifeTheImpasseHumanResourcesTimeOutAndThePrecariousPresent.mp3, accessed on 7 June 2011.

2Difference and Repetition, 293.

3Simon Cooper, Robbie Rowlands website, http://www.robbierowlands.com.au/profile.php. Accessed on 20 June 2011. Cooper aptly prefaces his remarks with a brief exposition of Heidegger’s theorization of the withdrawn nature of objects.

4William E. Connolly, “Steps toward an Ecology of Late Capitalism,” Theory & Event, vol. 15.1, 2012.


6For an impressive treatment of art’s potential to provoke ecological thinking, see Anatoli Ignatov, “Practices of Eco-Sensation: Opening Doors of Perception to the Inhuman,” Theory & Event 14(2), 2011.

7Connolly, “Steps toward an Ecology of Late Capitalism.” 

8Bill Brown, “Thing Theory,” Critical Inquiry 28 (Autumn 2001), 4.


when the static thickens (vi).

5.2 | found objects [ impasse ]


The Offering — Hall Cut. 2009.

Sasha’s apartment has become a materialized impasse: “the whole apartment, which six years ago had seemed like a way station to some better place, had ended up solidifying around Sasha, gathering mass and weight, until she felt both mired in it and lucky to have it—as if she not only couldn’t move on but didn’t want to.” The impasse is a state of materialized thereness that locks one in place, but not entirely undesirably so. Floating in its stale atmosphere is an ambiguous mix of incoherent feelings concretized as barriers that are also the protective walls of what feels like home: when home feels like prison, but also feels like home. The promise of Sasha’s apartment as a springboard into a better life has rusted over time, debilitating Sasha’s capacities and diminishing desires to move on.


Sasha takes Alex to her apartment after their lame first date became invigorated midway by the wallet finding. Alex peers about and comes across the pile of Sasha’s found objects. At this sight, a “mix of feelings” overwhelms Sasha: “The pride she took in these objects, a tenderness that was only heightened by the shame of their acquisition… Watching Alex move his eyes over the pile of objects stirred something in Sasha.” She proceeds to initiate sex, the conclusion of which feels like a huge let-down: “All her excitement had seeped away, leaving behind a terrible sadness, an emptiness that felt violent, as if she’d been gouged.” The pre-intercourse scene’s immense charge in the intimacy of things could not be sustained in the intimate act that followed. Indeed, when Alex gets up and proceeds to prepare a bath, returning to the tables of found objects in search of something, “Sasha watched him, hoping for a tremor of the excitement that she’d felt before, but it was gone.” Alex extracts a “packet of bath salts” and pours some into the filling bathtub, bathes, and leaves, never to be seen again. Things click together in a vibrant atmosphere that sustains itself awhile although it may fizzle just as readily.


Before bathing in the kitchen-situated bathtub, Alex pees, a time seized by Sasha to quickly riffle through his wallet. After flipping through his cards and photos, a small, aged piece of paper falls out. Sasha unfolds it and freezes at the words written: “I BELIEVE IN YOU.” Hearing the bathroom’s water faucet turning, Sasha quickly restores Alex’s wallet while keeping the paper. Coz inquires as to whether she ever returned the slip, but Sasha says she hasn’t talked to him since that night. A pause ensues, and Sasha feels the desire to “say something like It was a turning point, everything feels different now,… or I’ve picked up the harp again, or just, I’m changing, I’m changing, I’m changing. I’ve changed!.” She feels her strong desire for “redemption, transformation—God, how she wanted these things. Every day, every minute. Didn’t everyone?” Instead of saying that she’s taking a step toward her redemption, she simply requests that Coz not ask how she feels. The two of them then sit “in silence, the longest silence that had ever passed between them.” Sasha “lay there with her body tensed, claiming the couch, her spot in this room, her view of the window and the walls, the faint hum that was always there when she listened, and these minutes of Coz’s time: another, then another, then one more.” The story ends in the impasse and Sasha’s securement of a place within it. Indeed, a permutation of its opening line could very well be the silent closing line: “It ended in the usual way,” with Sasha on Coz’s couch after finding an object, the doctor and the sick awkwardly attempting to coauthor a curative story to no avail. The time of the stagnant present yawns on, postponing the desired future of change and a better life, which is here the resumption of the promising past.


The impasse in which Sasha is lodged is an ordinary atmosphere of things. There’s not something about Sasha and her particular fantasies and aspirations that keep her locked in place, at least not on their own. Indeed, the impasse has little to do with Sasha specifically even though she is a locked part of it. The cruel optimism of ordinary atmospheres has little to do with apostrophic notions of ego projection within problematic fantasy scenes and structures.1 Rather, it has to do with things; the impasse is, at least, an atmosphere of magnetized things. It arises from things even as it exceeds their mere sum. It doesn’t involve the same or even similar things, as Sasha’s found objects have no conceivable connection to each other. Rather, the atmosphere of the impasse passes through disparate haecceities that, though laden with bifurcation points and the possibility that things could be otherwise, amount to rather ordinary outcomes. To repeat, the ordinary is repetition that carries difference through and through, but a difference debilitated, incapacitated, covered over, negligible, or discarded. If Sasha is a repeat offender, it is on account of different events that have taken on an episodic character subsumed to a pathological discourse of sameness. But if Sasha is swept up in repetition, it is because ordinary atmospheres of the impasse have a funny way of floating on, even as its things do not settle as or settle for anything like a subject, institution, discursive practice, ideology, fantasy, or performative normativity proper.



1   Lauren Berlant suggests that cruel optimism works through a distance between the subject and the object of attachments — a distance that brings the object close enough for a dialogue yet far enough for the subject to project qualities onto that object. In other words, cruel optimism amounts to a fake intersubjective scene that really is internal to the subject. I want to shift cruel optimism and the impasse away from both the subject-object grammar in which Berlant places them and to attend to the vital materiality of things—what if things are really present, not as mere placeholders for projections of fantasy but material forces to which humans, as things, become attuned?


on the sentimental politics of grievable life.


Spring 2010


In recent writings on the “frames of war,” Judith Butler charts constellations of state violence, media, and sense experience to map the United States’s aesthetic and biopolitical management of precarious life in detention centers at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. In an essay on Abu Ghraib, Butler explicates the complexities output from the machinery of torture plugged into and fueled through photographic relays. At the same time, she stresses the subversive potential of the Abu Ghraib photographs, noting that they may, in their temporality comporting with the future anterior, install relations of grievability; by offering confirmation that “a life was,” the photographs “underscore that a life is a grievable life.”1 Accordingly, the Abu Ghraib photographs don’t merely record the events they depict; they also “anticipate” and “perform” the grievability of the tortured lives within (FW 98). In Butler’s view, the Abu Ghraib photographs stage crucial interventions in their own violent tendencies, potentially switching on an affirmative biopolitics that acknowledges the precariousness of life and so redistributes life’s grievability in more egalitarian ways.

Though Butler’s astute understanding of the biopolitics and aesthetics of grievability delivers an impassioned and cogent criticism of the US’s war on terror practices at Abu Ghraib, I caution against too readily accepting its underlying presumptions concerning the relations between precarious and grievable life. Specifically, one wonders whether grief and mourning, as angles of entry into the grievability of life, prop up an account of precarious life that folds too easily into a normative frame of sentimentalized life inimical to critique of the effects of the power relations mapped by Butler. To be fair, I don’t think Butler’s conceptualization of precarious life, inflected by notions of grievability, necessarily follows a sentimental trajectory, and Butler would likely dispute the characterization of her account below. Nonetheless, the hesitation guiding this paper appears at moments throughout Butler’s thoughts in which her focus slips between the conditions of life and the valences of a life. For example, when writing that “we can be haunted in advance by the suffering or deaths of others” through the Abu Ghraib photographs, Butler emphasizes the shaping of grievable life through the future anterior (FW 98). She further writes that “the anticipation of the past underwrites the photograph’s distinctive capacity to establish grievability as a precondition of a knowable human life – to be haunted is precisely to apprehend that life before precisely knowing it” (FW 98). In this formulation, Butler suggests that we might apprehend a loss before the life to which that loss refers; we are haunted by a loss that predates life. And yet, that loss, intelligible only through the future anterior, is voiced through and by the singularity of life: “someone will have lived.” Butler notes that loss underscores a life, but also that we may only understand loss through a life, for “if we can be haunted, then we can acknowledge that there has been a loss and hence that there has been a life” (FW 98). In other words, we can be haunted only if there has been a loss apprehended only through the life to which it refers. Hence my apprehensions concerning the sentimentalization of grievable and, by extension, Butler’s conceptual framing of precarious life.

This paper breaks with the sentimental framing of grievable life and its shift of focus from the conditions of life to accounts of a life informed by mourning or grief. Specifically, I argue that mourning and grief under Butler’s conceptualization of loss might lapse into a mode of subjectivity identifying with suffering. The consequent sentimental politics elevates true feeling as the legitimate and perhaps only conduit through which political energies and expression may travel. It forecloses sustained critique guided by a mapping of violent tendencies and trajectories while equating the affective with the political; sentimentality makes proper feeling count politically. The hazards of sentimentality function as warning signs detouring Butler’s notion of precarious life along political paths. Consequently, I wonder what happens to precarious life when unhinged from formulations framed by grievability. This paper aims to open further speculation on such a possibility.

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