The Cultural Politics of Emotion

the-cultural-politics-of-emotion-cover“Ahmed emphasizes the necessity of ‘disorientation,’ a challenge to normative ways of seeing, thinking, being, and feeling in the world that destabilizes commonsensical assumptions and in so doing enables the world to be moved in a different direction.”


Discussing the way reading black feminist and feminist of color scholarship in graduate school impressed upon her, she writes:

“I decided then: theoretical work that is in touch with a world is the kind of theoretical work I wanted to do. Even when I have written texts organized around the history of ideas, I have tried to write from my own experiences: the everyday as animation. In writing this book, I wanted to stay even closer to the everyday than I had before. This book is personal. The personal is theoretical. Theory itself is often assumed to be abstract: something is more theoretical the more abstract it is, the more it is abstracted from everyday life. To abstract is to drag away, detach, pull away, or divert. We might then have to drag theory back, to bring theory back to life.”

SOURCE:  McMahon, John. “Sara Ahmed and the Cultural Politics of Emotion.” Do the Lap.

Fictitious Capital and the Return of Personal Domination

uQ1pbVS5“Since, in our society, free choice is elevated into a supreme value, social control and domination can no longer appear as infringing on subject’s freedom. They have to appear, instead, as (and be sustained by) the very self-experience of individuals as free. There is a multitude of forms of this un-freedom appearing in the guise of its opposite. When we are deprived of universal healthcare, we are told that we are given a new freedom of choice, namely to choose our healthcare provider; when we no longer can rely on long-term employment and are compelled to search for a new precarious position every couple of years, we are told that we are given the opportunity to re-invent ourselves and discover new, unexpected, and creative potentials that lurked in our personality; when we have to pay for the education of our children, we are told that we become the “entrepreneurs of the self,” acting like a capitalist who has to choose freely how he will invest the resources he possesses (or has borrowed) – into education, health, travel… Constantly bombarded by imposed ‘free choices,’ forced to make decisions for which we are mostly not even properly qualified nor possess enough information about, we more and more experience our freedom as what it effectively is: a burden that deprives us of the true choice of change.”

SOURCE: Žižek, Slavoj. “Fictitious Capital and the Return of Personal Domination.” The Philosophical Salon.

Formalisms, Introduction


“Perhaps the Formalists’ most famous general claim is that literary language consists of an act of defamiliarization, by which they mean that such literature presents objects or experiences from such an unusual perspective or in such unconventional and self-conscious language that our habitual, ordinary, rote perceptions of those things are disturbed.”

“While literature for the Formalists is characterized by invariant patterns, recurring devices, and law-like relations, it also changes over time and varies from one historical epoch to another. The Formalists account for such change in two ways. They claim that literary evolution is the result of the constant attempt to disrupt existing literary conventions and to generate new ones: for literature to be literature, it must constantly defamiliarize the familiar, constantly evolve new procedures for story-telling or poetry making.”

SOURCE: Rivkin, Julie & Michael Ryan. “Introduction: Formalisms.” Literary Theory: An Anthology.

Sanctioned Ignorance: Deconstructing Historiography

InOtherWorlds“In Selected Subaltern Studies (1985) Spivak writes ‘it is correctly suggested that the sophisticated vocabulary of much contemporary historiography successfully shields this cognitive failure and that this success-in-failure, this sanctioned ignorance, is inseparable from colonial domination.’ Ignorance is therefore rationalised, and by such means sanctioned. Spivak’s charge of sanctioned ignorance is most often directed at the Western study of the ‘third-world,’ ‘oriental’ or ‘subaltern,’ a gaze filtered through a selective lens.”

“The charge of ‘sanctioned ignorance’ is not merely the suggestion of an omission, an angle on analysis as yet unexplored by chance. It gives agency to the omitter. Indeed, to the collective academy. It is a purposeful silencing through the dismissing of a particular context as being irrelevant. This is not necessarily an issue of individual malice but an institutionalized way of thinking about the world which operates to foreclose particular types of analysis or considerations from entering into the debate.”

SOURCE: Mayblin, Lucy. “Sanctioned Ignorance.” Global Social Theory.

The Collapse of Meaning in a Post-Truth World

“The trouble now is not that we aren’t using language clearly enough, but that words and the truths they convey are no longer as stable as they used to be. […] In the political arena, drawing on cultural and contextual implicatures to make an audience believe something is a common way to plausibly deny and breezily wave off accusations of lying. So, it doesn’t matter exactly what is said, it only matters what listeners think you said or meant. It’s sadly unsurprising that, done on a large scale, it can be easy to confuse, normalize, and legitimize this kind of misbehavior. Plausible deniability has never been easier thanks to a fast shifting language and cleverly worded implicatures.”


“In a post-truth era, public discourse can become muddled as words rapidly develop new meanings and connotations for different groups, increasing in unwieldy complexity.

Even if both sides of a political divide ultimately want to solve the same big problems in society, though they may use the same words, those words sometimes seem to mean entirely different things. When it comes to hotly-debated concepts that trigger emotional or ideological reactions, such as ‘climate change,’ the same words can be received completely differently by different people. The common semantic ground we normally depend on suddenly seems shaky.

Thanks to contexts in which implicatures are key, listeners are always reading between the lines and filling in blanks for themselves, usually with their own beliefs and ideologies. And so, the gaps in understanding one another can be as wide as if we were speaking completely different languages.”

SOURCE: Luu, Chi. “The Collapse of Meaning in a Post-Truth World.” JSTOR Daily.

Aesthetic Animism

Excerpt from David Jhave Johnston’s Aesthetic Animism:

Aesthetic Animism“Words in ancient usage were both practical tools and living magic, sent through the ether, emanating from the gods. Our terms for gods might have changed yet some parallels persist: remote communication is now both inspirational and normative, and our contemporary pantheons are platforms. Since the Renaissance, as science explored the universe, the habitat of ancient myths (which gestate the evolution of the poetic aspects of language) dwindled. Displaced from oracular dominance, poetry became a refugee, a fallen exiled god. Incarnated and mortal, poetry devolved into secular interiority, fluctuating states of consciousness, wordplay, and the primacy of phenomena.”


On the concept of digital poetry: “Poetry’s relevance involves engaging with technology’s effect on language. And not just the surface effects of shifts in word usage and transitions in styles, but fundamental transformations that are occurring in how words operate ontologically.”

SOURCE: Johnston, David Jhave. “National Poetry Month: Aesthetic Animism.” MIT Press.