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Ugly Feelings

Started by droqen, November 06, 2022, 02:39:49 AM

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P. 129-130
As Kierkegaard notes, "Envy is concealed admiration. An admirer who senses that devotion cannot make him happy . . . become[s] envious of that which he admires. He will . . . declare that that which he really admires is a thing of no consequence, something foolish, illusory, perverse and high-flown. Admiration is happy self-abandon; envy, unhappy self-assertion."

P. 141-142
[Single White Female] position[s] Allie as the embodiment of a feminine ideal who admiration by Hedy or other women is to be expected, even mandated, while depicting any act of striving toward that ideal as troubling or problematic.

P. 143
. . . emulation can . . . be performed without unconscious or conscious desire to transform one's identity after the fashion of the other. Thus, emulation in more aggressive forms of parody, including political satire and cultural mimicry, often works as a sort of prophylactic against or antidote to identification[.]
. . . from philic "striving-toward" to a phobic "striving-against" . . . uncoupling emulation from identification. Why, then, the critical tendency to equate them? Or to treat the former as evidence of the latter?


I'm glad to get back into this habit. Maybe i just didn't run into anything personal to relate to in animatedness but, no, I think the note-taking habit really does help me relate more strongly to a text. For example the first quote made me wonder how my resistance to gamification does run parallel to a form of admiration or appreciation, but devotion to it was not making me happy. Was I, am I, envious of game design in this sense? It has felt to me as though games and game design are "illusory" and "perverse". I'll ponder on this.

The next two are interesting. I haven't seen the film Single White Female but Ngai describes a lot of the critical discourse around it while using it to dissect this conflict which appears to lie at the heart of envy, this striving-toward and striving-against that live in the same body, the same mind, perhaps the same act. Envy is a striving-toward and a striving-against that cannot coexist, thereby producing a deep dissatisfaction. The second quote shows an example of this. The third shows how these things are separable, despite a common instinct to conflate the two.


P. 152
. . . emulation turns the thing emulated . . . into a thing that can be copied, and in doing so transforms that thing into something slightly other than what it was,

P. 152-153
it is possible to interpret Hedy's mimeticism not as the enactment of a wish to be Allie, or an effort to transform herself into Allie and occupy her place, but rather an attempt to transform Allie. As the film's plot reveals, it is the emulated subject's life and not the emulator's that most radically changes as a result of the [emulator]'s actions. . . . Hedy maintains a comparatively consistent identity. . . . it is Allie's sense of selfhood and her relationships with others which are ultimately altered. . . . As Allie says to Hedy, "I'm like you now."


P. 161

. . . aggressive acts of not identifying can play as active a role as identification in facilitating the transition from single to group . . .

. . . we could . . . argue that envy enables a strategic way of not identifying, which . . . preserves a critical agency whose loss is threatened by full-blown idealization . . .

P. 161-162

. . . a subject might envy and emulate not just as a safeguard against fully identifying . . . but precisely in order to convert her admiration into polemicism, qua critical force or agency. Envy's critical potential thus resides in its ability to highlight a refusal to idealize X, even an ability to attack its potential for idealization by transforming X into something nonsingular and replicable, while at the same time enabling acknowledgement of its culturally imposed desirability.


Wow, this was a lot. I don't know about the linkage of this to envy, exactly, but I am totally into this complex reading of imitation, identification, not as mere feelings, but as . . . hmm. "Strategies," perhaps.

Using envy and emulation of a thing to "attack its potential for idealization . . . while at the same time enabling acknowledgement of its culturally imposed desirability." Wowowow.

Also, there's no way I can avoid comparing this to emulators which transformed old videogames into things "nonsingular and replicable." When I chose to rerelease Cruel World for sale, I did the same thing for the April Fool's "Games that Shouldn't Be Games Jam 2021", turning my back on its singular and nonreplicable nature in favour of arguments against '[artificial] digital scarcity' in the wake of all the NFT stuff happening at the time.

Ngai's argument (through inversion? contraposition?) implies that singularness and nonreplicability increases a thing's "potential for idealization," which is clearly borne through by the clamor for NFTs. These both are aspects of the larger family of inaccessibility; if a thing is singular, it is not as broadly accessible; replication is a form of granting broader and more public access to the thing. As far as my arguments to myself go, I'm as uninterested in the designed scarcity of NFTs as I am uninterested in walls, gates, and locked doors in games which serve the same purpose: to, through contrived* inaccessibility, become a false ideal.

*From The Nature of Order, see: "Roughness can never be consciously or deliberately created. Then it is merely contrived. To make a thing live, its roughness must be the product of egolessness, the product of no will." Inaccessibility, like roughness, must "be the product of egolessness, the product of no will." That is, the product of almost unconsciously following the way.


loss aversion in the age of plenty, i repeated
to myself again. how can an artwork be singular
while replicable artifacts become increasingly ubiquitous?
no contrived scarcity. we must note that
which is genuinely scarce now, and appreciate,
play with it.


P. 164
Freud says envy in fact precedes the establishment of identifications that enable group formation, suggesting that ultimately "social feeling is based upon the reversal of what was first a hostile feeling into a positively-toned tie" . . . Freud's thesis here is that the identifications on which group formations depend are only secondarily established through a reversal of envy. . . . only after the subject, in the face of cultural disapproval, comes to recognize "the impossibility of maintaining his hostile attitude [envy?] without damaging himself" and is subsequently forced (the verb is Freud's) "into identifying himself with [others]." . . . "..esprit de corps.. does not belie its derivation from what was originally envy"


In the final pages of the chapter envy, in particular in the final pages under the (compelling, if I may say so) subheader Bad Examples, Ngai describes the power of bad examples and how Single White Female is powerful and useful in this way: exactly for being the bad example which it has been criticized for being.

P. 166
. . . bad examples of X might be good for group X, since they compel its members to constantly question, reevaluate, and even redefine what it is they supposedly exemplify.

P. 166-167
Once a group has fought for and attained a certain degree of political recognition, the demand that its members be "good examples" can easily turn repressive, [. . . taking] the following form: "You, . . . must now exemplfy X as a fixed concept which you merely refer back to or reflect." A corollary of this logic would be the following: "In your failure to adequately exemplify X, you threaten the validity and legitimacy of X, as well as any group formation or collective identity based on X."


I had never thought about the power of bad examples in this way, but I can say that I feel deeply about being a bad example. I have identified with various groups, and I have often felt driven to be . . . this, a bad example. Perhaps too much, actually!

Anyway. On to the next chapter, when I get to it.

4. irritation


Hold on, I'm getting ahead of myself. I want to get into the previous chapter first.

2. animatedness

P. 91
. . . questions of agency will figure . . . as we focus on one of the most basic ways in which affect becomes socially recognizable in the age of mechanical reproducibility: as a kind of "innervation," "agitation," or (the term I prefer) "animatedness." . . . "animated" seems to imply the most basic or minimal of all affective conditions: that of being, in one way or another, "moved."


Ngai writes that after this we shall "see how the seemingly neutral state of "being moved" becomes twisted into the image of the overemotional racialized subject, abetting his or her construction as unusually receptive to external control." There is a lot of argumentation and evidence that goes completely over my head, as much as I savoured the attempt to find a deeper relation to it (that is, a personal understanding of the whole more complete than simply comprehending the ideas presented).

Perhaps one day I will come back to this chapter and it will stick with me.


Ngai opens by describing animatedness as similar to being moved, but quickly advances into the main thrust of her argument which is not about animatedness itself, or its sources or purpose, but the highlighting of animatedness as a racialized cliche... In the same way, the chapter 'envy' discusses in depth the highlighting of envy as a genderized cliche, something more capable of being ascribed to femininity than masculinity. In writing this, I realize that of course Ngai must be most interested in the tone of animatedness, the tone of envy.

One of the examples she gives in this chapter (animatedness) is a series of events from The Invisible Man in which the protagonist observes an activist he admires puppeting a doll, realizing only after falling for the illusion of its animation that the activist is the one animating it. Both men (protagonist and activist) are black, and the doll is a racist caricature of a black man. (Based on some quick internet research, the situation is ambiguous as to whether the activist is puppeting the doll to profit off of racial stereotypes or to parody and destroy them in some way. Or, some combination of both.)

While I understand how this plays with the concepts of 'animatedness' and 'the racialized subject being animated', and there are even better examples given (this one was simply the one I felt I could picture best in my mind and thereby describe), I'm not sure I drew any conclusions from this chapter the way I have drawn them from other chapters. I can understand but I cannot build on top of that understanding.

I am avoiding the term 'relate' because I do not expect to 'relate' directly to racism, but I suppose it is the most appropriate word. I will restate that I cannot relate to anything I understood in this chapter, in not the sense that I have no similar experiences, but I have no similar understandings which might be extended or deepened by acquiring this one. It is an understanding on an island all its own in my mind, and I hope that a neighbour comes to live nearby someday.

Okay. I think that's it.


I keep my copy of Ugly Feelings next to my head when I sleep so that I can pick through a page or thirty when the mood strikes. Today the mood struck.

Without opening it, before even touching it, just by thinking of its object, I thought about how I'm part way through irritation, and I don't remember exactly what it was saying about the ugly feeling of irritation. When I pick up the book I notice where the bookmark is: exactly halfway through the book, between the two covers.

I don't get any of this from things I read on computers. I can't keep a pdf on my bedside table, or picture the object, or stick a bookmark in and see the dark cleft where it parts the pages. Books. What a thing.


4. irritation

First, what is irritation? I think this quote clicked for me:

<<Helga's irritation is both an excess and a deficiency of anger . . . an insistently inadequate reaction, one occurring only in conspicuous surplus or deficit in proportion to its occasion>(UF, p182)

Ngai does not make this connection explicitly (yet), but her current discussion of irritation through (or even as the 'organizing logic'--a phrase she uses in a previous chapter which I liked--of) the novel Quicksand (of which Helga is the protagonist) is in some ways a counterpoint to animatedness, its inverse.

<< . . . irritation's radical inadequacy . . . calls attention to a symbolic violence . . . when there is an underlying assumption that an appropriate emotional response to racist violence exists, and that the burden lies on the racialized subject to produce that appropriate response legibly, unambiguously, and immediately.>>(UF, p188)

In a sense Helga's irritation in Quicksand draws attention to the animatedness which is expected of her (the racialized subject in this instance). Animatedness is that legible, unambiguous, immediate response to some stimulus... while irritation exists somewhere in the negative of that space.


I said, to some peers, that I had recently acquired the ability to consume "thousand-page nonfiction texts," and either claimed or implied or at least thought that part, a necessary part, of this was a sub-ability to "skim or skip . . . in order to better understand the whole."

I have been reluctant to do so with Ugly Feelings but I am becoming increasingly aware that it is important for me to stick to my guns, to follow my impulses, to not treat authorial linearity as so sacred.

I'm skipping to stuplimity.


P. 250
As [Gertrude] Stein puts it in "Poetry and Grammar,"
. . . Sentences are not emotional but paragraphs are.


Ngai contrasts with the sublime in order to explore a 'non-cathartic' state of feeling (affect?); this is how I feel about many games, about much of gameplay...
Quote from: p272Inducing a series of fatigues or minor exhaustions, rather than a single, major blow to the imagination, stuplimity paradoxically forces the reader to go on in spite of its equal enticement to readers [to] give up



That is, I have thought about how many games do this exact thing, dabble in repetition, in stuplime affect, but for no reason I can fathom... it is useful to read, through Ngai's lens, what stuplimity does, in context of what any art does, to better understand and appreciate the purpose and impact of the experience of "forc[ing] the [player] to go on in spite of its equal enticement [to players/games] to give up", beyond those often given by the emotionally too close videogame subculture (e.g. that the frustration and difficulty are necessary for satisfaction ultimately, or the baser drives of sheer completionism or sunk cost etc.)