A piece about “affect overload” as the psychic counterpart to information overload. Finally!
Yes, I came across it among other quotidian debris … I mean it’s on my Twitter feed … after something about the latest big hack, the “meltdown scare.” I began my research career studying this stuff. Now I hope there’s someone out there always thinks about me when they hear of an exploit.
I read about affect overload, take to the same site to neatly opine that this is nice for those of us who dispensed with any semblance of unstudied enthusiasm online years ago, well, it’s too fucking hard I’ve been writing about myself online since I was ten years old and it never ever felt any way I thought it should.
Read read read about feelings, but I write to coolly mystify, like Brian Eno or Kenneth Goldsmith instruct us, like a trickster, the demon from which cultural hackers take their archetypal identity, like Netochka Nezvanova, like walking alone at night, write the anaesthecene where rational feeling and symbolism surrender to a play of infinite possibility structurally premised on numbness.
People I know keep killing themselves and each other. My gradeschool friend’s mom. A few years later, my neighbor from the same era of my youth, a boy whose house I half came of age in, my own mother’s best friend’s kid. In a different past life a college friend jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge. He left a note telling loved ones to donate to mental health research in his memory, that wasn’t long after a student two year my junior who I photographed in front of the dining hall with a scarlet poppy tucked behind her left ear. From the class of ’11, whispers of a girl who did it in front of her friend while talking on Skype (or maybe they werent’t talking at all). Last fall a friend from the same college, a poet, is murdered by her roommate, also an alum, and this also occurs in New York City. When I was a senior a young man appears at a show I hosted, refused to put out his indoors cigarette (or just step the hell onto the patio, gosh!) though I ask him nicely twice. Months later I’m told that sometime between then and now he stabbed his comatose girlfriend to death while she was lying in her hospital bed (but the story was covered up because family wealth, because public image and I haven’t followed up on it) (also what is it with my college). Oh, yeah these timelines are out of order. There are others happening in recombinant chronologies, rapes and suicide threats, psychoses and institutional intakes, familial bloodlust, by the way,
the most startling thing I’ve ever seen more than twice is obvious self-injury. Let’s say a few inches south of the sternum, browned crimson parallel marks, equal in length and distance from one another, committed with uniform depth into the skin — signs of calculation, rational measurement.
It’s said to release pressure. They think it’s medicine for the mirror universe, bodily phenomena regarded as a lower register of simulation than the digital-social, our faces flatly leering back at us from every liquid crystal corner. Mirrors, mirrors everywhere. Borges wrote that mirrors and copulation are abominable, since they both multiply the numbers of men. The next morning the first thing on my Twitter feed says “Algorithms are mirrors;” it’s a post on Medium by a civic tech researcher at MIT.
Self-loathing, depression, self-immolation, bane for the personal spectacle. Richard Doyle says the drugged narrator writes in the Nth person plural — a propitious cognitive transfer that starts in a level-up from first person to third, then beyond, full exit from singular personal enclosure, ego immolation. It starts when you notice how often you use I in your writing, how references to you and your problems punctuate everything you say and do, the hell of the self, the effusive suffocating I, me, I, I, the crime some people charge social media with: crowding oneself in with oneself, filter bubbles, “the daily me, We Are Data.
In this moment suicidality is not as an infection, a malignant actor from the outside like bacteria or virus or spouse abuse, but an infarction, endogenous — it’s cancer. Too much self growing inside the self. I’m living all over me.
Recently I read that masochism as a kink is deep down more purely evil than its nominal Other. That masochists are more self-interested, less compassionate, that their libidinal energies well up and attract predators like mosquitoes circling to stagnant water.
Now I think about what it would be like to dominate someone else, to conjure blood to a young girl’s cheekbones, train my fingers to pinch and beat and hypnotize, read my eros into her translucent surfaces, to bring a blush to the back of her neck that is so pretty like the stem of a young plant, to find out if it’s as easy to snap in half. I imagine this complete alien who exists in time but not space, who takes up no weight in the world, the woman of time but not even time because you can only adopt her postures in quantum lightshows that flicker somewhere between your fantasy and another’s.
I think about my former classmate who now is so famous he gets a blurb from Lauren Berlant, who always said the smartest things in LIT3002: Sympathy And Its Discontents, where we read De Sade and Bataille and exchanged fine high-minded remarks on what it means to get off on beating the fucking shit out of someone. Whose parents — New York City poets — made a documentary about his older sister Emma, following her suicide. Emma’s Dilemma.
I think about a strain of continental philosophy that categorically rejects psychology as a science. That remakes heart medicine in the image of a collective awareness, a translatable jargon, a realpolitik. According to which the question what does pain mean? makes sense. That accepts the self as a construct, an interpellation, whose devotees are so sparklingly sure of it they feel justified in observing that psychic penumbra can be warded off with a dash of Althusser or Deleuze and Guattari, who can trade silly jokes about human excrement and incest because they never had to worry about performing tastefulness. And how far all this is from what I’ve seen, I mean, like, what people actually do to themselves and each other.
An ex who like my twin is definitely on the autism spectrum but unlike my twin never had it authoritatively confirmed texts me always after midnight with the hyperassociative poetics seemingly only capable of spontaneous production by a schizo-something or other. I think he is schizotypal.
At 2AM a Mos Def video comes to me. Watch this he says now you’ll understand me. It wakes me from a badly needed sleep. Usually I have compassion for the certifiable but I gotta tell him now, stop texting me illogical things after hours. I watch it anyway. Life Is Real. It makes me want to go for a walk.
Affect overload… so what if I’ve got my head in the clouds? Where else would it be? In what time, Should I spin back in grim resignation, down to earth to disbelief and private peals of laughter at my friends who still get so disturbed and broken, I guess their nerves aren’t twice reinforced by experience, yeah, maybe they are the infinitely innocent. So sad at what people really do to themselves. Not me, though, constitutionally incapable as I am of shock, or maybe trauma has left a permanent mark. Affect deficit.
I think about wishing for miracles, you can’t make them because they come from a dimension where normal laws of causality don’t apply. The best you can do is wish, invoke those gods of the higher order.
When I moved to New York City I would walk for hours and hours. After sunset I’d begin seeing patterns in concrete, figures that symbolized nothing but themselves. As an insomniac that was my way of dreaming. It was my stargazing, too, because light occluded the night sky. I think about astronomy, how it defies the normal practices of science since you can’t conduct direct experiments on stars. How bodies mirrored or under observation are always changed by it.
I’ve never brought life or death into this world I feel so exterior to mortal coils it sometimes hits me as a perversion, but pain does visit me from time to time, yes when I rest, that’s at least when I have memories of pain — thin minutes of stillness — and now I think of something written by the poet Sparrow: nothing can stop a miracle. I’m walking, walking, walking all the time.