Post-Holiday Anxieities: Work, Family, Time, and Other Foreclosed Peregrinations

New Year’s Eve has to be my least favorite “holiday,” lacking holy-ness to an extreme degree.  That’s what my girlfriend says she likes about it–the fact that it has so little meaning, that it’s just a turn of the stupid historical screw, the rollover to another tax year, means that it’s effectively impossible to ruin it with family drama or overcharged religious meaning, or whatever.  Shows you how differently she sees things secular than I do, seeing them as an opportunity where I see things in a much more mournful way, with a sense of dread and nostalgia, melancholy and angst.  I’ve been thinking about a whole series of things lately related to Adam’s post a couple weeks ago about family time around the holidays, and about family and time in separate and related ways.  Spending time with my family is as fraught as I suppose it is for anyone.  And I was more than happy to get back to my “self” and my “work” when it was finally, mercifully over.  But in thinking about Adam’s protest against Hollywood’s/America’s dogma that “family values” must always triumph over the value of work/career/passion/vocation, I think that there is another turn of the critical screw beyond Adam’s justified anger over the fact that there seems to be no place in hollywoodamerica for adults to have adult priorities or make adult decisions that don’t necessarily pander to children’s schedules or children’s needs or children’s expectations.  I have seen how profoundly problematic this can be in my own extended family, and I agree with Adam that it’s part of a general infantilization of modern American life that is part and parcel of Neoliberal biopolitical strategies, that keep us passive, docile, and infantilized in the face of “expert” opinion, to which we are expected to entrust our destinies at every moment.  And I could not agree more that part of what it means to occupy and resist in the present is to insist on the real autonomy of meaningful work over and against the false piety of sacrificing oneself unconditionally for one’s children, where that obviously means giving up on one’s desire.  But to take this critique one step further, it is also necessary to look at what it means, even as a mature adult, to be autonomous (if not isolated) and fulfilled (if not narcissistic) and independent (if not autistic) within the abstract, empty time of putatively liberal putatively secular capitalist culture.  What if I want to live on the multiple durations of my son’s life, my partner’s life, a domestic life, a liturgically-based ritual life, a routine of reading and writing, a biophysical rhythm, a solar and lunar clock?   I, for example, would love to make more frequent appearances on this blog (part of the time of writing-work), and on other venues, but the desire to live on multiple time-scales, multiple durations, generally prevents that from happening.  What is the meaning of “work” as an ultimate identifying term for one’s life?   And isn’t there a slight of hand going on, given that almost all contemporary forms of work are monotonous and degrading in the extreme?   Those of us who spend our working hours intellectually are extremely privileged, even if Bernard Steigler is right that we, too, are becoming “proletarianized” as we become incessantly productive.  One has the impression, sometimes, that the only form of subjectivity that can “work” as an intellectual in contemporary neoliberal culture is a lonely, young, white, male, childless, alienated, somewhat reclusive, somewhat abject, somewhat undersexed, relatively unhealthy observer, a kind of near-ghost or near-wraithlike being, who can be expected to sit at desks or remain plugged into terminals at all hours of the day or night.  Sorry if that hurts, dudes, but observe our blogospheric demographic for a quick second.  As much as I think there is something really beneficial about the expansion of thought on the blogosphere (here I am!), there is also something deeply disturbing to me, as a Deleuzian philosopher who is convinced that forms of life encompass forms of thought, and that modes of thinking are restricted by and reflect the determining conditions of modes of living.  The mode of production of contemporary thinking, which is now increasingly cut off from the “leisure time” that “schools” [skola = leisure] –aka colleges and universities—used to represent is disturbingly a kind of ghost-in-the-machine affair.  I’m not nostalgic for colleges and universities.  They can fade into the night of the pseudo-democratic relics of a confused industrial-era set of ambitions that are increasingly irrelevant.  But I remain disturbed by the apparent triumph of the blogosphere as an attraction point for critical inquiry, because sometimes it seems to me that the medium betrays the message at every point, pinning thought to categories of relevance and up-to-dateness, and ruining thought’s inherent untimeliness.  But I may be, myself, simply irrelevant, as I continue to try to live out a life of multiple durations, multiple allegiances, multiple alliances, that does not simply or easily map onto the multiple “connections” of twitter, facebook, blogrolls, and the jouissance of being “first” to the journalistic punch.  I’m torn between the thought that the reduction of philosophy to what’s “next” is the heart of sophistry, but that Socrates was always trying to be where people were, whatever that meant, even if it was, basically, where they were trying to get picked up at the gymnasium.  Certainly the alternative to this medium is unclear, other than an ambiguous silence or strange refusal.  Sometimes I hear and feel the slower pace of my own voice being mowed down, but I also hear in others, who can speak faster, a muted note of the impossibility of trying to live, anymore.  Perhaps the accelerationists are right, and the contemporary philosophical voice is a voice already dead, or undead, that speaks from within an already-mechanized, already consciousness-uploaded world.  Perhaps there simply is no time or space left, here, in this intra-catastrophic milieu, for the disciplines of breath, of focused attention, of silence, of the large circuits of solar and lunar time, of the smaller circuits of metabolism, for the burgeoning fits and starts of childhood.  Perhaps I am bio-fixated.  But maybe it’s not so much that we are all in a mad rush somewhere, it’s that we have despaired of there being any other kind of time.  Modern thought indexes itself to this time out of joint, since Kant.  Critical thought in our age begins and ends with Kant’s withdrawl from every other kind of time than the kind of time that can be measured with thinking.  Kant did not need the dreams of a spirit seer, since he himself already occupied the position of pure spirit, controlling his body and stultifying its rhythms in order to produce pure thought.  Is this not the very image of the efficiencies that are the dream of biopower?   Is this passion for thought, which clearly has no place for the time of childhood, or of intimacy, or for organic patterns of growth, intermittent fruitfulness, and decay—is this adulthood, is this maturity?   Or is this biopower fully internalized?   Hollywoodamerica wants the passion of a vocation sublimated in the passion of the family, but it also wants to submerge family time within the routines and exercises of consumerism.  The truly subversive step may not so much be back from the family toward sterile, Bartleby-style refusal of the family, but to push the “family” –nuclear or extended, gay or straight or trans, large or small, childless or childrearing—into the truly anarchic modality of multiple work/life time scales.  Work that is not for the sake of fame or even career but truly for its own sake presupposes the impossible, presupposes that one does not have to work to live, but that work is a dimension of a living and dying that are inherently “one,” in Laruelle’s sense–one in their autonomy and resistance, one in their multiple times and at their own multiple scales of relevance, drama, dimension. 

Maybe all of this is just because I am lazy.  Maybe I just can’t work as hard as Adam or Levi Bryant or Anthony.  Maybe I’m just not as smart as they are, and therefore not as fast.  But maybe there just isn’t time to say everything that I want to say, at least not as I’m willing to say it.  Maybe there is not supposed to be that much time, or that much of that kind of time.  I don’t know.  I find myself envious of people like Adam or Levi, who seem to have endless energy to upload their insights onto the internet.  Given my various obligations and commitments, it’s usually a miracle if I can have three good hours of my own work every day (aside from teaching, endless job searching, raising my son, navigating a broken, complicated urban environment, trying to eat well, stay in some kind of shape, experience something resembling emotional intimacy or sexual fulfillment, remain informed about the horrors of contemporary life, stay in contact with people I love and trust, and not go completely batshit crazy in the process).  I don’t know.

Dialectically–and I think Adam would agree with me here–the hidden unity of the affirmation of independent adult work and blindly devoted parenting lies in the concept of sacrifice.  Why is it necessary to “choose” work over family?   And what is the meaning of such a choice?   Is it not the very refusal of sacrifice, itself, that is the most subversive position?   If I refuse to sacrifice my desire for intimacy, for health, for sexual fulfillment, for friendships, for community, for access to decent food, for the sake of my “work,” that is the quickest way to “failure” on the market of marketable identities.  The idea that in order to be anything at all we have to be one thing, one recognizable, coherent, well-ordered thing, one obsessive, obvious, compulsive thing that can be counted on to consistently show up as that thing and that thing only, day after day, month after month, year after year—what could be a more clear image of the product that capital wishes to invest in, the income stream upon which it hopes to depend for its future, the leader to which it hopes to ascribe integrity, virtue, and power? 

 

This is not a criticism, per se, of those of you whose thought is more congenial to the speed and rhythm of these networks.  After all, I follow you here, and occasionally, like today, manage to post something myself!  It’s a note from the anxieties of one who feels increasingly left behind, and doesn’t know anymore if he wants to try to keep up, too aware of the ambiguous political statement made by the appearance of that kind of success.

16 thoughts on “Post-Holiday Anxieities: Work, Family, Time, and Other Foreclosed Peregrinations

  1. I suppose I need to stop resisting people’s urge to read my personal lifestyle choices into that post. I intended it as an internal subversion of the ideological coordinates, but it wasn’t very effective at that level — and in any case, I would not have written it or thought to write it if I wasn’t leading the kind of life I’m leading.

    Personally, I don’t experience my decision not to have children as a sacrifice — indeed, I don’t even experience it as a decision. It’s never been an idea that I’ve seriously entertained, never been a goal or desire of mine. I do desire intimacy, sexual fulfillment, etc., and even monogamy, but never “official” marriage. I have fortunately found a partner who seems to want the same things as me on the same terms — it doesn’t seem that she views our unmarried, childless state as a sacrifice, either.

    There have been times, though, when my mind has wandered and I’ve started thinking about even this very congenial relationship as an obstacle to work. I’ve always managed to pull back from that abyss when I realize that the end conclusion of my thinking would be that I should never be in a relationship at all — that I should sacrifice everything to work. Now that she’s committed to a graduate program in Chicago, I’ve also had moments where I regretted being “stuck” here — even though I have no desire or realistic prospect for changing jobs in the next two years.

    Nor, indeed, do I view the blog as a sacrifice of other priorities — I’ve been writing compulsively every day since I was in junior high, and that has had a cumulative effect of making me a pretty fluent writer. There are times, though, when I wonder why I’ve wasted so much time on it, when I resent the fact that this “side project” is what I’m best known for while my “proper” work languishes in obscurity (or at least it seems like that during these periods of melancholia). Sometimes I want to unplug from all this and shut down my Twitter account — even though my closest intellectual friendships have almost all been mediated through the internet on some level.

    In practice, then, I think I’ve gotten better at resisting the temptation of sacrifice — but when I was younger, I did push away relationships and struggle with viewing them solely as obstacles or constraints, and those thought patterns are still with me.

  2. Well, I wasn’t demanding or expecting that kind of confession from Adam, but it’s really honest and resonates. I’m hoping against hope that my own anxieties about my own perceived failings in the contemporary milieu are not resentments against the savoir-faire and passions of others. Total admiration for those who can use these mediums more fluently and mellifluously than me. And no imputation of sacrificial logic to you, Adam. But I must admit that for my part, I feel conscious not of having made no sacrifices (I by the way write obsessively, too, just not as much in public places), but of constantly sacrificing almost everything to everything else. Thus leading to my own anxiety about the way in which various dimensions of my life threaten to constantly obscure rather than illuminate one another. I guess I am admitting my own frustration about not being able to show up more consistently and coherently in a single medium, and my admiration for those who seem able to do so with more passion and consistency. I experience the demand of academic specialization and the need to fit job profiles as demanding that I be something other than I am, and after six going on seven years of doing that I am nearly exhausted.

  3. The job market process is an absolute killer. It takes a huge chunk of emotional and intellectual overhead right off the top — and it almost always feels like pure waste, given the low success rate even for (ultimately) successful job candidates.

  4. Thanks, Michael–good to hear from you. One more word, on a rare day when I can, happily, pay much more attention to what is going on here at AUFS than I am usually able to. To place my anxieties in a slightly less personal context, part of what I think is distressing me is the way in which the contemporary mode and model of philosophical production, truly the cutting edge of continental theory (and I imagine to some extent analytic philosophy, with which I am now much less familiar than I was when I was an undergraduate in an analytic department), is increasingly hitching its fortunes to forms of thought that are inimical to the archaic and to my mind essential idea that philosophy is more than propositions, it is a life-form (uncanny, inchoate, redolent . . .). Nearly everyone that I take seriously in the avant-garde, including many readers and writers on this blog, most of my friends, and names like Ray Brassier, Eugene Thacker, Reza Nagarestani, to name just a few writers whose work I deeply admire, have situated their work as trying to gain critical distance from the later vitalism of Deleuze. Ray’s Nihil Unbound, Eugene’s After Life, Reza’s accelerationist modernism all need Deleuze’s work as something of a touchstone, something to move beyond. As do I. But my fear for the philosophical culture lies in the rejection of something other than abstract thought as the scene of knowledge (not a fair assessment of any of these three thinkers, rather a potential inference hastily drawn within the culture), and I am horrified in a way by the gross perversion of “univocity,” “immanence,” and “difference” as the increasingly flat, isolated, atomic, and disconnected character of the relation between living and thinking within which we now exist. And I increasingly feel like some kind of leftover relic because of my commitment to experiences and processes other than abstract thought as venues of philosophical knowledge.

    I would be the first to aver that Deleuze’s vitalist turn is problematic and incompletely conceived, and for what it’s worth I do not consider myself a vitalist (I do not think in the long view Deleuze was one, either). Despite the fact that it’s a terrible book, Zizek’s _Organs Without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences_, was at least right that after _Difference and Repetition_ and _Logic of Sense_, there is a sense in which Deleuze drops his affirmation of thought as something inherently linked to trauma and the unlivable and the inconcievable, and begins to search with Guattari for an affirmation of multiple thought or multiple “knowledges” animating the plane of immanence. It is now my view that Laruelle has carried through this project of non-philosophy, hinted at by Deleuze and Guattari at the end of What is Philosophy?, with much more precision and rigor (and after I finish translating his _Mystique non-philosophique à l’usage des contemporains_ this year with Ed Kazarian, I hope to write something much more substantial about Laruelle’s to my view absolutely crucial work). But at the time I wrote my book _The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal_, my thought was (and I, along with Christian Kerslake at least, still think this is true), that Deleuze’s later vitalism is actually an expression of his hermeticism, a view that Deleuze held, from a very early age (an animating his thought in sometimes oblique and sometimes explicit ways) of a conjunction of thought with the real that cannot be directly articulated, but must be in some sense practiced and guided by signs that themselves remain enigmatic until they become incorporated into certain practices of self-transformation. You see why it’s hard for me to get a job? I show up at interviews, and the committee can sense that there is something other than what I am saying that I am trying to talk about, but that I can’t say directly what I am trying to say. So everyone is a little confused, maybe a little intrigued, but also a little scared by what just happened. I’m not trying to glamorize myself here. Or glamorize Deleuze. The quest for a vital thought of immanence as Deleuze understood it is a matter of spiritual ordeal. It’s connected in a very fragile and itinerant way to extremely contingent and local possibilities (I will try to elaborate on this in the book I am writing right now, _On Divination: Contingency, Metaphysics, Speculation_). And it’s not really exclusive or rare–that’s what Laruelle shows better than Deleuze does–it’s radically democratic. We are all possessed of “gnosis,” based on our very existence, our existence as determined in the last instance without the world, besides the world, other than the world. I have been very fortunate to have great work on a day to day basis, although contingent, temporary, and stressed by many personal and institutional forces. And I’m far from alone, and far from unique in this.

    Well, here we are in the blogosphere, where passionate confession becomes shameless self-promotion. Voila. At any rate, there is going to be a forum on my book here in a few weeks, and I want to say in advance that I’m incredibly grateful for those who have volunteered to read it and be part it, and to Anthony in advance for making it happen. See you then.

  5. I found that for me there is a certain value in no longer thinking of my work — whether it be creative or academic — in terms of its contribution to the arts or academic. This sounds like a painful cliche, but I’ve eked out just enough intellectual contentment by working to create something I’m proud of / happy with. I don’t think public social media facilitates real conversations about such work. It can put like-minded people in the same orbit, but I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that conversations tend to be semi- / quasi-privately. The same goes with the evaluation of art and intellect.

  6. Thanks Josh, this is really close to the bone. I would echo what you say about living in and through multiple durations, times, commitments – that there is something we need to hang on to about not giving up on one’s desire. But I wanted to ask you more about the logic of sacrifice. Granted, we want to resist the subtle and not-so-subtle demands of capitalistic and theocratic regimes of power. But, if, as you say, the quest for a vital immanence is a spiritual ordeal, can we really rid ourselves of sacrifice? At least of sacrificing the illusion that the real can be named and thought and owned? I’d like to think I’d emerge at a point where the idea of sacrifice itself is sacrificed, a state of blissful, playful engagement with multiple times. But I worry that this is just another sublimation, another tempting form of idealism which doesn’t do justice to what you say so powerfully about the fragile, contingent and local connection we have with that vitality of experience.
    A thoroughly immanent spiritual ordeal sounds like an immensely productive way of understanding how we can live philosophically. Can it be lived without sacrifice? (Apologies if my even minimal usual coherence is lacking – a long day . . . )

  7. Fabulous post, Josh. You are part of an illustrious tradition here now. I hope the chore of presenting a unified intellect for conversation here goes well for you. Thanks for offering your insight into the schizims that make your life such an adventure.

    I’ll check out the conversation coming up.

  8. Steve,

    I like where you are pulling me, as usual. Don’t know if you saw Adam’s comment and my response about sacrifice, but picking up on that, I guess if everything is a sacrifice then nothing is, so that moment of ecstatic play is at least potentially everywhere. Cleo Kearns has written an incredible book, The Virgin Mary, Monotheism, and Sacrifice (Cambridge U Press) that gets at this problem/opportunity in an incredibly profound way. For my part, anybody who knows me or knows my work knows that I am trying to lead people (and arrive myself) at that moment of affirmation and joy that does not deny or abjure suffering and sacrifice but lives somehow in, with, and through it. Playing drums rock bands for years gave me some visceral experiences of ritual repetitions of suffering/sonic “sacrifices” that were some of the most profound experiences of joy I have known. So no, flatly (much more we could say, or couldn’t say) we can’t live without sacrifice, but I follow Girard in the idea that if Christ liberates us from anything it is from sacrifice itself–how that works out and manifests is another issue, probably one we need Kierkegaard as well as Deleuze and others to think of, or live. But I also still think that Bataille was right about the fundamentally excessive character of existence, and that since “sacrifice” is a way of en/treating excess, it is equivocal with enjoyment, consumption, play, the dance of death at the last crossroads, the humor and s/laughter that becomes us from moment to moment. I guess my immediate concern has been in this thread the specific way in which academic life colonizes philosophical life, and the difficulties in finding an affirmative, joyful way through these increasingly narrow channels, trying to send up a warning and protest at once that we remain alert to our dangers.

  9. This is great, Josh, thanks. I’m looking forward to the book event, and hoping I can keep on top of it alongside my coursework and other responsibilities.

    One thing that’s particularly tiring for me is that these multiple durations of life that you speak of are also intertwined with an entire set of human relationships, some of which are in some ways emotionally at odds with others. I’ve found that it takes a lot of energy to balance and maintain these relationships, and this is especially true as I’ve moved beyond the edge of anything resembling the various Christian commitments, practices, and beliefs that were very formative for me. I’ve desired to continue on in the tension with some of these relationships, and integrating and navigating between this and my many other lives is too often just overwhelming.

  10. Thanks Josh, there’s a raw set of questions here that are important to think about. But difficult to face, especially when they’re nebulous and haven’t been so clearly articulated as they are here. I think you’re right, there’s something deeply disturbing about the ways in which philosophical life has been colonized by academic life. But I think (and it seems to me that you were wrestling with this in your initial post) that it’s uncertain how much of this complicity is simply due to the kinds of demands that thought makes on life, and how much is due to the conventions of the academic culture that we’ve inherited (and which we’re, today, also at risk of losing). We don’t need the administrative bureaucracy of academia to think. Just like Mendel didn’t need the monastery to discover the laws of inheritance. What the monastery gave him was time and space. So many forms of thinking, it seems to me, also need time and space where they can come to life. We don’t need academia to give us this time and space. But we do need some kind of grotto, or nest. We need some kind of protected space, some kind of small shelter. The blogosphere is fast, often in a ruthless way. I, for one, don’t think it can offer this kind of space. This is, perhaps above all, the reason I remain concerned with the fate of academic life. Outside of my own homes, and the homes of a few close friends, academia has been the public place where I’ve looked for these kinds of shelters.

  11. Many thanks Josh, one of the most affecting pieces that I’ve read in a very long time. I suspect that the demands and experiences of multiple times and durations resonates with many readers, especially as we are all pulled and shaped by various allegiances and alliances. But the reflection on academic and philosophical life and thought was particularly cogent and close to home. I would write more but the only five/six hour window in the week that I have available for “free” thinking and working “productively” on projects is before me (and that is now already likely to be interrupted by other durations (paying for a car repair, doing the school run)).

  12. I’ve only posted on this forum one time (not that many of the posts don’t resonate for me) but I just wanted to say quickly how much I appreciated your post (and comment), how eerily close to home it struck, and the sort of malaise it points to for me….I always seem to on the edge of a temporal/meatspace abyss.
    Please post when our book becomes available.
    thanks

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