Love, Strength, and Negotiating the Affective Flux

The question — or a question, as the case may be — is how to negotiate the endless affective flux, this relentless flow of moods and energies coming at us from everywhere all at once?

There was a time, many years ago, when I was practicing my very own kind of qigong, courtesy of my good friend. We'd spend hours moving energy up and down our bellies; then making these vast spheres of energy in our hands. We could make the flesh on our hands move by moving the other hand across it, no flesh touching: a palpation with qi. I shit you not.

But it also made us incredibly vulnerable to the grotesque qi that pervades the streets of any city, especially fetid San Francisco. I'd walk down the street and I'd be overwhelmed by the ill qi coming from this or that person.

I lacked the power — and the discipline — to negotiate this qi, to parry, absorb, defer, or placate it. And so I avoided exposure as best I could.

But that was weakness. I was fucking around with powerful forces and this made me poorly equipped to handle the world, to negotiate the affective universe — which is the universe. So, soon, I abandoned it, opting for the affective blindness of this American life.

What, then, is the way to negotiate this affective resonance? What happens when you find yourself confronted with ill formed qi, with an encounter that is foul, sour, sick, malformed?

No doubt, it is often best to avoid it, retreat, duck and cover. This is the safest way for the weak, and I am weak.

But, suddenly, I have a glimpse of what Christians mean by love — an infinite forgiveness of all the ill formed qi that comes your way: the cranky spouse, the acting out child, the cruel boss, the confused lover, the demented, neurotic, sick and plain old stupid and mean. We've all encountered these moments; we've all been these moments ourselves — cruel, stupid, anxious, cranky.

Love would be the posture that would never confront such ill qi on its terms but would at once parry and placate, absorb and return with positive qi, with beautiful energy, an infinite generosity.

But such love involves a fortitude that I cannot fathom. Like Kierkegaard's Johannes de Silentio in Fear and Trembling who cannot grasp the faith of Abraham, the faith of silently and without a hint of anxiety, sacrificing his only son, I am confounded by the demands of love. It exceeds me.

I've been rereading Castaneda. And I think don Juan knows such strength and the love it allows. Why else would he tolerate Carlos who's an imbecile? And Jesus, perhaps, knows such strength. But Carlos does not and nor do Jesus' followers. We slip into judgment so readily and love does not judge.

Now, I don't think love means never judging. Judgment is implicit in any gesture towards change, towards trying to shift someone else's state, someone else's qi. Love is not all smiles — Jesus could be a harsh bitch, as could don Juan. But it is infinitely generous. It has the strength not to need to tend to itself. Love has the unimaginable fortitude to indulge other people's profound sickness, their madness.

Me, when I'm confronted with angst and ill will and existential confusion, tend to lash out or retreat. Which is not necessarily wrong; one does what one must. But this glimpse I have of love, of what love is, is making me rethink how I approach the social and how I approach myself.

So where does this love leave us? Where does it leave me? Fuck if I know.

For now, I enjoy Old Potrero Rye and the temporary peace it affords, thank you very much.


Pierre said...

I had a nice, happy, immediate, and direct lol when I read that:
"For now, I enjoy Old Potrero Rye and the temporary peace it affords, thank you very much"

but what is may be fascinating in the last two posts is the importance of esoterist aspects.

Esoterism, the knowledge considered to be kept secret in occident, seems much more openly considered in asian body control.

It is always considered as strange beliefs based on strange speculative books. But if you watch 'dune', the unsatisfied film of david lynch, strange powers, supra natural powers, are always based on body and affect control.

drwatson said...

Interesting take on qi and affective mood. When I was still an undergraduate, me and a buddy of mine took Kung-Fu for about 8 months or so. We were coming from pretty different theoretical backgrounds - he was a rigid scientific materialist and I was involved in a sort of naive version of existentialism. But we experienced all the weird and fascinating energy stuff.

I remember seeing and feeling things that were not easy to swallow. And my friend had a harder time because of his scientific understanding of the world. It's interesting now that I look back at both of us struggling to figure out what to throw out - experience or the theoretical framework we had deployed for "understanding" (overstanding would be more like it) experience.

At the risk of sounding so terribly cliche, there is something about Western Metaphysics that just does not deal with Eastern relationships very well because of the West's love of the categorical. The West's history is one of duality; even know we think that way in order to break down a duality - which of course feels pretty doomed. Perhaps that's why people from Heidegger to Richard Rorty began arguing that what we need is a new vocabulary.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Pierre: Yes yes — a certain esoteric quality that was more prevalent in my younger days surfacing again. And most welcome it is.

And I love your point about the body: affect is not negotiated sans material but of, with, material, of and with the body. And that is my phenomenology, not my non-existent Eastern training.

@Dr: ibid, in that for me it's not Eastern at all (only because I am ignorant of the East). In the West, there is much: WS Burroughs, Castaneda, and Deleuze and Guattari being my inspiration and providing much of the vocabulary I rely on.

Nathan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan said...

Had to delete my previous comment for being a bit too manic. Just a tribute to the excitement generated by this post, which is fantastic. Once I work through these ideas a bit more, I'll do a proper post on Compendium Tremendium instead of dumping a personal essay in the comments section. Again, great post.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Oh, Nathan, your first bit was exquisite, one of the best and most inspiring thing I've read in ages. It performed your argument — engaging but thoughtful, considered but with feeling and fervor. Post it here again AND on your blog....please.

And check out Badiou on philosophy — he has a manifesto, too.

Nathan said...

Ha! Of course, I was convinced that I hadn't taken enough care with these ideas and so the form contradicted the content. Probably, I'd been staring at it too long. Thanks for the encouragement. See below...

As a friend of concepts, drawing on the Deleuzian idea, I see the philosopher as a person sensitive to, if not positively engaged with, the affective character of thought. However, thought and its exposition being fundamentally inter-subjective, this relationship is necessarily social and, therefore, necessarily complex. Thus, the philosopher is peculiarly vulnerable to the fluctuations of affect, even if we presume that the field of the encounter is limited to discourse.

How does philosophy manage this complex relation to affect? In contrast to infinite generosity, which is certainly an inspiring ideal, the philosopher appears to practice a more modest ethic. The philosopher takes care. Rather than charging the field of affective thought, the philosopher proceeds carefully. The cautious, at times plodding, gate of philosophical thinking is an expression of care, of restraint in approaching the maelstrom of affective thought. It demonstrates respect for the living, breathing being of ideas and their affective power. It preserves the vision of the field against the temptation toward binary reduction. It fosters equanimity in the midst of tumult.

In thinking, discussing, arguing, debating, philosophy refrains from careless judgments, refuses to treat knowledge simply as neutered facts, information. Instead, it proceeds according to Kairotic knowledge, traversing the field of affective thought rather than retreating to, or insisting on, an exceptional position. Philosophy listens and when it speaks it maps new terrain by the resonance of voice.

Though Kierkegaard may not be able to comprehend the faith of Abraham, through philosophy he can consider its dimensions, its force and character. He doesn’t have to turn away from it. In fact, he is able to reintroduce it to the world as something vital, restoring what was lost in its affective character. By approaching with caution, by taking care, he negotiates the affective violence as well as intoxicating sublimity of thought.

Prolegomena to a manifesto of philosophical practice.

Somehow, Badiou always eludes my reading list. Being in the mood for manifestos, however, maybe now is the time for me to get acquainted with his work. I do plan to develop these ideas a bit more before posting to Compendium Tremendium. Hopefully sometime this weekend. Thanks again.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@Nathan: Your comments make me think of two things:

1. One thing I love about blogging is it is essayistic, it need not be buttoned up. Fuck, when I blog, I write in a more or less manic, more or less reflective state, and hit publish before I have a chance to edit.

Thought is messy. And in motion. And blogging, and comments, are at once messy and in motion....

2. I wonder if there is a place for the mad, for the manic, within philosophy. Or is philosophy always tempered? Does a certain move into mania become literature/art/life?

There's a good essay by Badiou on philosophy in the book, Infinite Thought.

In any case, thanks for the comments and conversation.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Nathan: for some reason, the fantastic comment you posted about blogging, commenting, and moving slow as mania is not showing up. I keep being told via email that it's there. But when I arrive, alas, the comment does not appear. It must be shy. Or a Google glitch.

Nathan said...

Huh, mysterious. I'll definitely be including that stuff in an upcoming post. Thanks again for prompting the response on mania. I think there's a lot more there to explore.

Pierre said...

@ Nathan... I enjoyed your reading, it made me think to the idea that pleasure is slowness. You take time to develop a single idea, and then illustrate it inside the world with the compaison between Abraham and Kiregaard. Reading too much moderatly interesting things all my days, it made me feel like it was a nice tempo. Tempo in silence for my mind.

Nathan said...

@Pierre - speed, or tempo as you put it, has been on mind quite a bit lately. I think that slow thinking admits a wider spectrum of affective experience, since it accommodates affective flux instead of riding roughshod over it. But your comment about pleasure being slow brings up a point that I hadn't really considered: different affects travel at different speeds. I think Daniel has written on this before, maybe in the notes on capitalism? Anyhow, thanks for the insight.