Notes on the Introduction to Ugly Feelings and Bartleby

September 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

Throughout Ugly Feelings there is frequent recourse to Melville’s work, particularly the character of Bartleby. Where many critics read Bartleby through the self-reflective tone of the narrator, Ngai’s project aims to look beyond the ego’s eye and shed light on ambiguous affects, feelings, and emotions. The book is divided into 7 chapters on tone, envy, anxiety, paranoia, irritation, animatedness, and stuplimity, with an afterword on disgust. These negative affects are considered non-cathartic and constitute a sense of duration – a history of quotidian. She makes mention of heavier, momentary emotional states such as rage, fear, and jealousy, but is intent on exploring interstitial categories that make up everyday experiences in a continual way. Yes, these affects are the lubricant of contemporary capitalism by way of embodiment through labour, consuming – a continual transcription of becoming-weak in the world. These affects evoke a sense of displeasure where such feelings are negated and not to be confused with who the social subject really is. Why am I feeling this? Who is feeling this? This isn’t me. There is no solace found in such affects.

The book approaches emotions “as unusually knotted or condensed ‘interpretations of predicaments’ – that is, signs that not only render visible different registers of problem (formal, ideological, sociohistorical) but conjoin these problems in a distinctive manner” and she reads these predicaments by a “general state of obstructed agency with respect to other human actors or to the social as such” (3). And the book furthers this by its involvement with “multiple levels of negativity that make the ugly feelings in this study so useful for conjoining predicaments from multiple registers–showing how sociohistorical and ideological dilemmas, in particular, produce formal or representational ones” (12).

Ugly Feelings is a “bestiary of affects” — she replaces lions and vampires for rats. This text, in light of the others we’ve read, brings forth new comprehensions of the words intensity, animal, categories, emotion, feelings, affects. Ugly Feelings seems to be taking us in a different direction, away from sudden, intense affects and separation from emotions, feelings. By juxtaposing film to literature to theory and ultimately rejecting emotions, feeling and affects in any formalist category, the question of locality is left open.

Is this the modern day Bartleby?

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