Such eruptions of feeling are never treated as soluble “problems” in Acker’s work. Coexisting with pastiches of classical literature, political rants, and burlesques about the nuclear family, feeling is transported out of the realm of the female-abject, becoming part of a new universal that is, to borrow a line from Acker’s contemporary Ted Berrigan, “feminine marvelous and tough.”
Chris Kraus on Kathy Acker
First all belief is paradise. So pliable a medium. A time not very long. A transparency caused. A conveyance of rupture. A subtle transport. Scant and rare. Deep in the opulent morning, blissful regions, hard and slender. Scarce and scant. Quotidian and temperate. Begin afresh in the realms of the atmosphere, that encompasses the solid earth, the terraqueous globe that soars and sings, elevated and flimsy. Bright and hot. Flesh and hue. Our skies are inventions, durations, discoveries, quotas, forgeries, fine and grand. Fine and grand. Fresh and bright. Heavenly and bright. The day pours out space, a light red roominess, bright and fresh. Bright and oft. Bright and fresh. Sparkling and wet. Clamour and tint. We range the spacious fields, a battlement trick and fast. Bright and silver. Ribbons and failings. To and fro. Fine and grand. The sky is complicated and flawed and we’re up there in it, floating near the apricot frill, the bias swoop, near the sullen bloated part that dissolves to silver the next instant bronze but nothing that meaningful, a breach of greeny-blue, a syllable, we’re all across the swathe of fleece laid out, the fraying rope, the copper beech behind the aluminum catalpa that has saved the entire spring for this flight, the tops of these a part of the sky, the light wind flipping up the white undersides of leaves, heaven afresh, the brushed part behind, the tumbling. So to the heavenly rustling. Just stiff with ambition we range the spacious trees in earnest desire sure and dear. Brisk and west. Streaky and massed. Changing and appearing. First and last. This was made from Europe, formed from Europe, rant and roar. Fine and grand. Fresh and bright. Crested and turbid. Silver and bright. This was spoken as it came to us, to celebrate and tint, distinct and designed. Sure and dear. Fully designed. Dear afresh. So free to the showing. What we praise we believe, we fully believe. Very fine. Belief thin and pure and clear to the title. Very beautiful. Belief lovely and elegant and fair for the footing. Very brisk. Belief lively and quick and strong by the bursting. Very bright. Belief clear and witty and famous in impulse. Very stormy. Belief violent and open and raging from privation. Very fine. Belief intransigent after pursuit. Very hot. Belief lustful and eager and curious before beauty.Very bright. Belief intending afresh. So calmly and clearly. Just stiff with leaf sure and dear and appearing and last. With lust clear and scarce and appearing and last and afresh.
"Monday" by Lisa Robertson
Joan of Arc by Albert Lynch (1851-1912)
engraving from Figaro Illustre magazine, 1903
Things appear as modes of attention: the plane above that writes letters in the sky, the plane that is seen by those who pass each other by. Questions unfold as shared questions: What letter is that? What word is that? “‘What are they looking at?’ said Clarissa Dalloway” (42). It is as if the mere direction of a glance is enough to create a shared world. Although each brings to the street a certain kind of moodiness, a preoccupation with this or with that, the street itself can become moody, when an object grabs attention, like the plane that createds words in the sky above, although to each person who looks up, what is seen might be quite different.
If unhappiness becomes a collective impression, then it too is made up of fragments that only loosely attach to points of view. In particular, the proximity between Mrs. Dalloway and the character Septimus is what allows unhappiness to be shared even if it is not passed between them; two characters who do not know each other, though they pass each other, but whose worlds are connected by the very jolt of unhappiness. We have the immanence of the shock of how one person’s suffering can have an effect on the life world of another. Septimus suffers from shell shock; and we feel his feelings with him, the panic and sadness as the horror of war intrudes as memory. His suffering brings the past into the time of the present, the long time of war, its persistence on the skin as aftermath, its refusal of an after. To those who observe him from a distance, those who share the street on this day, he appears as a madman, at the edge of respectable sociality, a spectacle. To encounter him on the street, you would not know the story behind his suffering. To be near to suffering does not necessarily bring suffering near.
Clarissa and Septimus, as characters who do not meet, thus achieve an odd intimacy: the not-just-private suffering of the housewife and the not-quite-public suffering of the returned soldier are interwoven. Importantly, their suffering is proximate but not contagious. They do not catch sadness from each other; their sadness is what keeps alive histories that are not shared, that can not be shared, as they pass by on the street. And yet something is shared, perhaps those very things that cannot simply be revealed. Clarissa, thinking of her “odd affinities” with strangers “she had never spoken to,” sits on the bus and wonders whether the “unseen part of us” might provide a point of attachment to others and might even be how we survive through others, “perhaps — perhaps” (231-32).
Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness
What is striking about Mrs. Dalloway is how suffering has to enter her consciousness from the edges, through the arrival of another, another who is an intruder, who has not been invited to the party. It is the suffering of an intruder that exposes the emptiness of life’s chatter. Suffering enters not as self-consciousness—as a consciousness of one’s own suffering—but as a heightening of consciousness, a world-consciousness in which the suffering of those who do not belong is allowed to disturb an atmosphere. Even when unhappiness is a familiar feeling, it can arrive like a stranger, to disturb the familiar or to reveal what is disturbing in the familiar.
The arrival of suffering from the edges of social consciousness might teach us about the difficulty of becoming conscious of suffering or teach us about our own resistances to recognizing those seemingly “little” uneasy feelings of loss or dissatisfaction as unhappiness with one’s life. The party might expose the need to keep busy, to keep going in the face of one’s disappearance. So much sadness revealed in the very need to be busy. It is hard labor just to recognize sadness and disappointment, when you are living a life that is meant to be happy but just isn’t, which is meant to be full, but feels empty. It is difficult to give up an idea of one’s life, when one has lived a life according to that idea. To recognize loss can mean to be willing to experience an intensification of the sadness that hopefulness postpones.
Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness
If Sophy were to become too imaginative, we would not get our happy ending, premised on Sophy being given to Emile. The narrator says in response to the threat of such an unhappy ending, “Let us give Emile his Sophy; let us restore this sweet girl to life and provide her with less vivid imagination and a happier fate” (441). Being restored to life is here being returned to the straight and narrow. Imagination is what makes women look beyond the script of happiness to a different fate. Happiness made Sophy sweet and unimaginative, the book can end happily.
Feminist readers might want to challenge this association between unhappiness and female imagination, which in the moral economy of happiness, makes female imagination a bad thing. But if we do not operate in this economy—that is, if we do not assume that happiness is what is good—then we can read the link between female imagination and unhappiness differently. We might explore how imagination is what allows women to be liberated from happiness and the narrowness of its horizons. We might want the girls to read the books that enable them to be overwhelmed with grief.
Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness