Saturday, April 5, 2008

Islands of Detroit

Dave has blogged in response to my colloquium presentation yesterday afternoon on images, nostalgia, whiteness and Detroit, entitled, "The Islands of Detroit." I blogged about the introduction to the essay a few weeks ago. There, as in my presentation, I proposed:
a progressive, oppositional whiteness, but nothing spectacular, nothing which could survive only in theory. Rather, by looking back into the past and remember and re-examining one uneventful year in Detroit, Michigan, I wish to propose something more indiscriminate, but also more potentially resilient—an everyday, oppositional whiteness, one predicated on a thoughtful randomness, and which embraces the strange and unfamiliar.

Dave wrote:
his tone was much more personal, and, as a result, he was more willing to concede the point (so often ignored by other scholars) that, much as we want to critique the implications of nostalgia, it isn't going to go away simply because we're critiquing it. Such an argument would be the equivalent of Laura Mulvey's notorious claims from the 1970s that we as critics should actively work toward the destruction of cinematic pleasure. Not gonna happen. And, even if it could, that wouldn't be productive of any alternative affect that could take its place.

One of the other things intriguing to me is that Dave noted how much the essay felt like a blog post, which in retrospect I can see, since I first started those ideas as blog posts--though, unlike with other projects--none of that material appeared in the essay itself.
Not a minute passed in which he didn't use the personal pronoun "I" in order to define his own position in relation to the material. As a result, not only the tone but also the structure of the argument shifted: it was occasionally meandering into personal asides that became crucial to the overall argument a few moments later, an recursively worked backward at times to mimic the kinds of nostalgia he discussed. It resembled nothing so much as a blog (I mean this in the most affectionate way possible--I find I read much less "real" criticism ever since I set up my RSS feeds).

I really do feel blogging has altered my writing style in some ways, especially in an incredibly self-reflexive paper such as this one. The following is part of what I wrote in response on his blog:

I think to call it like a blog is appropriate, as it was--especially in its earlier phases--much more flowing and random than it has become through subsequent restructuring. In fact, the essay is literally laid out as a series of bullet points--each its own "island" as it were--and would very much resemble a blog on paper. And, having started to be a particularly prolific blogger at that point in my life (2006), I could see how that form of discourse now doubt influenced the essay--and now that I think about it, the first "sense" of the essay was in two separate blog posts I once wrote back then--one about WSU, and the other about first watching Michael Bay's The Island, and being struck by how much "instant nostalgia" took me over there (none of those posts ended up in the essay, though, even though I do talk about both those).

Everyone picked up on the "everyday, oppositional whiteness," which I knew they would. I put it in there in subsequent versions because I needed a buzz word, and something that the whole essay could be "boiled down to," so to speak.

But you are right to note that the essay is really about things more contingent and ephemeral. The islands are meant to be irreducible--i.e., there wasn't supposed to be a thesis statement. But that something some readers have had difficulty with.

And yes, as you note, it is all about affect (and since you probably know me to be a fellow Deleuzian, I'm sure it was not a surprise). In fact, in the first version of the essay I explicitly quote Barthes talking about a photo's affect--and really if one does not understand the logic of Barthes there, they will not understand my essay. But I cut the explicit reference to affect because there was too much Barthes in earlier drafts--too many theories in general.

Moreover, it was at a point in my career where I had done affect with everything (I suppose I still do)--and I was worried about becoming a parody of myself. So, I've tended to internalize affect in my arguments--everything I write about is following some kind of affective logic or potential, but its a point I no longer wish to belabor in my writing, which has slowly become more historical materialist and less overtly theoretical.