Matter’s (supposed) rawness obtrudes within a sensory field structured, perhaps, by semiosis (not always) but no less by performance — itself always already swathed in, sucked or debted into, arranging economies of sensation. So any particle’s transit may or may not come to rest or relative completion in a performative act. Acting assigns bodies, nonbodies, and monsters their ontological categories. Furrows of animacy — auditory surround or any group of persons around a scene — carve out, sometimes ritually but also virtually, those ranges of action. What is primary is sensation and what can be done with it among others
Lobbed first in derision of a figure of queer hyperbole — the hypersensitive (endlessly wounded) and thus hyperdefensive (humorless, policing) but also hyperdramatic (complaining) claimant to a marginalized identity — “special snowflake” has curved back on its originators. On leftbook (and screenshots of e.g. the Glenn Beck fanpage) the term turns toward the critical exposure of self-absorptive white tears, of xenophobia as demand for safe space, and of racist diaperbabies “triggered” into losing their civility.
What does this insult presume? What is its force as insult? Calling someone a “special snowflake” antagonizes their presumed fragility, but why? And what does it mean to reverse the gesture?
An insufferable video on the “Millennials Question” can perhaps partially explain this. Motivational speaker / marketing consultant / would-be diagnostician Simon Sinek would characterize the snowflake as somebody who received too many participation trophies and now enjoys too much instant gratification to square their self-perceived singularity with the demands of a reality principle. Asserting singularity in this way comes to signal (affinity with) a social type (the entitled millennial) defined by petulance and inadequacy to typification.
Another video comes to mind too —
Somebody says “go get your diapies changed.” An echolalic turkey gobble noise jumps from the young person raising two middle fingers to the older trump supporters crowding in and screaming back the gobble noise. In a longer version of the video we learn that the young person started screaming to interrupt a speaker with a microphone and then gets drowned out by people shouting “USA!” x 3. Aggressive mock applause gets mirrored back while people shout hurray and sarcastically bellow “Oh yeah oh yeah.” The most legible sign says “SPEAK OPENLY DISAGREE HONESTLY PURSUE SOLIDARITY” and then, handwritten, simply “Trump.” Toward the end you can see the young person kind of bobbing up and down into a mortification dance where the absurdity of the confrontation somehow redeems the shame of not knowing what you’re doing or even exactly why. Everyone is filming everything.
I wonder if this captures the moment it became possible to use “special snowflake” to antagonize the fragility of those who feel threatened by left-liberal and radical counter-“policing.”
What is happening here? When does infantility act tactically?
Can the rhetoric of infantility (calling somebody else a baby) be thought on a continuum with infantility as reversion to prediscursive noise or the enactment of a shared shame dump where discourse must become formless (acting like a baby)?
Can “snowflake” not just reclaim but also re-weaponize (ascribed) hypersensitivity?
A partial bibliography could have you read the books Elaine Showalter mentions in this paragraph from the introduction to Hystories: Hysterical Epidemics and Modern Culture (1997):
Americans also tend to feel defensive about hysterical disorders after the recent spate of accusations that this country is becoming a hysterical victim society. It’s a standing joke that Americans no longer view themselves as sinners struggling with the guilt of lust, avarice, or greed but rather as sick people addicted to sex, shopping, or sweets. Books like Charles Sykes’s A Nation of Victims (1992), Robert Hughes’s The Culture of Complaint (1993), Wendy Kaminer’s I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional (1993), and Alan Dershowitz’s The Abuse Excuse (1995) mock and denounce what they see as the twelve-step, self-help culture of contemporary America. Because many of these books have an ideological ax to grind, they seek political scapegoats and simple answers for a complex phenomenon. Pundits blame the recovery movement on Freud and psychoanalysis, changes in sexuality, or a collapse of American family values. These attacks are so sweeping and so vitriolic, so one-sided and so unfair, it’s no wonder patients, psychiatrists, and therapists feel threatened and panicky. In the Journal of Psychohistory, Nielltje Gedney, for example, charges that critics are after “the total annihilation of therapy and therapists.”
Also “Bart’s Inner Child,” S05.E07 of The Simpsons (first aired in 1993), work on the history / theory / practice of Montessori schools, screencaps in the facebook group “I am leabing dIS gronP,” and Sarah Schulman’s Conflict Is Not Abuse (2016). Apparently the term “special snowflake” has been traced (by Wikipedia) to Fight Club (1996) and the film version thereof (1999), and there’s probably something to be written about “edginess” as a genre of disaffected teen masculinity diffused from that. See too the fashion philosophy of “normcore” (as snowflake antidote), e.g. in this manifesto thing called Youth Mode: A Report on Freedom.
Aren’t there dissonances in an alt-right that can both lash out in murderous envy at “normies” (see Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies (2017)) and ally themselves with a perhaps broader based (or rather cross-generational) backlash against “snowflakes”?
Abrogation is a refusal of the categories of an imperial culture, its aesthetic, its illusory standard of normative or “correct” usage, and its assumption of a traditional and fixed meaning “inscribed” in the words (Ashcroft, Griffiths and Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back 38). …
Source: Typographic Abrogation
Just wanted to pull attention to this both bc it usefully gestures toward a proto-fascist context for the transmission of a typographic aesthetic and bc it has something to say about empire — but what does it mean to assert that the Futurists refused an imperial aesthetic? asking bc I don’t know much about them and don’t see where it’s coming from.
Also, wanted to add an image to the gallery. From Yone Noguchi’s The American Diary of a Japanese Girl (1902):
What’s interesting about this is not just that it recalls the form of Mallarme’s earlier poem, but also that its formal experiment was generated by a narrative enclosure: the narrator has torn up a kind of gossip column, “Things Seen in the Street,” but regrets it and so attempts to arrange the torn pieces back into what she acknowledges to be an illegibility. As if she were presciently acting out Tristan Tzara’s 1920 “To make a Dadaist Poem,” or, indeed, writing it, Miss Morning Glory (the narrator) tells how she plucked the scraps from her basket to form poetic “lines.” Maybe a line of transmission here?
Mania 1978 : other screened for the pathos of a system’s outside to flirt with – risks, still, an overongoing encounter with the undevoured, hence sticky, or endlessly incorporating system (like chewing gum) – within which the other coheres
Mania 1979 : desiring reflexivity breaks in/from manners – via unspoken lapse of “little niceties”
but do niceties = an ideosphere? or is it, rather, the pathetic because boring (flavor chewed out) consistency of the other’s system that, by forming an ideosphere of one, breaks niceties but simultaneously incorporates back into them?
Extrapolate — a kinesthetic notation of what becomes a perceptible fact of the physics of a scene but doesn’t make it to a cognition (complete or otherwise) of the significance happening — e.g. gestural condensations of cigarettes (Richard Klein)
also, what are mundane forms of incomplete cognition (e.g. stupidity, ellipsis, waiting)?
1978 – The Neutral
1979 – The Preparation of the Novel
This boat is a womb, a matrix, and yet it expels you. …
The next abyss was the depths of the sea. Whenever a fleet of ships gave chase to slave ships, it was easiest just to lighten the boat by throwing cargo overboard, weighing it down with balls and chains. These underwater signposts mark the course between the Gold Coast and the Leeward Islands. Navigating the green splendor of the sea-whether in melancholic transatlantic crossings or glorious regattas or traditional races of yoles and gommiers–still brings to mind, coming to light like seaweed, these lowest depths, these deeps, with their punctuation of scarce1y corroded balls and chains. In actual fact the abyss is a tautology: the entire ocean, the entire sea gently collapsing in the end into the pleasures of sand, make one vast beginning, but a beginning whose time is marked by these balls and chains gone green.
But for these shores to take shape, even before they could be contemplated, before they were yet visible, what sufferings came from the unknown! Indeed, the most petrifying face of the abyss lies far ahead of the slave ship’s bow, a pale murmur; you do not know if it is a storm cloud, rain or drizzle, or from a comforting fi.re. The banks of the river have vanished on both sides of the boat. What kind of river, then, has no middle? Is nothing there but straight ahead? Is this boat sailing into eternity toward the edges of a nonworld that no ancestor will haunt?
– Édouard Glissant, The Poetics of Relation (1990 / 1997)
We steamed up into New York harbor late one afternoon in spring. The last efforts of the sun were being put forth in turning the waters of the bay to glistening gold; the green islands on either side, in spite of their warlike mountings, looked calm and peaceful; the buildings of the town shone out in a reflected light which gave the city an air of enchantment; and, truly, it is an enchanted spot. New York City is the most fatally fascinating thing in America. She sits like a great witch at the gate of the country, showing her alluring white face, and hiding her crooked hands and feet under the folds of her wide garments,–constantly enticing thousands from far within, and tempting those who come from across the seas to go no farther. And all these become the victims of her caprice. Some she at once crushes beneath her cruel feet; others she condemns to a fate like that of galley slaves; a few she favors and fondles, riding them high on the bubbles of fortune; then with a sudden breath she blows the bubbles out and laughs mockingly as she watches them fall.
Twice I had passed through it; but this was really my first visit to New York; and as I walked about that evening I began to feel the dread power of the city; the crowds, the lights, the excitement, the gayety and all its subtler stimulating influences began to take effect upon me. My blood ran quicker, and I felt that I was just beginning to live. To some natures this stimulant of life in a great city becomes a thing as binding and necessary as opium is to one addicted to the habit. It becomes their breath of life; they cannot exist outside of it; rather than be deprived of it they are content to suffer hunger, want, pain and misery; they would not exchange even a ragged and wretched condition among the great crowd for any degree of comfort away from it.
– James Weldon Johnson, Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912 / 1927) – Ch. VI
I AM no physician, and not learned in physiology, therefore I cannot enter into a learned analysis of the opium appetite. Neither have I read any books upon the subject. I know nothing about the matter save from my own observation or experience. But whether I know why this is true, or that is so, or not, one fact I am entirely conscious of, and that that in this appetite abides the enslaving power of opium. The influences of opium in the latter stages would not have such an attraction for the habituate but that he could easily forego them but the appetite comes in and makes him feel that he must have opium if he has existence, and there an end to all resistance. Here dwell the Circean spells of opium. Should one become accustomed to large doses, or rather large quantity per diem, almost impossible to induce the mind to take less, for fear of fall ing to pieces, going into naught, etc. It seems in such state that existence would be insupportable were reduction made. An intense fear of being plunged into an abyss of darkness and despair besets the mind. Hence the opium eater goes on ever increasing until his final doom.
– anonymous habituate, Opium Eating: An Autobiographical Sketch (1876)
And, as all activity implies a waste of tissue (since it is dynamically equivalent to the passage of potential into kinetic energy), Pleasure is to a certain extent concomitant with a decrease of vital function. The limit at which such waste of tissue ceases to be pleasurable and begins to be painful is, I believe, the point where the waste exceeds the ordinary powers of repair.
– Grant Allen, Physiological Aesthetics (1877)
The same factors which, in the exactness and the minute precision of the form of life, have coalesced into a structure of the highest impersonality, have on the other hand, an influence in a highly personal direction. There is perhaps no psychic phenomenon which is so unconditionally reserved to the city as the blasé outlook. It is at first the consequence of those rapidly shifting stimulations of the nerves which are thrown together in all their contrasts and from which it seems to us the intensification of metropolitan intellectuality seems to be derived. On that account it is not likely that stupid persons who have been hitherto intellectually dead will be blasé. Just as an immoderately sensuous life makes one blasé because it stimulates the nerves to their utmost reactivity until they finally can no longer produce any reaction at all, so, less harmful stimuli, through the rapidity and the contradictoriness of their shifts, force the nerves to make such violent responses, tear them about so brutally that they exhaust their last reserves of strength and, remaining in the same milieu, do not have time for new reserves to form. This incapacity to react to new stimulations with the required amount of energy constitutes in fact that blasé attitude which every child of a large city evinces when compared with the products of the more peaceful and more stable milieu.
– Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life” (1903)
A glanced thought from one or two of the speakers at the conference — something about how “proleptic mourning” may stage nervousness — raises the question of mourning without futurity.
Not mourning in advance those bodies which haven’t yet been killed, which is what I take “proleptic mourning” to mean, but rather living through the lateral topographies of a death that will not be grieved — that’s what mourning without futurity would entail.
Nervousness does this, at least in the 19th century, specifically by pointing bodies classified as “morbid” toward their preemptive death: a death that her body draws the nervous woman towards irresistibly, as though that were the only solution to the problem of decomposing, as an abstract member of an aggregate body, in the statistical record. (See, for instance, Sutton E. Griggs’s Imperium in Imperio (1899), in which a suicide note cites the racial statistics of degeneracy).
What do all these suicides, or just self-abandonments to tracks toward death, solve? Usually this is a rhetorical question.
One of the case histories collected in Alonzo Calkins’s Opium and the Opium-Appetite (1871) turns the figure of one “Mrs. B., demi-veuve, æt. 25” into a seismograph of national mood:
[O]f delicate habit and fair complexion, [she] had been habituated to morphine three to four years, introducing solutions of the same intra rectum, by means of a small acuminated glass-syringe. Repeated efforts to break off, with veratria as a substitute, had been of no permanent avail, for the appetite would not thus be put down. One day, in the height of the gold-excitement (Sept. 1869), the lady (a frequenter of the bourse) went down to Wall Street about ten o’clock in the morning, but without her usual supply which she in her hurry had left behind. Suddenly seized with overpowering tremors, she rushed into the first saloon she could find and swallowed a full tumbler of raw whiskey, and again a second after a little interval only, besides purchasing a bottle for use on the return home. The doctor found her about 7 P.M., tremulous all over in body, and in great mental perturbation, for she had drunk, as appeared, a good deal besides the extra bottle, though without any inebriating feeling” (57)
In this case, Mrs. B’s body opens both to the syringe and to the stock market. Its tremulousness constitutes, in other words, the minimal difference between stimulant and stimulus, in the sense these two latter terms would acquire in George Miller Beard’s 1881 treatise, American Nervousness. Or, perhaps, the excitement that happens to her in the midst of withdrawal still remains in solution — what Fitz Hugh Ludlow called, in 1857, “national stimulus.” Either way, what her body marks in the first place is an appetite for opium (a “morbid appetite,” in Calkins’s words) that goes beyond her desire as a subject. Yet it isn’t clear whether withdrawal alone seizes her with tremors — whether it is simply an effect on her body of the stimulant’s loss — or whether withdrawal just makes her more receptive to the stimulus of “gold-excitement” — so receptive that she almost hysterically (but, of course, also beyond hysterically) drinks like a miner. America’s national stimulus is, for Ludlow, the cigar (and notably not its diminutive).
After 1865, why not morphine?