“Something,” writes Kathleen Stewart, “throws itself together in a moment as an event and a sensation; something both animated and inhabitable.” Ordinary Affects is socioculturally vibrational, imagining the personally political even further. The following essay offers a collection of affectively heuristic “moments.”
Ordinary life draws its rhythms from flow and arrest.kathleen stewart, ordinary affects1
Kathleen Stewart's Ordinary Affects took me. It grabbed hold of me and shook me, took my notions of the body, of affect, of autoethnography, and made them “shimmer with undetermined potential and the weight of received meaning.”2 Ordinary Affects is socioculturally vibrational, imagining even further the personally political. It also made me think that sometimes Stewart needs a lesson on what is a noun and what is a verb: a good Strunk and White tutelage on sentence structure.3 And then I fall for the textual heresy of it. It tangles. It dreams.
The boards smell so good in the car. Fresh-cut lumber. Fresh-cut lumber to replace some of the rotting wood on the deck. The deck itself is only about five years old but we didn't want to use treated wood you see, wood treated with chemicals to make the wood last longer, stand up to the elements longer. We didn't want any of us to be walking on chemically treated wood. Co-op shopping organic gardening hippie-dippy goofballs, you bet. This land fed us. It raised our son, held him up while he climbed its trees, swam in its river, camped out on its earth. But we're selling you see. We're selling the land. It's time. And the boards smell so good in the car, fresh-cut to replace the rotting, the stuff that will go back to the land.
And our son didn't play any of that Nintendo® crap. Well, okay, we held out until he was eleven—we thought even that was too young. But he still had to read a chapter of something or write a poem and play outside for at least 30 minutes before he could play Nintendo®. The playing outside was never a problem. He loved this land as a boy and loves it even more as a man. He helped spread his brother's ashes in the river. Helped dig the hole for his brother's memorial tree. Everyone blessed an agate from the land and put it into the hole dug for the tree. The hole dug. The hole. And the fresh-cut lumber.
And it is our choice to move. Barry and I, 32 years together. Deep woods or deep urban. Nothing in between has ever seemed right. The boards smell good in the car.
“Something,” writes Stewart, “throws itself together in a moment as an event and a sensation; something both animated and inhabitable.”4 Something happened in yoga a few months ago. In the middle of shavasana—the position of complete repose at the end of a yoga class (also called corpse pose)—something happened. As I lay there I was suddenly and completely propelled back to the day our infant son Keller was born and died. As I lay there on my mat it was like something had physically and temporally shifted deep inside my body. Somewhere, something snapped off, something that had been lodged there since that day. Something, like a bone fragment, snapped off jagged and corroded with time, barnacled with grief and woe, throwing itself together in that moment, a temporal disagreement, “animated and inhabitable.” A memory of the birth that had become buried in the fascia, mired in the muscle, cradled into the cell structure of my body that day.
As I lay there I could hear it echo, this leftover scream–sob buried under the rubble that crashed down upon us and crushed our insides out that day. Stewart's re-cognition of a still life
a static state filled with vibratory motion, or resonance. A quivering in the stability of a category… . the intensity born of a momentary suspension of narrative, or a glitch in the projects we call things like the self, agency, home, a life. Or a simple stopping5
suspended and reconjured the narrative of his still… birth bringing to bear my always glitchy sense of self and agency and life.
And so during shavasana I began to cry and couldn't stop. Embarrassed and confused, I somehow got up, made it to the bathroom, held myself up against the wall and sobbed deeply and with echo, the jagged fragment trying to make its way up and out my mouth. A free-floating radical dissipating and releasing its toxins throughout my body, leaving me off kilter and teetering, giving “the ordinary,” as Stewart posits, “the charge of an unfolding.”6
The next two to three hours were a fugue, a kind of daze, a strange haze of being, as if I were floating above myself watching me trying to move through the rest of my day. Stewart does not offer me an explanation of what happened in shavasana; rather, she offers me a “texture of knowing.”7 I know the grief and its attendant complexity through articulating its texture. “Ordinary affect,” writes Stewart, “is a surging, a rubbing, a connection of some kind that has impact… . [It is] not about one person's feelings becoming another's but about bodies literally affecting one another and generating intensities.”8 My body knew his, and his mine, as we continue to generate intensities.
Flow and Arrest
Flow and arrest.
Flow and arrest.
The Beet Fest. The Beet Festival. A sprawling hippified family friendly art happening summer party that we held on our heavily wooded ten acres of land for thirteen years in a row. Sacred and sacrilegious, silly and serious, a flow of people. Flow, as we would circle up, call in the directions, and anoint each person's forehead with beet juice—replacing the ashes of my Catholic upbringing—reverent and raucous at once. Beat readings, beat drummings, beet passion plays, and the crowning of a Beet Queen by the previous Beet Queen throwing a bunch of beets behind her back to the crowd. A flow, a being and playing and laughter and gardens and… weed…
And then arrest, as our then eight-year-old son, running with his gang of party colleagues, stops them in front of a huge oak and says, “Hug this tree for more energy!”
And they do.
And we are arrested by this moment in time.
The burly bark of the 150-year-old oak against their small sweaty faces, the raw wood meeting their damp, sleek, childhood skin, they hug their bodies with and without organs, rhizomatic in this material moment. “Sometimes you have to pause,” writes Stewart, “to catch up to where you already are.”9
And then flow, as the crazy carvinalesque Beet Parade winds around our circular dirt driveway. Flow, as our friend Holly wearing a huge fish hat on her head, drives the old John Deere lawn tractor—decorated as a float—that is pulling an older, equally decorated wagon carrying the newly crowned Beet Queen sitting on her party-made throne followed by her loyal subjects—revelers bedazzling in costumes made of any and all things beet. Beet poets, dead beats, beet bedazzled dresses, drums, congas, macramé beet heads, humans transformed into life-size puppets.
As our friend of ten years stands waving, watching, laughing, cheering at the parade having just been diagnosed with stage four breast. And we are arrested. So completely. Wanting to arrest that flow. That metastasizing. That cancer with legs that we want to cut out from under it. Wanting to still its life. Wanting still. Wanting. Waiting. And it is ordinary. And it is everyday. And it is. And the parade passes. “Sometimes you have to pause to catch up with where you already are.”10 And the Beet Queen comes round again.
- © 2016 by the Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Request permission to photocopy or reproduce article content at the University of California Press's Reprints and Permissions web page, http://www.ucpress.edu/journals.php?p=reprints.
Tami Spry is Professor in the Department of Communication Studies at St. Cloud State University. Correspondence to: Tami Spry, Department of Communication Studies, St. Cloud State University, 720 Fourth Avenue South, St. Cloud, MN 56301, USA. Email: (. )