This is a performative condensation of the pieces in this special issue, underscoring certain lines of significance and some of the outlines of emergent theoretical and descriptive trajectories in them. It is written in the mode of a backup singer.
These pieces write as backup singers to the aesthetic reverb of singular currents, resonances, and sociality rhythms. They arrest on nodes of composition and decomposition. They ping among theory, fiction, and some kind of real. Their objects of analysis are worlds lodged in ordinary practices and attentions. Scenes being lived and described are simultaneously too much and not enough. The lines of an impersonal–personal connect the authors to all the human and non-human elements in states of specific becoming. Agencies distribute across fields of forms and forces, puncturing subjects awkwardly as glancing blows and half-recognitions.
Concepts, here, become capacities to listen to the muscled melody of things, no matter how faint or tinny or artless. The work of describing becomes an angling in on a worn refrain that has been doing things or on some small shard of sensory impact still partly legible in a body's quivering and its dissolves. Found objects become not representations but leftovers, atmospheres, forms of light, the curve of an archway hitting a stride in a thought. We, the writing and reading knowledge collectors, are busy bodies, like Friedrich Nietzsche's busy bees, concerned only with bringing something home. That flying, gathering self with its nose to the ground, like all the other selves, is no mere “I” but a “he” or a “she” or an “it” (it likes to swim, it dreams of drowning and of saving love, it might try to crawl under the table if no one is looking). Everything is emergent and poised to retreat.
Patricia Clough and Talha İşsevenler call all this a worldly sensibility attuned not to the transcendental subject but to the self-sensing world. An ecology of potentiality the creative resources of which are the exchanges that compose. The qualia of a color, or a quantity of data continuously mined from social media and tracking devices register the environmentality of the world itself. This is it, now, or there it was; it flickered. Words are a compositional worlding and so is swimming, or a walk in the woods, or the odd encounter on a city street.
Clough and İşsevenler's “Worlding Worlds with Words in these Times of Data-fication” unmoors phenomenology from the vain head games of the subject as the center of the world. Where that monster head once was, mouth gaping open in a death maw, life and death veer into view on a winged dispersal from home. Writing about life, Clough and İşsevenler tell us, does not have to pretend to turn it into examples or cases of something. What if, instead, we build concepts that make it possible to venture out into the life from which they emerge? Concepts that are crystallizations filled with the potentiality of dissolution. A litany of chemicals, grubs, labors, nightmares and forms of touch raises the question of how worlds unfold and fold again into things. Will they reach the expressivity of a mood, an infusion, a tone of voice, or something else, anything at all? Will the elemental be allowed to touch the question of life? Or will the singularities and energies that arise all around be left languishing, or skittering, as unused flickering resources for something that could happen?
The writers in this special issue are laying down tracks. Moving elements, conjunctions and propensities start to sound. A riven, generative, aesthetic score starts to take shape in the still-settling world, not because that world has meanings that can be abstracted but because it has weight. It incites its own novelty by sidling up to the proliferation of registers and forms occurring in any line of movement/sensation/gesture/thought. The self-sensing world is surprising because it is surprised. Writing actively composes something by following the lines of things already throwing together.
Alecia Youngblood Jackson's “Potentializing a Deleuzian Refrain” follows We don't make milk along its makeshift routes and self-composed ruts. The refrain loops from breasts to a dry powder that gets mixed with sugary syrup and water as if there is a way to do it just right and then it leaks into hospitals as free food. It is too strange and gripping to dismiss with an explanation, too tentacularly embedded in disparate registers, moments, and forms. Shame and blame swell around it; a river of money and people and things line up in response. The refrain is a tuning-toward, a tunneling into something no one actually imagined and yet there it is. Worlds respond to its provocations.
Anne Harris's “Love Has a Body that Feels like Heat” moves into a loosening, a sliding, a transiting, both experiential and analytical. She points to an ontology beyond gender in which materialities and bodies, dreams and desires, can return to a vibrancy that dances with dissolution. Genderqueer love punctures the skin of the story, burns off the excess of legibility, and condenses down to a mode of intrigue. The partial legibilities of love's queer body congeal in affective collaborations to slow the hard-worn jump between the sensible and the sensory. In the cracks, there is a promise of an unworlded knowledge or maybe a worlding of things formed against the backdrop of a shimmer. A worlding within an unworlding.
Jonathan Wyatt's “Two Shits” tells the story of a self lodged in the emergent impersonal as a register close to the bone. Attachments are self-contortions. Clanging pipes are a resonance of multiplicities haunting, comforting, and Other. The body twists itself into anxious or exuberant sociality rhythms like a hunchback, or the weaker Siamese twin. Forms of caring present as leanings, jumps, the rise of humor in a throat. The self is not the origin of anything but what spies, strategizes, worries, reacts, creates, and figures out what to do with things. And it performs. A rush of shock moves it, plumbing noises open possibilities, lighting matters. Saying “I understand” is an impotent yet necessary murmuring recited like a prayer in a world where weighted-down humans are always pressed to work, always behind; they get sick; things happen to them. The trouble with living is muscular. Its intensities reach planes of expressivity half noticed, maybe in the form of a joke or a shock. They may be handled with an abandoning phrase—“couldn't give two shits.” Meanwhile, a card says “Don't forget to breathe.” There's candy on the table in a Comedy Club in Edinburgh. You wear a certain shirt when you're trying to be a certain someone. You try to get something going: a good laugh, a good cry, a little pause listening to the pipes. This is a world actualizing the excited/alarmed status of potentiality itself. In a poem, “‘Ian Schneider,’” Wyatt takes us to the scene of an ordinary day on which the
flawless sky is empty, save for a single indifferent plane
and the cranes steer upwards undisturbed
While below we cluster where you fell, staring at endless water falling,
and I trace the letters of your bronze-inscribed name.
Ken Gale's “Ordinary? Affects?” is a hawk circling, minutely attentive to the composition and decomposition of prepersonal singularities along lines of heterogeneity, contingency, and ambiguity. He proposes an associational empiricism of concepts as events, the self (re)cognized as encounter, and affect itself in the singular. Conceptual personae fleetingly come to life in the process of concept creation. Ordinary expressions and aesthetic sensitivities to the force of things become a form of description of existence beyond the ascription of names and feelings to individuals and fixed states of being. The subject on a train is a reverb chamber, not the center of self-reflexivity. Thought is a relation of affective immanence that reels in the ordinary, dragging a world out on a noisy stage. The trope of being-in-the-world takes on the task of orienting itself “toward an experimentation in contact with the real.”1 A task routed in the proliferating multiplicity of connections as “acts of understanding performed with the maximum perspective possible.”2
In Lisa A. Mazzei's “Lines of Articulation,” voice is a composition not of the originary “I” of a humanist subject, but of attunements and accidents, hauntings and troublings. It is at once a collective enunciation and an idiosyncratic map of connections between a series of singularities provoked by sociality moments and moral–aesthetic–political moves and slippages. Mazzei is stopped in her tracks when she is asked if she has her shoes on, or “coaxed to recite the ‘exotic’ and strange names of her relatives[:] Gertrude, Bea Mae, Lola, Macie, Waveline, Clement, Ernest, Joretta, Elwood.” Someone utters “Springtucky” out of context and an attunement cascades. Lines of articulation provoke an “entanglement of bodies, histories, classrooms, spaces, accents, futures, clothing, coal dust, wordings.” The lived affects of stereotypes and frictions deployed rupture the notion of the subject, unfold in time and with surprise, do not mean to come to a finish, want to keep moving, spreading themselves thin across too many possible scenes with too many real links. This takes a lot of work. Defense mechanisms are set in motion along with a creation lodged in the middle of it all.
Stacy Holman Jones's “Bodies of Thought, Bodies of Water” creates a cartography of queer conjunctures. Compositions of food, bodies, and narrative forms are proliferating and falling away. The real is the rhythm of too much and not enough. The room hums with the weight of what is gathering and what is sloughing off. Experience is an attachment to attending to what might be happening. Eyes lock. A world starts to take form. The images are of water and labor—swimming with a purpose, the weight of the water that buoys and threatens breath, the miracle of suddenly floating. Memories flop around like fish on a dock. “You don't like baths because you don't like being cold in the water.” You remember hearing something—a leaf, a twig snapping, a faint click. Skin is faster than word. But you can also think of making the story do what you want. Thoughts occur. The possibility of agency spreads across rejection and loss, the making past, the making present, a honing down.
Susanne Gannon's “Ordinary Atmospheres and Minor Weather Events” attunes to the elemental and domestic texture of worlds. The quality of light in a writer's room. The weather of the ordinary. The texture of potentiality in twenty-six places. Some walls wept. There were night winds. Emergence was a sensation in contingency. Ash fell. There were fog mornings. A sea of an “us” sat on the grass listening to voices on megaphones and planning escapes. Seagulls were not objects but the form of a swirl against grey ocean and sky, a perch on a breakwater. In the place of a destructive critique, writing is a metronome keeping time in relation to the things that call it out.
In Tami Spry's “Ordinary Flow,” events give the ordinary the charge of an unfolding texture: the fresh-cut lumber that smells so good in the car, the snapping off of a leftover scream–sob that happened during yoga one day, the ongoing quivering in the stability of a category, a glitch in the projects of self, agency, home, a life. A breast cancer diagnosis. The eventilization of life has angles—sensory, affective, virtual, too real to comprehend. Each precision that creates a line of living is also a scene of arrest, whether in pleasure or alarm. A life hums the tune of its ventures. A home becoming gone is remembered as the Beet Festival's recurring compositions: beet juice, beat/beet readings, beat drummings, the “Beet Queen throwing a bunch of beets behind her back to the crowd.”
The collection in this special issue orchestrates what takes place in singular forms, sounds out the worldly precision of angles, senses out the moves, relations, and problematics of a scene. Moving away from the shorthand rhetoric of category and representation, it gathers words, forms of thought, bodies, jokes, pipes, elements, weathered atmospheres, instants of lighting. It arrives at a point of surprise, and then another, as it finds forms of participation in what is already in composition.
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Kathleen Stewart is Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin. Correspondence to: Kathleen Stewart, Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin, SAC 4.102, 2201 Speedway Stop C3200, Austin, TX 78712, USA. Email: (. )