Under the Skin.

It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. – Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus.

Sometimes yoga talk throws around bad science. I’m not a scientist so I find this amusing. People might start a practice wanting to transcend these fleshy casings we call bodies: lose weight, get fit, heal injuries, ease the pain. But the daily practice soon gets wearing when it confronts you with your too fat, too stiff, too old body over and over again. It hurts. Focussing too much on alignment, talking about anatomy, and god forbid, using props, this is all just distractions, laziness. We’re turning our bodies inside out to uncover the subtle body – to become a body-without-organs. How can we become enlightened when that block is cushioning our fall, or if we can’t mentally overcome our back pain.

But it makes sense: get the body out the way and you can concentrate on ‘things that matter’. I was laughing with a friend the other day over our relative poverty. “I can’t keep my concentration”, he said, “I’m concerned about money all the time. I can’t pay attention.”

Yoga talk also gets it confused when it starts talking about sacrifice. The practice should be a matter of desire, not cultivating indifference. We can loosen those attachments and still desire. There’s no good and bad morals here. This is about being vigilant: it’s about developing an ethical practice.

The practice is wearing because there’s no remedy for all the stuff that gets under the skin. We just get hyper aware of how the outside gets in. Sometimes this starts as a fixation on food, or keeping a strict sleep cycle; distancing the self from ‘bad’ toxins: late nights out, casual sex, pollution, noise.

Mastery over the body can be a helpful illusion, but denial is just as toxic. I can’t help but bristle at talk of human nature, instinct, biological urges (this is what Foucault did to me). And yet I find myself invested in agreeing upon some type of biological consistency that makes us identifiably human. But this has little to do with things we often attribute to human nature: power, greed, selfishness. These are just relics from too many Sunday school lessons. This is the type of stuff we should be aiming to relinquish in all our backbending: the learnt ideas of the people we think we should be.

I’m captivated by the process of losing, though it took me some time to figure out why. It’s a question of rupture, what it means to experience disruption. But more so it is about what is in the nature of being that it is possible to rupture. In the daily Ashtanga practice the body can feel so very translucent, so very precariously thin. It can feel like a slow dissipating, dissolving.

I’m captivated too by the process of loving, though it took me some time to figure out I was speaking about the same thing. It’s a question of wanting to become different; about violating your attachment to intentionality without being anti-intentional. That’s why yoga is such a good model for love and vice versa. (I can see the book cover now: ‘Why Yoga Can Make Us Better Lovers’).

Desires always have an object as a stand-in, whether a person, pair of shoes, or a political ideal. That doesn’t make them bad or wrong, it’s just that the object can never return on the intention. That’s how desire works. Some theorists talk about desire as an affect that exists independently (prior to and outside) of consciousness and the mind’s control. It’s an intensity between bodies in which we get caught up. This is an exchange of energy, not words. You only have to enter the atmosphere of a full mysore self-practice Ashtanga room to feel this for yourself. That’s what feeds all the bodies in Mysore, and why people return with a serious consciousness lag.

Affect doesn’t owe you anything and desire has misguided intentions. This is the price of entering into relationality, the space of unknowingness. Unknowingness is necessary if we want to utilise our capacity to affect and be affected. This is where loss and love come in. It’s an opportunity to be affected, to come undone. If this is a sketching of a theory, it’s a theory that states: I don’t know.

Somewhere too far down this line though we start to lose the body. The opening up that happens through practice or a external rupture makes the body suggestible. The self performs, imitates, repeats itself. This might manifest in myriad ways: self-destructive behaviours, hoarding, militant monitoring. Injecting incoherence, ambivalence, resistance into the subject, welcomes liminality. And yet it’s only by unravelling you might catch a glimpse at what it is that holds you together. Or to take a Deleuzian line: how do we hang together when we are multiple?

I don’t see the point in dispensing with the body, with the flesh. Nor attachments. They are both messy and inconsistent. I rather like that. Even if the not knowing, the insecurity of the attachment can feel unbearable. Its only by situating ourselves in a space of unknowingness can we experience desire in a way that escapes the banal, commercial, crass or conventional. These common objects make viable our desiring that somehow circumvents our desires by emptying them out of substance and returning them to us in a safer form. This is not about being against the superficial, but perhaps it is about making better choices.

Its not about getting to the truth either. Or uncovering ‘real’ desires. Its just to point out that the root of that something, that something that whether you want to call it human nature, or affect, or love, or enlightened consciousness, might not be found somewhere deep and obscure. You might not have to wander distant lands, or practice six series of Ashtanga, or live like a nun, or read all the texts on neurobiology you can find in the University library to find it. It might just be lying softly there, right under the skin.

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This is the little I know.

I’ve just been trying to tell you this.

I.

Two years ago I was preoccupied with the idea of finding my home, with finding my people. Two years ago I started this blog, two years ago I fled the grey skies for the heat of India. I thought I was going to figure it all out. I wanted everything. I had nothing.

II.

Sometimes I forget I am 28 because I still feel like the lost child waiting for her mother to come home. It’s a funny life when the worst has already happened by age 15. When everyone is so desperate to grow up, you’ve already grown. And when everyone else finally grows you’ve grown even further. You’re out on the periphery, impatient, always waiting for everyone to catch up. And even when you know they’re not coming, you’re still waiting.

III.

But I still don’t feel angry. I don’t know why.

IV.

I thought for a little while that maybe I could become normal. I thought I could shake off all the dust of the past and pass as normal. Turns out my performance wasn’t as convincing as I thought. When you don’t try to be crazy – when you actually labour to tuck those frayed edges out of view – you don’t see it, you don’t get it when people drag you back out to the peripheries. They just don’t know how lonely it is out here on the outskirts. I was just looking for someone to join me. Affect alien.

V.

I’m not anybody’s type. To be a type means performing a relation to some form of normativity; it’s just an act of becoming something else (not yourself). I’d rather not see humanity in types but in colour; I’d rather keep undoing my attachments; I’d rather let go of expectations.

VI.

I never keep enough of myself to really know who I am. You would never guess it but I give it away all the time. I give myself over to an idea, to an artwork, to literature, to a yoga practice, and sometimes in my foolish moments, to a person. I don’t really do relationships, and this is why. (or getting laid – I don’t actually do that). The yoga sutras tell me to lose my selfish, personal desires that attach me to things I don’t need. And so I got rid of the clutter out of my life, the things, material objects, bad attachments and desires to people (most of them). When you don’t have anything you have your self always, the sutras write. The stuff is just a fog that hides us from coming face to face with the only real possession we can claim. At 21, when I was alone travelling the world I wrote in my diary: ‘Even when you have lost everything you have not lost yourself’. But what is this self we don’t lose? I can’t see it, sometimes I can feel it. But most of the time it doesn’t feel like very much at all.

VII.

People are afraid to merge. Every time I drop back into a backbend it feels like my heart is breaking. And even though I can’t pick myself up again, I keep doing it over and over again. Giving yourself over to another is a bad idea, or so I’m told.

VIII.

Aren’t all the connections we make always in some way misaligned? Aren’t we always making contradictory demands of each other; aren’t we always investing in fantasies that always exist beyond what an other can provide? Isn’t the act of truly communicating always so troublesome for we never really speak in our own words but in frames already provided that limit our desires into codes and norms. If love is a moment when we admit to wanting to become different then no wonder it falls apart because we never found the capacity to break outside of the normative fantasies of love, and sex, and friendship. If only we could pause and start to see each other clearly.

IX.

What does it mean this desire to be known? The exchange of stories that seek only similarity is just noise. And sure noise can help drown out the loneliness momentarily, if that’s what you need. The writings here have sought to note all the things I have lost and gained. I was writing in order to hold myself together. I’m trying to the tie up the ends here, but perhaps I’m looking at it all wrong. Writing is always a performance of stuckness, it is an unraveling not a putting together. Sometimes I wonder what comes first, the event or my writing of it? My writing of all the affective surges of living, from sadness, joy, boredom and of course love, are only poor sketches, and the people that embody the words, who may or may not know how deeply they are woven into the words here, are mere shadows in my mind. A writer is only as good as the friends who allow her to become.

X.

Sometimes people express surprise at my honesty on this blog or how I have used my own life in my academic work. And true something about personal disclosure/exposure is sort of vile. And often it has been a result of naivety or youthful clumsiness and I’ve had to edit myself out later. But it would be more vile if it were the truth. It’s not the truth. That’s not to say I’m a pathological liar and I’ve made everything up. Events happened to me and I observed and experienced them. The rest is just stories. I can make a hundred different stories, each one being true in their own way. But it doesn’t mean that if I tell a story it holds the truth of me. Just because something happened to me doesn’t mean I can understand you. There are a million stories you and I will never tell.

losing you.

When we talk about an object of desire we are really talking about a cluster of promises we want someone or something to make to us and make possible for us. To love something/someone is a wearing labour-intensive process of investment that can devour you and yet also enlivens and expands your understanding of what is possible. (In other words, it’s a yoga practice).

I still remember a time when I lived a life where my unhappiness or happiness was reliant only on how I angled myself to a situation; a result of the choices I alone made. Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I could empty out all this sensory debris embedded in my flesh and start over. I’ll be sensible this time.

But moments hit you before you have chance to dodge. When I was younger, but old enough, I gave something of mine away. I gave it to a person who I thought would never hurt me. That was my first mistake. Because we are all capable of hurting each other, even if we don’t love them. More so when we do. Before we have time to catch up its somehow already happening. And there’s no chance to pause now. No matter how you wait, what time you take, the everyday affects persist in their surging impulses. Encounters affect, bruise, or heal, on a level that is always somewhat imperceptible.

We stay stubbornly fixed to situations of bruising attachments because to lose you, is to lose the future self and possibilities that you represent. I tell myself again and again: “It’s who you love that makes you who you are, not who loves you.” This helps to remind me to lose my attachment to the need to be loved. And yet if who/what I love makes me who I am, not only is my happiness and my future resting in the continuing presence of my object of desire, but to lose them means to also lose part of my self; and the promise of what I imagined I could be.

Speaking of love gets tired unless you can rescue it from the sentimental banality to which it has sunk in a consumer culture. But ‘I love…’ fixes its gaze in the wrong direction. Isn’t love rather something that passes through us, residing, if anywhere, only in the spaces in-between. This is why it can never quite be possessed, or given. And we frame love with time markers, it has to be said at the right moment – not too soon or too late – it is a benchmark in a relationship (after an appropriate number of months of dating/having sex). To say ‘I love you’ is then quite detached from love as a feeling: an affective atmosphere or attraction between two. Instead it becomes a way of claiming, a stealing of another; this one is mine we say.

No wonder we can get claustrophobic, no wonder we get so insecure about losing the other. Because the insecurity of losing or the fear of an inevitable break-up emerges only because we presume a permanence to the people in our lives. We might shy away from investing until the ‘right moment’. We might take up strategies (consciously or otherwise) to protect ourselves. We might try to always act appropriately, nonchalant, unaffected; we might try to fantasize that we are autonomous and seek control, and feel despair when that control is forever out of reach. We want emotions to only happen on our own terms. But affect always gives you away. We give ourselves away in the saying too much, in the spontaneous actions that change everything, in the piercing sense of insecurity that won’t subside, in moods that fluctuate between wanting to run for cover and curl closer.

Establishing a sense of permanence is a necessary mode of living in a confusing, contingent world, anchoring ourselves to something/someone helps make sense of it all. Yet when love becomes one of those anchors, we neglect to recognize how love, like all feelings and human nature, is not something that remains static. It is tempting, almost irresistible, to not begin to invest in the daydream vision of life, in the promises a person can encapsulate. The changing form of things, beings, encounters, reminds us of the very contingent nature of all things, especially love – as an affective response that emerges in-between. To invest in something that is inherently transitory is unsustainable – it means living on the edge of permanent uncertainty.

That’s not to say all relationships are doomed, but rather to point to the fact that if love is a space in between two shifting points (people) then to seek reassurance from an evolving moment is directing our energies in the wrong way. The “I love you”‘s and the marriage proposals, are all attempts to acknowledge a feeling that persisted longer than expected. But it doesn’t make it indestructible, nor should we live in fear lamenting a loss of sovereign control that was never ours. We cannot lose love because it was never ours to have.

And so until we conjure better words to express how we feel (“I enjoy occupying this space with you where love circulates around and over us” sounds pretty clumsy) the true essence of love is captured best in the subtle encounter and the unfinished moments; in the incomplete sentences and the ordinary silences.

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Solange, Lauren Berlant, Kathleen Stewart, AdaptationGilles DeleuzeBefore Sunset, Slavoj Zizek, Polica, Lia Ices, Yoga Sutras.

ordinary affects.

Sometimes you have to pause to catch up with where you already are. – Kathleen Stewart ‘Ordinary Affects’.

The more I think about it, the more I see the world is composed of lines. Everything has its own geography. People too, and bodies. A class of art students can construct you in two minutes, broad strokes of pastel, a rudimentary outline, a few curved and straight lines, somehow capturing your own specific essence. We note the lines of those we observe more closely. We remember the shape of a face, the angles in a foot, creases and dimples, the line of a nose. Lines are what we live by, a myriad of lines from which we select from, or are forced down, or resist. The lines we take and create elaborate a trajectory, they make us up. Like the lines of a hand, they are changeable, fluid, fleshy and living.

Lines can tie us or liberate us, depending. Lines are our lineage. Where do you come from? To be attached to a long line, a family tree that reaches deep, an intense cross-section is to be well drawn out. Not only an outline but a figure fully coloured in. Sometimes we might find ourselves at the end of the line; all antecedents have died out. The line is full of omissions, gaps, and disparity. The self is imbalanced, but light and always shifting. In yoga practice lineage is of utmost significance. Perhaps that’s why we cling to it so, with our blurry outlines; lineage will give us form. But the chatter confuses lineage with authenticity, and oh how tiresome it is. Which is the ‘real’ Ashtanga? Have we not learnt by now the search for origins should not be confused with truthfulness. The origins of a thing does not dictate its form; no living thing remains in a single state but mutates, transforms, grows; it becomes. Over and over. New lines added, taken away, extended, cut short.

The line of sirsasana wavers again. We train ourselves to straighten that which desires to bend and to bend that which desires to be straight. The bending, the folding in two, is my comfort zone, an endurable zone to take hold, to breathe and to think. The fold is the protective zone in which to confront the line, to cross the line, to protect ourselves as we venture outside the familiar. The straight lines are the powerful surge, controlling, and self-assured. Trust yourself they say. The fold says, trust me.

Practice shows me over and again that where I already am is always slightly outside of my conscious awareness. The practice allows the register of all the ordinary affects we collect on our skin in lines, grooves, wear and bruising. It’s only when we pause long enough do we experience all this sensory debris. It is only inside this fold can we see how the cracks have formed. Few things point a way for life through the cracks, an ashtanga practice is one, art another. And with both it is all about alignment, being in line, not too far over the line or too fearful of it; it is a daily confrontation of living on the line.

Affect points to the something not quite already given and yet somehow still happening. It’s being cast into the space of liminality and losing the ability to navigate. It’s desperate attempts to negotiate the space with no signs, or signs too big they are blinding. It’s the encounter, the between-two, the something that lies beyond and outside. It’s where the lines refigure and collide. It’s the suspension of a hopeful love and a waiting scattered with happenings that form into events, and moments that hit you before you have chance to dodge.

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Kathleen Stewart, ‘Ordinary Affects’, (2007). Gilles Deleuze, ‘Negotiations’.

If it were me reading the signs.

from happy 2 b sad: http://happy2bsad.tumblr.com/post/22456669421
from happy 2 b sad

Aloneness forces a sticky form of self-absorption. Gross. Ugh, bad practice.

Its all going in circles again. Hey, wasn’t it this time last year when I was also sobbing uncontrollably in public. The type of sheer sadness that has no precedent. Affect. Pre-language. “Why are you crying?” “I don’t know, I don’t know”. Self-absorption; attention seeker. Feeling everything all the time. One big festering sore. Ugh, gross. Leaky emotions. Get over it.

Emotion is something that gets in the way. It is consuming; it distracts us from our purposes. Crying in public, a bar in Delhi or on the tube home in London, is an inappropriate performance of emotions. It is an act filled with misrecognition and shame.

How to recover from the emotion with no object. It’s untraceable, its a black smear on a page, a screwed up piece of paper. It’s to prepare for an event that has not yet happened. Better to find some temporary housing for all those tears like behind a bedroom door, or someone’s shoulder if you’re lucky.

And what shall we recover? What shall we choose to become? Because I see that realm of no recovery in the not so recessive space of my mind. It is dangerous and terrifying. Sometimes at the start of a yoga practice I imagine a big knotty ball of my unoriginal thoughts, fears and insecurities and hope in the close of practice for a dispersal of that emotion, shedding all that is not serving me to be left only with what is worth carrying. A continual attempt to perform that stuckness and untangle the whole knot. Like writing. To write is to think no longer about it.

I’d quite happily jettison my thoughts for a while. Being an instrument sometimes looks like happiness. At the close of the yoga practice I don’t know what I have lost and gained, I lose myself somewhere after Janu Sirsasana and find that glorious messy place where time and space blurs. The bodily sensitivity is the only guide.

Perhaps we should start seeing those emotions not as disturbances but as a radical act that refreshs our purposes anew. I don’t know, but if it were me reading the signs.

But it doesn’t matter, I’m on my own side now.