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  • Restless Affects and Democratic DoubtsA Response to Rachel Jones and Moira Fradinger
  • Tina Chanter

I would like to thank both Rachel Jones and Moira Fradinger for their generous, rigorous, careful, and typically thoughtful and thought-provoking responses to my work. Both are scholars for whom I have enormous respect.

Jones follows a certain trajectory through my work, and I think she is absolutely right to articulate it as a dominant motif. Yet as she also points out, in keeping with this very motif, to which I will return, in identifying this as a thematic strand she is at risk of suppressing other tracks that might have been mapped out. Let me begin, then, by taking up the invitation she thereby offers, by briefly indicating another path through my work as I see it, articulated less through theoretical inflection, less schematically, a path that maps itself by way of affective sites of investiture. So much of our theoretical enquiry is undergirded by affective attachments, created by the accidents of history—where, when, and in what circumstances we were born—through the contingent experiences we happen to have had and the pedagogical influences to which we happened to have been exposed, to the particular wounds life inflicts upon us, and to the particular happiness or solace it grants us, to our friendships, to those we have loved and to those we come to love.

I embrace Fradinger’s suggestion that I am something of a radical democrat. So too the quasi-Levinasian sense of the necessity to be open to relationality and answerable to the interlocutor resonates with me, the difficult work of being called to account for what I would call the imaginary (rather than the representations) to which one finds oneself perhaps unconsciously beholden. [End Page 158] Indeed it is this difficult work to which Jones and Fradinger call me, with their challenging and apposite questions, not all of which admit of ready answers.

My own affective genealogies are intimately bound up with the good old British class system as well as with the familial. No matter how adept I might be at deconstructing texts and ideas, no matter how well versed I might be in theory, when it comes to myself, so often, it seems, I find myself stuck, endlessly playing out the same story. I think this can be parsed out in terms of affective attachments; I do not think I am the only one to have discovered so many times that I have been profoundly wrong about profoundly important things.

It is as if before we know it, we discover that we have played out a script—whether it is psychic, familial, or cultural—that has effectively locked us into a Hegelian master-slave narrative. Sometimes it is as if all any of us can ever do is robotically repeat such scenarios, as if we can never achieve anything beyond flipping the narrative, as if we cannot manage to intervene in the narrative itself, no matter how many theories we are armed with. It is as if, time and time again, we trundle along the same grooves that have been etched out for us by some narrative over which we cannot seem to achieve control. There is something automatic, perhaps unconscious, about these scripts to which we discover ourselves to have adhered, despite our best intentions, despite the fact that we know better, despite all our theoretical insights.

It is as if your vision is habituated to a particular scenario, and no matter what you do, it simply keeps repeating itself, taking you by surprise each time. Then something happens, and the details start to compile themselves into another narrative, one that was there all the time, but that you didn’t, you couldn’t, wouldn’t allow yourself to see, to imagine. Only in retrospect do you begin to piece together the signs, to accord significance to the details you somehow managed to dismiss as insignificant, as failing to contribute any coherence or salience. You saw the individual details, but they didn’t add up to a compelling narrative. Or maybe you just didn’t want to be compelled by it...

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