All of us are feeling it, the sudden shift in mood and content from one day to the next. Here we are trying to react to this new present. I for one haven’t any words yet for this funk that leaves me driving around weeping to Martha Wainwright midday. I’m supposed to suffer through this, is what I gather from the day’s intel. I’m reliving an incident from my past. Time travel prompts a return of the repressed. I’m here to revisit an old knot of sorrow: a scene of fantasy that ended poorly when pursued in the past. The hope is that in my behaving differently this time, we can heal.
Having completed several books that I’d been reading of late, I hear Frankie’s friend Rachel asking, “What do we do?” Rachel is a YouTuber who makes educational content for toddlers. Upbeat sing-a-longs; skits; introductions to letters, shapes, and colors. Her question resonates. Ever since waking to this morning’s solar eclipse, sun and moon conjuncted in Gemini, I’ve felt the approach of a new pattern. As if to confirm the morning’s feelings of apprehension and foreboding, the air unit kicks out — a problem we determine come evening. But no bother. Lightning bugs greet me as I sit for the first time in our new glider bench on the front porch. Breathing deeply, I contemplate the cosmos. Others are doing what I’d hoped to do: researching green gnosis, practicing re-paganization, hosting conferences on acid communism. Time for something new.
The gardener in me wants to cook — so why don’t I? And why am I erupting with anger here at the end of another round of grading? I should be pleased and gracious. Instead I behave poorly, in ways that I regret. Sarah and I haven’t had time to communicate much of late. Her parents have come to visit. They’re helping with Frankie as we complete projects around the house. Some of my anger is admittedly distant in origin: anger, for instance, over the Israeli settler-state’s murderous deployment of military and mob violence against the people of Gaza. And of course, anger over the usual ideological bullshit: conservative narratives spewing forth from talking heads, speech-bubbles of blah spreading via News app and word of mouth. Anger about traffic and construction; anger about time-poverty. Hunger for “reality” — as opposed to this dreaded “normal” to which some wish to return. But much of what I’m feeling here — my “negative affect,” as the APA would say — is of a more proximate sort: oikos-derived, interpersonal in nature, inspired by the terms by which I live. Therein lies the dilemma: for what am I to do?
The Unconscious talks across the divide. Through dreamwork it produces aspects of itself, events and encounters of each day “affected,” given to rise amid the lifeworld of the Ego, the Cogito, the “Subject.” Facets of the Akashic records surprise as they arise like flowers from the soil of routine. The process I’m describing is a bit like “hyperstition,” CCRU’s term for the way fictions make themselves real. (One could also liken it, though, to those acts of “time-walking” or “time-spinning” practiced by the creatures in the Deborah Harkness-inspired TV series A Discovery of Witches. Bodies of past selves inhabited by future minds.)
Utopias and dystopias promote and project contrary “affects” or (to use Raymond Williams’s term) “structures of feeling.” Reading Philip K. Dick’s drug dystopia A Scanner Darkly, one feels deflated. One would rather get stoned. Stand around in the yard, share a joint and chat about bats, skunks, porcupines, dogs, and gardens with one’s elders. “Bats are interesting,” says a friend’s mother.
I read an article about “zozobra,” a concept devised by Mexican philosophers of the early 20th century. Zozobra names a type of anxiety. For the philosopher Emilio Uranga, “Zozobra refers to a mode of being that incessantly oscillates between two possibilities, between two affects, without knowing which one of those to depend on.” “Zozobra,” write the article’s coauthors, “is a soul-sickness,” a “gnawing sense of distress” due to “cracks in the frameworks of meaning that we rely on to make sense of our world.” Figures like Jorge Portilla proposed what the authors call a “nationalist” solution to this crisis, with leadership intervening to construct “a coherent horizon of understanding at the national level…a shared sense of what is real and what matters.” Is the US, as these authors suggest, afflicted with zozobra? Is zozobra another name for what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics”? Haven’t frameworks of meaning always been sites of struggle between dominant and subordinate groups — classes, sects, tribes, etc. — as per Gramsci? To understand zozobra as a distinct affect, I hear myself thinking, one needs to situate it amid what was happening in 1950s Mexico, this being the moment and place of the term’s theorization. With spring underway, though, the concept slips away from me and evaporates — for my mood is less one of anxiety than one of excitement.