Reflecting On Other People’s Notions of Ambivalence

“[Adrienne Rich] takes on a deliberately Keatsian tone, as if in elegy for a succulent linguistic register she cannot unironically adopt, a tuneful (and classically scanned) mode that represents a morally contaminated real of l’art pour l’art, of aesthetics divorced from politics. She momentarily speaks within this storied, musically opulent tonality; that sumptuousness of sound and syllable–a giddy balance between utmost clarity and a dripping sensitivity to the beauties of what I call “bower consciousness,” an Arcadian realm in which an Adonis is always lying down to sleep or die–is rightfully hers. [And yet–] a sense of dramatic conflict, of molten and conscience-stricken self-scrutiny, the intensity of a great poet examining her own tools and finding them inadequate to the high, stern task […] I listen with eagerness and tenderness for the moments when she lets her musicality unfurl itself, not in pompous or meaningless display but in full consciousness of its sensational power to influence the receptive reader’s mind and body.

From The Dream of a Common Language: “My heart is moved by all I cannot save:/ so much has been destroyed//I have to cast my lot with those/who age after age, perversely,// with no extraordinary power,/reconstitute the world.”

“‘My heart is moved by all I cannot save’ is a resource she will soon be forced to abandon because its heart is contaminated. Rich’s conflicted relation to the linguistic beauties she had the power to command gave her poetry its forcefulness. She was never reciting conclusions reached outside the poem; she was always waging the war–against herself, against her own language–within the poem itself.”


“Bloom: Falling love with a poem or falling in love with a play or character is not greatly different from a young man and a young woman. […] You fall out of love with particular poems and poets. But without that initial falling in love, I don’t think the work of memory begins, I don’t think possession can take place. When I wrote The Anxiety of Influence, it didn’t occur to me to talk about ambivalence coming only after love. I took it for granted, and people slammed me for it. […] I realized that literary love was indeed the crucial element and that the question of agony, of struggle, or retreat, of ambivalence, only comes after the initial act of handing oneself over. [Why is Shakespeare so important?] Shakespeare takes stock of reality, because things that have always been there, nobody would have been able to see if he hadn’t shown us that they were there.”
–Selections from the 16th issue of Pen America.


“2. ambivalence, the strategy of creating distractions to re-direct one’s attention away from the source of anxiety, i.e. fear of annihilation or engulfment (loss of self). When there is impasse in the struggle between libido and mortido, when neither gains the advantage, then movement ceases and paralysis sets in: stalemate. In stalemate, the battle rages on, usurping all available energy. The opposite of ambivalence is a rigid intolerance for ambiguity, nuance or paradox. The synthesis of the two is “passionate commitment in the face of ambiguity.” 

[…]”What we call normality in psychology is really a psychopathology of the average, so undramatic and so widely spread that we don’t even notice it.’ He referred to peak experiences as incorporating altruistic love and will, humanitarian action, artistic and scientific inspiration, philosophic and spiritual insight, and the drive toward purpose and meaning in life.”

[…] Paradoxical intention, to release dysfunctional aspects of oneself by first fully accepting them.

[…] Ambivalence: this strategy creates distractions to re-direct one’s attention away from the source of anxiety. It is the “maximizing strategy” of preoccupation with both what is wanted and what is not. This person feels uncertainty as to whether the other will be available and responsive when needed. This uncertainty causes the individual to grasp at and cling to relationships, while at the same time directly unresolved anger at the other in the relationship. Intimacy alternates with hostility. Hostility may be equated with intimacy. Distraction requires drama and chaos; therefore a quiet or uneventful environment is experienced as threatening. This person grew up with a parent who gave partial and inconsistent attention to the child, or who controlled the child with separation and threats of abandonment. The unpredictability of parental caregiving conditioned this child to anticipate the parent’s state of mind, and to get the needed attention by doing the opposite of what the parent is doing. What the parent is ignoring the child, or attending inappropriately, the child becomes increasingly demanding and aggressive. When the parent is attending to the child, because the attention is usually overly intrusive, the child withdraws passively, becoming emotionally distant. In other words, this strategy hyperactivates, or under-regulates, emotional display, creating chaotic impulsivity. The underlying fear in this strategy is the loss of self. To stop the pattern of both clinging and distancing, to commit to only one path, feels like it would guarantee never getting basic needs met. These people have identified with both polar opposites, and their very identity depends on maintaining both. (sincoff, sroufe, main) 

This person’s fear of autonomy comes about initially through the infant’s consistent defensive choice to avoid the anxiety inherent in any attempt at autonomy. This child’s separation/individuation attempts have all been undermined, either by the parent’s lack of attention or by the punishment of rejection. The fear of autonomy can eventually manifest as success phobia (Krueger). Indeed, of the three strategies, the ambivalent individual exhibits the strongest fear of death, including the loss of his/her social identity.

[…] Indeed, he has a volatile love/hate relationship with God. His simultaneous sense of entitlement and unworthiness guarantees lots of drama in his life and immense sadness over all the lost opportunities for connection. 

[..] These children, then, are not congruent with their age: they are childish and demanding at times, like little old men or women at others.

[…] A child may project the good parts of self out on the external world as a way to protect the purity of that quality, or as a way to attempt repair of what is perceived to be broken […] This expelling of good qualities of self depletes a child of his/her own capacities of love and goodness, resulting in the ego becoming actually depleted through splitting and projection.The valuable quality has been rejected, and remains unavailable to the person over the ensuing lifetime. This inner resource needs to be retrieved deliberately and therapeutically ( a shamanistic procedure) to further the individual’s healing. We virtually always incorporate some form of retrieval of inner resources in the age-regressed ego state in which those resources were lost/rejected/dissociated. […] A child that does not introject admired qualities, who remains fixated in projective identification, develops a ‘pseudo-mature’ character structure, Winnicott’s ‘false self.’ The child has stolen through imitation the outward appearance of admired others, without maturing his/her true self from within. 

[…] “Resistance provides a valuable benefit to the individual experiencing inner conflict: the pinpointing of what intrapsychic areas would be most fruitfully explored to produce growthful change (Yurk, 94). It is an existential Geiger counter locating the deepest veins of buried treasure, the areas of psychic pain and anxiety that are best defended and therefore most central to profound healing.The resistance Geiger counter also quantifies the magnitude of the challenge needed to uncover and overcome it, i.e., the greater the resistance, the greater the opportunity for deep healing. 

[Energetic psychodrama.] “For the individual whose theme in life is resistance, the temptation arises upon discovery of the pattern to fight against it, push back, reject and resist it. Of course, that is the pattern. Such a person would do well to emulate the Aikido master and welcome the resistance itself, to play with it, give in to it while remaining alert to ways of redirecting the energy.” 


True to form, some of this rings true for me, but it also makes me FURIOUS. 

“A child may project the good parts of self out on the external world as a way to protect the purity of that quality, or as a way to attempt repair of what is perceived to be broken […] This expelling of good qualities of self depletes a child of his/her own capacities of love and goodness, resulting in the ego becoming actually depleted through splitting and projection.” This quote fills me with a sense of foreboding. Robin Williams once said: “Comedy is acting out optimism.” 

His death hit close to home for me, because I’ve always had this hope that if I just act out optimism enough, I’ll be able to will it into existence. I’ve always truly believed that we co-create our reality together and that I have to sort of “be the change” as it were. For a few weeks, the fact that someone like Robin Williams could kill himself, seemingly undermined for me the idea that performatism can actually bridge the gap between the spiritually void postmodern irony and authentic spiritual experience. But this idea was never predicated on transcendental truth, it was and is predicated upon interpersonal faith. Faith in ourselves and in each other is therefore paramount to the success of the performatist experiment. 

That’s why questions of when and how we resist, ambivalence on an ethical level, distractibility of a personal and cultural nature….all of these issues are interconnected. 

A coworker told me the other day that I have a high emotional valence. That I’m constantly fluttering between loving everything and being furious. Acting out my anger, not truly being with it like those buddhists were saying. I’m acting out anger, I’m acting out optimism. Looks like these child psychologists were right. “Intimacy alternates with hostility.” 

Their view of ambivalence as a defense mechanism is defined in the opposite way that I’ve been using it. I’ve been advocating an embrace of ambivalence, an integration of the polarized states into one whole being. Here, these guys are saying that it’s an issue of chronic flip-flopping. That the two states aren’t being integrated. That a choice isn’t being made. 

Kierkegaard has some interesting things to say that I’ll add in here later.

Basically, though, the takeaway seems to be that rather than intellectually trying to reconcile my ambivalence, or act out both extremes, I should be striving at all times to act in true congruence with some holistic, intuitive originating point. The Kierkegaard is crucial to this point, so I’ll expand upon it later. Citations are forthcoming. 


I Think I’m Over Nonviolence

As goes my penchant for stumbling upon books in a particularly synchronous manner, I’ve recently picked up a book called “How Nonviolence Protects the State” by Peter Gelderloos. And ho ho oh boy…my thoughts about this topic are rapidly developing in the direction of a decisively clenched fist. God damn. It’s when I read shit like this that really opens my eyes that I feel most like the Huge Racist Idiot I’ve been trained to be. The indoctrination runs deep, my friends. Best to stay humble, because this shit is fucking EVERYWHERE. Tell ’em what’s up, Petey:

“Pacifism as an ideology comes from a privileged context. It ignores that violence is already here; that violence is an unavoidable, structurally integral part of the current social hierarchy; and that it is people of color who are most affected by that violence. Pacifism assumes that white people who grew up in the suburbs with all their basic needs met can counsel oppressed people, many of whom are people of color, to suffer patiently under an inconceivably greater violence, until such time as the Great White Father is swayed by the movement’s demands or the pacifists achieve that legendary “critical mass.”

People of color in the internal colonies of the US cannot defend themselves against police brutality or expropriate the means of survival to free themselves from economic servitude. They must wait for enough people of color who have attained economic privilege (the “house slaves” of Malcolm X’s analysis) and conscientious white people to gather together and hold hands and sing songs. Then, they believe, change will surely come. People in Latin America must suffer patiently, like true martyrs, while white activists in the US “bear witness” and write to Congress. People in Iraq must not fight back. Only if they remain civilians will their deaths by counted and mourned by white peace activists who will, one of these days, muster a protest large enough to stop the war.

[…] Pacifists must know, at least subconsciously, that nonviolence is an absurdly privileged position, so they make frequent usage of race by taking activists of color out of their contexts and selectively using them as spokespersons for nonviolence. […] Even Gandhi and King agreed it was necessary to support armed liberation movements (citing as examples those in Palestine and Vietnam, respectively) where there was no nonviolent alternative, clearly prioritizing goals over particular tactics. But the mostly white pacifists of today erase this part of history and re-create nonviolence to fit their comfort level, even when “claiming the mantle” of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. One gets the impression that if Martin Luther King Jr. were to come in disguise to one of these pacifist vigils, he would not be allowed to speak. As he pointed out:

‘Apart from bigots and backlashers, it seems to be a malady even among those whites who like to regard themselves as “enlightened.” I would especially refer to those who counsel, “Wait!” and to those who say that they sympathize with our goals but cannot condone our methods of direct-action in pursuit of those goals. I wonder at men who dare to feel that they have some paternalistic right to set the timetable for another man’s liberation.'”

Seriously, fellow peace-loving white people of the racist matrix, read this book and take your medicine.

I had someone at the grocery market today ask me why I was working for mental health reform instead of trying to change the socioeconomic conditions that lead so many to become so fucking depressed in the first place. Well, guy who works at the deli and knows a lot more about nutrition than me but that doesn’t give you a right to dig on the things I care about person, everything is important and connected, but quite frankly, this one’s personal. Mental health reform is an issue close to my heart. There are a great many things that I care about, but I’ve got a itch I gotta scratch when it comes to our fucked up mental healthcare system and I’m gunning it for it first. I also believe that changes to our current paradigms of mental health are directly tied to issues of resistance. You need a basic degree of de-conditioning and a lot of internal support and faith in yourself in order to fight back against systematic oppression. Our fucked up mental healthcare system invigorates our patriarchal colonialist society by telling people their pain is all in their heads. That there’s nothing to worry about, that they’re chemically imbalanced if they try to resist.

Feeling at home in your own skin does not necessitate complacency in the face of evil. Thinking back to the whole buddhist transforming anger thing, and also to some stuff I heard Maya Angelou say to Dave Chappelle about how you must use your anger but must never become bitter, I think it is important to cultivate a calm presence *within* your anger. To be able to act decisively and deliberately and authentically in the service of what you believe in. That’s the position from which a diversity of tactics is really going to take its power. But also, fuck it! Let’s burn this fucker down! Consider me rabble- roused.

Dear Men’s Rights Activists….

Dear American Men’s Rights Activists (aka White, Male, Masculine, Able-bodied, Cis-gendered, and Heterosexual Assholes Who Want To Add “Victim-Complex” to The List of Complexes That Work to Benefit Them In Our Fucked Up Society),

The day someone can show me a men’s rights group that actively works toward solving the legitimate problems facing male-bodied individuals today and doesn’t just flounder about bitching about feminists, looking for any loosely socially acceptable platform to engage in some Class-A woman-hating. The day someone can show me a men’s rights group that isn’t ableist or racist, that doesn’t engage in countless blatant acts of aggression toward the LGBTA community or feel threatened by even the basic idea of femininity itself, and that actively supports groups fighting to end other instantiations of systematic oppression. That day, and that day alone, will be the day I don’t think that literally all men’s rights groups are ridiculously stupid.

To all of you who don’t have the capacity for empathy or basic respect for human decency to understand why I feel this way, think of it from a pragmatic standpoint: there is a real and actual need for quality activism today that focuses on the issues that pertain to the specifically male-bodied. When you make these issues a matter of “real men” VS “feminists”, you simplify and distort the fact that each of our grievances comprises a small part of the same overarching systemic problems and utterly fail to account for the intersectional forces at work, erasing the important narratives within your OWN communities.

I want men to have a life free of oppression as much as I want that for women, but it’ll be impossible for any us to secure the rights and freedoms we’re fighting for in a long-term sustainable way unless we recognize and ally ourselves with each other’s struggles. That means all of them. I don’t have to bring our disparate philosophies of morality and personal responsibility into this conversation to convince you to care about people other than yourself. You will NOT get what you claim you want – and you will definitely not be able to keep it – unless the rest of us do too. That should be reason enough for you to slap on a rainbow pin, shout “Death to the Patriarchy!”, and start supporting the groups who want to change all the racist laws that have killed, denied or put in prison the men you claim to represent. But I really don’t care anymore if you can’t see that.

I want to build a future that all of us want to live in. But if you refuse to see that we have a personal stake in each other’s struggles, and if you prioritize your desire to uphold some arbitrary abstract absolute over the actual lived experiences of even the people within your OWN communities, then you have not earned a seat at the table. You are not even invited to the discussion. And if you get in my way, I will cut you down.


Someone Who Isn’t Taking Any More of Your Shit