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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Something's Rotten, Part Deux

It's been a tough week. The twentieth anniversary of the death of two dear friends, one my college boyfriend, who died in an avalanche. So I'm not feeling frivolous today. 

I mentioned in my post on Status Anxiety, that there was a second book that seemed to be talking about how something’s rotten in the state. Not that I need books to tell me. There’s the news. Ferguson. Baltimore. Albany. Police brutality. Political indifference to civil rights and social welfare. 

Anyway, the second book is called, Depression: A Public Feeling, by Ann Cvetkovich. I read it because a friend wanted to discuss it at her birthday party. Just what I need, another book club, right? Well, I had to go. I was so intrigued by someone who would have such a birthday party. More like an intellectual salon than a party. Serious. A discussion. And in fact, when she introduced me (I had arrived with a delicious artichoke-bean dip and a platter of pita chips), she told the assembled that I belong to several book clubs. Then she turned to me and said she was really glad I had so much experience, because she didn’t know how best to facilitate a discussion. This made me want to stuff a handful of pita chips in my mouth, to stifle a snort. The idea that I could facilitate a serious discussion. Ha! (Not to mention that I’d only skimmed the book). The very idea. I do not normally associate with people in a serious manner. I joke. I pun. I jest. I devolve. If you want me to bring your conversation down to a lower level, burlesque, or even scatological, I’m there.

Well, the book is full of words such as “incommensurability” and phrases such as “the gendering of mental health,” “depression is another manifestation of forms of biopower,” and “the institutionalized use value of theorizing marginalization.” 

Which is to say that I have no idea what I read, except in the broadest terms.
What I could understand of it was this: The prevalence of depression in our society should be examined from a nonmedical point of view. It may actually be a natural response to the unhealthy structures of many of society’s institutions. “The goal is to depathologize negative feelings so that they can be seen as a possible resource for political action rather than as its antithesis, ” says Ann.

The underlying idea is that something is wrong with the culture, not with our depression or anxiety or feelings of worthlessness.  People – activists who want to make changes - have, since 2001 been responding to a “sense that customary forms of political response, including direct action and critical analysis are no longer working either to change the world or to make us feel better.”  After all, we had Bush, and more Bush.

I think what she means to explain is the apparent apathy of the left. She sees apathy as a reaction to disappointment with the slow pace of change in race relations, among other things. She thinks that if people get together and discuss the effect that our institutions have on us, it will help. She wants people to acknowledge exhaustion, hopelessnesss, etc. This will allow the “slow, steady work of resilient survival, utopian dreaming, and other affective tools for transformation.” She sees this as a possible resource for political action.

So this book was published in 2012.

And now there is action. I’m talking about Ferguson, about Baltimore. I’m thinking about that old trope that depression is anger turned inward. Therapy prescribes letting out the anger, acknowledging it. That’s what is happening now, on the streets, on my social media feeds. Do I wish the acknowledgment was nonviolent? I do. But it isn’t my choice. I can’t help feeling that ultimately, these developments are good news for civil rights and race relations. I can’t help feeling the pendulum is swinging back towards a more compassionate view of what society is all about. It’s all about the people, after all. We work, we earn money, we maximize profits – we do this for people. Us. We. We need to take care of each other.

I guess I’m wishing that those disenfranchised activists gain momentum and pick up steam and continue the slow, steady work of transformation.


  1. “The goal is to depathologize negative feelings so that they can be seen as a possible resource..."

    I'm happy I read that tonight. OK, I'm drunk. A response to depression? Who knows? But I made myself dinner. I've been cleaning up. Keeping on keeping on. Ironing my shirts. Not letting the Man get me down.

    The world is fucked, global-warming-wise and otherwise. Society is wrong-headed. What can we do? A precious few feel the call to take care of one another. Find them if you can. Otherwise, be one. Enjoy what you can, do what you can, and when your time comes, be ready.

    1. My God, Horace, you are profound. (I already knew it)! Thanks for the advice. You're one of the ones.