Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Affect Feature—Issue 55, July 2015)

Kyoo Lee1
YOU Affect:
U, a new-I?


When Thou is spoken,

the speaker has no thing for his object.

—Martin Buber (1923), I and Thou

What’s With U?

“1961. Listen,” says Jean-Paul Sartre in his preface to The Wretched of the Earth (1961) by Frantz Fanon:

“Let us waste no time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Leave this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the globe … ” The tone is new. Who dares to speak thus? It is an African, a man from the Third World, an ex-“native.”

[ … ]

Fanon has nothing in for you at all; his work—red-hot for some—in what concerns you is as cold as ice; he speaks of you often, never to you … In short, the Third World finds itself and speaks itself through his voice.3 (emphases added)

Like you, I’m into you you’re speaking of rather than to, through whom a certain voice is heard as if in soliloquy, a self-dialogue where I would hear my “own” voice like it is yours, the conversation partner, however silent that part remains, however silently such part departs as it becomes part of what is called myself—& vice versa.

To paraphrase Sartre’s premonition there, what he says or whatever is said about “you” as in Dear You or Dxxx You or F, does seem to come down to this: “Listen, pay attention, Fanon is longer talking to us,” as Walter Mignolo re-amplifies it in 2013; Us, who? I find myself wondering. Whoever we think we are (not)? “Europeans” or/and “Non-European thinkers and philosophers” who also can, “yes, we can,” think? Does anyone have any clearer idea about this conjunction-disjunction, what to make of this hinge, that line to be drawn between, say, “us” and/or “them”? At least, the “take-home” message I suppose we could try to unpack more slowly, perhaps more structurally, is this, that if & when Fanon talks to us, he is part of us; if not, then he’s not … ? Again I’m unsure-clear. Such a communication breakdown, both epochal and everyday, happening everywhere on a local and global scale, shows at least where the enduring abyss or the proverbial gray area lies … lies? To whom does the “wretchedness” of the situation belong, to echo Fanon again? Where & how are we to resituate or animate “I/You/We” in this social field evacuated, ripped apart, like that? Besides: why this “turning” away or the other way and who, whom?

Perhaps then, it is not a turn to “you” that we should pay attention to, but rather a U-turn, a turn you would make toward yourself … to an (other) “I” … That is to say: everyone is and to a certain extent should be making a “YOU” turn to himself or herself when, yes, addressing you. The U of this turn to you, a necessary bubble of reflexive narcissism à la Derrida in mourning,4 effects an “auto-affection” in & of the soul, its “hetero-affection”: “auto-hetero-affection,” “the affect of the other”5 in one.

Consider the other way around, too. St. Augustine, for instance, might still be talkin’ to us, so to speak. He speaks to God rather than of, when he prays, “O Lord My God, tell me what you are to me,”6 quite a convoluted, almost passive-aggressive, way to praise Him. This act of addressing the Holy while assigning Him to an elevated position in the personified universe, rhymes inversely with the shadow of U/u seen above: turning to God, “Thou,” I, Augustine, turn thee into God, “It,” that is not just it, however. How & when does “you” become us, to whom I, too, come when you come into being? What is (involved in) this U-turn or turn to/away from you? U, where?

You see, tricky, yes, but anyway, without you, poetry—or maybe I mean poets—might not go on, I’ve come to see … with Lyn Hejinian, for instance, as she affirms:

Poetics is not personal. A poetics gets formed in and as a relationship with the world … of uncertainty, of doubt, difficulty, and strangeness. Such a poetics is inevitably contradictory, dispersive, and incoherent while sustaining an ethos of linkage. It exhibits disconnection while hoping to accomplish reconnection.7

Poetrees need “you”/U/u in various fonts & formats in order to be and be saved, to keep growing. Not personal but relational, not entirely private or plainly public but rather structurally porous and porously stratified, the lyrical structure of the very:

ambiguous voice, straddling the line between public importance and private reflection … is always somewhat subversive. It separates the individual from his or her communal ties and responsibilities, and examines his or her most intimate thoughts and feelings, in the process lifting a corner of that veil of socially useful repression which allows us to interact with one another in a reasonably civilized manner.8

“You,” the second person singular-plural, shuttling between and circulating through “I” and “we,” might just be the invisible, anonymous bridge or buffer zone between this me & that me, a tie that arises relationally, or performatively, with the immediate & fluid intimacy of a call. “Hey (You),” a vocal materialization of interpellational ekphrasis or indexicalized existence, brings out the intersubjective you in every one that instantly becomes part of “us.” Yet, this relational you often gets folded, rewritten, recruited, into the speculative force of a “look (le regard)”:

Look, a Negro!, Maman, a Negro!

Ssh! You’ll make him angry. Don’t pay attention to him, monsieur, he doesn’t realize you’re just as civilized as we are.9

You are a singularized inter-subject or an anthropomorphized object that, in either case, glues or detaches me and us, connecting and disconnecting. In this now rather classical Fanonian seizure of the third person singular (« Tiens, un nègre ! »), namely, the other you (e.g., “You, a Negro”) I’m calling your (e.g., “You, [my] Maman”) attention to, the second person proper is dis-regarded/sociated/counted, becoming improper, which is why the more civilized Maman would feel compelled to speak for her son, also civilized like “us,” except that he does not know it yet. With that, your cloud-colored social ontology gets, quite simply, registered, filed, or profiled as we say these days, while your subjectivity and humanity and historicity and all that gets “un(der)recognized,” to use the speculative idiom of the classical Hegel-Sartrean dialectic. Here you are, you, this name, called into (the other) being, incited to self-recognize as YOU/u, become a petrified s-object as if suddenly becoming devoid of the psycho-grammatical scaffolding of U connecting & sustaining us, we good folks. No wonder then, as Walter Benjamin quips, “quotations in my work are like wayside robbers who leap out armed and relieve the stroller of his conviction,”10 exception that we are now asking whose citational conviction you are talkin’ about here … 

Still you remain phenomenal, a vocal source and elision: one persists, so to speak. You, through & in & to whom the lyrical I could survive as well as access the world of objects & their filing cabinets, might then or should ask (me) in turn: what’s with you?—between rhetoric & lyric, one finds you questioning and questioned. U return.

We listen—must?

Listen, I have been educated.

I have learned about Western

Civilization. Do you know

What the message of Western

Civilization is? I am alone.

Am I alone tonight?

—Eileen Myles (1991), “An American Poem,” Not Me

What’s Affecting U?

“It’s finally your turn, and then it’s not as he … ,” notes she, Claudia Rankine. What’s going on? What’s stopping you? Who’s stopped by? Here’s the scene, a mini-cinema:

In line at the drugstore it’s finally your turn, and then it’s not as he walks in front of you and puts his things on the counter. The cashier says, Sir, she was next. When he turns to you he is truly surprised.

Oh my God, I didn’t see you.

You must be in a hurry, you offer.

No, no, no, I really didn’t see you.11

With Erica Hunt, I too sense “volumes of nuance” in the word “you” there:

These uses of “you” compass multiple points of reference, at times denoting an internal “you”—the “you” of self-talk and admonition—and at other times, the performing “you,” as if spoken by a stage director guiding an enactment of the social self.

Note, with us, or outside Us, that meta-phoric-positional nuance, yes I do don’t mean metaphysical nonsense: the multivocality and localizability of “you” as a sort of mobile first person singular-plural living through a lyrical space without lyrics. There, around and across this zone of contrapuntal lyricism, “you,” a topoanalytical stand-in for an “I,” affectively effects a randomized triangulation of “us,” the temporary geometry of a relation; “affect” taken here “as a suspension of action-reaction circuits and linear temporality in a sink of what might be called “passion,”12 keeps this poetic energy of self-observation not only phenomenologically visible but allegorically palpable.

How does it feel to be a problem?” Sure, and more specifically, the question I feel one should also follow is: how does it feel to see the other not seeing the problem? Or to go more ontological (or hauntological à la Derrida) with that scopic drive: how does the problem of the other make one—me, you, us?—feel? Go further, go figure:

How does it feel not to feel? Who knows: such problems of social blockage and affective zoning, of the lines drawn by “color,” “gender,” “class,” “culture,” etc., so-contrasted, so-ignored, so-used, tend to be “felt” frontmost and foremost, registered feelingly first, especially by those readily sliced and shuffled by those persistent, problematic categories.13

In that regard, Jorie Graham’s exhortation that “fighting the dissociation of feeling from thinking is still our priority” remains vitally instructive. Yet at the same time, you might also like to go and ask … I suppose, at some poetry counter or discount center if there’s any near you: what could be or how would I access—feel—my “feeling” today, especially in the age of surface, flat-screen economy rendered globe-round by the epochal turn to some digito-facial “U,” yes YOU an Amazonian primal member of the DigitALL Three-Star customer units we all care about, the ones desiring and desired by X through some apps that would pre-structure and predicts the “feelings” and behaviors of connect/disconnect themselves? How do we keep poetic spacetime itself on, when it seems always about to be switched off?

If the rule of the day is techno-mediated meditation, abstraction, fragmentation, codification, circulation … including dissociation which is perhaps necessary as a counter-strategy for survival, should you, the poet, also try to name or counter-name, say, the feeling of the day, however soupy, the sort to jolt the e-readers like you at 7am everyday? You remain ambivalent, at least some(what), lingering between on and off. What I am led to think—or feel—more about, part, I’d assume, of this philopoetic imperative, is the structured materiality of affective events as well as experiences: that invisible door, hinge, of affective “push & pull” differentially repeated as such, as well as the emotional tides of quotidian temporality, the shifty boundaries rising in the socially nuanced evocation of yoU, the randomly specific second person-in-waiting that comes to and becomes you as if in subversion or subvention support, all in the circuit city of the dialogical indexicality of selfhood or do I mean selfiehood.

To return: we, you & I, are back to the zone of proto-Fanonian “seizure/hold” in and of embodied consciousness, where one becomes self-conscious as if U enter(s) it as “a look,” like a hook that arrests one however visibly or invisibly, lovingly or not. Such psychosomatic, im-mediate, in-stantaneous bodily forces of affect, especially the socially “interactive” kind including dissociative, whether analog or digital, both eventual, capture & contextualize a self in motion, however sudden or subtle, where the soul is contracted & expanded through a touch with & of a so-called moment called into being, calling for the moment, the singular duoliteral ye, “the|you” in one.

Since thou and I sigh one another’s breath,

Whoe’er sighs most is cruellest, and hastes the other’s death.

—John Donne (1611/2), “A Valediction: of Weeping”


1I dedicate this essay to the loving memory of Abby Stein.
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2Hito Steyerl, “Portrait of an intern as found online. The intern is named Justine, like the main character in Marquis de Sade’s 1791 book Justine, or The Misfortunes of Virtue,” in The Wretched of the Screen (NYC: E-Flux Journal/Stenberg Press, 2013), 106.
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3Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove Press, 1963), 9-10.
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4Kyoo Lee, “A Meditation on Knell, Funeral Melancholia and the Question of Self-Reflexivity: “to Whom Would the Reflexive be Returned?,” Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 7: 2 (2002), 93-105.
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5Adrian Johnston and Catherine Malabou, Self and Emotional Life: Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 20.
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6St. Augustine, Chapter 5: Augustine’s Prayer in The Confessions of Saint Augustine (NYC: The Crown Publishing Group, 2011), 4.
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7Lyn Hejinian, “Poetic Statement: Some Notes toward a Poetics,” in American Women Poets in the 21st Century, ed. Claudia Rankine and Juliana Spahr (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press), 235.
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8Paul Allen Miller, Lyric Texts and Lyric Consciousness: The Birth of a Genre from Archaic Greece to Augustan Rome (New York: Routledge, 1994), 124, 127.
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9Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 2008), 93.
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10Walter Benjamin, “Hardware,” One-Way Street and Other Writings, trans. Edmund Jephcott and Kingsley Shorter (London: NLB, 1979), 95.
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11Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2014).
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12Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), 28.
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13Kyoo Lee, “Why Asian Female Stereotypes Matter to All: Beyond Black and White, East and West,” Critical Philosophy of Race 1: 1 (2013), 89.
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