Bear looking at bird with fish in mouth

Espial: Fear

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Your Reading Materials Found Here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/a2re5fhilgt21yp/Fear_ReadingMaterials.pdf?dl=0

One of my favorite heard phrases is the idea of “100% fear” — finding the impetus & driving mechanism for an instance or a journey arise from 100% fear. It decrees: yes, I am a terrified creature and, yes, I achieve! 

A boss I had when I was younger once asked me, out of the blue, “Why do you look so terrified all the time?” 

I don’t have a tremendous answer. I feel the sources for each of these anecdotes as oppositional poles. Fear is a deck of cards, a thousand faces, a power. I think there is a power in being afraid, but power isn’t necessarily the most joyful of outcomes on any given subject. 

What one knows of the motivations of and histories surrounding fear influence their capacity of making meaning from that near-disastrous venom. After one learns to respect fear, how can one then act both in accordance and under supervision by it? 

In looking through these readings, I hope to begin a conversation wherein both negative and positive outcomes of fear can be considered in provoking and expanding manners. 

The defiant gull and perturbed but not aggressive bear, in a battle of patience. Courtesy of Lee Pastewka.

Reading #1:

Isabell Lorey, “Precariousness and Precarity”

Abdellatif Laâbi,

  1. “The Sun is Dying”
  2. “Back and Burden”

Ruminations: 

Lorey, “As that which is shared, which is at once divisive and connective, precariousness denotes a relational difference, a shared differentness. What is connective is not a pre-existing common good to which one could have recourse, instead it is something that is only engendered in political and social agency.”

Laâbi, “We have closed books / short and long / so as to learn solely by intuition / from our injuries / We have opened our eyes / to our so fragile planet / and stood guard over its lungs / Oh yes, we have learnt much / from our defeats”

Lorey’s “Precariousness and Precarity,” is an essay that I think prefaces fear extremely well. Precarity, as a concept explored by Lorey, contends with many of the factors at work in fear studies and their greater resonances throughout socio-emotive standards. It does not seem right to try to contend with the beneficial ramifications or alterations of fear prior to developing our understanding of what current discourses around fear result in for a populace; Lorey dives into it here, “As that which is shared, which is at once divisive and connective, precariousness denotes a relational difference, a shared differentness. What is connective is not a pre-existing common good to which one could have recourse, instead it is something that is only engendered in political and social agency.”

Of course, there is no greater creative interpretation of a theory towards socio-cultural impact than well-crafted poetry (you can quote me on this if I’m wrong). Laâbi, a political prisoner in his own right, has written some of the most expansive and profound monologues on fear and fear-based suffering through this interrelationship of political consequence and necessary voice.  “We have closed books / short and long / so as to learn solely by intuition / from our injuries / We have opened our eyes / to our so fragile planet / and stood guard over its lungs / Oh yes, we have learnt much / from our defeats,” writes Laâbi, in a way that serves as both a reminder and an encouragement as we continue our probing of fear. 

Exercise #1:

When I think of the times I’ve been defeated, they inspire fear in me at the prospect of repeating them and being defeated once more. I once tried to shovel out fifty cars in a parking lot during a blizzard in upstate, New York. I was defeated and exhausted and frozen. Just days after tearing my ACL, I drove my friends to the midnight premiere of Hunger Games on an unhealthy and ignorant level of painkillers and then walked a mile back to my dorm at 4am, well after these painkillers wore off. I was defeated. 

Think of a time when you have been defeated. Are you fearful of adding more defeats to your history? 

Take a sheet of paper and draw a line across it in the middle. Write your defeats that inspire fear on one side and write them in as large of a text as you feel they warrant in terms of affect. Write your defeats that don’t inspire fear on the other side, similarly writing them in as large of a text as you feel they warrant. These might make you laugh, or might give you confidence. How does the battleground stack-up? How might combat be drawn? Could you imagine the two sides coming to a resolution, joining together? Does a defeat on each side start to romance, and the rest of them gossip? 

Characterize your defeats so as to familiarize yourself with their pursuant fears. 

Reading #2:

Jaspir K. Puar, “Hetero- and Homonationalisms”

Asne Seierstad, “Sleep in a Cold Room…”

Fleur Jaeggy, “Last of the Line”

Ruminations: 

Puar, “They mess around with gender, but at the expense of race, which must remain transparent and stable, a hallmark of much feminst Marxist scholarship. Thus the script is mainly inverted, not subverted. The reliance on binaried positionalities lingers; even analyses that do center sexuality tend to be restricted by their articulation of whiteness as a queer norm.”

Seierstad, “The deportation is the greatest trauma the Chechen people have suffered. Almost a third of the population died on the way to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan during the first months in exile.”

Jaeggy, “Their interlaced fingers are resting on the table, like pieces of heavy wood. Their every word proceeded slowly from their mouths. The eyes serene. The brows furrowed by an absence of mirth. They were proud and looked like outcasts. “We don’t know,” they answered at last. From their tone it seemed they were alluding to a threat, or simply to this — that not knowing is completion. The child asks once again, “Have you by any chance dared to look for those who no longer exist?” They answered in a chorus. They do not go looking for miracles, or for sacrificial lambs.”

Seierstad sets the room with the excerpted chapter here, “The deportation is the greatest trauma the Chechen people have suffered. Almost a third of the population died on the way to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan during the first months in exile.” After contending with fear in a bridgingly metaphysical and political discourse with the first sets of reading, now we continue with trying to increase the tangibility and effects of a national discourse rooted in fear. 

Three crows surrounding a great horned owl.

What does it mean to live in a fearful nation? Is there a nation that is unafraid? And what are acceptable fears to publicize as a nation? Seierstad speaks of a genocide, and Puar helps to extrapolate how a national conscious is shifted into tolerating first inhumane behaviors, then crimes against humanity. Puar’s work looks toward the churning evolution of a multiscalar discourse that purposefully obfuscates a direction for a national attention so as to give ease-of-birth for fear related to the unknown: “They mess around with gender, but at the expense of race, which must remain transparent and stable, a hallmark of much feminst Marxist scholarship. Thus the script is mainly inverted, not subverted. The reliance on binaried positionalities lingers; even analyses that do center sexuality tend to be restricted by their articulation of whiteness as a queer norm.”

I included Jaeggy here as she has among the most perfect excerpted paragraph I could ask for to respond to both Seierstad and Puar: “Their interlaced fingers are resting on the table, like pieces of heavy wood. Their every word proceeded slowly from their mouths. The eyes serene. The brows furrowed by an absence of mirth. They were proud and looked like outcasts. “We don’t know,” they answered at last. From their tone it seemed they were alluding to a threat, or simply to this — that not knowing is completion. The child asks once again, “Have you by any chance dared to look for those who no longer exist?” They answered in a chorus. They do not go looking for miracles, or for sacrificial lambs.”

Exercise #2: 

Addressing nation-based fear, oftentimes, is not particularly sustainable or practical. As difficult as it is to admit, for most of the people provoked into the most consistent fears regarding their nation, one does not have access to the privilege to simply walk into the areas that cause fear and examine-so-as-to-understand. 

For this exercise, I want you to take three individuals. Write their names down once and then fold the piece of paper over their names so you do not have to be confronted by them. Then, consider two scenarios: 

  1. Consider what happens in their lives in the next 5, 10, 20 years should the problems by which they cause fear be properly addressed, and they face appropriate consequences. Write it out.
  2. Then, imagine what might happen to any of the affected communities had these people never existed. I don’t really want to direct you into the distracting rabbit hole of imagining them dead; instead, imagine that who they are and what they represent simply never were. What would the communities and worlds look like? 

Sometimes, giving hope for what could have been is enough to inspire effort against any amount of fear. 

Reading #3:

Christopher Manes, “Nature and Silence”

Julio Cortazar, “Letter to a Young Woman in Paris”

Brigit Pegeen Kelly, “Petition”

“Dead Doe”

“The White Pilgrim: Old Christian Cemetery”

Ruminations: 

Manes, “To regard nature as alive and articulate has consequences in the realm of social practices. It conditions what passes for knowledge about nature and how institutions put that knowledge to use.”

Cortazar, “How much at fault one feels taking a small metal tray and putting it at the far end of the table, setting it there simply because one has brought one’s English dictionaries and it’s at this end, within easy reach of the hand, that they ought to be. To move that tray is the equivalent of an unexpected horrible crimson in the middle of one of Ozenfant’s painterly cadences, as if suddenly the strings of all the double basses snapped at the same time with the same dreadful whiplash at the most hushed instant in a Mozart symphony.”

Kelly, “And this is the soul: like it or not. Yes: the soul comes down: yes: comes into the deer: yes: and in her death twins herself into swans: fools us with mist and accident into believing her newfound finery // and we are not afraid / though we should be.”

Within the human domain, we have now explored the ramifications and ability to charge fear with the capacity to allow or tolerate damages, abuse, and genocide. But an unspoken consequence of the distinguishing of human-capacities is the passive allowance for nature to be overtaken and broken repeatedly. Manes writes towards what it must mean to regard the ramifications of fear for nature, “To regard nature as alive and articulate has consequences in the realm of social practices. It conditions what passes for knowledge about nature and how institutions put that knowledge to use.” Nature also is afraid and acts in accordance to fears — in current studies of plant intelligence, it is a common belief that the spectrum for sensitivity and sensation in plant life is far beyond the sensitivity of humans. 

But beyond fear-based nature, what these pivots are trying to accomplish are setting the tones of understanding that fear is rampant. One could play a prediction game with fear and never win, as each successful prediction adds additional branches and layers of affective and resonant fear in related, interwoven topographies. Cortazar talks about this in his excerpted, “How much at fault one feels taking a small metal tray and putting it at the far end of the table, setting it there simply because one has brought one’s English dictionaries and it’s at this end, within easy reach of the hand, that they ought to be. To move that tray is the equivalent of an unexpected horrible crimson in the middle of one of Ozenfant’s painterly cadences, as if suddenly the strings of all the double basses snapped at the same time with the same dreadful whiplash at the most hushed instant in a Mozart symphony.” 

Fear can be found in everything. Fear can be everything. Fear can be. And Kelly, always brilliant, says what I could only wish to: “And this is the soul: like it or not. Yes: the soul comes down: yes: comes into the deer: yes: and in her death twins herself into swans: fools us with mist and accident into believing her newfound finery // and we are not afraid / though we should be.”

Exercise #3: 

If you are safe and comfortable enough to go into nature, do.

The brilliance of nature is that there are a great many things out there that may kill you. There are also a great many things out there that will merely get you sick. 

If you are able to go out, pay attention to the anomalies, or the organisms that you hadn’t considered before, or perhaps you have considered but haven’t given enough weight to learn the name of. Learn the name of these things, and determine if they are able to harm you or help you.

I want you to categorize your local wild-fauna based on their helpfulness and harmfulness. Oftentimes they will be placed in both, stinging nettles make wonderful tea. Try and comprise a list of 10+ items. Understand your role in facing the unknown and placing the unknown into more palatable categories. 

Final Exceptionalism: 

We are in precarious and fearful times. Personally, I find that fear is inevitable; though, my instinct with this espial is to encourage the dissolution of fear. Previously we’ve explored three potential sources of fear through varying direct instincts: the historical, national, and natural. 

In understanding fear more, I find it easier to digest the positive ramifications of fear — caution, preparation, evasiveness — after expositing on the scenarios which birth fear. 

For this final moment, and especially in a time where we are largely homebound, I want you to select two movies: one that you have always been too afraid of to even humor watching, and one that you’ve always felt was too corny, immature, or childish for you to care about watching. These are both types of fears at work. As a warning, please do not traumatize yourself for the sake of this. 

Watch these two movies. They don’t have to be consecutively but that might make things a bit more fun.

Afterwards, put them each in conversation with each other. This might come in the form of writing a short essay. This might be in drawing or painting a scene in which characters from each are interacting with each other. This might be in rewriting a script for a particularly noteworthy scene from each with lines from the other movie. 

However you see fit, despite their differences, attempt to understand what these two bases of fear have to say about you. And how, in making them converse with each other, are you making them more palatable? What fear are you taking away, and how are you resolving it toward a positive direction?