September 02, 2008

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USA! USA! Affective attachments and Republican bloodlust The RNC offered its customary conservative fetish objects: war, moms, family, small towns, and nation. It linked these together in various shifting ways: Sarah Palin as militarist mom, John McCain as momma's boy, large and unruly families as the reality of the nation in the second millennium. But I wonder if a focus on these objects obscures something potentially important about the RNC. The content of its message matters less than its affective force, than its incitement and intensification of passions. The convention emotions were anger, righteousness, fury, bloodlust, and contempt. The crowd, often feverish although becoming calmer in the last third of McCain's long, sopophoric speech before they work up again for a few final howls. My point, though, is that the affective difference in the conventions could be the difference that matters. Will voters identify the fury performed by the Republicans with the anger and frustration that they, the voters, feel? Will the intensity of feelings induce the sense that Republicans feel what they feel such there is a kind of unity in anger? If words have lost their ordinary meanings, if we find ourselves in a situation characterized by a decline of symbolic efficiency, then will the effectiveness of the conventions rest in the feelings they can project? Perhaps being "in touch" with "the American people" has less to do with responsive policies than it does with the proper affective mirroring: they feel what I've been feeling; they share my pain. And in this affective alliance, contradictions...

Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean is a political theorist.

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