or: who am I to talk about Anxiety …?
Notes based on Sianne Ngai’s Ugly Feelings
From chapter 5. Anxiety
Anxiety has gradually replaced melancholia as the intellectual’s signature sensibility, indeed becoming the distinctive “feeling-tone” of intellectual inquiry itself.
Moreover, anxiety has a history of being gendered, not least through the inﬂuence of psychoanalysis, where the centrality of the castration complex ensures that ‘only male subjects are capable of experiencing genuine anxiety or dread, whereas female subjects are allotted the less traumatic and therefore less profound (certainly more ignoble) affects of nostalgia and envy.
Sianne Ngai is Professor of English at Stanford University.
The feelings I examine here are explicitly amoral and noncathartic, offering no satisfactions of virtue, however oblique, nor any therapeutic or purifying release. In fact, most of these feelings tend to interfere with the outpouring of other emotions. Moods like irritation and anxiety, for instance, are defined by a flatness or ongoingness entirely opposed to the “suddenness” on which Aristotle’s aesthetics of fear depends. And unlike rage, which cannot be sustained indefinitely, less dramatic feelings like envy and paranoia have a remarkable capacity for duration. If Ugly Feelings is a bestiary of affects, in other words, it is one filled with rats and possums, rather than lions, its categories of feeling generally being, well, weaker and nastier.