Social Text 22.2 (2004) 117-139
How do emotions work to align some subjects with some others and against other others? How do emotions move between bodies? In this essay, I argue that emotions play a crucial role in the "surfacing" of individual and collective bodies through the way in which emotions circulate between bodies and signs. Such an argument clearly challenges any assumption that emotions are a private matter, that they simply belong to individuals, or even that they come from within and then move outward toward others. It suggests that emotions are not simply "within" or "without" but that they create the very effect of the surfaces or boundaries of bodies and worlds.
For instance, in the above narrative on the Aryan Nations Web site, the role of emotions, in particular of hate and love, is crucial to the delineation of the bodies of individual subjects and the body of the nation. Here a subject (the white nationalist, the average white man, the white housewife, the white working man, the white citizen, and the white Christian farmer) is presented as endangered by imagined others whose proximity threatens not only to take something away from the subject (jobs, security, wealth), but to take the place of the subject. In other words, the presence of these others is imagined as a threat to the object of love. The narrative involves a rewriting of history, in which the labor of others (migrants, slaves) is concealed in a fantasy that it is the white subject who "built this land." The white subjects claim the place of hosts ("our shores") at the same time as they claim the position of the victim, as the ones who are damaged by an "unmerciful government." The narrative hence suggests that it is love for the nation that makes the white Aryans hate those whom they recognize as strangers, as the ones who are taking away the nation and the role of the Aryans in its history, as well as their future.
We might note as well that the reading of others as hateful aligns the imagined subject with rights and the imagined nation with ground. This alignment is affected by the representation of both the rights of the subject and the grounds of the nation as already under threat. It is the emotional reading of hate that works to bind the imagined white subject and nation together. The average white man feels "fear and loathing"; the white housewife, "repulsion and anger"; the white workingman, "curses"; the white Christian farmer, "rage." The passion of these negative attachments to others is redefined simultaneously as a positive attachment to the imagined subjects brought together through the repetition of the signifier, "white." It is the love of white, or those recognizable as white, that supposedly explains this shared "communal" visceral response of hate. Together we hate, and this hate is what makes us together.
This narrative is far from extraordinary. Indeed, what it shows us is the production of the ordinary...