The Hundreds—composed of pieces one hundred or multiples of one hundred words long—is theorist Lauren Berlant and ethnographer Kathleen Stewart’s collaborative experimental writing project in which they strive toward sensing and capturing the resonances that operate at the ordinary level of everyday experience. We invite you to sample the book by reading four pieces from it.
Every day a friend across the ocean wakes up to suicidal thoughts. Another friend takes a drink to eat clean and another eats a candy bar in bed before washing the sheets, doing laundry naked to ensure soft sleeps.
Another friend chants before going out to her analogy lab. Another hires
retired people to walk her dogs so that she can get to her trainer. Others,
desperate, rush harsh. Many people’s kids climb in. Many pets assert the
dominion of their drives. There’s stretching and the taking of medicine.
There’s accounting and anxious text checking. There’s scanning for bossy
emails and preconceptions. Lists get made. For some, there is breakfast.
Once spring rolls around there is running before the heat and catching
the first shift sitting outside the punk bakery to smoke, drink coffee, and
“break each other’s balls” before work does what work does. I asked them
about this phrase once and sparked a debate about whether it is properly
“break” or “bust.” Whatever, Professor, they laughed, yanking your chain,
busting your balls, don’t take it so serious!
Some people sleep in. Other people wake at the sun. Some people walk
into the house and see only the order in it. Some people serve other
people. Some use the quiet time to do the best things quiet time allows.
Some people waste it, which is not the opposite of using it well. When
I was little I had a task: to make coffee for the adults, measuring out the
Maxwell House, setting the breakfast table. Then I’d leave for school and
my early teachers would let me into the teachers’ lounge. A little troll
doll kid overhearing Allende, Planned Parenthood, and MLK. A confused
and sunny face taking in the voices and the concept of concepts, before
(Davis 2010; Eigen 2004; Hejinian  2002; Jacobus 1995; Perec  2008)
We write to what’s becoming palpable in sidelong looks or a consistency
of rhythm or tone. Not to drag things back to the land of the little judges
but to push the slow-mo button, to wait for what’s starting up, to listen up
for what’s wearing out. We’re tripwired by a tendency dilating. We make
a pass at a swell in realism, and look for the hook. We back up at the hint
of something. We butt in. We try to describe the smell; we trim the fat to
pinpoint what seems to be the matter here.
Words sediment next to something laid low, or they detour on a crazed
thought-cell taking off. I saw a woman standing on a sidewalk, chainsmoking
while she talked to a buff younger man. She was trying to get
him to give someone else a break because he means well or he didn’t
mean it. Maybe her son. “He don’t know no better.” She was hanging in
there, but the whole top half of her black hair was a helmet of white roots.
She was using her fast-thinking superpowers to run a gauntlet of phrases
and get out quick even though we all knew she was just buying time.
A thought hits at an angle. Subjects are surprised by their own acts. But
everyone knows a composition when they see one. A scene can become
a thing after only a few repetitions. At the Walmart in New Hampshire,
scruffy middle-aged men hang back at the register, letting their elderly
mothers pay. The men have a hint of sour and the abject; their mothers
are a worn autopilot. Women talk in the aisles about the local hospital; it’s
incapable; it misreads people, handing out exactly the wrong, killer drug.
(Ericson 2011; Sedgwick 1997; Seigworth and Tiessen 2012; Serres 1997;
Stevens  1990)
The Hundreds is an experiment in keeping up with what’s going on.
Ordinaries appear through encounters with the world, but encounters
are not events of knowing, units of anything, revelations of realness, or
facts. Sometimes they stage a high-intensity tableau of the way things
are or could become; sometimes strangeness raises some dust. This work
induces form without relieving the pressure of form. It pushes and follows
histories out. It takes in signs and scaffolds. If our way is to notice
relations and varieties of impact, we’re neither stuffing our pockets with
ontology nor denying it: attention and riffing sustain our heuristics.
What draws affect into form is a matter of concern. Form, though, is not
the same thing as shape: and a concept extends via the tack words take.
Amplified description gets at some quality that sticks like a primary object,
a bomb or a floater. The image that comes to mind when you read
that (if images come to mind when you read) might not be what we’re
imagining — and we’re likely not imagining the same thing either. Collaboration
is a meeting of minds that don’t match. Circulation disturbs
and creates what’s continuous, anchoring you enough in the scene to pull
in other things as you go.
“Punctum” ought to mean whatever grabs you into an elsewhere of form.
There ought also to be a word like “animum,” meaning what makes an
impact so live that its very action shifts around the qualities of things
that have and haven’t yet been encountered. You can never know what
is forgotten or remembered. Even dormancy is a kind of action in relation.
Think about watching a dead thing, a thing sleeping, or these words.
Think about skimming as a hunger and defense against hunger. Think
about the physiological pressure of itching.
(Barthes  1981; Deleuze  1993; Freud  1961; Goffman 1981;
Massumi 2010; Moten 2013; Nersessian and Kramnick 2017; Posmentier 2017;
This is vanilla
These prose poems come from a long poetic and noetic collaboration.
The project pays attention to the relation of scenes to form, observation
to implication, encounters to events, and figuration to what sticks in the
mind. To convert an impact into a scene, to prehend objects as movement
and matter, retains a scene’s status as life in suspension, the way an extract
in cooking conveys the active element in a concentrated substance
that comes in a small brown bottle. (This is vanilla. This is almond.) The
elaboration of heuristic form on the move points to pattern, patina, atmosphere:
the object world of vestiges that scatters bumpily across the
plane of what is also a vibrant tableau. But we get it: your eyes want a
place to land on. You want to know what happened when the glances
passed or where the train of a dark sentence will go. At different speeds
we move around the effects, causes, and situational membranes. As we
proceed we sift figurative types and object relations, seeking out the gists
of things. Our styles move in proximity to currents. We get distracted
sometimes. This is a practice of tightening and loosening the object-scene
in hundred-word swatches.
(B. Anderson 2009; Diaconu 2006; Fonagy and Target 2007; Ingold 2015;
Manning 2009; Massumi 2010; Quick 1998)
Lauren Berlant is George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor of English at the University of Chicago. She is author of Cruel Optimism and The Female Complaint, both also published by Duke University Press. Kathleen Stewart is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Texas, Austin, and author of Ordinary Affects, also published by Duke University Press.
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