Structures of Unfeeling: Mysterious Skin

  • Lauren Berlant


To talk about affective tendencies is almost always to talk about intensities, and behind that linkage is a relation to melodrama, that modality of performance that attaches feeling states to their gestural inflation in bodily performance. In contrast, Raymond Williams’ model of the structure of feeling places the historical present and the affective present in a space of affective residue that constitutes what is shared among strangers beneath the surface of manifested life. “Structures of Unfeeling: Mysterious Skin” reads with Scott Heim’s novel and Gregg Araki's film to think about how to think about the structural, historical, and affective overdeterminations of underperformed emotion, tracking the emergence of a cultural style that appears as reticent action, a spatialized suspension of relational clarity that signifies a subtracted response to the urgencies of the moment (the historical moment, the sexual moment, the intimate moment, the moment where survival time is being apprehended, absorbed, and encountered).


Affect Mysterious Skin Gregg Araki Scott Heim Intimacy History Structure Anachronism Reticence Sexuality Trauma Childhood Interpassivity 



My gratitude goes out to many audiences, especially at the University of Pennsylvania, Tufts, Northwestern and the University of California at Davis. Thanks, very much, to Joe Fischel, Jackie Stacey, Robbie Duschinsky, and Emma Wilson for their timely, insightful, and generous critical responses. Finally, gratitude to Chase Joynt, Gregg Araki, and Scott Heim for allowing me to capture images of the reticent action that holds up Mysterious Skin.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English Language and LiteratureUniversity of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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