I’ve heard the term feelpinions “bandied about” (itself a term meant to undercut with feelings) a fair bit lately. Joe Hockey doesn’t like driving to work with the wind farms in view, it gets him right in the feels. Then reading Theresa Brennan in bed, then I go to dinner with friends (my baby on the end in a highchair). I am oft-distracted, we are all a bit subdued. One friend tells me she’s had enough of this country and wants to get out of here (“I make shit artwork here”). Another tells me she’s finished writing a policy document (so boring) and feels similarly out of kilter.
Inevitably, we talk about the Commission of Audit.
My friend who has just written the policy document says “Sometimes I think that policy is so boring that policymakers have to do awful things just to feel something”.
Politics has recently become so imbued with pain and hatred and other negative feelings that it is astonishing. Evil is so banal it hurts. These threads and judgements insert themselves into my thinking about movement and affect and the internet as a place for “feels”.
Halfway through the second season of Breaking Bad and Walter White has left a distorting dent in the towel dispenser of a hospital bathroom with his fist. The reflective surface of the dispenser distorts his own face as he distorts it. Walt is coming to terms with the horrifying fact that he may live.
Yet, in the very same episode, Walt has come out of an ordeal in the desert in which he fought for survival (and won). This gap between his triumphant survival and his ambivalence about surviving cancer, perhaps, is located in his own agency as a patient and as a man. The narrative that he has built around his illness enables the agency that he enacts as a man-with-nothing-to-lose. This moment could be more simply interpreted as the moment at which, because he will live, Walt now has consequences to contend with for his crimes.
But I think it is more than that. What does his illness give him, in terms of identity and a narrative about end-of-life? His (specific) mortality gives him license to live. There’s lots more to be said about the masculinism of this license to live, but for now I won’t go there. In Intoxicated By My Illness, Anatole Broyard discusses the way that diagnosis changed his sense of self. giving him a grandiosity that is similar to Heisenberg’s (as opposed to Walt’s meek pre-diagnosis emasculation). He talks of the need “to make illnesses metaphorical, to make them our own, and how we need always to be ill, and to die, with style”.
In becoming sick, people “must become story-tellers” (Broyard, Intoxicated By My Illness). This is because “in emergencies we invent narratives. We describe what is happening, as if to confine the catastrophe”. Walt’s narrative about providing for his family in the last weeks of his life is one that he clings to and is one that is breached by the remission of his illness.
A critical illness is like a great permission, an authorization or absolving. It’s all right for a threatened man to be romantic, even crazy, if he feels like it. All your life you think you have to hold back your craziness, but when you’re sick you can let it out in all its garish colors.
This position, with all its grandiosity and masculinism is mirrored in the conversation that Walt has with a post-traumatised Hank in the previous episode. Walt offers a listening ear to Hank, and Hank responds dismissively.
HANK: “The things I deal with. You and me don’t have much of what you might call an experiental overlap.”
WALT: “What if I told you we do? I have spent my whole life scared, frightened of things that could happen. Might happen, might not happen. Fifty years I spent like that. Finding myself awake at 3 in the morning. But you know what, ever since my diagnosis, I sleep just fine. What I came to realise is that fear, that’s the worst of it, that’s the real enemy. So get up, get out in the real world, and you kick that bastard as hard as you can right in the teeth.”