Eve Sedgwick on Paranoia

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick on paranoia, one of the best things I’ve read recently and which I’ll be incorporating into a chapter for sure. If you want to understand much of what goes on, both online and off, and particularly to do with activism, then look to understand paranoia:

The first imperative of paranoia is There must be no bad surprises, and indeed the aversion to surprise seems to be what cements the intimacy between paranoia and knowledge per se including both epistemophilia and scepticism.

The unidirectionally future-oriented vigilance of paranoia generates, paradoxically, a complex relation to temporality that burrows both backward and forward: because there must be no bad surprises, and because learning of the possibility of a bad surprise would itself constitute a bad surprise, paranoia requires that bad news be always already known. …the temporal progress and regress of paranoia are, in principle, infinite.

…No time could be too early for one’s having-already-known, for its having-already-been-inevitable, that something bad would happen. And no loss could be too far into the future to need to be preemptively discounted.

Paranoia seems to require being imitated to be understood, and it, in turn, seems to understand only by immitation. Paranoia propses both Anything you can do (to me) I can do worse, and Anything you can do (to me) I can do first – to myself.

It seems no wonder, then, that paranoia, once the topic is broached in a nondiagnostic context, seems to grow like a crystal in a hypersaturated solution, blotting out any sense of the possibility of alternative ways of understanding or things to understand. …What may be even more important is how severely the memeticism of paranoia circumscribes its potential as a medium of political or cultural struggle.

Whatever account it may give of its own motivation, paranoia is characterized by placing, in practise, an extraordinary stress on the efficacy of knowledge per se – knowledge in the form of exposure. Maybe that’s why paranoid knowing is so inescapably narrative. Like the deinstitutionalized person on the street who, betrayed and plotted against by everyone else in the city, still urges on you the finger-worn dossier bristling with his precious correspondence, paranoia for all its vaunted suspicion acts as though its work would be accomplished if only it could finally, this time, somehow get its story truly known. That a fully initiated listener could still remain indifferent or inimical, or might have no help to offer, is hardly treated as a possibility.

From Chapter 4 of Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity, pp. 130-131, and 138.