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That grouchy and brilliant American philosopher, Charles S. Peirce, theorized life in terms of habit.  On every scale, he said, from galaxy to atom, being consists in the endurance of some relation, and that endurance simply is habit. What has no habit, he wrote, evaporates “thunderless and unremembered.” As patterned repetition, as endurance, Peirce correlates habit with law and concept; but it may be less obvious how or why he linked habit to feeling. And yet feeling is also a complex patterning, the repetition and accretion (Peirce claimed) of possibility and quality. Feeling is the experience of a relation of some duration (however brief), a repetition repeating long enough to be registered up and down our bodies, in our guts, and in our minds (“Huh.” “Ah.” “Oh.” “Ouch.” “Mm.”) Alongside the cosmic and quotidian habit of habit-taking emerges also the cosmic and quotidian tendency toward “some slight aberrancy.” Every law, habit, and concept sustains itself only by rupture or failure. The repetition is never exact, never full. A rock that drops to the ground, Peirce wrote, does not incarnate the Law of Gravity, but only evokes it or indicates it. As Gilles Deleuze would say: it is always repetition with a difference (Deleuze was one of the few French theorists to read and use Peirce in his own work). Deleuze staked everything on that modicum of difference, while Peirce spent his life overwhelmed with the task of understanding the constitutive power of repetition. Space and time are habits. Bodies are habits. Personality and society and rainbows and rivers: all are habits. Ann Cvetkovich’s recent book, Depression: A Public Feeling (Duke UP 2012) draws on habit to counter habit. In it, Cvetkovich seeks a curative tactic against what she terms the “linkage between depression and political failure,” evidenced, for example, in “the murkier dimensions of everyday racial experience for which identity politics is not always an adequate container” (7). She proffers the reparative power of “performative writing” (15) and “the utopia of ordinary habit” (154) as technologies of the self that counter the death-dealing of society. Like Deleuze, then, Cvetkovich banks on the slender frisson of lived difference to crack the social-structural reifications of habit. She attends to “the felt sensations of the lived environment” (11), to the public dimensions of “feeling dead inside” (18), to the particular acedia bred by the habitual practices of the academy. She offers, in response, what Laurent Berlant terms a “juxtapolitical” (166) focus on domesticity, crafting, and small creative rituals—spoonfuls of meaning fed to a body cast upon the vast ocean of meaninglessness (“Now in calm weather,” writes Melville, “to swim in the open ocean is as easy to the practised swimmer as to ride in a spring-carriage ashore. But the awful lonesomeness is intolerable. The intense concentration of self in the middle of such a heartless immensity, my God! who can tell it?” –Moby Dick, ch. 92). What I call the “anti-maternality” of the academy presents its own fold to this twisted tale of habit and habit-taking, its own textured linkage between depression and political failure. Space and time may themselves be constructed habits, but life pulses perpetually at the rigid limits they impose when the non-negotiability of children’s needs slam up against the rigid habits of semester temporality and the presumptions of colleagues, not to mention the larger social habits that foreclose good and affordable childcare options. The depression that stems from enduring and resisting everyday gendered experience is compounded by a lack of support among childless academic feminists, by the perpetual requirement not to offload the aches of contradiction onto one’s children, and by the daily registered consciousness that we are—bodies and minds simply are—the accumulation of how we spend our time (habit). In the face of this, the “slight aberrancy” of the law and feeling of habit can shut down rather than open up lines of escape, and Cvetkovich’s turn to domesticity and crafting does not alleviate depression. Quite the contrary.

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