I am currently working on a paper, ‘Not in the Right Mood’ (not a surprising title for an affect alien with alien affects!) for a special issue of a journal on mood, and it has taken me back to the question of ‘non-attunement’ or misattunement that I addressed in my discussion of social will in the first chapter of my forthcoming book, Willful Subjects. I open the possibility (and it was just an opening) of thinking of clumsiness as a queer ethics. I want in this paper to exercise and thus develop this thought!


Willing together can be an experience of being in time. Things run smoothly; we might be moving in unison. What happens when we concur but we do not achieve this unison?  When we are out of time, we notice the other’s timing and pace; in noticing the other the other might appear as awkward or clumsy. Or we might turn toward each other in frustration, as we bump into each other yet again. Clumsiness can be how a subject experiences itself: as being “in the way” of what is “on the way,” as being in the way of herself as well as others. A body can be what trips you up, or catches you out. Indeed the feeling of clumsiness can be catchy: once you feel clumsy, you can become even clumsier, or at least feel yourself becoming so, which is hard to separate from becoming so. You end up tangled up; you seem to lack the coordination to coordinate yourself with yourself let alone yourself with others. If we are in motion, clumsiness can be registered as what stops a movement or flow (the word “clumsy” derives from the word “kluma” to make motionless).  And if moving in time feels good, no wonder a clumsy subject can feel herself a killjoy: your own body can be what gets in the way of a happiness that is assumed as on its way.

Perhaps the experience of willing together then also involves the experience of non-attunement: of being in a world with others where we are not in a responsive or harmonious relation. The problem with attunement – a term of endearment in critical literatures of all kinds – is not that it does not happen (it most certainly does) but that it can easily become not just a description of an experience but also an ideal: as if the aim is harmony, to be willing in time with others. When attunement becomes an aim, those who are not in tune or who are out of tune become the obstacles; they become the “non” attuned whose clumsiness registers as the loss of a possibility. This “non” is saturated: those who are assumed to cause the non-attunement become the non they are assumed to cause; and they become it “quickly,” so fast that it can be hard to keep up.

Perhaps we could create a queer ethics out of clumsiness, an ethics that registers those who are not attuned as keeping open the possibility of going another way. Or perhaps we can think of the experience of being out of tune as a way of staying attuned to otherness. Rather than the experience of “bumping” into each other being a sign of the failure of a relationship, or even the failure of someone in a relationship to be responsive, it can understood as a form of relationship in which bodies have not simply adjusted to each other. When bumping is understood as a form of relationship, it is no longer experienced as that which must be overcome. The bumpier the ride could be an expression of the degree to which one style of embodiment has not determined an ethical or social horizon. Rather than equality being about smoothing a relation perhaps equality is a bumpy ride.

About feministkilljoys

feminist killjoy, affect alien, angry queer woman of colour
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