"The tired can no longer realize, but the exhausted can no longer possibilitate.
Only the exhausted can exhaust the possible, because he has renounced all need, preference, goal, or signification."
Gilles Deleuze, "The Exhausted"
This winter, at a new zenith of my exhaustion, I took to my bed and an endless stream of YouTube vlogs: Trisha Paytas, David Dobrik, the Try Guys. David Dobrik throws you into his LA world of pranks, money, and proximity to B-list celebrities, his bro antics barely offset by his pup-dog look. The Try Guys are Dobrik’s wholesome counterpart: a group of four friends you watch as they try everything from sexy Halloween costumes to karate.
Because [the exhausted] has renounced all need, preference, goal, signification—he has also renounced all taste, all ability to make distinctions between what enriches and what impoverishes. Fundamentally here is not a question of high or low but a question of stupidity. And this to no discredit of those creators of live blogging’s Lowest Common Denominator entertainments: theirs are meticulous constructions, expertly edited for maximal effect, offered as blank food for the exhausted. It’s not easy to strike the balance of just that right amount of pleasure that, neither boring nor too interesting, strings the viewer along the algorithm’s chain of command.
If exhaustion has to do with exhaustion of all possibility, then the vlog’s constant stream-of-image, edited for stimulation that skips straight to the nervous system, was the form of exhaustion itself: the energy of the image spent on sealing off all gaps where all possible thought, and all thought of possibility, might get in. I myself become nothing but an image of exhaustion.
The voyeurisms of intimacy that such vlogs trade on as their currency is a perfect pharmakon for the lonely hibernators of the world: the soothing salve of the illusion of the social packaged with addictive design that lashes to your bed, depressive and housebound.
The tired can no longer realize, but the exhausted can no longer possibilitate. This is Deleuze's devastating distinction: where the tired cannot make their potentials into reality—they drift off to sleep without brushing their teeth; they stay in bed, unable to stomach another party, art opening, family obligation—the exhausted cannot muster up even the ability to potentiate, to line up potentials that could sometime down the line reach realization. Bereft of potentials, the exhausted constitute a non-army of the not - walking undead, too unreal to form a community and far too faded to follow their ambitions, unable to imagine life otherwise, unable to form the life they live into anything worthy of the name life.
Exhaustion is that neurosis at fever pitch that spends all potential energy before it has a chance to form, that runs through every permutation in a given series without acting on any in particular. The exhaustive is a meticulous arithmetic: like Beckett’s narrator in Molloy, and the serial nightmare - image of his stone-sucking thoroughness:
Yes, on this occasion I laid in a considerable store. I distributed them equally between my four pockets, and sucked them turn and turn about. This raised a problem which I first solved in the following way. I had say sixteen stones, four in each of my four pockets these being the two pockets of my trousers and the two pockets of my greatcoat.
Taking a stone from the right pocket of my greatcoat, and putting it in my mouth, I replaced it in the right pocket of my greatcoat by a stone from the right pocket of my trousers, which I replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my trousers, which I replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my greatcoat, which I replaced by the stone which was in my mouth, as soon as I had finished sucking it. Thus there were still four stones in each of my four pockets, but not quite the same stones. And when the desire to suck took hold of me again, I drew again on the right pocket of my greatcoat, certain of not taking the same stone as the last time. And while I sucked it I rearranged the other stones in the way I have just described. And so on. But this solution did not satisfy me fully...
Exhaustion places you outside the stormy shelters of desire. Where desire promises direction and sharpens the spirit of mankind's search for meaning into an arrowhead, exhaustion is the hollow immobility of legions of vessels that cannot be filled.
Exhaustion is not boredom, if boredom is the mood fit for birthing philosophy, as Heidegger claims. The bored still hold energy in reserve, awaiting a libidinal attachment or a spiritual shock without searching for it—this is a virtue the bored are afforded by their access to the expansive meaninglessness of the world. The exhausted are more damned; in a world of meaninglessness beyond meaninglessness, they are refused the transformative, open-channeled promises of boredom.
In Todd Haynes’s Safe, Carol is sick. She thinks she has environmental illness but really it’s an allergy to her world which, left untreated, becomes an allergy to being in the world at all. At the end of her time in rehab, Carol gives a speech that’s meant to show how she’s changed from naive normie to enlightened cultist:
“I don't know what I'm saying. I really hated myself before I came here... so I'm trying to see myself... hopefully, more as I am. More, more positive... like seeing the pluses... It is a disease because it's out there, and we just have to be more aware of it. We have to make people aware of it... and, um, even ourselves, like, uh... reading labels and going into buildings.”
Carol’s speech is the American housewife’s companion-piece to Samuel Beckett’s poem Worstward Ho:
“Say a body. Where none. No mind. Where none. That at least. A place. Where none. For the body. To be in. Move in. Out of. Back into. No. No out. No back. Only in. Stay in. On in. Still.”
On one hand, speech is exhausted. Beckett’s speaker inches forth in excruciating increments, sluggishly tiptoeing from negativity to negativity in its stalling dialectic. Carol’s speech, not nearly as pure-void as Beckett, betrays the truth of the American bourgeois subject, with all its pretensions to sense wrung out and its inherent nonsense laid bare.
On the other hand, speech is always exhausting. More as I am, say a body where none. No mind, we just have to be more aware. Stay in a disease because it’s out there, like seeing the pluses. Speech, insofar as it’s meaningful, for communication, forces me to echo to the grand cliche of language: everything has already been said. Beckett and Carol offer us exhaustion’s gift of language: if there’s no hope in the world of meaning, maybe there’s hope on the other side. Perversely, I am exhilarated by these images of exhaustion; they are dynamic, pedagogical; an antidote to YouTube videos, which seem exhilarated by my exhaustion.
Olivia Colman's portrait of Queen Anne in The Favourite must be a contemporary masterstroke of representations—no, embodiments—of exhaustion, and how exhaustion can be pressed into madness. Her body, gripped by the gout that strikes her in thralling pain, is often prone; Lanthimos's lens magnifies that gouty leg by shooting her from beneath, monstrating and monster-ating the grotesque limb.
"You are the queen." "I'm tired. It hurts. Everything hurts. Everyone leaves me. Dies. Finally her." Exhaustion refuses the social roles it can no longer perform. The dictates of identity - what it is the act a queen, to uphold the rules of queenness—dissolve; language, too, disintegrates into a syntax of bare essentials, for no grammar is worth the breath. In this way, exhaustion is the weary cure to identity-as-politics: unable to muster up the theatrics of a supposed identity, the mess of the self as a series of entangled self-contradictions rushes to the surface. To tweak an Anne Boyer quote, from her Handbook of Disappointed Fate: "In the corpus, history's long and exhausting product—identity—has fallen away." (182).
She will later dismiss royal court proceedings with a similar utterance: "A new era of peace and prosperity, a new day, a door to a new future. The metaphors abound." "I'm tired. I will think on it." Her personal exhaustion is the black hole that stands opposite the inertial language of politics, which squanders the present for the sake of the future's promises; a language coded in such a way that the choice of words no longer matters, the metaphors abound but the signification of their difference is foreclosed. The Favourite's script highlights the exhausting nature of political talk, whose nature is to speak everything without having said anything. Queen Anne’s speech manifests a long-stretching horizon of nothingness that does not even pretend to productivity, whose only promise of the future is empty of content.
The exhausted are beyond caring about consequence. Left with nearly nothing to lose, Anne eats the cake that makes her puke, pukes into some gilded goblet, then returns right back to eating that same cake. Exhaustion need not be curled up in fatigue; it can lash out in bursts of absolute stubbornness, driven by the rage of all causes lost.
The exhausted image is
faintly. Some staggering
some lumber forth no kin
to the summer nap nor
spring sleep on park bench.
At best. Like if the I would prefer
not to were the last word &
got its way
lastingly. Riven from lust faith
and pity the one who unwinding
down the spiral stairs of de
sire. Fallen and I can’t get.
portrait of a fool god drooping
stalled the such as wherefore why not
without an without
Litany of What the Exhausted Image Is Not
What is the exhausted image?
Is there a “what” to the exhausted image?
Notes to what is the exhausted image.
Is there an example of it to call upon?
Or does it wade in that Impossible space where no example comes close to sufficing?
Suffice it to say that it is not an image with content.
For it is not the image of plenitude, progress, or any now fragrant with futurity.
For it is not the void image: it need not assert its silence.
For it must be distinguished from the Zen image, the Dao image, the image of nothingness.
For it is not the destroyed image, the image of ruin; it does not appear in the wake of violence or spectacle as their aftermaths.
For it is not a genre-image: it cannot be slot into a category with a clever coinage, a well-deployed adjective.
For it is not absent from any image: every image contains within itself the possibility of its exhaustion.
For it is not to be found in any image: ...
Do we dare to dream of coming out of the other side of exhaustion? Can the sleep of exhaustion dream at all?
Perhaps because it was the first of its kind that I'd seen—perhaps because it both anticipated the mashup form as a genre in its own right and cast back on the YouTube forms I'd already consumed up to that point—Martin Arnold's Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy turned the exhaustion of permutation into a feeling close to the sublime. Arnold takes the jerkiness inherent in Judy Garland's original performance and magnifies it, pulls at its corners, contracts it into loops. The film is all tension and release, an orchestration of edging that makes the possibility of change that slaked-thirst feeling of hope. The film is all tension, release, orchestrating edging that makes the possibility of change a slaked-thirst hope. The film tenses, releases, orchestrating an edge that makes change slake a thirsty hope. Film tense - release edge orchestra slake feel hope thirst that of all of is.
Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy testifies to exhaustion's proximity to ecstasy, ecstasy here a form of perceptual outsideness that transforms inherited experiences of past and future. To attempt to exhaust every possibility of the image also means seeing everything as though for the first time.
Now I find I’ve contradicted myself. I thought I was following a definition of Exhaustion that has no possibility, that is a carved-out husk of itself, that was past the point of recoverable action. But now I find myself needing to redeem exhaustion with the verb to exhaust, which can be a meticulous and thorough attunement to possibility. I’m so tired; I can’t keep up with my own logics, and the desires that route through and distort those logics. But maybe I’m not that tired after all, to end this essay on a note of hope. Sleep well.