Doubly Irritating

Someone I work with asked me why I thought people deliberately did things that irritated them. The question had a particular slant and I found myself thinking about it more broadly long after I’d replied, about what I’ve seen (rather than what I’ve read … there’s a library of theory on this and I don’t think it helps).
        People who are exerting a lot of self-control or feel they are being controlled often watch angry, violent films. The Romans used to go to the arena and watch people getting killed, so that’s nothing new in that. And I suppose the idea, not that it’s being had at the time, or maybe ever being had apart from by people like me watching from far, far away is that the act of catharsis allows the spectators to come away feeling satisfied, having poured out their angry feelings (without doing anything to change the way they begin having them: overthrow the emperor, that kind of thing). Cathartic situations inevitably leave people more irritated because they introduce the idea of the hope of an ending, or of change or something like that, which they bring back to their unpleasantly repressive lives. Someone in a bad job goes on fantasising of killing their boss, maybe, in the manner of a violent film she or he watched.
        Perhaps people choose to be irritated in the sense that they can’t help act out an obsession or impulse. If they’re feeling all over the place doing so can give them an outlet and a container for their restless, unbearable feelings. They can track someone or something, and it might excite them, or satisfy them, give them a feeling of connection – but it’s false. They remain disconnected.
        Obsession introduces conflicts in a really uncomfortable way. Someone who’s obsessed ends up trying to know things that he or she would not normally know, and the object of their obsession may be acting as if they are unobserved – without defending against, or trying to protect the feelings of the obsessed person. So the object of obsession behaves in a grandly conflicting way … conflicting, at least, with the person who’s following them on Instagram, Facebook, etc. Contempt cements the couple (that’s Leo Bersani).

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