The Intimacy of Anger

Agnes Callard describes ‘the uncanny intimacy of anger

though you can’t stand to be near me, it is also true that no one could be closer to you than me. I have infiltrated the patterns of your thought; I have my fingers on your heartstrings; I have even been put in charge of your sense perception: you see traces of me everywhere you look. You complain about me to anyone who will listen, and when no one will listen you shout at a mental effigy of me. I’ve colonized your fantasy life. Holding me responsible involves an embrace, albeit an adversarial one.

Now I’m an Angry Young Man in recovery, the rage equivalent of a dry alcoholic. So this paragraph sets me quivering, and calls out one of the great temptations of anger. Anger pulls your entire consciousness into its service, with every fact or sensation falling into its gravitational pull. Thoughts are twisted and reshaped into forms they would never achieve in a rational mind. It is the dark counterpart of love, and having everything remind you of your beloved.

At one of Helena’s ii salons, we got into a conversation about the positive aspects of anger. In particular, how it can be a tool for self-knowledge. If something makes me angry, it is because it is important to me in some way. When the anger is out of proportion to the overt cause, it might point me to something I did not know I cared about.

It might be resentment that somebody is able to do something I have been blocked from or failed at. It might be disappointed hope or trust. It might be one of the injustices which go unchallenged in the world.

And often, once I have traced the meaning of the anger, the sensation itself starts to feel disproportionate, even risible. Understanding might not destroy anger, but it does let me laugh at it.

Written on February 23, 2021