What does it mean to define affect as excessive in relation to emotion, or in relation to drive? This is the crucial question that was posed by Brian Massumi and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick in two watershed articles from 1995 that are largely responsible for putting affect on the map for the theoretical humanities. This question, the focus of Massumi’s The Autonomy of Affect and Sedgwick’s Shame in the Cybernetic Fold (written with Adam Frank), holds the key to understanding why their rejuvenations of older lineages in affect theory – of Spinoza and of Silvan Tomkins, respectively – have proven so influential. Despite polarizing affect in fundamentally different, and in some sense, precisely opposite ways, Sedgwick and Massumi converge in their development of affective sociality as excessive in relation to the host of delimited subjective unities, including “deconstructed” ones that have been central to scholarship in the theoretical humanities over the past half-century. For Massumi, affect is more diffuse and in some sense less “human” than emotion, and as such, furnishes a “line of flight” from the all-too-human and all-too-cognitive human being that has anchored models of subjectivity from Descartes to Derrida. For Sedgwick, affect is less automatic and in some sense more “human” than drive, and as such, furnishes a paratactic logic of behavioral motivation which breaks free from overriding narrative and philosophical conceptions of a core self in order to focus on concrete acts of affective engagement. By shifting focus from emotion and drive to affect itself, these two critics have quite literally inaugurated a whole new terrain for exploring subjective behavior beyond the human subject.
When we ask, however, what sustains or hosts the excess of affectivity, neither Massumi nor Sedgwick can give a convincing response. Both critics invoke, or rather postulate, the operation of a sociality – “pure sociality” (Massumi) or “social affect” (Sedgwick) – that somehow forms a “virtual remainder” or “non-egoic actant” paradoxically generated within and as part of a process of bodily or narrative capture. What remains beyond the reach of both projects (and, by implication, of the wealth of scholarly production they have catalyzed) is any capacity to speak of affectivity as truly “autonomous”, where autonomy would betoken an authentic independence and a positive existence beyond the effect-structure that furnishes a crucial hermeneutic thread for both critics. The result is a situation in which affect can be theorized as being “two-sided” or as functioning outside of...
and continue reading
this and other 1272 articles currently online
If you already have one of our subscriptions,
please be sure you are logged in
to your diaphanes account.
Affect, or the process by which emotions come to be embodied, is a burgeoning area of interest in both the humanities and the sciences. For »Timing of Affect«, Marie-Luise Angerer, Bernd Bösel, and Michaela Ott have assembled leading scholars to explore the temporal aspects of affect through the perspectives of philosophy, music, film, media, and art, as well as technology and neurology. The contributions address possibilities for affect as a capacity of the body; as an anthropological inscription and a primary, ontological conjunctive and disjunctive process as an interruption of chains of stimulus and response; and as an arena within cultural history for political, media, and psychopharmacological interventions. Showing how these and other temporal aspects of affect are articulated both throughout history and in contemporary society, the editors then explore the implications for the current knowledge structures surrounding affect today.