The question of affect is central to critical theory, psychology, politics, and the entire range of the humanities; but no discipline, including psychoanalysis, has offered a theory of affect that would be rich enough to account for the delicacy and power, the evanescence and durability, the bodily rootedness and the cultural variability of human emotion.
Silvan Tomkins (1911–1991) was one of the most radical and imaginative psychologists of the twentieth century. In Affect, Imagery, Consciousness, a four-volume work published over the last thirty years of his life, Tomkins developed an ambitious theory of affect steeped in cybernetics and systems theory as well as in psychoanalysis, ethology, and neuroscience. The implications of his conceptually daring and phenomenologically suggestive theory are only now—in the context of postmodernism—beginning to be understood. With Shame and Its Sisters, editors Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank make available for the first time an engaging and accessible selection of Tomkins’s work.
Featuring intensive examination of several key affects, particularly shame and anger, this volume contains many of Tomkins’s most haunting, diagnostically incisive, and theoretically challenging discussions. An introductory essay by the editors places Tomkins’s work in the context of postwar information technologies and will prompt a reexamination of some of the underlying assumptions of recent critical work in cultural studies and other areas of the humanities. The text is also accompanied by a biographical sketch of Tomkins by noted psychologist Irving E. Alexander, Tomkins’s longtime friend and collaborator.