The Affect Theory Reader
Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, eds. Duke University Press, 2010 Library of Congress BF175.5.A35A344 2010 | Dewey Decimal 152.4
This field-defining collection consolidates and builds momentum in the burgeoning area of affect studies. The contributors include many of the central theorists of affect—those visceral forces beneath, alongside, or generally other than conscious knowing that can serve to drive us toward movement, thought, and ever-changing forms of relation. As Lauren Berlant explores “cruel optimism,” Brian Massumi theorizes the affective logic of public threat, and Elspeth Probyn examines shame, they, along with the other contributors, show how an awareness of affect is opening up exciting new insights in disciplines from anthropology, cultural studies, geography, and psychology to philosophy, queer studies, and sociology. In essays diverse in subject matter, style, and perspective, the contributors demonstrate how affect theory illuminates the intertwined realms of the aesthetic, the ethical, and the political as they play out across bodies (human and non-human) in both mundane and extraordinary ways. They reveal the broad theoretical possibilities opened by an awareness of affect as they reflect on topics including ethics, food, public morale, glamor, snark in the workplace, and mental health regimes. The Affect Theory Reader includes an interview with the cultural theorist Lawrence Grossberg and an afterword by the anthropologist Kathleen Stewart. In the introduction, the editors suggest ways of defining affect, trace the concept’s history, and highlight the role of affect theory in various areas of study.
Contributors. Sara Ahmed, Ben Anderson, Lauren Berlant, Lone Bertelsen, Steven D. Brown, Patricia Ticineto Clough, Anna Gibbs,Melissa Gregg, Lawrence Grossberg, Ben Highmore, Brian Massumi, Andrew Murphie, Elspeth Probyn, Gregory J. Seigworth, Kathleen Stewart, Nigel Thrift, Ian Tucker, Megan Watkins
Although the rational choice approach toward political behavior has been severely criticized, its adherents claim that competing models have failed to offer a more scientific model of political decisionmaking. This measured but provocative book offers precisely that: an alternative way of understanding political behavior based on cognitive research.
The authors draw on research in neuroscience, physiology, and experimental psychology to conceptualize habit and reason as two mental states that interact in a delicate, highly functional balance controlled by emotion. Applying this approach to more than fifteen years of election results, they shed light on a wide range of political behavior, including party identification, symbolic politics, and negative campaigning.
Remarkably accessible, Affective Intelligence and Political Judgment urges social scientists to move beyond the idealistic notion of the purely rational citizen to form a more complete, realistic model that includes the emotional side of human judgment.
“The innovative essays in this volume . . . demonstrat[e] the potential of the perspective of the affects in a wide range of fields and with a variety of methodological approaches. Some of the essays . . . use fieldwork to investigate the functions of affects—among organized sex workers, health care workers, and in the modeling industry. Others employ the discourses of microbiology, thermodynamics, information sciences, and cinema studies to rethink the body and the affects in terms of technology. Still others explore the affects of trauma in the context of immigration and war. And throughout all the essays run serious theoretical reflections on the powers of the affects and the political possibilities they pose for research and practice.”—Michael Hardt, from the foreword
In the mid-1990s, scholars turned their attention toward the ways that ongoing political, economic, and cultural transformations were changing the realm of the social, specifically that aspect of it described by the notion of affect: pre-individual bodily forces, linked to autonomic responses, which augment or diminish a body’s capacity to act or engage with others. This “affective turn” and the new configurations of bodies, technology, and matter that it reveals, is the subject of this collection of essays. Scholars based in sociology, cultural studies, science studies, and women’s studies illuminate the movement in thought from a psychoanalytically informed criticism of subject identity, representation, and trauma to an engagement with information and affect; from a privileging of the organic body to an exploration of nonorganic life; and from the presumption of equilibrium-seeking closed systems to an engagement with the complexity of open systems under far-from-equilibrium conditions. Taken together, these essays suggest that attending to the affective turn is necessary to theorizing the social.
Contributors. Jamie “Skye” Bianco, Grace M. Cho, Patricia Ticineto Clough, Melissa Ditmore, Ariel Ducey, Deborah Gambs, Karen Wendy Gilbert, Greg Goldberg, Jean Halley, Hosu Kim, David Staples, Craig Willse , Elizabeth Wissinger , Jonathan R. Wynn
In recent years, emotions have become a major, vibrant topic of research not merely in the biological and psychological sciences but throughout a wide swath of the humanities and social sciences as well. Yet, surprisingly, there is still no consensus on their basic nature or workings.
Ruth Leys’s brilliant, much anticipated history, therefore, is a story of controversy and disagreement. The Ascent of Affect focuses on the post–World War II period, when interest in emotions as an object of study began to revive. Leys analyzes the ongoing debate over how to understand emotions, paying particular attention to the continual conflict between camps that argue for the intentionality or meaning of emotions but have trouble explaining their presence in non-human animals and those that argue for the universality of emotions but struggle when the question turns to meaning. Addressing the work of key figures from across the spectrum, considering the potentially misleading appeal of neuroscience for those working in the humanities, and bringing her story fully up to date by taking in the latest debates, Leys presents here the most thorough analysis available of how we have tried to think about how we feel.
Traces a tradition of ironic and irreverent environmentalism, asking us to rethink the movement’s reputation for gloom and doom
Activists today strive to educate the public about climate change, but sociologists have found that the more we know about alarming issues, the less likely we are to act. Meanwhile, environmentalists have acquired a reputation as gloom-and-doom killjoys. Bad Environmentalism identifies contemporary texts that respond to these absurdities and ironies through absurdity and irony—as well as camp, frivolity, irreverence, perversity, and playfulness.
Nicole Seymour develops the concept of “bad environmentalism”: cultural thought that employs dissident affects and sensibilities to reflect critically on our current moment and on mainstream environmental activism. From the television show Wildboyz to the short film series Green Porno, Seymour shows that this tradition of thought is widespread—spanning animation, documentary, fiction film, performance art, poetry, prose fiction, social media, and stand-up comedy since at least 1975. Seymour argues that these texts reject self-righteousness and sentimentality, undercutting public negativity toward activism and questioning basic environmentalist assumptions: that love and reverence are required for ethical relationships with the nonhuman and that knowledge is key to addressing problems like climate change.
Funny and original, Bad Environmentalism champions the practice of alternative green politics. From drag performance to Indigenous comedy, Seymour expands our understanding of how environmental art and activism can be pleasurable, even in a time of undeniable crisis.
In Depression: A Public Feeling, Ann Cvetkovich combines memoir and critical essay in search of ways of writing about depression as a cultural and political phenomenon that offer alternatives to medical models. She describes her own experience of the professional pressures, creative anxiety, and political hopelessness that led to intellectual blockage while she was finishing her dissertation and writing her first book. Building on the insights of the memoir, in the critical essay she considers the idea that feeling bad constitutes the lived experience of neoliberal capitalism.
Cvetkovich draws on an unusual archive, including accounts of early Christian acedia and spiritual despair, texts connecting the histories of slavery and colonialism with their violent present-day legacies, and utopian spaces created from lesbian feminist practices of crafting. She herself seeks to craft a queer cultural analysis that accounts for depression as a historical category, a felt experience, and a point of entry into discussions about theory, contemporary culture, and everyday life. Depression: A Public Feeling suggests that utopian visions can reside in daily habits and practices, such as writing and yoga, and it highlights the centrality of somatic and felt experience to political activism and social transformation.
An urgent examination of the threat posed to social media by user disconnection, and the measures websites will take to prevent it
No matter how pervasive and powerful social media websites become, users always have the option of disconnecting—right? Not exactly, as Tero Karppi reveals in this disquieting book. Pointing out that platforms like Facebook see disconnection as an existential threat—and have undertaken wide-ranging efforts to eliminate it—Karppi argues that users’ ability to control their digital lives is gradually dissipating.
Taking a nonhumancentric approach, Karppi explores how modern social media platforms produce and position users within a system of coded relations and mechanisms of power. For Facebook, disconnection is an intense affective force. It is a problem of how to keep users engaged with the platform, but also one of keeping value, attention, and desires within the system. Karppi uses Facebook’s financial documents as a map to navigate how the platform sees its users. Facebook’s plans to connect the entire globe through satellites and drones illustrates the material webs woven to keep us connected. Karppi analyzes how Facebook’s interface limits the opportunity to opt-out—even continuing to engage users after their physical death. Showing how users have fought to take back their digital lives, Karppi chronicles responses like Web2.0 Suicide Machine, an art project dedicated to committing digital suicide.
For Karppi, understanding social media connectivity comes from unbinding the bonds that stop people from leaving these platforms. Disconnection brings us to the limit of user policies, algorithmic control, and platform politics. Ultimately, Karppi’s focus on the difficulty of disconnection, rather than the ease of connection, reveals how social media has come to dominate human relations.
This literary-historical study seeks to dismantle the prevailing notion that Germany, in the period following the Second World War, exhibited an “inability to mourn,” arguing that in fact this period experienced a surge of affect. Anna Parkinson examines the emotions explicitly manifested or addressed in a variety of German cultural artifacts, while also identifying previously unacknowledged (and undertheorized) affective structures implicitly at work during the country’s national crisis. Much of the scholarship in the expanding field of affect theory distrusts Freudian psychoanalysis, which does not differentiate between emotion and affect.
One of the book’s major contributions is that it offers an analytical distinction between emotion and affect, finding a compelling way to talk about affect and emotion that is informed by affect theory but that integrates psychoanalysis. The study draws on the psychoanalytic writings of Freud, Margarete and Alexander Mitscherlich, and André Green, while engaging with interdisciplinary theorists of affect including Barbara Rosenwein, Lauren Berlant, Ann Cvetkovich, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick among many others.
What is the relationship between a cinematic grid of color and that most visceral of negative affects, disgust? How might anxiety be a matter of an interrupted horizontal line, or grief a figure of blazing light?
Offering a bold corrective to the emphasis on embodiment and experience in recent affect theory, Eugenie Brinkema develops a novel mode of criticism that locates the forms of particular affects within the specific details of cinematic and textual construction. Through close readings of works by Roland Barthes, Hollis Frampton, Sigmund Freud, Peter Greenaway, Michael Haneke, Alfred Hitchcock, Søren Kierkegaard, and David Lynch, Brinkema shows that deep attention to form, structure, and aesthetics enables a fundamental rethinking of the study of sensation. In the process, she delves into concepts as diverse as putrescence in French gastronomy, the role of the tear in philosophies of emotion, Nietzschean joy as a wild aesthetic of repetition, and the psychoanalytic theory of embarrassment. Above all, this provocative work is a call to harness the vitality of the affective turn for a renewed exploration of the possibilities of cinematic form.
In Interior States Christopher Castiglia focuses on U.S. citizens’ democratic impulse: their ability to work with others to imagine genuinely democratic publics while taking divergent views into account. Castiglia contends that citizens of the early United States were encouraged to locate this social impulse not in associations with others but in the turbulent and conflicted interiors of their own bodies. He describes how the human interior—with its battles between appetite and restraint, desire and deferral—became a displacement of the divided sociality of nineteenth-century America’s public sphere and contributed to the vanishing of that sphere in the twentieth century and the twenty-first. Drawing insightful connections between political structures, social relations, and cultural forms, he explains that as the interior came to reflect the ideological conflicts of the social world, citizens were encouraged to (mis)understand vigilant self-scrutiny and self-management as effective democratic action.
In the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth, as discourses of interiority gained prominence, so did powerful counter-narratives. Castiglia reveals the flamboyant pages of antebellum popular fiction to be an archive of unruly democratic aspirations. Through close readings of works by Maria Monk and George Lippard, Walt Whitman and Timothy Shay Arthur, Hannah Webster Foster and Hannah Crafts, and Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville, Castiglia highlights a refusal to be reformed or self-contained. In antebellum authors’ representations of nervousness, desire, appetite, fantasy, and imagination, he finds democratic strivings that refused to disappear. Taking inspiration from those writers and turning to the present, Castiglia advocates a humanism-without-humans that, denied the adjudicative power of interiority, promises to release democracy from its inner life and to return it to the public sphere where U.S. citizens may yet create unprecedented possibilities for social action.
Nick Salvato Duke University Press, 2016 Library of Congress BF175.5.A35S25 2016
Can a bout of laziness or a digressive spell actually open up paths to creativity and unexpected insights? In Obstruction Nick Salvato suggests that for those engaged in scholarly pursuits laziness, digressiveness, and related experiences can be paradoxically generative. Rather than being dismissed as hindrances, these obstructions are to be embraced, clung to, and reoriented. Analyzing an eclectic range of texts and figures, from the Greek Cynics and Denis Diderot to Dean Martin and the Web series Drunk History, Salvato finds value in five obstructions: embarrassment, laziness, slowness, cynicism, and digressiveness. Whether listening to Tori Amos's music as a way to think about embarrassment, linking the MTV series Daria to using cynicism to negotiate higher education's corporatized climate, or examining the affect of slowness in Kelly Reichardt's films, Salvato expands our conceptions of each obstruction and shows ways to transform them into useful provocations. With a unique, literary, and self-reflexive voice, Salvato demonstrates the importance of these debased obstructions and shows how they may support alternative modes of intellectual activity. In doing so, he impels us to rethink the very meanings of thinking, work, and value.
Although the body has been the focus of much contemporary cultural theory, the models that are typically applied neglect the most salient characteristics of embodied existence—movement, affect, and sensation—in favor of concepts derived from linguistic theory. In Parables for the Virtual Brian Massumi views the body and media such as television, film, and the Internet, as cultural formations that operate on multiple registers of sensation beyond the reach of the reading techniques founded on the standard rhetorical and semiotic models. Renewing and assessing William James’s radical empiricism and Henri Bergson’s philosophy of perception through the filter of the post-war French philosophy of Deleuze, Guattari, and Foucault, Massumi links a cultural logic of variation to questions of movement, affect, and sensation. If such concepts are as fundamental as signs and significations, he argues, then a new set of theoretical issues appear, and with them potential new paths for the wedding of scientific and cultural theory. Replacing the traditional opposition of literal and figural with new distinctions between stasis and motion and between actual and virtual, Parables for the Virtual tackles related theoretical issues by applying them to cultural mediums as diverse as architecture, body art, the digital art of Stelarc, and Ronald Reagan’s acting career. The result is an intriguing combination of cultural theory, science, and philosophy that asserts itself in a crystalline and multi-faceted argument. Parables for the Virtual will interest students and scholars of continental and Anglo-American philosophy, cultural studies, cognitive science, electronic art, digital culture, and chaos theory, as well as those concerned with the “science wars” and the relation between the humanities and the sciences in general.
In Refrains for Moving Bodies, Derek P. McCormack explores the kinds of experiments with experience that can take place in the affective spaces generated when bodies move. Drawing out new connections between thinkers including Henri Lefebvre, William James, John Dewey, Gregory Bateson, Félix Guattari, and Gilles Deleuze, McCormack argues for a critically affirmative experimentalism responsive to the opportunities such spaces provide for rethinking and remaking maps of experience. Foregrounding the rhythmic and atmospheric qualities of these spaces, he demonstrates the particular value of Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the "refrain" for thinking and diagramming affect, bodies, and space-times together in creative ways, putting this concept to work to animate empirical encounters with practices and technologies as varied as dance therapy, choreography, radio sports commentary, and music video. What emerges are geographies of experimental participation that perform and disclose inventive ways of thinking within the myriad spaces where the affective capacities of bodies are modulated through moving.
In Religious Affects Donovan O. Schaefer challenges the notion that religion is inextricably linked to language and belief, proposing instead that it is primarily driven by affects. Drawing on affect theory, evolutionary biology, and poststructuralist theory, Schaefer builds on the recent materialist shift in religious studies to relocate religious practices in the affective realm—an insight that helps us better understand how religion is lived in conjunction with systems of power. To demonstrate religion's animality and how it works affectively, Schaefer turns to a series of case studies, including the documentary Jesus Camp and contemporary American Islamophobia. Placing affect theory in conversation with post-Darwinian evolutionary theory, Schaefer explores the extent to which nonhuman animals have the capacity to practice religion, linking human forms of religion and power through a new analysis of the chimpanzee waterfall dance as observed by Jane Goodall. In this compelling case for the use of affect theory in religious studies, Schaefer provides a new model for mapping relations between religion, politics, species, globalization, secularism, race, and ethics.
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.
Wide-ranging essays and experimental prose forcefully demonstrate how digital media and computational technologies have redefined what it is to be human
Over the past decade, digital media has expanded exponentially, becoming an essential part of daily life. The stimulating essays and experimental compositions in The User Unconscious delve into the ways digital media and computational technologies fundamentally affect our sense of self and the world we live in, from both human and other-than-human perspectives.
Critical theorist Patricia Ticineto Clough’s provocative essays center around the motif of the “user unconscious” to advance the challenging thesis that that we are both human and other-than-human: we now live, think, and dream within multiple layers of computational networks that are constantly present, radically transforming subjectivity, sociality, and unconscious processes.
Drawing together rising strains of philosophy, critical theory, and media studies, as well as the political, social, and economic transformations that are shaping the twenty-first-century world, The User Unconscious points toward emergent crises and potentialities in both human subjectivity and sociality. Moving from affect to data, Clough forces us to see that digital media and computational technologies are not merely controlling us—they have already altered what it means to be human.