notes on affect
“Affects are difficult to grasp and conceptualise because, as Spiloza says, ‘an affect or passion of the mind [animi pathema] is a confused idea’ which is only perceived by the increase or decrease it causes in the body’s vital force.” [italics are mine]6
From what I can remember, I was first introduced to affect by Chrysa Parkinson and/or Bojana Cvejić, in the early 2010s. I am specifically not saying affect theory, because I cannot remember for a fact that I was, indeed, introduced to affect theory at precisely the same time I was introduced to affect, a (new-old) concept that was making itself comfortable in the shared consciousness of the Bruxelles dance scene. [To my impressionable young mind, it seemed like affect was suddenly all any of the adults ever wanted to talk about. What was it about affect that was so important? Relevant? Cool? I’m also wondering, was affect really well known, which is why so many felt comfortable talking about it? Was it really functional? Was it doing a lot for people?]
I would be surprised if the introduction to affect authored by Bojana Cvejić bypassed affect theory, especially since I remember Bojana occasionally discussing Massumi, Deleuze and Guattari, and Spinoza–who is, with his “Ethics,” credited as the originator of affect theory, according to the article on affect (philosophy) on wikipedia.com. Where Bojana’s introduction would have been technical, Chrysa’s introduction to affect would have been poetic, linguistic, experiential or practice based, speculative, as well as philosophical. By which I do not mean to imply that Chrysa’s would have been any less specific of an introduction than Bojana’s. Please. The other thing that comes to mind is that Chrysa’s introduction would have taken place in the dance studio, where Bojana’s would taken place in the classroom, in front of a projection.
note: perhaps go through your notebooks from the period when you’re back home? maybe there’s something there to evidence any of the fantasy you are committed to publishing.
According to the New Oxford American Dictionary (online edition), only the word effect is “commonly used as a noun, usually meaning ‘a result, consequence, impression.’ The noun affect is restricted almost entirely to psychology.” [italics are mine] Dictionary.com defines affect in its own right only as a verb. All the meanings of affect, noun on dictionary.com are specifically associated with an operative context (psychology, psychiatry, obsolete). The Merriam-Webster defines affect, noun extensively, but places the definition of noun last–something I’ve noticed all dictionaries that define affect, noun are in habit of doing. This possibly in lieu of the fact that “the noun affect is [contextually?] restricted”?
Affect as a philosophical concept–according to wikipedia–was originally defined by Spinoza as that which places emphasis on bodily or embodied experience.6 Affect, or–as Spinoza puts it–”affections of the body”7 increased or diminished the body’s power of acting whilst interacting with another... critter, perhaps–to borrow from Donna Haraway’s collection. For Bergson, being affected–following wikipedia’s lead–had to do with self-knowing established from within, as opposed to self-knowing being established from without only.
note: is this how i understand proprioception in the context of body-mind centering®?
Reading Massumi’s translation of the excerpt from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus8, I am reminded of the projected frame, of the countless times Deleuze and Guattari’s names were called to our attention. The sentence, “Neither word [affect/affection] denotes a personal feeling,” stands out as the sentence that could correctly capture the sign of the times, the obsession with... objectivity, perhaps? that rampaged through the community around the year 2010.
It’s not objectivity. We were not obsessed with objectivity, not objectivity per se. We were obsessed with not being personal, it wasn’t personal. We were trained not to take it personally and we were trained not to mean it personally. Passion was looked down upon, feelings were a historical fact, affect, sure, but contextualised, anticipated, explained. And always, always independent.
In an interview with Owen Jones I saw on youtube today9, Judith Butler said it was from trans folk who read Gender Trouble and complained–am I’m paraphrasing here–that she learned of the myriad of ways in which a constructivist approach can either be misunderstood or else taken to mean what it was not intended to mean. That a constructivist theory of gender can function in a critical and an operational capacity, that a constructivist theory of gender can provide an opportunity to think gender agentially, that is a good thing. That must be a good thing, right?
Not if it is taken to mean that as long as it’s constructed, it doesn’t matter. Which opens the space for biological extremism? Is that how the story goes? Is that the logic?
The mistake I made in my first reading of Gender Trouble–which I did exactly under the influence of affect theory–is that I thought that acknowledging gender for the construct that it was was about to resolve all my problems, insecurities, and confusions. Because gender, yes, affected me but even if I had an inclination or affection towards it, neither word denotes a personal feeling. And so gender became a construct at the same time as it never could have even affected me... in a personal way. The relief inspired by this realisation was so great, I didn’t stand a chance.