"Affect is necessarily apprehended from in its midst. Indeed, the reader’s body has been working with affect long before a decision is made to read a single sentence on this slippery subject. The reader’s body experiences the complexity of affect in advance of assigning it a name. Without recourse to language, the body articulates affect with a fluency that words find hard to follow. Other to the world of things and forms and functions, affect speaks of a different reality to that which is named and known. It is an inchoate realm of flows and forces — of gradients and intensities, of transitions and relations — which the body senses all too well, yet comprehension struggles to make sense [...]
Affect will not be grasped by intellect alone. Its frequency is non-discursive. Neither does affective reading involve the pursuit of knowledge, the accumulation of cognitive capital. Instead, it is performed as an intervention, as an active decision towards becoming one’s own cause. Affect involves reciprocity; the opening of a book requires the reader keeps an open mind. Suspicious reception must be replaced by receptivity, the willingness to be moved by another’s thoughts. Openness does not make the reader suggestible, susceptible only to the rhetorical or emotional tenor of a text. Rather it is an expression of readiness, the germinal ground for change or transformation. The affect reader momentarily suspends certain normative modes of reading, whose explication seeks to fix definitions too hastily, or which cut too quick an argument at its first failing or fault. Affect is not understood by being read about, rather reading is a constitutive practice within which affect is enacted, its flow felt. Reading is a site of rehearsal, where reader and text negotiate one another’s force. Its affective potential is thus amplified by reading in the company of others.
Collective acts of reading multiply the affective frictions generated by the rub of one individual’s thoughts with those of another. A text that moves a person towards thinking can prohibit someone else. A reader’s capacity can be both augmented and diminished through their encounter with the written page. Certain texts are toxins creating exhaustion and fatigue; others have the medicinal properties of a tonic. Reading together helps combat the adverse impact of a troublesome text. A struggle shared is halved. A group can be stronger than the sum of its parts. New meanings emerge in the gaps of prior knowledge. Common understanding is not the product of what is brought to a meeting of minds; rather, it is experientially co-produced through the process of encounter. Less a convivial site for the pleasurable reverie of reading, social interaction around a single text creates the experience of solidarity, the shared labour of sticking at something, working it through. Unexpected collectivities and allegiances are inaugurated in meetings on a page; new constitutions born in reading’s mutual witnessing. To bear witness to another’s endeavour makes it an occasion. The ritual presence of observers transforms reading’s private act into a rite of passage. The passage given voice dissolves the line between witness and witnessed. To read out loud makes the experience of reader and listener merge as one. Moreover, in spoken text, the voice of reader and writer bleed, becoming indissociable, intimately bound. Words are sonorous as much as signifying units. The soundness of a text tested by tongue and lips as much as by the mind. Certain language must be rolled in the mouth before it can be fully digested. Texts resonate at different frequencies according to their enunciation. New meanings are revealed by changed inflection, in the pauses and durations breathed between the words.
Understanding is never wholly synchronous to the event of reading, nor is it reliant on grasping every word. A reader’s engagement with a text is often fractured or discontinuous, performed through a series of ellipses, loops and returns. Certain sections are lingered over, whilst others skimmed past. A single passage can become an impasse that leaves the reader stuck, or an opening that leads urgently in new directions. Different methods of reading can generate different registers of affect; there is scope for testing experimental tactics. With practice, language can be made to stretch or pucker, pulled thin and sheer as delicate gauze or gathered up into thick and impenetrable creases. Under scrutiny, text can be pressured into its component parts (of ink and page), the legibility of a word rendered nonsensical the closer it is apprehended. Close reading might not always attend to the nature of words themselves as signs. Other meanings emerge by looking at the materiality of words close up. However, insight is not gleaned by simply getting nearer to a text, for this will only amplify its detail, bringing it closer into range. Close reading can become myopic or shortsighted, blinkered to the bigger picture beyond the page. The act of looking harder, more forcefully, can cause a text to retreat or withdraw, for it might not respond well to such advances. Being open to the true force of a text requires a slower approach, the reader must learn to tarry, take her time. Yet, other meanings can only be glimpsed, caught fleetingly in the corner of the eye. A glimpse can collapse the totality of a text into a single word. Illumination can be kindled from the smallest flame. The significance of a text can take years to unravel; the impact of another can be felt in a lightening flash. The reading group is an assemblage composed of these different speeds and durations. A person’s slow engagement with a text might melody unexpectedly with the quick or interruptive tempo of another. Understanding emerges rhythmically. Here, harmony is not the tethering of opinion to consensus, rather the agreement reached as different ideas begin to resonate or chime.
The affect reader is not bound by the chronology of a text’s unfolding. A reader’s attention can be activated mid-sentence or half way down a page. Texts do not always need to be read in a linear or logical way, but rather can be dipped into, allowing for detours and distractions. A single sentence might open in one book, close in another. Poetic connections occur through chance encounters as the reader browses, casually thumbing pages in search of a memorable quote or evocative line. Fugitive phrases slip the grip of their original context, becoming lodged in the reader’s mind with the insistence of a musical refrain. Textual fragments become imperceptibly grafted into the reader’s thinking, or act as grafts onto which to suture new thought. One person’s imagination provides a germinal ground for another’s, for another’s, for another’s. Yet, affect works in both directions; the reader must also bring. The now of an encounter with a written text is interwoven with memories and recollections from elsewhere, lateral interjections and asides. The axis of affective reading is one of verticality, of heights and depths, of uprisings and falls. Poetic or mnemonic forces disturb the horizontal logic of what is present on the page. A single word can become an invocation. Moreover, the written page is always porous, its surface absorbent. Writing can store the circumstances of both its own production and the context in which it is read. Some texts can never be fully dissociated from the situations in which they were first encountered. The pages of every book are invisibly inscribed with life’s ceaseless marginalia. Yet, as a text is often inflected by the lived conditions of its reception, the reader’s life can be affected irrevocably by what they have read. The impact of a text is impossible to discern in measurable terms; transformations take place at molecular level. Reading augments the reader’s capacity for further reading. Yet, it is not so much cognition that affective reading strengthens. Neither is the urge to read based on a craving for the fix of more and more texts. Rather, the action of reading helps to cultivate conation, expanding the reader’s capacity and desire to act. Reading is thus a movement towards becoming causal".
1.Lone Bertelsen and Andrew Murphy, ‘An Ethics of Everyday Affinities and Powers: Félix Guattari on Affect and the Refrain’ in The Affect Theory Reader, 2010, pp.138 – 157.
2. Michael Hardt’s Affective Labour, boundary 2, Vol. 26, No. 2 (Summer, 1999), pp. 89 - 100, and Jan Verwoert’s 'You Make Me Feel Mighty Real: On the Risk of Bearing Witness and the Art of Affective Labour' in Tell me what you want, what you really, really want, (Berlin / New York: Sternberg Press, 2010).
3. Michael Hardt, 'Foreword: What are Affects Good for?', in The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social Turn (ed.) Patricia Ticineto Clough, (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007), pp.ix – xiii.
4. Félix Guattari, ‘On The Production of Subjectivity’, in Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, (Indiana University Press, 1995), pp.1 – 33
5. Lone Bertelsen and Andrew Murphy, ‘An Ethics of Everyday Affinities and Powers: Félix Guattari on Affect and the Refrain’, in The Affect Theory Reader, p.141.
6. See Gilles Deleuze, Lecture on Spinoza’s Concept of Affect, (Cours Vincennes, 1978), and 'Spinoza and Us' (taken from Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1988).
7. Robert Hurley in Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 1988, pp.i–iii.
8. The publication, Reading / Feeling considers the meaning of affect in theory and artistic practice, with a selection of texts by theoreticians, artists and curators that were read in If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution’s reading groups in Amsterdam, Toronto and Sheffield as part of the programme Edition IV—Affect (2010–2012).