A hair of the dog that bit us

Curator's Note

Post-Cinematic Affect is a work of “affective mapping” for a world of neoliberal, networked and hypermediated, endlessly metamorphosing capitalism. This hypercapitalism is a “world of crises and convulsions” ruthlessly organized around the relentless logic of commodification and capital accumulation, a world of “modulation, digitisation, financialization, and media transduction.” Rather than moralize or denounce the symptoms of cultural malaise or wax nostalgic about the past, Shaviro looks for the “aesthetic poignancy” of post-cinematic media that assume that “the only way out is the way through” – works that pursue a strategy of “accelerationism,” exacerbating or radicalizing capitalism to its point of eventual collapse.

Grace Jones, in Shaviro’s reading, is a transgressive posthuman who endlessly modulates her own image, which “swells and contracts, bends and fractures, twists, warps and contorts and flows from one shape to another”, all the while projecting a certain “singularity” as “Grace Jones, celebrity icon,” a “long string of Jones’s reinventions of herself.” Rather than being homeopathic, as Shaviro contends, which would suggest that she injects a minute dose of the “hair of the dog that bit us” to trigger an immunogenic effect in the body politic of hypercapitalism, Jones’s work seems to me a plunge into excessive, performative mimicry – magical rather than homeopathic, yet fully expressive of the condition itself.

That makes it incumbent upon viewers to activate the immunogenic response for themselves, rather than assimilating the dose into a bloodstream configured for endless modulation. The question is whether Jones provides a hinge for critiquing the infinite transcodability of hypercapitalism.  More broadly, it’s whether there remain breathing spaces and sources of transcendence outside of hypercapitalism’s ever-modulating codes. Is it futile to look for them, say, in truth, beauty, adventure, art, or peace (the five qualities A. N. Whitehead identified with “civilization” back when the word still meant something), or in nature, spirituality, political hope? Are these reducible to nothing but their commodified forms? Does modulation and plasticity render everything a commodity, or on the contrary, does an open universe — the kind Whitehead and Deleuze, two of Shaviro’s philosophical heroes, believed in — allow us to modulate commodification itself by exposing it to a different standard, a different hair of a different dog? Can we get by without hope for a beyond to hypercapitalism?




Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

More "Hair of the Dog"

 Those who would like to comment on Adrian’s terrific post might like to read a longer text he wrote on Post-Cinematic Affect and Catherine Malabou’s notion of plasticity (focusing for the most part—as this curation does—on Hooker/Jones’ video for Corporate Cannibal). It begins with a description of Shaviro’s overall project and the two major shifts it identifies: from classical cinema to non-cinemacentric digital and computer-based media and from a Foucauldian society of control to the era of endlessly transcodable "hypercapitalism". He then moves to a discussion of how Jones’ video reflects these modulations and a consideration of Sean Cubitt’s reading of the 1908 film Fantasmagorie and the differences between this early cinematic moment (and Cubitt’s reading of it) and Jones’ performativity (and Shaviro’s reading of it). There follows a consideration of the possibilities for resistance and creating wiggle room which would be less "pessimistic" than Shaviro’s description of our surrender to the "inexorable" logic of capital. Ivakhiv finds such a space for escaping or evading infinite transcodability in Malabou’s Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing but sees even more promise for a neuroplasticity and open futurity in Deleuze. The flash review concludes by asking if there is a tension between the "analytical-Marxist strand" in Post Cinematic Affect and the more (underdeveloped) Deleuzian-Whiteheadian strand (or strands in the book).

"Post-Cinematic Affect in the Era of Plasticity" can be found here: http://blog.uvm.edu/aivakhiv/2011/01/19/post-cinematic-affect-in-the-era-of-plasticity/


Shane Denson's picture

Repetition and variation

 Brilliant post, Adrian, which identifies a crucial question about our contemporary moment. I was hoping I might get you to say a few more words about the distinction you draw between homeopathic and magical expressions or performances. Is it primarily a question of subtlety versus extroversion, apparent complicity versus hyperbolic critique or exaggeration? Or how exactly do you identify the difference between these two modes?

The question of this difference—homeopathic vs magical—is framed here by Jones’s incessant reinvention of herself against a background of sameness: an interplay of repetition (still Grace Jones) and variation (a new persona or facet is added). This type of interplay is something that we’re familiar with from many fictional characters from the 19th and 20th centuries—characters like Dracula, Frankenstein, Tarzan, or Batman, who are continually reinvented as they jump from literature to radio to film to TV, comics, and now digital media. And as we get closer to our own so-called "convergence culture," we see a number of "real-world" characters following this pattern of repetition and variation or reinvention: think of David Bowie’s many personae, Madonna, or Lady Gaga. What I’m wondering is whether the question of homeopathy vs magic can be related to this media-historical line of development, i.e. whether the dynamics of variation and repetition that characterize the fictional and non-fictional characters has anything in particular to do with the distinction you’re making. And is there a particular juncture at which a reversal between homeopathic and magical modes occur? Is David Bowie magical? Is Lady Gaga homeopathic? (The latter two being questions I’ve just been dying for the right context to ask…)

I hope these questions make sense. And thanks again for a wonderful presentation!

Adrian Ivakhiv's picture

The homeopathic & the magical

Thanks for the excellent question, Shane, and thanks, Michael, for your exquisite summary of my longer argument. I’m still catching up with the last 2 days’ posts, so this will just be a quick reply to Shane.

You’re right to ask me to clarify my use of the terms "magical" and "homeopathic," since I was a bit loose and quick with them. The latter is really a subcategory of the former, which includes many different types (e.g. sympathetic, imitative, associative, etc). But since "magic" is one of the discursive nodes by which modernity has defined itself (the modern as the overcoming and rejection of the magic and superstition of the past), we’re working in messy terrains here. I think the examples of Dracula, Tarzan, Bowie, and Gaga are all very pertinent. Magic has been an important part of disciplinary societies: give them just enough magic (/affect - I think we need to think these 2 terms together) to excite them, and then we’ll funnel that excitement into the "proper" channels, thereby strengthening those channels. This magic, of course, gets its potency (in part) from its marginalized status.

Postmodernity, in this sense, has been characterized not by a "waning of affect" but by a generalized letting loose of the magical/affective, a dropping of barriers, simultaneous with a release of the hypercapitalist virus (so to speak) into the flow, rather like the hippies/yippies who dreamed of spiking a city’s water supply with LSD. I think this is compatible with Shaviro’s (and others’) arguments about hypercapitalism becoming a generalized condition, but I think we need to more carefully analyze the role of magic (& enchantment) within this condition (as the work of Michael Saler, Randall Styers, Jane Bennett, Birgit Meyer & Peter Pels, and others points to, in a more historical vein). Artists need to keep reinventing themselves more & more quickly (note the increasing rate of reinvention from Tarzan to Bowie to Gaga) in order to keep the magical in play. But my point is that the magical will always be in play and that it is up to us as viewers, respondents, and culture users (and artists as well) to work with the magical/affective so as to nudge it in the right directions. More coming…

Adrian Ivakhiv's picture

sticky Tarzan

Not, of course, that Tarzan was an artist like Bowie and Lady Gaga… But, then, maybe he was. (And the others, too.)

Adrian Ivakhiv's picture


Deleuzians like to say that the brain is a screen/image (or cinema itself). I would say the brain is a magical tool, built for noting connections between things so as to be able to work those connections, and that affect is one of the fluids that runs through the system of machinic connectivities between brains/nervous systems & other things. Scientists have expended a lot of energy trying to determine which connections do what & which are merely "imagined," but they have not changed the brain, which continues to do what it’s always done (more or less) - & which throws a wrench (or several) into the machines that scientists (& Latour’s ‘moderns’) would build.

Cinema is a machine for plugging into & through, a machine that produces worlds & elicits movement of the affective fuel by way of the worldliness it sets up and the diffractions between that worldliness & the general worldliness in which we (brains/nervous systems) operate. That is, in itself, as magical as things get. I like your (Shane’s) idea of the image as "metabolic agency … caught up in the larger process of transformation that (dis)articulates subjects and objects, spectators and images, life and its environment."

The "post-cinematic" landscape resembles the pre-cinematic except that now we have all these other machinic possibilities that weren’t there before cinema, and many of these were made possible, & are deeply implicated in & "infected" by capitalist relational dynamics. It’s important to note how those dynamics have evolved (i.e. to "hypercapitalism") & how cinematic/imagescapes have evolved with them (i.e. to the post-cinematic), but also to remember that these evolutions are multiple, w/ many spaces for movement otherwise….


Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

The Magical Lady Gaga

Thanks Adrian, for an excellent and practically mitotic chain of posts! I really like your idea of the magical/performative-affective continuum. I would like to invite you to talk a bit more about how this would fit into your earlier discussion of hypercapitalism. Furthermore, I agree that postmodernity should rather be characterised by its explosion of affective barriers, rather than a ‘waning of affect’, but surely these ever accelerating transformative circulations could not continue to move if they had no definitive other? Could it be that what you call a ‘hope for the beyond’ is that litte hair that keeps the system going?

I’d also like to linger sightly on Shane’s question of whether David Bowie is magical and Lady Gaga is homeopathic - I would possibly say that it’s the other way around. Bowie, if anyone, was amazing partly because he was an almost perfect reflection of his various cutural moments. He was the image of his time - and he made it cool. Gaga’s performances are more grotesque. She is very similar to Grace Jones, in many ways. She continually reinvents a different self through the images of contemporary society - and she makes them disturbing.


Adrian Ivakhiv's picture

Acceleration vs. Slack, & the Magic Thereof

Karin - To your question, "Could it be that what you call a ‘hope for the beyond’ is that litte hair that keeps the system going?": Yes, it could be that, since the system relies on maintaining a gap, a dissonance that its subjects are craving to fill/harmonize. But then doesn’t every system? Is there just a single, hypercapitalist system, or is this the way of the world, known since the Buddha pointed out that craving is never satisfiable and that the trick is to inject an opening, a loosening, a slackening (to bring Ivan Stang’s Church of the SubGenius into the mix) that would create the possibility of enjoyment in the gap itself rather than in the object being pursued? If we can learn to move within that gap, we can evade the trajectory/teleology favored by the system (i.e. whatever system we’re wanting to evade) and to follow/develop different patterns leading to different outcomes. That’s why I’m not convinced that accelerationism per se provides the best aesthetic strategy; it all depends on what we do with it.

At the same time, the ‘hope for a beyond’ is only effective if we don’t confuse the ‘beyonds’ being offered us, that are only extensions of the system, with the *other* beyonds that are open to us (which, in turn, may be the ‘withins’ of alternate, parallel systems). The point is to multiply/pluralize/open up what’s available, creating possibilities for alternative trajectories. I tend to follow J.K. Gibson-Graham’s and others’ argument against seeing capitalism as a massive and singular monolith. There are alternative patterns being generated in this planetary eco-socio-technical machine and we can ally with them to move elsewhere.

You raise an interesting point about Bowie and Lady Gaga. I would say that Bowie was a reflection of *tendencies* in his cultural moment, but he was ahead of the curve(s), which is why he could make certain things ‘cool’. The best artists (I think, e.g., of Miles Davis in the late ’50s to mid ’70s) are reaching ahead and pulling the rest of us into a tangle of connections that have not quite been forged yet, that are there in potential, in the virtual. Lady Gaga is doing that as well, though I’m not sure which of her connections we might want to pursue.

Adrian Ivakhiv's picture

Magic & Grace Jones

I should define what I mean by "magic" here. I wrote that "the brain is a magical tool, built for noting connections between things so as to be able to work those connections"; and this aspect of seeking correspondences between things is important in most forms of ritual magic going back to well before the Renaissance (which was the heyday of ritual magic; I’m not speaking of sleight-of-hand stage magic here, though there’s a historical connection between the two). But that doesn’t get across the centrality of the image, which shares etymological roots with "magic" for good reason. Most contemporary practitioners of ritual magic would define magic as something like "the art of working with images to bring about affective change." This is, of course, exactly what the modern arts of advertising, marketing, and propaganda do so well. (Ioan Couliano, among others, has shown the indebtedness of those arts to what Renaissance mages like Ficino, Bruno, et al were up to.)

To say that an artist (e.g. Bowie) or a film/video is "magical" is to suggest that they have an enchanting, spellbinding effect on us. It is, arguably, the movement of the image that most directly elicits that effect. Cinema is magical by nature. Capitalist cinema is cinema that triggers a response in its viewers, a need, drive, or desire that can only be satiated (however temporarily & ineffectively) in and through the commodity. This is rarely *all* that a film/media object does, and the pursuit of commodities is in any case rarely *only* that. The question for me is what other trigger points can be solicited, charged, invoked by a film or by a viewer in the presence of a film.

To the extent that "Corporate Cannibal" adds to - and enlivens - the iconography by which we imagine capitalism as deadly, it is performing anti-capitalist magic. But Jones *is* the cannibal here, the "digital criminal" (and "criminality" suggests something outside the norm, not mere capitalism but only an extreme form of it). So there’s no point of identification for us as viewers except in the act of over-the-top mimicry. It’s up to us whether to extend this mimicry to our lives, to use it as a hinge for opposing capitalism, or to shrug our shoulders and enjoy the game.

Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

Gaga's modulations

 Adrian—citing from the opening chapter of Post-Cinematic Affect— writes that the video for Corporate Cannibal reflects a  “state of endless modulation. Jones plays herself as endless modulator of her own image, an image that ‘swells and contracts, bends and fractures, twists, warps and contorts and flows from one shape to another’, all the while projecting a certain style, a certain ‘singularity’ of ‘Grace Jones’ as celebrity icon, a ‘long string of Jones’s reinventions of herself.’ Jones is the transgressive ‘posthuman’ who, unlike Madonna who ‘puts on and takes off personas as if they were clothes,’ cannot retreat into the anonymity of the unmarked (because white) artist. Jones, a black woman, is already marked to start with, and is therefore playing ‘for keeps,’ devouring  ‘whatever she encounters, converting it into more image, more electronic signal,’ and ‘track[ing] and embrac[ing] the transmutations of capital’ as she goes. Jones in this sense represents ‘the chronic condition of our hypermodernity,’ a hypermodernity we, or most of us, cannot escape”.

Lady Gaga, of course, is clearly marked as a white artist who “puts on and takes off personas as if they were clothes” and for this reason she has most often been compared to Madonna. However, earlier this year, Grace Jones herself lashed out at Gaga for copying her style(s) and her outfits.  Karin says that Gaga is in many respects “similar” to Grace Jones. But might we not go further and substitute Gaga for Jones in Shaviro’s arguments above? Gaga, too, is after all, in a state of “endless modulation” and re-modulation of her image. Rather than being a flattened out surface as Jameson might say, doesn’t Gaga also swell, contract, bend, fracture and flow as she morphs and manipulates from one shape to another in a kind of posthuman performativity? This does not signal an “end” to style as Jameson might argue (or indeed a “waning of affect”). 


Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

Gaga's modulations (continued)

 To be sure, Gaga too projects a “certain style” and “singularity” of Lady Gaga as “celebrity icon”.  But do her flows, warpings and contortions and endless shape-shiftings suggest possibilities for productive flows, ways to escape the “chronic conditions” of hypermodern capitalism? Do Gaga’s plasticized mutations create “wiggle room” for further mutations at the level of the social, economic, ecological, technical?

Like Jones, Gaga cannibalizes and consumes everything within reach and transmutes and twists it into yet “more image”. We could argue that the Haus of Gaga’s transcodings simply embrace hyper-commercialism and commodity culture. But this would be to miss the way that Gaga transmits affect, the ways in which her own remixings and self-alterations produce effects in viewers and fans. Jo Calderone’s appearance at the VMA awards  as Gaga (who performs her own absence) forecfully brings the affective work of being, imitating, remixing and performing Gaga to the fore. If Jones is marked and “playing for keeps” then maybe Gaga has a greater potential for facilitating turbulent flows which might allow for an escape—however sporadic that might be— from the logic of capital. Adrian says that “The point is to multiply/pluralize/open up what’s available, creating possibilities for alternative trajectories. I tend to follow J.K.Gibson-Graham’s and others’ argument against seeing capitalism as a massive and singular monolith. There are alternative patterns being generated in this planetary eco-socio-technical machine and we can ally with them to move elsewhere”. And, perhaps Lady Gaga’s accelerationist aesthetics is one such alternative trajectory? 


Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

Going Gaga

 In his contribution to the catalogue for the recent exhibition Speculative Jack Halberstam talks about “Gaga Feminism” as he thinks about new possibilities for living in an inviable world and ways in which we might revolutionize our critical modes and tactics of reflection imaginatively and politically to generate a more “livable future”. Jack loves the little manifesto-text The Coming Insurrection by The Invisible Committee which urges us to “wild and massive experimentation with new arrangements and fidelities” and that we should “organize beyond and against work”. Jack also exhorts us to think in less disciplined, more an-archic ways, to think like “speculative and utopian intellectuals” in order to refashion our political landscapes: “on behalf of more anarchy, less state, cooperative social forms and brand new sex/gender systems, I offer up Gaga Feminism—a form of feminism that advocates going gaga, being gaga, running amok, physically and intellectually, and in the process finding new languages with which to imagine, craft and implement a different way of living, loving and making art”.


Shane Denson's picture

Alles Gaga

Just wanted to chime in once more and say what a fascinating discussion this has turned into. I’m still not sure I have a total grasp of the magic/homeopathy distinction or continuum, but it looks like an interesting avenue to follow, at least to tentatively imagine some contours in what is a chaotic (media and cultural) landscape. And I’m very much looking forward to Shaviro’s own take on the discussion of Gaga (and her relation to Jones, Bowie, Tarzan & Co.); I know that he is quite interested in Gaga, so I’m hopeful he’ll have something to say.

Adrian Ivakhiv's picture

Going more than just Gaga

Celebrity culture and hyper-fashion are very comfortably established within the landscape of capitalism, but they can be used to do some interesting things. I’m sympathetic to Halberstam’s (and others’) arguments for a Gaga Feminism, as I think it does provide symbolic and affective resources for "refashioning" our social and cultural landscapes (and maybe our political landscapes, in a loose sense of the word). In Michael’s words, Gaga Feminism may well "facilitate turbulent flows which might allow for an escape—however sporadic that might be— from the logic of capital."

But it’s worth thinking about the extent, quality, and sustainability of that "escape." The logic of capital can be *resisted* through a variety of escape hatches, liberated spaces, etc., but I don’t think it can actually be *replaced* unless there’s a different logic to take its place. And that requires a more systematic and fundamental refashioning of the ways we live, produce and consume things, and metabolize the world around us.

Elena del Rio's picture

most everything

Adrian, I have some comments that are about different things I’ve been thinking, not necessarily the last Gaga stream. They’re also about things said all over this discussion by Paul and Patricia, or suggested in Saviro’s book. I’ve been thinking that affect is a very slippery concept and each of us has their own take on it. I’ve usually thought of it in the Spinozist sense of a power to affect or be affected, a power to pass from one state of the body (taking body in the most general sense of materiality) to another. Of course, that can involve an augmentation or a diminution of a body’s capacity to act, and, although the affective-expressive event always carries the sense of transformation, from an ethical (not moral) standpoint, it can either involve creation or destruction, composition or decomposition. This seemingly very straightforward definition demands a much more nuanced perspective and tons of qualifications or readjustments when we begin to transfer the affective into the realm of neoliberal, global capitalism of the post-cinematic discussed in Shaviro’s book. Something I said too lightly the first day has been coming back to me and I need to retract what I said. Michael brought up Ruth Leys’s critique of affect theory; one of the grounds of her critique had to do with how affect was utilized to discipline subjects. My response to that was that discipline and affect ran in opposite directions, as I was taking affect to point to the disruptive force of events or things that takes us away from signification, representation, etc (also in the sense Patricia talks about it in her wonderful post and as expressed by her clip). However, Shaviro’s book as well as some of your posts here have made me reconsider, and probably expand on, this perspective. When Shaviro talks about the affective flows of hypercapitalism, the flows formed in the pervasive, and irreversible, exchangeability of affects and commodities, there is very little here of the affirmative possibilities of affect as I originally understood it. The only transformative force indeed in this self-expanding, self-devouring cycle is, as he also mentions, its own accelerated speed that might eventually usher in its own collapse. But I also think the post-cinematic need not be wholly colonized by such overwhelmingly commodified process, and this is what for me opens up the notion of affect into two different dimensions. Continued.

Elena del Rio's picture

most everything part 2

As I was saying, of course affects, in the sense of flows and movements of forces, can be used in the direction of colonizing, territorializing, repressing, or whatever. One thinks of the highly emotive crowds of the third Reich, the explosive encounters between hooligans at a soccer/football game, or, indeed, anybody engaging in high-strung emotions that are directed towards politically repressive ways. But, as Adrian remarks when speaking about the magical, "it is up to us to nudge it in the right directions." So, to my point about how the post-cinematic need not be as completely identified with the affective flows of transnational capitalism, with its unremitting conversion of affect into currency. I’m not sure I can articulate this very clearly yet, as I’m working through it, but it’s just a try. We need to differentiate between actual affects and virtual ones that still retain the capacity for mutation. For example, the post-cinematic should, in my opinion, do something more than simply diagnose or show the capitalist production of affective flows. It should also accomodate a supplementary dimension of friction, distance, or difference/shock so as to mark the possibility for the affective production to be decomposed or redirected into different affective configurations. In other words, the affects cannot just stand in their actualized form of whatever flows capitalism manufactures for its own ends, but art/media/the post-cinematic should try to extricate these congealed affects from the limits imposed on them by signifying regimes of global media and capitalist exchange. Such an operation I think would emphasize the virtual, most creative aspect of affect. I think some of this has been said by Adrian already when he was talking about art, but I needed the rambling for my own clarification.

Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

The Gaga Concept

I want to bring the discussion back to Lady Gaga for a moment, but I will do so in reference to Elena’s astute comments. I think the concept that Michael mentions and Shane reiterates – the chaos or the ‘gaga’ – is crucial to our discussion here. And I don’t think that this is merely because it allows for a “sporadic escape” from hypercapitalism, but more importantly because it provides us with what Elena calls a “supplementary dimension of friction, distance, or difference/shock so as to mark the possibility for the affective production to be decomposed or redirected into different affective configurations”.

Shaviro argues that Grace Jones’s African heritage and afrofuturist undertones provides her with an ability to fully embody, and continually (re)internalise her play with surfaces: her mutational selves “delv[e] beneath the surfaces” in a way that somebody like Madonna never could. Importantly, what keeps this progression going is the de- and re-fleshing chaos that ensues from Jones’s becoming-alien. Jones self-cannibalistically devours and is devoured, dissolves and rematerialises. She is an amorphous meaty madness machine, that admittedly always falls back into the harmonic chain of readable images, but nevertheless provides that little moment of freakiness or "friction" that is needed if we are to instill some magic into hypercapitalist accelerationalism.

Lady Gaga’s grotesque play with the very concept of internalisation (like when she wore the infamous meat dress to the MTV Video Music Awards, literally wearing the fleshy insides on the outside) and constant use of distorting make-up and prostheses (like in the videos for ‘Born this Way’ and ‘Bad Romance’) brings her one step further down the line of dehumanisation than Grace Jones. She is ‘gaga’ , the ‘mother monster’, madness personified – and her figure never truly falls back in line. Where Jones instills a pinch of chaos into the structure of her image, Gaga installs it into the structure of contemporary pop culture.


Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

"After Hope"


Adrian concludes his curation by asking: “Can we get by without hope for a beyond to hypercapitalism?”; Coincidentally, Shaviro has published a brand new article called “After Hope” on Mladen Djordjevic’s Life and Death of a Porno Gang (2009) which balances the Serbian film’s more utopian moments against its more death-driven ones. He uses Deleuzian language to describe this temporary escape from social, economic and cultural forces:  “There is a strong utopian element to the porno gangs summer tour through the Serbian countryside. A group of self-consciously marginal people form their own small counter-society, fueled by sex, drugs, and a shared spirit of adventure. Their trip is an exodus, a creative line of flight”. Even though the characters “experiment with new ways of living, loving, and expressing”; they are unable to escape the clutches of hypercapital:  “In the world of globalized, neoliberal capitalism, transgression is not a daring risk. It is no longer a repudiation of all social norms. Rather, it is a supreme commodity, a locus of particularly intense capitalist value-extraction. Transgression is not an act of defiance, but a reaffirmation of power”. 

Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

"After Hope" (continued)

 Adrian comments that “it’s worth thinking about the extent, quality, and sustainability of that ‘escape’. The logic of capital can be *resisted* through a variety of escape hatches, liberated spaces, etc., but I don’t think it can actually be *replaced* unless there’s a different logic to take its place. And that requires a more systematic and fundamental refashioning of the ways we live, produce and consume things, and metabolize the world around us”. And, as Shaviro poignantly demonstrates, however much the porno gang finds creative lines of flight and experiments with new ways of living, loving, producing, expressing, in the end these metabolizations are unsustainable:  “All this becomes apparent both in the narrative content of the film and in its stylistics. Life and Death of a Porno Gang speaks of, and to, a time when hope has been exhausted, and when it seems that There Is No Alternative. If it does nonetheless suggest a way out from the universal rule of neoliberalism and neoconservatism, this is only because it speaks so marginally and so obliquely, from a position of humiliation and opprobrium”.

The full article appears in the open access journal Acidemic here: http://www.acidemic.com/id137.html


Adrian Ivakhiv's picture

Affect, capitalism, & the big Outside

Thanks, Elena, for bringing up Leys’ critique of the "new affect theorists" - and thanks, Michael, for bringing that into the conversation originally. I find Leys’ article interesting and useful, not because she demolishes the Massumi-Connolly (and by extension Tomkins-Ekman) paradigm of affect as separate and, in some ways, prior to cognition (she doesn’t), but because she enriches the conversation that humanists (the people who read Critical Inquiry) can have about affect and its role in politics and culture. I’ve never found Massumi’s "missing half second" argument entirely convincing; it seemed to me too much like the other snippets of pop-science that circulate for a while and then disappear (the "hundredth monkey," the "butterfly effect", etc.). But I think Massumi and especially Connolly, at their best, acknowledge the complex layerings and interactions between the affective and the cognitive-representational-intentional.

Leys identifies a risk in the "new affect theory" - that of re-reifying a dualism between mind and body at a different level than the one that had already been rejected by these theorists. But I would say that this is a point of ambiguity in the theorists (Massumi et al) that needs to be further thought through. Her alternative paradigm is hardly a paradigm yet (from what I can tell), but it’s useful to think of the Tomkins-Ekman school of thought as a paradigm, with critics and potential rivals, and of the Damasio-Ledoux-et al neuroscientific paradigm — and the Deleuzo-Spinozan line of thought that we all, it seems, draw from to varying degrees — also as paradigms, with their critics, faddishness, etc.

All that aside, I agree that we need art/media that would "try to extricate these congealed affects from the limits imposed on them by signifying regimes of global media and capitalist exchange." I’m not as pessimistic as Steven is, in part because I tend to consort with people who do very different kinds of things (start farming CSAs, work on "transition town" plans for small cities, try to revive decaying cities like Detroit from the ground up, etc.) and maybe because I life in the DIY optimist’s (quasi-socialist, by US standards) state of Vermont, so these things give me hope. But they also tend to be off-the-map of popular media culture. I would love to bring Grace Jones here for a year’s artistic residency.

Karin Sellberg and Michael O'Rourke's picture

The Affect debate continues...

 Adrian & Elena, you might be interested to know that Bill Connolly has responded to Ruth Leys’critique and that she, in turn, has offered a response (both in the current issue of Critical Inquiry). However convinced or unconvinced you may be by their respective arguments this debate is at least revivifying the affective turn and this, as Adrian says, gives us further food for thought.

You can get a sneak preview here:



Adrian Ivakhiv's picture


Thanks for alerting me (/us) to that… I hadn’t seen it yet. More to come once I read their responses to each other.

Elena del Rio's picture

one last thing - and thank you

This is what I meant all along. I’m borrowing Claire Colebrook’s words because she says it very precisely: "There is nothing radical per se about affect, but the thought of affect—the power of philosophy or true thinking to pass beyond affects and images to the thought of differential imaging, the thought of life in its power to differ—is desire, and is always and necessarily radical. The power of art not just to present this or that affect, but to bring us to an experience of any affect whatever or ‘affectuality’—or that there is affect—is ethical: not a judgement upon life so much as an affirmation of life." ("The Sense of Space: On the Specificity of Affect in Deleuze and Guattari," Postmodern Culture 15.1, 2004).

For me, this is a non-negotiable aspect of Deleuze’s thinking—the way he commits to a radical thinking that rejects any kind of reduction of life to any single term or series of relations, be it capitalism or any other form of axiomatic repetition or stratification. I agree with Shaviro that affect is the terrain itself where the war (of desire, of bodies and their will to power) is being waged, and there is no spatialized outside, no transcendental ground from where to judge its play of forces or dynamics. The affective itself is the plane of immanence, yet, for that very reason it cannot be totalized by, or subsumed under, one single term such as capital. And I even wonder whether, in fact, effecting such totalization does not amount to a reisncription of transcendence.

This discussion (and I know this doesn’t have to be the end) has been amazingly enriching for me, and I want to give a big THANK YOU to everyone involved, especially Michael, Karin, Kris, Shane, and Adrian, for their relentless intellectual generosity, and Shaviro for pushing me to think through his work and his comments.


No one has reviewed this post… but you need to login to submit feedback