Coming back to other points you make, I am not familiar with Ruth Leys’ argument against affect theory, but thank you for sending the link. It will be interesting to read. All I can say, without having read it, is that affect for me represents the only notion that expresses something not quite susceptible of colonization or cooptation. When ideas centering around consciousness, reason, or even subjectivity, have proven utterly incapable of keeping up with the complexity and the fundamental non-humanity of life, affect, for the time being, is the only concept that to me is capable of approximating the complex texture of life’s mechanics and one that takes the human centrality out of the picture. Just like any other theory, affect theory that I know of is anything but coherent. Unlike what I said about affect, some people speak of affect as a more sophisticated word for emotion or feeling. I’ve found that a lot in film analysis. Shaviro brings this up as well, and in that I am in total agreement with his position. I’ve also found Massumi’s writing on affect right on the mark. I think what’s needed in affect theory, and I think Shaviro’s book is beginning to articulate that in very important and eloquent ways (in my opinion, without enough emphasis on resistance) is a symbiosis of the affective and the political. I agree wholeheartedly with him that we shouldn’t oppose affect theory and Marxist theory. How or where can we find transformative affective flows amidst the social, political, or economic processes of transnational capitalism? As rare as these flows might be, I don’t think they stop happening, but they don’t always take on the actual forms, or at the quantitative scale, that we might qualify as substantial or visible changes. In any case, the affirmation of life’s differences is the most potent expression of resistance. That is why affect (my perspective) is inherently a form of resistance, as its very foundation is difference, divergence, dislocation. Here, I couldn’t disagree more with Leys’ critique of affect as a vehicle for disciplining subjects. Affect and discipline are diametrically opposed concepts. For me, Massumi/Deleuze/Spinoza’s distinction between pouvoir and puissance is a very useful one when dealing with the intersections between affects and politics. When affects become institutionalized or they acquire normative meanings, they becoming congealed into recognizable or capitalizable emotions. That’s the realm of pouvoir.
thank you, karin and michael for your thought-provoking comments. there are many things to say about this topic and the questions you raise. jameson’s ‘waning of affect’ makes sense if one thinks of affect as emotion or feeling in the traditional subjective or collective sense. in that sense, our age is either wallowing in clichéd sentimentality or utterly numbed. affect, as I understand it, is a capacity or power of transformation. just as life or death don’t belong to the person who undergoes them, affect is not a product or creation of a subject, but rather the network of forces that circulate around and through us while we are alive. In the spinozist sense, affect is rather synonymous with the vital force. and the affirmative sense both spinoza and deleuze impart to this is probably one difference between the way I understand affect and the way shaviro, it seems to me, understands it. i hope he can comment on this and clarify this point, which i’ve found to be a question that came up again and again as i was reading his brilliant book on post-c affect. so i now will segeway into the book just briefly and will come back to other things. for me affect carries a capacity for rupture (and also rapture) that i see happening in the works shaviro discusses in very sporadic and faint ways. but these few places where i can identify a strong affective component are interestingly those where shaviro finds an interruption of ‘the reign of universal equivalence’ that takes us ‘outside the circle of capital.’ that is how he describes the final scene in boarding gate, for example. but sporadic moments like that contrast with the more general trend to identify capitalism as a quasi totalizing process that extracts value from affect itself, a process where affect and capital come to be indistiguishable. if affect is taken to have the same equalizing value/effect as capital, is there any difference between the two? is there any need to speak about affect at all? i think at that point affect has become so utterly evacuated of any capacity for action that using the word itself is pointless. might as well just describe the devouring powers of capitalism for their own sake. what remains transgressive about capital’s unremitting self-expansion? how can more of the same give birth to difference?
(continued from previous comment):
The shift from a cinematic to a post-cinematic environment is, in your description, a metabolic process through and through: “Like an expired body that blends with the dirt to form new molecules and living organisms, the body of cinema continues to blend with other image/sound technologies in processes of composition/decomposition that breed images with new speeds and new distributions of intensities.” To the extent that metabolism is inherently affective (“passionate,” in a Spinozan vein), you’re right that post-cinematic affect has to be thought apart from feeling and subjective emotion. Your alternative, which (apposite with Deleuze’s mode of questioning while thinking beyond his answers) asks about the image, taking it as the starting point of inquiry, is helpful. The challenge, though, becomes one of grasping the image itself not as objective entity but as metabolic agency, one caught up in the larger process of transformation that (dis)articulates subjects and objects, spectators and images, life and its environment in the transition to the post-cinematic. This metabolic image, I suggest, is the very image of change, and it speaks to the perspective of metabolism itself—to affect distributed across bodies and environments as the medium of transitionality. As you suggest, exhaustion—mental, physical, systemic—is not at odds with affect; rethinking affect as metabolism (or vice versa) might help explain why: exhaustion, from an ecological perspective, is itself an enabling moment in the processes of metabolic becoming.
Anyway, thanks for the great post!
Great post—eloquent and very thought-provoking! Though I have no answers to the questions being raised here, here are some ideas that I hope might complement the effort to think through these issues (for technical reasons, my comment is split into two parts):
Deleuze’s “vital power that cannot be confined within species [or] environment” might be thought in terms of “metabolism”—a process neither in my subjective control nor even confined to my body (as object) but which articulates organism and environment together from the perspective of a pre-individuated agency. Metabolism is affect without feeling or emotion—affect as the transformative power of “passion” that, as Brian Massumi reminds us, Spinoza identifies as that unknown power of embodiment that is neither wholly active nor wholly passive. Metabolic processes are the zero-degree of transformative agency, both intimately familiar and terrifyingly alien, conjoining inside/outside, me/not-me, life/death, old/novel, as the power of transitionality—marking not only biological processes but also global changes that encompass life and its environment. Mark Hansen defines “medium” as “environment for life”; accordingly, metabolism is as much a process of media transformation as one of bodily change.
Thanks Elena for getting us off to a great start. I wanted to get you to say something more about exhaustion and affect theory. Frederic Jameson, of course, talked about the “waning of affect” a long time ago now. But there has been a recent turn against or away from affect theory and since your post argues for the “vitality” of affect, I wondered if you might talk about the field of affect theory more broadly. Ruth Leys, the historian of science, in a recent article in Critical Inquiry, has been extremely critical of affect theorists and the affective turn in general: http://www.jstor.org/pss/10.1086/659353
Leys wonders why “so many scholars today in the humanities and social sciences” are “fascinated by the idea of affect”? One of her criticisms is of affect theory which privileges the image and Deleuzian intensities and becomings. She is also critiquing a general tendency to theorize affect as a way of disciplining subjects but also the more positive politicized understanding of affect as a vitality with its own potentials for disruption—whether we use Malabou’s notion of plasticity or Deleuzian becomings to describe this lively embodied energy. These two criticisms seem like ones you would be well positioned to respond to.
In the end, Shaviro is cautious about his “affective mapping” and the possibilities for “resistance”. Interestingly, accelerationism is described as the “emptying out” of capitalism through a “process of exhaustion” but Shaviro is not at all hopeful about accelerationism as a political strategy. However, he does see value in the “intensity effect(s)” of an accelerationist aesthetics. Do you think that your vitalized affect can effect something more than a temporary suspension of the “monotonous” logic of capital? Are the “untamable” disruptions you describe sustainable?
I get your point Lauren. I am a cartoon lover, as in I love cartoons. And at my age you would not imagine that I still watch these kinds of shows and I’ve seen Bob’s burger, The Family guy and the likes. But I think it’s just amatter of how you interprete what the producers are trying to say. They are made to make the viewers think and also basing it to reality that what is actually happening to the society. And of course, for entertainment purposes.Smart jokes and deep humor are shown on the tv show. So, if you don’t like it then don’t watch it…it’s just that simple.
I really love this post—thanks for writing it. While one might expect the makers of a female-targeted product to be a bit more sensitive to issues such as these, it is delightful to read how clueless (and destructive) is the ad for a company hawking a product to "solve" a fake issue.
Considerations of advertising always make me wonder about how these ads came to be. Was this ad test marketed at all? If so, the reaction of a general audience similar to your own intiailly positive instinct? How did the product maker express their desires for this ad, and how was a feminist portrayal of female power discussed in meeting with the ad company?
Despite not being able to know more about those issues, you’ve offered a useful approach for how scholars can break down and interpret images such as these. This may be a particularly ideal example of how scholarship, particularly scholarship of seemingly benign and insignificant media, has something important to contribute to a wider audience.
Randy, thank you. The groundswell of fan protest seems to be one of the main reasons the project was allowed to continue, the project’s fate was discussed throughout gaming media. They also had a stronger case with Activision because they’d already gotten permission from previous copyright holders. Here’s the quote from Activision that offered a portent of the good news:
"Given the overwhelming community support for the Silver Lining project," a company statement released to Kotaku on Sunday read, "Activision is in discussions with Phoenix Online Studios about allowing them to continue to finish the game and then release it to their fans." (From the Kotaku article)
Anastasia, I really enjoyed this post for providing an excellent example of player agency expressed in both a resistant and constructive way, even as it moves in direct opposition to the mainstream industry. I’d love to hear more about Activision’s response and explanation for ultimately backing off. Cynically, I wonder what it might have benefit beyond goodwill that Activision might have found to allowing it to thrive. Regardless, the fact that Silver Lining survives is enough to ask whether is capable of learning a lesson other media industries haven’t about conflicts with users.
Thanks for your comments, Randy and Zachary!
I don’t want to speak for Dave, but I can’t recall Debord ever coming up in our conversations. That said, "détournement" could certainly be a generative idea for thinking through the kinds of critical or quasi-critical operations that [adult swim] games perform. On the other hand, I am also hesitant to celebrate these advergames as "countergames" (to borrow Alexander Galloway’s terminology) because they are complicit (as Randy’s invocation of "(sub)cultural capital" signals) with the broader goals of corporate gameplay commodification. Even if they aren’t as ham-handed in their design as so many other corporate instances of gamification, it is precisely the brand’s uncomfortable, itchy "duality" (as you say, Zachary) that makes these objects so perplexing and interesting.