Thank you, Jennifer, for a great post to open this week’s theme. What I find refreshing about NPR’s spoof is that it avoids the sententious laments that so often come with those “how the web ruins our ability to pay attention / think / remember” arguments. (Another spry example is Tracy Seeley’s launch of the Slow Book Movement.) These digital-age Jeremiahs usually overlook the fact that the way a medium is currently being used—or misused—isn’t exhaustive of all the possible ways in which it could be used. Why not embrace a Slow Internet experience, in which users might linger in meditation or recursively interact with a site, before wringing our analogue hands? Take, for example, Jonathan Harris’s and Sep Kamvar’s site, We Feel Fine, which culls from weblogs statements that include the phrase “I feel.” The site presents users with a database, growing by 15,000 – 20,000 feelings per day, with which they can interact, exploring how we articulate our feelings on the web. The site is fascinating. Each click offers a glimpse into a human existence. It strikes me as the sort of web experience we’d want to take in slowly and with a smile.
I have very much enjoyed the coalescences of ideas on panpsychicism and magic. It seems what is being suggested in these intersections is what could be called a new occultism that, in a radical reconfiguration of superstition or ordained ‘faith’, terms such as panpsychism and magic are able to be utilised as belief in what is not finally and exhaustibly knowable but is premised on experimental mappings of chaos to catalyse what could have only hitherto been thought of as inconceivable or, more correctly for cinema, imperceptible. I think we may have here a new ecstasy or mysticism which is a deeply ethical project that emphasises affect as activism and so we could add to Foucault’s thought from outside which replaces knowledge only possible within epistemic slaughter of affects the idea of belief (a Spinozist seeking of ethical benefit or good while acknowledging results can never be predicted - thus technically a belief in what we do not yet know, the belief in quality of affect itself, liberated from description or prescription) and hope (perhaps a new methodology of investigation to replace myths of hypotheses). Potentially this is a strange little divergence but recalling Shaviro’s emphasis on new opportunities for emergent vocabularies, these words are no less empirical but through their exquisite sensitivity produce a way to describe projects of affect-ivation
Shaviro suggests ‘we do not live in a world in which the forces of affective vitality are battling against the blandness and exhaustion of capitalist commodification. Rather, we live in a world in which everything is affective’ and responding to your fascinating suggestion that this could herald a new kind of phenomenology which sees theory as affective of itself, neither taxonomical nomenclature nor resistant to it. In a way we can come thus to theory itself as approach and allure - tentative, as a promising but enticing libidinal territory. We know we are destined to be unfaithful but as Shaviro rightly points out, it is precisely because theory is neither faithful nor unfaithful to the false dichotomy of affect or/over/against resistance. It invokes Rodowick’s cinema of thought which claimed all memory is resistance a all history is power - both are always simultaneous and it is the very imperative not to choose which is which that makes all approach ethical and all allure irresistable without being felicitous. The clip nature of your interesting examples of fragmentary events bear out Shaviro’s thoughts, because the fragment is always part of a connective consistency just as those cinematic events which masquerade as complete conceal the unnatural participations they are always making with all territories of affect and all affect as territory. The question becomes not whether an affective territory is resistant or, as your wonderful expression suggests, teleologically memorial, but to what extent is it needed at any moment. For this reason, youtube’s clip-ish nature is the need we didn’t know we had because it forces us to take responsibility for the use of the affects of the accidental terrain.
Thanks for alerting me (/us) to that… I hadn’t seen it yet. More to come once I read their responses to each other.
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:
Hi Elena. Thanks for a wonderful post, which seems to have been followed by equally interesting conversation in the comments.
I was particularly fascinated by the thread of comments about images, as they were placed in conversation with the notion of metabolism and also Shaviro’s recent writing on Things. What I noticed, while people were discussing this topic is the general use of the word "image," and I wonder if you have thought about some of the discussions emerging in visual culture studies where, following the work of people like W.J.T. Mitchell or Mark B.N. Hansen, people have started to differentiate "images" from their material "picture(d)" manifestations (e.g. photographs, celluloid, etc.). I find this distinction useful because it allows us to consider the life of images as they may escape the confines of anthropocentic concerns–escaping with and enabling their own desires.
I also find beneficial, as Shaviro mentions in his essay on Things, to anthropomorphize things as a means to fight against anthropocentrism. It seems that this connects with part of your response to Shane, where you mention how images "think" and function within/as affective processes. Does this move allow us to better understand the thing-ness of images, where images imagine themselves through the affective processes of imag(in)ing, similar to how humans imagine the meaning of pictures through the process of imagining?
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.
Thanks for a truly inspired post, Patricia! I find the way you describe Youtube absolutely alluring – I caught myself starting to consider its hidden depths and affective magnetism. I have one question, though – Youtube clips are certainly different from films, trailers and excerpts, but are they really a new visual art form? Is it not rather similar to the 1990’s and early 2000’s installation art of, for example Tracey Emin and Matthew Ritchie, where the viewer is getting the impression of watching a random slice-of-life clips and/or confessional and awkwardly intimate pieces of self-expression? Sure, Youtube is online, readily available and open to everybody, which makes the range of material rather different to what you would see in a gallery space, but their affective exchange and participatory approach seem rather similar to me.
One might even argue that art that features random CCTV clips, like the work of Bruce Nauman, would be even more accidental and conducive for affective unconscious machines, since the Youtube clip will always carry the context of the very conscious act of filming or posting.
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”.
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