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
Great post, and nice approach to Youtube, which resonates with a tendency of my own in thinking about visual media. This discussion of allure helps me to think about this tendency somewhat critically, though, and I wonder what you might think about this. The tendency I’m thinking of is the tendency to look for moments that somehow escape narrative (or continuity), exceed it through self-reflexivity or preoccupation with non-narrative visuality or mediality (whether in Buster Keaton’s "operational aesthetic," in sci-fi special effects, or gratuitous flaunting of CGI, etc). I tend to seek out this excess—which Youtube showcases almost by default—and to address it as a deeper level of medial materiality underlying the discursive construction of the diegesis, a level that (one might say) has an allure of its own, which resonates with the materiality of my own embodied, pre-subjective agency. I’m not ready to give up on this approach, but the talk of allure allows me to think depth and surface as reversible—material depth is at the same time visible surface, narrative Oberfläche is at the same time a dimension of depth created through the images. My quest to become intimate with the material/affective underside of film or other visual media (a quest that Youtube and the digital generally expedite) is, in a sense, something like the tunneling of perception that we execute when we focus on only one instrument within a larger symphony (or maybe listen for audience members coughing in the pauses), whereas the symphony as a whole has an allure of its own, which is no less material, no less embodied, no less animated by an agency that exceeds the intentions of (one or more) humans. This is just to say that decontextualization (whether imagined by me or enacted concretely on Youtube) is one way of acheiving a non-anthropocentric intimacy with a "deep" materiality, but isn’t there an equally non-anthropocentric intimacy to be found in a focus on the surface, in a probing exchange of agencies at the level of the narrative? We might think of the infinity that Levinas sees at work in the encounter between subjects—an alterity that exceeds subjective capture. Might we not find something similar in the film-viewing experience, a sort of too-big infinity that constitutes the allure of the narratively contexted clip, which complements the digital allure of the infinitesimal and decontexted?
As Franco Berardi has put it, it is as if the antagonism between labor and capital has been interiorized as a conflict within the subject – causing feelings of inadequacy, fear, depression, powerlessness, isolation. The unity of the working class as class for itself in industrial production is given by the collective nature of that work, the disunity of the working class as class for itself in conditions of free labor is given by this interiorization of capital, of competitiveness, individualism etc.
However, I do believe that the conditions for a newly found unity is given somehow within the current organization of production. It is the unity of the network, that is a mutant multiplicity in an endless process of transformation. Nobody can see the future, but I still believe that it is within the form of the network, and the peculiar conditions that it expresses, that new antagonistic relations will be realized. I’m saying ‘potential antagonisms’ because the network is a very open form and it does not mean that it will have the contents that we believe it should have. After all you are dealing with subjectivity, that is with memory, habits, percepts, affects, desires, opinions, feelings, sex etc! There is no historical teleology, here, no predetermined happy ending for the troubled relation between labor and capital, but only an open field of experimentation".
Karin, this brings to mind Tiziana Terranova’s concept of free labor. After all, those who upload, edit and comment on You Tube clips are willingly giving up their time and labor. The following quotation from an interview with her is very interesting in the context of this week’s discussions (especially in the comments on Adrian’s post and the conversation about Gaga) and in terms of post-cinematic affect and work more generally:
"In Marxist terms, what you are asking about is how you pass from the existence of a ‘class-in-itself’, that is a class whose existence as such is given within the objective conditions of production, to a ‘class for itself’, that is a class who is conscious of its unity and able to pursue collectively its goals of shared liberation. If we remain within this framework, then the unity of such class is ‘objectively’ given within the conditions of the current capitalist mode of production. The unity of labor is given by its generalized exploitation that is characterized on the one hand by a surplus of wealth (the excess of pleasurable production, of the investments, desires, knowledge, intelligence and capacity for invention) and on the other hand by its surplus of ‘poverty’ (economic impoverishment, loss of rights and control over the working process, etc). In such context, which Negri and Hardt among others have called ‘biopolitical capitalism’, this passage is problematized in ways that help to understand the difficulties I’m having in answering your very important question. The technologies of production, and the very source of production, are basically affecting and reworking subjectivity. It is as if capital had installed itself within the working subject. It constitutes it at the level of language, affect, perception.
I have a further comment/question for Patricia about how your work converges with or diverges from Shaviro’s. It is clear enough—on reading Cinesexuality—that The Cinematic Body has been a shaping influence on your creation of concepts and theories of enfleshment. But, I wonder if the moment of Post-Cinematic Affect gives us a chance to assess shifts not just in Shaviro’s work but also your own. Adrian remarks that Shaviro down- or under-plays the Deleuzian/Whiteheadian strand in Post Cinematic Affect. When we think of what the project of Without Criteria was this seems all the more strange. That book successfully staged a philosophical fantasy in which Whitehead’s process philosophy would replace or succeed Heideggerian phenomenology. Yet, and despite the many differences between Shaviro’s philosophy and Harman’s (and the disputes between them can be traced on their respective blogs [Object oriented Philosophy and The Pinocchio Theory] as well as their essays in The Speculative Turn) the emphasis on allure would suggest that it is (Heideggerian/Husserlian) phenomenology which is more to the fore in this recent book (of course Shaviro everywhere problematizes the logic of succession and the post. His concepts of the post-cinematic and post-continuity do not mean replacement but rather a repurposing or retooling). And your own focus on allure above would suggest that phenomenology has taken a more prominent place in your own thinking (indeed the most dominant strand in your own writing has been the Deleuzo-Guattarian one). Of course, I’m not arguing that you and Shaviro are suddenly more interested in phenomenology than Deleuze/Whitehead. But I am suggesting that you are both less suspicious of the phenomenological tradition (suspicious might be too generous a word for your work since Heidegger and Levinas merit just one entry each in the index for Cinesexuality and Merleau-Ponty only just beats them with two) than up to now. And this may well be signalling a reversal in theoretical fashions more generally. Up to recently, en vogue in continental philosophical circles have been thinkers such as Deleuze, Badiou, Žižek, Lacan, Laruelle, Malabou over against the more unfashionable thinkers from the phenomenological tradition. What is theoretically interesting about Shaviro’s work (and your own) is that they stage potential encounters or unnatural alliances between these two divergent trends.