Affects: Vectors of feeling
THINK: Affect has traditionally described the emotional states and feelings of the individual subject within a psychological framework. The term has often been linked to motivation, memory, and the capacity to act and engage with the world.
The study of affect has more recently informed a series of interdisciplinary approaches to cultural analysis associated with ‘affect theory’. These cultural readings of affect are founded primarily on the philosophical work of Deleuze and Guattari (1987; 1994), who themselves build on the work of sixteenth-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza. For these thinkers, affect describes the ways that bodies can affect and be affected by other bodies. Massumi (1987) thus defines affect as 'a prepersonal intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation or diminution in that body's capacity to act'. This means that affect functions independently of the knowing subject, as in the way that a piece of art, or writing, or even a natural event like a storm, can impress itself on our bodies as a physical sensation.
Affect theory is currently being put to use across a wide range of disciplines, including psychoanalysis, science and technology studies, political science, contemporary art, media studies and cultural studies. Massumi (2010), for example, has analysed the ways in which neo-conservative political parties harness affect to sway public opinion and behaviour, rather than appealing to economic rationalism or right-wing ideologies. Stengers and Latour (2013), working in science studies, describe the ways that affects are deployed in scientific laboratories through the embodied and sensory dimensions of empirical practice. In cultural studies and anthropology, scholars such as Grossberg (2010), Highmore (2010), Stewart (2010) and Macdougall (2000) have studied the affects of everyday cultural sites, including offices, classrooms, supermarkets, social media sites, and street corners. Affect is closely related to Williams' concept of the 'structure of feeling', in the sense that the lived experience of a cultural site or phenomena activates and invests a particular set of affects which are encoded into our memories.
For our purposes, affect can simply describe what it feels like to be alive in a body that both affects and is affected by other bodies. Emotion, memory, sensation and environmental awareness can all be associated with affect, but at a level that subverts cognitive interpretations and meanings. This is because the somatic experience associated with affect is both pre-cognitive and pre-linguistic, occurring at a deeper level of empathic consciousness and bodily intuition. In this sense, how we feel affects what we can do, and what we do affects how we can feel.
Reco(r)ding What Moves You (part 1) Reco(r)ding What Moves You (part 2)
Janet Cardiff and George Miller (2012) A Walk with Brian Massumi (2014)
DO: Reco(r)ding affective memory within a cultural site (through structures of feeling)
-walk to a cultural location of your choice with a smartphone or other mobile device
-as you walk think of an event or experience which has affected or moved you deeply
-record yourself telling the story of your memory, focusing on how it affected you at the time
-use the video and audio tools below to record your memory and submit into the project archive (if you wish)
Discuss: Movements of affect through structures of feeling (place, time, context); your memories and your experiences of reco(r)ding them. Did your feelings about the memory change through this process? Did your feelings about that environment change? Use the space below to document your thoughts and feelings about the experience.