‘Emotion is the effect of affect…’

August 5, 2011

I thought it would be worthwhile quoting Naomi’s great formulation: “emotion is the effect of affect.” Brian Massumi makes a careful distinction between emotion and affect, even though in the first instance we are tempted to explain what affect is by recourse to the emotions (and yes, there is a relationship). Affect is primary, and emotion is secondary. Emotion cuts in when we have regained our senses, and find that we are able to represent to ourselves that, I am sad, I am happy. We can tell ourselves the narrative of our feelings. But if you listen closely, you know that this narrative is only a diluted after-image, a mere after effect of affect. Affect is aroused in the midst of an encounter with a human or non-human, or else in response to an (atmospheric) environment. It comes before we are able to break to world up into subjects and objects, it comes before language, it preempts the self we imagine we recognize continuing from one perception to the next.


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