On ‘Intensities of Feeling: Towards a Spatial Politics of Affect’

August 7, 2011

Thrift’s paper considers the concept of Affect within a variety of academic circles, before discussing its general applicability to politics and how contemporary artistic precedents may offer clues as how best achieve this.

Thrift argues in the opening that Affect has become a generally accepted term in academia, and to ignore its impact on future thinking is “criminal”. He claims the understanding of Affect is essentially already being utilized as a strategic political tool; that a consciousness of the concept is critical in order to understand the contemporary city and its socio behavioural patterns.

I understood the first component of the essay to read as a general background of the term Affect. In this, Thrift concludes several parallels between physiological, cultural/linguistic and philosophical understandings of the term, deducing four general and interrelated definitions.

Thrift continues his essay by demonstrating examples in which Affect, once consciously defined, is able to be engineered. The first (and perhaps most profound) example concerns methods of military training, in which soldiers are able to be conditioned in order to suppress emotion (such as fear or anger), thus maintaining focus during battle. The example illustrates that even though we assume affective events (i.e. horrific scenes of violence) to prompt an emotive response, our responses can in fact be pre-conditioned, altering the impact of Affect before it has even occurred.

Affect has influenced the political frontline too; with the introduction of the notion of ‘choice’, political parties have become less aligned to any singular ideology, and indeed the political landscape has a wider scope now than ever before. Connected to this is Thrift’s discussion of the media, and the role it plays in affectively conveying such politics. Thrift notes the prevalence of the digital screen and the media’s ability to project, zoom in and dramatise facial details in order to convey emotional content – an ultimately affective system – by commenting, “…political presentation conforms increasingly to media norms of presentation which emphasize the performance of emotion as being an index of credibility”.

Thrift concludes the text by examining the video artistry of Bill Viola, whose installations explore visceral notions of the body, face and time. Frustratingly, I still do not fully understand the connection between this art and the earlier discussions of a potential for affective politics. My understanding is that Viola’s work, in its ability to stimulate public emotional response (engineered affect), may represent a new opportunity for a wider, community-involved politics. Although, I am not totally confident of this.

Danny Brookes


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