The space in-between – on the autonomy of affect

September 3, 2011

On reading Brian Massumi’s essay, the autonomy of affect, I am struck both by how clearly he illustrates that most elusive of terms (clearly according to the Spinoza/Deleuze lineage of affective discourse) and by how profound the implications of that illustration are.

The essay begins by underlining the slippage that occurs between effect and content, which (to borrow from Alan Badiou 1) we might also see as the slippage between being and event. It is this slippage, this gap, which Massumi suggests is the realm of the affective. Like Deleuze, Massumi argues that affect is an autonomous, bodily response to an encounter, the figure 2, as opposed to the intellectual/emotional response to the sociolinguistic registers of an encounter, the figurative 3. He continues though in offering us a temporal home for the affective. In analysis of experiments performed on the human brain it is found that there is a missing half-second between an event in time and space and our conscious awareness of it; a temporal slip, a perpetually missing present where we form both our selves and our world, where we become. For Massumi this half-second of becoming “is like a temporal sink, a hole in time, as we conceive of it and narrativize it 4”. It is this ‘temporal sink’ that for me is so extraordinary in that it is a feedback site where all of our previous selves/conditions simultaneously merge with our present body and forge our continual becoming.

The further wonder here is that this affective state of becoming is an arena of nonlinear relationships. As Massumi puts it, this is a space of “resonation and feedback that momentarily suspend linear progress of the narrative present from past to future 5”. Could it be then that through this temporal/affective field, in each new moment of our becoming, nonlinear connections are brought into play that allow for previously unimagined paradigms to occur? Might we then go on to see our affective ability, our perpetual bodily translation of the real into being, as the site of all new thought, the source even of human creativity itself?

Kim Bridgland


1. Alan Badiou, Being and Event, London: Continuum, 2006.

2. Gilles Deleuze, ‘Painting and Sensation’, in The Logic of Sensation, London: Continuum, 2003, p.34.

3. Ibid, p.34.

4. Brian Massumi, The Autonomy of Affect, in Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002, p.26.

5. Ibid, p.26


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