Shimmering Affect

October 18, 2011

 

Seigworth and Gregg’s article provides a holistic overview of poststructuralist theories of Affect and its implications beyond the disciplines of Cultural Theory and Philosophy, referencing cognitive and neurological sciences, cybernetics, pyschoanalytics and psychology, as well as other sub branches of the humanities.

The authors begin with a general summary of Affect, essentially describing it as the intangible ‘in-between’ “found in those intensities that pass body to body”. In a way, Affect is a descriptive device that can help us understand the transitions between Events – tangible and intangible. It recognises that we are “always on the cusp of an emergent futurity” which will be caused by bodily (human or otherwise) affects, which in themselves are caused by preceding affects. Affect highlights a new agenda in contemporary debate revolving around the processual and transititory nature of Events and their ever-unfolding consequences.

The writers deduce two critical points of departure in which Affect has been discussed. This first, the Deleuzian understanding, considers the “entire, virtual, and modulating field of myriad becomings across [the] human and non human”. The second, led by Tomkins, considers the ability of Affect to act as motivator, recognising that in a state of constant becoming we have the ability to manipulate Affect to drive change. The text’s discussion of Sara Ahmed’s writings on happiness, and even Jan Verwoert’s text (from earlier in the semester) remind me that Affect should not be read as a kind of psychedelic concept of simply ‘poetic fluidity’, but one that (also) has the power to bring about self-empowered, positive change in realspace.

An interesting discussion later in the text alludes to the writings of Roland Barthes on the Neutral. “Affect bears an intense and thoroughly immanent neutrality”, the authors write, not as something oppressive or contextually-indifferent, but rather a kind of gelatinous understanding that seeks to integrate rather than abandon the oppositions celebrated in structuralist reason.

In architecture, it is often the most extreme avante gardists whose work we celebrate. Le Corbusier’s (mid-career) work epitomises the Cartesian rationality of the International Style, and Rudolfsky the polar opposite with his interests in the regional-vernacular. Architects like Alvar Aalto or Frank Lloyd Wright perhaps deserve renewed attention for works that cleverly mediate the modernist/regionalist, landscape/architecture, and natural/artificial dichotomies, confirming this notion of affective neutrality. As a side note – following this semester’s course I am quite interested in further researching principles of landscape architectural theory (especially the Picturesque) to fold back into my own architectural studies.

This semester has made me realise the power that Affect brings, as a concept that affirms our ability to think and feel. It raises ideas of the sublime, through the sheer enormity of the term and the realisations that it inherently brings with it. It reminds me of the power that art, architecture and design has in not so much improving our day-to-day efficiencies but rather as an affective, emotion- (and therefore life-) affirming medium. Yes, it has the power to manipulate bodies, to organise, segregate and survey, but more to the point it has the ability to challenge our preconceived views of the world. That’s the power of Affect: through its sheer confrontationality, it affirms our existence.

Danny

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