A first encounter with affect

February 15, 2012






What is affect in the context of critical studies and architecture? Or in cultural studies? As described by Gregory J. Seigworth and Melissa Gregg in their introduction to The Affect Theory Reader (2010), the concept of affect is somehow diffuse: “How to begin when, after all, there is no pure or somehow originary state of affect? Affect arises in the midst of in-between-ness: in the capacities to act and be acted upon.” (Seigworth and Gregg, 2010, 1) Affect “emerges out of muddy, unmediated relatedness” and it gives way to “thresholds and tensions, blends and blurs”. (Ibid. 4)

In their initial description, Seigworth and Gregg further declare that affect is states of relations and passages of forces or intensities. Affect is in the intensities that transfer between bodies and it is affect that drive us towards movement and thought. Untangling the concepts in “Feeling, Emotion, Affect” in the theme issue of M/C Journal on affect (2008), Eric Shouse likewise states that affect plays an important role in deciding the relationship between our bodies and our environment. Since affect is unformed and unstructured it is easily transmittable between bodies (human/nonhuman/objects). According to Shouse, it is here the powerful force of affect lies, giving interesting consequences to aspects of norms and power relations, collective and private. How the intensities of sensations transfer between bodies and how they in their turn relate to the world around them, could be seen as giving spatial implications to affect. How does affect relate to how bodies act in space? Is there a risk of that the abstract notion of affect gives way to normalized, general views of bodies and space? Seigworth and Gregg do anyhow state that the issue is never the generic figure of “the body” but a singular body.

Common for Seigworth, Gregg and Shouse, is the emphasis on the potentials of affect. The potentials for action and responses, the potentials of becoming otherwise, that which is not yet determined. Here lies something very interesting: affect is movement and process, in itself potentials for exciting futures, even though they could be both hopeful and fearful.

Both Shouse and Seigworth refer to music when they describe affect (Seigworth specifically in the article about indie-musician Sufjan Stevens in “The Affect of Corn” in the M/C Journal). This is also when some of the content of affect becomes easier to grasp for me. In a music experience the intensity of sensation on a body can “mean” more than the meaning of the music itself. And yes, it can be hard to put words on what exactly creates that sensation or affect.


– Anja Linna


One Response to “A first encounter with affect”

  1. Your great diagram reminds me of Paul Klee’s image The Twittering Machine, which is also the image used for the introduction of Deleuze and Guattari’s book, A Thousand Plateaus. The emphasis on the example of music is also really helpful here, as it allows you to maintain some grasp on the difficult problem of affect!

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