As a Matter of Affect

February 29, 2012

Affect is real! This is the conclusive proclamation by Massumi in The Autonomy of Affect. Wording aside, there is a unanimous definition of affect as unquantifiable and never-to-be conscious, yet Massumi and Deleuze alike speak of the cognisant use of affect as a tool in art, culture and political theory. Given the unqualified and pre-conscious aspects of affect, identifying, measuring, creating or tampering with affect cannot be a conscious nor precise art (whether in painting, politics or architecture). Could we possibly begin to pinpoint the attributes of sensation, intensity and affect evoked by the Asplund library?

I walk into and through the podium as if grounded within a broader civic structure, climbing the buried monumental steps up and out of the earthbound, ascending towards an elevated and lit, almost ethereal body of fantasy and knowledge, faced by an awe-inspiring tapestry of books, the quiet echo of the reading hall prompts to collective silence.

Massumi claims that ‘there is no cultural-theoretical language to affect’, that ‘our entire vocabulary has derived from theories of signification that are still wedded to structure’.  When ‘defined (linguistically, logically, narratologically, ideologically, or all of these in combination, as a Symbolic)… they loose… the expression event in favour of structure’ (p. 27).  Not only do we bypass the realm of affect in the attempt to reflect on it, ‘will and consciousness reduces the complexity too rich to be expressed’ (p. 29) in doing so. The event goes beyond the bodily as soon as this is directed outward in an active expression – it is a result of, but no longer is affect.

This is not to say that architecture is void of affect. In the words of Massumi, the ‘escape of affect cannot but be perceived, alongside the perceptions that are its capture’, affect ‘is never left behind, but doubles one like a shadow that is always almost perceived, and cannot but be perceived, in effect’.  It is merely to point out that in the act of pinpointing affect through words/art/architecture, we assign to it a personal dimension, we take ownership of the event, affect enters the conscious, it takes part in a linear narrative of ‘action-reaction circuits’ (p.28) and takes on sociolinguistic meaning (p.31). We by default ‘qualify the intensity’ (p. 28) and speak of the effect of affect – a feeling, emotion or opinion (set against socio-cultural points of reference) ­­as an aftermath of the initial event.

On a more comforting note Massumi goes on to explain that intensity is asocial, as supposed to pre-social – as ‘past actions and contexts [are] conserved and repeated, autonomically reactivated but not accomplished’. The ‘matter-of-factness… [of affect] needs to be taken into account’. In the interview titled Of Microperception and Micropolitics Massumi clarifies by way of example the conscious efforts to tap into this realm of potential.  But the art is not precise. We cannot isolate the affects of the library, nor render affect visible through its architecture, but rather tickle affect by emitting ‘interruptive signs, triggering the cues that attune bodies’.  We can stimulate effect.  Although architecture is qualitative in nature (qualifying an individual emotion or public sentiment), the Asplund library resonate (amplify) and interfere (dampen) with affect, ultimately creating new unpredictable events, infolded to again take part in the autonomic realm of intensity.

– Mimmi Frendin


One Response to “As a Matter of Affect”

  1. mimmifrendin Says:

    An additional comment on the Autonomy of Affect…

    Brian Massumi makes an account of affect as a bodily function belonging to the skin and brain as supposed to the mind, where the mind is the realm of reflection – the ‘idea of the idea of the affection’ (p. 31). He points to the critical point in chaos theory; the suspended moment, that of shock; an event as supposed to structure; suspense as supposed to expectation; a present moment lost within half a second; an actual; yet a virtual present too quick to perceive. The event is an autonomic infolding of context, thus intesion as supposed to extension; intensity as supposed to qualification; cognition as supposed to volition; super-linear as supposed to the linear progress of narrative; transduction as supposed to induction. It constitutes vibrations and resonance; a crowd of incipiencies and tendencies; a realm of potential. The list is long.

    Massumi speaks of the ability of affect (pre-conscious) to produce effect (conscious) across different domains (p. 45), but where do we draw the line between affect and effect within these binary oppositions when answering the question of affect within the institution?

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