The Affect Theory Reader

Overview

This field-defining collection consolidates and builds momentum in the burgeoning area of affect studies. The contributors include many of the central theorists of affect-those visceral forces beneath, alongside, or generally other than conscious knowing that can serve to drive us toward movement, thought, and ever-changing forms of relation. As Lauren Berlant explores "cruel optimism," Brian Massumi theorizes the affective logic of public threat, and Elspeth Probyn examines shame, they, along with the other ...

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The Affect Theory Reader

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Overview

This field-defining collection consolidates and builds momentum in the burgeoning area of affect studies. The contributors include many of the central theorists of affect-those visceral forces beneath, alongside, or generally other than conscious knowing that can serve to drive us toward movement, thought, and ever-changing forms of relation. As Lauren Berlant explores "cruel optimism," Brian Massumi theorizes the affective logic of public threat, and Elspeth Probyn examines shame, they, along with the other contributors, show how an awareness of affect is opening up exciting new insights in disciplines from anthropology, cultural studies, geography, and psychology to philosophy, queer studies, and sociology. In essays diverse in subject matter, style, and perspective, the contributors demonstrate how affect theory illuminates the intertwined-realms of the aesthetic, the ethical, and the political as they play out across bodies (human and non-human) in both mundane and extraordinary ways. They reveal the broad theoretical possibilities opened by and awareness of affect as they reflect on topics including ethics, food, public morale, glamor, snark in the workplace, and mental health regimes. The Affect Theory Reader includes an interview with the cultural theorist Lawrence Grossberg and an afterword by the anthropologist Kathleen Stewart. In the introduction, the editors suggest ways of defining affect, trace the concept's history, and highlight the role of affect theory in various areas of study.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

The Affect Theory Reader is . . . a very valuable resource: it presents essays
in conversation in such a way as to provoke further discussion, to hone various definitions and approaches to affect. Gregg and Seigworth frame the conversations in such a way as to draw out the differences between approaches, and their substantial introduction serves as an apt survey of current work. . . . Gregg and Seigworth have assembled an impressive collection of essays and, in their introduction, certainly recognize the limits and scope of such a project. The work is impressive and will certainly catalyze further development in affect theory across disciplines.” - Russ Leo, Reviews in Cultural Theory

“As the first definitive collection of essays on affect studies, The Affect Theory Reader demonstrates how the affective turn in academia has been, and continues to be felt, throughout a variety of disciplines.” - Marcie Bianco, Elevate Difference

“While a reader of the book might be left less rather than more sure of what precisely constitutes ‘affect theory’, or even affect itself, s/he is nevertheless very likely to be moved by the range of both thought and affective styles that make up the volume and constitute what the editors call in the introduction, an ‘inventory of shimmers’ (p11). This incitement to ‘more than discourse’,
the capacity ‘to touch, to move, to mobilise readers’ (p24) is exactly what one would hope for from a reader of affect theory, and is what the contributions that make up this collection indeed achieve.” - Michael Goddard, New Formations

The Affect Theory Reader is unique. It gathers interesting and provocative articles on affect by well-known theorists and suggestively brings to expression the productive divergence between different philosophical and psychological positions on the subject.”—Erin Manning, author of Politics of Touch: Sense, Movement, Sovereignty

“Written by some of the most interesting and important thinkers in the field, the essays in this superb collection prove how any serious consideration of culture and politics needs to involve serious attention to affect. The Affect Theory Reader covers remarkable ground: from the ontology of ‘future threat’ in Bush’s preemptive politics to the management of workplace affects in the information economy; from the biology of human mimicry to attachments to promises of the ‘good life’ that often cruelly wear out economically precarious subjects. Thoughtfully curated and genuinely interdisciplinary, with contributors from fields ranging from media studies to geography, Melissa Gregg’s and Gregory J. Seigworth’s reader will be indispensable to anyone working in or adjacent to affect theory.”—Sianne Ngai, author of Ugly Feelings

Russ Leo

The Affect Theory Reader is . . . a very valuable resource: it presents essays in conversation in such a way as to provoke further discussion, to hone various definitions and approaches to affect. Gregg and Seigworth frame the conversations in such a way as to draw out the differences between approaches, and their substantial introduction serves as an apt survey of current work. . . . Gregg and Seigworth have assembled an impressive collection of essays and, in their introduction, certainly recognize the limits and scope of such a project. The work is impressive and will certainly catalyze further development in affect theory across disciplines.”
Marcie Bianco

“As the first definitive collection of essays on affect studies, The Affect Theory Reader demonstrates how the affective turn in academia has been, and continues to be felt, throughout a variety of disciplines.”
Michael Goddard

“While a reader of the book might be left less rather than more sure of what precisely constitutes ‘affect theory’, or even affect itself, s/he is nevertheless very likely to be moved by the range of both thought and affective styles that make up the volume and constitute what the editors call in the introduction, an ‘inventory of shimmers’ (p11). This incitement to ‘more than discourse’,
the capacity ‘to touch, to move, to mobilise readers’ (p24) is exactly what one would hope for from a reader of affect theory, and is what the contributions that make up this collection indeed achieve.”
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822347767
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 10/28/2010
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 278,686
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Melissa Gregg works in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney in Australia. She is the author of Cultural Studies’ Affective Voices.

Gregory J. Seigworth is a professor in communication and theater at Millersville University in Pennsylvania.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

An Inventory of Shimmers Gregory J. Seigworth Melissa Gregg 1

1 Impingements

1 Happy Objects Sara Ahmed 29

2 The Future Birth of the Affective Fact: The Political Ontology of Threat Brian Massumi 52

3 Writing Shame Elspeth Probyn 71

2 Aesthetics and the Everyday

4 Cruel Optimism Lauren Berlant 93

5 Bitter after Taste: Affect, Food, and Social Aesthetics Ben Highmore 118

6 An Ethics of Everyday Infinities and Powers: Félix Guattari on Affect and the Refrain Lone Bertelsen Andrew Murphie 138

3 Incorporeal/Inorganic

7 Modulating the Excess of Affect: Morale in a State of "Total War" Ben Anderson 161

8 After Affect: Sympathy, Synchrony, and Mimetic Communication Anna Gibbs 186

9 The Affective Turn: Political Economy, Biomedia, and Bodies Patricia T. Clough 206

4 Managing Affects

10 Eff the Ineffable: Affect, Somatic Management, and Mental Health Service Users Steven D. Brown Ian Tucker 229

11 On Friday Night Drinks: Workplace Affects in the Age of the Cubicle Melissa Gregg 250

12 Desiring Recognition, Accumulating Affect Megan Watkins 269

5 After Affect

13 Understanding the Material Practices of Glamour Nigel Thrift 289

14 Affect's Future: Rediscovering the Virtual in the Actual Lawrence Grossberg Gregory J. Seigworth Melissa Gregg 309

Afterword: Worlding Refrains Kathleen Stewart 339

References 355

Contributors 381

Index 385

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First Chapter

THE AFFECT THEORY READER


DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2010 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4776-7


Chapter One

HAPPY OBJECTS Sara Ahmed

I might say, "You make me happy." Or I might be moved by something, in such a way that when I think of happiness I think of that thing. Even if happiness is imagined as a feeling state, or a form of consciousness that evaluates a life situation achieved over time (Veenhoven 1984, 22-3), happiness also turns us toward objects. We turn toward objects at the very point of "making." To be made happy by this or that is to recognize that happiness starts from somewhere other than the subject who may use the word to describe a situation.

In this essay, I want to consider happiness as a happening, as involving affect (to be happy is to be affected by something), intentionality (to be happy is to be happy about something), and evaluation or judgment (to be happy about something makes something good). In particular, I will explore how happiness functions as a promise that directs us toward certain objects, which then circulate as social goods. Such objects accumulate positive affective value as they are passed around. My essay will offer an approach to thinking through affect as "sticky." Affect is what sticks, or what sustains or preserves the connection between ideas, values, and objects.

My essay contributes to what has been described by Patricia Clough (2007) as "the affective turn" by turning to the question of how we can theorize positive affect and the politics of good feeling. If it is true to say that much recent work in cultural studies has investigated bad feelings (shame, disgust, hate, fear, and so on), it might be useful to take good feeling as our starting point, without presuming that the distinction between good and bad will always hold. Of course, we cannot conflate happiness with good feeling. As Darrin McMahon (2006) has argued in his monumental history of happiness, the association of happiness with feeling is a modern one, in circulation from the eighteenth century onward. If happiness now evokes good feeling, then we can consider how feelings participate in making things good. To explore happiness using the language of affect is to consider the slide between affective and moral economies. In particular, the essay will explore how the family sustains its place as a "happy object" by identifying those who do not reproduce its line as the cause of unhappiness. I call such others "affect aliens": feminist kill-joys, unhappy queers, and melancholic migrants.

Affect and Intentionality

I do not assume there is something called affect that stands apart or has autonomy, as if it corresponds to an object in the world, or even that there is something called affect that can be shared as an object of study. Instead, I would begin with the messiness of the experiential, the unfolding of bodies into worlds, and the drama of contingency, how we are touched by what we are near. It is useful to note that the etymology of "happiness" relates precisely to the question of contingency: it is from the Middle English "hap," suggesting chance. The original meaning of happiness preserves the potential of this "hap" to be good or bad. The hap of happiness then gets translated into something good. Happiness relates to the idea of being lucky, or favored by fortune, or being fortunate. Happiness remains about the contingency of what happens, but this "what" becomes something good. Even this meaning may now seem archaic: we may be more used to thinking of happiness as an effect of what you do, as a reward for hard work, rather than as being "simply" what happens to you. Indeed, Mihály Csíkszentmiháyi argues that "happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random choice, it is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated and defended privately by each person" (1992, 2). Such a way of understanding happiness could be read as a defense against its contingency. I want to return to the original meaning of happiness as it refocuses our attention on the "worldly" question of happenings.

What is the relation between the "what" in "what happens" and the "what" that makes us happy? Empiricism provides us with a useful way of addressing this question, given its concern with "what's what." Take the work of the seventeenth-century empiricist philosopher John Locke. He argues that what is good is what is "apt to cause or increase pleasure, or diminish pain in us" (Locke 1997, 216). We judge something to be good or bad according to how it affects us, whether it gives us pleasure or pain. Locke uses the example of the man who loves grapes. He argues that "when a man declares in autumn, when he is eating them, or in spring, when there are none, that he loves grapes, it is no more, but that the taste of grapes delights him" (215). For Locke happiness (as the highest pleasure) is idiosyncratic: we are made happy by different things, we find different things delightful.

Happiness thus puts us into intimate contact with things. We can be happily affected in the present of an encounter; you are affected positively by something, even if that something does not present itself as an object of consciousness. To be affected in a good way can survive the coming and going of objects. Locke is after all describing the "seasonal" nature of enjoyment. When grapes are out of season, you might recall that you find them delightful, you might look forward to when they will be in season, which means that grapes would sustain their place as a happy object in the event of their absence. However, this does not mean that the objects one recalls as being happy always stay in place. As Locke argues, "Let an alteration of health or constitution destroy the delight of their taste, and he can be said no longer to love grapes" (216-17). Bodily transformations might also transform what is experienced as delightful. If our bodies change over time, then the world around us will create different impressions.

To be affected by something is to evaluate that thing. Evaluations are expressed in how bodies turn toward things. To give value to things is to shape what is near us. As Edmund Husserl describes in the second volume of Ideas, "Within the joy we are 'intentionally' (with feeling intensions) turned toward the joy-Object as such in the mode of affective 'interest'" (1989, 14). Some things you might say capture our attention. Objects we do things with generate what Husserl might call "our near sphere" or "core sphere" (2002, 149-50), as a sphere of practical action. This sphere is "a sphere of things that I can reach with my kinestheses and which I can experience in an optimal form through seeing, touching etc." (149).

Happiness might play a crucial role in shaping our near sphere, the world that takes shape around us, as a world of familiar things. Objects that give us pleasure take up residence within our bodily horizon. We come to have our likes, which might even establish what we are like. The bodily horizon could be redescribed as a horizon of likes. To have our likes means certain things are gathered around us. Of course, we do encounter new things. To be more and less open to new things is to be more or less open to the incorporation of things into our near sphere. Incorporation maybe conditional on liking what we encounter. Those things we do not like we move away from. Awayness might help establish the edges of our horizon; in rejecting the proximity of certain objects, we define the places that we know we do not wish to go, the things we do not wish to have, touch, taste, hear, feel, see, those things we do not want to keep within reach.

To be affected "in a good way" involves an orientation toward something as being good. Orientations register the proximity of objects, as well as shape what is proximate to the body. Happiness can thus be described as intentional in the phenomenological sense (directed toward objects), as well as being affective (contact with objects). To bring these arguments together we might say that happiness is an orientation toward the objects we come into contact with. We move toward and away from objects through how we are affected by them. After all, note the doubling of positive affect in Locke's example: we love the grapes if they taste delightful. To say we love what tastes delightful is not to say that delight causes our love, but that the experience of delight involves a loving orientation toward the object, just as the experience of love registers what is delightful.

To describe happiness as intentional does not mean there is always any simple correspondence between objects and feelings. I suspect that Robin Barrow is right to argue that happiness does not "have an object" the way that other emotions do (1980, 89). Let's stay with Locke's example of the man who loves grapes. Grapes acquire meaning for us, as something we can consume, grapes can be tasted and "have" a taste, even though we cannot know whether my grape taste is the same as yours. The pleasure evoked by the grapes is the pleasure of eating the grapes. But pleasures are not only directed toward objects that can be tasted, that come into a sensuous proximity with the flesh of the body, as a meeting of flesh. We can just recall pleasure to experience pleasure, even if these pleasures do not involve exactly the same sensation, even if the impressions of memory are not quite as lively. Pleasure creates an object, even when the object of pleasure appears before us.

We are moved by things. And in being moved, we make things. An object can be affective by virtue of its own location (the object might be here, which is where I experience this or that affect) and the timing of its appearance (the object might be now, which is when I experience this or that affect). To experience an object as being affective or sensational is to be directed not only toward an object, but to "whatever" is around that object, which includes what is behind the object, the conditions of its arrival. What is around an object can become happy: for instance, if you receive something delightful in a certain place, then the place itself is invested with happiness, as being "what" good feeling is directed toward. Or if you are given something by somebody whom you love, then the object itself acquires more affective value: just seeing something can make you think of another who gave you that something. If something is close to a happy object then it can become happy by association.

Happiness can generate objects through proximity. Happiness is not then simply about objects, or directed toward objects that are given to consciousness. We have probably all experienced what I would call "unattributed happiness"; you feel happy, not quite knowing why, and the feeling can be catchy, as a kind of brimming over that exceeds what you encounter. It is not that the feeling floats freely; in feeling happy, you direct the feeling to what is close by, smiling for instance, at a person who passes you by. The feeling can also lift or elevate a proximate object, making it happy, which is not to say that the feeling will survive an encounter with anything. It has always interested me that when we become conscious of feeling happy (when the feeling becomes an object of thought), happiness can often recede or become anxious. Happiness can arrive in a moment and be lost by virtue of its recognition. Happiness as a feeling appears very precarious, easily displaced not only by other feelings, but even by happiness itself, by the how of its arrival.

I would suggest that happiness involves a specific kind of intentionality, which I would describe as "end orientated." It is not just that we can be happy about something, as a feeling in the present, but some things become happy for us, if we imagine they will bring happiness to us. Happiness is often described as "what" we aim for, as an endpoint, or even an end in itself. Classically, happiness has been considered as an end rather than as a means. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle describes happiness as the Chief Good, as "that which all things aim at" (1998, 1). Happiness is what we "choose always for its own sake" (8). Anthony Kenny describes how, for Aristotle, happiness "is not just an end, but a perfect end" (1993, 16). The perfect end is the end of all ends, the good that is good always for its own sake.

We don't have to agree with the argument that happiness is the perfect end to understand the implications of what it means for happiness to be thought in these terms. If happiness is the end of all ends, then all other things become means to happiness. As Aristotle describes, we choose other things "with a view to happiness, conceiving that through their instrumentality we shall be happy" (1998, 8). Aristotle is not talking here about material or physical objects, but is differentiating between different kinds of goods, between instrumental goods and independent goods. So honor or intellect we choose "with a view to happiness," as being instrumental to happiness, and the realization of the possibility of living a good or virtuous life.

If we think of instrumental goods as objects of happiness then important consequences follow. Things become good, or acquire their value as goods, insofar as they point toward happiness. Objects become "happiness means." Or we could say they become happiness pointers, as if to follow their point would be to find happiness. If objects provide a means for making us happy, then in directing ourselves toward this or that object we are aiming somewhere else: toward a happiness that is presumed to follow. The temporality of this following does matter. Happiness is what would come after. Given this, happiness is directed toward certain objects, which point toward that which is not yet present. When we follow things, we aim for happiness, as if happiness is what we get if we reach certain points.

Sociable Happiness

Certain objects become imbued with positive affect as good objects. After all, objects not only embody good feeling, but are perceived as necessary for a good life. How does the good life get imagined through the proximity of objects? As we know, Locke evokes good feeling through the sensation of taste: "For as pleasant tastes depend not on the things themselves, but their agreeability to this or that palate, wherever there is great variety; so the greatest happiness consists in having those things which produce the greatest pleasure" (1997, 247). Locke locates difference in the mouth. We have different tastes insofar as we have different palates.

We can see here that the apparent chanciness of happiness-the hap of whatever happens-can be qualified. It is not that we just find happy objects anywhere. After all, taste is not simply a matter of chance (whether you or I might happen to like this or that), but is acquired over time. As Pierre Bourdieu showed in his monumental Distinction, taste is a very specific bodily orientation that is shaped by "what" is already decided to be good or a higher good. Taste or "manifested preferences" are "the practical affirmation of an inevitable difference" (1984, 56). When people say, "How can you like that?!" they make their judgment against another by refusing to like what another likes, by suggesting that the object in which another invests his or her happiness is unworthy. This affective differentiation is the basis of an essentially moral economy in which moral distinctions of worth are also social distinctions of value, as Beverley Skeggs (2004) has shown us. What "tastes good" can function as a marker of having "good taste."

We can note here the role that habit plays in arguments about happiness. Returning to Aristotle, his model of happiness relies on habituation, "the result of the repeated doing of acts which have a similar or common quality" (1998, vii). The good man will not only have the right habits, but his feelings will also be directed in the right way: "a man is not a good man at all who feels no pleasure in noble actions; just as no one would call that man just who does not feel pleasure in acting justly" (11). Good habits involve work: we have to work on the body such that the body's immediate reactions, how we are impressed upon by the world, will take us in the "right" direction. It is not only that we acquire good taste through habits; rather, the association between objects and affects is preserved through habit. When history becomes second nature (Bourdieu 1977), the affect becomes literal: we assume we experience delight because "it" is delightful.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from THE AFFECT THEORY READER Copyright © 2010 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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