An Architecture for Locating Affective Encounters
Garden of Multitude Intelligence – South Korea
January 10, 2016 at 10 pm (Google Hangout)
1. POINT, LINE, AND PLANE
Point, line and plane.
If anywhere along the way during this talk you feel things begin to drift off, just remember these three little words because, for me, they summarize most of what you really need to know about encounters with affect. Namely, we need to understand how the architectures of affect work as or through these three interlocking, overlapping modes: point, line, and plane.
Think ‘point’ as ‘point of contact.’ As a kind of intensity or touch. To touch and/or be touched by something. A point of contact with another thing, another body. An encounter. An impingement. Point as the moment of relation of a body to other bodies, of things to other things. These relations or encounters are the kind of events that happen on all kinds of scales. From the unnoticed to the impossible-not-to-notice, these are the points that compose our days, our lives. Existence.
But these points never occur in simple isolation. They arrive, they impinge, they touch always in the midst of whole host of other things, other points, other bodies.
In a context.
In the singularity of your own ongoing-ness and its interface with the collective ongoingness of the surrounding world. These points of contact, of intensity, of touch, of encounter never occur in isolation – they perpetually jostle with, disrupt, or otherwise join in as one more point among a shifting multitude of point-encounters. They serve as merely one further point of contact, but – however small such an encounter may be – it registers and infolds somewhere, maybe only dimly, in the composition of a life, of an existence. Hence, in the wedge of that moment, there follows a tiny (sometimes LARGER) shift or modulation in how you register your world and perhaps in how your world registers you, in how you and your world (often impersonally & nonconsciously) recognize and move in a relation – even if this relation is a non-relation – to one another. The ongoing-ness of the meeting-points of worlds and bodies. Events like this happen all of the time. ALL of the time. Right now.
This ongoing-ness of body-to-body, body-to-world interface forms a seam, a line that continuously modulates as you go about your day, as a body persists in its existence … and how. This is a line that sometimes you can sort of hum along, like a habit or a routine, or, it can be a line where the points grow or arrive as POINTED, where they pierce and redirect you off the path that you and your world were tracing. In his Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes talks about how, when he looks at photographs, many, he says, would strike him with an ‘average affect’ what he calls ‘studium’ which is a sort of trained way of looking, of being touched by the world of the photograph. And he can see what other people would like in these photographs. They offer figures, faces, gestures, settings, actions toward which he can participate with a sort of ‘unconcerned desire’ and find – as he put it – a ‘general enthusiastic commitment.’
All of the little pleasures of recognition and deciphering.
Barthes says that he is sometimes stirred by such pictures, but mostly, in such cases, his “emotion requires the rational intermediary of an ethical and political culture” (26). But there are other photographs that Barthes says arrive, not as studium, but as ‘punctum’ – they prick, they wound, they strike his body as if delivered by a pointed instrument. He thinks of photograph’s punctum as being punctuated by points. Barthes writes:
#1 - Roland Barthes: [B]ecause the photographs I am speaking of are in effect punctuated, sometime speckled with these sensitive points; precisely these marks, these wounds are so many points… punctum is also: sting, cut, little hole – and also a cast of the dice. A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me)”. [26-27]
So, we have ‘point’ as ‘point of contact’ (as encounter or event), and now ‘line’ describes how such a point always arrives in the middle of a worldly ongoing-ness. Points are gathered up and carried along, creating a seam, a line: arriving as a hum or a hurt, as a bliss or a bruise, but continuously varying in their passage of intensity, modulating up and down as you go about your day, as you compose an existence. Just as any and all bodies compose their existence: in both singularity and collectivity.
Finally, we move from point to line … to plane (although this direction can be reversed just as easily or can be initiated from the middle). If you pause long enough to think about what transpires in the encounter and the seam -- in the point of contact and the line of continuous variation that arises and modulates as incline or decline in the call-and-response with these specklings of sensitive points, then what affect’s architecture is – most of all – built upon is relatedness (even if it is bruising, or sad, or average) and the ongoing-ness of a world-in-process. When or where does such relatedness and ongoing-ness stop? It doesn’t. Oh, we arbitrarily (or by necessity) bring relatedness and ongoingness to momentarily closure all of the time of course but the speckled, piercing punctuality of the punctum and the average steadiness of affect’s studium are always inhabited by the continuity & consistency of a wider plane of existence, of immanent connectedness or disconnectedness.
Think of point/line/plane modes of affect as what transpires when you take your dog to the park for a walk. ‘Point of contact’ is your body and dog’s body connected by the lead (never mind that I have two dogs: one walks on a lead and the other roams free during our walks). You and the dog(s) compose a continuous ‘line’ of variation together in your engagement with the park as context. The dog has its sensory engagement with unique affective specklings of punctum and studium along the way, and you (the human) have your own, likely very different, set. Together you compose a walk across the park as an extended plane of organization, ‘a cast of the dice’ -- with little detours and old habits and new events that unfold along your intertwined trajectory. And you could, if the dog had its way probably, venture across the park forever (infinite encounters, infinite lines to draw, infinite traversings of multiple planes and surfaces that could range quite broadly over hills and valleys or can percolate intensely within a far more limited wandering). All the feels that the park (as infinite plane of potential encounters) could deliver to you and your dog walking the line. Just remember that affect is all three at once, and not in any rigid sequence. Point, line, and plane. Line, point, plane, etc.
In a lecture on Spinoza in 1978, Deleuze tells his students something similar. He tells them that, if they are to really understand what Spinoza's thought is all about, they must imagine the philosopher out for a stroll, just stepping out of the house and going for a walk around the area where he lived.
#2 Gilles Deleuze: It is necessary to imagine Spinoza strolling about, and he truly lives existence as this kind of continuous variation: to the extent that an idea replaces another, I never cease to pass from one degree of perfection to another, however minuscule the difference, and this kind of melodic line of continuous variation will define affect [affectus] in its correlation with ideas and, at the same time, in its difference in nature from ideas.
As Deleuze writes in Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, "Writers, poets, musicians, filmmakers--painters too, even chance readers--may find that they are Spinozists; indeed, such a thing is more likely for them than for professional philosophers." To discover that one is a Spinozist requires "only one term 'Life' ... to let others live, provided that others let [you] live ... to want only to inspire, to waken, to reveal." A Spinozist reveals something of how thought and life, by turns, encompass one another, how each folds affectively into the other. And, for Deleuze, capital “L” Life is another word for the plane of existence.
2. EXPUNGING AFFECT
In one of my favorites moments from his work, Michel Foucault once wrote about Maurice Blanchot, about those moments in Blanchot’s writing when ‘discourse ceases to follow the slope of self-interiorizing thought’ and addresses itself to ‘thought of the outside.’ Foucault says:
#3 Michel Foucault: ‘[F]rom that moment, in a single stroke, discourse becomes a meticulous narration of experiences, encounters, and improbable signs – language about the outside of all language, speech about the invisible side of words. And it becomes attentiveness to what in language already exists, has already been said, imprinted, manifested – a listening less to what is articulated in language than to the void circulating between its words, to the murmur that is forever taking it apart.’
The relative ineffability of affect as regards its capture by language [language as symbolized in words] is often seen as a considerable stumbling block in its theorization. Affect articulates connection – as the moment of connection or relation, as the persistence or interruption in connection or relation, as the infinite and potential relatedness of all connection that always ‘already exists’ – and yet affect does not immediately yield to articulation in words. Instead, affect offers another take on language, its own sort of language. As Foucault has it: its language is more one of circulation and murmur.
What has always attracted me to affect is not its potential to lend itself to sudden, eventful eruptions of vehement passions but, rather, I have long been drawn to affect’s utter banality, its immanent neutrality, its ordinary murmuring. I’ve long felt that, as an encounter, affect’s promise – as well as its danger – has always been more in its irreducible unremarkability, its excess or ‘extra-‘ ordinariness.
Jacques Lacan held a decidedly different opinion about how to reckon with affect within writing or analysis however. When asked by students in his seminars of 1953 and 1954 about the role of affect, his reply was unflinching. He held that any consideration of affect in psychoanalytic practice led to an ‘ambiguity’ that ultimately cleaved a too simple divide between ‘the intellectual and the affective.’
#4 Jacques Lacan: “this ambiguity always dogs us concerning the notorious opposition between the intellectual and the affective -- as if the affective were a sort of colouration, a kind of ineffable quality which must be sought out in itself, independently of the eviscerated skin which the purely intellectual realization of a subject’s relationship would consist in. This conception, which urges analysis down strange paths, is puerile… The affective is not like a special density which would escape an intellectual accounting. It is not to be found in a mythical beyond of the production of the symbol which would precede the discursive formulation.”
And Lacan is correct here insofar as any overly neat binary separation of thought (or ‘the intellectual’) and affect is bound to be too tidily dialectical, and thus it is not surprisingly then that by the end of the seminars Lacan will tell his students -- in a question and answer session -- that the terms ‘intellectualized’ and ‘affect’ (both of them) are terms that they should completely ‘expunge’ from their papers.
But to refuse to even attempt to account for – but only cariacature as a ‘mythic beyond’ or as a ‘puerile’ endeavor – the ways that affect and intellect (and, for that matter, affect and writing or analysis) might be intertwined, complexly, is itself a hasty rejection of any consideration of other potential images of affect in thought, especially in the potential for images of thought that are non-representational.
This is particularly ironic in Lacan’s case because of his deeply felt admiration for the philosopher Baruch Spinoza: the one philosopher who did more to figure out the intersections of intellect and affect than anyone else, before or since. As Lacan’s biographer Elizabeth Roudinesco notes, the walls of Lacan’s boyhood bedroom were covered with diagrams and colored arrows that charted the supple architecture of Spinoza’s Ethics while the epigraph of Lacan’s thesis was a quote from book 3 of this same work.
The main problem for Lacan, as Roudinesco points out, is that he did not realize in his first encounters with Spinoza’s writings (during the early 1930s) that, in the Ethics, Spinoza had used two words for designating affect: affectio and affectus. The French translator Charles Appuhn had unfortunately translated both words as ‘affection,’ allowing these terms to shade more easily then into a near-equivalence between affection and emotion.
But in Spinoza’s philosophy there is a key distinction that must be maintained between affectio and affectus. For Spinoza, affectio designates ‘the state of body as it affects or is affected by another body’ while affectus is, as Gilles Deleuze highlights it, ‘a body’s continuous, intensive variation (as increase-diminution) in its capacity for acting.’ But as Roudinesco remarks, it would take Lacan more than ‘twenty years’ to begin to square Spinoza’s affect with ‘his own theoretical revisionism of Freudianism as a whole.’
3. AFFECT AND IMMANENCE
However, affect does not have just two modalities, but three – not only ‘affectio’ & ‘affectus’ but also affect works simultaneously along a third ontological register in Spinoza. Affect is also a plane, or, indeed THE plane of all existence; the capacity of becoming-expressive of the world as a singular horizon or infinitely relational environment. Affect, in this third mode, is a measure of one’s (a body’s) degree of open-ness to immersion in this plane of immanence. Deleuze says this is Spinoza’s blessedness of monistic substance as God or Nature: the infinite connectedness of everything in unmediated relation.
Spinoza asks first about what a body (any ‘body’) can do [the matter of ‘capacity’ or potential of a body to act or be acted upon], and then moves to the encounter of bodies in motion striking one another, impinging upon each other’s trajectories if only briefly through mutually reinforcing or conflicting rhythms of motion and rest, by way of differential or complementary speeds and slownesses. In short, this is affect as ‘affectio’ or the productive (though quite often inadequate) powers of simple bodies, says Spinoza. And then of the second register as affectus (as composite bodies), Spinoza writes:
#5 Spinoza: “When a number of bodies, whether of the same or of different size, are so constrained by other bodies that they lie upon one another, or if they so move, whether with the same degree or different degree of speed, that they communicate their motions to each other in a certain fixed manner, we shall say that those bodies are united with one another and that they all together compose one body or individual, which is distinguished from the others by this union of bodies…But we should further conceive a third kind of individual, composed [of many individuals] of this second kind, we shall find that it can be affected in many other ways, without any change in its form. And if we proceed in this way to infinity, we shall easily conceive that the whole of nature is one individual, whose parts, that is, all bodies vary in infinite ways, without any change of the whole individual.
Here is my secret shorthand way of thinking the geometric, affective architecture of Spinoza’s Ethics, maybe not unlike the colored arrows and diagrams on Lacan’s bedroom walls à
1. Affectio marks a point of contact or encounter of bodies. Some thing, another body, acts upon me, upon a body. Impingement.
2. Secondly, this impingement is carried along, carried forward as part of an ongoing relation between a body or set of bodies, a folding over of context as ongoing relation to a world. Deleuze called Spinoza’s notion of affectus ‘a modulating line of continuous variation.’
3. Third, a world turned fully expressive substance in the infinite belonging of all bodies and their capacities in rhythmic motion or resonance. The single plane that holds the other two registers in all their multiple pinprick impingings & continuous variations, stretched to their widest. But keep in mind too that this plane has been there all along – in its thrownness. It persists alongside every point, every line. It shifts and waves, circulates and murmurs as it is reconfigured, redrawn, as it shimmers in the motions and intensities of bodies that compose it.
So, three separate but interleaved modes or registers for affect then: affectio as point, affectus as line, affectual immanence as plane. Again, this is not a sequence to be followed in any strict order (1, 2, 3) but a supple architecture of resonant trans-substantiation.
4. AFFECT AND ITS REGISTERS
Finally, it might be instructive to think of these three registers or modes of affect - drawn from Spinoza - as one way of organizing (quite broadly) the terrain covered by different theoretical approaches to affect:
1) affectio à studies of bodies in close-up (human, nonhuman, inorganic, incorporeal or otherwise): their properties & capacities of relation/non-relation, often located at the level of sensation and studies of emotion, certainly focused on understanding the thresholds of bodies (what passes above, below, unnoticed), verging on certain approaches within phenomenology and post-phenomenologies of contact/relationality (the work of Sara Ahmed on race, postcoloniality, the feminist killjoy, happiness, and so on, for one, is exemplary here, also Erin Manning’s on the politics of touch or her latest writing on autism; also many of those who follow the affect-theorizings of Silvan Tomkins);
2) affectus à addresses the virtual and the ontologies of the everyday as undulating lines of variation (accretions and unfurlings of space-time contexts), exploring the links between bodies-as-practices (or sets-of-practices as bodies) through the social and the somatic, the political affectivity of various becomings/unbecomings (John Protevi, Lauren Berlant, Brian Massumi, Katie Stewart)
3) affective immanence à analyses of reciprocating / interpenetrating human/nonhuman vitalisms and neutralities as a single plane (a flat ontology), the political ecologies of materiality and incorporeality, what Jane Bennett calls an ‘enchanted materialism’ or Isabelle Stengers’ ‘cosmopolitics’… a renewed focus on an ethico-aesthetics of existence as non- or impersonal belonging (Rosi Braidotti, Steve Shaviro, Patricia Clough, Lisa Blackman, Bruno Latour, Karen Barad, Jasbir Puar, for example)
These three broad registers or modes can be understood as pursuing slightly different questions and thus emphasizing slightly different trajectories toward or through affect: each, in their own way, offering a supple architecture of the more usual understandings of phenomenology (affectio), ontology (affectus), and materialism (immanence) respectively.