Kølvraa, Christoffer. “Affect, Provocation, and Far Right Rhetoric”

Kølvraa, Christoffer. “Affect, Provocation, and Far Right Rhetoric.” Affective Methodologies: Developing Cultural Research Strategies for the Study of Affect. Ed. Britta Timm Knudsen and Carsten Stage. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2015. 183-200. Print.

To remember:

  • Deleuzian understanding of rhetoric as a force or kind of intensity to be thought separate from processes of signification or discursive construction, indeed, as something that fundamentally disturbs or challenges the stability of such structures of meaning (183).
  • affect itself is ‘primary, non-conscious, asubjective or presubjective, asignifying, unqualifying and intensive’ (Shaviro, 2009, p3) (183).
  • A focus on the affective dimension of politics can therefore be part of the attempt to understand the nonsensical, bodily, irrational, or in a sense ‘un-serious’ dimension of contemporary politics. This is a dimension which often escapes theories and methodologies focused on ‘making sense’ (183).
  • if affect is at odds with signifying practices and cannot be fully captured discursively, then where and how can one ‘read for affect’ – if at all? (183)
  • given the increasing dominance of visual media, the bodies and especially the faces of politicians become surfaces on which the presence and transmission of affect might be tracked (183-4).
  • there is a need to think of the ‘social semantic’ in the wider sense – for example in the form of ‘body politic’ (Protevi, 2009) (184).
  • to take an interest in affect of course does not entail ignoring the importance of signifying practices to human experience … analytical interest can and should be directed at how these are co-articulated (184).
  • [assumptions:] follow Grossberg in thinking of affect and signification as different planes and thus also Massumi and Shaviro in their conceptual differentiation of affect and emotion. The challenge is, as such, to link a focus on affect to the analysis of textual statements, without reducing affect to a straightforward effect of the (linguistic) signification … approach such statements in a way that seeks to capture or appreciate the affective intensity, which is in excess of their manifest meaning (184).
  • One cannot reduce the transmission or contagion of affect to something akin to ideological interpellation or citational performances (Althauser, 1971; Butler 1997) … Affective transmission can, of course, result in imitative forging of discursive and ideological conformity, as often shown in both classical and more recent readings of affect in terms of suggestion – focusing often on the hypnotic power of the leader over his followers’crowd (Le Bon, 1896; Tarde, 1901; Moscovici, 1985; Borch, 2012). But affective contagion does not necessarily involve or lead to ideological communion (184).
  • In thinking the planes of signification and affect separately, one is able to appreciate that affective contagion can adhere between political subjects who are antagonistic toward each other – and who therefore signify themselves and their affect in radically different ways (185).
  • scholars such as Renē Girard have identified mutually aggressive kinds of imitative or contagious behavior as a core logic behind the human propensity to excessive violence, thereby illustrating that enmity can be an excellent conductor for affective contagion (Girard, 1986-1988).
  • There is therefore not only a need to think of methodologies for ‘reading for affect’ but for these to be able to appreciate that the affective intensities and transmissions tracked, need not be ‘written’ in identical ways in order to be approached as linked by the same contagious process (185).
  • ‘provocative politics’: a flair for expressing their views in ways that mean much time and energy in the rest of the political spectrum is spent being shocked, provoked, or angered by what seem overtly excessive statements and proposals (185-6).
  • a major point here is that when reading Far Right rhetoric for affect, it is the ‘style’ – even more so than the literal content – that is of interest and that should methodologically shape the selection of texts included in the corpus, because if the focus of the analysis is the coarticulation of the plane of affect and that of signification, then it cannot operate with a corpus of statements chosen solely on the premise of what they signify. It is not a corpus for investigating the deeper meanings … but rather a corpus of statements joined by a similarly provocative quality or style … (187)
  • If a statement is approached as an articulation in discourse – as a signifying practice inherent to a wider ideological matrix – then the task fundamentally would be to understand the horizon of meaning in which this is meaningful, in which it is ‘in the true’ (Foucault, 1972) (187).
  • The statements analysed would be a way of gaining access to the deeper layers of ‘taken for granted’ meanings, thought to inform and influence the perceptions and dispositions … (188).
  • such an approach does have a tendency to take the statements … very seriously, as expressions of a believed literal truth about the world, or at least a truth that the voting public is expected to fully believe. For an analysis of how something is discursively located ‘in the true’, it is simply a necessary assumption that somewhere, somebody believes the analysed statements as true [and not that it is widely accepted as true, certainly not accepted by all] (188).
  • In attempting to devise a method to read for affect … one needs to begin by not assuming that the content of the rhetoric produced … is meant to be  – to re be received as being – true in any kind of literal or ‘serious’ sense … if affect can never be fully captured in the signifying practice of language – because the attempt to speak the ‘truth’ of affect catch only its domesticated and limited shadow (emotion) – then it might equally make sense that the only language of affect operating with any modicum of success is that which does not seek to speak any version of (literal) truth (188).
  • As Jean Baudrillard has argued, the ‘seduction’ of discourse – which I take to be akin to its affective dimension – has nothing to do with its truth or with the process of interpretation through which deeper latent layers are excavated to reveal the real meaning of the manifest discourse. Seduction is about the ‘charm’ and ‘appearance’ of ‘signs’ at its surface. It is this that effaces meaning and is seductive, while a discourse’s meaning has never seduced anyone (Baudrillard, 1990, p.54).
  • What is interesting – and what ultimately gives … formulation its provocative force – is, rather, its style, which positions it in a very specific way in relation to any expression of a literal truth (188).
  • [bon mot: classical context-bound witticism; of particular interest to Freud] (189)
  • the nonliterality of the content is actually apparent and shared between both speaker and receiver … a fundamental and obvious insincerity. They are as such distinguished by the overt signaling (through form, style, or context) that, not only what is articulated not literally believed by the speaker but neither is it intended to be received as a simple statement of literal truth by the listener [ex: hyperbole and irony] … to be successful, the transition away from the literal must be a shared one … a communion of insincerity (190).
  • ‘subjunctive universe’/’as if world’ …In contrast to a ‘sincere’ mode, in which claims and actions are to be literally true and brutally honest, the insincerity of ritual does not have truth as its aim or function, but neither is it a form of lying … a ritual of illusion (190).
  • ‘How are you?’ – Here it is the ritualized form that signals to the interlocutors that literality and sincerity have been suspended … These forms of statements are … united not by some uniformity of (literal) content but rather by a common kind of metacommunication that determine how the content is understood (190).
  • Gary Bateson’s notion of ‘play’ as a specific kind of metacommunicative framing … this is play, not combat (191).
  • a more refined application of Freud’s theory of jokes- such as that practiced by Michael Billig – is not about excavating the literal truth behind a humorous smoke screen, but rather about showing how jokes might be a way of expressing affective investments or fantasies that are logical discourse … The joke, in other words is not merely a rhetorical tactic, but has an affective impact and a mind of its own. Play … has its own ‘sacred seriousness’ (191).
  • Such a connection between affect, lacking signification, and the unconscious is also at the heart of Lisa Baraitser and Stephen Frosh’s argument that Jean Laplanche’s concept of the enigmatic signifier offers productive insights into affect theory … The child experiences ‘being affected’, that is, the affective orientation of others, before and besides understanding the meaning eventually attached to such addresses. However, the enigmatic character of affect is not simply due to a deficit of infant language, Laplanche insists that it also results from the fact that the mother’s unconscious desires are in themselves unarticulated and unarticulable. There is in that sense an affective residue that is not signified, which remains in excess of what can be said, but which is nonetheless felt in the address or orientation from the Other. Here, too is the idea that affect can be directed and felt in interaction, even if (or perhaps especially when) the literal meaning of the communication is enigmatic or vacuous as in play or humor, hyperbole or ritual (192).
  • this means that the witty formulation can be understood as much more than a poor choice of style. It is metacommunication that fundamentally alters the signifying logic of the statement itself …  the joking style does not simply evacuate the aggression or hide it in a socially docile form. Its insincerity, its frivolousness, its playful character in fact only serve to emphasize the affective investment felt here, because the literality of the statement is suspended and as such does not ‘cloud’ the transmission of its affective agenda (192).
  • interlocutors (unconsciously) understand that statements are to be taken as signifying affective intensities rather than conceptual meaning. They are, so to speak, indicative of the affective investments and orientation of the subjects, and not claims made about the world to which they actually refer (192).
  • If the point of the insincere statement id to communicate the affective orientation of the subject, then its lack of translation into a literal sphere need not be a consequence of social taboos. It can be born simply from the fact that the signifying domestication it would require to actually ‘speak sincerely’ about one’s affect would transform and reduce it in the process (into a ‘literally’ communicable emotion) (193).
  • Playful insincerity might in that sense be the most sincere speech available when it comes to affect. It is because my statement about my partner’s beauty is hyperbolic that it signifies my affect rather than her physical features, just as it is the blatant and obvious untruth of a derogatory nickname that expresses the felt hatred that is the real point of its use … enigmatic signifier[:] …By being insincere at the plane of signification he can in a sense be brutally honest on the plane of affect (193).
  • There is therefore nothing innocent, inconsequential, or indeed dishonest about the insincere framing of ethnic slander or instances of ‘playful racism’ (193).
  • the element of ‘malicious address’ saturated by affective force and intentionality – and a style of ‘insincerity’ seems central to this (194).
  • affect could … be understood as the very ‘feeling of being addressed’, of being impacted by something that carries an intention from the Other and that as such demands a response, even in lieu of having delivered a decipherable message (Baraitser and Frosh, 2007, pp.84-87) (194).
  • if we maintain the difference between affect and signification, then the methodologies used to investigate its social impact must go beyond a focus on the imitative processes between leaders and followers (194).
  • affective contagion can be understood more strictly as a process through which a political space is ‘charged’, in other words, a process that raises the intensity of various positions in that space, even if they may become signified and oriented as different or oppositional ways … not simply the mirroring of ideological dispositions between the subjects, entailing a transfer of an already signified disposition in the domesticated sphere of emotion, but rather a circulation of affective intensity that may be signified differently at different positions in the political space (195).
  • [affective contagion between opposites and seductive game of challenges] seductive power inheres in ‘the sphere of play’ ( Baudrillard, 1990, pp. 132-33) … ‘A seduction or a challenge always drives the other mad, but with a vertigo that is reciprocal … Such is the inevitability of a challenge, and why one cannot but respond to it. For it inaugurates a kind of insane relation, quite unlike relations of communication or exchange: a duel relation transacted by meaningless signs, but held together by a fundamental rule and its secret observance’ (ibid. 82) (195) [an over emphasis].
  • it is never a matter of carefully reasoned speculation on existence … but of continual provocation, of a game’ (ibid., p. 142). Applied to politics, it is not, then, (just) the struggle over some external meaning or hegemony that locks opponents into antagonism, but (also) the intensifying dynamics of the playful fight itself, as each side challenges or provokes the other with statements whose literal content or validity is less important than their quality as challenges, that is, as affective addresses entailing the demand to respond in kind (196).
  • if insincere challenges are considered the vehicle of affective contagion, then the focus of our analysis moves from the traditional interest in the suggestive or hypnotic relationship between leader and followers (cf. Le Bon, 1896; Tarde, 1901) to a wider sense of how affect can ‘draw us in’ without this implying a simple ‘copying’ imitation of some ideological position or even without implying that there must lie anything behind the surface exchange of mutual provocations (196).
  • paying attention to insincerity and the transmission of affect across an antagonized political space might, as such, be a methodological starting point for grasping the dimension of (Far Right) politics, which do not play out on the plane of signification in the form of clearly established hegemonies, but rather has to do with ‘affective geography’ (Grossberg, 1984, p.101) of a political space, meaning not the distribution of meaning or ideological positions, but rather the varying topography of how different issues enjoy different levels of affective investment ranging from indifference to ‘popular hysteria’ (197).
  • affect cannot fully be signified, but … is rather signaled in statements in which meaning and truth are in different ways suspended (197).
  • In this realm of insincere, we say what we do not mean to express what we feel (197).

To consume:

  • Shaviro, Steven, Post-Cinematic Affect
  • Gibbs, Anna, Contagious Feelings: Pauline Hanson and the Epidemiology of Affect; Disaffected; Media Affect and the Face; Panic! Affect Contagion, Mimesis and Suggestion in the Social Field
  • Protevi, John, Political Affect: Connecting the Social and Somatic
  • Grossberg, Lawrence, We Gotta Get Out of This Place
  • Jennifer Harding and Deirdre Pribram, Losing Our Cool?
  • Louis Pierre Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays
  • Butler, Judith, Excitable Speech – A Politics of the Performance
  • Le Bon, Gustave, The Crowd – A Study of the Popular Mind
  • Tarde, Gabriel, The Public and the Crowd
  • Moscovici, Serge, The Age of the Crowd
  • Borch, Christian, The Politics of Crowds: An Alternative History of Sociology
  • Girard, Renē, The Scapegoat, Violence and the Sacred
  • Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse of Language
  • Bateson, Gary, Steps to an Ecology of Mind
  • Billig, Michael, Laughter and Ridicule: Towards a Social Critique of Humor, Humor and Hatred: The Racist Jokes of the Ku Klux Klan
  • Lisa Baraitser and Stephen Frosh, Affect and Encounter in Psychoanalysis
  • Jean Baudrillard, Seduction
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