Blackman, Lisa. “The Subject of Affect: Bodies, Process, Becoming”

Blackman, Lisa. “The Subject of Affect: Bodies, Process, Becoming.” Immaterial Bodies Affect, Embodiment, Mediation. London: Sage, 2012. 1-25. Print.

To remember:

  • bodies are not considered stable things or entities, but rather are processes which extend into and are immersed in worlds. That is, rather than talk of bodies, we might instead talk of brain–body–world entanglements, and where, how and whether we should attempt to draw boundaries between the human and non-human, self and other, and material and immaterial (1).
  • the focus on affect also moves away from a distinctive focus on the human body to bodies as assemblages of human and non-human processes … These bodies may not conform to our expectations of clearly defined boundaries between the psychological, social, biological, ideological, economic and technical, and may not even resemble the molar body in any shape or form (1).

  • The problem that affect theory raises … is how we live singularity in the face of multiplicity … our theorizations of affect require attending to the models of subjectivity that we implicitly and sometimes explicitly invoke in our reinventions of the human, the body, politics and life (2).

  • Characterizing sociology’s engagement with the body and embodiment as an ‘absent present’, [Bryan Turner] showed how an explicit rendering of the implicit assumptions made about bodily matters within the discipline (within the work of Durkheim, for example), might be a crucial way forward in analyses of key sociological concepts, such as power, ideology, agency, technology and discourse (3).

  • Chris Shilling (2003) and Nick Crossley (2001) have both made an important contribution to the further seriousness given to bodily matters, moving discussions to the myriad processes, practices, techniques and habits through which bodies are enacted and brought into being as particular kinds of entity (3).

  • it is clear that the intensification of work on affect across media and cultural studies, anthropology, sociology, science and technology studies, geography, philosophy, politics and related disciplines such as architecture, design and art is building at an exponential rate. This arguably discloses the humanities’ contemporary ‘absent present’ – that is, a making explicit of those registers of experience that are at work in objects, artefacts and practices, for example, but which have been largely absent in theorizing. This is because, as many affect theorists have argued, for the last three decades the humanities have tended to privilege representation, discourse, signification and ideological processes as being the key to understanding subjectification (4).

  • Affect refers to those registers of experience which cannot be easily seen and which might variously be described as non-cognitive, trans-subjective, non-conscious, non-representational, incorporeal and immaterial (see Blackman and Venn, 2010).

  • Affect is not a new process or phenomenon, but it is now taking form within the interstices of a number of disciplines and approaches which take the subject of affect as their concern (5).

  • Affect theory enacts and brings together a number of approaches to affect which differ in the place they accord the ‘human’ within their analyses. This differentiation is often made explicitly in relation to the kind of body or view of bodily matter presumed within different approaches to affect (5).

  • This approach brings together the work of Deleuze and Guattari, Spinoza, Whitehead and Bergson and puts these thinkers into dialogue with work in the contemporary sciences, particularly computational science, quantum physics, cybernetics, evolutionary science and the neurosciences. This perspective refigures our conceptions of bodies, life, technology and the human in its argument that takes discussions of affect beyond the body-as-organism … The ‘post-biological threshold’ refers to a view of bodily matter which displaces the distinction between the organic and inorganic, material and immaterial, and living and non-living where, rather than talk of bodies, we might talk of human/machine assemblages (5).

  • affect participates at every level and scale of matter, from the subatomic to the cultural, such that matter itself is affective; what [Clough] terms the ‘affectivity of matter’ … [this] resonates with Spinoza’s conception of an individuum .which ‘is a composition of differential relations between bodies/things, and it can refer to human and non-human forms alike’ (6).

  • Autopoiesis is a term within cybernetics used to study thermal dynamics and the assumption that bodies strive to achieve equilibrium and homeostasis. The limits of autopoiesis revolve around the extent to which the body can be thought of as either a closed or open system (6).

  • bodies are not closed and might be thought of more as ‘symbionts all the way down’ (Hird, 2010: 37) … if we take what Hird terms micro-ontologies of the body, particularly bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi, what we see are bodies understood more as communities than as individual closed entities (6).

  • Within [the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679] the human organism was reconceived as a form of property imagining bodies as having dis- tinct insides and outsides, for example (7).

  • This [“post-biological”] term is useful as it refigures biology as dynamic and open such that boundaries between the self and other, inside and outside, living and non-living, and material and immaterial are seen as porous and permeable; as commune rather than immune systems, for example (Cohen, 2009) (8).

  • one of the key differences for both Massumi (2002a) and Clough (2010a) is in relation to the extent to which studies of technological mediation trouble or disrupt the body-as-organism. As I have already outlined, this is framed by Clough in relation to the concept of autopoiesis – that is, relationality (which we might find in the work of Haraway, for example), with its concept of intra-action, does not go far enough in displacing the human and the living in our understandings of affect (8).

  • Although relational perspectives recognize that entities do not pre-exist their relating and that indeed relation is the generative principle of becoming, what are often also given attention within relational perspectives are the ‘psychic dynamics of subjectivity and sociality’ (Clough, 2010b: 226; see Walkerdine, 2010, for example) (8).

  • Mimetic communication is equated in Gibbs’s (2010: 186) formulation to ‘corporeally based forms of imitation, both voluntary and involuntary’ (8).

  • he vexed question of technicity and how we can think of mediation in the context of bodily affectivity. As Clough has argued, mediation or the technical framing of bodily matters differs in the extent to which approaches are able or willing to conceive of the limits of the body-as-organism (9).

  • Bodily integrity is the term coined by researchers interested in the incorpo- rations and extensions that enable bodies to live and respond to changing conditions and that challenge any notion of bodies as being fixed or stable, for example (9).

  • Vivian Sobchack (2010) uses the term ‘morphological imagination’ to refer to the more affective dimensions which characterize these incorporations. Within these perspectives bodies are considered psychically or psychologically attuned, where the potential for psychological action is distributed throughout bodies – to nerves, senses, the gastric and perceptual systems, for example (see also Wilson, 2006). In other words, the concept of body-image, with its ocularcentrism and inherent cognitivism, is replaced with a more kinaesthetic, non-visual sense of incorporation which is derived from work in psychoanalysis and phenomenology (10).

  • consciousness’ and brain function might be said in some cases to be shared, or at least to point towards the fundamental connectedness of the self to the other – human and non-human (10).

  • Within work on bodily integrity the capacity for psychological action does not remain with a singular human subject. This is not a closed psychological subject, but includes a more trans-subjective sense of the psychic or psychological as a shared, collective encounter or event (10-11).

  • Haptic, or affective, communication draws attention to what passes between bodies, which can be felt but perhaps not easily articulated. The more non-visual, haptic dimensions of the lived body distribute the idea of the lived body beyond the singular psychological subject to a more intersubjective and intercorporeal sense of embodiment (see also Csordas, 2008). This is embodiment as intercorporeality (see also Weiss, 1999) (12).

  • to describe embodiment as intercorporeal ‘is to emphasise that the experience of being embodied is never a private affair, but is always already mediated by our continual interactions with other human and non-human bodies’. The concept of body-schema, which is central to Weiss’s engagement and reconfiguration of practices such as anorexia, is one that draws attention to the limits of the concept of body-image for analysing the lived body (13).

  • we do not live our bodies photographically (see Coleman, 2008). That is, that although the mirror and the visual are emphasized, particularly within makeover and consumer culture, based perhaps on popular physiognomic assumptions (Wegenstein and Ruck, 2011), this closes down our understanding of bodies to static, two-dimensional things or entities. Massumi (2002a) terms this ‘mirror vision’, where, as the term suggests, what is emphasized is the look or appearance of the body, where bodies might be looked at as if they are static images (13).

  • The concept of body-schema introduces a non-visual or non-representational sense of the body, what is often referred to as haptic communication. This is not just about how a body looks either to oneself or others, but rather about how a body feels, where that feeling does not simply emanate from within (in relation to a psychological measure such as self-esteem, for example), but is rather an intensity generated between bodies (13).

  • Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (2009, 2011) argues that movement, or what she terms ‘animation’, is the foundation of living or life (13).

  • The reformation of bodies, within the context of the ubiquitous before and after transformation so beloved of the makeover, is one that is also about im/material processes – those that increase the body’s capacity to affect others (14).

  • to look or think photographically also requires an attunement to the affective work of images; to their suggestive capacities of captivation and enchantment (15).

  • Bodily affectivity for [Mark] Hansen relates to the way in which images must be embodied in order to be actualized, and do not exist as static, preformed images.

  • what we need to take account of rather is how people move between different registers, between body-image and body-without- an-image, between ‘the mirror-image and the movement-image, between affect and emotion, between the subject-object and the sensation of visceral and proprioceptive intensities’ (Featherstone 2010: 213). This suggests a certain ‘doubling’ … rather than the move from either a closed to an open body, or from a distinctly human body to one that troubles any such distinction (15-16).

  • [Williams, on Spinoza, on affect:] is also de-subjectifying in an important respect as for Spinoza it is also a kind of force or power that courses through and beyond subjects. Thus, it cannot easily be inscribed within the borders of subjectivity. For Spinoza, affects are forms of encounter; they circulate – sometimes ambivalently but always productively – between and within bodies (of all kinds), telling us something important about the power of affect to unravel subjectivity and modify the political body (16).
  • affect is considered autonomous, pre- personal, non-intentional and a force that exceeds the psychological subject (Massumi, 2002a). Affect within this perspective does not require an anthropocentric or psychological subject to understand or register its workings. Affect relates to ‘processes without a subject’ (Williams, 2010: 247) (16).

  • voice hearing, suggestion, rhythm and work on the double brain … these phenomena are important because they always already imply relationality and operate as ‘threshold phenomena’. That is, these phenomena already suggest some kind of transport between the self and other, inside and outside, and material and immaterial. This transport cannot be understood by the concept of social influence with its presumption of pre-existing entities interacting (20).

  • The potential of affect once registered by a human subject is often closed down or arrested in some way, reflected in the assumption that once affect is experienced as emotion or feeling, for example, its virtual potential is thwarted (see Massumi, 2002a). As Clough (2010: 209) suggests, following Massumi, if conscious perception equates to a narration of affect, there is always ‘a never-to-be-conscious autonomic remainder’. This assumption is often made by separating affect from cognition and presuming that affect bypasses cognition and is registered prior to its translation into emotion or feeling. The registering of affect is often aligned to the action of the central or autonomic nervous system, for example, or to concepts such as the mirror neuron, which are seen to grant affect its potential autonomy from meaning and interpretation. This is often equated to the half- second delay between affect and cognition (see Thrift, 2004) (21).

  • Although affect is primarily considered pre-individual, it is always subject to mediation, or what Clough calls ‘technical framing’. Affect is materialized in ways which reveal both the potential for change and hope, as well as the more insidious ways in which populations might be governed beyond normalization (see also Hauptmann and Neidich, 2010). The important point when considering subjectivity within these perspectives is that investment or the capture of affect does not require a human subject governed by psychic dynamics of subjectivity or sociality, but a nervous attunement or synchronizing of body with technology. Thus the psyche is often foreclosed and replaced by a lively nervous system or bodily materiality that is viewed as dynamic, responsive and autonomous from intentionality and cognition.

  • The psychic was presumed to be a threshold experience produced at the interface or intersection of the self and other, material and immaterial, human and non-human, and inside and outside such that processes which might be designated psychological were always trans-subjective, shared, collective, mediated and always extending bodies beyond themselves.

  • My approach is not an attempt to psychologize affect, but rather to open up the psychological to post-psychological work that allows the complexity of brain–body–world couplings and entanglements to be analysed … This is a processual approach to both the materiality and immateriality of the body, something that is perhaps lost if we frame affect as a ‘processually oriented materialism’ (Seigworth and Gregg, 2010: 14, my emphasis) (24).

  • the work of the humanities is important for the invention of new ways of being human, and new concepts for exploring such processes of self and subject-making (25).

To consume:

  • Bryan Turner
  • Arthur Frank
  • Mike Featherstone
  • Chris Schilling
  • Nick Crossley
  • Erin Manning
  • Blackman & Venn
  • Raymond Williams
  • Anna Gibbs
  • Patricia Clough
  • Maxine Sheets Johnstone
  • Mark Hanson
  • Keith Ansell-Pearson
  • K Hird
  • Valerie Walkerdine
  • Thomas Csordas
  • Howard Weiss
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One thought on “Blackman, Lisa. “The Subject of Affect: Bodies, Process, Becoming”

  1. Pingback: performing empathies [the empathics] | {kin}aesthetic composure

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