Mazzarella, William. “Affect: What is it Good for?”

Mazzarella, William. “Affect: What is it Good for?” Enchantments of Modernity: Empire, Nation, Globalization, edited by Saurabh Dube, London, Routledge, 2009, pp. 291-309.

To remember:

  • Even in its relatively untheorized invocations, affect carries tactile, sensuous, and perhaps also involuntary connotations (291).
  • I write in the belief that only those ideas that compel our desire as well as our resistance receive and deserve the most sustained critique (291).
  • From an analytical point of view, thinking affect points us toward a terrain that is presubjective without being presocial. As such it implies a way of apprehending social life that does not start with the bounded, intentional subject while at the same time foregrounding embodiment and sensuous life (291).
  • unlike emotion it is not always already semiotically mediated (292).
  • Gilles Deleuze, in an essay on David Hume, credits the latter with having discovered that ‘affective circumstances, pre exist and guide the ‘principles of association’ that constitute what we like to recognize as reason … there is, in John Rajchman’s words, ‘an element in experience that comes before the determination of subject and sense (292).
  • Affect is both embodied and impersonal. The appearance of personal, subjective life is, then, for Massumi as for Deleuze a secondary effect of cultural mediation. This is why affect cannot be equated with emotion (292).
  • From the standpoint of affect, society is inscribed on our nervous system and in our flesh before it appears in our consciousness. The affective body is by no means a tabula rasa; it preserves the traces of past actions and encounters and brings them into the present as potential (293).
  • An examination of affect may well move us into the neighborhood of a social aesthetics, if we understand by aesthetics the ancient Greek sense of aesthesis or sense experience. But it is by definition irreducible to any anthropology – for example, an anthropology of emotion, or of aesthetic systems – that would seek to explain affect by situating it comparatively within integrated cultural orders (293).
  • As with others in this neo-vitalist vein: ‘If there were no escape, no excess or remainder, no fade-out to infinity, the universe would be without potential, pure entropy, death’ (Massumi, 2002:55) (294).
  • the major flaw besetting contemporary affect theory is its romantic (and complicit) attachment to a fantasy of immediacy – or as I prefer to put it, immediation (Mazzarella 2006) (294).
  • The just-so story we too often tell ourselves about the origins of modernity takes disenchantment as its central theme … affect is progressively evacuated from an increasingly rationalized bourgeois world to the point where politics becomes, in Paul Valery’s words, ,the art of preventing the senses from getting involved in what concerns them’ (quoted in Maffesoli 1996 [1938]: 154). The legitimacy of bourgeois modernity seems here to depend upon processes of abstraction that are at once universalizing and vampiric (294).
  • The ideological discourse of modernity not only represses and demonizes the affective but also romantically fetishizes it – particularly insofar as it can be located at the receding horizon of a savage disappearing world, an anthropological other in the classic sense (295).
  • In the discourse of modernity, affect appears as a social pharmakon, at once constitutive and corrosive of life in common (296).
  • The figure of the urban mob (when not simply sullen) is affectively effervescent, to be sure, but also for that very reason frighteningly unstable and vulnerable to the manipulations of demagogues and advertisers alike. In the closed clan the energy generated by proximate bodies in motion, each mirroring the other’s excitation, operates as a principle of solidarity and commitment. But in the open crowd these very same conditions herald excess and violence (296).
  • Composed of deindividualized bodies, the crowd is a kind of horrifyingly undead body social, capable only of the concrete logic of the savage mind: ‘A crowd thinks in images, and the image itself immediately calls up a series of other images, having no logical connection with the first’ (15). The end result, famously, is a’collective hallucination’ (16), a mass cognitive meltdown that invades the understanding and paralyzes all critical faculty’ (18)’ (297).
  • Tarde moved from this diagnosis of the affectively conductive urban crowd to a striking formula for social life tout court as a generalized condition of mimetic resonance: ‘Society is imitation and imitation is a kind of somnambulism’ ( 1903 : 87, original emphasis) (297).
  • In a simple reversal of moral polarity (which leaves the ontological grounds of the argument untouched) the crowd’s formerly unacceptable unreason now reappears as the productive, emergent puissance of the multitude (297).
  • [In considering the effects of ritual on masses]: Affect is not, then, so much a radical site of otherness to be policed or preserved but rather a necessary moment of any institutional practice with aspirations to public efficacy (298).
  • any social project that is not imposed through force alone must be affective in order to be effective – i.e., it has to speak both of Massumi’s ‘languages’ concurrently: intensity as well as qualification, mimetic resonance as well as propositional plausibility (299).
  • this ‘gap’ is a condition of power’s efficacy’ if by efficacy we mean its capacity to harness our attention’ our engagement, and our desire (299).
  • the manner in which we ate interpellated in our lives as citizens, consumers – and, increasingly, consumer-citizens – requires that we take these categories (self, citizen, ‘subject’ etc.) not only as vitality-denying idealogical obfuscations but as affectively-imbued, compellingly flawed social facts. When we are thus addressed, when we are offered such identities, our identification always fails and that which we experience as our desire (a dialectical movement across the gap between affect and articulation) is always thwarted (299).
  • public discourse addresses us simultaneously on two levels of impersonal generality. One is abstract and pertains to the formal, legal assemblage of citizenship and civil society. The other gets us in the gut: it is equally impersonal but also shockingly intimate, and solicits us as embodied members of a sensuous social order (300).
  • we participate in a double fetishism that projects this delicate tension onto the ‘inherent’ properties of the desired or dreaded object as well as onto the ‘ambivalent’ motivation of the choosing subject (300).
  • At points Massumi does seem to acknowledge something like a dialectical relationship between emergence and articulation, between affect and qualification … And yet Massumi continues to insist upon a radical distinction between vital potential and the death-dealing work of formal mediation (301).
  • Much writing in this tradition presents itself rather narcissistically as intervening in an ‘insurrectionary’ or ‘insurgent’ manner into apparently authoritative realms of utterance and practice …would it not be more illuminating to explore how this indeterminacy actually operates in practice as a dynamic condition of our engagement with the categories of collective life? Rather than positing the emergent as the only vital hope against the dead hand of mediation, why not consider the.possibility that mediation is at once perhaps the most fundamental and productive principle of all social life precisely because it is necessarily incomplete, unstable, and provisional? (302)
  • mediation is the social condition of the fantasy of immediation, of a social essence (vital and/or cultural) that is autonomous of and prior to social processes of mediation. This is by no means an obscure consideration: our everyday ‘folk’ sense of our apparently given selves and our places in the world depend on precisely such an illusion (303).
  • For Maffesoli, committed as he is to recuperating a ‘proxemics’ that would ameliorate the alienated abstractions of the rationalized society, perversion really is a pathology – at best a’simulated acquiescence ‘ to the commandments of an intolerable order (1996 [1998]:49) (304).
  • insofar as the perverse detour is the mark of all mediation, and insofar as any notion of ‘identity’ relies upon a mediated relation between two or more terms, then it would appear that we must all be perverse. Rather than seeking to recuperate an emergent non-alienated state, we might instead productively pervert Massumi’s terminology, and acknowledge that the condition of our becoming is indeed a negatively dialectical one, in which we are always moving between immanence and qualification (304).
  • politics in practice always involves an ongoing and inclusive mediation between, on the one hand, claims to finite and located identification and, on the other, an aspiration to universal relevance (305).
  • The crowd is always at once a concrete, particular crowd – these people, these bodies in this place – and an infinitely expansive formation. ln that sense, the crowd is both the Doppelganger and the antitype of the public. And because it embodies in a utopian-dystopian figure the dynamic tension between mass affect and mass mobilization, it is also perhaps the starting point for an adequate reading of the politics of public culture (305).
  • ‘Public culture’ – the phrase itself is perverse. If publics are, as Warner argues, collectivities to which we in principle belong voluntarily, then what does it mean to juxtapose ‘public’ with ‘culture,’ an idiom of belonging that – despite the marketing hype – would seem to be marked most strongly by an involuntary, even unconscious stamp? (305)
  • perhaps thinking affect and thinking the crowd in this connection allows us a different vantage point on the sensuously anonymous dimension of public cultural communication. Maybe what is happening here is a doubling where the ‘stranger’ with whom we feet ourselves curiously aligned is not just the abstract figure of an unknown external other, but equally the impersonally intimate domain of our affective memory (306).
  • If public communication always conveys, as a condition of its felicity, the odd sensation of never quite having realized its addressee, then perhaps this is because its implicit destination is at once more innervated and more abstract than the ‘subject’ whose coherent intentionality is the precondition for a liberally-imagined civic life (306).

To consume:

  • Deleuze, Gilles. 2001 [1972]. ‘Hume’, in Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life, pp. 35-52. New York: Zone.
  • Deleuze, Gilles. 2001 [1965]. ‘Nietzsche’, in Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life, pp. 53-102. New York: Zone.
  • Durkheim, Emile. 1995 [1912]. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: Free Press.
  • Maffesoli, Michel. 1996 [1988]. The Time of the Tribes, London: Sage.
  • Mazzarella, William. 2004. ‘Culture,Mediation,Globalization’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 33 : 345-67.
  • Mazzarella, William. 2005. ‘Internet X-Ray: E-Governance, Transparency’ and the Politics of Immediation in India’, Public Culture 18(2): 473-505.
  • Rajchman, John’ 2001.’Introduction’ in Gilles Deleuze, Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life, pp.7-23. New York: Zone.
  • Tarde, Gabriel. 1903. The Laws of Imitation. New York: Henry Holt.
  • Warner, Michael. 2002. ‘Publics and Counterpublics’, Public Culture, 14(1):49-90.
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