Some thoughts on affect

This is a little ponderous but bear with me, please....

One thing that is so frustrating about popular media is that it assumes affect to be caused — and always in a one-to-one ratio: something bad happens, you're sad; something good happens, you're happy. But that's just not how affect works, at least not most of the time.

Start by picturing something happening — you fall down, get a smooch, watch a movie — and your reaction.

Think about the duration of that reaction — do you just feel that way for a minute? 10 minutes? Two days? A week?

Now think of all the things that happen to you in the course of a day, a week, a year, your life — and the duration of all those reactions. Suddenly, you are inundated, cut through, with a near infinite number of affective states intermingling in an impossible calculus.

Our emotional and affective lives are not discrete units; they are networked and play in and with and through each other. So when something happens — you get that smooch — it's rarely just one thing you feel. It's an infinitely knotted complex of things you feel, some of which are tied to things and events that have little to do with said smooch. Some may very well have to do with what you ate, whether you need to pee, how well you slept last night.

But of course this is all assuming that affect is caused. Which it isn't. Because if it were caused, what would be your affective state before and between the causes? Are we naturally devoid of affect and then shit happens and we start experiencing emotions? I saw my kid come out and I gotta tell you: we're emotional from the get go.

This is to say that affective states are constitutive of what and who we are. We are always and already affected and affective.

Now, affect is complex because it is at once intimately tied up with events and things — every thing and every event has some affect — and independent of those things. Sometimes, an affective state seems to completely unhinge itself from an event so all you're left with is that state. Waking up from a dream and feeling calm, anxious, joyous without knowing why makes this clear.

We experience the world. We are always already experiencing the world. And we are always already experiencing the world as part of the world. As I said, we are always already affected and affective.

Affect, then, is not caused. Affect happens. It is not outside of us; nor is it really inside of us. It is us. It is how we experience the world.

For Spinoza, the degree of an individual's power is his ability to be affected. This fundamentally shifts the very architecture of individuality and experience; we are, and we are powerful, precisely in as much as we experience the world — and are affected (and how we experience the world and are affected; this is not a quantitative assertion).

So back to media for a moment. One reason I love Cassavetes' films so much is they are the infinite complexity of affective becoming. Nothing is one-to-one; it's always many to many with a series of tangents and parallels. This is respectful. This understands human becoming and its complexity. And this — this understanding, this embracing of complexity — is not just refreshing: it's revolutionary.


pierre daud said...

Let's consider the continuity of some creators.

I may have said continuum, and I don't know if it is my poor english or my distrut of erudition. Or may be it is just a momentaneous distrut of lyrism and of love words too great to be said.

Any way, what shoked me very much when I had the anthology of William Blake poetry in my hands, is how tremendously numerous were the number of pages. In regards to french poets like Verlaine or Rimbaud or Baudelaire who wrote so few it was surprising.

The quantity, this never ending inspiration can not be the result of causes.

On an other way, when you pay attention to the workshop of hollywood scripting (John Truby, for instance), the main point is how structured they want a script to be. As Jean Claude Carrière (a french scenarist who worked with Luis Bunuel) laughs of it sometimes, this school of scripting wants exactly 33 points to be fullfiled in a good script (not one more, not one less). And it may be an explaination of the sometime disapointing result.

drwatson said...

When you write "This is to say that affective states are constitutive of what and who we are. We are always and already affected and affective," that sounds a lot like what I would call "mood." Does that sound off base?

Matthew said...

Ah, Coffeen, you're so wonderful. The lady friend and I are on the couch, dinner is finishing in the oven, palming a cocktail (it's like a lavender french 75), and we're gobbling up your joy.

We watched the clip (ear to ear) and then I (the man) read aloud to the lovely lady.

Gotta tell you buddy, she loved it. I loved it. I love you. I've probably been on a Coffeen high for a solid year. Keep doing your thing -- it's a beautiful thing.