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.