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.


My fetish jealousy

This may sound terrible but there are times when I'm walking through the sordid San Francisco streets and I find myself jealous of the drunk and the junky. There they are with their stash or their bottle and all is good in the world. When they run out, they know just what to do. What a life.

I have the same jealousy of fetishists. They know exactly what they want, exactly what will sate them. Me, I am overwhelmed by the choices, the vast selection. I see women on the street and I can imagine myself, more or less, with all of them. And this stymies me, leaves me immobilized and wanting. Meanwhile, the guy who digs smoking chicks with tiny boobs knows just what his night will entail.

I want to be possessed.


The Real Image

The dominant view in Hollywood of the image — besides that the image sells and sells well — is that the image can attempt to convey the real. Movies are going to more and more elaborate measures not to extend the image into our lives but to extend the represented in the image into our lives. The surround sound, the 3D — it's meant to bring us closer to the experience of flying, being crushed, hurtling through space.

The mythology, as presented in studio brands — most conspicuously, perhaps, by Disney —, is that film brings you the world and fantasy is made real.

But this of course reveals a fundamental disdain of the image. It rests on the assumption that the image is in and of itself not real; it's a derivative of the real, a pointer, a stand in, a substitute.

The image is real — not because it represents something well but because it is an event in and of itself. An image is part of the fabric of experience, of perception. An image is a body — not because it approaches veracity but because it is its own mode of being in the world.

An image happens — right there, before our eyes. We experience it. Of course this experience enjoys a relationship to the thing represented in the image. But this relationship is not one of original and derivative, of real and copy. It's a relationship of two things, more or less related, playing in and on and with and through each other.

Now, to be fair, all that Hollywood high tech goofy ass nonsense is sometimes really cool and could be really, really cool. If only the technology were not deployed to represent but to create beautiful, live, real experiences unto themselves.

For instance, I'm watching Godard's A Woman is a Woman the other day. Throughout the film, Godard plays with image and sound — music starts, stops, street noise starts and stops, visual and sound do not match (or, rather, they match in odd ways). All this, amongst other things, makes of the image, of the film, an event happening right there on the screen, in the act of watching. It insists on itself as an event; it is not story telling or representing. It is happening.

Well, now take all that Hollywood pyrotechnics and give them to Godard. Or, rather, don't. But give it to someone who makes images, who respects images, give an image maker all those resources and let's see what they cook up. Let's watch them make life, not a story about life. Let's watch them make images.

Email is Phatic

It recently occurred to me, for no particular reason, that today more people write, on a more frequent basis, than before. Of course, I know nothing of history so I made that up. In any case, the accuracy of the claim is not important.

What's important is that people are writing to each other, and often. Suddenly, I saw this exquisitely, impossibly vast network of conversations — between new friends, old friends, co-workers, co-workers forging new modes of conversing, parents, old girlfriends and boyfriends, new flirtatious possibilities, acquaintances from here and there.

And, what's so mind blowingly amazing, is that this network exists for each one of us, alone — our "sent" and "in" boxes trace more than just a lot of conversations. It traces an enormous multiplicity of modes of conversing — differing rhythms, tones, moods, grammars.

I love the different ways different people wind themselves into language and onto their computers and into an email. The little flourishes — ellipses, m-dashes, undulating punctuation or a lack therefore — the speeds, the diverse senses of protocol. Sometimes, we can hear someone so clearly through an email — hear them making the words, forming thoughts, their breathy deliveries, their gutturals, the way a smile inflects a word, emphatics, pauses, tics.

It's not that emails express us. Or, rather, it is to say that how and what we email necessarily expresses us, even if that expression is discontinuous. Sometimes, you find yourself surprised by someone's email manner. Are they really so curt? Or are you reading the way someone not used to writing trying to wind himself into words? I love what reading someone's email for the first time tells me about that person: it is symptomatic of an entire relationship to language and expression in general.

In any case, we hear email. Email is auditory. But it's more than just that we hear the words (as we can say that of all written language). It's that email correspondence has much of the formal structure of a conversation. Email, like face to face conversing, can be quite fast and hence tends to be actively engaging. In emails, we write questions, reference things written — or said — earlier. We refer to imminent events. For the most part, we don't provide a litany of stories or facts as we once did in paper mail.

And yet email is written. Of course it is. Which means we see it, not hear it. And it means it enjoys the incredibly odd temporality of writing. For instance, if you're standing in front of me, or on the phone, and say, "Hi," it's more than likely that I'll say "Hi" back within a second or three. But in email I may respond in an hour, a day, a week, or more.

Now take this rhythm of this one email — you say hi,I say hi back stretched over days — and see all the different rhythms of all your email conversations. We each hold multiple conversations at the same time, each at its own speed.

Email doesn't just mark time, it is of time. The paper letter, on the other hand, marks a discrete point in time. An email letter is a moment within a continuous exchange, always and already. To write an email is not to monologue but to engage and be engaged, simultaneously.

We don't write truly declarative emails because email is fundamentally between. Its structure, like a conversation, is akin to standing directly in front of someone: the lines of communication are open, all the time, even if unused.

Email is formally phatic. It is the perpetual "um" of the electronic hum. Email, in its very structure, keeps lines of communication open — the lines are open as long as electricity flows. If I have your email address — or could ascertain it —, there is an open channel between us.

Sure, one could say that's true of paper mail. After all, can't I just write to you if I know your address? Well, yes, I can write to you but it is not as easy to write with you. To write an email is always already to write with.


A Quick Thought on The Sufficiency of Language

Artists, musicians, dancers, mystics have an inclination to return to the insufficiency of language. Words, we are to understand, fall short — they can't possibly express the infinite complexity of the world, of truth, of experience.

But that is to assume that language is a vehicle of designation and not a body of performance.

Language — like music, like the human body, like paint — is something to be reckoned, something to move with. The writer must learn the possibilities, must develop the skills to put words — and language — to work, to have them entice and twinkle, provoke and titillate, to have words be an active force resonating in and through and amongst bodies and ideas and emotions and things and moods.

Words are gestures, just as moon walking is a gesture. They operate in, on, and with the world.

What's tricky about words — as distinct from paint and dance and sound — is that words have a more intimate relationship with concepts. But rather than this making words insufficient, it is precisely what makes words sufficient. Words at once name and do, think and act, designate and perform.

The operator of words must have mad skillz to operate this complex engine. Don't blame the words for their insufficiency. Blame the writer.


Things Teach: An Excerpt from "Reading the Way of Things"

A thing teaches.

A tulip offers a way of standing in the world, on one’s own without being excessively stern.

Grass instructs us how to be a network of individuals.

Certain tequilas — usually blanco — have taught me the way of difference, offering multiplicity without unity while teaching that sun and leather and grass and heat can play well together in the mouth. The different tastes do not cohere into a common cause, as bourbon often does. Each flavor maintains its local integrity while nonetheless working with the others. Every sip is not only astounding. Every sip is an education.

Here’s a list of things Uni — raw sea urchin gonads — has taught me:

1. All is becoming.

2. The most discrete domains house infinite variation.

3. Limits need be neither hard nor fast.

4. Embrace ambiguity.

5. Self-possession comes through flexibility.

6. Experience is everything—life is a how, not a what.

7. The skank of life is often delicious.

8. Be discerning—a life well vetted is a life well lived.

9. Eat the world.

10. Let the world eat you.

To the keen reader, everything offers its own science, its own knowledge. A thing is a pedagogy. The world brims with different ways of going, different ways of making sense of the world, different ways of going. We don’t just heed human ways.

In fact, perhaps we need inhuman ways to teach us fundamentally different ways of going. We need the saguaro cactus to teach us to go slowly, boldly, in the sun just as we need the oak to teach us how to be majestic and generous. We need the flow of the river to teach us speed and cooperation with the land. We need clouds to learn to drift softly; cats for their relentless attentiveness; dogs for their loyalty; the wind for its vigor and swirl. Everything is a possibility. And even if we don’t go like this or that — like a cat, like a cloud, like a river — we can take pieces of these becomings, we can come to know the world more intimately, we can be stretched and folded and extended. We can learn to go, and to go interestingly, to go curiously, to go delightfully: to go well


The State of Things, as I see it: Notes on Capitalism as Virus

These were notes from a talk I gave on capitalism. For some reason, I am publishing them now.....

By capitalism, I am not referring to an economic system, as if financial models are something we can pick and choose. This, in fact, is one of capitalism’s techniques of hiding itself: it propagates the lie that it is an option, something we choose rather than something we are.

When I say capitalism, I am referring to a complex economy of desire, inter-personal politics, and capital. As an economist knows, the ebb and tide of markets have as much to do with the irrational laws of human behavior as they do with the supposed laws of markets. I work in branding and this is what we do, what we are hired to do: to navigate the economies of desire for capital.

If you’re having a problem w/ my word choice, I ask to put that aside for the moment and listen to what I have to say,

What I want to suggest is that capitalism is a virus that infected the human host long ago and has at once mutated and caused mutations in its human host to the point where it is very difficult to distinguish virus from host. And that this virus has mutated quite rapidly over the last 200 years and seems to be accelerating replication at an ever-increasing rate.

Why a virus? Because, like a virus, it seeks solely its own replication: it is not just a call for “more” but a call for more of the same, more of me. As such, it is a virus of quantity that, in order to replicate more effectively, seeks the eradication of qualitative states of being, affective experiences.

And, as a virus, capitalism will exterminate its host — viruses are not smart that way. As William Burroughs says, any quantitative system will eventually annihilate itself as it exhausts its environment.

Speed and replication: these are the dominant behaviors of capitalism.

The present economy moves at incredible speeds and is accelerating. The human body, the host, slows things down. In particular, the human propensity for pleasure slows things down. Humans are desiring machines: we enjoy the world. We seek pleasure. And pleasure is slow.

And so we are witnessing the extermination of the human body and, specifically, if its will to pleasure. Let’s look at our lives:

-First, the virus seeks to own time. Be at work, everyday, by 9:00. Leave, if you’re lucky, by 5, 6, 7. The work week is getting longer thanks in large part to technologic mutations and always-on micro computing. The majority of your waking time is accounted for — and accounted for being productive, for producing more capital.

-Of course, there will be no fucking at work. In fact, it’s against the law: there are elaborate rules and regulations and training sessions to ensure that not only don’t we fuck, but that we don’t even discuss fucking — or even look at each other with the desire to fuck. Why? Because fucking is pleasure and pleasure is slow and unproductive.

-While at work, we are not allowed any privacy. Work spaces are now, for the most part, open. No chance to sneak a wank — or even pick your nose, exercise, stretch, no chance to enjoy private indulgences. Even bathrooms are rarely private: we piss and shit in front of each other. There will be not space, no time, for private pleasures.

-We sit all day at work in front of a screen. We no longer need bodies that can lift and haul and operate; the information economy wants a brain to do the computing that computers cannot. The body gets in the way.

-We eat at our desks. And what do we eat? Wraps from Wendy’s: fat and processed corn and soy to ensure we are never feeling healthy. Why? Because a healthy body wants to fuck.

-When we get home, things are no better. Both husband and wife must work now: more more more more. So both are exhausted and dehydrated from their day. The kids are wiped out from being abused at school — made to sit in chairs and memorize nonsense. It is not a pleasant scene.

-So we pop Valium and Xanax and Ambien to sleep. Which makes us groggy and stupid and dehydrated.

-So we wake up — gotta wake up good and early and get the kid to school and yourself to work — completely exhausted. Enter: Coffee and the Starfucks conspiracy. Why is there a Starbucks on every corner in downtown America? Because capitalism demands we work and we are so fucking tired so we neeeeeed caffeine.

-Only we don’t really drink caffeine; we drink Lattes Grandes: high powered coffee dumped in a vat of antibiotic soaked milk fat. Which makes us sicker.

-The rise of coffee shop culture in America is not the rise of leisure and pleasure: it’s the spread of capitalism. Coffee shops in this country are places to work, laptops out and ready.

-And so we have become an increasingly impotent society. Which is the goal. But we still gotta breed — cloning is not up and running yet — so we have to take a pill. Doesn’t it bother anyone that there are ads for impotence all the fucking time? The signs are not subtle.

-Schools have been taken over as well: adolescence and youthful desire must be turned towards quantitative production. So high school students don’t fuck: they join after school programs so they can get into college.

-Once in college, they are recruited, No more taking acid, reading Nietzsche, and having orgies. Now it’s Adderall and internships. The majority of college students major in business.

-Acid has been eliminated. What else do I need to say?

-Of course, we can’t just eliminate pleasure. And so capitalism substitutes consumption: we consume, relentlessly. This drives the will to more: produce more, consume more, on and on and on. There is no delectation, just consumption.

-This virus is aggressively mining its host. The first thing it needs is not fossil fuel but human vitality — as in the matrix, it needs our energy production. The environmental movement is, for the most part, part of the capitalist engine that keeps our eyes on fuel rather than humanity itself. We create green cars. Green cars! That’s insane! There’s no such thing. You know what a green car is? It’s called your feet.

-Is there a cure? Is there resistance? Capitalism is very good at infecting resistant bodies incredibly quickly. It folds whatever emerges back into what Guy Debord calls the society of the spectacle. John Lennon’s Instant Karma sells a bank; Vincent Gallo sells Vodka. No sooner does resistance emerge than it is turned towards quantitative production and consumption.

All is lost. Head to the hills. Find the scraps of land still left, set up camp, and fuck and fuck and suck and read and draw and fuck some more because the end is neigh, dearies. There is no cure.