Making Sense of the Invisible

I bandy about this word, affect, and I know in doing so I am being at once cryptic, imprecise, vague, and perhaps misleading. But such is the way of affect — it resists ready categorization, ready made words, ready definition. That, however, is a cop out so let me say some things about affect.

We might say affect is emotion — sadness, anger, happiness, anxiety, fear. And there is no doubt that those are affective states. But they are also so subject oriented, so bound up with the individual's psychological state. And what I am talking about exceeds the subject but perhaps streams through the subject as sadness, anger, happiness, anxiety, fear.

I want to use this word affect — perhaps erroneously — to designate the wealth and breadth of invisible states, invisible durations, invisible shapes that inflect our lives all the time at infinite touchpoints. The invisible cloaks things, permeates things. And this invisibility is not neutral or blank: it is shaped, it goes like this or like that. It is affective.

From whence these affects? Well, from things, from themselves. Along with rocks and gas and water, they make up the cosmos. They may be independent streams that wind and whip and eddy. They take up things and things take them up — they coagulate in places, inflect objects, make people's hearts go pitter patter. This is what the world is made of: matter visible and invisible, things and affects and all the ways they interact.

This is why you may find yourself walking down a street thinking, "Man, this block feels weird." Or why you sit in one area of the cafe rather than another. It's why you are attracted to this thing, that person, that place. It's why, as the weather changes, you feel giddy, reclusive, pensive, melancholy. The atmosphere is atmospheric. This is why weather is the most interesting subject in the world. And why the idea of seasonal affective disorder is at once perfect and absurd: we all have seasonal affective (dis)order, necessarily.

Affect streams through you; it goes to other affective trajectories, carrying you along for the ride. This is not say you are mere vehicle. You are a productive cog within the affective flow; you are a productive cog within the flow of the universe (even if you're a vampire, sucking life from the world). You are a singular inflection point within the whirl and teem.


Christian said...

Are you suggesting this is some kind of metaphysical influence, like people are responding to emotional vibrations from the substances in their environment, substances not readily perceptible by the five most popular senses?

Or that it's a reaction to hundreds and thousands of minute influences hitting us in aggregate? I could easily get behind the latter notion but the former would surprise me from you.

Daniel Coffeen said...


What I'm talking about is the non-human affective forces of the world in which humanity is always participating. We tend to think of affect in human terms, psychological terms. But those strictly human takes on affect are part of a cosmos, a universe, a world that includes all sorts of things — animals, plants, mountains, clouds, asteroids, suns, gases. I am asking that we step back for one moment to grasp the affective universe and begin to see the human function within it.

I am coming from WS Burroughs' understanding of agency and possession; Castaneda's understanding of power; and Deleuze and Guattari's notions of inhuman affect and its place in art and human becoming (see What is Philosophy?).

In some sense, I'm saying something really obvious. Picture the big bang (if there was a big bang). Shit goes flying every which way. That shit is at once visible and invisible.

And, yes, we have more than 5 senses. Or less. I think the ready distinction we draw between the 5 is silly and misleading — we surely touch with our eyes (see Merleau-Ponty's "The Intertwining"), taste with same the same eyes, etc.

And we know — yes, know — when someone is looking at us when standing behind us. With what sense, I ask you, do we know that?

Seth Mooney said...

In short, and much less richly, the distinctions we imagine between ourselves and our environs are not as we tend to imagine them. Imagine our environs imagining, and possibly mistaking said distinctions.

Affect(s), then, are "things," or perhaps more accurately unfolding atmospheric events that are comprised of our environs+us (this is not an exhaustive list).

Thinking about affect in this way suggests that god may not be dead after all. Not that I'd posit so as to contest Nietzsche, but the attributes of affect and god seem to have more than a few things in common.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@Seth — Nice to see you here, Mr. Mooney. And, yes, I am suggesting a much more porous relationship between self and environment. After all, the self — if there is a self — is constitutive of the environment.

But I'm not sure about the god thing....see my new post, to be there imminently.

Pierre said...

this invisible, in a way deals with what the crazy and the fool deals with. The ealthy mind doesn't deal with the fact that when making the singlest act, he is dealing with a metaphor. I do not wake up early the morning because I rationaly organize my day. I wake up erly because I consider that factory men wake up early to earn peanuts, and that I owe something to the people who live in the same country, for instance.

So, the subconscient metaphorical meaning of the singlest act may be only be understand by the crazy. For the crazy, the each moment metaphor is no more working properly, and because of this lack, he is the only one on earth who feels the invisible.

Daniel Coffeen said...

I don't think I agree, Pierre, although it depends on what you mean by crazy, fool, and metaphor.

I've argued my entire intellectual life for the force of the invisible in everyday life, in knowledge, in politics and the social. We live among ghosts; we, ourselves, are part specter.

I'll write more on this soon.....