Affect in Azeroth

Affect = 1. influence, sway; modify, alter. 2. touch, stir

to have an effect on something or someone, according do Oxford Dictionary

“Affect” has been approached from different perspectives, as belonging only to “the realm of the senses”, as something preceding the actual thought, preceding even the emotion, as a touch of the Real in Lacanian terms; as a combination of nature and nurture, considering one’s background even one’s mechanical, instinctual reactions might have been at least a little influenced by one’s surroundings. Maybe the second of indefinite terror (which’s existence many of us will deny) when our eyes are first struck by the darkness, is a result of the Boogie Man myth from our early childhood, which is actually nothing more than a construct prefabricated by humans. Furthermore, our excitement over things and places is also shaped by our experience or by others’ experience, by the common experience and crowd opinion as adjudicated by Sara Ahmed in the chapter Happy Objects from  The Promise Of Happiness (2010).  How does affect then influence social media and the digital environment? Firstly it makes us buy our gadgets and then it makes us buy the new improved version of our gadgets. What role does affect play in our digital lives? It is, at least for me, pretty much the same as in the “real world”, only the effect is diminished. I will not be as shocked by a car accident projected on a screen than I would be if it would happen right in front my eyes, without any mediation, but the raw feeling will be the same, only the intensity will differ, and this only as far as there is a neat line between the digital and the real world. The more the digital image resembles the “real” regarding visuals, sound, effects, the more intense the effect it will be, or the more time one spends in the digital realm. It is a circular connection between affect and the clarity of the boundaries between the real and the digital world.

800px-narcissus-caravaggio_1594-96_editedThat is why I consider the identification with my avatar crucial in the discussion about affect. I already talked about the relationship between me and Heilwig in the previous post. I do feel her as a different me when I am playing World of Warcraft. She is another me, or as Ken Hillis notes, following Charles Sanders Peirce’s lead, Heilwig is my indexical sign in World of Warcraft, the so-called footprints which Robinson Crusoe sees on the beach, my own digital contour in Azeroth.  As I already stated, I do not totally identify with my avatar, I don’t look at her on the screen when waiting for the game to load and become mesmerized with my digital reflection as Narcissus did, which is why, when she dies, I do not have the same fate as the unfortunate mythological character whose reflection brought his death.

I never played an MMORPG game before WoW, but I enjoyed playing real life RPG games with my friends when I was a child. And not just a simple games as mom, dad, and the kids, or the buyer and the seller, but complex games with a plot line, which was unconditionally altered as the game evolved, with sketched surroundings and outfits on shabby notebooks. Maybe it was the age, but I was more affected by those games which I can still remember, than by World of Warcraft. In WoW I do not need to draw myself the background or my avatar’s clothes because all of them are already there. The visuals and the sound are atmospheric, the music goes hand in hand with the mystical, mysterious landscape. And I might have flinched a few times when I was attacked, I had the curiosity to discover new realms, to fly on gryphons, to dive underwater, to fight side by side with my water elemental, which I didn’t think I might eventually find kind of cute, (it isn’t a fluffy little kitten after all), but I did, and I was keen on receiving new missions. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Heilwig’s spirit could walk on water, and I even tried to go through a tree, which didn’t quite work, it seems that not even spirits can do whatever they please.  The pumpkin costume which I acquired on Halloween amused me, and the unexpected appearance of the giant pumpkin-headed horse rider caught me off guard. It made a huge difference playing Wolrd of Warcraft with and without sound, as the background music enhances the atmosphere and the whole game experience, but I never really felt absorbed by the game, as it happened with my childhood RPG games. As I have already said, it must have been the age and my flourishing imagination, but there was something more. Interaction, authentic, and surprising interaction between players, which changed dramatically the plot. Until this point, in WoW, I lacked the interaction with other characters, better said with other players. It lacks the dialogue, the authentic interaction between players, I complete a mission and I receive another, I discover new territories, new creatures, I get new powers, new garments, it is quite exciting in a way, but everything is predetermined. Even though it tries to give the impression that you are in control, your route is already inscribed in the game’s “map”.  There are only so many choices that my avatar, that I can make, there are only so many routes that I can follow. There is no place for real improvisation. Probably that is supposed to be the outcome of a confrontation with another avatar, which I have not yet experienced, but not even this would be enough as it does not change the main plot line.

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 The game does try to trick its players into believing that they are in control of what is happening, but this illusion did not convince me, and the simple, but obvious fact of actually being just a pawn in an assemblage of other pawns which do exactly what the game expect them to do, takes away a bit of the pleasure of playing. Even though it is a role play game, I find it individualistic, there are a lot of players, out there, but I get the impression that we all play it separately, that it is a game played with a computer and not with other players.

But then again, World of Warcraft still has much more to offer, and I still have much more to discover, and at some point, my expectation might be fulfilled… or they might not.

 

 


References:

Ahmed, S (2010) The Promise Of Happiness. [online] Durham [NC]: Duke University Press. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost, available from: <http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?sid=54d078af-fe97-44ec-802d-3225ded72487%40sessionmgr4006&vid=0&hid=4207&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=600207&db=nlebk> [14 November 2016]

Clough, P. T. (2008) ‘The Affective Turn : Political Economy, Biomedia and Bodies’. Theory Culture Society [online] 25 (1). 1-22. available from: <http://tcs.sagepub.com/content/25/1/1> [25 November 2016]

Hillis, K. Paasonen, S. Petit M. (2015) ‘Introduction: Networks of Transmission: Intensity, Sensation’. Networked Affect [online] 1. MIT Press. 1-24. available from <http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/bkabstractplus.jsp?bkn=7081709> [26 November 2016]

Hillis, K. Paasonen, S. Petit M. (2015) ‘The Avatar and Online Affect’. Networked Affect [online] 1. MIT Press. 75-88. available from <http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/bkabstractplus.jsp?bkn=7081709> [26 November 2016]

Wetherell, M. (2014) ‘Trends in the Turn to Affect: A Social Psychological Critique’ Body & Society [online] 21 (2). 1-28. available from: http://bod.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/03/27/1357034X14539020 [26 November 2016]

The Avatar and Online Affect, Ken Hillis

  • I organize my discussion around the figure of the avatar in multiple-user virtual environment (MUVE) platforms such as Second Life and also make reference to a subset of MUVEs, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) such as World of Warcraft
  • While avatars can be operated by forms of artificial intelligence, one of the acknowledged purposes for which humans fabricate avatars is so that they can serve as stand-ins for human individuals seeking to communicate affectively with one another both in and through virtual environments or space.
  • Avatars have a capacity to generate seemingly independent forms of networked affect unrelated to their human operators. An avatar in Second Life that turns to look back and wave at its human operator as it walks across a virtual space, for example, has the potential to induce for that operator and others the perception that it has about it intense qualities of liveliness that are seemingly independent of its operator

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Introduction: Networks of Transmission: Intensity, Sensation, Value, Susanna Paasonen, Ken Hillis, and Michael Petit

  • Networked communications involve the circulation of data and information, but they equally entail a panoply of affective attachments: articulations of desire, seduction, trust, and memory; sharp jolts of anger and interest; political passions; investments of time, labor, and financial capital; and the frictions and pleasures of archival practices.
  • The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb affect as “to have an effect on something or someone.” Most definitions of affect highlight the central role of intensity and agree on the presence of a quality of excess, a quality of “more than.”
  • While some theorists hold to a humanist inflection alone, others conflate affect with emotion or argue for the practical inseparability of the two, and yet others emphasize the meaning of being affected in a visceral manner as in, for example, theorizing an individual’s precognitive “gut reaction” to someone or something as “more than” can fit into any fixed definition of emotion.

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Trends in the Turn to Affect: A Social Psychological Critique, Margaret Wetherell

  • in many respects affect is a challenging topic for social theory and cultural studies – it raises some core social psychological issues that seem unavoidable
  • I want to surface the social psychological assumptions which underpin three, highly influential analyses of affect in cultural studies and social theory
  • Silvan Tomkins – Yale Professor; writing in the 1960s
  • Eve Sedgwick and Adam Frank aim was to draw on Tomkins’ biological theory and his sophisticated examinations of affect and personal history (apparently often autobiographical) to encourage social and cultural researchers to attend again to embodiment and experience

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The Affective Turn Political Economy, Biomedia and Bodies, Patricia T. Clough

  • Affect and emotion, after all, point just as well as post-structuralism and deconstruction do to the subject’s discontinuity with itself, a discontinuity of the subject’s conscious experience with the non-intentionality of emotion and affect
  • The turn to affect points to a dynamism immanent to bodily matter and matter generally – matter’s capacity for self-organization in being in-formational – which, I want to argue, may be the most provocative and enduring contribution of the affective turn
  • I want to turn attention instead to those critics and theorists who, indebted to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Baruch Spinoza and Henri Bergson, conceptualize affect as pre-individual bodily forces augmenting or diminishing a body’s capacity to act and who critically engage those technologies that are making it possible to grasp and to manipulate the imperceptible dynamism of affect.

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Kubrick’s Monolith and Lacan’s Gaze

Jacques Lacan’s psycho-analytical theory was highly used, quoted and related to film theory and film interpretation and analysis, and actually with the media in general. Film and media theory absorbed Lacan’s concepts and ideas and used them in its own relation with the spectator.

Films were discussed in psychoanalytical and Lacanian terms for quite a while now, starting from critics such as Laura Mulvey, Peter Wollen, Colin MacCabe, Stephen Heath and the French Christian Metz, Jean-Louis Baudry, Jean-Louis Comolli. Laura Mulvey translated the Lacanian gaze in terms of cinematography, by identifying, in Hollywood cinema, a “male gaze”, which regarded the female counterpart as an object of desire, an object to stimulate fantasies, an object which was utterly different and could stand as “the other”. The male characters of films were subjects while the female ones were objectified, and the relation established between them was the one between the desirer and the object of desire, which was invested with such features as to facilitate and incite the existence of desire. The desire, as Mulvey says, exceeded the screen and was assimilated by the male spectator. Hence, the gaze was present within and outside the filmic realm[1], and positioned the spectator in the role of the child looking in the mirror. The viewer standing determinate a voyeuristic perspective, placing him on a different level from the cinematic narrative, a place of seeming mastery,[2] which gave him a false sense of power and authority over the film while his position was still passive.[3]

Todd MacGowan stresses, in Real Gaze, the errors made by Laura Mulvey in her depiction of the cinematographic gaze, and states that she deflected from the Lacanian meaning of the gaze, for the gaze is what is lost in the translation from the Real to Signification[4]. Is the object of desire which’s existence is only possible as long as it is intangible, unreachable, as long as it remains just the fuel of desire.

Gaze in Lacan’s later work refers to the uncanny sense that the object of our eye’s look or glance is somehow looking back at us of its own will. This uncanny feeling of being gazed at by the object of our look affects us in the same way as castration anxiety (reminding us of the lack at the heart of the symbolic order). We may believe that we are in control of our eye’s look; however, any feeling of scopophilic power is always undone by the fact that the materiality of existence (the Real) always exceeds and undercuts the meaning structures of the symbolic order.[5]

Resuming the above quote, I understand the gaze as an encounter with the real, which is lost forever once the mirror stage, and desired for the same amount of time by the subject. The split between the three Lacanian orders is so traumatic that any trace of it is erased from our conscious minds and all that remains is the forever impossible desire of going back to the primordial state, to the state previous to the symbolic structure and order of the world and of our own interior worlds. The encounter with the real subsequent to the mirror stage is, despite our craving for it, almost as traumatic as our split from it. The perspective of the gaze seen as the encounter of the subject with the real is crucial to my following argumentation on the function of the gaze in Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The gaze is present, as Todd MacGowan informs us, in films, more, it is a characteristic of films. As we, in our everyday life, on our daily routine, and in our conscious state avoid the traumatic interaction with the gaze, films as well as dreams enable our encounter with it, by neutralizing our power to consciously alter the narrative, it is in a way a forced encounter, which in the case of films we willingly put ourselves up for. He recognizes four ways in which the gaze is present in the films’ medium: films that make the gaze present through fantasy; films that sustain the gaze as a fundamental absence; films that obfuscate the gaze through a turn to fantasy; films that enact a traumatic encounter with the gaze.[6]

According to MacGowan’s study, any film can be discussed in “the gaze” terms, so how did I hinder my own work with the hazardous choice of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, with the mammoth film which 2001: A Space Odyssey is? I will simply state it. It was instinctual. Reading the paragraph quoted above about the object which looks back at us, the final scene with the character front in front with the monolith entity in a tacit dialogue came immediately to my mind.

MacGowan does include Kubrick’s cinematographic work in the first category of films depicting the gaze, by appealing to the fantastical dimension of his films, highlighting the coldness and intriguing lack of human affect which Kubrick’s films bring to the screen. The fantastical dimension in which the films are set enables Kubrick to bring into question the obscenity of the authority and with it the inconsistency of the symbolic order which governs our world. The understanding of these two issues leads the subject who acknowledges them to freedom.[7] But this is not the direction this essay is going to take. I have no interest in discussing the idea of authority or invoking the computer HAL 9000 as an obscene figure of authority.[8] I am more inclined to put the film in the fourth MacGowan’s category: films that enact a traumatic encounter with the gaze, but not through an escape in the fantastic realm of one’s fantasy as it happens for example in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, but by actually introducing the gaze in the image, giving it an imagistic representation in the body of the black monolith.

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Jacques Lacan exemplified the presence, the encounter with the gaze with Hans Holbein’s painting “The Ambassadors”. The 16th century interior in which the two characters are represented is violently disrupted by a figure in the middle, which at a first sight resembles nothing and puzzles the viewer. The figure of the skull floating randomly between the painting’s borders annihilates everything the painting otherwise depicts. All the symbols of power, arts and science are disavowed by the view of the skull, which stresses the futility of everything in the symbolic order. I am bringing this 16th century painting into discussion because I find the skull’s intrusion, given as an example of the power of the gaze by Lacan himself, similar to the presence of Kubrick’s black monolith in the middle of the white neoclassical room, as well as in the African Savannah. This element’s presence is uncanny. The monolith is there but viewed from a rational perspective, shaped by the rules of the symbolic world, it is not supposed to be there. The image is complete without it and its presence only bothers, stirs and makes the viewer uncomfortable, exactly as the skull in Holbein’s painting. But in contrast to the skull, the monolith has a neutral shape, cannot be read as an imagistic symbol for anything. It is a black block with no traces of features to trigger any kind of connotative meaning, in the middle of an image which would make perfect sense otherwise. Unlike the skull which is immediately read as a symbol of death, as a memento mori, the monolith stands for nothing but itself. One cannot pinpoint its nature or its purpose, its beginning or its end, the only fact that one can know is that the monolith exists, it is real and it is present. Furthermore, it is literally a foreign body, an extraterrestrial entity.

2001-a-space-odyssey-1968-movie-dr-david-bowman-dave-keir-dullea-monolith-jupiter-dying-in-front-of-bed-review

The monolith appears in Kubrick’s film four times. For me, the most memorable ones are the first and the last one, and I am going to concentrate on them, with a certain interest in the last. Both are long scenes deprived of words. The language is missing. In the first one, the encounter with the monolith marks, as the mirror stage, a change in the apes’ behaviour, a moment which marks an evolution from an arbitrary society to a hierarchized one in which the ones who hold more knowledge, also hold the power, and therefore can rule over the others.

In what concerns the last apparition, the monolith seems to force itself in the symbolic structure. The visual contrast between the white room and the black entity enforces the differences in the nature of the two. Bowman, the human subject is “trapped” in the room, he cannot escape the influence of the monolith. His behaviour does not change, but he involves in a silent dialogue with the monolith, a dialogue which is beyond words, which has no use or need for language. It is so powerful that defies language, and with it defies the worldly order and structure. The dialogue between the monolith and the character is out of reach for the spectator, but, nevertheless, the monolith’s power, the gaze, transcends the screen and proposes a different dialogue to every eyes which are set on it, because one cannot avoid the gaze. This scene is, at least for me, utterly uncomfortable, puzzling, and it has a sense of bizarre, of uncanny which lingers long after the film is over and which I cannot exactly put in words. It is not an easy scene to watch, it almost banishes the viewer but it attracts him with the same force.

 Maybe this is why there are so many controversies around the meaning of the black block and its role in the science-fiction film. Maybe the final encounter with the monolith is not meant to be deciphered like one would crack down a code, like it would be a conglomeration of symbols which read in the correct order and by the right pattern reflect the great truth. Maybe it is supposed to be felt, and it is itself an encounter with the great truth, with the big Other, an encounter with no need for words, or symbols, or meanings. Maybe it is so puzzling because of our need for structure, for meaning and because of our incapacity to accept the existence of non-sense and only of senses. It might just be a moment of freedom for the character and for the spectators.


[1]Sassatelli, R. (2011) ‘Interview with Laura Mulvey: Gender, Gaze and Technology in Film Culture’.

Theory, Culture & Society [online] 28(5), 123-143 available from <http://tcs.sagepub.com/content/28/5/123.full.pdf+html> [21 November 2016]

[2] McGowan, T (2007) ‘Introduction: From the Imaginary Look to the Real Gaze’. Real Gaze, [online] SUNY Press. Ithaca, US, 1-20. available from: <http://site.ebrary.com/lib/coventry/reader.action?docID=10575994> [19 November 2016].

[3] http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Independent-Film-Road-Movies/Psychoanalysis-CINEMA-AND-THE-MIRROR.html

[4]  McGowan, T.

[5] Felluga, D. (2011) ‘Modules on Lacan: On the Gaze.’ Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. available from <http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/psychoanalysis/lacangaze.html> [October 27, 2016]

[6] McGowan, T

[7] McGowan, T. ‘The Coldness of Kubrick’. Real Gaze. 43-49

[8] Ibidem.


 References

Felluga, D. (2011) ‘Modules on Lacan: On the Gaze.’ Introductory Guide to Critical Theory. available from <http://www.purdue.edu/guidetotheory/psychoanalysis/lacangaze.html> [October 27, 2016]

Gallop, J. (1985) Reading Lacan, Cornell University Press. Ithaca and London

Lacan, J. (1998) The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis. Vintage. London

McGowan, T (2007) Real Gaze [online] SUNY Press. Ithaca, US, 1-20. available from: <http://site.ebrary.com/lib/coventry/reader.action?docID=10575994> [19 November 2016]

Poole, R. (2001) ‘2001: A space odyssey’, History Today. 51(1), 39-45. available from: <http://search.proquest.com/docview/202814924/fulltextPDF/CEDD3629E57A4C92PQ/1?accountid=10286 > [20 November 2016]

Restuccia, FL (2003) ‘GRAHAM GREENE’S LACANIAN ENCORE: THE END OF THE AFFAIR’, Religion & The Arts. 7 (4), 369-387, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost. available from:<http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=e13a2101-0f29-4df3-b272-d6b33325beff%40sessionmgr4010&vid=1&hid=4114> [15 November 2016].

Sassatelli, R. (2011) ‘Interview with Laura Mulvey: Gender, Gaze and Technology in Film Culture’.

Theory, Culture & Society [online] 28(5), 123-143 available from <http://tcs.sagepub.com/content/28/5/123.full.pdf+html> [21 November 2016]

http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Independent-Film-Road-Movies/Psychoanalysis-CINEMA-AND-THE-MIRROR.html

 

The Coldness of Kubrick

  • chief characteristic of Kubrick films (for most critics) is their overwhelming coldness, the sense of distance that he creates between characters and between character and viewer
  • Kubrick’s universe seems to be an universe of structure, where human beings scarcely have a place; Kolker ” Kubrick uses his imagination to show that subjectivity is forever destroyed by monolithic, unchanging, dehumanized structures”
  • HAL 9000 computer displays more of the emotion that we associate with humanity than any of Kubrick’s other characters
  • Kubrick strikes us as cold precisely because his films so thoroughly immerse themselves in the realm of fantasy -> a realm beyond affect , beyond all emotional investment
  • fantasy is a structure, a structure that operates with the same mechanical coldness that we see in Kubrick’s films

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Exploring Digital Culture – week 3

Affect and Embodiment – Network Affect 

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Download Arzombies – do not open it!

  • discourse, language, and writing became privileged in our understanding of self -> domination of discourse
  • bring the body back into the picture – thinking is a “body” process as well
  • our body reacts first

Defining Affect

  • visceral
  • bodily
  • automatic
  • intense
  • reactive
  • being affected – being moved -> participation
  • we act upon others <-> others act upon us
  • openness

Affect comes before emotion

‘autonomy from conscious perception and language, as well as emotion’ (Clough 2008: 3 on Massumi’s definition of affect)
‘Affect is a post personal force exceeding the human.’ (Wetherell 2012: 59)
Active environments – Active connections – Networked affect: •Contagion

                                                                                                                                   •Mob mentality
                                                                                                                                    •Atmosphere
                                                                                                                                    •Environment
                                                                                                                                    •All of these things that we have discussed about experiencing affect in the physical world happens online too think about things going viral etc.

The real gaze: Film theory after Lacan, Todd McGowan

Introduction: From the Imaginary Look to the Real Gaze

The Emergence of Lacanian Film Theory

  • (the mirror stage) the wholeness of the body is seen in a way that it is not experienced.
  • link the illusory qualities of film to the process through which subjects enter into ideology and become subjected to the constraints of the social order.
  • Louis Althusser, early film theorist, who was a crucial bridge between Lacan’s theory of the mirror stage and the cinematic experience – he emphasized the social dimension of the kind of misrecognitions that followed from that of the mirror stage.
  • Christian Metz, Jean-Louis Baudry, Jean-Louis Comolli (french), Laura Mulvey, Peter Wollen, Colin MacCabe, Stephen Heath (journal Screen) – first theorists to bring psychoanalytic concepts to bear on the study of cinema in a systematic form
  • the spectator inhabits the position of the child looking in the mirror -> a sense of mastery based on the position that the spectator occupies relative to the event on the screen
  • Christian Metz (The Imaginary Signifier) – the spectator is absent from the screen as perceived, but  present there as perceiver -> escapes the sense of real absence -> overcomes the sense of lack, endured by only the existence in the world

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GRAHAM GREENE’S LACANIAN ENCORE: THE END OF THE AFFAIR

[T]he sexual relationship cannot be written (ne peut pas s’écrire). Everything that is written stems from the fact that it will forever be impossible to write, as such, the sexual relationship. It is on that basis that there is a certain eVect of discourse, which is called writing

Lacan, Encore

  • Graham Greene’s late modernist novel The End of the AVair (1951) is a Lacanian text par excellence, a literary avatar of Lacan’s Encore: On Feminine Sexuality/The Limits of Love and Knowledge
  • This “inhuman love” would seem to be what Saint Teresa, as represented by Bernini’s statue in Rome, experiences but does not know
  • Lacan’s reasoning behind his notion of the impossibility of human Love will be laid out: Ž rst, in terms of his three orders of Love and in particular the gap between the love object and the objet a, or cause of desire, that dwells deceptively in the love object; and second, in terms of his idea of sexuation and the gap between the man and /the Woman.
  • Tying the unfeasibility of Love to the collapse of the sexual relation, which by no means detracts from desire, Lacan asserts that “love is impossible and the sexual relationship drops into the abyss of nonsense, which doesn’t in any way diminish the interest we must take in the Other”

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