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.

  • agency, and affect thereby become to some extent contingent outcomes of the network itself rather than of human agency alone (e.g.  Facebook)
  • we are— physically and ontologically—part of the technological environment, and it makes no more sense to talk of us using it, than it does of it using us”
  • Humans do not simply manipulate or control machines, data, and networks any more than machines, data, and networks simply manipulate or control us.
  • Our encounters with websites, avatars, videos, mobile apps, discussion forums, GIFs, webcams, intelligent agents, and “platforms”1 of different kinds allow us to experience sensations of connectivity, interest, desire, and attachment. Even so, they equally allow us to experience detachment and boredom (Petit, this volume) and articulate issues of difference in heated and hierarchical terms, as in instances of hate speech and “flaming” that follow the dividing lines of ethnic difference or sexual orientation (Kuntsman 2009; Paasonen, this volume).

Affect: Definitional and Theoretical Encounters

  • Seigworth and Gregg (2010, 6–8) sketch out eight possible turns, or trajectories of thought, related to affect:
  • Gregory Seigworth and Melissa Gregg (2010, 19) note in their introduction to The Affect Theory Reader that the genealogical routes of the “turn to affect” in the humanities and social sciences are diverse to the degree that the issue is, in fact, not one of a single unitary turn but rather one of multiple entangled research traditions and agenda
  1.  the tradition of phenomenological and postphenomenological theories of embodiment;
  2. explorations of human-machine relations in traditions such as cybernetics, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, and robotics;
  3. non-Cartesian philosophical traditions drawing on the work of Baruch Spinoza, such as feminist research, Italian autonomism, political philosophy, and philosophically inflected cultural studies;
  4. psychological and psychoanalytical inquiries;
  5.  feminist, queer, subaltern, and other politically engaged work concerned with materiality;
  6. critiques of the linguistic turn and social constructivism in cultural theory;
  7. studies of emotion and critiques of the ideal modern subject;
  8. science and science studies embracing pluralist approaches to materialism.
  • Anu Koivunen (2010, 23) notes, “As a rhetorical figure, the affective turn promises drama and change of direction.” Turning toward affect, however, means turning away from something else, and this may, depending on the degree of the turn, lead to the rhetorical dismissal of existing forms of thought instead of the establishment of productive critical dialogue with them
  • Imogen Tyler (2008, 88) argues that it “is important to refuse the absolute distinction between affects, feelings, and emotions not only because the purification of affect abjects an entire history of counterhegemonic scholarship but because affect is by definition unanalyzable and thus critically and politically useless.”
  • in the work of the psychologist Silvan Tomkins, which has animated a range of queer and feminist research (e.g., Sedgwick 2003; Sedgwick and Frank 1995), affect is defined as a biological system of input and output that is hardwired in the human body, much like the drives for breath, thirst, hunger, and sex. For Tomkins, affects are identifiable and specific as the physiological reactions of disgust, enjoyment/joy, interest/excitement, anger/rage, shame/ humiliation, surprise/startle, fear/terror, distress/anguish, and “dissmell
  • For Spinoza, affectus refers to the modifications of bodies (through their encounter with others) that “result in increases or decreases of the potential to act”
  • In studies of art, conceptualizations of affect have opened the realm of aesthetic analysis to the corporeality of encountering images and texts, and to the mutual inseparability of sense and sensation, sensing and making sense -in these works, affect is evoked as an active, contingent dynamic or relation that orients interpretation and moves readers, viewers, and listeners in very physical ways
  • In their discussion and embrace of multiple virtual lives on the screen, cyberculture theorists Sherry Turkle (1995) and Sandy Stone (1996) implicitly support the idea that “cyberspace” (as the internet and virtual reality applications were then often called) produces the affective tone of experience—in effect, a “trans-individual register of life.” Their online ethnographic research began to articulate the entangled relationship between the virtual and the actual at the level of the interface, but did so within an understanding of cyberspace as somehow ontologically separate from the offline world
  • For Latour, subjects are defined by the connections through which they are impressed and formed. Actors, such as human individuals, are best understood through the networks of people, technologies, objects, and practices of which they are a part—through their connections and reverberations within these networks
  • Affect, or jouissance in Lacanian terms, is, she( Jodi Dean) observes, what accrues from reflexive communication, from communication for its own sake through social media, from the endless circular movement of commenting on Facebook, adding notes and links, bringing in new friends and followers, and layering and interconnecting myriad communication platforms and devices
  • Ethologies of Software Art and Affect: What Can a Digital Body of Code Do?” asks two questions: Can we use affect to understand human-nonhuman relations? And, if we can, how does affect’s circulation inflect the various layers of abstractions that brand networked culture?
  • To answer these questions, author Jussi Parikka extends theories of nonorganic affect in order to focus on the ways that software itself now circulates as a form of art. He exemplifies his discussion though software art projects such as Google Will Eat Itself and Biennale.py, and in so doing uncovers some of the heterogeneous relations by which software functions as a crucial though underacknowledged component of our contemporary culture of perception and the global digital economy.
  • Drawing on Deleuze’s work on Bacon, Ash develops the concept of allotropy to theorize how affect travels around and through networks and how it is translated by and travels between human and nonhuman entities.
  • In his examination of a number of popular GIFs, he explains how their technical structure as a file type shapes their capacity to produce affect. Rather than being totally open in their potential, however, GIFs modulate forces into either sensations or affects that shape the possibilities of emergence when these animations are viewed. In making this argument, the chapter contributes to debates around affective transmission and suggests that affect must always be understood in relation to the specificity of the technical media that enable it.

 

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