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.

  • body-asorganism is defined autopoietically as open to energy but informationally closed to the environment, thus engendering its own boundary conditions, Luciana Parisi and Tiziana Terranova have argued that the body-asorganism befits the disciplinary society of late 19th-century industrial capitalism ‘where the fluids which were circulating outside and between bodies, are folded onto themselves in order to be channeled within the solid walls of the organism/self/subject’ (2000: 4). The body-as-organism is organized for ‘reproduction within a thermodynamic cycle of accumulation and expenditure; and trained to work’ (2000: 5).
  • Like the body-as-organism, the biomediated body is a historically specific mode of organization of material forces, invested by capital into being, as well as elaborated through various discourses of biology and physics, thermodynamics and complexity, metastability and nonlinear relationality, reconfiguring bodies, work and reproduction.
  • the biomediated body exposes how digital technologies, such as biomedia and new media, attach to and expand the informational substrate of bodily matter and matter generally, and thereby mark the introduction of a ‘postbiological threshold’ into ‘life itself’.
  • Brian Massumi defines affect in terms of bodily responses, autonomic responses, which are in-excess of conscious states of perception and point instead to a ‘visceral perception’ preceding perception – in terms of the virtual as the realm of potential, unliveable as tendencies or incipient acts, indeterminant and emergent.
  • He proposes that if conscious perception is to be understood as the narration of affect – as it is in the case of emotion, for example, there nonetheless always is ‘a never-to-be-conscious autonomic remainder’, ‘a virtual remainder’, an excess of affect
  • Consciousness is ‘subtractive’ because it reduces a complexity. It is ‘limitative’, a derived function in a virtual field where any actualization becomes, at that same moment of actualization, the limit of that field, which otherwise has no pre-given empirical limit – Affect and consciousness are in a virtual–actual circuit, which defines affect as potential and emergent
  • bodily affect is called to transform ‘the unframed, disembodied, and formless into concrete embodied information intrinsically imbued with (human) meaning’ – Mark Hansen
  • digitization challenges ‘the human to reorganize itself’
  • Thacker defines biomedia as a technical reconditioning of biology, a technological framing that enables biology to perform in novel ways beyond itself, while remaining biological
  • what makes biomedia different from other technological developments is the way it changes the relationship between capital, technology, labor and life.
  • As Pearson sees it, the organism must be rethought as an open system that puts the organism ‘within the wider field of forces, intensities and duration that give rise to it and which do not cease to involve a play between nonorganic and stratified life’
  • the turn to affect, as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (2003) proposed, could lead cultural criticism from the ‘paranoid strong’ theorizing of deconstructive approaches, while making it possible to reverse the effects of trauma. It would do so because affect, it was argued, is ‘freer’ than the drives as theorized in psychoanalysis, and therefore affect is more amenable to change.
  • the circuit from affect to emotion is attached to a circulation of images meant to simulate desire-already-satisfied, demand already-met, as capital extracts value from affect – around consumer confidence, political fears, etc., such that the difference between commodification and labor, production and reproduction, are collapsed in the modulation of the capacity to circulate affect.
  • If capital accumulation in the domain of affect means that there is an ‘assimilation of powers of existence, at the moment of their emergence (their phased passing)’, this assimilation, Massumi argues, also serves as biopolitical governance, as the powers of existence are made to pass ‘into a classificatory schema determining normative orbits around which procedural parameters for negotiation and advocacy are set’

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