Affect and Literature 9781108424516

This book considers how 'affect', the experience of feeling or emotion, has developed as a critical concept wi

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Affect and Literature

Table of contents :
Half-title page
Series page
Title page
Copyright page
Notes on Contributors
Introduction: Affect and Literature
I Origins
Poetic Fear-Related Affects and Society in Greco-Roman Antiquity
Secondary Affect in Lessing, Mendelssohn, and Nicolai
Affect and Life in Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Bergson
Feelings under the Microscope: New Critical Affect
‘We Manufacture Fun’: Capital and the Production of Affect
Jacques Lacan’s Evanescent Affects
The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory
Affect, Meaning, Becoming, and Power: Massumi, Spinoza, Deleuze, and Neuroscience
Translating Postcolonial Affect
Making Sorrow Sweet: Emotion and Empathy in the Experience of Fiction
II Developments
Feeling Feelings in Early Modern England
Laughable Poetry
Modernism, Formal Innovation, and Affect in some Contemporary Irish Novels
The Antihumanist Tone
Bette Davis’s Eyes and Minoritarian Survival: Camp, Melodrama, and Spectatorship
Affective Form
Subaltern Affects
III Applications
Affect and Environment in Contemporary Ecopoetics
Contemporary Crisis Fictions: Twenty-First Century Disaffection
Shiny Happy Imperialism: An Affective Exploration of “Ways of Life” in the War on Terror
The Digital’s Amodal Affect
Digital Special Affects: On Exhilaration and the Stun in CGI Blockbuster Films
Cartesian Affect

Citation preview


This book considers how Affect, the experience of feeling or emotion, has developed as a critical concept within literary studies in different periods and through a range of approaches. Stretching from the Classical to the Contemporary, the first section of the book, ‘Origins’, considers the importance of particular areas of philosophy, theory, and criticism that have been important for conceptualizing affect and its relation to literature, including ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, eighteenth-century aesthetics, Marxist theory, psychoanalysis, queer theory, and postcolonial theory. The chapters of the second section, ‘Developments’, correspond to those of the previous section and build on their insights through readings of particular texts. The final ‘Applications’ section is focused on contemporary and future lines of enquiry and revolves around a particular set of concerns: media and communications, capitalism, and an environment of affective relations that extend to ecology, social crisis, and war. alex houen is author of Terrorism and Modern Literature (2002), and Powers of Possibility: Experimental American Writing since the 1960s (2012). His edited publications include: a special issue on ‘Affects, Text, and Performativity’ of Textual Practice 25:2 (March/April 2011); and (with Jan-Melissa Schramm), Sacrifice and Modern War Literature: Battle of Waterloo to the War on Terror (2018). He also coedits the international journal of poetry, Blackbox Manifold.

cambridge critical concepts Cambridge Critical Concepts focuses on the important ideas animating twentiethand twenty-first-century literary studies. Each concept addressed in the series has had a profound impact on literary studies, as well as on other disciplines, and already has a substantial critical bibliography surrounding it. This series captures the dynamic critical energies transmitted across twentieth- and twenty-firstcentury literary landscapes: the concepts critics bring to reading, interpretation and criticism. By addressing the origins, development and application of these ideas, the books collate and clarify how these particular concepts have developed, while also featuring fresh insights and establishing new lines of enquiry. Cambridge Critical Concepts shifts the focus from period- or genre-based literary studies of key terms to the history and development of the terms themselves. Broad and detailed contributions cumulatively identify and investigate the various historical and cultural catalysts that made these critical concepts emerge as established twenty-first-century landmarks in the discipline. The level will be suitable for advanced undergraduates, graduates and specialists, as well as for those teaching outside their own research areas, and will have cross-disciplinary relevance for subjects such as history and philosophy. Titles in the Series Law and Literature Edited by Kieran Dolin University of Western Australia Time and Literature Edited by Thomas M. Allen University of Ottawa The Global South and Literature Edited by Russell West-Pavlov University of Tübingen Trauma and Literature Edited by Roger Kurtz The College at Brockport, State University of New York Food and Literature Edited by Gitanjali Shahani San Francisco State University Animals, Animality, and Literature Edited by Bruce Boehrer, Molly Hand and Brian Massumi Florida State University, University of Montreal Terrorism and Literature Edited by Peter Herman San Diego State University Climate and Literature Edited by Adeline Johns University of Surrey

Orientalism and Literature Edited by Geoffrey Nash SOAS, University of London Decadence and Literature Edited by Jane Desmarais and David Weir Goldsmith College and Hunter College Affect and Literature Edited by Alex Houen University of Cambridge

AFFECT AND LITERATURE edited by ALEX HOUEN University of Cambridge

University Printing House, Cambridge cb2 8bs, United Kingdom One Liberty Plaza, 20th Floor, New York, ny 10006, USA 477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, vic 3207, Australia 314–321, 3rd Floor, Plot 3, Splendor Forum, Jasola District Centre, New Delhi – 110025, India 79 Anson Road, #06–04/06, Singapore 079906 Cambridge University Press is part of the University of Cambridge. It furthers the University’s mission by disseminating knowledge in the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence. Information on this title: doi: 10.1017/9781108339339 © Cambridge University Press 2020 This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2020 Printed in the United Kingdom by TJ International Ltd. Padstow Cornwall A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library. isbn 978-1-108-42451-6 Hardback Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.


Notes on Contributors

page x

Introduction: Affect and Literature


Alex Houen


i origins 1. Poetic Fear-Related Affects and Society in Greco-Roman Antiquity


Dana LaCourse Munteanu

2. Secondary Affect in Lessing, Mendelssohn, and Nicolai


Stefan Uhlig

3. Affect and Life in Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Bergson


John Protevi

4. Feelings under the Microscope: New Critical Affect


Helen Thaventhiran

5. ‘We Manufacture Fun’: Capital and the Production of Affect


Ross Wilson

6. Jacques Lacan’s Evanescent Affects


Jean-Michel Rabaté

7. The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory


Geoff Gilbert

8. Affect, Meaning, Becoming, and Power: Massumi, Spinoza, Deleuze, and Neuroscience Anthony Uhlmann vii




9. Translating Postcolonial Affect


Sneja Gunew

10. Making Sorrow Sweet: Emotion and Empathy in the Experience of Fiction


Alison Denham

ii developments


11. Feeling Feelings in Early Modern England


Benedict S. Robinson

12. Laughable Poetry


Matthew Bevis

13. Modernism, Formal Innovation, and Affect in some Contemporary Irish Novels


Derek Attridge

14. The Antihumanist Tone


Christopher Nealon

15. Bette Davis’s Eyes and Minoritarian Survival: Camp, Melodrama, and Spectatorship


Amber Jamilla Musser

16. Affective Form


Ankhi Mukherjee

17. Subaltern Affects


Stephen Morton

iii applications


18. Affect and Environment in Contemporary Ecopoetics


Margaret Ronda

19. Contemporary Crisis Fictions: Twenty-First Century Disaffection


Emily Horton

20. Shiny Happy Imperialism: An Affective Exploration of ‘Ways of Life’ in the War on Terror Amira Jarmakani


Contents 21. The Digital’s Amodal Affect

ix 390

Andrew Murphie

22. Digital Special Affects: On Exhilaration and the Stun in CGI Blockbuster Films


Eric Jenkins

23. Cartesian Affect


Claire Colebrook



Notes on Contributors

derek attridge is Emeritus Professor at the University of York, UK; his most recent books are The Experience of Poetry: From Homer’s Listeners to Shakespeare’s Readers (2019), The Work of Literature (2017), and, as coeditor, Zoë Wicomb and the Translocal: Writing Scotland and South Africa (2017). Also in 2017, The Singularity of Literature (2004) was re-issued in the Routledge Classics series. He is a Fellow of the British Academy. matthew bevis is a Professor in the Faculty of English, Oxford University, and a Fellow of Keble College. His books include The Art of Eloquence: Byron, Dickens, Tennyson, Joyce (2007), Comedy: A Very Short Introduction (2012), and Wordsworth’s Fun (2019). His recent essays have appeared in Harper’s, The London Review of Books, Raritan, Poetry, and other magazines and journals. He is currently working on two books: Knowing Edward Lear, and On Wonder. claire colebrook is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, Philosophy and Women’s and Gender Studies at Penn State University. She has written books and articles on contemporary European philosophy, literary history, gender studies, queer theory, visual culture and feminist philosophy. Her most recent book is Twilight of the Anthropocene Idols (co-authored with Tom Cohen and J. Hillis Miller). alison denham’s research addresses issues in ethics, aesthetics and moral psychology. She is the author of Metaphor and Moral Experience (2000) and, as contributing editor, Plato on Art & Beauty (2011). Denham is jointly appointed to the Departments of Philosophy and Political Economy at Tulane University, New Orleans. She is also a Senior Research Fellow at St Anne’s College, Oxford and an associate of the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford. x

Notes on Contributors


geoff gilbert is Professor of Comparative Literature and English at the American University of Paris. He is the author of Before Modernism Was (2004), and essays on modernism, critical theory and political economy, sexuality, contemporary writing, poetics and prosody, and translation. He is working on a study of contemporary realism, which considers how writing arrives to us across capitalized geographical and linguistic distances. sneja gunew (frsc) is Professor Emerita of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of British Columbia, Canada. She has edited Feminist Knowledge: Critique and Construct and A Reader in Feminist Knowledge (1990–91). In Australia, she compiled (with others) A Bibliography of Australian Multicultural Writers (the first such compilation in Australia) and co-edited Striking Chords: Multicultural Literary Interpretations (1992), the first collection of critical essays to deal with ethnic minority writings in the Australian context. She set up the first library collection of ethnic minority writings in Australia. Continuing her focus on cultural difference, Gunew edited (with Anna Yeatman) Feminism and the Politics of Difference (1993) and (with Fazal Rizvi) Arts for a Multicultural Australia: Issues and Strategies (1994). Her books include Framing Marginality: Multicultural Literary Studies (1994) and Haunted Nations: The Colonial Dimensions of Multiculturalisms (2004). Based in Canada since 1993, her most recent book is titled: PostMulticultural Writers as Neo-Cosmopolitan Mediators (2017). emily horton is a lecturer in English Literature at Brunel University. Her research interests include contemporary Anglophone world literature, specializing in trauma fiction; genre and popular fiction; and fictional explorations of globalization and cosmopolitanism. Her first monograph, Contemporary Crisis Fictions, was published with Palgrave Macmillan in 2014. She has also co-edited two volumes: The 1980s: A Decade in Contemporary British Fiction, co-edited with Philip Tew and Leigh Wilson (2014); and Ali Smith, co-edited with Monica Germanà (2013). alex houen is a University Senior Lecturer in Modern Literature in the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Pembroke College. He is the author of Terrorism and Modern Literature (2002), and Powers of Possibility: Experimental American Writing since the 1960s (2012). His edited publications include: a special issue on ‘Affects, Text, and Performativity’ of Textual Practice 25:2 (March/April 2011); and


Notes on Contributors (with Jan-Melissa Schramm), Sacrifice and Modern War Literature: Battle of Waterloo to the War on Terror (2018). He also co-edits the international journal of poetry, Blackbox Manifold.

amira jarmakani is Professor of Women’s Studies and affiliated faculty member with the Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies at San Diego State University. Her most recent book, An Imperialist Love Story: Desert Romances and the War on Terror (2015), explores the crucial role of desire in understanding how the war on terror works and how it perseveres. She also authored Imagining Arab Womanhood: The Cultural Mythology of Veils, Harems, and Belly Dancers in the US (2008), which won the National Women’s Studies Association Gloria E. Anzaldúa book prize. eric jenkins is Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Cincinnati. He is the author of Special Affects: Cinema, Animation, and the Translation of Consumer Culture (2014) and of many articles in journals ranging from Critical Inquiry to Quarterly Journal of Speech, Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies to Game Studies. He is currently completing a second book on digital media and affect entitled Surfing the Anthropocene: On the Big Tensions of Virtual Life. stephen morton is Professor of English and Postcolonial Literatures at the University of Southampton. He is currently completing two monographs on ‘Allegories of the World–System: Dispossession and the Commons in Postcolonial World Literature’ and ‘In the Debt Colony: A Cultural History of Colonial Debt’. His publications include States of Emergency: Colonialism, Literature, and Law (2013); Terror and the Postcolonial, co-edited with Elleke Boehmer (2009); Foucault in an Age of Terror, co-edited with Stephen Bygrave (2008); Salman Rushdie: Fictions of Postcolonial Modernity (2007); Gayatri Spivak: Ethics, Subalternity and the Critique of Postcolonial Reason (2006); and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (2003). He has also published articles in Public Culture, Interventions, Textual Practice, New Formations, Ariel, and Research in African Literatures. ankhi mukherjee is Professor of English and World Literatures at the University of Oxford. She is the author of Aesthetic Hysteria: The Great Neurosis in Victorian Melodrama and Contemporary Fiction (2007) and What Is a Classic? Postcolonial Rewriting and Invention of the Canon (2014), which won the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize in English Literature in 2015. Mukherjee has published articles on a wide range of topics – Victorian literature and culture, intellectual history,

Notes on Contributors


modern fiction, postcolonial studies – in journals such as PMLA, MLQ, Paragraph, Parallax, Contemporary Literature, and the Cambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry. She has co-edited A Concise Companion to Psychoanalysis, Literature and Culture (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015) and edited After Lacan (Cambridge University Press, 2018). She is currently working on an AHRC- and Wellcome Trust-funded book project, ‘Unseen City: The Psychic Life of the Poor in Mumbai, London, and New York’. dana lacourse munteanu is Associate Professor in the Department of Classics, Ohio State University. She is the author of Tragic Pathos: Pity and Fear in Greek Philosophy and Tragedy (2012), the editor of Emotion, Genre and Gender in Classical Antiquity (2011), and co-editor of A Handbook to Classical Reception in Eastern and Central Europe (2017). Her interests include philosophy, ancient drama, and the reception of classics in modern literature. andrew murphie is an Associate Professor in Media and Communications at UNSW, Sydney. He works on philosophy and a politics of differential organization within a ‘third revolution’ in media and communications (AI and automation, VR, data and signaletics, the world as medium). He also works on climate change as part of catastrophic multiplicity. amber jamilla musser is Associate Professor of American Studies at The George Washington University. Her research lies at the intersection of race, sexuality, queer theory, and aesthetics. She is the author of Sensational Flesh: Race, Power, and Masochism (2014) and Sensual Excess: Queer Femininity and Brown Jouissance (2018). christopher nealon teaches in the Department of English at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of The Matter of Capital: Poetry and Crisis in the American Century (2011). john protevi is Phyllis M. Taylor Professor of French Studies and Professor of Philosophy at Louisiana State University. His most recent books are all with University of Minnesota Press: Edges of the State (2019); Life, War, Earth (2013); and Political Affect (2009). He maintains a website with teaching materials and research papers at www jean-michel rabate´ , Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania since 1992, is one of the


Notes on Contributors

editors of the Journal of Modern Literature. He is co-founder and senior curator of the Slought Foundation, where he organizes exhibitions, conferences, and public conversations. Since 2008, he has also been a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is author or editor of more than forty books on modernism, psychoanalysis, philosophy and literary theory. Recent titles include Rust (2018) and Kafka L.O.L. (2018). benedict s. robinson is Associate Professor of English at Stony Brook University. His first book, Islam and Early Modern English Literature, appeared from Palgrave in 2007. An edition of John Webster’s play The White Devil appeared from Arden Early Modern Drama in December 2018. Articles have appeared in Shakespeare Quarterly, SEL, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, and elsewhere. He recently completed a book-manuscript entitled The Accidents of the Soul, and is currently at work on another tentatively titled Resentment: 1500–1800. Articles on passion and affect in the early modern period have appeared in ELH (2014) and in Affect Theory and Early Modern Texts, edited by Mario DiGangi and Amanda Bailey (2017). margaret ronda is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of California-Davis, where she teaches American poetry and environmental theory and literature. She is the author of Remainders: American Poetry at Nature’s End (2018). helen thaventhiran is a University Lecturer in Modern Literature in the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Robinson College. She is the author of Radical Empiricists (2015) and a number of articles and book chapters about criticism, literature and philosophy. She is co-editor of a forthcoming critical edition of William Empson’s The Structure of Complex Words. stefan uhlig is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Davis. His work has been focused on the history of literary studies, Wordsworth, Goethe, world literature, and Humboldt. His co-edited works include: with Daniel Purdy and Chunjie Zhang, Goethe, Worlds, and Literatures, a special issue of Seminar: A Journal of Germanic Studies, 54.2 (2018); with Alexander Regier, Wordsworth’s Poetic Theory: Knowledge, Language,

Notes on Contributors


Experience (2010); and, with Peter de Bolla, Aesthetics and the Work of Art: Adorno, Kafka, Richter (2009). anthony uhlmann is Director of the Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University, Australia. He is the author of four monographs on literature and philosophy, most recently J. M. Coetzee, Truth, Meaning, Fiction (2020). He is currently working on a project related to Spinoza and Literature. ross wilson is Lecturer in Criticism in the Faculty of English, University of Cambridge. He is the author of Theodor Adorno (2007) and Shelley and the Apprehension of Life (2013), as well as essays on English poetry, literary theory, and aesthetics.

Introduction Affect and Literature Alex Houen

I. Scene: I’m lying on the bed, face down on the pillow. Outside in the guttering some house-sparrow chicks are cheeping incessantly for food, they’re like feathered car alarms. I’m exhausted – bodily and mentally. Partly from having been immersed all afternoon in the dense, translated prose of Spinoza’s Ethics. Partly from having had to clear up the effects of a plumbing emergency in my house yesterday. Partly from doing extra childcare (it’s school holiday time). Plus I’ve been trying without success not to think of the imminent anniversary of a friend’s death. A sudden pang of grief dies away with the thought of it. I concentrate on the pulse in my ear; it’s slowing. The sparrows are very insistent. Little prickles of anxiety. I should do more work. I must go on. I can’t go on – not when I feel so lacking in energy. Long pause. I find myself imagining my five-year-old daughter sneaking out into the street to look for our cat. She’s been out there for a while and I hear a scream. I picture myself looking out of the window and see her being pulled into a car by a man. Dashing out of the house I run after the car I’ve imagined such a chase before am exploding into myself the car trying to speed up our narrow street hits a van jutting out and goes into a bit of a spin. One man in the back gets out and runs off – that’s my daughter under a blanket? – I’m ripping open the front door I pull the driver out smash him down onto the road my rage fuelling rage, but no what about my daughter and what am I doing? I can’t bear to see her looking traumatised. Pulse racing against the pillow, I focus on my breathing until I’m floating on the bed in a kind of manageable suspended rage, a soft rage accompanied by sparrow song. Must get back to work.


The written ‘scene’ above is just one example presenting how a person can be affected by various things in various ways, but it raises a host of general 1


alex houen

issues and questions with which this book is concerned. What is the relation of mind and body in terms of how one feels emotionally affected? At points above it seems that sensation triggers affect, as when sparrow song elicits irritation. At other points it seems that a thought causes affect, as when remembering the anniversary prompts a ‘pang’ of ‘grief’. If that pang suggests a sharp awareness – one that is both mental and bodily – of an affect’s presence in experience, it’s also true that the lived present in the scene is repeatedly coloured confusingly by things that have already happened (the plumbing emergency, etc.), and things that are going to happen (the anniversary), as well as things imagined as happening (the kidnapping). That raises an important question in terms of this book’s literary focus: if affective experience can be so temporally and spatially manifold in being coloured by multiple things simultaneously, then is affect compatible with sequenced orderings of narrative prose, or even with the linguistic expressions of innovative poetry? For if affect extends to bodily sensation, then can it be conveyed adequately through language? When writing the scene above I began to feel that the sentences referring to various forms of affect would build thematically – resonate together – over the reading experience to engender a tonal atmosphere. I also tried to get style to do some affective labour: for example, the longer flowing sentences with less punctuation registering the rush of rage; also the paragraph break mid-sentence for the sudden change of heart. At other times, I let forthright assertion do pathos: ‘I must go on. I can’t go on’. The latter is actually a loose quotation that came to mind from Samuel Beckett’s novel The Unnamable (1953), though, and Beckett on occasion also uses mid-sentence paragraph breaks.1 That raises the question of how literary expressions of affect relate to those of ‘real life’. Is our affective life ever separate from our imaginary life? My scene above did actually happen to the extent that I lay on my bed and pictured my daughter being kidnapped, and while that kidnapping only happened in my imagination it did precipitate a form of rage. I felt that rage in my body as well, but it also felt somewhat up in the air precisely because the kidnapping remained imaginary – which is why I’ve described the affect as ‘a kind of manageable suspended rage, a soft rage’. If affects can include real and imaginary experience at the same time, is literary writing particularly well suited to exploring their dynamics?


To help us think more about matters and questions such as those I’ve just raised there is no shortage of ‘affect theory’ which, over the last two decades, has gained interest across numerous disciplines – including anthropology,



psychology, philosophy, sociology, politics, cultural studies, and literary studies. ‘Is there any remaining doubt that we are now fully within the Episteme of the Affect?’,2 asks Eugenie Brinkema rhetorically. Well, certainly affect has increasingly become a principal subject of investigation not just in academia but also in the wider world, partly because it’s seen by many to be a basis of knowledge. (At the time of writing, for example, I’ve seen multiple journalism articles in just the past few days arguing that today’s ‘post-truth’ politics and ‘fake news’ are appealing primarily to people’s affective sensibilities.3) Within academia, two publications in 1995 are regarded as having been particularly influential in fostering an ‘affective turn’: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank’s ‘Shame in the Cybernetic Fold’, and Brian Massumi’s ‘The Autonomy of Affect’. The two texts are not singing from the same score: Sedgwick and Frank’s explores the importance of the psychologist Silvan Tomkins’s work on affect, whereas Massumi’s is mostly drawing on Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s reading of Spinoza’s Ethics. Despite their different sources of inspiration, these two texts have both been viewed by some theorists as advancing a concept of affect as a form of bodily feeling that is distinct from emotion, cognition, and language. It’s easy to deduce such a view from Massumi’s text, given statements in it such as the following: affect (which he also calls ‘intensity’) ‘is embodied in purely autonomic reactions most directly manifested in the skin – at the surface of the body, at its interface with things’; it is ‘outside expectation and adaptation, [. . .] disconnected from meaningful sequencing, from narration’; ‘It is crucial to theorize the difference between affect and emotion’; ‘Language [. . .] is not simply in opposition to intensity. It would seem to function differentially in relation to it’; ‘Emotion is qualified intensity, the conventional [. . .] point of insertion of intensity into semantically and semiotically formed progressions, [. . .] into function and meaning’.4 As I’ll show shortly, it’s harder to draw a similar conception of affect as fundamentally distinct from cognition, emotion, and language in the writings of Tomkins or Sedgwick and Frank. Ruth Leys is not alone in thinking otherwise, though: she aligns Tomkins and his followers with Massumi in arguing that they similarly characterise affect as ‘nonintentional, bodily reactions’; ‘noncognitive, corporeal processes or states’.5 Leys is right to argue that such a characterisation has become a principal way of conceiving affect in affect theory. It’s evident, for example, in Patricia Ticinetto Clough and Jean Halley’s influential collection of essays The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social (2007) – Clough states in her ‘Introduction’ that the volume’s interdisciplinary explorations are particularly influenced by the work of Deleuze and Guattari, Massumi, and


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Spinoza.6 Another influential collection of essays, Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth’s The Affect Theory Reader (2010), similarly has an Introduction that frames the essays by setting up the importance of Tomkins, Sedgwick, Deleuze and Guattari, Massumi, and Spinoza for affect theory.7 Most of the contributors to these two volumes work outside literary studies in the social sciences or humanities. But their characterisation of affect has also been advanced by literary theorists such as Fredric Jameson. Prior to the affective turn, Jameson in his Postmodernism (1991) declared that the surfeit of simulated and mediated experience in contemporary culture had compromised any sense of authentic subjectivity and emotion to such an extent that we face a wholesale ‘waning of affect’ – ‘there is no longer a self present to do the feeling’.8 More recently, in The Antinomies of Realism (2013), though, he has done a volte face by arguing that affect thrives as a vital, bodily phenomenon that is irreducible to literary representation. Like Massumi, Jameson argues that there is a ‘structural difference’ between emotion and affect: whereas emotion arises as cognitive, ‘named’ structures of feeling that entail ‘the intervention of language’, affects are ‘bodily feelings’ that are resistant to language.9 Accordingly, Jameson is keen to insist ‘on the new representational tasks [affect] poses poets and novelists in the effort somehow to seize its fleeting essence and to force its recognition’.10 This approach to affect as distinct from emotion, cognition, and language is not the only one to have grown prevalent in affect theory. As Leys points out, in addition to the ‘noncognitivist’ approach there is the ‘opposing’ side of ‘cognitivists’, which includes psychologists such as Richard Lazarus and philosophers such as Martha Nussbaum and Anthony Kenny.11 It’s not surprising that numerous philosophers and literary theorists have been keen to develop a cognitivist approach to affect in literature, given their common investment in exploring the richness of mental life – including memory, consciousness, and imagination – as well as its relation to language and representation. Cognitivists tend to uphold a concept of affect as emerging through distinct cognitive ‘attitudes’; subjective outlooks, that develop like narratives.12 For that reason, cognitivist approaches to literature have tended to focus on prose fiction as a means of reflecting on emotion in terms of character and personality. When considering that emotional content of literature, cognitivists have also argued that it can elicit sympathy or empathy in readers and so foster good ethical capacities. This kind of approach is prominent in Donald Wehrs and Thomas Blake’s The Palgrave Handbook of Affect Studies and Textual Criticism (2017), which raises some important questions about the



limitations of regarding affect as essentially corporeal.13 Yet cognitive approaches have their own limitations. Their focus on mental attitudes often subordinates the question of what role bodily sensation plays in affective life. Moreover, in viewing narrative or language as ‘expressions’ of subjective feeling, cognitive approaches have often emphasised emotional content over literary form and so ignored questions of what role and aesthetic impact form, genre, or style might have in presenting emotion in a distinctly literary way. For the rest of this Introduction I want to build the case for an approach to affects in theory and in literature that is neither strictly cognitivist nor noncognitivist, and that is open to considering literary affect in terms of fusions of content and form. I’ll do this first by showing that Spinoza and Deleuze, then Tomkins, Sedgwick and Frank, do not in fact support an opposition of bodily affect versus emotion and cognition. I’ll then consider the work of other literary theorists that lends support to an approach that is reducible neither to cognitivism nor noncognitivism. After offering my own examples of what such an approach looks like in practice, I’ll conclude by outlining how the three sections of this book build distinctly literary perspectives on affect.

II. One of the most important features of Spinoza’s philosophy is its monism: there is no dualism or split between mind and body, he asserts, for they are two ‘attributes’ of the same ‘substance’ and are always correlated with each other.14 That is evident in what Spinoza calls the ‘affections’ (affectio) which arise whenever you are affected by something: ‘The [affections] of the human body whose ideas represent external bodies as present to us, we shall call the images of things [. . .]. When the mind regards bodies in this way, we shall say that it imagines’.15 When Massumi discusses Spinoza’s affections in ‘The Autonomy of Affect’ he stresses that they form bodily ‘traces’ and suggests that ideas of them are generated through secondary ‘conscious reflection’ that amounts to a process of ‘abstraction’.16 Deleuze, however, offers a different interpretation and asserts that the bodily ‘image’ of an affection is inherently a form of ‘idea’.17 As he points out, Spinoza also states that the affections form another kind of affect (affectus) that is a felt idea of how one’s affective state itself has shifted: ‘The affectio refers to a state of the affected body and implies the presence of the affecting body, whereas the affectus refers to the passage from one state to another’.18 In general, then, Spinoza does not assert that ideas tied to affections and


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affects arise as secondary cognitive ‘abstractions’; instead, as Deleuze puts it, ‘Our feelings are in themselves ideas’.19 Seeing Tomkins as dissociating affects from cognition is similarly questionable. While Sedgwick and Frank argued that Tomkins saw cognition and affects as systems that ‘involve many kinds of interdependent transformations’,20 Leys argues that he ‘remained committed to the idea of their autonomy as separate subsystems’ and that he keeps them ‘inherently independent of each other’.21 It’s true that Tomkins proposes a system of nine distinct and innate affective ranges: distress-anguish; interest-excitement; enjoyment-joy; surprise-startle; anger-rage; fearterror; shame-humiliation; disgust (the impulse to expel something noxious); and dissmell (the impulse to pull away from something noxious).22 It’s also true that he posits a ‘freedom’ of each affect to ‘combine’ and ‘coassemble’ with objects as well as various mental and bodily ‘components’ of the human organism – including other affects, memory, sensation, perception, and action. Contrary to Leys’s assertion, though, Tomkins by the end of his four-volume magnum opus, Affect, Imagery, Consciousness (1962–91) does not maintain that the cognitive and affective are ‘inherently independent’ systems; instead, he states that the two are conjoined through ‘a set of relations of partial independence, partial dependence, and partial interdependence that vary in their interrelationships, conditional upon the specific state of the whole subsystem at any one moment’.23 In other words, the dynamic conjunction of affects and cognition is fluid, contingent upon the ‘state’ one happens to be in – which is comparable to Spinoza’s conception of affect (affectus) as a felt idea of ‘the passage from one [affective] state to another’. Tomkins might at times theorise affect and cognition as two separate systems, but he does so largely for heuristic reasons; the reality of the situation, as he states, is that ‘The coassembly and fusion of both motivational [affective] and cognitive mechanisms is the rule, not the exception’.24 As in Spinoza’s theory, affects and cognition need to be seen as thoroughly fused with each other. Such fusion develops, for example, through the ‘affect theories’ and ‘affect scripts’ that Tomkins says are developed by people individually. As Sedgwick and Frank explain, according to Tomkins the ‘theory’ a person builds for a particular affect is built up empirically over the course of multiple experiences of it. The theory is thus ‘cognitive and affective’ in nature, and also involves strategies for dealing with the affect – for example, by amplifying it, diminishing it, or combining it with other affects.25 Similarly, Tomkins’s ‘script theory’ is based on affective ‘scenes’, and the scripts – which are continually flexible and revised – are generated by what



Tomkins comes to call the ‘minding’ system, which is ‘composed of cognitive and affective subsystems’26: Scripts are generated by the minding system as rules for that system, including rules for both cognitive and affective ordering as subsets, analogous to the way in which an interpretation of a text presupposes and includes rules of grammar, semantics, pragmatics, and more.27

Ultimately, then, the case for seeing Tomkins as upholding a ‘noncognitivist’ account of affect is as tenuous as the one that ascribes such an account to Spinoza and Deleuze. Contrary to Jameson’s and Massumi’s positions, Tomkins’s does not call for strict differentiation between emotion and affect, and far from seeing affective life as being ‘in opposition’ to language, Tomkins suggests that the ‘scripts’ people form with and for affects are akin to the work of textual criticism. I. A. Richards in Practical Criticism (1929) commented that while critical practice had become rich in methods of interpreting meaning, it was poor at dealing with feeling: ‘For handling feeling we have nothing at all comparable. We have to rely upon introspection, a few clumsy descriptive names for emotions, some scores of aesthetic adjectives [. . .]’.28 That imbalance has increasingly been redressed, particularly since the ‘affective turn’, with critics and theorists not only developing fresh insights into how affect can be interpreted through language, but also new understandings of how language itself is affective. Denise Riley, for example, has recently been influential in exploring how language ‘does not express feeling’ so much as it ‘does feeling’.29 While language is ‘impersonal’ in being indifferent to those who use it, she argues, its architecture is at the heart of the affects we form. Punctuation, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and ideological discourse can all be informative and formative for a person’s affective life. Punctuation can do affect by exclamation marks, for example, just as a statement can be modified affectively by tone or volume of voice. Vocabulary alone affords a variety of tones: when relating the fact of a person’s death, for example, I can say he ‘died’, or ‘passed away’, or ‘kicked the bucket’, each of these carrying a different affective charge, the force of which will also depend on my tone of voice no less than the affective state of the person hearing it. In using any of those words for death I could also retain quotation marks around them (if speaking, I can signal that with finger movements) in order to ironise the meaning, affective charge, and my identification with them. For Riley, as well as Judith Butler, we each come into being as a social individual largely by identifying oneself through the terms and structures of language.30 We are interpellated into society through language, by taking up a position in it, and


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it’s because the terms of language are consequently very much at the core of one’s selfhood that hate speech, for example, can be so affecting and injurious.31 As Riley argues, the self identifications we make with language can engender an array of affects. In stating, for example, that ‘I am an Australian, a father, and a lover not a fighter’, I might feel pride and solidarity with others who identify with any of those terms – though if I were to let my daughter be kidnapped under my watch and then let her see me pummelling her kidnapper in rage I’d be more likely to have what Riley calls ‘linguistic shame’ in feeling that I do not live up to the terms. The affective dynamics of linguistic identification should not be seen as involving just nounal categories but also other grammatical modes as well as syntax. In saying ‘I love you’, for example, the very act of identifying my feeling with that statement can augment the feeling itself while formalising its existence for me and my beloved. In other words, the statement isn’t simply expressive but also performative in so far as the feeling emerges through its verbal formalisation.32 As with any statement, though, one can have varying affective identifications with ‘I love you’. It might make me feel happy in thinking that my love resonates with other love scenes that I have taken to heart from literature and films and life. I can even take the statement’s syntax gladly to heart and feel that, yes, I as subject am doing the emotion and am giving it to my beloved. Alternatively, I might think that the statement is a cliché and that its syntax doesn’t fit with feeling how I am subject to a love that has arisen not solely in me but between me and my beloved – in which case I’m better off declaring ‘Love You-It-I makes me’. Taken together, the points I’ve made in relation to Tomkins and Riley support the case for arguing that affective experience can lead to modifications of how we theorise, script, and interpret it, just as those theories and scriptings play a part in informing and forming affects. This doesn’t mean that affects are reducible to the affective ‘architecture’ of language; as the ‘I love you’ example shows, we need to think of affect, language, and cognition as thoroughly conjoined yet open to various modes of interaction, coassembly, and fusion. When Riley asserts that ‘sensibility is words’ it sounds as though she’s maintaining that affect is purely linguistic, but she emphatically states that she is not suggesting that it ‘is “really only” words’.33 Conjoining ‘words’ and ‘sensibility’ means seeing language, affect, and cognition as being interrelated, yet open to the different kinds of affective identification and linguistic negotiation that I’ve described.



That fluidity of interaction leaves the intimacy of language and affects open to context and historical change. ‘Sensibility’ itself has shifted over the centuries. As Raymond Williams has noted, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the word meant ‘physical feeling or sense perception’, in the eighteenth century its meaning was ‘much like that of modern awareness (not only consciousness but conscience)’, and in the twentieth century it was seen more as ‘a whole way of perceiving and responding, not to be reduced to either “thought” or “feeling”’.34 The very word ‘sensibility’ has thus reflected and informed attitudes to how cognition and affect relate. That’s also true of ‘affect’. The Latin of Spinoza’s Ethics means that his use of affectus and affectio harks back to classical Roman senses of those words. Yet, as Philip Fisher has pointed out, Spinoza – like other thinkers such as Aquinas, Descartes, Hobbes, and Kant – modified the senses of the Latin terms to give them different values and meanings.35 It’s notable that the Latin affectus was also frequently translated as ‘passion’ or ‘emotion’, writes Teresa Brennan, who argues that the current concept of ‘affect’ as fundamentally bodily stems largely from Charles Darwin’s physiological account of emotions, along with William James’s psychological writings.36 Lineages of aesthetic theory and literary criticism show how particular forms of feeling have been developed in relation to specific modes of language and literature. Take the sublime, for example. In Longinus’s On the Sublime (written around the first century CE), he associates sublimity with a ‘grand style’ of ‘elevated language’, the effect of which ‘is not to persuade the hearers, but to entrance them’ with ‘wonder’ such that ‘sublime passages exert an irresistible force and mastery’ over them.37 For Longinus, the affective force of this sublimity is rooted in combining ‘grand conceptions’ and ‘powerful and inspired emotion’ as well as ‘figures of thought and speech’, ‘noble diction’, and rhetorical style.38 (In discussing how language ‘does’ feeling, Riley also considers rhetoric and cites Demetrius, for example, explaining how asyndeton can make speech dramatic.39) The grand style is thus conceived as eliciting a particular form of feeling – wonder – through specific forms of language and literature that combine powerful conception and emotion. In Edmund Burke’s eighteenth-century writings, though, the sublime entails a different form of feeling: not wonder so much as terror and even physical pain. Some of Burke’s thinking about the importance of terror relates to his views on politics of the time, but he also relates it to the power of language. Words, he argues, ‘are able to affect us often as strongly as the things they represent, and sometimes much more strongly’.40 Unlike Longinus, he suggests that language itself even harbours the potential for surpassing our


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conceptions, as when he considers the phrase ‘universe of Death’ from Milton’s Paradise Lost: Here [. . .] are two ideas not presentable but by language; and an union of them great and amazing beyond conception; if they may properly be called ideas which present no distinct image to the mind [. . .]’.41

For Burke, then, the figurative language of Milton’s poem effectively amounts to a novel form of aesthetically affecting idea that is ‘amazing’ by virtue of exceeding conventional ideas. Burke also intimates that mediating effects – such as arise through the artifice of mimesis and figurative language – can elicit an aesthetic form of affect: if the pain and terror are so modified as not to be actually noxious; if the pain is not carried to violence, and the terror is not so conversant about the present destruction of the person [. . .] they are capable of producing delight; not pleasure, but a sort of delightful horror, a sort of tranquility tinged with terror [. . .].42

Whereas Longinus portrays the grand style as expressing and performing powerful conceptions and emotions that the writer or speaker has already had, Burke suggests that language and literature can generate affect with an aesthetic twist. The indeterminacy of the ‘delightful horror’ and ‘tranquility tinged with terror’ that Burke emphasises with his ‘sort of [. . .] sort of’ brings me back to the ‘kind of manageable suspended rage’ that I began with, and the question it led me to: if affects can include real and imaginary experience simultaneously, is literary writing particularly well suited to exploring their dynamics? A sublime aesthetics of ‘delightful horror’ has certainly been explored and fostered by Gothic novels. Other specific literary forms and genres, too, have traditionally focused on particular affects: for example, the sonnet on love; comedy on mirth and laughter; elegy on mourning and melancholy.43 In Raymond Williams’s view, such literary explorations of affect serve an important function, for they can register and convey to readers wider social ‘structures of feeling’, which he elaborates in a chapter of his Marxism and Literature (1977). Williams argues that ‘the social’ has been regarded too much in terms of ‘fixed forms’ of social institution and class tied to ‘formal concepts’, ‘ideology’, or ‘world-view’.44 What we need to grasp more, he writes, is that a person’s experience as a social being is actually ‘present and moving’ and involves fluid, often ephemeral, ‘structures of feeling’ that take shape and circulate among people.45 In engaging with these affective structures, writers and critics ‘go beyond formally held



and systematic beliefs’ and are ‘concerned with meanings and values as they are actively lived and felt’.46 That means exploring how the transmission of meanings and beliefs is partly contingent upon people’s experience of them and how they interact with them. Just as Riley asserts that one can adopt different stances of affective identification with forms of language, so Williams asserts that the relations between ‘formal or systematic beliefs’ and people’s actual lived experience of them ‘are in practice variable’ and range ‘from formal assent with private dissent to the more nuanced interaction between selected and interpreted beliefs and acted and justified experiences’.47 These interactions extend to a person’s ‘impulse, restraint and tone: specifically affective elements of consciousness and relationships: not feeling against thought, but thought as felt and feeling as thought: practical consciousness of a present kind, in a living and inter-relating community’.48 As a critical concept that predates the affective turn, Williams’s structure of feeling is an important one in terms of the opposition between cognitivists and noncognitivists that I’ve discussed, for it involves seeing emotion and cognition to be flexibly fused no less than individuality and community. It’s also a rather loose critical concept; deliberately so, of course, because Williams is pitting it against ‘fixed’ conceptual forms of ideology and wants it to affirm the importance of ‘forming and formative’ social processes and encounters. There is little by way of an actual literary example of a structure of feeling in Williams’s Marxism and Literature chapter, though; the main one involves a range of novels: Early Victorian ideology, for example, specified the exposure caused by poverty or debt or by illegitimacy as social failure or deviation; the contemporary structure of feeling, meanwhile, in the new semantic figures of Dickens, of Emily Brontë, and others specified exposure and isolation as a general condition, and poverty, debt, or illegitimacy as its connecting instances.49

Williams’s argument is that ideology maintained a generally fixed and narrow ideal of the social by virtue of marginalising particular states of people’s lives as negative aberrations. In contrast, the novelists, through the ‘new semantic figures’ of their characters, elaborate at length those particular conditions as part of a wider ‘structure of feeling’ and so present a very different image of society in general. Whereas the rigidity of the ideology means it lost touch with the reality of social processes, the novelists, in Williams’s view, present those processes as they are thought and felt such that the writing amounts to a kind of realism of social sensibility.


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In stressing the important affective labour that writers perform in exploring social feelings, Williams has relatively little to say about how writers might transform those feelings or turn them into something distinctly literary. He does state that changes in ‘literary style’ register shifting structures of feeling, but that still suggests that style is aiding a realist work dedicated to mapping the feelings that are in society. A good example of a writer who makes a counter case for literary emotional labour is T. S. Eliot when he states that: The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up to poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all. And emotions which he has never experienced will serve his turn as well as those familiar to him.50

For Eliot, that ‘working [. . .] up to poetry’ means turning feeling over to things such as rhythm, rhyme, and figurative imagery, all of which help to convert what was emotionally ‘ordinary’ into something distinctly literary and extraordinary. Burke saw poetry such as Milton’s to be ‘amazing’ in going ‘beyond conception’; Eliot sees poetry as going beyond emotion itself. Consequently, for Eliot, ‘Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality’.51 He takes the measure of ordinary emotion by making poetic estrangements out of it. More recently, Jonathan Flatley has argued that such estrangements can involve a form of literary ‘affective mapping’. Flatley bases his arguments on literary modernism and also takes inspiration, in part, from Williams’s concept of the structure of feeling, arguing that it ‘should emerge, as it has begun to, as a full-fledged parallel to ideology’.52 Flatley’s affective mapping, though, does not involve the kind of realist approach that I’ve associated with Williams’s concept, for it works not primarily through a realist representation of a social space in the world, but through a representation of the affective life of the reader herself or himself. Such a representation is accomplished by way of a selfestrangement that allows one to see oneself in relation to one’s affective environment in its historicity.53

For Flatley, it’s because literature can experiment imaginatively and linguistically to pose an alternative world of possibility that readers who immerse themselves in it can experience ‘self-estrangement’ from their usual ‘affective environment’. The affective mapping is thus largely something that readers can perform on themselves with the text – Flatley gives



the experience of reading Gertrude Stein’s experimental Tender Buttons (1914) as an example: one finds oneself in a world that does not exist, or that exists only in this space at this moment. This otherness is not liberatory in itself, but inasmuch as the relationships between space and time, for example, that we are used to in our everyday lives are altered in some way, we may see that the logic of the world that we live in is not compulsory.54

Flatley’s shifting stance here regarding the ontological existence of the text’s ‘world’ is particularly interesting; that the text is an imaginary world leads him first to assert that it ‘does not exist’ in reality, but this suspended world does take on existence in the event of reading by exerting real affective force and thereby making the reader feel other with it. Let’s consider in more detail this matter of literature being affective in posing its own distinct otherness. The ‘cut-up’ writing of William S. Burroughs provides a good example. Burroughs along with his partner Brion Gysin and others developed the cut-up technique in the early 1960s as a form of textual collage. The basic cut-up method is simple: take at least two texts, cut them into pieces, then recombine the pieces to produce unexpected hybrid statements. Although the materials used in the cut-ups included journalism articles, letters, and diary entries in addition to literary writing, the point of the technique was not simply to represent social structures of feeling but to take and break conventional lines of meaning and affect in order to synthesise alternative potentials from them.55 As Gysin put it: ‘Shuffle the pieces and put them together at random. Cut through the word lines to hear a new voice off the page. A dialogue often breaks out. “It” speaks’.56 That ‘It’ arises from the spliced text as a form of otherworldly third-person, or rather ‘third mind’ – the concept of which is acknowledged as being inspired, in part, by Eliot’s The Waste Land (‘Who is the third who walks always beside you’57). Burroughs took the otherworldliness of cut-ups to great lengths by using them to develop his sci-fi imaginings of outer space and alien characters. In his view, the space programmes of the time were encouraging disappointingly conventional structures of feeling; popular magazines such as Life, Time, and Fortune regularly carried articles portraying astronauts and their families as exemplary white, middleclass Americans. In response, Burroughs offered his sci-fi writing as an alternative space programme for readers: by scrambling space-time through cut-ups he saw himself as producing an alternative affective script that enabled readers to have novel forms of experience.


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Burroughs’s novel The Soft Machine (1961) presents a clear example of such scrambled writing in the form of a cut-up that his character Bradly Martin makes: WAS WEIGHTLESS – NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE PARIS APRIL 17, 1961 – ‘One’s arms and legs in and out through the crowd weigh nothing – grey dust of broom in old cupboard – Mr. Bradly Mr. I Myself sit in the chair as i subways and basements did before that – but hung in dust and pain wind – My hand writing leaning to a boy’s flannel pants did no change although vapor trails fading in hand does not weigh anything now – Gagarin said grey junk yesterdays trailing the earth was quite plain and past the American he could easily see the shores of continents – islands and great rivers’. Captain Clark welcomes you aboard. Glad to have you aboard, reader, but remember there is only one captain of this subway . . .58

The quoted section (added to the 1966 edition) is presented as being taken from a newspaper article reporting Yuri Gagarin’s voyage as the first man in orbit, but it’s obviously not an actual quotation from it. Harking back to Flatley’s comments above, we’re clearly reading a literary scene that ‘does not exist’ in the world. The writing’s suspension from the world is foregrounded not only through the references to floating in zero gravity, but also through the spliced statements that suspend conventional syntactic sense. The relations between the various phrasings are in turn kept paratactically in suspense by the repeated use of dashes that separate them. These forms of suspension can help to precipitate the kind of ‘self estrangement’ from everyday affect that Flatley describes, such that the expressions of floating in zero gravity also pertain to the disorientation a reader might feel in reading them. The text is both in suspense and affective, then, and Burroughs also presents his alien textual compounds as extending to composite experiences composed of and with other people and things: ‘One’s arms and legs in and out through the crowd’; ‘Mr. Bradly Mr. I Myself [. . .] as i subways and basements’. For Burroughs, crafting alternative ‘outer’ space with his writing means the text becomes a kind of aesthetic hybrid vehicle (part spaceship, part ‘subway’) in which readers can explore refigured forms of affective relation – ‘Glad to have you aboard, reader . . . ’ It’s not just experimental writing such as Burroughs’s or Stein’s that has a suspended relation to everyday experience and meanings; indeed, as the philosophers Jacques Rancière and Jacques Derrida have argued, an aesthetics of suspension is fundamental to literary writing. Rancière states the



case regarding art generally when he writes that it ‘frames itself through the constitution of a specific space-time of suspension with respect to the ordinary forms of sensory experience’.59 Derrida makes a particular case for literature: ‘There is no literature without a suspended relation to meaning and reference’.60 As he explains, although not all literature is of the genre fiction, ‘there is a fictionality in all literature’61 such that we accept by social convention that the statements and sentiments of a poem’s speaker, or a narrator or character in a novel, or a character in a play, are not reducible to their actual author. Even when the statement of a real person is used by a literary author (as in Burroughs’s use of Gagarin’s comments above) it takes on an aesthetically suspended status in being framed within a literary work. While Rancière and Derrida discuss artistic and literary suspension mostly in terms of ‘sensory experience’ and ‘meaning’, respectively, others have considered it more in terms of emotion. For example, among the philosophers and critics who take a cognitivist view of literary emotion, two opposing views have developed concerning its status and readers’ emotional responses to it. On the one hand, ‘emotional irrealists’ such as Kendall Walton, Gregory Currie, and Jerrold Levinson have argued that the feelings fiction presents are not real but ‘make-believe’, and the emotions that a reader feels in response are similarly imaginary and so not real.62 On the other hand, ‘emotional realists’ such as Berys Gaut and Jenefer Robinson argue that fiction can present and elicit real affect. In Robinson’s view, the emotions a reader forms about characters ‘actually work just the same way as they do when we respond to people and events in real life’.63 It’s true that recent experiments by cognitive psychologists have shown that fiction stimulates parts of the brain associated with emotion in a similar fashion to non-fictional stimuli. The psychologists have thereby made advances in an approach to affect that W. K. Wimsatt and M. C. Beardsley commented on disparagingly some seventy years ago in ‘The Affective Fallacy’ (1949): ‘the affective critic is today actually able, if he wishes, to measure the “psychogalvanic reflex” of persons subjected to a given moving picture’.64 Wimsatt and Beardsley’s criticism of such an approach stems from their belief that it upholds film and literature as having real emotional content and effects while occluding the matter of how that relates to their being distinct aesthetic art forms. This criticism relates to the one I made earlier in relation to most cognitivists’ approach: in conceiving the emotionality of fiction as interpersonal (character or narrator to reader), they tend to ignore the role that genre, form, and language can play in imaginatively figuring or transforming affect. Gaut does address the status of imagined emotion when, for example, he


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argues that ‘make-believe fear must keep its phenomenology the same as that of fear, because it is a truth of introspection that one can be in a state that feels like fear when watching a horror film’.65 The emphasis with ‘feels’ there distracts attention from the importance of the next word, ‘like’. If the distinctiveness of the make-believe affect includes aesthetic awareness of simile and simulation, then how can it be phenomenologically ‘the same’ as real fear? That begs a further question: to what extent might the distinctly aesthetic aspect of the affect be influenced by formal features, including cinema shots, editing, and special effects? While emotional realists have tended not to pursue the importance of formal artifice in much detail, the emotional irrealists have stressed the artifice of emotion in fiction to deny its affective reality. My own view, as I’ve stated elsewhere, is that the suspended status of literary writing presents a reader with distinctly aesthetic forms of feeling that can be experienced as exerting their own affective force despite the suspension. That concept of literary affect is a development of my arguments about how affect can become fused and transformed with language, cognition, bodily feeling, and the imagination. In order to give more of a sense of how that concept facilitates affective critical readings of literary text, let’s consider a brilliant passage from Virginia Woolf’s last novel Between the Acts (1941) that presents the character Isa Oliver reflecting on her amorous feelings for someone other than her husband: She returned to her eyes in the looking-glass. ‘In love’, she must be; since the presence of his body in the room last night could so affect her; since the words he said, handing her a teacup, handing her a tennis racquet, could so attach themselves to a certain spot in her; and thus lie between them like a wire, tingling, tangling, vibrating – she groped, in the depths of the looking-glass, for a word to fit the infinitely quick vibrations of the aeroplane propeller that she had seen once at dawn at Croydon. Faster, faster, faster, it whizzed, whirred, buzzed, till all the flails became one flail and up soared the plane away and away . . . ‘Where we know not, where we go not, neither know nor care’, she hummed. ‘Flying, rushing, through the ambient, incandescent, summer silent . . . ’66

A cognitivist approach might focus on the emotion in the passage as deriving from a distinct cognitive ‘attitude’ formed subjectively by Isa. Yet in line with the novel’s title, the extract’s emphasis is on how Isa’s feeling emerges through interactions between her and things and language and other people. The first sentence presents her identifying with that stock phrase ‘In love’, the quotation marks suggesting that she’s aware of identifying her emotion



with a common form of feeling. Bearing in mind my earlier discussion of Riley and affective identification, we can see that language both informs and helps form Isa’s affect – although she also takes up different identificatory stances with romance, as when she earlier considers her love for her husband: ‘“The father of my children”, she added, slipping into the cliché provided by fiction’.67 The forms of love she feels and negotiates are thus various, and combine both her real lived experience and the fictional or imaginary. Her feelings also involve her body, for the ‘affect’ the words exert on her is presented as being very much material in attaching to ‘a certain spot in her’ while also vibrating ‘like a wire between them’. What she feels ‘in her’, then, is an affective betweenness that arises as an interaction between language, bodily feeling, cognition, material things, memory, and her beloved. I stated earlier that in feeling I’m subject to a love that arises between me and my beloved I’m better off declaring poetically that ‘Love You-It-I makes me’. In the passage above, the distinct ‘It’ of love’s betweenness is connected to the affective materiality of words that is ‘like a wire’ ‘vibrating’, which is in turn likened to the ‘quick vibrations’ of an ‘aeroplane propeller’. For Gysin, the synthesis of cut-ups meant that ‘“It” speaks’ from them as a fresh, singular textual composite. In the Woolf passage, affect itself takes on a distinct thirdperson It-ness as an event occurring through a manifold interaction not unlike the composite experience featured in the above extract from Burroughs’s The Soft Machine. I argued that Burroughs’s writing becomes an aesthetic vehicle of affect partly through its modes of suspension; so far, I’ve analysed affect in the Woolf passage from Isa’s perspective, from within her world, but the words-wire-propeller-love that the passage develops takes off as a distinctly literary form of affect largely through the writing’s formal features. For example, the fictionality of Isa as a character in a novel is reinforced by Woolf’s use of indirect and free indirect style, whereby Isa’s thoughts and feelings are blended in varying degrees with the voice of the anonymous third-person narrator who presents them. Isa’s incorporation of others’ language (ranging from stock phrases to songs) is doubled by the narrator’s incorporation of her voice. The indirect style thus presents an intimacy with her trains (and planes) of thought and feeling, yet it’s an intimacy of literary artifice that keeps them aesthetically suspended. That suspension does not mean the passage’s affect remains abstract, inert, or unreal, for the passage itself affirms that feeling can be formed with phrases from fiction or lines of poetry, as when the vibratory rhythms Isa feels with her love slip into the trochaic rhythm of the poetry she starts humming. The aesthetic nature of literary emotion is always open to affective interactions with readers.


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In Lauren Berlant’s view, free indirect style is useful for questioning a cognitive view of subjectivity, for the style’s blending of narrator’s and character’s consciousnesses ‘performs the impossibility of locating an observational intelligence in one or any body’.68 Consequently, she argues, it ‘forces the reader to transact a different, more open relation of unfolding to what she is reading’.69 It’s the artifice of the style that makes the reader aware of having to deal with a synthesised consciousness and so ‘forces’ her to adopt a different flexible critical relation to what she’s reading. That awareness and stance involves treating the text as an aesthetic object. Yet Berlant also suggests that the style is instructive because blendings of mind happen with ‘any body’ in real life. Deleuze and Guattari have argued along similar lines: because a person’s use of language always means speaking or writing a common language of others, language use ‘in its entirety is indirect discourse’.70 And because they see language as having an affective force, they assert that it also engenders forms of indirect feeling: ‘There are many passions in a passion, all manner of voices in a voice [. . .]: that is why all discourse is indirect’.71 That commingling of language and passion accords with their view of affect as emerging through interactions. As in the Woolf passage above, Deleuze and Guattari characterise affect as having a betweenness that is reducible neither to subject nor object and that can take on singular forms, including aesthetic ones. The affects of works of art are distinct ‘beings’ they argue, and a ‘great novelist is above all an artist who invents unknown or unrecognized affects and brings them to light as the becoming of his characters’.72 By ‘becoming’ they mean the process whereby characters’ affects develop through being composed with and of other things (both animate and inanimate), as in the instance of Isa’s words-wire-propeller-love. Rather like Eliot’s notion of poetic emotion, they see writers’ recasting of affect as being indissociable from their materials: ‘The writer’s specific materials are words and syntax, the created syntax that ascends into his work and passes into sensation’.73 Again, the distinctly artistic nature of the affects doesn’t render them abstract in Deleuze and Guattari’s view, for writers ‘give them to us and make us become with them, they draw us into the compound’.74 I’ve been discussing the affect of literary texts at length, but what about the affective stance of the reader? What part does it play in relation to a text’s ‘compound’ affects? Sianne Ngai’s theorising of literary tone is important for considering these issues. Tone, she argues, is not reducible to a subjective ‘attitude’ of a text’s speaker or character or narrator, for it includes the interplay of ‘objective’ features of genre, form, and style.75 Yet that doesn’t mean tone is synonymous with a text’s varied ‘internal



representations of feeling’, nor is it reducible to ‘a reader’s emotional response’ to the text; rather, tone emerges as an ‘affective relay’ between the reader and text, which is also an exchange between the ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’.76 In that respect, it emerges as having the kind of composite ‘betweenness’ that I’ve been ascribing to affect. Ngai also theorises how tone’s affective relay constitutes a specifically aesthetic feeling: ‘We project the feeling that the object inspires’ and in doing so ‘create a distance between ourselves and that feeling’, which ‘in turn produces fresh affect’.77 That creation of distance ‘constitutes the object as an aesthetic object’, and Ngai notes the affective paradox of the exchange: ‘What is new and surprising is the idea of “detachment” being produced by affect – the idea of a distance attained not from feeling but by feeling’.78 The concept of literary affect that I’ve outlined entails a somewhat different dynamic: aspects of a text’s genre, form, and style combine to present its affective bearing to the reader with its own mode of aesthetic suspension. That suspension is part of the text’s affective bearing, its tonal feeling. A reader can be ‘inspired’ by that feeling and ‘project’ it, but can also bring her own affective critical stance into play. What’s surprising is that suspension isn’t distance from feeling in this relay but is intrinsic to aesthetic feeling. I can imagine that some readers might think that my emphasis on aesthetic suspension amounts to advocating a sense of literary autonomy such that literature and its affects are viewed as being separate from socially-reinforced values of affect in the world. That’s not the case. While it’s true that I’ve affirmed how writers such as Woolf and Burroughs make innovations with form and genre to present distinctly literary approaches to affect, they’re still working directly with social phrasings and values of affect because the innovations involve recasting linguistically how affect is socially borne with language. In the examples I discussed, Woolf does that by refiguring affect-laden stock phrases (‘In love’, ‘the father of my children’); Burroughs similarly draws ‘found’ textual material into fresh affective compounds. The literary text’s affects are thus not ontologically distinct from the real world of social phrasings and values, for the latter are there in the text’s language but in a suspended and therefore transformed state. Just as a text’s suspension isn’t distance from feeling but intrinsic to the aesthetic feeling a reader can have of the text, its suspension is also not simply distance from social values of affect but intrinsic to how those are textually refigured. On that score, we also need to bear in mind the Derrida argument that I’ve mentioned: even the practice of accepting literary texts as having a suspended ‘fictionality’ is fundamentally a social convention. How this fictionality bears on social


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affect varies, of course, from text to text, as is evident from the different literary approaches discussed in this volume. Stephen Morton, for example, discusses in his chapter the importance of Williams’s structures of feeling for coming to terms with the critical rendering of subaltern affect that Neel Mukherjee presents in his novel The Lives of Others (2014). In contrast, Amira Jarmakani analyses how the contemporary sub-genre of ‘desert romances’ reinforces an intimacy between romantic values and those of military strategy in the War on Terror. Two further matters to consider: first, what about the fact that a reader’s affective stance can prevent him from happily embracing the text’s? And second, Ngai argues that her concept of tone entails a ‘hyperrelational’ feeling of a text’s overall affective ‘orientation’: ‘To speak of tone is thus to generalize [. . .] the “world” of the literary object’.79 But does a text always have one overarching tone or ‘world’? What about a cut-up text or a poetry sequence that can present a reader with various tonal shifts or discrete scenes? Those two matters are important for Lyn Hejinian’s poetry sequence/‘essay’, Happily (2000) which I’ll discuss in closing this section. Claire Colebrook has argued that happiness is a ‘baseline or ground’ affect that ‘organizes all other feelings’.80 That’s because happiness has come to be viewed as the principal affective goal for a person; it’s seen as a constant stable state (as in ‘happily ever after’) to be attained as a telos, an ‘end’ – one that also puts an end to affective volatility or contingency. Thus, as Sara Ahmed writes, ‘One history of happiness could be described as the history of the removal of the hap from happiness’.81 Ahmed argues for an alternative approach to happiness that’s open to the ‘happenstance’ and would be a ‘stance toward possibility’: ‘To have a sense of the happenstance would involve being open to the possibility of good and bad things happening’.82 It would also mean ‘We can value happiness for its precariousness, so something that comes and goes, as life does’.83 That’s easier said than done, though, especially as the conception of happiness as affective ‘end’ has gained considerable traction. Adopting an alternative approach like Ahmed’s requires practice. Experimental writings that use chance methods to explore possibility and the happenstance are one means to such practice, and Hejinian’s Happily is a particularly good example of that.84 Her preparatory notes for the sequence show that she was intent on exploring happiness along lines similar to Ahmed’s. ‘Happiness’, muses Hejinian, ‘erupts in amor fati – it is a term for the uproar in one’s emotions in response to all that comes to one, good or bad’.85 The poem’s performance of being open to



fate is aimed at materialising the ‘etymological link’ of ‘happiness’ to ‘happening’ and ‘haphazardness’. Hejinian conjoins those things through the practice of experiment itself: ‘By making sentences as I am – putting down sentence beginnings and sentence ends and then inserting multiple “middles” between those frames – something like “events” occur. Or eventuality(?) is implied. [. . .] Eventuality: a possible event’.86 Such a stance towards the haphazard, like Ahmed suggests, is thus also ‘a stance toward possibility’, one that extends for Hejinian to variations in tonal texture: My intention was to allow for the influx of material that surges into any thought, material that is charged with various and sometimes incompatible emotional tonalities. These emotional tonalities make it impossible to say with certainty that one is happy, for example, just as they make it impossible to say that one is not. That is, one is never solely happy.87

Happily’s 176 lines are thus pieced together to encourage an openness to the happening of the haphazard, which also means being open to a certain haphazardness of affect itself. Let’s consider that in relation to an extract from the text: Context is the chance that time takes Our names tossed into the air scraped in the grass before having formed any opinion leaving people to say only that there was a man who happened on a cart and crossed a gnarled field and there was a woman who happened on a cart and crossed a gnarled field too Is happiness the name for our (involuntary) complicity with chance?88

In the second long line here (which runs from ‘Our names’ to ‘field too’) we, as readers, are immediately thrown into the happenstance with ‘Our names’ being ‘tossed into the air scraped in the grass’. Does the speaker’s ‘Our’ extend to us readers? How is it possible for the names to be airborne while simultaneously scraping the ground? That makes sense, though, because the line presents the very meaning and identity of the names as being ‘up in the air’, in suspense, even though they are rooted in a particular context that includes the line’s peculiar syntax and its relation to the adjacent lines. The preceding line points us to the importance of the contextual as ‘the chance that time takes’; the sense of a word is always partly determined by the particular context in which it happens to be – for example, look at how ‘who’ and ‘too’ colour each other by rhyming in the second line above – such that its meaning and effect take place as


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a singular situated event each time, and so remain open to chance. For Hejinian, it’s not just words that are subject to context; so are people. She asserts as much in her poetic sequence My Life (1980, 1987) with charming concision: ‘A person is a bit of space that has gotten itself in moments’.89 In other words, being a person means getting yourself into situations and happening on yourself in them. We can thus read the second line above to be saying that the ‘man’ and ‘woman’ chanced upon a ‘cart’ in the particular ‘gnarled field’ they got themselves into, and ‘happened on’ themselves in the process. And if we’re happy as persons to happen on the happenstance in that way, then, yes, we can affirm with the poem that happiness does name our ‘complicity with chance’ – and, yes, that complicity is partly ‘involuntary’ because the situations and things that affect us are indeed irreducible to our own volition. If ‘we’re happy’ to happen that way . . . I know from my experiences of teaching experimental texts such as Hejinian’s that not everyone will be happy to affirm its affective play. Responses to Happily that I’ve heard in class pertain to a number of the positive and negative affective ranges that Tomkins theorises – notably, interest-excitement, enjoyment-joy, and distress-anguish – but that’s largely because, as Hejinian notes, the poem itself is ‘charged with various and sometimes incompatible tonalities’. A reader’s affective stance can certainly be an important factor in how they develop a critical or theoretical reading, as Sedgwick noted. In her view, critical theory has too often adopted a particular affective outlook that she characterises as a ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ or simply ‘paranoid reading’.90 One example she offers is New Historicism’s tendency to ‘rely on the prestige of a single, overarching narrative: exposing and problematizing hidden violences in the genealogy of the modern liberal subject’.91 Another example she could have given is Jameson’s Postmodernism, in which he asserts that ‘If we do not achieve some general sense of a cultural dominant, then we fall back into a view of present history as sheer heterogeneity, random difference’.92 Given the prevalence of the paranoid outlook, Sedgwick suggests that critical theory is sorely in need of other kinds of affective comportment. She doesn’t outline an alternative rooted in a specific affect, but she does describe a form of ‘reparative reading’ that’s notably similar to the happy reading encouraged by Hejinian. In contrast to a paranoid approach, reparative reading means developing one’s critical and theoretical perspective in the process of negotiating the singular features of a text. It requires close readings and attention to the ‘local’ while retaining a sense of contingency. For a ‘reparatively positioned reader’, writes Sedgwick, it can thus ‘seem



realistic and necessary to experience surprise’, and by taking this approach the reader endeavours to ‘assemble and confer plenitude’ on the text, with the understanding that it ‘will then have resources to offer to an inchoate self’.93 From the perspective of paranoid theory, argues Sedgwick, such reparative modes of reading will seem ‘inadmissable’ or superfluous, ‘both because they are about pleasure (“merely aesthetic”) and because they are frankly ameliorative (“merely reformist”)’. As the critical concept of literary affect I’ve been developing includes attention to how texts present singular forms of aesthetic feeling, a happy or reparative mode of reading seems particularly appropriate for it, not to mention the chapters that follow.

III. This book is not intended to cover exhaustively the relation of affects and literature; the enormous ambit and variety of that relation over the centuries makes any attempt to do so impossible. Instead, the volume’s chapters discuss a variety of positive, negative, and aesthetic affects that have been of particular interest to literary writers and to theorists and critics, notably: interest itself, sympathy, bemusement, fun, animatedness, enjoyment, joy, wonder, astonishment, exhilaration, ecstasy, suspense, disinterest, dysphoria, anxiety, disgust, pity, terror, fear, trauma, paranoia, anger, and rage. Outside literature, the thinking about such affects, as I’ve shown, has been both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary. Because of this volume’s literary focus, the majority of the contributors work in literary studies, but much of their engagement with affect, as you’ll see, is interdisciplinary, and there are also a few contributors who are based in philosophy, gender and sexuality studies, or communication and media studies. While the literary focus is Anglophone, various chapters also engage with philosophy, theory, and criticism originally written in other languages. Rather than concentrating on one particular genre, the volume presents critical explorations of fiction, poetry, drama, as well as criticism and theory, and to reflect how the scope of literary studies has continued to broaden there are also some considerations of film and media. In assembling the line-up of contributors, I didn’t ask them to adhere to a particular concept of affect, as I wanted the volume to feature a selection of the approaches that have become prominent. For that reason, there is some variety among the chapters regarding whether affect is distinct from emotion or cognition. I also encouraged contributors not to present introductory or summative reflections; in line with the tenor of other books in the ‘Cambridge Critical Concepts’ series, each of the chapters presents original


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thinking and research. In reflecting on affect as a ‘critical concept’, the volume is largely aimed at presenting the contemporary richness of that for criticism and theory, and there is a similar emphasis on modern and contemporary literature. Affect and Literature is not offering a ‘history of emotions’, or a history of literary engagements with them. That said, because, as I’ve shown, there are particular literary and theoretical lineages of affect – that of the sublime being just one example – some of the chapters do focus on influential developments in earlier periods, while other chapters show the importance of returning to previous writers and thinkers (Spinoza, for example) when advancing contemporary theory. With twenty-three chapters to follow, I don’t have space to introduce each one in detail, so I’ll finish by introducing the rationales for each of the book’s three sections while indicating how those sections’ chapters complement each other. The ten chapters of the ‘Origins’ section reflect on key developments in areas of philosophy, theory, and criticism regarding the conceptualisation of affect and how it pertains to literature. In Chapter 1 Dana Munteanu discusses the significance of writings from Greco-Roman antiquity regarding how poetry and tragedy elicit fear. Stefan Uhlig’s chapter on ‘Secondary Affect’ builds on the thinking about tragedy and affect by considering how their relation was conceived in terms of aesthetic feeling by German theorists such as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Moses Mendelssohn, and Kant in the eighteenth century. John Protevi’s chapter presents a theory tour de force in considering the importance of vitalist philosophy for reconceiving affect; starting in the seventeenth century, he first discusses Spinoza’s thinking before reflecting on Friedrich Nietzsche’s and Henri Bergson’s innovations. Two other chapters develop an understanding of Spinoza’s importance: Jean-Michel Rabaté in Chapter 6 compares Freud’s and Lacan’s psychoanalytic conceptions of affect, and he argues that Spinoza is a particular influence for Lacan’s; in Chapter 8 Anthony Uhlmann compares Massumi’s concept of affect with Deleuze and Guattari’s partly by contrasting their interpretations of Spinoza. Protevi’s and Uhlmann’s chapters are useful for considering whether affect is distinct from emotion and cognition. Other chapters in the ‘Origins’ section focus more on affect’s intimacy with language and literary writing. Alison Denham’s chapter, for example, considers in detail the philosophical debates about the realist status of fiction’s emotions. Helen Thaventhiran’s chapter on New Criticism and Practical Criticism discusses how those critical approaches extend to reading literary tone. Ross Wilson’s piece on Marxist theory considers Williams’s conception of



‘structures of feeling’ as well as Theodor Adorno’s views on the culture industry’s manufacturing of ‘false pleasure’. Geoff Gilbert in his chapter similarly thinks about the social currency of affect and argues that queer theory such as Guy Hocquenghem’s can be seen as a ‘particular kind of affective writing’ that presents ‘style’ and ‘affectation’ as being ‘internal to the life of affect’ itself. Similarly, in developing a postcolonial conception of affect, Sneja Gunew in her contribution analyses a recent novel by South Korean novelist Han Kang to examine how ‘affective grammars’ arise ‘out of specific languages and belief systems’ and so require translation that is ‘both linguistic and cultural’. The seven chapters of the ‘Developments’ section build on the foci and insights of the ‘Origins’ chapter largely by developing close readings of particular texts. Each of the ‘Developments’ chapters corresponds to at least one particular chapter in the preceding section. In Chapter 11 Benedict Robinson compares early modern conceptions of passion and feeling with contemporary affect theory. His chapter complements Munteanu’s in showing how early modern writers drew on classical philosophy and rhetoric. Matthew Bevis’s essaying on ‘laughable’ Romantic and post-Romantic poetry also discusses eighteenth-century aesthetics and so relates to Uhlig’s preceding chapter as well as Wilson’s points about ‘false pleasure’. Derek Attridge’s chapter on how three contemporary Irish novelists draw on modernist innovations with form develops further the focus on literary affect; closely examining the emotional tone and effect of the novel’s style, his chapter complements both Thaventhiran’s and Denham’s in ‘Origins’. Christopher Nealon’s chapter also addresses the importance of tone; considering it in terms of Marxist and antihumanist theory, his chapter relates to Thaventhiran’s as well as Wilson’s. In Chapter 15 Amber Musser brings the focus back to artistic form with her discussion of Bette Davis films. Considering the films in terms of camp and melodramatic styles, her chapter complements Gilbert’s preceding chapter on queer theory. Musser raises issues of racialising subjectivity in her discussion, and those issues also bear on Ankhi Mukherjee’s consideration of affect as ‘mode of identification’ in the postcolonial novel. As well as drawing on postcolonial theory, Mukherjee discusses psychoanalytic approaches to affect; her chapter thus relates to both Rabaté’s and Gunew’s in ‘Origins’. Stephen Morton continues the postcolonial focus with his chapter on ‘subaltern affects’ in fiction and so similarly relates to Gunew’s chapter. In discussing the affective impact of capitalism and debt, his chapter also complements Wilson’s and Nealon’s preceding discussions of Marxist theory.


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The ‘Applications’ section chapters continue to develop some of the thematic, theoretical, and generic concerns of the preceding sections. The general ‘Applications’ focus is more on contemporary and future lines of enquiry revolving around a particular set of matters: media and communications, capitalism, and an environment of affective relations that extend to ecology, social crisis, and war. In Chapter 18 Margaret Ronda discusses ecopoetics in relation to poetry by Inger Christensen and others. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari as well as object-relations theory, her chapter corresponds to Uhlmann’s as well as Rabaté’s. Emily Horton’s chapter complements Attridge’s in focusing on twenty-first-century fiction by Ben Lerner and Tom McCarthy. Like Ronda, Horton considers affect in terms of environment, and in examining depictions of social alienation and disaffection in relation to late capitalism her chapter also relates to Morton’s, Wilson’s, and Nealon’s. Amira Jarmakani keeps the focus on fiction with her chapter on ‘desert romances’ about the ‘war on terror’. Asserting that such novels romanticise liberalism, whiteness, and technologies of security in opposition to the terrorists, Jarmakani’s chapter thus complements Musser’s reflections on race, as well as Morton’s, Mukherjee’s, and Gunew’s chapters on postcolonial novels. In Chapter 21 Andrew Murphie maintains the focus on twenty-firstcentury technologies in discussing digital media and its role in transmitting and transforming modes of affect. Eric Jenkins similarly considers the importance of digital technology in analysing cinematic ‘special affects’ associated with formal aspects of film, including slow motion, computer-generated imagery, and editing. Jenkins’s chapter thus complements my own brief discussion of film form, as well as Musser’s chapter on cinematic style. The final chapter is Claire Colebrook’s on ‘Cartesian Affect’, and it stands as something of an Afterword in offering a fresh reconsideration of contemporary affect theory and of how a mind-body dualism is at stake when the theory distinguishes affect and emotion. Her chapter therefore brings the book’s focus back full circle by corresponding to Protevi’s, Uhlmann’s, and Robinson’s considerations of affect theory, as well as my own in this Introduction. So, having outlined the book’s sections and their chapters’ interrelations I am left with one last thing to say: Happy reading, Reader!

Notes 1. Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable, in Trilogy: Molloy; Malone Dies; The Unnamable (London: Calder, 1994), 418. 2. Eugenie Brinkema, The Forms of the Affects (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014), 18.



3. See, for example, William Davies, ‘How Feelings Took Over the World’, The Guardian (8 September 2018). Online: [last accessed 23 June 2019]. 4. Brian Massumi, ‘The Autonomy of Affect’, in Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 25, 28. 5. Ruth Leys, ‘The Turn to Affect: A Critique’, Critical Inquiry 37:3 (Spring 2011): 437. Donald Wehrs similarly aligns Tomkins, Sedgwick, and Massumi in his ‘Introduction: Affect and Texts: Contemporary Inquiry in Historical Context’, in Donald R. Wehrs and Thomas Blake (eds), The Palgrave Handbook of Affect Studies and Textual Criticism (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 39. 6. Patricia Ticinetto Clough, ‘Introduction’, in Patricia Ticinetto Clough and Jean Halley (eds), The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 2. 7. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, ‘An Inventory of Shimmers’, in Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth (eds), The Affect Theory Reader (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 5–6. 8. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 1991), 16. 9. Fredric Jameson, The Antinomies of Realism (London: Verso, 2013), 29. 10. Ibid., 31. 11. Ruth Leys, The Ascent of Affect: Genealogy and Critique (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 4–5. 12. See, for example, Timothy Schroeder and Carl Matheson, ‘Imagination and Emotion’, in Shaun Nichols (ed.), The Architecture of the Imagination: New Essays on Pretence, Possibility, and Fiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 19–39. 13. See, for example, Brook Miller, ‘Affect Studies and Cognitive Approaches to Literature’, and Howard Sklar, ‘Empathy’s Neglected Cousin: How Narratives Shape our Sympathy’, in Wehrs and Blake, The Palgrave Handbook of Affect Studies and Textual Criticism, 113–33, 451–80. 14. Benedict de Spinoza, The Ethics in On the Improvement of the Understanding; The Ethics; Correspondence, trans. R. H. Elwes (New York: Dover, 1955), Part II, Propositions, I, II, and VII, 83–7. 15. Ibid., Part II, Proposition XVII, 100. 16. Massumi, ‘The Autonomy of Affect’, 32. 17. Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley (1970, repr. San Francisco: City Lights, 1988), 48. 18. Ibid., 49. 19. Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin (1968, repr. New York: Zone, 1992), 220. 20. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank, ‘Shame in the Cybernetic Fold’, in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 115.


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21. Leys, The Ascent of Affect, 42. 22. See Silvan Tomkins, ‘What are Affects?’, in Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank (eds), Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995), 71–4. Also Silvan Tomkins, Affect, Imagery, Consciousness: The Complete Edition. Book Two (New York: Springer, 2008), 618. 23. Ibid., 983. 24. Ibid., 984. 25. Sedgwick and Frank, ‘Shame in the Cybernetic Fold’, 113–15. 26. Tomkins, Affect, Imagery, Consciousness. Book Two, 985. 27. Ibid. 28. I. A. Richards quoted in Peter de Bolla, Art Matters (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 16. 29. Denise Riley, The Words of Selves: Identification, Solidarity, Irony (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 36. 30. Ibid., 1–13. 31. Denise Riley, ‘Malediction’, in Impersonal Passion: Language as Affect (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 9–27. 32. I relate affect and performativity at more length in my Introduction to a special issue of Textual Practice on ‘Affects, Text, and Performativity’ that I edited: ‘Affecting Words’, Textual Practice 25:2 (2011): 215–32. 33. Riley, The Words of Selves, 36. 34. Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976, repr. London: Fontana, 1988), 278. 35. Philip Fisher, The Vehement Passions (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 5–6. 36. Teresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), 4–6. 37. Longinus, On the Sublime, in T. S. Dorsch (ed.), Classical Literary Criticism (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965), 100. 38. Ibid., 108. 39. Riley, The Words of Selves, 38–9. 40. Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry Into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 161. 41. Ibid., 159. 42. Ibid., 123. 43. See Fisher’s discussion of the correlation of genre and emotion in The Vehement Passions, 8–10. For studies of particular genres I have mentioned in terms of emotion see, for example: Matthew Bevis, Comedy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012); Noël Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror; or, Paradoxes of the Heart (London: Routledge, 1990); Peter de Bolla, The Discourse of the Sublime: History, Aesthetics, and the Subject (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989); David Kennedy, Elegy (London: Routledge, 2007); Julius Walter Lever, The Elizabethan Love Sonnet (London: Methuen, 1974); Adrian Poole, Tragedy: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).



44. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 131, 132. 45. Ibid., 128. 46. Ibid. 47. Ibid., 132. 48. Ibid. 49. Ibid., 134. 50. T. S. Eliot, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1919), in Selected Prose, ed. John Hayward (London: Faber & Faber, 1955), 29. 51. Ibid., 30. 52. Jonathan Flatley, Affective Mapping: Melancholia and the Politics of Modernism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 26. 53. Ibid., 80. 54. Ibid., 81. 55. I discuss Burroughs’s cut-ups and other writings in relation to affect in Powers of Possibility: Experimental American Writing since the 1960s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), Chapter 3. 56. Brion Gysin, ‘Cut-Ups: A Project for Disastrous Success’, in William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, The Third Mind (London: John Calder, 1979), 44. 57. T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land, in Collected Poems 1909–1962 (London: Faber & Faber, 1963), 77. 58. William S. Burroughs, The Soft Machine (London: Flamingo, 1995), 118. 59. Jacques Rancière, Aesthetics and Its Discontents, trans. Steven Corcoran (2004, repr. Cambridge: Polity, 2012), 23. 60. Jacques Derrida, ‘This Strange Institution Called Literature’ [interview with Derek Attridge], in Acts of Literature (London: Routledge, 1992), 48. 61. Ibid., 49. 62. See Kendall Walton, Mimesis as Make-Believe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987), Gregory Currie, The Nature of Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), and Jerrold Levinson, The Pleasures of Aesthetics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996). 63. Jenefer Robinson, Deeper Than Reason: Emotion and Its Role in Literature, Music, and Art (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), 105. 64. W. K. Wimsatt and M. C. Beardsley, ‘The Affective Fallacy’, The Sewanee Review 57:1 (Winter 1949), 44. 65. Berys Gaut, Art, Emotion, and Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 210. 66. Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts (London: Vintage, 1990), 8. 67. Ibid. 68. Lauren Berlant, ‘Cruel Optimism’, in Gregg and Seigworth, The Affect Theory Reader, 96. 69. Ibid. 70. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 84.


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71. Ibid., 77. 72. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 164, 174. 73. Ibid., 167. 74. Ibid., 175. 75. Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 30. 76. Ibid., 30, 46. 77. Ibid., 85. 78. Ibid., 85, 86. 79. Ibid., 43. 80. Claire Colebrook, ‘The Once and Future Humans: Between Happiness and Extinction’, in Alastair Hunt and Stephanie Youngblood (eds), Against Life (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2016), 64. 81. Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 207. 82. Ibid., 219. 83. Ibid. 84. I discuss Happily and other texts by Hejinian at length in my Powers of Possibility, Chapter 4. 85. Lyn Hejinian, ‘Background Notes for Happily’ (1998), in Lyn Hejinian Archive, University of California San Diego Library (Box 110, Folder 11): 1. 86. Ibid., 3. 87. Lyn Hejinian, prefatory note to Happily, in The Language of Inquiry (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000), 385–6. 88. Lyn Hejinian, Happily (Sausalito: The Post-Apollo Press, 2000), 5. 89. Lyn Hejinian, My Life (1987 rev. edn, repr. Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2002), 163. 90. See Sedgwick, ‘Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re so Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You’, in Touching Feeling, 123–52. 91. Ibid., 139. 92. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), 6. 93. Sedgwick, ‘Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading’, 146, 149.



chapter 1

Poetic Fear-Related Affects and Society in Greco-Roman Antiquity Dana LaCourse Munteanu

Writing anything on emotions in Greco-Roman antiquity has become an intimidating enterprise as a growing body of excellent scholarship has focused on this topic for several decades.1 The concept of affect in this volume, however, opens a different perspective for investigation. It underscores the idea of corporeality of an emotional experience as well as of transmission of reactions between individuals.2 To these two elements, a third can be added: intentionality. By constructing a virtual reality through narratives that can maneuver people’s affects, politicians and writers can influence society.3 In a revolutionary book, neuroscientist Lisa Barrett has recently argued that we can find ourselves in only four basic physiologically-induced states: feeling pleasant or unpleasant, agitated or calm; those automatic states become then translated through various acceptable and learned cultural interpretations into a variety of emotions (for example, “agitated” can become anger, disgust, despair, or simply exhaustion).4 A different narrative perspective on these states could determine the variants of our affects, and that is strongly determined by cultural factors. While Barrett’s lab discoveries have immediate implications for the fields of contemporary psychology, psychiatry, education, and medicine, they strangely legitimize some ancient philosophical ideas about our ability to control how we respond emotionally to the world. Thus, the Stoic control of negative emotions, such as anger and fear, through carefully constructed narratives and philosophical practices, does no longer appear far-fetched in light of modern neuroscience.5 From a classicist perspective, Konstan has argued along the same lines that affective dispositions are universal and trans-cultural, whereas full-fledged emotions are defined by cultures.6 But what kind of narratives could influence the way in which people understood and interpreted their affects in the Greco-Roman world? While many studies before have discussed emotional expressions in ancient literature and philosophy, the theory of affect can turn our 33


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attention to the relationship between the poet as a creator of affective moods in his listeners and, more broadly, in society. In this essay, without offering an exhaustive treatment of the subject, I explore how ancient authors see poetry as a form of manipulation and production of affects, exemplifying with varieties of fear.7 My focus will be on instances in which Greek and Roman writers openly declare that the poetic creation diminishes or increases fear-related affects, such as panic on the battlefield, fear of death, horror, and existential anxiety. The examples span from archaic Greek lyric poetry (Tyrtaeus), to classical Greek philosophy (Plato and Aristotle) to, finally, Roman didactic poetry (Lucretius). Despite the chronological and geographical distances, all the selections underscore the link between poetry and affectivity as not random but as deliberate, and often socially relevant, noting how poetic utterances can affect the bodies and impressionable minds of the listeners in a manner that should result in a specific behavior or action.8

Reforming the Fear of Death: Tyrtaeus’s Poetry As early as the seventh century BCE, lyric poets, such as Tyrtaeus of Sparta and Callinus of Ephesus, composed elegies similar in themes in order to bolster men’s courage on the battlefield.9 I shall concentrate here on a longer fragment (10) of Tyrtaeus, who is reputed to have written several military poems,10 summoning the Lacedemonians to fight valiantly during the Second Messenian War against the neighboring populations. Ancient testimonies note that performances of Tyrtaeus’ verses occurred during the Spartan common meals (syssitia), after food was distributed (Athen. 14.630c), thus contributing to the group cohesion among the warriors.11 The fifth- and fourth-century Athenians so admired this type of elegy that they continued reciting Tyrtaeus in private symposia, and tried to adopt the poet as one of their own.12 Fragment 10 (Lycurgus, Against Leocrates 107) centers around the importance of martial valor.13 This exhortation to young hoplites is supported by a reconfiguration of affects. The predictable fear of sudden death in war must be diminished by imagining other scenarios full of much greater dreads and shame. A first preserved line states: “it is noble to die for a man when he has fallen among the front rank.” A series of various other possibilities are then presented as worse than dying in a brave way. A first such prospect is that of being a refugee. Aspects of a refugee life receive specific affect-related epithets: the most “grievous” (aniērotaton, 4) thing for a man is to abandon his city, as a beggar, accompanied by his family; afterwards he will have to live in

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“repugnant poverty” (stygerē peniē, 9), which “shames” (aischynei, 10) his lineage. The brilliance of the poet’s advice consists in omitting what we assume to be an underlying feeling, namely a soldier’s fear that he might lose his life in combat. Instead, Tyrtaeus asks his listeners to imagine how much more terrible their life could be if they survived, associating it with three unpleasant affects, all with social implications: sadness to leave one’s community, repugnance toward the loss of possessions, and shame felt at the loss of dignity. A paradox is subtly implied: although the refugee will keep his close family members around (and those would be the ones who would have mourned his death most deeply), he will disgrace them, which is worse than losing them by dying. Therefore, death for the benefit of the fellow-citizens becomes more desirable than the experience of all the devastating feelings of disconnection and deprivation following survival. A clearer call to bravery follows next: “Come young men, standing strong by each other’s side, fight, | and do not start the shameful flight (phygēs aischrēs) and fear (phobou)!” (15–16).14 The couplets of positive and negative imperatives underline again first the desired actions in contrast to the undesired behavior, which again carries an affective label “shameful.” This time the warrior’s fear (phobos) is acknowledged, but only after the despicable result it produces, namely running away from the foe. By changing the normal temporal sequence (a soldier feels panic and then runs away), and coloring the cowardly behavior with social disapproval, the poet reinforces his warning to the listener, reminding him of the shame which giving in to fear will bring. Tyrtaeus further invites his listeners to imagine another tableau.15 In this instance he contrasts the deaths of the young and old warriors, again nuancing each case with affective adjectives. A direct command not to abandon the elderly on the battlefield (20), launches an unexpected thought experiment. It is shameful (aischron, 21) to leave old men dead on the battlefield, “holding in their hands bloody genitalia” (25) – an image “shameful” (aischra) to the eyes and “raising indignation” (nemesēton) when watched (26). Conversely, when a man is in his bloom he is “worthy to look at” (thēētos, 29) by men and “desirable” (eratos, 29) to women while being alive, as well as beautiful (kalos, 30) after falling in front ranks. The imagery echoes the Iliad (22.71–76).16 In the Homeric poem, the old king of Troy, Priam, tries to convince his son, Hector, not to fight against Achilles (22.38–76); he imagines his own death, being torn apart by his dogs and exposed in his nakedness, a grotesque sight (unlike the sight of a dead young man, which would be honorable). To return to Tyrtaeus, the emphasis on “seeing,” “observing” is remarkable in itself, as it concerns how a future viewer would respond (with disgust or


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pleasure) at the sight of the dead. This aesthetic juxtaposition of death and sexuality, old age and youth can seem bizarre to us. Yet, it may serve a point similar to the previous imagery: the young hoplites may be afraid of dying and become aware that they will be deprived of experiencing erotic love and the joys of a family. And yet, it would be more disgraceful to avoid death by cowardice than to miss erotic delights, as, earlier, it would have been more shameful to stay alive as a refugee. The poetic voice, therefore, guides the emotional reactions of the young soldiers skilfully, by dulling their fear of death through describing a series of other potential affects which will surround a craven survival in their community. The shame which the coward would bring on himself and his kin certainly dominates, since the adjective aischron and cognate words have been repeated throughout the fragment (9, 16, 21, 26), but other feelings, such as disgust, indignation, and hatred are certainly added as the reactions of the virtual observers.17 In conclusion, two features of this fragment seem remarkable: first, the direct address to a targeted hoplite audience and, second, the unfolding of grim imaginary scenarios in which surviving a defeat becomes less desirable than dying. By describing an array of affects (disdain, revulsion, embarrassment, coming from both community and one’s own family) surrounding the unwanted survival, the poet thus aims precisely at diminishing the shameful fear that will lead a soldier to abandon his ranks. The subtlety of this poetic exhortation consists in presenting remote and more abstract types of anxiety as more powerful and worthy of consideration than the immediate fear of death in war.

Plato’s Challenge: Poetic Genres Surpassed by Philosophy in the Removal of Fear Tyrtaeus’ poetic debt to Homer has been recognized not only in language and in direct allusions, but also in his upholding a certain heroic code. The idea that shame (aidōs) before his community, which translates into concern of being perceived as a coward, emboldens a warrior to fight to the end appears in the Iliad, perhaps best epitomized by Hector (6.441–446).18 Furthermore, Lycurgus himself, the fourth-century Athenian orator, groups Tyrtaeus with passages from Homer, showing Hector’s virtue, and with other passages from Euripides’ Erechtheus, a play celebrating the military sacrifice of the earth-born Athenians.19 However, a major difference between the archaic martial elegy, on the one hand, Homer and tragedy, on the other, lies in the narrative mode. While Tyrtaeus’ poems offer direct exhortations, the Homeric epics (as well as tragedies) revolve

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around complex characters, who express various ideas and attitudes. Indeed, Hector and Achilles often show courage and overcome their own fear of death, but not always with a light heart. The polyphonic nature of the epic and tragic poetry has worried Plato. In the Republic (3. 386a–d), Socrates argues that no one could be truly a brave warrior if he dreads death, or believes in the terrors of Hades, as do Homeric heroes. To prove the point, he cites numerous examples from Homer, starting with the ghost of Achilles addressing Odysseus in the underworld. The dead hero announces that he would be happier as a serf to a poor tiller on earth than he would be as king in the underworld (Od.11.489–491).20 In an ideal city, poetry as mimesis should offer uplifting models for the citizens, which exclude the dark accounts of what happens after death found in many passages of Homer and tragedians,21 but which can include, nevertheless, encomia of good men and hymns to gods (Rep. 10.607a).22 In that case, would Tyrtaeus be a worthy poetic model for Plato, since he adopts an unequivocal voice to promote men’s courage? At first blush, it seems so. In Plato’s Laws, a work interested in the institutionalization of praise and blame, the Athenian Stranger ranks the divine goods as wisdom, moderation, justice, and courage (631–632).23 He expresses nuanced views on poetic genres on education in Magnesia, and initially praises Tyrtaeus, who seems “wise” (sophos) and “good” (agathos) for doing exactly what is recommended in the Republic,24 namely for having eulogized those who are excellent in war (629c1–2).25 And yet, the question comes immediately whether those people extolled were truly worthy. At closer consideration, the Athenian Stranger notes, the soldiers praised in Tyrtaeus’ poetry fight an external war (630b1–4): they may adopt a brave fighting position with firmly planted feet, but, internally, many of these professional warriors may be “unjust” (adikoi), “aggressive” (hybristai), and utterly “thoughtless” (aphronestatoi). Even though the poet’s model of courage could be compelling to many listeners, this seems to happen rather superficially: young men train to stand their ground, but that does not correspond to true strength and virtue. Instead, the philosopher offers a model of “change from within,”26 in which virtues are connected. Thus, a person becomes wise first, and, consequently, brave. This new philosophical approach presupposes a major shift in the understanding of affects in society. As we have seen earlier, Tyrtaeus recommended that young men resisted the impulse of panic before death, by enhancing their more abstract anxieties regarding a future life spent in dishonor. This is essentially also what a Homeric hero, such as Hector, would acknowledge: being ready to die rather than


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continue to live as a coward. However, this type of bravery does not target the fear of death itself. On the contrary, the warriors are willing to die despite loathing the thought of the underworld. The philosopher has a different take. Eliminating the essence of all human fears, namely fear of death, stands at the base of the radical change proposed through the character of Socrates in the Platonic dialogues. The philosopher is described as a valiant soldier, for example in the Symposium (220a–d),27 but beyond and above that, he is not afraid to die at all when given the sentence, as his disciple Phaedo points out in the dialogue bearing his name (Phd. 58e4–5). Condemned to death by an Athenian jury in 399 BCE, Socrates argues in Plato’s Apology that death could either be nothing, the non-existence of consciousness, similar to sleep, or something marvelous, such as transmigration of souls (40d–e).28 In either case, there is no reason for alarm:29 when anticipating death, in the former instance one should feel relief, in the latter delight. Wisdom fosters courage by exposing the irrationality of the fear of death. Therefore, the wise becomes truly brave. But does the philosopher replace common fear with any other, nobler affect? The answer is yes. In the Laws (671d), fear-reverence is defined.30 It is an affect related to a sense of justice, a kind of “divine fear” (theion phobon) called “shame” (aidō) and “reverence” (aischynēn). More precisely, this affect should concern being afraid to say, experience, or do anything shameful (672a), and this ought to be practiced socially at festivals for Dionysus.31 Through a subtle transformation of the link between fear and shame found in archaic poetry, Plato refashions the balance of the affects, as well as their nature. The citizen ought to realize that he should not worry about being harmed, but rather to reconsider the meaning of fear as linked to harming other people, the quintessential shameful action. In the Laws, this type of fear of doing wrong never leads a person to cowardice (699c–d), because it does not pertain to self-preservation but rather to the pursuit of justice. Plato imagines ideal cities in both the Republic (Callipolis) and the Laws (Magnesia), in which the philosopher creates new ways of teaching virtue while incorporating and transforming poetic genres. He fundamentally changes the traditional understanding of affects and their function in the civic life. Dreading death needs to be eliminated through adopting a novel cognitive perspective (there is nothing to fear). Since a wise person cannot be truly harmed, he should only worry and feel ashamed when harming others. Wisdom, courage, and justice become thus uniquely interlinked in the philosophical paradigm – well embodied by the figure of Socrates – which surpasses the Homeric and tragic heroes, and even the warriors praised by Tyrtaeus. Plato’s radical reconfiguration of affects and

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virtues likely appeared unusual to the fourth-century Athenians, who continued to consider poets (especially Homer and tragedians) as moral teachers of courage and civic virtue.32 However, it found a fruitful development in the Hellenistic philosophical currents, especially among Epicureans and Stoics, who viewed the knowledgeable eradication of fearrelated affects as a crucial step in attaining self-fulfilment and ethical action.33

Aristotle: Tragic Poetry as Producer of the Right Kind of Fear While poets could use their voice openly to dispel a certain type of fear, as Tyrtaeus did in his lyric exhortations, poetry can also intrinsically arouse trepidation in the audience. As, for example, fifth-century Sophist Gorgias cryptically remarks in the Encomium to Helen (9), “fearful shiver” (phrikē periphobos), much tearful pity, and aching longing come upon the listeners of poetry. The “shiver” (phrikē) mentioned here seems to be a transitory affect, associated with hearing horror stories, and has physical symptoms, such as frissons and hair standing up.34 This is a passing observation in Gorgias’ text, which does not intend to offer education to citizens but presents a playful apology to the mythical heroine Helen. However, the main idea centers around the mesmerizing power that logos can exert over our souls, snatching away our wits temporarily and putting us in a state of trance. Continuing this line of thought, Aristotle insists in his Poetics that tragic poetry ought to arouse a certain type of fear (phobos) in the audiences.35 Yet, not all fear-related affects that could result from watching or reading tragedies appear to be equal in Aristotelian view. It would be useful, therefore, to consider briefly what these affects could have been and explain the philosopher’s preference. In a strict sense, tragedies in classical Athens, as well as later forms of drama and modern horror-inspiring genres, do not stir fear defined as forming a belief that someone or something is about to cause us harm, which would lead to a fight or flight reaction. In my view, this seems to have created a division between scholars who argue that aesthetic emotion should be “quasi-emotion,” and those arguing for genuine emotion. Kendall Walton, primarily focusing on fear stricto sensu, insists that it would be absurd to assume we feel genuine emotion as response to horror movies and books.36 Conversely, Gregory Currie concentrates on emotions in literature as responses to the experiences of others (such as empathy), but he does not deal with fear directly, emphasizing instead the role of thought or imagination in our feeling genuine emotion.37 Even if raw fear does not


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seem to be aroused by literature, as Walton emphasizes, yet, other varieties of the affect, such as horror, disgust, and anxiety, can be listed among the reactions to the tragic theater, and Aristotle has a clear preference among them, as we shall see. Horror can be broadly defined as a reaction to an aversive object, to something usually abnormal, grotesque, disfigured or disfiguring, which is not necessarily perceived as an imminent threat to us.38 Two different subtypes can further stem from horror: the monstrous and the repulsive. The Poetics briefly alludes to these categories as possible but not as ideal affects induced by tragedies in the audiences. The monstrous could relate to the spectators’ response to horrendous figures on stage, such as the Erinyes (“Furies”) in Aeschylus’ Eumenides. The eternal human fascination with battles between heroes and monsters who can spread disease and death may be a reflection of our ancestral anxieties regarding human survival. Aristotle seems to allude to this type of affect when considering the visual effects of Greek drama. Those dramatists, he notes, who use the visual element (opsis) to produce an effect not of the “fearful” (phoberon) but only of the “monstrous” (teratōdes) have no share in the art of tragedy (Poet. 14.1453b8–10).39 The remark is not followed by additional details, but the philosopher seems to disapprove stage apparitions that make the hair stand, affecting the spectators with a type of visceral revulsion that is incompatible with the type of fear he prefers. The latter category, the repulsive, can regard physical pain (represented, for example, by long-suffering characters on stage, as in Sophocles’ Philoctetes) and, respectively, moral inadequacy (occasionally represented in Greek tragedy by a despicable character, for example, such as Polymestor in Euripides’ Hecuba). Specific worries about contagion and contamination can lead to disgust in real life, but may be safely observed when presented on the stage.40 Recent studies show that physical and moral disgust are related and activate the same region in the brain, the insula. Thus, we may respond instinctively not only to imaginary repellent monsters, but also to morally reprehensible villains.41 Aristotle does not see moral revulsion as an acceptable affect related to tragedy at all. While tragic characters should be generally “noble” (spoudaioi) in the Poetics (2.1448a1–8), they ought not to be perfect. The philosopher insists on advising playwrights how not to stir disgust. Thus, tragedies ought not to portray “decent” (epieikeis) people passing from good to bad fortune, for that type of action stirs neither the pitiable nor “fearful” (phoberon) but rather the “disgusting” (miaron) (Poet. 13.1452b34–36); nor should they represent the opposite: the “depraved” (mochtherous) passing from bad to good fortune, which is “the least tragic” (atragōdotaton) of all (1452b36–37). If Aristotle strongly opposes moral revulsion as a tragic affect,

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he writes rather neutrally about plays emphasizing physical suffering, without being particularly interested in the responses to it. He classifies tragedies into four types (Po.18.1455b32–1456a3): first, the complex (peplegmenē) tragedy, with reversal and recognition; second, those concerned with suffering (pathetikē, e.g., Ajax and Ixion), which do not receive extensive exploration; third, the character-centered (ēthikē, such as Women of Phthia and Peleus); and fourth, at which point the manuscript is corrupted, tragedy that involves reading [oēs], which could be emended to haplēs (simple) or opsis (spectacle).42 Among those, his favorite plays belong to the first category, the complex, with plots concentrating on tensions among the kin,43 which best arouse the type of affects proper to the genre, pity and fear. Anxiety occurs when we imagine a situation to be only vaguely threatening, which differs from fear, an emotion that requires a belief in real imminent danger.44 As humans we commonly have anxieties about our own mortality, illness, loss of social status, etc. Is it possible that participating imaginatively in the misfortunes of others, we dull or come to terms with our own feelings in a kind of exposure therapy? Ancient Greek tragedies often dealt with several misfortunes placed in myth that the fifth-century Athenians likely worried about, such as exile, wars, and captivity.45 While the contemporary audiences did not always share his preferences,46 Aristotle insists that tragedians should stir apprehension – which he designates as the proper affect produced by tragedy and calls “fear” (phobos)47 – by constructing their plots around the unexpected yet logical misfortune of characters whom we ought to pity. Certain tragedies, in Aristotle’s view, can stir best this specific type of apprehension: those such as Oedipus, Cresphontes, and Iphigenia that revolve around mistakes (hamartiai) – which either cause or are about to cause (catastrophe may be averted at the last moment) ruin among family members – are the favorite examples in the Poetics. What do these plays have in common? King Oedipus least wants to live the fulfillment of the Delphic prophecy, stating that he will kill his father and marry his mother, and yet, through a series of errors he is forced to experience exactly this scenario. Merope, in Euripides’ Cresphontes, is about to kill her own son, something she would least want to do, mistakenly thinking that he is the assassin who slaughtered her lost child.48 In the third play admired by Aristotle, Iphigenia is about to sacrifice her own brother, whom she believes to be a stranger, although she would least want such an outcome.49 Contemplating particularly these types of plots, in which the worst may happen despite the best efforts of the characters, serves the audiences best because it produces the right kind of tragic affects.50 The spectator should probably realize that, in exceptional cases, rational control over actions and


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lives might be lost, despite all the efforts, which produces shock and the right kind of existential anxiety, the Aristotelian tragic fear (phobos). The benefit seems to be both aesthetic and moral, though Aristotle does not offer clear explanations, as people ponder their own choices in life.51 Unlike Plato, who worries about the fear-related affects aroused by epic and tragedy, Aristotle wants a specific kind of anxiety to be produced by tragic genre.

Lucretius: A Harmonious Conclusion Should poetry cure fear, should it yield to philosophy in this respect, or should it arouse its specific type of anxiety? The answers have varied so far, and so did the opinions about the poets’ role in society. Certain types of poetry aimed to remove immediate fears, as seen in Tyrtaeus’ exhortations. Other poetic genres, such as epic and tragedy, were considered noble and able to inspire courage, but Plato warned against their ambiguity and proposed philosophical virtue in place of the traditional heroic code for best civic behavior. Aristotle favored certain types of tragic plots that can best produce the right type of anxiety. An interesting solution comes from Lucretius, first-century BCE Roman poet. A follower of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, Lucretius composed a didactic poem, On the Nature of Things (De rerum natura). One of the poet’s main purposes is to teach his audiences how to free their minds from fears (2.37–61; 2.1023–1047) and especially from the fear of death, which forms a recurrent theme (3.37–64; 3.830–842; 5.432–448). The key consolation against mortality comes from the realization that our mind, being material, disintegrates together with the body, so we cannot be aware of our inexistence: “death is nothing to us and it does not concern us the least bit, since the nature of the soul is regarded as mortal” (nil igitur mors est ad nos neque pertinet hilum | quandoquidem natura animis mortalis habetur, 3.830–831). In a clear break from the Platonic tradition, Lucretius does not take aim at removing certain aspects of poetic genres on account of their subject, as we have seen in the Republic. Rather, he sees certain myths, commonly used in epic and tragic poetry, as a reflection of religion and superstition. Thus, in a famous denunciation of the sacrifice of Iphigenia (1.62–101), Lucretius praises his mentor, Epicurus, who triumphant (victor 1.75) has managed to trample on the cruel religion (religio), which was demanding pointless human sacrifices, as well as fostering “criminal and impious deeds” (scelerosa atque impia facta, 1.83). It is not tragedy as poetic genre that Lucretius criticizes here, but the misguided beliefs that inspired the tragic myths.52 A philosopher first and foremost, Lucretius views poetry as an enchanting outer shape for the content of his message. As

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doctors wrap bitter medicine in sweet honey, so that little children can swallow it and feel better, so he touches the Epicurean doctrine (which may seem rather “sad” tristior, 1.944, to the uninitiated – alas the disintegration of the soul with the body did not seem uplifting to the Roman audience) with the sweet honey of the Muses. Consequently, “the crowd who recoils from this” (vulgus abhorret ab hac) Epicurean teaching at first can fortify its mind and grasp the true nature of things (1.936–950). Poetry becomes then the means by which the listeners become less afraid to accept philosophical truth. The poet resembles the physician, since he heals the mind of the listener by coating his medicine in poetry. We have come full circle from the archaic poet Tyrtaeus to the Roman philosopher Lucretius, as both encourage their listeners not to fear death. Yet, the philosopher-poet broadens the field of his intended audience from the select warriors facing the enemy on the battlefield to all those who have to face their mortality – the entire human race. Poetry does no longer compete with philosophy in educating society, as it did in Plato, but it aids it in attaining a common aim: through calming irrational affects, it leads people to mental clarity and, ultimately, to a joyous acceptance of reality.

Notes 1. For space considerations, I shall mention only a selected few seminal studies, with apologies for many omissions. Among the books adopting a broad perspective on ancient emotions, see, for example, David Konstan, The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks: Studies in Aristotle and Classical Literature (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2006) and Robert Kaster, Emotion, Restraint and Community in Ancient Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). Several books concentrate on particular types of emotions, for instance, Douglas L. Cairns, Aidōs: the Psychology and Ethics of Honour and Shame in Ancient Greek Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993); David Konstan, Pity Transformed (London: Duckworth, 2001); Ed Sanders, Envy and Jealousy in Classical Athens: A Socio-Psychological Approach (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014); Ruth R. Caston and Robert A. Kaster, Hope, Joy and Affection in the Classical World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016). 2. As Donald R. Wehrs, “Introduction: Affect and Texts: Contemporary Inquiry in Historical Context,” in Donald R. Wehrs and Thomas Blake (eds), The Palgrave Handbook of Affect Studies and Textual Criticism (London: Palgrave, 2017), pp. 1–3 has pointed out, in the twentieth century, a common division was made between affect, which was connected to bodily manifestations and natural science, and emotion, which was linked to ideas, philosophy and sociology; in the twenty-first century, this division has become blurred, as neuroscience and other fields have shown the interconnection between mental



4. 5. 6.


8. 9.



dana lacourse munteanu and physical reactions. Affect theory has shifted around 2000, under the influence of poststructuralism, political theory, and evolutionary criticism, toward exploring how different sensations, social energies and pressures become embodied and influence human life. Brian Massumi, “The Future Birth of the Affective Fact. The Political Ontology of Threat,” in Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth (eds), The Affect Theory Reader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010), pp. 53–57, for example, analyzes how George W. Bush’s rhetoric of perceived virtual threat posed by Sadam Hussein’s regime induced the American public to feel anxiety, justifying a war. For a broader context of the socio-political aspect of affects, see Kate Stanley, “Affect and Emotion: James, Dewey, Tomkins, Damasio, Massumi, Spinoza,” in Wehrs and Blake (eds), The Palgrave Handbook, pp.107–109. How Emotions are Made. The Secret Life of the Brain (New York: Harcourt Publishing, 2017). On Stoicism and emotions see, for example, Richard Sorabji, Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp. 159–318. David Konstan, “Affect and Emotion in Classical Literature,” in Oxford Handbooks Online, October 2015: oxfordhb/9780199935390.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199935390-e-41 [last accessed 26 July 2019]. Ancient Greek vocabulary suggests several nuances for the concept of fear. As Gregory Nagy, “The Subjectivity of Fear as Reflected in Ancient Greek Wording,” Dialogues 5 (July 2010), pp. 29–45 has demonstrated, three terms are distinct: deos “fear” linked to the notion of doubt (fight or flight), phobos closer to our notion of anxiety, and ekplēxis, linked to shock, panic, and wonder; see also my discussion of the vocabulary of fear in Tragic Pathos: Pity and Fear in Greek Philosophy and Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 16–20. James Porter, The Origins of Aesthetic Thought in Ancient Greece: Matter, Sensation, and Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 4–23, discusses the materiality of the aesthetic experience. As Martin West, Greek Lyric Poetry. Translated with Introduction and Notes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), p. xi, observes, despite the geographical distance, both Callinus of Ephesus and Tyrtaeus of Sparta wrote elegies encouraging young men to support their communities by fighting against the enemies. On the attribution of the fragments to specific poems and the historical context of Tyrtaeus’ lyric poetry, see Jonas Grethlein, The Greeks and their Past: Poetry, Oratory and History in the Fifth Century BCE (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), pp. 52–53. Louis Rawlings, The Ancient Greeks at War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007), pp. 210–211 considers the social importance of Tyrtaeus’ sung elegies in the life of the Spartan youth.

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12. An examination of the Athenian reception of the archaic elegy is provided by Christopher Faraone, The Stanzaic Architecture of Early Greek Elegy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 93–113; on p. 93, fn. 6, noting how Attic writers invented the biographical tradition that the Spartans imported Tyrtaeus from Athens. Bernd Steinbock, Social Memory in Athenian Public Discourse (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013), pp. 78–79 further discusses the assimilation of the poet into the framework of Athenian memory. 13. Johanna Hanink, Lycurgan Athens and the Making of Classical Tragedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 53–59, provides the most nuanced analysis of how the Athenian orator Lycurgus used Tyrtaeus, as well as more broadly civic poetry (Homer, Euripides), in his speech Against Leocrates (331 BCE), a prosecution which he appears to have lost by one vote. After the defeat at Cheronea (338 BCE), the Athenians passed a decree forbidding people to leave the city; Leocrates left, nevertheless, went to Rhodes, then to Megara before returning to Athens, where he was accused of treason. He did not deny leaving the city but argued that he did not betray it. 14. For a similar idea, see also fragment 11 (Stobaeus 4.9.16), 11–13, where standing fast close to your next in rank has also a practical purpose: it will lead to dying in lesser numbers and protect the fellow soldiers. 15. Faraone, The Stanzaic Architecture, pp. 44–65, examines in detail the composition of Tyrtaeus’ martial elegy, noting that there is often a pattern of direct exhortation, followed by a meditation on the theme. 16. As Andrew Miller, Greek Lyric. An Anthology in Translation (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1996), p. 16, has noted. For a subtle analysis of the similarities and differences between the Homeric passage and Tyrtaeus, see Richard Garner, From Homer to Tragedy: the Art of Allusion in Greek Poetry (London: Routledge, 1990), pp. 8–12. 17. As Garner 1990, 11 notes, Priam’s “pitiable” (oiktiston) sight in Homer (Il.22.76) becomes “shameful” and “ugly” in Tyrtaeus (21, 26). 18. For a stimulating analysis of how Hector and Achilles differ in their pursuit of glory (kleos), as the former links his martial goal to the concept of aidōs on the battlefield and serving others in his community, see Simon Goldhill, The Poet’s Voice. Essays on Poetics and Greek Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 92–93. Cairns, Aidōs, pp. 48–146 offers a nuanced discussion of the concept of aidōs in the Homeric poems. On correspondences between descriptions of hoplite combat between Homer, Tyrtaeus, and other elegists, see Ian Morris, Burial and Ancient Society: the Rise of the Greek City State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), pp. 198–200, with earlier biography. In ancient Rome, verecundia, a concept combining respect and shame, was also influential in society, as shown by Robert Kaster, Emotion, pp. 13–27. 19. Hanink, Lycurgan Athens, pp. 40–59 analyzes Lycurgus’ emphasis on the connection between the good poet and the good citizen.


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20. Numerous other Homeric passages are cited, for example Il. 20.64–65; Il.18.23–24; Il. 22.414–415; Il. 18.54, all underlining the gloomy and senseless existence of the souls in Hades. On the importance of Odysseus’ descent to the Underworld for Plato’s Republic, see David K. O’Connor, “Rewriting the Poets in Plato’s Characters,” in G. R. F. Ferrari (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Plato’s Republic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 55–59. 21. Stephen Halliwell, The Aesthetics of Mimesis: Ancient Texts and Modern Problems (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), pp. 72–117, offers an illuminating analysis of the Platonic views of poetry as mimesis and of the repudiation of the tragic in its traditional form. 22. This, in principle, does not prevent the state from keeping the epic narratives that conform to the ideal of praising heroes (Rep. 10.599b), as Malcolm Heath, Ancient Philosophical Poetics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 82, points out. 23. Kathryn Morgan, “Praise and Performance in Plato’s Laws,” in AnastasiaErasmia Peponi (ed.), Performance Culture in Plato’s Laws (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 269–270, notes that Tyrtaeus’ object of praise comes fourth in this ranking of divine goods; the lawgiver’s duty is to inform the citizens about the rankings. 24. On how hymns and encomia are reworked as poetic forms in complex ways that become both aesthetically and morally pleasing, see Marcus Folch, The City and the Stage: Performance, Gender and Genre in Plato’s Laws (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 155–186. 25. The Stranger addresses the poet in an imaginary dialogue: you seem wise and noble to us, “for you have praised (egkekōmiakas, 629c2) those worthy in war”; note here that the encomia of decent men were allowed in the ideal city of the Republic. 26. As Julia Annas, Virtue and Law in Plato and Beyond (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 43–44, points out, ultimately the Tyrtaean model is criticized because the soldier has to be good from within. 27. In the Apology (28e), Socrates also mentions his service to Athens as a hoplite at Potidaea (432 BCE), Delium (424 BCE) and Amphipolis (422 BCE). 28. I have examined this topic in more detail in Tragic Pathos, pp. 52–58. 29. Socrates expresses a similar idea at the end of Protagoras (360c–d): cowardice derives from ignorance, whereas courage stems from wisdom. 30. On this notion of fear-reverence in the Laws, see, for example, the commentary of Thomas L. Pangle, The Laws of Plato. Translated with Notes and an Interpretative Essay (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 1980), n. 55, p. 518. 31. In an earlier essay, “Plato’s Transformation of Undesirable Emotions: From Tragedy to Philosophy,” Skepsis 23 (August, 2013), pp. 316–321, I have shown how Plato redefines the meaning of fear as concern for justice; on how Plato reuses the frame of the tragic festival, see also Folch, The City and the Stage, pp. 205–214, with earlier bibliography. 32. For a good overview of the topic, see Hanink, Lycurgan Athens, pp. 25–59.

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33. Martha Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), pp. 192–238; 359–438 offers useful analyses of how these Hellenistic philosophical currents propose the elimination of negative affects. David Konstan, A Life Worthy of Gods: The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus (Las Vegas: Parmenides Publishing, 2008), pp. 1–26 emphasizes the peculiar nature of pathē in Epicurean psychology. 34. On this, see Douglas Cairns, “The Horror and the Pity: Phrikē as a Tragic Emotion,” Psychoanalytic Inquiry 34 (2015), pp. 75–94. 35. This recommended kind of fear is usually coupled with pity (Poet. 6.1449b27; 9.1452a2–3; 13.1452b32, 36; 13.1453a1; 3–4). 36. Mimesis as Make-Belief (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990). 37. The Nature of Fiction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). 38. On the classification of fear-related affects, I am using the excellent account of Robert C. Roberts, Emotions: An Essay in Moral Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 193–202. 39. The adjective “monstrous” (teratōdes) is derived in ancient Greek from teras, meaning portent, monster and eidos, meaning shape, form. 40. An excellent psychological and philosophical survey, dealing first with disgust as an evolutionary emotion and then including imaginary disgust as response to literature is Robert R. Wilson’s book, The Hydra’s Tale: Imagining Disgust (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2002). 41. Originally pertaining to the sense of taste as a response to ingesting rotten food, disgust transfers from concrete objects to the abstract moral realm, being processed in the same part of the brain; on the interconnection between the two kinds, see, for example, Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature (London: Penguin Books, 2007), pp. 323–372. 42. I incline toward the former reading, simple, as adopted, for example, by Stephen Halliwell, The Poetics of Aristotle. Translation and Commentary (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987), p. 15. 43. For a review of Aristotle’s plot preferences, see Malcolm Heath, “Aristotle on the Best Kind of Tragic Plot: Re-reading Poetics 13–14” in William Wians and Ron Polansky (eds), Reading Aristotle: Argument and Exposition (Leiden: Brill, 2017), pp. 334–351. 44. Roberts, Emotions (2003), p. 193. 45. Rush Rehm, Greek Tragic Theater (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 40–64. The appeal of classical Greek tragedies, and especially Euripides, to modern audiences, is well discussed by Alexander Rubel, Fear and Loathing in Ancient Athens. Religion and Politics during the Peloponnesian War (Bristol: Acumen, 2014), pp. 164–170. 46. On the Poetics as a guide to literary criticism for refined audiences, see Andrew Ford, “The Purpose of Aristotle’s Poetics,” Classical Philology 110:1 (January 2015): 1–21. 47. In Tragic Pathos, pp. 70–139, I have used there the conventional translation “fear” for the Aristotelian term phobos, but I have clarified the Aristotelian


48. 49.

50. 51.


dana lacourse munteanu meaning emotion aroused in the spectators: apprehension regarding our human condition. Aristotle’s admiration for Euripides’ Cresphontes has been pointed out by Gregory Scott, Aristotle’s Favorite Tragedy: Oedipus or Cresphontes? (New York: Create Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2015). Elizabeth Belfiore, “Aristotle and Iphigenia,” in Amelie O. Rorty (ed.), Essays on Aristotle’s Poetics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), pp. 359–377 emphasizes the elements of the plot that attract Aristotle to this particular Euripidean play. Note that in both Euripides’ Iphigenia among Taurians and Cresphontes catastrophe is averted, which hardly matches the modern idea of tragedy. Although the moral purpose of arousing tragic emotions remains less emphasized in the Poetics, the voluntariness of human actions becomes the central theme in book three of the Nicomachean Ethics, which contains numerous examples from tragedies. Iphigenia’s sacrifice is, for example, at the center of Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, and it is alluded to in numerous other tragedies.

chapter 2

Secondary Affect in Lessing, Mendelssohn, and Nicolai Stefan Uhlig

Recent affect theory has been wary of the eighteenth-century configuration of aesthetics. While a critic like Sianne Ngai relates contemporary mediations of affective life to past formations of the beautiful or the sublime, the broader effort to wrest affect from existing norms and concepts has effectively dismissed the legacy of affect-laden concepts in philosophy or criticism.1 Those who champion affect theory across the disciplines have often cited eighteenth-century aesthetics as a tragic precedent. They have sketched its post-Cartesian return to affect as, in equal measure, promising and deeply flawed. These formative debates traversed the shifting territories of philosophy, poetics, rhetoric, cultural history, and anthropology. Yet it has seemed to critics as if the extensive invocation, in aesthetics, of our sensuous, material, or theoretically unorthodox capacities was all too soon betrayed by the prevailing cognitive and moral frameworks. The self-detachment of contemporary theorizing misconstrues, however, the contrasting work – by turns tradition-bound, experimental, inchoate, or systembuilding – done by affect within eighteenth-century aesthetics. Some late interpreters of Aristotle juxtaposed the tragic passions just as starkly with established norms and concepts as more recent theorists of affect. Friedrich Nicolai and Jean-Baptiste Dubos rejected both the wellworn moral reading of catharsis and the knowledge claim which the Poetics had associated with mimesis. Subsequent debate was centred around tragic affects, and yet critics probed their implications outside technical poetics. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing argued for the moral valency of tragedy, but his account of spectatorial sympathy directly countered moral orthodoxy. Whereas theorists now frequently define affect against semantic functioning, the arguments I follow here combined conceptual curiosity with a perpetual, and differentiated, sensitivity to affect. They signalled, equally, that artworks do more than to streamline, or idealize, our felt experience. 49


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The case for secondary affect set out how symbolic forms produce contentious affects for whose animation we depend on art. In an important handbook that provides an overview of recent work, Ben Highmore qualifies his call for an exhaustively “social aesthetics” of affective life with a proviso about theory. Highmore writes that the material, metaphorical, or synaesthetic “entanglements of substances and feelings, matter and affect” cannot, categorically, “require critical untangling” or allow, especially, for the “scholarly and bureaucratic business of sorting categories and filing phenomena.” He advocates, instead, a “critically entangled contact with affective experience.”2 At the same time, Highmore’s program is obliquely motivated by an eighteenth-century project which, in his view, double-crossed the primacy of affect. Highmore shares his aconceptual commitments with some leading voices in the field. Critics vary in their terminology as they progress from, roughly, affect to emotion via correlates like feeling, mood, or passion.3 Whereas “emotion” stands in dialogue with agency, belief, or selfnarration, “affect” tends to conjure a neglected realm of inarticulate sensations. In a noted formulation, Brian Massumi has contrasted the intrinsically “unformed and unstructured” nature of affect with emotion as defined by its “subjective content” or, in other words, the “sociolinguistic fixing of the quality of an experience” through its ostensible “function and meaning.”4 Lawrence Grossberg has argued that “affective states are neither structured narratively nor organized in response to our interpretations of situations.”5 For this self-consciously constructed field, the eighteenth-century’s turn to affect reads like the predictable unfolding of bad faith. Highmore’s version of the story starts with Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten and roughly culminates with Kant. Critics often cite the German coinage of “aesthetics” as a juncture summarizing not just one important intervention in the period but, in retrospect, the whole array of chronologically and intellectually asynchronous debates we understand as eighteenth-century aesthetics.6 Kant is unarguably central as the architect of three critiques which map the provinces of subsequent philosophy, and institutionalize aesthetic judgement at the interface between morality and scientific knowledge. Highmore’s “story of aesthetics” starts with an abortive promise to extend the rational objectives of philosophy into the nether regions of the “lower cognitive faculties.” As Highmore renders the “initial impetus” of sensuous cognition, Baumgarten envisaged all “affective forces” (B, 121) generated in encounters between world and body. This ambition was, in Highmore’s telling, promptly sanitized by its restriction to the orderly domain of art. The somatic messiness of affect was hence shut out from a project that confined itself to the idealized emplotment of select modes of experience.

Secondary Affect in Lessing, Mendelssohn, and Nicolai


Highmore’s relaunch of aesthetics as the realist unfolding of “material experiences” (B, 121) accordingly confronts at least two paradoxes in the archive. How did “a form of inquiry,” he asks, that was “once aimed at the entire creaturely world end up as a specialized discourse about fine art?” (B, 121–2). And how did, by extension, such “ambitious curiosity about the affects, the body, and the senses end up by fixating on one tiny area of sensual life – beauty and the sublime?” (B, 122). As Highmore grants in his remarks on Kant, it is debatable as to whether his precursor project focused narrowly on artworks to the detriment of lived experience. Few central texts confined themselves to the fine arts and, say, the category of the picturesque traversed the boundaries between symbolic forms and life.7 The tension between art and culture ran through much debate within the period, while competing explications of the beautiful or the sublime belied their nominal consistency. When Highmore blames aesthetic affect for its false economies, he draws directly on the mode of ideology critique that Terry Eagleton has brought to bear on the long arc of eighteenth-century aesthetics. Eagleton’s indictment of complicity between aesthetic discourse and the interests of governmental power stretched from Baumgarten to Habermas. Born from the “stirrings” of the body’s too long “inarticulate rebellion,” this incarnation of Baumgartean aesthetics promptly turned informant for the ruling classes.8 How could, Eagleton explained, the absolute monarch of Reason retain its legitimacy if what Kant called the “rabble” of the senses remains forever beyond its ken? Does not power require some ability to anatomize the feelings of what it subordinates, some science or concrete logic at its disposal which would map from the inside the very structures of breathing, sentient life?9

What informs such historiography, from Eagleton to Highmore, is the accusation that aesthetics has invariably betrayed materiality to universal rule. Highmore funnels Eagleton’s political critique into his strictures against disciplinary, governmental, or just cognitively ordered theorizing. For both Eagleton and Highmore, aesthetics vindicates the dialectic of enlightenment by instrumentalizing affective particulars in aid of the prevailing concepts, laws, or institutions.

Baumgarten and Kant Highmore and Eagleton are right to credit Baumgarten with making space in German rationalist philosophy for an account of sensuous cognition which, in principle, extended far beyond his theorizing of the arts. Baumgarten’s


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Meditationes (1735) coined the term “aesthetic” to describe a general perceptual science, though this early dissertation focused narrowly on poetry.10 Baumgarten’s broadest formulation served to introduce his major work, Aesthetica (1750/58), where he suggested the attunement of our lower powers of cognition to phenomena outside the philosophical tradition. If Baumgarten enlarged the scope of sensuous cognition sketched out by his elders Leibniz and Christian Wolff, it is not obvious just how much independence he envisaged for such knowledge. Frequently, his exploration of confused ideas acts like a prelude to well-ordered concepts and, accordingly, a knowing that is susceptible to proof. If sensuous “confusion” must tread close to “error,” Baumgarten defended such exertions as the “indispensable condition for the discovery of truth, because nature does not leap from darkness into clarity.” But if this sensuous “dawn” could point us from the “night” of ignorance toward conceptual “midday,” there is also evidence that Baumgarten envisioned a departure from this progress toward certainty.11 Critics have argued that he viewed the lower faculties less as a stepping stone to reason than as an analogue to it. His standard of extensive clarity through vivid, concretized particulars may certainly diverge from the conceptual standard of intensive clarity.12 Whatever heterodoxy this implied, however, the decisive failure of Baumgarten’s theorizing of aesthetic affect was its incompletion. His proposal to extend philosophy into “the sensuous, imaginations, fables, the perturbations of affect, etc.” amounted to no more than advertising for Aesthetica, and his substantive arguments remained confined to the fine arts.13 If Eagleton’s nostalgia for Baumgartean rebellion simplifies a complex moment of disruption within orthodoxy, it is easier to sympathize with the hostility that contemporary affect theory shows toward Kant. While focused firmly on the beautiful and the sublime, Kant’s exploration of aesthetic judgement mapped subjective faculties in their engagement with both natural and cultural phenomena. At the same time, the dismissal of affective stimuli was key to Kant’s delineation of pure taste. Aesthetic judgement must be vested in the subject, and yet Kant detached its characteristic “feeling of pleasure” (or sublime “displeasure”) from empirical indulgence or involvement.14 Kant insisted that the facultative interplay between imagination and the understanding must be felt – since it could not be known through a conceptual outcome. This insistence also blocked, however, any effort to define, or concretize, that ground beyond Kant’s formulation that the subject must experience, through reflective judgement, a wholistic “feeling of life,” sustained by pleasure or checked, transiently, by displeasure (CJ, 90, §1).

Secondary Affect in Lessing, Mendelssohn, and Nicolai


Concrete appetites or satisfactions were excluded from aesthetic judgement, since their “interest” in affecting properties or, fundamentally, the causative “existence of the object” blocked the trans-subjective aspect of pure taste (CJ, 91, §2). Reflective judgement must be felt by a specific subject, yet the “purposiveness” (CJ, 106, §11) of that judgement’s form was at the same time to command assent from anyone placed in a comparable position. Material affects marred such disinterested “impartiality,” since they delineated subjects which resisted Kant’s abstraction from shared faculties. Kant phrased this contrast between trivial contingency and anthropology as an instructive allegory of enlightenment. Taste must remain “barbaric,” as he put it, “when it needs the addition of charms and emotions [Reize und Rührungen] for satisfaction, let alone if it makes these into the standard for its approval” (CJ, 107–8, §13).15 Kant was open to the counter that aesthetic judgment surely operates, like any other strong experience, within the contexts of contingent, and hence variable, stimuli or feelings. Nonetheless, his effort to relegislate the dignity of philosophical aesthetics barred such states from his construction of pure taste. Responses caused by a material encounter were irrelevant to an account that sealed aesthetic pleasure irreducibly within the animation of reflective judgement. Kant’s blanket ban also betrayed, however, how much previous interest in affect his regrounding of aesthetic judgement sought to disregard. He noted that specific “charms,” or stimuli, were often counted amongst sources of the beautiful – a popular “misunderstanding which, like many others that yet always have something true as their ground,” must be progressively “eliminated by careful consideration” (CJ, 108, §13) of the relevant concepts. Kant’s predecessors drew on various registers to think about persistent stimuli in their experience of artworks or the natural world. In some ways, the sublime supplied the obvious rubric for a complex scripting of affective registers. It is no coincidence that Kant’s own effort to direct the contradictory “movement,” or “vibration,” of sublime (dis)pleasure toward a “respect” (CJ, 141, §27) for moral law came paired with an extensive catalogue of varied, if invariably “blind” (CJ, 154, §29), affects which Kant contrasted with his normative sublime. Burke’s enumeration of the causes and effects of the sublime across the spectrum of our senses (and including taste or smell) provides just one alternatively “physiological,” or mere “empirical” (CJ, 158, §29), perspective in the period. There is rich scholarship on the diversity and range of lived experience, from rhetoric to natural phenomena, the arts, society, and anthropology that was, especially in British circles, theorized by way of the sublime.16


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Paul Guyer’s study of the broader eighteenth-century field foregrounds immediate, and self-validating, interest in affective charges (that is, without proximate conceptual or normative objectives) as a major focus for the period – before, that is, the nineteenth-century prioritized a cognitive approach at the expense of both emotive theories and the Kantian free play between the faculties.17 My discussion tracks affective interests from the starting point of this tradition in Dubos through an exchange between some major German theorists that is often overlooked – despite its effort to rethink Aristotelian poetics with broad implications for aesthetic theorizing. Known as the correspondence, or exchange, on tragedy, this three-way dialogue between Nicolai, Moses Mendelssohn, and Lessing offers an exceptional window onto thinking about affect in the period. The affects theorized in this exchange are hardly aconceptual or free from normative potential. Yet the letters’ speculative flow of argument involves no frame of reference that could stabilize the structural significance of each contested term. All three participants were philosophically expert, but each reserved their preconceptions to engage in a joint exploration that was openly, and open-endedly, a foray into unmarked territory.

Generating Passions On 31 August 1756, Nicolai wrote to Lessing in Amsterdam, an early station of a journey that disrupted conversations they had shared with Mendelssohn in Berlin, but which occasioned a remarkable epistolary exchange about the structure and complexity of our experience of tragedy and, by extension, any artwork that makes strong demands on our emotional engagement.18 Nicolai had just completed an essay on tragedy to help launch a journal on aesthetics and the fine arts he co-edited with Mendelssohn. Since Lessing had been out of town, he offered a quick preview of his thesis. Nicolai paid no mind to the cognitive potential of mimesis the Poetics had sketched out by noting that we both first learn through imitation and, as adults, train our understanding by comparing objects to their skilled representations. He critiqued, instead, the standard moral reading of catharsis in which tragedy improved spectators by (as Aristotle briefly noted) first arousing, and then purging, certain passions.19 “I thought only to regard the theory of tragedy from a new angle,” he wrote to Lessing, and “to place,” or thereby to resituate, “the purpose of tragedy in the excitement of the passions.” Therefore, Nicolai declared, “the best tragedy is the one that excites the passions most forcefully, not the one designed

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to cleanse the passions. I seek to direct all features of tragedy towards this purpose” (BT, 47). Nicolai unmoored the passions Plato feared, and which catharsis had ostensibly made safe, from any broader philosophical or civic context. His published essay noted further that constitutively tragic passions justified some “freedoms” of design and served, importantly, to hide the artifice involved in the construction of a character or plot.20 In this way, Nicolai recast Aristotelian fear and pity as self-naturalizing passions (though impartial “sympathy” more accurately captures his “Mitleiden” than potentially condescending “pity”). Nicolai then added “admiration” (A, 25) as a third significant response, and classified effective tragedies according to their distribution of these three intended affects.21 Nicolai was clearly thrilled and, at the same time, wary of his bluntly antinormative proposals for the future of tragedy (especially German tragedy). Indeed, both Mendelssohn and Lessing would soon complicate the argument. Nicolai observed, correctly, that the premises, and consequences, of self-vindicating affect were, if anything, more “generous” [freygebig] (A, 12), in Dubos’ precursor formulation. Dubos expanded his subversion of catharsis to explain the full range of fine arts. He based his case for an emotive theory of art, moreover, on a fully-fledged physiological and sociological account of why the lived experience of artworks meets a basic need in life. Dubos’ Réflexions critiques (1719) was widely cited and reprinted in the period.22 He began his theory and cultural history of the sister arts, poetry and painting, alongside music and sculpture with a psycho-physiological approach to the familiar paradox of why we symbolize events, experiences, or actions that we shun in ordinary life. Dubos lent new momentum to this puzzle by insisting that we read it as the consequence of a somatic rationale. If it was indisputable, he wrote, that representations could generate a “sensible pleasure” [un plaisir sensible], it was equally a difficult matter to explain the nature of this pleasure, which bears so great a resemblance with affliction, and whose symptoms are sometimes as affecting [sont quelquefois les mêmes (RC, 1:1)], as those of deepest sorrow. (CR, 1:1)

For Dubos, the arts were never more “applauded” than when they “succeeded in afflicting us” [réüssi à nous affliger] (RC, 1:1, my translation). The upshot of “this paradox” was that in facing the distinctive power of artworks our “nature”, as he memorably put it, “feels an inward dread and repugnance [un fremissement interieur (RC, 1:2)] at the sight of its own pleasure” (CR, 1:2). This conflicted starting-point for aconceptual, non-normative aesthetics clearly looked to a material ground.


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Dubos supplied the physiological deep structure of aesthetic needs through a remarkably dystopian account of human functioning. All pleasures were, he argued, the mere correlates of visceral “indigence” (CR, 1:4) or “wants” (CR, 1:5). In that sense, all our physical or intellectual enjoyments strictly compensate for a preexisting need, although the quality of an experience must vary widely “in proportion to the greatness” of our inescapable desires, manifested through “a greater or lesser degree of sensibility.” Dubos thus extended the material relationship between the “preparation” (CR, 1:5) of one’s appetite and the enjoyment of a meal, for example, to interests we might otherwise mistake for cognitive or normative concerns. When he sketched the crippling boredom that, for his account, explained all cultural activities, it was the risks involved in combating inertia that distinguished between variously sophisticated or more basic forms of gratification: The soul hath its wants no less than the body; and one of the greatest wants of man is to have his mind incessantly occupied. The heaviness [l’ennui] which quickly attends the inactivity of the mind, is a situation so very disagreeable to man, that he frequently chuses to expose himself to the most painful exercises, rather than be troubled with it. (CR, 1:5)

The constant fear of losing animation risked the balance of what Dubos labelled “friendship with oneself.” Whereas the learned might appease the constant urgings of the “organs of the brain” (CR, 1:6) through contemplation, the more vulnerable masses suffered the “acutest” (CR, 1:8) consequences of their passions in direct proportion to their pleasurable appeal. It was not sinful “avarice” (CR, 1:19), for instance, but the visceral excitement of playing cards or dice [l’attrait du jeu (RC, 1:22)] that led so many to destroy their fortunes. Dubos’ compensatory argument for the affective leverage of art emerged directly from these gloomy premises. The best hope for a well-adjusted personal and, by extension, public life, lay firmly with the power of the artwork to untie “bewitching pleasure” from the “dismal consequences” (CR, 1:21) of real passions. The poetic or pictorial imitation of “objects capable of exciting real passions” (CR, 1:22) copied, as Dubos explained, not only their perceptual features but, in equal measure, their affective stimuli. The experiential impact of such copies must be weaker, yet Dubos praised great art as “sufficient” to fulfill our needs [capable de nos occuper (RC, 1:25)] “while we are actually affected” by its subject matter. Art was, at the same time, helpfully “incapable” of punishing the subject with enduring downsides. Because “artificial passions” (CR, 1:21) were more transient,

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and left a shallower “impression” on the subject, Dubos argued that our self-control remained “superior” to their “illusory attack” (CR, 1:23). Because, in other words, “every thing” on the fictive stage showed itself “in the nature of a copy” (CR, 1:350), no one was likely to be cognitively misdirected. The thoughtful reader or spectator could hence safely utilize this tailored answer to our constant need for animation. Dubos made two more consequential points about the workings of aesthetic affect. First, he clarified how the experience of art could stabilize and, in that sense, enhance our lives without replaying the specific lessons of catharsis. The animation drawn from art would not determinately teach us to act one way or another. Yet especially “dramatic pieces,” Dubos argued, could deflect us from the risks of non-artistic entertainment by, mimetically, “setting before our eyes the errors into which our passions lead us” (CR, 1:354) in real life. Aesthetic affect minimized those risks without, however, judging civic conduct. And whereas cathartic passions had to cleanse themselves, Dubos’ mimetic affects animated the safe space of art. In a further deconstruction of catharsis, Dubos argued that while tragedy “pretends indeed that the passions it represents should move us,” it “does not” thereby intend that our emotion should be the same as that of a person tortured by his passion, or that we should espouse his sentiments. Its aim most frequently is to excite opposite sentiments to those, which it lends to the personages. (CR, 1:358)

Early modern commentators had discussed the passions undergone by characters in terms of their ability to stimulate, and thereby discharge, pity and fear in the tragic audience. For as long as Aristotle’s formulation was interpreted as a demand for moral closure of experience in the reader or spectator, the performance of dramatic passion on the stage looked like a means to that effective end.23 Once Dubos’ physiological dystopia freed aesthetic affect from morality, critics could think more flexibly about the interaction between fictional affects and their correlates in the aesthetic subject.

Sympathy, Fear, Admiration, Consternation The letter in which Nicolai outlined the argument he had developed with the help of Dubos’ physiology arrived too late to reach its addressee in Amsterdam, and three months passed until Lessing eventually replied from Leipzig. Lessing welcomed Nicolai’s attempt to rethink how the passions


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through which artworks implicate the subject differentiate and mediate themselves. Yet Lessing also warned his friend that he had been rash to sever any link between the passions generated by the arts and what Dubos had thought of as well-regulated friendship – with oneself or, Lessing emphasized, with others. Lessing noted that rejecting the idea of tragic lessons to behave in one way or another was quite different from denying any “final purpose” [Endzweck] whereby the experience of art might openendedly improve our sociability. Lessing agreed that no creative principle was likely to yield better plays than Nicolai’s Dubosian demand that tragedy “shall generate passions” (BT, 53). He observed, however, just how little such an axiom could explain and how extensive were, by contrast, the complexities of affective relations opened up by an emotive theory of art. In contrast with the humanist emplotment of catharsis, Lessing developed the more even-handed questioning of affects, on and off the stage, enabled by Dubos. The issue was not merely how self-ramifying or, by contrast, pattern-forming might be the production of the tragic passions. To move past the standard readings of catharsis, critics must further reinvestigate the mediation of aesthetic affects – affects relayed by the characters of plays, and hence produced, in an important sense, by fiction. Lessing emphasized the detailed questions left unanswered by Nicolai’s synoptic theses: Most will depend on this: what passions are excited by tragedy. In its characters it can let all sorts of passions take their effect which accord with the dignity of the subject. But will all these passions simultaneously come alive in the spectators? Does he become joyful? Does he fall in love? Does he become angry? Does he become vengeful? I do not ask if the poet gets him to the point where he approves these passions in the performing character, but if he gets him to the point where he feels these passions himself, and does not only feel that another feels them. In short, I can find no other passion that tragedy brings alive in the spectator except sympathy. (BT, 53–4)

Lessing not only thought that Nicolai had been too quick to rule out any ethical potential for this negotiation between affects on and off the stage. He had also, Lessing added, not thought carefully enough about how drama managed to translate the disparate passions staged by actors into characteristic, or at least more recognizable, affective states experienced by spectators. Lessing hinted at the problematic question of how passions could be acted, but primarily raised doubts about how concrete passions could be passed on from an actor to an audience. He challenged Nicolai, in other words, to rethink how performances of scripted affects could make subjects who were not part of the fictive script engage affectively. In one sense, his insistence that spectators would feel nothing but a testimonial

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“sympathy” stood for the failure of specific passions to communicate themselves. Yet, Lessing’s feeling “that another feels” was also formally inclusive of “all possible” affective situations on the stage. Though sympathy downgraded other affective responses, Lessing prized the promise of a feeling dialogue between the viewing subject and the moving constellation of the play. Much of his subsequent exchange with Nicolai and Mendelssohn revolved around the makeup of what Lessing theorized as “secondary affects” – those which, as he put it in a later letter, “arise in me when I perceive [bei Erblickung] such affects in others” (BT, 103). This responsorial process looked profoundly asymmetrical. We saw Dubos contend that tragedy sought, mostly, to produce in a spectator the “opposite sentiments” to those “which it lends to the personages.” Lessing amplified this observation when he stressed that neither characters nor audiences could truly share their passions – that spectators would, in other words, feel next to nothing if it were not for their humanizing capability to feel alongside others without sharing any affect in particular (BT, 103). Lessing’s restrictive emphasis on sympathy must sideline Nicolai’s two other experiential benchmarks: fear and admiration. Despite its pedigree, Lessing positioned fear or fright [Schrecken] as no more than a transient prompting whereby tragedy announces, or surprises us into, our central spectatorial response: For instance, the priest finally comes out with it: You Oedipus are the murderer of Laius! I am frightened, because I suddenly see the righteous Oedipus unfortunate; my sympathy suddenly comes alive. (BT, 54)

If fear helped focus sympathy, Lessing placed “admiration” at the other end of what he figured as a “ladder,” or a set of “relays,” in the timeline of our affective response. While Nicolai gave separate weight to such respect for certain kinds of conduct, Lessing situated admiration as, effectively, the end of tragedy’s ability to move us – the response, that is, through which our sympathy for affective performances became “dispensable” [entbehrlich] (BT, 54). Once the hero’s grasp or, more specifically, his ethical conception of his fate had stabilized itself, his self-possession practically absolved observers from their righteous task of co-affection: The hero is unfortunate, but he stands so far above his misfortune, he is himself so proud of it, that it also loses its horrifying aspect in my thoughts, that I envy him more than I want to pity him. (BT, 54)

If fear and admiration were not separate aesthetic affects, but instead the mere “beginning and the end” (BT, 54) of our significant response, then


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tragedy had better concentrate, Lessing concluded, on producing “as much sympathy” as it “could possibly manage” (BT, 56). Lessing’s rewrite of Dubos’ and Nicolai’s extensive vindication of the passions formed the central axis of the correspondence which ensued between Lessing’s reply to Nicolai in November 1756 and May 1757. Back in Berlin, Nicolai consulted Mendelssohn about Lessing’s critique of his initial theses. When Mendelssohn supplied the first riposte to Lessing’s forceful case for sympathy, he offered some objections to his treatment of Aristotelian fear, but focused mainly on the relevance of admiration. He promised to talk more with Nicolai, but noted in advance that what he called illusory fright (at viewing, say, a painted snake) and its attendant tears must surely please the subject. Mendelssohn complained that Lessing had been too ingenious in reframing all mimesis as conditioning for sympathy (BT, 61). The comparatively academic moralist took special issue with the conflict between Lessing’s open-ended sympathy and the distinctive virtues heralded by admiration. Mendelssohn insisted that we cannot notice virtuous conduct that exceeds our expectations without feeling a distinctive, “pleasant affect we call admiration.” We enjoy the surplus and are even led, “where possible, to emulate” (BT, 59) the worthy actor. Mendelssohn conceded that such admiration often weakened sympathy, but in a canny move rejected Lessing’s claim that its affective “value” must “exhaust” (BT, 60) itself in this suspension of our primary response. A hero’s on-stage death blocked fellow feeling quite conclusively, he noted. Yet our admiration for some tragic figures outlived even that decisive weakening of sympathy. There was accordingly no reason, Mendelssohn suggested, to consider the relation between sympathy and admiration as a clear-cut zero sum. The question whether sympathy or admiration formed the more compelling literary affect ran through several letters. In the process, the three correspondents worked through an extensive range of issues in their effort to refine Dubos’ emotive case for art. From the politics of art experience to the ties between distinctive affects and poetic genres, or the question whether affects should be mixed or pure – what is perhaps most striking about the exchange is its conjunction of incisiveness and sensitivity to affective perspectives which, for all their detail, are continually flagged as works-in-progress. Lessing’s next move in response to Mendelssohn was to insist on a distinction between, on the one hand, our response to conduct that exceeds our expectations of an individual and, on the other, virtues that surpass our understanding of what “all of human nature” can achieve. If

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individuals surprise us, Lessing wrote, our plausible reaction is not admiration but a kind of baffled wonderment or consternation [Verwunderung]. Such acting out of character revealed a deficit in continuity for which, as Lessing noted, we should blame the poet. By contrast, Lessing challenged Mendelssohn to say what virtues we might reasonably identify in cases where an agent’s conduct exceeds what we thought possible in “all of human nature” (BT, 63). Surely not, he taunted, those outdated neoclassical distinctions which identified the hero as a teacher of elites. Lessing praised, instead, varieties of common kindness – qualities he labelled “good” in contrast with exceptional qualities which must, he reaffirmed, debilitate aesthetic sympathy. Only those qualities “of which I hold man generally, and therefore also myself, capable,” could give rise to fellow feeling. Lessing underlined the rift between such sympathy and Mendelssohnian admiration: I only want to see those traits excluded that we can include under the general name of heroism, because each of them is tied to insensitivity, and because insensitivity in the object of sympathy weakens my sympathy. (BT, 64)

If admiration entered the experience of tragedy, it must serve as a breather, or “caesura” [Ruhepunkt], that allowed spectators to renew their affective engagement. Lessing added in a later letter that “strong sympathy” could not (like all “strong affects”) be endured for too long without wearing itself down (BT, 77). This physiological criterion underlined the nontraditional, and anti-academic, thrust of Lessing’s affective recasting of morality.24 The charge of sympathy was not “to teach us” (BT, 55), like heroic deeds, to heed the outcome of specific agencies. Instead, the point of our response to tragedy was, “categorically, just to practice sympathy, and not direct us toward sympathy in this case or the other.” This open-ended “skill at sympathy” (BT, 80) fed straight into the writer’s broader effort to rethink the sentimental preconditions of a sociable enlightenment. The sharp divergence between Mendelssohn’s heroic virtue ethics and Lessing’s fostering of civic sympathy extended, equally, to questions about genre and the relative inclusiveness, or narrow focus, of our affective response. Lessing relegated heroism to the epic, and reserved the tragic stage for the progressive fostering of sociability (BT, 76–7). Mendelssohn himself complained that ancient tragedy lacked admirable characters (BT, 60). Yet he agreed with Nicolai that Lessing drew excessively sharp boundaries between artistic practices (all three participants invoked examples outside tragedy, including sculpture and the visual arts). Lessing kept relating genres to distinctive affective responses, and insisted that all boundary crossing between


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sympathy and fear or admiration be policed by tragedy’s uniquely socializing affect. His correspondents were more curious, by contrast, how aesthetic affects might combine dynamically and counselled Lessing, therefore, not to “banish a single passion from the theatre” (BT, 88–9). After months of letters back and forth, the correspondence ended with a tabulated listing of twelve subdivided paragraphs which juxtaposed “disputed” points with what had been “resolved” (BT, 110). The intricate exchange revealed, not least, the varied preferences and expertise each critic brought to the discussion. What is perhaps most striking about this collaborative study of aesthetic affect is, however, its self-conscious incompletion. It is not only that the authors’ letters failed to issue in a common manifesto. More revealingly, Lessing predicted halfway through that their investigation of aesthetic affects must, despite all efforts, prove unresolvable. “I believe no more than you,” he wrote to Mendelssohn, that we have so far come much further in our quarrel than beyond the first boundaries. But do you really have the same enthusiasm as I to venture further inward, and to discover this unknown land, even if we first lose our way a hundred times? (BT, 100)

When these eighteenth-century critics explored the outlines of aesthetic affect, they did not seek to integrate particulars under existing concepts. The incentive was, by contrast, to discover how the secondary, mediated affects generated by the artwork might inflect our lived experience.

Crying In 2001, the art historian and critic James Elkins published a book about crying in front of paintings. Elkins gathered some historical accounts of viewers who had documented this expressive affect, and included some more recent testimonials from what he called our “determinedly tearless” present.25 Elkins suggested, as he has done in other writings, that we have been distracted from the craft, and the emotional impact, of pictorial art by the predominance of art historical and theoretical concerns. There was no hint in Elkins’s anthology of affect that the act of crying had itself once been a subject for aesthetics. Yet as late as 1825, the German novelist and theorist Jean Paul included some incisive paragraphs on sympathy in late additions to his comprehensive, and eclectic, “preschool” in aesthetics. He rethought the secondary asymmetries and complications of aesthetic affect such as the relationship between the subject’s sympathy and other passions, the asymmetry between theatrical and spectatorial affects, or the aporia of

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feeling sympathy with one’s own suffering. Jean Paul remarked, in this regard, that crying both expressed itself affectively and covered its own tracks: The tear itself, by the way, is only the physical Nilometer of any overflowing feeling whatever, the dewdrop of gratitude, the quarrelwater of anger, the libation of joy, – in short, its drops form the rainbow out of all the colors of sensation.26

There is perhaps no better way to gauge the primacy of affect over theoretical presumptions in our snapshot of mid-century aesthetics than to trace its references to crying as a self-obscuring rubric. Sometimes, tears were just a shorthand for the work of sympathy (see BT, 58, 61, 75). Yet crying also stood for the persistent challenge affect posed to theory formation. Nicolai confessed that he had cried throughout Lessing’s Miss Sara Sampson (1755) until excessive affect [Rührung] in act five had blocked his tears. He remarked that this had never happened previously, and that the strange experience “battled, as it were,” against his theoretical assumptions or, specifically, “against my own system of how tragedy moves us” (BT, 52). Lessing answered with offbeat remarks on how the tears of sympathy drew, possibly, on sadness mixed with joy, and might accordingly be correlated with comedic laughter (BT, 55–6). He went further in exploring this expressive affect while discussing how we are moved by the afflictions of a beggar as we come to understand them. Before learning about individual circumstances, he explained to Nicolai, we are generally moved. Once we know just enough about a person’s merits and misfortunes, we may cry – although the beggar also ends our tears, much like the scripted hero, once he spells out a more cogent grasp of his predicament (BT, 68). The story fit with Lessing’s narrative of sympathy – and yet the tension, which it highlights, between knowledge and expressive affect may remind us why these critics figured the domain of secondary affects as bewildering territory.

Notes 1. Ngai’s work seeks explicitly to amplify, and thereby to “reanimate,” aesthetics for its late modernity: see her Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), p. 6; also Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), pp. 14–18. 2. Ben Highmore, “Bitter after Taste: Affect, Food, and Social Aesthetics,” in Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth (eds), The Affect Theory Reader (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 119. Hereafter indicated as B and cited by page numbers in the text.


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3. For an overview of current usage see Charles Altieri, The Particulars of Rapture: An Aesthetics of the Affects (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), p. 2. My discussion largely follows the terms used by my sources. 4. Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), p. 28. 5. Lawrence Grossberg, We Gotta Get Out of this Place: Popular Conservatism and Postmodern Culture (New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 81. 6. See, for instance, Hans Reiss, “The Rise of Aesthetics from Baumgarten to Humboldt,” in H. B. Nisbet and Claude Rawson (eds), The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism. Volume 4: The Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), pp. 658–80. 7. For an incisive critique of standard assumptions about eighteenth-century aesthetics, see Andrew Ashfield and Peter de Bolla, “Introduction,” in The Sublime: A Reader in British Eighteenth-Century Aesthetic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 1–2. On the worldliness of the picturesque, see David Marshall, The Frame of Art: Fictions of Aesthetic Experience, 1750–1815 (Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005). 8. Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Sublime (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), p. 13. 9. Ibid. p. 14. 10. Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, Reflections on Poetry. Meditationes philosophicae de nonnullis ad poema pertinentibus, trans. and ed. Karl Aschenbrenner and William B. Holther (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1954), p. 78, §116. 11. Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, Aesthetik, trans. and ed. Dagmar Mirbach, 2 vols (Hamburg: Meiner, 2007), vol. 1, p. 15, §7 (translation mine). 12. See Paul Guyer, A History of Modern Aesthetics. Volume 1: The Eighteenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 326–7; Dagmar Mirbach, “Einführung,” in Aesthetik, p. xlii; and Jochen SchulteSasse, “Der Stellenwert des Briefwechsels,” in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Moses Mendelssohn, Friedrich Nicolai, Briefwechsel über das Trauerspiel, ed. Jochen Schulte-Sasse (Munich: Winkler, 1972), p. 174. 13. Baumgarten, Aesthetik, vol. 1, p. 15, §6 (translation mine). Compare Guyer, A History of Modern Aesthetics, pp. 327–8, and especially n. 58, which describes Baumgarten’s ambitious claims as a “pure bit of rhetoric.” 14. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, trans. and ed. by Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 89, §1. Hereafter indicated as CJ and cited by page and paragraph numbers in the text. 15. Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft, ed. Wilhelm Weischedel (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1968), p. 138. 16. For further reading, see Ashfield and De Bolla, The Sublime, pp. 307–14. 17. Guyer, A History of Modern Aesthetics, pp. 22–3, 25. 18. Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Moses Mendelssohn, Friedrich Nicolai, Briefwechsel über das Trauerspiel, ed. Jochen Schulte-Sasse (Munich: Winkler, 1972).

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19. 20.

21. 22.


24. 25. 26.


Hereafter indicated as BT and cited by page numbers in the text. Translations mine. The correspondence was first published in 1789. For its genesis, see Conrad Wiedemann, “Textgrundlage und Entstehung,” in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Werke 1754–1757 (Frankfurt am Main: Deutscher Klassiker Verlag, 2003), pp. 1377–80. For a recent anglophone discussion see Willi Goetschel, “The Exchange on Tragedy,” in Spinoza’s Modernity: Mendelssohn, Lessing, and Heine (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004), pp. 100–18. See §§4 and 6 of the Poetics. “Abhandlung vom Trauerspiele,” in BT, pp. 24, 29. Hereafter indicated as A and cited by page numbers in the text. Translations mine. Nicolai’s essay was published in Bibliothek der schönen Wissenschaften und freyen Künste, vol. 1, pt. 1 (Leipzig: Dyck, 1757), pp. 17–68. Schulte-Sasse credits Pierre Corneille’s Examen de “Nicomède” (1651) with having added the criterion of admiration alongside Aristotle’s pairing of pity and fear. Réflexions critiques sur la poésie et sur la peinture, 3 vols (Paris: Mariette, 1733). Hereafter indicated as RC and cited by volume and page numbers in the text. Dubos’ text went through five editions by mid-century, and was translated as Critical Reflections on Poetry, Painting and Music, 2 vols. (London: John Nourse, 1748). Hereafter indicated as CR and cited by volume and page numbers in the text. On the Renaissance commentaries, see Timothy J. Reiss, “Renaissance Theatre and the Theory of Tragedy,” in Glyn P. Norton (ed.), The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. 240–3, and Daniel Javitch, “The Assimilation of Aristotle’s Poetics in Sixteenth-Century Italy,” in Norton, The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, pp. 53–65. See H. B. Nisbet, “Lessing and Philosophy,” in Barbara Fischer and Thomas C. Fox (eds), A Companion to the Works of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (Rochester, NY: Camden, 2005), p. 138. James Elkins, Pictures and Tears: A History of People who Have Cried in Front of Paintings (New York, NY: Routledge, 2001), p. vii. Jean Paul, “Kleine Nachschule,” in Werke, vol. 5, ed. Norbert Miller (Munich: Hanser, 1963), pp. 477–8 (translation mine). The Nachschule was an addendum to Jean Paul’s Vorschule der Ästhetik (Hamburg: Perthes, 1804).

chapter 3

Affect and Life in Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Bergson John Protevi

Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Bergson make an odd gathering: a seventeenthcentury arch-rationalist and two irrationalists from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But affect looms large in all their work, so that will be the lens through which we view them in this chapter. Each of our three philosophers has a characteristic method: for Spinoza, the geometrical method; for Nietzsche, genealogy; and for Bergson, intuition. Each of these methods takes those rare readers able to follow it beyond the human condition of concern with useful manipulation of material objects to the point of an affect-soaked contact with reality. For Spinoza, some who follow the life of reason can reach the intellectual love felt in an intuitive knowledge of “God or Nature”; for Nietzsche, some who practice his “gay science” come to joyously affirm life as will-to-power; and for Bergson some can follow sympathetic intuition to the point of a joyous love in touching life’s creativity. Thus, all three seek conditions for joy, rare though those capable of fully feeling it might be: for Spinoza, joy is felt when adequate ideas lead to increased power to be the cause of actions and thoughts, including even the joy of understanding the way our singular body makeup constitutes reasons for our sadness; for Nietzsche, joy is possible from the practice of “gay science” leading to an affirmation of life; and for Bergson, joy is felt in immersion in life’s creativity.

Spinoza To understand affect in Spinoza we must first understand his metaphysics. In Part I of Ethics (1677) he shows that “God or Nature” is a single, selfcaused, necessarily existing substance. Every finite thing is an expression of God / nature, a modification or mode or way that God / nature is. There are two attributes of God / nature to which we have access – that compose our being – extension and thought: our body is a finite mode, and so is our 66

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mind. Each state of our body has a parallel state of our mind, and each state is produced by chains of efficient causes such that there are laws of physics and psychology that in principle explain our physical and mental states: “there is no affection of the body of which we cannot form a clear and distinct conception.”1 Things could not have been otherwise; there is no contingency in nature, just necessity. Hence there is no free will. However, the act of recognizing that we don’t have free will, because nature is a causal web, such that psychological states are caused just as physical states are, is one of the key conditions for our freedom. Spinoza says that our affects are fully expressions of nature’s power, so they can be analyzed and understood, rather than condemned and mocked: “I shall consider human actions and appetites just as if it were an investigation into lines, planes, and bodies.”2 In Ethics Part 2, we learn that the mind is the active conceptual grasp of the processes and patterns of processes of the body. When we encounter another body, our body is changed, and so our mind grasps that change. Emotions or “affects” are the changes in bodily composition from singular encounters with other bodies (our “affections” or “being affected”) by which our power of acting is increased or decreased (our ability to affect or change other bodies), together with the idea or active conceptual grasp of those changes. As Spinozist ideas are inherently emotive, the idea of increase in power is joy or uplift and the idea of decrease in power is sadness or downfall. Ethics Part 3 teaches that affects can be active or passive. We are active when we are the adequate cause of an event. “Adequate cause” here means that we cause an event through our nature or power; in such a state of activity we have an adequate idea of our action, meaning that we understand our causal power in an action. Passivity means that something happens in us of which we are only the partial cause. So, a passive affect occurs when things happen to us that change our bodies as we undergo encounters in the causal web; conversely, an active affect occurs when we do something from our own nature, from our own power of acting. There is a basic trio of affects: desire, joy, and sadness.3 To understand desire, we have to understand “conatus.” Conatus is the endeavor to continue in existence that each thing has as its essence.4 Now this may look like mere self-preservation, but it is an expression of God / nature’s power to be and to act, and that last bit is our key: each thing expresses God / nature’s acting, so it endeavors to act from its own finite nature. So, a rock doesn’t just sit there; it is an active exercise of its power as an expression of the power of God / nature (the molecular structure of the


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rock keeps it together – the energy of which it is composed is caught in that repeating pattern that is the characteristic ratio of motion and rest that individuates that rock). Now the rock has a limited range of affects – there’s only so much it can do, though it can withstand a certain range of encounters. Now think of human beings and everything that our body (including our brain) can do and undergo: what a huge exercise of power that can be in the right circumstances. Spinoza says he will derive all the other emotions from this basic trio of desire, joy, and sadness. For instance, “love” is joy plus the idea of an external cause: we love that which we imagine causes us to increase our power. And “hatred” is sadness plus the idea of an external cause.5 But we can be mistaken in our loves and hates as, in “imagination” or the “first form of knowledge,” we understand external things through the changes they cause in our body. If we do not clearly understand our own body’s nature – its characteristic ratio of motion and rest – we don’t recognize how much it contributes to the image of the external thing we experience and attribute causation to in, e.g., love and hate. So, while you can be mistaken in your imaginary guesswork as to what external thing is causing an emotion – in some cases, you might simply be imitating the affects of others – you can also come to make a true judgment as to what is good by understanding the adequate cause of an emotion as it comes from our own nature. That is, in “reason” or the “second form of knowledge,” we can, from a systematic investigation of patterns of encounters forming “common notions,” move to an understanding of God / nature. Such knowledge of the scientific laws of nature, including those of human physiology / psychology, enables us to disentangle the causal web and isolate the way our nature produces an emotion out of an encounter; that is, we come to understand our power and its contribution to our being affected. Spinoza doesn’t simply mean by “power” the ability to boss other people around because you have all the guns. He’s not a “might makes right” philosopher as that phrase is usually understood. The best, most human and rational, kind of “power” means “constructing a social order that fosters mutual increases in understanding” – basically, a republic in which scientific understanding is supported and used as the basis for public policy. Spinoza presents a sketch of what reason demands regarding the ordering of humans as social beings. We should all love ourselves and seek our advantage; that is, seek to reinforce our conatus – this self-interested seeking is our virtue. However, this is not an egoist doctrine. Truly understanding

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yourself means understanding yourself as social. This passage is among the greatest ever written in philosophy: Nothing is more advantageous to man than man. Men, I repeat, can wish for nothing more excellent for preserving their own being than that they should all be in such harmony in all respects that their minds and bodies should compose, as it were, one mind and one body, and that all together should endeavor as best they can to preserve their own being, and that all together they should aim at the common advantage of all. From this it follows that men who are governed by reason, that is, men who aim at their advantage under the guidance of reason, seek nothing for themselves that they would not desire for the rest of mankind; and so are just, faithful, and honorable.6

In Ethics Part 5 Spinoza writes movingly about freedom and the power of the human mind to control and check the emotions (note that he denies we can have an absolute command of the emotions). We can convert passive emotions to active emotions by gaining adequate ideas of them. The key to such conversion is that understanding our emotional reaction pattern is not a reaction; it’s an action. That is, if we can untangle the causal web of any one passive emotion – which is the idea or active conceptual grasp of a changing body under the influence of an encounter – we can disentangle what our nature generates from that of the encountered thing. Thus, through socially organized investigation (science) we can come to understand our body and its physical / emotional reaction patterns. And when we understand that the emotion resulting from an encounter comes from our nature, and that this emotion was necessary due to our nature’s encounter with the nature of the thing, then we have increased our mind’s power. “Our nature” is the causal history that has produced the current state of our body; our reaction patterns are dependent upon that state. The more we understand this nature from analyzing our reactions in a wide range of situations, the more our mind is powerful and able to control the emotions. Such control comes through understanding psychology: “men, like everything else, act from the necessity of their nature, then the wrong or the hatred that is wont to arise from it, will occupy just a small part of our imagination and will easily be overcome.”7 “Necessity of their nature” means the causal history that has produced their emotional reactions. So, freedom for Spinoza is not freedom from causation; it is coming to understand how our actions come from our causal history as that is an expression of God / nature. This understanding is like a doubling affirmation of God / nature: we are an expression of God / nature as it unrolls in its


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causal web, even as that unrolling is expressed as our understanding. Through reason, we can learn how to relate events and patterns of events to natural laws or God / nature as it unrolls. So, as you come to understand and control your emotions you are coming to understand and to love God / nature. You are coming to affirm your status as an expression of God / nature. Not that “God made you this way” – God doesn’t have a plan; God / nature is the unrolling of the world, not something outside the world pulling strings and planning events.8 Discursive reason, however, is not our highest expression of power / virtue. Our highest power is intuition, the “third form of knowledge.”9 Here we move from an understanding of God / nature to an understanding of the essence of things: why does this thing have its characteristic ratio of motion and rest? Because it is a specific way of expressing God / nature. When we have these flashes of intuition, we feel the most powerful joy we can, the intellectual love of God / nature.10 Why is this the most powerful joy? Recall that the feeling of the increase of the mind’s power is joy. So, when we understand, we exercise our power of thinking, and we are active. Thus, understanding why you felt sad in an encounter can be converted into the joy of exercising our power of thinking. In other words, the rush of the “Eureka” experience whereby you understand how that person was provoking your sadness converts that sadness into joy. That doesn’t mean you have to keep seeking out that person; rather, it means you understand why you should avoid them. Spinoza claims that the joy of intuition is greater than that of science.11 The joy of the third kind of knowledge is more powerful than that of the second because in the third kind we understand that our nature is an expression of God / nature, so that we are God / nature loving itself through us. Remember that God / nature is the power of acting; we most powerfully act when we exercise that power of thought that is our essence. Joy is the feeling of powerful action; when we intuit, we most powerfully exercise our essence / virtue / power; the intellectual love of God / nature then is the most powerful joy we can attain. Living in this state of intellectual love of God / nature is “blessedness.”12 As much as we can attain it, we are free from passive emotions, as we quickly convert any passive emotion into an active joy by understanding its genesis as necessary. That is, by understanding our own body, we can understand its patterns of reaction. And understanding a reaction is an action. So we are not blessed because we can control our emotions; rather, we can control our emotions to the extent that we are blessed. In great

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understatement, the Ethics concludes by saying that attaining and staying in this state of blessedness is difficult and rare.13

Nietzsche We will concentrate here on one of Nietzsche’s masterpieces, On the Genealogy of Morality (1887). It asks under what cognitive-affective conditions is life worth living, and, more concretely, what will allow us to avoid the despair that comes with meaningless suffering? Nietzsche begins by confronting Schopenhauer: might not valuing pity be a sign of exhaustion and illness, of will turning against life, of risking nihilism? So, one of the motivations of the Genealogy is to examine the hypothesis that morality is a danger to the flourishing of man.14 In the Genealogy, “will-to-power” is the basic ontological category for life forms. Will-to-power is not mere “striving,” but is striving to exercise power in overcoming resistance to appropriation and organization of other beings into subordinate parts of a life form. The will-to-power ups the ante on Spinoza’s conatus, which in Nietzsche’s reading aims only at persistence in being, as does Darwinian adaptation, which thereby misunderstands “the essence of life, its will-to-power . . . [we miss] the prime importance [of] the spontaneous, aggressive, expansive, re-interpreting, re-directing, and formative forces” by which organisms shape themselves.15 Instead of mere survival, for Nietzsche, “every animal . . . instinctively strives for an optimum of favorable conditions in which to fully release its power and achieve its maximum of power-sensation [Machtgefuhl].”16 So, the overall question of the Genealogy is the effect of moralities on life qua expression of will-to-power. The three essays of the Genealogy produce genealogies of ressentiment, bad conscience, and the ascetic ideal. The principle of functional indeterminacy is the key to genealogy: current function is no clue to origin, since the history of anything is the history of its being seized by greater forces and put to a new task, a new function, which obliterates the previous function. Purposes and functions are only signs of being used by a will-to-power; the history of a thing is arbitrary and contingent. Nietzsche illustrates the genealogical method with a brief treatment of punishment, in which the custom must be distinguished from the many meanings or purposes which have been applied to it, among them, one that will be of interest to us, torturous punishment as payment of a debt. As with Spinoza, affects for Nietzsche arise from encounters of beings. But complex beings are a system of “drives,” each one of which has its own


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will-to-power. The inner struggle of drives sometimes allows one to subordinate all others, sublimating them to its expression; hence the highest form of will-to-power is self-overcoming, not mere external command of other humans’ physical labor. Although Nietzsche’s essays hop about in history, we can attempt the following narrative, bringing us from the “prehistoric” work of the first band societies to the parlous state of contemporary European society. The first task is rendering the pre-human animal regular and predictable. The next is the taming of masterly predators by state society. The next task is allowing the weak to keep living in the conditions of servitude to which they have been subjected. Finally, the task of the future is to create a space for the healthy few to live affirmatively. We begin with the “morality of custom,” the “pre-historic” labor, undertaken first by pre-state tribal life, of transforming an essentially forgetful animal into human beings capable of promises. The morality of custom is never fully superseded; it continues, presumably, in the training to obedience of children. Such training is hence “pre-historic,” in being presupposed in the positive content of the morality of any society appearing in history. The morality of custom, one might say, is the “anthropological” labor of transforming instinctual animals into conscious humans. Such labor is necessary, because forgetting is an active faculty allowing for the protection of consciousness from unconscious processes of experience and absorption, thus making room for new experiences and for happiness in the present. Hence, in order for something to stick in consciousness, like the fact one has made a promise, it must be “undigested” by active forgetting.17 How does the morality of custom produce “sovereign individuals” who know they have made promises? Through affective training, through a terrible “technique of mnemonics” which teaches that only pain can overcome forgetfulness.18 In explaining the uses of pain to breed memory, Nietzsche pushes the creditor / debtor relation to pre-state days. Here we see that the moral term guilt (Schuld) comes from the political economy term debts (Schulden).19 Punishment was for the most part of history only the venting of anger at an offense; it was not directed at a “guilty” person, but at one who had not paid his debt. But the venting of anger at a hapless debtor is held in check by the notion of equivalence: that pain caused by an offense can be paid back by pain dealt out in punishment. The origin of this equivalence is the contract between creditor and debtor.20 Over time, the community becomes to its members as creditor to debtor. Punishment of law-breakers is then a reminder of what credit the community has extended the citizen in terms of protection and peace.

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A law-breaker is then thrown outside the community so that now hostility can be vented upon him as upon an enemy defeated in war.21 Next in our narrative comes the formation of the state: a master group of warriors falls upon a tribal people without form. The masters make them subordinate, make them organs of a greater whole in an expression of will-to-power in the political register.22 The ruling class of this state now claims the right to make moral valuations; here we see “master morality,” in which the nobles call themselves “good.” This self-naming is part of the overflowing fullness of their life and power: they seize the right to create values from the “pathos of distance” they felt separating themselves from the common herd. Nietzsche stresses that the feeling of superiority is much too intense, much too hot, to have anything to do with the cool calculation of utility.23 In a split of the ruling class, the strong and active masters are opposed by priests. The priests tend to be “unhealthy,” which keeps them from action, forcing them into brooding and emotional explosions, which leads to “intestinal morbidity and neurasthenia.” The priestly remedy for this unhealthy condition (the ascetic ideal) has been terribly dangerous to mankind. But we cannot forget that only the priests make man an interesting animal: only with them does the soul acquire depth.24 The priests foment a “slaves’ revolt in morality.”25 Although reactive to the masters, the slave revolt has its own creativity. Noble valuation is active and selfaffirmative – saying in effect “I am good, therefore (an afterthought) those others are bad” – while slave valuation is reactive and othernegating, as if the weak are saying: “The powerful others are evil, therefore I am good.” Even though priests are creative and subtly powerful, they base themselves on the reactivity of the slaves. Ressentiment is the basic affect of the slave revolt in morality; it is a matter of physiology: the active are those whose happiness is found when strength is manifested in action, while the reactive are the weak who need rest. That is to say, the will-to-power is direct in masterly action, and indirect in slavish ressentiment. As with priestly impotence, however, ressentiment breeds cleverness in the weak, while it is immediately consummated and extinguished in the strong. The nobles do not have to “forgive and forget”: rather they forget so quickly and thoroughly that they have no need to forgive. Thus, the nobles can revere their enemies rather than hate them: they love a good opponent as a reason to manifest their strength.26 The creation of the bad conscience is the same creative force of meaning-making, but on the small scale of the internal soul. The will-topower vents itself not on an external population, but on the internalized ancient animal instincts of man now trapped in society. The active bad


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conscience, the joy of making one’s own self suffer, is the womb of all ideal and imaginative phenomena.27 The final episode in our narrative is the advent and spread of the “ascetic ideal.” After a long preamble, Nietzsche tackles the main problem of the meaning of the ascetic ideal once he has introduced the ascetic priest.28 What is the valuation of earthly, sensual, power-striving life by the ascetic priests? They degrade it as only a bridge to another existence, as a wrong path, or a mistake. But “life itself must have an interest in preserving such a self-contradictory type” as the life-hating form of life that is the ascetic priest.29 An ascetic life is self-contradictory: it is a life in which ressentiment rules, in which will-to-power pushes for a mastery over life, rather than over something.30 In the ascetic ideal, paradoxically, power seeks to block the biological, physiological sources of power; power targets the manifestation of physiological power in growth, beauty, joy, and finds satisfaction in failure, decay, and pain. The paradox is that ascetic power grows as the condition, life, decreases; in other words, you have to be alive in order to hate life. The ascetic ideal “springs from the protective and healing instincts of a degenerating life.” It doesn’t ultimately aim at death, but at the preservation of a form of life: the sickly human. The ascetic priest puts himself at the head of the flock of sick humans and lets them maintain their hold on earthly life by making their suffering meaningful as preparation for rewards in the after-life.31 As a sick physician to sick people, the ascetic priest has an historic mission as the defender of the herd. Because of his cleverness he is in fact a deadlier predator than the merely physically strong warriors. Now in protecting the herd, he must manage the herd’s ressentiment; he can’t let them envy the healthy, for they must despise, delicately, all direct expressions of strength such as those displayed by the healthy. To prevent a dangerous explosion of ressentiment that would disintegrate the herd, the ascetic priest changes the direction of ressentiment. All sick suffering people seek someone to blame for their suffering, because such blaming, as a powerful emotion, anesthetizes pain; this desire for anesthetizing is the “physiological causation of ressentiment.” The amazing trick of the ascetic priest is to convince the sick herd that they themselves are the cause of their suffering, that they are the ones to blame. Guilt and sin are thus attempts to make the sick harmless, to turn their ressentiment back on themselves; for the less ill among them, this is “for the purpose of selfdiscipline, self- surveillance, and self-overcoming.” Now this can’t be a real physiological cure, but it did at least organize the sick (in “churches”) and keep them separate from the healthy for a long time.32

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The ascetic priest treats only symptoms (pain) rather than causes (weakness, sickness). He uses emotions to combat the depression, fatigue, and melancholy of the sick. He’s a psychologist trying to cure a physiological problem, which might be caused by mixing races or social classes, by unsound emigration, by bad diet, by disease. The ascetic priest must fight lethargy, and his first method is to reduce awareness of life to its lowest point: no more desire, no emotions. This hypnotizes man, like hibernation; this can result in conquering depression, and often in spiritual visions or hallucinations, and even in “salvation” as “state of total hypnosis and silence.”33 More common than the use of “hypnosis” in fighting depression are two other methods. The first is the use of repetitive work, “mechanical activity,” which distracts sufferers from their pain. Giving meaning to the work they have to do anyway succeeds with slaves, whose discontent was not invented by priests, even though priests take them in hand, organize them, and offer them “cures.” Another method is a small dose of pleasure, frequently the pleasure of giving pleasure to others by helping them; this is an arousal, in small doses, of life-affirming will-to-power by allowing the helper to feel superior to the helped.34 The ascetic ideal is thus used to produce an excess of feeling as a means of freeing man from depression. Now this just makes the sick even sicker, but the ascetic priest is not a physiologically adept physician; he’s just trying to keep humanity from a mass suicide. The main tool of the ascetic priest is the feeling of guilt; in Essay 2 Nietzsche showed how bad conscience is cruelty turned on the self when it’s impossible to release it outward because of social life; now we realize that’s only the raw material for the ascetic priest as artist, who turned animal bad conscience into guilt over sin. The ascetic priest taught man that he was to blame for his own suffering because he was a guilty sinner; his suffering was punishment for his sin. In this way depression is overcome and life becomes interesting again: the guilty sufferers cried out for more ways to suffer.35 The cost of the ascetic priest’s prescription of the ascetic ideal as antidote to depression has been very high. It has tamed the healthy person, while it has made the sick even sicker. Plus, the sickness of guilt is virulent; it spreads widely and quickly. It provokes “shattered nervous systems,” epidemics of “epilepsy” like St Vitus’s Dance; depressive towns; witch hunts; sleep walking; death worship. It has been a disaster for the health of Europeans.36 Despite all this, the ascetic ideal has served a great purpose: it has preserved man from suicidal nihilism by giving a meaning to his suffering. Suffering is not a problem; meaningless suffering is the problem.


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The ascetic priest and the ascetic ideal mean that man would rather will nothingness – the afterlife is nothing compared to this world – than not will.37 At the end of the journey of European culture we face the greatest challenge. Insofar as the mark of the higher nature today is the struggle of noble and slave systems of morality in an internal, spiritual struggle,38 can such struggle produce a new type of man, one capable of affirming life?39

Bergson Sympathy, joy, and love are the affects we will trace through Bergson’s four major works. In Time and Free Will (1889),40 sympathetic intuition requires us to free ourselves from intelligence and its spatializing habits of thought (which are, to be fair, necessary for us to deal pragmatically with matter, but which distort our reports of inner life). Suitably awoken, intuition allows us to truly access our inner life, which is marked by “duration” (temporal interpenetration) and “qualitative multiplicity” (processual heterogeneity without juxtaposition of mental states). In Matter and Memory (1896),41 we overcome the dualism of inner duration and exterior space when we learn to intuit sympathetically the whole of the universe as consisting of multiple durations of different rhythm. In Creative Evolution (1907),42 joy marks our intuitive touch with life’s creativity, as opposed to the mere pleasure felt at the intelligent satisfaction of organic needs. Finally, in The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932),43 love is the “creative emotion” at the root of open morality and dynamic religion, a universal love that pours through mystics due to their contact with life’s creativity. Mystic love, symbolized in the actions of moral heroes, allows us to hope that by imitating them we can, perhaps, leap from the obligations and duty imposed on us by closed society and static religion, dedicated as they are to the organic needs of necessarily social creatures such as humans. Time and Free Will The fundamental distinction of this work is between consciousness, whose immediacy is given to us as duration or qualitative multiplicity, and external space or quantitative multiplicity. Qualitative multiplicity is a process with heterogeneity of quality but no juxtaposition or quantitative comparison of objects, while quantitative multiplicity consists of the numerical distinction of juxtaposed objects. Inner life and exterior space are accessed by mental attitudes with distinctive affective stances:

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sympathetic intuition and reflective consciousness. Sympathetic intuition allows an awareness of the temporal change of quality of interrelated and inter-permeating mental states, as in Bergson’s metaphor of listening to a melody. Reflective consciousness, on the other hand, transfers onto inner life a mode of thought which is pragmatically justified when it is aimed at its proper object, the world of external objects distributed in space, but which drastically misses the essence of inner life, duration. Immediate consciousness of duration can however be subject to an “overwhelming” (écrasement) by naming and analysis, as is shown most clearly, Bergson says, with “feeling” (sentiment): “A violent love or deep passion takes possession of our soul. Here we feel a thousand different elements which dissolve into and permeate one another [. . .]. We distort them as soon as we distinguish a numerical multiplicity in their confused mass.”44 Although in the depths of our inner life we have intermingled ideas, nonetheless some ideas float separated from one another on the surface, like “dead leaves on a pond.”45 These dead ideas are those capable of being expressed in language; externalized one from the other, they can be connected after the fact in the mistaken psychological doctrine of associationism. In this case of a linguistic crushing of duration, “we need not be surprised if only those ideas which least belong to us can be adequately expressed in words.”46 Matter and Memory Properly applied, sympathetic intuition allows us to say that all things are durational, not just human consciousness. In Matter and Memory intuition is no longer only the way we delve into our inner life; it is the way we delve into the “life” of anything. Hence Bergson can now say that all things, not just the human mind, are qualitative multiplicities: all things are unrolling, qualitatively differing, processes. Sympathetic intuition occurs when we become aware of how the rhythm of our consciousness – the frequency of our duration – meshes with that of another process so that we can experience it as, like us, a process, not as a thing. Such intuition entails a convergence of quality and quantity; whether we perceive one or the other is just a matter of the meshing of rhythms of duration. Sometimes we can even feel the shift from quality to quantity – and feeling that shift means we can understand the way perceived quality is just the contraction of fast frequencies. That is to say, quality is based in quantity, but a quantity that is in itself durational: “In cases where the rhythm of the movement is slow enough to tally with the habits of our consciousness [. . .]


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do we not feel the quality perceived analyzes itself into repeated and successive vibrations, bound together by an inner continuity?”47 We are kept from this realization by our intelligence, that is, our biologically justified habits of thought aimed at manipulation of matter. To remedy this, we have to realize two things. First, that we only perceive what is of survival interest to us, but secondly, that reality is wider than what we perceive. Hence, we can learn to grasp our sensation “as if this sensation itself were pregnant with details suspected yet unperceived.”48 The ability to “suspect” what lies beyond utilitarian reification is sympathetic intuition; through it, we realize that “there is no one rhythm of duration; it is possible to imagine many different rhythms which, slower or faster, measure the degree of tension or relaxation of different kinds of consciousness and thereby fix their respective places in the scale of being.”49 This is an amazing breakthrough for Bergson; he decenters the humanism of Time and Free Will at one stroke. Intuition is now sympathy with multiple durations such that we put ourselves at the heart of the material universe and feel its movements the way we feel our own. This allows a “vision of matter, fatiguing perhaps for your imagination, but pure, freed from all that the exigencies of life compel you to add to it in external perception.”50 That is Bergson’s challenge to us in Matter and Memory: can we call upon our sympathetic intuition to overcome the spatial and utilitarian tendencies of our mind? Can we feel ourselves part of a universe of multi-rhythmic durations? Creative Evolution In Creative Evolution, Bergson distinguishes instinct, intelligence, and intuition. Instinct is that by which non-human lifeforms meet their organic needs, and so is in touch with life’s creativity, even when, as in plants, consciousness is slumbering. Intelligence, by which humans meet their organic and societal needs, is oriented to control of matter. Intuition is “instinct that has become disinterested, self-conscious, capable of reflecting on its object and enlarging it indefinitely”; it is the human way of contacting life’s creativity.51 The “true evolutionism” we are tasked with finding in Creative Evolution takes as its object life as a whole confronting matter. Matter is determined, but there must have been a slight indeterminism into which life could insert itself. Life tends to consciousness and freedom, but only in and through matter. Bergson’s is however an odd sort of vitalism, as élan

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vital – the impetus life gives to matter, setting it on its evolutionary divergences – is not a principle, but only an image: “In reality, life is of the psychological order, and it is of the essence of the psychical to enfold a confused plurality of interpenetrating terms.” It is only in space that we have exteriority such that divergent lines of evolution appear as numerically separate. Mind and life are interpenetration or duration; when rigidly opposed, unity and multiplicity are categories of the understanding which falsify reality, though “both, united, may give a fair imitation of the mutual interpenetration and continuity” that is “my inner life [. . .] and life in general.” It is only in contact with matter that life appears as élan vital or impetus; in itself, life is “an immensity of potentiality” that only dissociates in contact with matter.52 Echoing the fourth chapter of Matter and Memory, Bergson concludes Creative Evolution by claiming modern physics is tending to his view of reality; if philosophers can take up the relay, we “will see the material world melt back into a simple flux, a continuity of flowing, a becoming.”53 The Two Sources of Morality and Religion The basic distinction in The Two Sources is between closed and open society, and their accompaniments, static and dynamic religion. Each pair has a characteristic affect: obligation and love, respectively. Each also lines up with survival and creation, respectively, and thus, ultimately, with matter (quantitative multiplicity, allowing a distinction of “us and them”) and life (qualitative multiplicity, continuity and heterogeneity of love ever opening outward without ever reaching a border of “us and them”). The distinction of closed and open society is that of tendencies whose essence can be distinguished even though in any one concrete society they will exist in a mixed state. Thus, despite Bergson’s use of “primitive” to characterize it, the closed society is a tendency whose effects are felt today, rather than being a point in our past from which we have moved on. Those effects are hidden only for those credulous enough to believe the West’s hypocritical self-congratulations on the universality of its moralistic discourse, a universality that crumbles at the merest hint of the war drums. One of Bergson’s fundamental convictions is that the tendency of closed society to favor individuals in your group cannot be overcome by expanding the circle of identification and altruism; this would be to conceive open morality as a simple quantitative modification of the closed. But open and closed differ in kind, not degree. The closed tendency can only be overcome by a leap into the qualitatively different emotion of universal love.


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Such leaps happen with privileged souls, mystics and heroes. Their universal love is not simple group feeling pushed outward; rather, it is the content of mystic experience in its immediacy. For Bergson, saints and moral heroes are those capable of getting close enough to life to feel such love. Such heroes are not satisfied with mere contemplation of a universe of love; rather, they are great actors: “the necessity to spread around them what they have received affects them like an onslaught of love. A love which each of them stamps with his own personality. A love which is in each of them an entirely new emotion, capable of transposing human life into another tone.”54 Let us turn to his “Life and Consciousness” lecture of 1911 for a clear statement of this ability of the moral hero to transform others: “it is the moral man who is a creator in the highest degree – the man whose action, itself intense, is also capable of intensifying the action of other men.” Moral men reveal “metaphysical truth,” in being close to life. Here again sympathy is the key: “It is in studying these great lives, in striving to experience sympathetically what they experience, that we may penetrate by an act of intuition to the life principle itself.”55 The move from closed to open morality is thus not an expansion, but a leap, and it is fittingly marked by a qualitatively different affective state. Open morality is not marked by pleasure, but by joy: “Those who regularly practice the morality of the city know this feeling of well-being . . . But the soul that is opening, and before whose eyes material objects vanish, is lost in sheer joy. Pleasure and well-being are something, joy is more. For it is not contained in these, whereas they are virtually contained in joy. They mean, indeed, a halt or marking time, while joy is a step forward.”56 The Two Sources concludes: were we convinced of salvation after death, “pleasure would be eclipsed by joy. Joy indeed would be that simplicity of life diffused throughout the world by an ever-spreading mystic intuition.”57

Notes 1. Baruch Spinoza, Complete Works. Trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002): E5P4. References to the Ethics are in the following style, using this entry as an example: “E” for Ethics, “5” for Part 5, “P4” for Proposition 4. In other entries, “s” denotes “Scholium”. 2. E3Preface. 3. E3P11s. 4. E3P7. 5. E3P13s. 6. E4P18s. 7. E5P10s.

Affect and Life in Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Bergson 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.

15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43.


E5P14–15. E5P25. E5P32. E5P36. E5P42. E5P42s. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality. Trans. Carol Diethe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997 [1887]). GM Preface.6 (8). References to the Genealogy are by Part (Preface or Essay), paragraph, and in parentheses, the page number in the Cambridge edition. So, in this example, Preface, paragraph 6, page 8. GM 2.12 (52); italics in original. GM 3.7 (76). GM 2.1 (35–36). GM 2.3 (38); italics in original. GM 2.4 (39). GM 2.5 (40). GM 2.9 (47). GM 2.17 (58–59). GM 1.2 (11). GM 1.6 (16). GM 1.7 (18); italics in original. GM 1.10 (22). GM 2.18 (59–60). GM 3.11 (84). GM 3.11 (86). GM 3.11 (86). GM 3.13 (88). GM 3.15–16 (92–95). GM 3.17 (98). GM 3.18 (100). GM 3.19–20 (101–105). GM 3.21 (106–107). GM 3.28 (120). GM 1.16 (32). GM 2.24–25 (65–67). Henri Bergson, Time and Free Will. Trans. FL Pogson (New York: Dover, 2001 [1889].) Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory. Trans. NM Paul and WS Palmer (New York: Zone Books, 1988 [1896]). Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution. Trans. Arthur Mitchell (New York: Dover, 1998 [1907]). Henri Bergson, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. Trans. R. Ashley Audra, Cloudsley Brereton, and W. Horsfall Carter (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977 [1935]).

82 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55.

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TFW 132. TFW 135. TFW 136. MM 203. MM 204. MM 207. MM 208. CE 176. CE 257–258. CE 356. TSMR 99. Henri Bergson, Mind-Energy. Trans. H Wildon Carr (New York: Henry Holt, 1920 [1919]): 19. 56. TSMR 58–59. 57. TSMR 317.

chapter 4

Feelings under the Microscope: New Critical Affect Helen Thaventhiran

Absolute tripe. Frightfully hackneyed in conception. ‘Pretty’ suits if best. On a par with the adjective ‘nice’ applied as a standard of character. It’s a sham. Sentimentality recollected in very sentimental tranquillity. If the girl’s life indeed lay dead she would not write like that. Why, she’s thoroughly enjoying herself – more than I am. Not one tear in the whole piece. It’s PSEUDO, it PRETENDS, its values are worthless. False coin. Low, mimic, stuff. [Protocol 4.1 from I.A. Richards, Practical Criticism (1929)1]

‘Sentimental Administration’ ‘Here has the postman been,’ Virginia Woolf writes in her diary for September 1924, ‘making me choke a little, born sentimentalist that I am, by hoping so honestly & sincerely that Mr. Woolf would address the ILP at Lewes on the League of Nations’.2 Sentimentalists in the 1920s were not born but made, or so I.A. Richards concluded from the experiments in appropriate responsiveness (to poems, not postmen) that he published at the end of that decade as Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgment (1929). Nearly all of the poems Richards presented to his student readers attracted some censure as ‘sentimental’. The word and its derivatives (not to mention its misspellings) are at the heart of the book’s mêlée about how to read. While the poems may have a high refractive index, sorting their readers into a prism of distinct types, ‘sentimentality’ remains a shared word or expletive in an otherwise shattered interpretive community. It is perhaps the ultimate put-down for a generation of dissociated sensibility. ‘Nowadays,’ Richards reflects, ‘the accusation of sentimentality is more annoying than any slur cast 83


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upon our capacity as thinkers, for our moral capital is invested in our feelings rather than in our thoughts.’3 Richards’s experiments with the aesthetic vocabularies of a generation who invested ‘in our feelings rather than in our thoughts’ began the year before Woolf’s ‘choke’. He had recently published The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism (1923), co-authored with C.K. Ogden. This book contained a supplementary essay, ‘The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Languages’, by the anthropologist, Bronisław Malinowski, which draws on work with the Trobriands of the Western Pacific to redefine aspects of what it terms ‘phatic communion’; the social aspects of speech, or, in more literary-critical idiom, ‘tone’.4 Malinowski’s work helped to establish as a cornerstone of ethnographic research the practice of ‘participant observation’, a predominantly qualitative method of studying communities by fostering close familiarity with their documents and practices over an extended period. Later that year, charged with adjudicating a Cambridge college essay prize, Richards decided to conduct some ‘participant observation’ fieldwork of his own with a local tribe of undergraduate readers. He offered them a set of five anonymized poems, ‘one worthless’, and observed their responses: this was the prototype for the protocols used for Practical Criticism. Richards’s first stage of observation was as invigilator for this critical test, a position from which he wrote a letter of field-notes, which stages with some self-satirizing hyperbole an experience of grave emotional strain for both his subjects and himself: Beneath at the table are the victims. Beginning to show signs of desperation. Some of them horribly haggard. Some writing like nuisances, what a lot of rot. I shall have to read through this. Oh Alack! Woe’s me. I now am depressed. [. . .] Here I’m in a horrible difficulty. The whole upshot of my book [Principles of Literary Criticism (1924)] is to put the arts, as the supreme mode of communication in the forefront of all values. And yet what is it? Why do I despise literary people, men of letters? It is the false, professional air which destroys it all, I suspect.5

Like Malinowski, whose approach has been described as being in parallel with colonial policies and literary strategies of ‘sentimental administration’, Richards cultivates a stance both of detachment and sympathy.6 He has an outburst of feeling (albeit some of it sham) about the falsity of administering literary experience as a professional, affectless process, even as he initiates what was to become the major institutional ‘method’ for teaching and examining English literature: close reading.

Feelings under the Microscope: New Critical Affect


Emerging from a series of unhappy experiments such as this, Practical Criticism becomes a study in anti-sentimental administration: in how to respond to poems, and respond to the responses to poems, without undue or uncontrolled emotion. The book concludes with the resolution that, ‘[a]s the finer parts of our emotional tradition relax in the expansion and dissolution of our communities [. . .] we shall increasingly need every strengthening discipline that can be devised.’7 In order to be able to cope with all that the postman brings in the modern republic of letters – the invitation to Lord Sackville’s at Knole, and to the gathering of autodidact internationalists in town – let alone with poems presented as the data of a new discipline, readers must be fortified. Defence is required particularly against the ten errors, forms of ‘bewilderment’, or disorders of affect, that Richards discovers to be prevalent in the practices of his contemporaries: ‘Sentimentality’ and its Charybdis, ‘Inhibition’; ‘Stock Reponses’ (‘views and emotions already prepared in the reader’s mind’); and ‘mnemonic irrelevances’ (‘the interference of emotional reverberations from a past which may have nothing to do with the poem’).8 Bewilderment becomes sufficiently categorical within the book to be tallied: in the case of Poem 5, a mild piece by Edna St Vincent Millay, ‘[o]f 62 who returned protocols, 17 declare themselves bewildered’.9 Bewilderment is the state of the contemporary reading mind Richards diagnoses in an essay for Eliot’s Criterion, ‘A Background for Contemporary Poetry’ (July 1925), published just before the public lectures in ‘Practical Criticism’ (October–November 1925), which create the documentation for Poems 1–8 of Richards’s subsequent book.10 Here he sets out his schema for modernity’s decline of emotional competency, arguing that bewilderment has taken over from bewitchment: after its 10,000 year reign, ‘the Magical View’ of existence, within which the universe (and poetry) could be ‘emotionally handled’ with ‘ease and adequacy’. Richards’s essay also coins a key term around which my chapter will circulate its readings of new-critical affect: ‘pseudo-statement’. Pseudo-statement is much more than its false gloss in one of the major documents of new-critical history, Wimsatt’s and Beardsley’s ‘The Affective Fallacy’ (1949): ‘The term “pseudo-statement” was for Mr. Richards a patronizing term by which he indicated the attractive nullity of poems.’11 ‘Pseudo-statement’ is to some degree a way of talking about logical nullity, a language with no verifiable entailments, but it does more than damn poems with faint praise. The term formalizes Richards’s call to readers to sensitize themselves to the new arrangements of thought and feeling of modernity. Pseudo-statements are a type of language we accept because of words’ ‘effects upon our feelings and attitudes. Logic only comes


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in, if at all, in subordination, as a servant to our emotional response.’12 Such language is, Richards fears, anarchic in a growing culture of positivism, where ‘the increased prestige of science’ encourages readers towards ‘attaching emotional belief only to intellectually certified ideas’.13 Such tendencies, he argues, need combating by vocabularies and practices of reading that continue to give sense and significance to ‘uncertifiable’ language. To read poetry through the optic of pseudo-statement is thus to redeem its dream of communication from the charge of failure or mere attractive nullity. Richards’s Criterion essay reminds us of how close reading, in its newcritical forms, emerges from ways of thinking about how to read poetry, and how to feel about that reading, in a climate dominated by propositional logic. The term ‘pseudo-statement’ carries with it a history of reading on the cusp of the philosophical turn to linguistic positivism, which threatens the feelingtone of non-verifiable language. The new critical languages of modernism were written within and against this fear. Critics worried that logic had its machines, systems, symbols; feelings did not, only ‘a few clumsy descriptive names for emotions, some scores of aesthetic adjectives’.14 Literary criticism, a discipline of reading for feeling, therefore needs its own terms, precise yet not propositional. ‘Two hundred years ago,’ Eliot declared in 1929, ‘terms could be used more freely and carelessly without definition. Now there is an urgent need for experiment in criticism of a new kind, which will consist largely in a logical and dialectical study of terms used.’15 Those in the vanguard of coining and studying such terms often wrote on the borderlands of philosophy, literature and its criticism. Philosopher, novelist and critic, May Sinclair, for example, is held responsible for one of the most tenacious imports from philosophy into modernist critical vocabulary, ‘stream of consciousness’, which she extracts from William James to capture the modulations of Dorothy Richardson’s fictive prose.16 In her philosophical works, Sinclair also thinks about qualities of the modern self she labels under the compound, ‘feeling tone’ – a phrase, more usually hyphenated, popular from the late nineteenth-century to the 1920s, when there was an apparent vogue for feeling- compounds, as English and American writers sought to naturalize the vocabularies of German psychology and psychoanalysis. ‘Contemplation, by itself’, Sinclair worries, in The New Idealism (1922), ‘is very thin’: there are willing, hoping and fearing, desiring and undesiring, trusting and distrusting, loving and hating. There are repugnance and disgust. These are all indubitable acts or states of the self, but they are not knowings. Their content, their comparative thickness, is conferred on them solely by their

Feelings under the Microscope: New Critical Affect


grip on the world said to be external to consciousness. They all have their feeling tone, if they are not all pure feelings.17

This meditation on the ‘thickness’ of feeling tones may also owe a sly debt to Eliot’s review of Sinclair’s earlier book, A Defence of Idealism (1917), in which he found this aspect of her vocabulary flimsy: ‘She objects to both Bradley’s and Russell’s logic as “thin,” without adducing any very satisfactory reasons why a logic ought to be “thick”’, Eliot scolds.18 Sinclair offers no direct riposte but does hold to her terms and seeks to clarify her sense of the feeling-qualities of different types of cognition and the emotive aspects of varied language types. Despite the mild disdain of his review, Eliot held to a similar preoccupation throughout his philosophical training during what he felt to be ‘a time of philosophies which lend themselves, or at least offer themselves, with great facility to emotional consequences’.19 This was a reflection he offered in a paper to the Philosophical Society of Harvard in 1913, as he embarked on his ‘painfully dark work’ about Idealism, Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F.H. Bradley, before turning away from the awkwardly associated sensibilities of philosophy for those of poetry and criticism.20 This turn declared his sense that philosophical vocabularies were not ultimately ‘very satisfactory’ for the difficult textures of experience. Yet Eliot nonetheless continued to employ them, following Sinclair’s strategy of importing a philosophical term that became key to modernist affective vocabularies: a year after Sinclair made ‘stream of consciousness’ newly minted for criticism, Eliot, in the essay, ‘Hamlet and His Problems’ (1919), condensed from Schopenhauer’s Idealist thought the term ‘objective correlative’, by which he hoped to crystallize his sense of ‘[t]he only way of expressing emotion in the form of art’.21 The particular term carving out ‘a category of knowledge outside the domain of symbolic logic’22 that I’m concerned with here, Richards’s ‘pseudo-statement’, joins this company not as import but as coinage. The term is indebted to Eliot in feeling-tone, if not in direct semantic lineage. In the essay in which Richards coins the term, he bursts – against the grain of his well-managed prose style and schematic account of the changing world-picture – into an emotive litany of the contemporary woes against which poetry must organize us if attitudes are not to be ‘driven back upon their biological justification’: ‘[a] sense of desolation, of uncertainty, of futility, of the baselessness of aspirations, of the vanity of endeavour, and a thirst for a life-giving water which suddenly seems to have failed’.23 To this, Richards adds a footnote, which gives the debt for this thinking to Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), which he believes to perform two services for


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this generation: first, in the poem, Eliot ‘has given a perfect emotive description of a state of mind which is probably inevitable for a while to all those who most matter’, and secondly, he has effected ‘a complete severance between his poetry and all beliefs’.24 So, pseudo-statement is born in the margins of Eliot’s verse. Although Eliot declared of Richards’s essay that it is ‘new and is important and is extremely interesting’, he disagreed, of course. He spots where Richards, with his talk of ‘severance’ where degrees of doubt, assent and conviction should be considered, has poured a gallon of water over a tea-cup.25 Eliot reminds Richards that ‘doubt and uncertainty are merely a variety of belief’,26 and his gesture of moderated restraint helps to bring back irony to Richards’s critical methods at a moment when they become uncharacteristically emotive.

‘Cornucopia and the Vortex’ Hart Crane was struggling, in 1925, to write; he read Richards’s ‘admirable essay’ about the pseudo-statement character of contemporary poetry and claimed an exhilarating release of his capacities to think and make poems. From this crucible came the enigmatic elegy, ‘At Melville’s Tomb’, which opens with these quatrains: Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath An embassy. Their numbers as he watched, Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured. And wrecks passed without sound of bells, The calyx of death’s bounty giving back A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph, The portent wound in corridors of shells.27

The poem was published in Poetry (1926) alongside some correspondence between Crane and the editor, Harriet Monroe. Crane’s letter to Monroe has become a key document for his critics and, more broadly, for thinking about, in one of its own phrases, the ‘cornucopia and the vortex’ of modernist poetics. What it also does, if its fleeting reference to Ricardian pseudostatement is taken seriously, is to offer a powerful shadow play of close reading outside the classroom, which demonstrates often-overlooked continuities between the ways affect was ‘made new’ in the experiments of the little magazines and in the ‘professional’ frames of the new literary studies. In her response to the poem and to Crane’s unfolding of his poetics, Monroe appears like one of the worst of Richards’s protocolists, suffering

Feelings under the Microscope: New Critical Affect


particularly from sentimentality’s common shadow, ‘Inhibition’. ‘Take me for a hard-boiled unimaginative unpoetic reader’, she challenges Crane, ‘and tell me how dice can bequeath an embassy (or anything else); and how a calyx (of death’s bounty or anything else) can give back a scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph; and how, if it does, such a portent can be wound in corridors (of shells or anything else)’.28 Here she resembles a common type in Practical Criticism, for whom protocolist 12.4 can serve as example: 12.4. The rest of the poem seems to be rubbish because: (a) A cloud cannot have ‘desires’. (b) A mantel cannot have ‘imaginations’. (c) ‘Imaginations’ cannot ‘trail’ [. . .].29

Hard-boiled Monroe finds Crane a tortured Hamlet, unable to discover his objective correlative: ‘I find you pushing logic to the limit in a painfully intellectual search for emotion, for poetic motive. Your poem reeks with brains – it is thought out, worked out, sweated out.’30 Against Monroe’s insistently triple ‘out’, Crane repeatedly turns his first reader back in to her own physiological circuits of sound, to the affective patterning of her experience of her body: You ask me how compass, quadrant and sextant ‘contrive’ tides. I ask you how Eliot can possibly believe that ‘Every street lamp that I pass beats like a fatalistic drum!’ The answer, again, is to hear the ‘logic’ of the metaphor through the inner physiology of emotional response: ‘the relation between a drum and a street lamp – via the unmentioned throbbing of the heart and nerves in a distraught man which tacitly creates the reason and “logic” of the Eliot metaphor’.31

Monroe remains unpersuaded; perhaps the insufficiently evacuated ego of Crane’s critical phenomenology (‘his own veins’, ‘a distraught man’) fails to leave room for the full experience of these affects. Crane does not force the issue; he is prepared to cede this particular poem to Monroe’s local criticisms: ‘I may well have failed to supply the necessary emotional connectives to the content featured’, he admits with his own echo of Eliot.32 He will not, however, agree with Monroe’s approach to reading poetry in general; he wishes instead to bend her ear to the potential of Ricardian pseudo-statement. To this end, he first plays the game of ‘explaining’ the poem’s disputed metaphors in neatly compelling paraphrases, which point to their illegibilities, muteness, tragedy, irony. Dice bequeath an embassy, in the first place, by being ground (in this connection only, of course) in little cubes from the bones of drowned


helen thaventhiran men by the action of the sea, and are finally thrown up on the sand, having ‘numbers’ but no identification. These being the bones of dead men who never completed their voyage, it seems legitimate to refer to them as the only surviving evidence of certain messages undelivered, mute evidence of certain things, experiences that the dead mariners might have had to deliver.33

But such phrases still lie in the realm of explanatory logic; they are statements about a certain syntax of thought with its own rules of connection, conviction, even verification. And so, according to the principle of pseudo-statement, Crane then goes beyond his initial phrases to demonstrate to Monroe how the meanings of poems must be felt to perform differently to ordinary language, whether happily or unhappily at any one moment. This reaching beyond explanation happens, for example, when Crane, with quiet mimesis, encloses in lunulae another challenge to Monroe to hear the poem’s vague order of knowledge-claim by hearing herself – ‘as much definite knowledge might come from all this as anyone might gain from the roar of his own veins, which is easily heard (haven’t you ever done it?) by holding a shell close to one’s ear’.34 The sounds of a shell at the ear is how pseudo-statement feels; both artefactual and absolutely ‘real’, distant, distorted, and proximate. This complex, parttelepathic conversation – tacitly between Richards and Eliot; Crane and Richards; spectrally between Crane’s Melville and Eliot’s drowned Phoenician; openly between Crane and Monroe – thus gives vitality, if not complete assent, to ‘pseudo-statement’, as a way of performing the slanted connections of thought and emotion in both the criticism and the poetry of modernism. The correspondence between Crane and Monroe also dramatizes the question of whether critical language can (and should) be a form of pseudo-statement. Richards’s essay directs attention towards this possibility by quoting John Middleton Murry’s response to Hardy’s tragic vision: ‘[Hardy’s] reaction to an episode has behind it and within it a reaction to the universe.’35 Richards approves of this critical phrase but only in feeling, not thought: ‘This is not as I should put it were I making a statement but read as a pseudo-statement, emotively, it is excellent; it makes us remember how we felt.’ But just at this moment where the languages of literature and its explanation seem to come together as modes of feeling-full knowledge, Richards plays an Eliotic confidence trick on us. The sentence after granting emotional and intellectual assent to Middleton Murry’s sentence, Richards retracts it: ‘Actually, it describes just what Hardy, at his best, does not do.’ Such pronouncements – that this is what such an author does not, indeed could not do – are the staple of Eliot’s critical prose and

Feelings under the Microscope: New Critical Affect


produce a grammar of perpetual small surprises. Richards’s uncharacteristic use of this critical grammar, in the immediate vicinity of the unfolding of what ‘pseudo-statement’ might allow contemporary reading practices, raises an acute question of trust and authority within interpretive communities. The reader has been warned that Middleton Murry’s comment is not verifiable, as statement, but even its power of emotional recall is then voided, rendered ‘pseudo’. Commenting on Melville’s 1857 novel, The Confidence Man, Sianne Ngai writes that its tricky tone, its complex exploration of sham, semblance and pseudo-ness might owe to ‘the new emotional economy produced by the general migration of “trust” from personal relationships to abstract systems – a key theme in the twentieth-century sociology of modernity.’36 Richards’s critical experiments take place at a significant migratory moment in the history of criticism: from the trusting communities of belles-lettres to the disciplined, institutionalized forms of English literature as university and school subject, with its aspirations to ‘abstract’ systems of knowledge, value, and examination. With this ‘migration of “trust”’ in mind, the next part of this chapter draws on Ngai’s work, both Ugly Feelings (2005) and Our Aesthetic Categories (2012), alongside Richards’s Practical Criticism, to re-consider the figure and the vocabulary of the critic as cultural confidence man, and to challenge the flattening of new-critical ‘tone’ in recent affect theory.

‘False Coin: Low, Mimic Stuff’ Formalist criticism has a problem with ‘tone’, Ngai, argues. Tone, if we construe it as general, abstract, ‘an artfully created “semblance” of feeling, actually seems unpropitious for a purely formalist literary criticism’, concerned with detail, particularity, empiricism.37 Tone’s closer partner is ideology, which shares its mode of imaginary relationships to a set of real conditions, ‘virtual, diffused, but also immanent’. It’s no surprise, then, that the founding figure for Anglo-American practices of critical ‘formalism’ in the twentieth century, Richards, offers a definition of ‘Tone’ (‘the poet’s attitude to his listeners’) which is, as Ngai notes, very limiting.38 But so too is Ngai’s reading of Ricardian tone. Ngai hears only one version of the Ricardian definition, with its emphasis on stance, and this permits her to characterize new-critical tone as merely ‘dramatic’, as populated by speakers.39 It is certainly the case that scenarios of address matter, variously but consistently, to the core range of ‘new critics’, who blend in complex ways the legacies of a nineteenth century as characterological vocabulary


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for aesthetic judgment, with a modernist dramatism.40 Practical Criticism, with its documentary method, is as much a pastiche and mosaic of voices doing things differently as The Waste Land. But the virtual, diffused and immanent play of feeling, false feeling, interest, and indifference of the protocols curated in Practical Criticism surely makes space for, rather than cancelling, the feeling-full sense of ‘tone’ for which Ngai argues. In order to understand that still vexed question of how practices of reading with feeling operate in and beyond formalism, it’s worth asking why this aspect of the literary-critical history of tone might go awry in the otherwise acute pages of Ugly Feelings: Ngai surely offers a powerful matrix for reading the tonal workings of Richards’s Practical Criticism? Her ‘tone’ resonates against his ‘pseudo-statement’, both signaling aspects of false, counterfeit, sham feeling in aesthetic encounters, and Practical Criticism stands, in an alternative sense, ‘at Melville’s tomb’, offering a challenging vision of the new critic as cultural confidence man. The ten distinct types of bewilderment afflicting his readers that Richards lists early in Practical Criticism might all be summarized under the heading of Confidence (over- or under-). Some protocolists agonize about what to say in these ‘public and hurried’41 conditions of reading, without usual social cues of tone and tact. Many others suffer from overconfidence, a trait that is always, in Richards’s view, symptomatic. Where there is an appearance of particularly confident agreement – as with the collective virulence greeting the rhymes of Poem 2 (Rossetti’s ‘Spring Quiet’) – Richards discovers collective self-deceptions; a general propensity of immature readers to be unduly severe with aspects of style with which they have only recently ceased experimenting. (All young readers, for Richards, are reformed rhymers and versifiers.) Richards repeatedly registers this correlation between over-confidence and worthless reading, often mediated by the book’s dominant concept of proximity. For example, of the responses to Poem 8, he remarks: ‘It is significant with this poem, that the further away any reading seems to be from the actual imaginative realization of its content the more confidently it is dismissed.’42 Richards’s disdain for how the ‘unfortunate readers bray, snort, and bleat, so overmastering is their contempt’, is, in turn, ‘so overmastering’ that he appears to allow himself no anxious sense of how such critical judgments exert a self-ironizing vortex.43 Confidence, if we define it as ‘a feeling that we know’, or a feeling-tone of certainty about securing assent (and profit), is the currency of Practical Criticism. But it’s a currency always close to ‘false coin’. Students should know, Richards writes, that being asked for an opinion on a poem in these

Feelings under the Microscope: New Critical Affect


inhospitable conditions of pedagogy, removed from the cues of ‘phatic communion’, of social tone, is a challenge likely only to end in laughter or desolation. In such circumstances, readers are best advised to indulge in the pseudo, the sham: ‘many professionals’, Richards notes (with a hint of his usual wariness about this category), ‘make a point of carrying stocks of imitation currency, crisp and bright, which satisfy the highwaymen and are all that even the wealthiest critic in these emergencies can supply.’44 Here Richards is briefly disingenuous about some of the complex strategies of confidence (epistemic crime, even) that make up Practical Criticism, in which he discovers again and again that ‘our responses are not real, are not our own’.45 Against such a strong propensity for confidence tricks, pseudostatement, as a positive principle for critical reading, is on a knife-edge of irony. In this awkward world of feigning and false coin, the authentic interest of close reading practices comes under scrutiny. Richards worries throughout Practical Criticism that it is ‘tedious’ – and it is, with the tedium of a joke whose workings are laid embarrassingly bare. Richards declares himself ‘anxious’ throughout about his method; anxious to meet objections, not to disappoint expectations, to make discoveries. Anxiety is projective, rather than a ‘filled’ emotion; it is aligned with futurity. The oddity of Practical Criticism is that, for all its foundational status in the history of critical practice, it contains so little evidence of right reading: it is a projective outline for a method, rather than an affectively-powerful performance of a practice. Richards’s sketch for a method is one about which he has feelings, rather than one in which he has pure intellectual confidence. His unduly sanguine critical principles – that ‘those who have read carefully through [the protocols] will be for a little while after less impressionable by literary judgments, however confidently or trenchantly expressed, less dogmatic, less uncharitable, less subject also to floating opinion46 – are not always supported by what his book says at the level of pseudo-statement; its emotional resonance is a quietly modernist negativity, in which anxiety and tedium work like dry-rot, daring to intrude the feeling-tone of desolation that he pretends only to pretend to feel. Such modernist tedium presents a different variety to that shared by many of the early formalists and their later critics; fear that the detail and microscopy of close reading condemn it to the realm of the ‘merely interesting’, at best. Ngai, quoting Silvan Tomkins’s Exploring Affect (1995), reminds us that zooming-in on microexpressions of the face makes only tedious static or snow: ‘At 10,000 frames a second the smile


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becomes an interminable bore, forfeiting much vital information which can be seen easily by the naked eye or by conventional slow motion photography’.47 Another careful student of the smile – in this case, in the large-scale asymmetries of Buddha faces – William Empson, knew well the interminable qualities of close reading, as a mode of extreme magnification. In the book born of his supervisions with Richards, Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), he characterized the practice as ‘not intellectually difficult but only very tedious’.48 Empson’s characterization doesn’t, of course, inhibit him from practising analysis so minute that his legacy to criticism might be framed as, ‘when does it stop?’ For this, close reading offers no certain measure, at least not once ‘interest’ is admitted as a criterion for critical judgment: as Empson’s first-type ambiguity demonstrates so flamboyantly, reading with ‘interest’ makes it difficult to rule anything out. Against this feeling of tedium that shadows close analysis, Empson deploys the tactical power of imprecision, sheering off from the closest of close readings by merely listing details of form or context; these are lists that open to endlessness with final phrases such as, ‘and so forth’.49 This is not a form of bravado about boredom that Empson learns overtly from Richards, who seems less worried about the capacity of close reading detail to cancel the nuances of a reader’s feelings under a blanket of tedium, and more worried about readers’ failings to come close enough to their texts in the first place. For Richards, closeness remains a largely unrealized ideal for readers, rather than a clammy constraint. The chapter of Practical Criticism staged around Poem 8, D.H. Lawrence’s much-disliked ‘child under the piano’, is the occasion for Richards’s fullest unfolding of a vocabulary of ‘closeness’, or ‘nearness’ for reading. Here he scorns readers such as 8.4, who condemns Lawrence from the double distance of a misquotation from Swinburne: ‘Contrast the last line of each verse with Swinburne’s “Thou hast conquered, oh pale Galilean; the world grows grey at thy breath”. The same metre, but what a difference of sentiment. I can’t really like this,’50 the vehemently distant protocolist exclaims. The greater the reader’s distance from the poem and the projection required to reach a version of it, the greater the feelings directed against it – or, as Richards phrases this, when reading poems ‘closely’ it is particularly ‘easy to be revolted by our own importations’.51 There’s an intimacy here between Richards’s local worries about failures of reading such as this and his larger concerns about close reading as method: in both cases, the risk of tedium or desolation in reading lies in reading’s nature as projective experience. Projection is, for Richards, the key to understanding aesthetics and its practical consequences in reading. The main measures for (in)felicity of

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‘tone’ in Practical Criticism are what Richards calls the ‘aesthetic or projectile’ adjectives; the indirect notations for feelings of critical descriptions.52 Aesthetic adjectives are, Richards reflects towards the end of the book, themselves feeling-full notations, particularly when we use them in the knowledge that they are projective and so pseudo, rather than objective, verifiable terminology: Even though we hold firmly that there is no inherent general quality ‘beauty’ we can still use the word as though there were. The effects upon our feelings will be the same, once the initial shock of the mental operation by which we recognize the fact of projection has passed away. And it is the same with all the rest of our projectile language. Happily – for otherwise the effect of investigation here would be not only to destroy poetry but to wreck our whole emotional life.53

To describe is to shock ourselves; we perform an affectively-charged feat of cognition, labelling something that isn’t there. From this ‘new idealist’ stance about critical language, Richards makes a pragmatic pact: we get on with it, after a bewildering minute; we ‘happily’ know ourselves and our language to be pseudo as we judge poems because on the other side of that knowledge’s precipice lies devastation. Erecting further defenses against the ‘wreck’ of projectile language, Richards breaks down the particular degrees of projection inherent in the adjectives associated with various ‘minor aesthetic categories’ of response. There is very little projection in ‘pleasant’, he remarks, because it already carries a strong implication of ‘pleasing to me’; slightly more in ‘pretty’, because it’s tethered more to certain sorts of charm; ‘beautiful’, meanwhile, encourages us to think there must be some property residing in all things so called, thus creating the pseudo problems of aesthetics.54 Richards also comments on the still more precise calibrations of projected emotion marked out by suffixing: ‘The very termination -ness (compare pleasantness, prettiness, loveliness, ugliness, attractiveness), is, perhaps, a slight indication too, but not one to be relied upon, of the middle stage at which the projection remains.’55 Such terms, it seems important to note, are relatively infrequent in the protocols for Practical Criticism: few readers are sufficiently lacking in confidence to seek these trailing forms when they could just label poems with the plainer panache of words such as ‘pretty’, ‘ugly’, ‘strong’, ‘bad’. Or, at least, this is what we see in the published book: in reporting (and denying) the charge that he was suspected of falsifying some of the protocols to make pedagogic or humorous points, Richards confesses to the book’s true form of ‘falsification’ as the omission of many of the blander


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protocols: Practical Criticism only minimally represents ‘the havering, noncommittal, vague, sit-on-the-fence, middle-body of opinion’.56 Taking out this middle range has significant consequences for the book’s tone and interest, compounding Richards’s failure to see that his methods may court tedium because they do not allow interest to the majority of the readers, except as specimens. The ‘sympathetic feeling’ with the tribe is minimal; Richards is not immanent to the method, allowing disruptions, discoveries and discomfitures of his own. He finds only a narrowed community of ‘fit readers’ – across the exercise as a whole, just his colleagues, F.R. Leavis and Mansfield Forbes. Practical Criticism, as Aaron Jaffe reminds us in Modernism and the Culture of Celebrity (2005), is an over-determined experimental procedure, premised on confidence tricks: ‘No amount of surveying will convince Richards to alter his posited hierarchy of value [. . .]. So, the test-taker “passes” only when he or she has learned to secondguess the test-maker successfully’.57 Mansfield Forbes is just the experiment’s best second-guesser, whose proleptic defense against false coin, against being the gull to the confidence man, is to read the poems through a lens of relentless satire of the empty vocabularies of commerce. ‘Here we have the stoical sublime’, he exclaims of Poem 7, J.D.C. Pellew’s ‘The Temple’, but only ‘to order as from the appropriate department of a literary store – out-Harroding Harrods, as they say.’58 This, he spells out, is a ‘mercenary piece’. By recognizing the signs of insincere selection by Richards, of confidence trick rather than empirical test, Mansfield Forbes has ‘outfoxed the dealer in false artifacts’ – or out-pseudo-ed the new critic.59 Such responses underline the negative forms of ‘falsification’ that shadow Richards’s critical method of pseudo-statement. While he purports to observe the prismatic effect of his method – poems separating out readers into their diverse range of types – he fears its fullest acknowledgement because discovering a genuine community of ‘interest’ could cancel out the critic’s confident administration of value: ‘no piece of evidence can void or rule out a judgment of “interesting” – and so no particular kind of evidence will ever seem especially or finally convincing’ (Ngai).60 To find the readers and their responses ‘interesting’ for their own sakes, rather than objects of scorn for their bewilderment, would be to risk uncritical anarchy about literary value and its confident articulation. The ‘interesting’, Ngai reminds us, is a relatively untethered aesthetic judgment, with no clear ‘voiding characteristics’.61 And it is ‘voiding characteristics’ that, Ngai reminds us in an unwittingly Ricardian footnote, are crucial to the ‘way in which the justifications of aesthetic evaluations, like the evaluations

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themselves, fall under standards of performative happiness or unhappiness analogous to, but significantly different from, the logical standards of true or false.’62 If Richards were to allow for those difficult-to-administer varieties of response that were neither strong nor weak, true nor false, but merely ‘interesting’, then he would struggle to strengthen a sufficiently contained interpretive community to cancel out confidence men. For Ngai ‘interesting’ is a powerful term for contouring communities of knowledge: ‘it may be true’, she writes, ‘that “interesting” always begins life as the judgment of those in the know [but it] is actually aimed at enfranchising outsiders’, and from this comes the interesting’s ‘special relation to pedagogy’.63 According to standard narratives of critical and educational history, Practical Criticism launches close reading as pedagogic method, offering one way to determine whose feelings are to be valued and so who is to belong to the republic of modern letters. But Richards always has grave self-doubts about these pedagogic powers; he worries about the ‘false professional air’ of the new literary studies and alternately laughs and despairs at such mandarin practices of close reading. By engaging the reader in the necessary confidence trick of showing their capacity to determine the authenticity and sincerity of poems in circumstances where it’s not fully possible, or even desirable, and certainly not ‘interesting’ to do so, Practical Criticism leaves an awkward problem for its author: after such pseudo-statements, what reading? It’s a truth often noted that Richards does not put himself through the emotional shock of using projective adjectives, offering virtually no close readings of his own. There is, it would seem, a complex Bartelbyan resistance to such an undertaking, which runs alongside his declared optimism about the transformative powers of unsentimental reading. Into the busy world of new critical categories and coinages for ways of reading with due feeling, the quiet feeling-tone or undertone of its foundational work, Practical Criticism, continues to insinuate, ‘I would prefer not to’.64

Notes 1. I.A. Richards, Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgment (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1929), p. 53. 2. Virginia Woolf, The Diary of Virginia Woolf, vol.2, 1920–24, ed. Anne O. Bell (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), p. 313. 3. Richards, Practical Criticism, p. 255. 4. Richards borrows Malinowski’s phrase in Practical Criticism, pp. 185, 318.


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5. Richards to Dorothy Pilley, quoted in the introduction to I.A. Richards, Selected Works, Vol. IV, Practical Criticism, ed. by John Constable (London: Routledge, 2001). 6. See John Marx, The Modernist Novel and the Decline of Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 59–91. 7. Richards, Practical Criticism, p. 351. 8. Ibid. pp. 22–25. 9. Ibid. p. 304. 10. Richards, ‘A Background for Contemporary Poetry’, The Criterion, 3:12 (19 July 1925), pp. 511–528. Reprinted in Graham Martin and P.N. Furbank (eds), Twentieth-Century Poetry: Critical Essays and Documents (Milton Keynes: The Open University Press, 1975), pp. 136–149. 11. William K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, ‘The Affective Fallacy’, The Sewanee Review, 57.1 (Winter, 1949), pp. 31–55:49. 12. Richards, ‘A Background for Contemporary Poetry’, p. 141. 13. Richards, Practical Criticism, p. 278. 14. Ibid. p. 216. 15. T.S. Eliot, ‘Experiment in Criticism’, Bookman 70 (1929), pp. 225–233. 16. May Sinclair, ‘The Novels of Dorothy Richardson’, The Egoist, 5:4 (April 1918). 17. May Sinclair, The New Idealism (New York: Macmillan, 1922), p. 33. 18. An unsigned review of A Defence of Idealism: Some Questions and Conclusions, in The New Statesman, 9 (22 September 1917), p. 596. 19. Quoted in Manju Jain, T.S. Eliot and American Philosophy: The Harvard Years (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), p. 23. 20. Richard Wollheim, On Art and the Mind: Essays and Lectures (London: Allen Lane, 1973), p. 222. 21. Arthur Schopenhauer discusses a ‘necessary correlation between Subject and Object’ in §19 of On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (1813). Eliot, The Sacred Wood (London: Methuen, 1920), p. 92. 22. Joshua Gang, ‘Behaviourism and the Beginnings of Close Reading’, ELH 78 (2011), pp. 1–25:23. 23. Richards, ‘A Background for Contemporary Poetry’, p. 143. 24. Ibid. 25. See Ludwig Wittgenstein, ‘A Lecture on Ethics’ [1929], The Philosophical Review, 74 (1965), pp. 3–12: ‘a teacup will only hold a teacup full of water [even] if I were to pour out a gallon over it’. 26. Eliot responds in ‘A Note on Poetry and Belief’ (The Enemy, I, 1927). 27. Hart Crane, ‘At Melville’s Tomb’, Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 24:1 (October 1926), p. 25. 28. Harriet Monroe, ‘A Discussion with Hart Crane’, Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 24:1 (October 1926), pp. 34–41:35. 29. Richards, Practical Criticism, p. 161. 30. Monroe, ‘A Discussion with Hart Crane’, p. 40. 31. Ibid. p. 37.

Feelings under the Microscope: New Critical Affect 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64.


Ibid. Ibid. p. 38. Ibid. p. 39. Richards, ‘A Background for Contemporary Poetry’, p. 145. Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2005), p. 40. Ibid. p. 47. Richards, Practical Criticism, p. 207. Ngai, Ugly Feelings, pp. 41–43. For the former, see Matthew Sussman, ‘Stylistic Virtue in Nineteenth-Century Criticism’, Victorian Studies, 56.2 (2014), pp. 225–249. For the latter, see Kenneth Burke, A Grammar of Motives (1945). Richards, Practical Criticism, p. 307. Ibid. p. 118. Ibid. p. 87. Ibid. p. 307. Ibid. p. 334. Ibid. p. 335. Ngai, Ugly Feelings, p. 78. William Empson, ‘Preface to the Second Edition’, Seven Types of Ambiguity, [1930], 3rd edn (London: Pimlico, 2004), p. xi. See, for example, Empson, Seven Types of Ambiguity, p. 114. Richards, Practical Criticism, p. 116. The line should read: ‘Thou hast conquered, O pale Galilean; the world has grown grey from thy breath’. Ibid. Ibid. pp. 357–360. Ibid. p. 346. Ibid. p. 358. Ibid. Ibid. p. 18. Aaron Jaffe, Modernism and the Culture of Celebrity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), p. 87. Richards, Practical Criticism, p. 106. Jaffe, Modernism and the Culture of Celebrity, p. 86. Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2012), p. 120. Ibid. p. 277, n. 24. The last phrase comes from Sibley. Ibid. Ibid. p. 171. Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener [1853] in Billy Budd, Bartleby, and Other Stories (New York: Penguin, 2016), pp. 17–54, passim.

chapter 5

‘We Manufacture Fun’: Capital and the Production of Affect Ross Wilson

This chapter is about the treatment of affect in a number of twentiethcentury thinkers following Marx and it addresses, in particular, the critique of false affects that those thinkers articulate. How an affect can be ‘false’ will be one of this chapter’s major concerns. But I wish to begin by considering, if not the treatment of affect in Marx’s own writing, then the affect of that writing itself. In a recent excavation of Marx’s style from beneath the accretions of domesticating translation (both linguistic and critical), Keston Sutherland has given an account of how we should not read Marx, but often do. While Sutherland acknowledges that the literariness of Marx’s writing has sometimes attracted attention, he nevertheless contends that Marx’s style has mostly been viewed as a pleasing adjunct, a garnish, to the main meat of his argument. ‘In other words,’ Sutherland summarizes this conventional view, ‘so long as Marx’s concepts can be specified, Marx’s style need only be enjoyed.’1 Enjoyment – that allpurpose affect that literary style is surely always meant to elicit – is not, however, really the point of Marx’s style and only becomes so once a number of distortions of that style have taken place. The first of these distortions is ‘the elimination of satire from Capital.’2 This matters because, as Sutherland stresses, satire in Marx ‘is more than a comic modality of the picturesque: it is the concentrated literary exposure of social contradiction.’3 This ‘literary exposure’ is fundamental to Marx’s aim in Capital (1867) and Sutherland’s ‘concentrated’ is a wry allusion, as we shall see now, to the specific commodity that Marx thinks best incarnates, so to speak, what capital does to labour. That commodity and its manner of production, moreover, are meant by Marx to have a particular, disturbing affective charge. The affect that Marx’s satirical account of the operations of capital provokes is not, that is, the enjoyment of style, but, rather, disgust. Satire’s connection with disgust is well-attested,4 but Marx’s exploitation of it, 100

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Sutherland demonstrates, goes missing in the passage of Marx’s writing from German into English. In the opening chapter of Capital, Marx considers the character of commodities as products of labour and concludes that abstract human labour is ‘merely congealed quantities of homogeneous human labour’.5 However, that description, as Sutherland makes clear, is not Marx’s, but rather the English translator Ben Fowkes’s. For Marx, that is, abstract human labour is instead a ‘bloße Gallerte unterschiedsloser menschlicher Arbeit’:6 ‘a mere jelly of undifferentiated human labour’ (my translation). Jelly is a specific comestible by-product of the meat industry, not an undefined congealed quantity. So when a few pages further on in Das Kapital Marx’s German readers came across the passage in which both tailoring and weaving are described as ‘a productive expenditure of human brains, muscles, nerves, hands etc.’,7 they would have recognized not a perhaps needless enumeration of the human members involved in the production of abstract human labour as a congealed quantity, but rather a macabre recipe. ‘Marx’s intention is not simply to educate his readers but also to disgust them’,8 and the rendering of Marx’s style in the English translation turns out to have been the same kind of rendering that capital performs on human beings: The product is a text boiled down from its original state of internal generic disintegration, stripped of its difficult collage of the poetic, the scientific and the jargonistic within individual sentences and ideas, its constitutive ambiguity and, most important of all, its satire, and transformed into an array of undifferentiated concepts for theoretical consumption.9

Many of the concerns of Sutherland’s reading of Marx will recur in this chapter, including his concern with the passage between German and English terms and the style of ostensibly theoretical texts – or, better, of texts conventionally read under the rubric of theory. What Sutherland’s reading is most fundamentally concerned to bring out is what we might call Marx’s critical involvement with affect: both, that is, with diagnosing affective accommodation to a mode of production ideologically presented as natural and, furthermore, with provoking disgust at it. While thinkers following Marx have certainly attended to the social formation of affect and have also argued for the revolutionary potential of affective states, the degree to which affect was a specific focus of their attention has varied. For example, Raymond Williams’s account of the ‘structure of feeling’ may initially appear a promising avenue of inquiry into Marxist accounts of ‘feeling’. Williams had first coined this term in ‘Film and the Dramatic Tradition’, the chapter he contributed to Preface to Film (1954), co-authored with the documentary


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film-maker Michael Orrom. In Preface to Film, Williams deploys the term ‘structure of feeling’ to emphasize the interrelation of all aspects of the life of a given past period and, moreover, to insist on the lived experience of that interrelation, especially as a corrective to the scholarly habit of treating such aspects of life as separable elements.10 This useful coinage is, however, given its greatest elaboration later, first in the chapter on ‘The Analysis of Culture’ in The Long Revolution (1961)11 and then in the chapter ‘Structures of Feeling’ in Marxism and Literature (1977). Williams proposes ‘structure of feeling’ as his term for what he describes as ‘the living experience’ of a given time, ‘this felt sense of the quality of life at a particular place and time’, and ‘the particular living result of all the elements in the general organization’ that, significantly, ‘operates in the most delicate and least tangible parts of our activity.’12 In Marxism and Literature, Williams explains that the elaboration of the methodological prism of ‘structures of feeling’ (there has been a shift to the plural) seeks to correct the procedural reduction of life as it is actively felt ‘into formed wholes rather than forming and formative processes.’13 Again in Marxism and Literature, Williams goes some way toward specifying what ‘feeling’ may be taken to mean in the phrase he has coined: We are talking about characteristic elements of impulse, restraint, and tone; specifically affective elements of consciousness and relationships: not feeling against thought, but thought as felt and feeling as thought: practical consciousness of a present kind, in a living and inter-relating continuity.14

It is perhaps hardly surprising, given the elusive nature of a ‘structure of feeling’ on Williams’s own account, that Williams envisages the manner in which it is to be recognized less as a positive identification and more as the registration of an absence or an incongruity.15 Moreover, it is surely significant that ‘feeling’ is singular in Williams’s ‘structure’ or, in Marxism and Literature, ‘structures of feeling’, and remains, to redeploy a term from Marx, undifferentiated: Williams’s gloss on ‘feeling’ – ‘the most delicate and least tangible parts of our activity’16 – along with the brief catalogue in Marxism and Literature of what ‘feeling’ encompasses, is ultimately as far as he goes in specifying how ‘feeling’ is to be understood. And it is perhaps also significant that many of Williams’s attempts to characterize what he comes to call the ‘structure of feeling’ are couched impersonally, his initial emphases on what ‘we notice’ and on ‘our activity’ notwithstanding;17 the ‘structure of feeling’, that is, is cast as a kind of externally encompassing element in which human activity takes place. It is descriptive features such as these that led E.P. Thompson, in a classic response to The Long Revolution, to complain of ‘the impersonal

‘We Manufacture Fun’: Capital and the Production of Affect


construction’ in which many of Williams’s descriptions of historical phenomena are framed: ‘there are no good or bad men in Mr. Williams’ history, only dominant and subordinate “structures of feeling”.’18 Despite Williams’s critique, then, of ‘one dominant strain in Marxism, with its habitual abuse of the “subjective” and the “personal”’,19 what Thompson finds to be the ultimately impersonal character of Williams’s account of feeling may be taken to suggest that richer considerations of affect are to be found elsewhere in the Marxist tradition. Herbert Marcuse’s psychoanalytically inflected critique of the alleged neglect of the revolutionary potential of human drives by certain strands in Marxism may seem to offer such a consideration – although for his part, Williams, certainly, would have had little truck with Marcuse’s turn to psychoanalysis: in Marxism and Literature, he casts the ‘feeling and thinking’ at the centre of ‘structures of feeling’ as ‘each in an embryonic phase before it can become fully articulate and defined’, which, despite the apparent resonance of that description with psychoanalysis, Williams is careful to differentiate from ‘the absence, the unconscious, which bourgeois culture has mythicized.’20 In any case, Marcuse is surely right, for instance, to emphasize that ‘the need for radical change must be rooted in the subjectivity of individuals themselves, in their intelligence and their passions, their drives and their goals’ and that, moreover, ‘[i]t is all too easy to relegate love and hate, joy and sorrow, hope and despair to the domain of psychology, thereby removing them from the concerns of radical praxis.’21 Indeed, Marcuse’s claim that ‘the revolutionizing of the instinctual structure is a prerequisite for a change in the system of needs’ would appear to chime with Marx’s attempt to revolt the instinctive responses, so to speak, of his readers.22 Yet Marcuse’s description of Mallarmé’s poetry as conjuring up ‘a feast of sensuousness’ might provoke a certain queasiness in the context established by Sutherland’s reading of Marx’s account of the cannibalistic jellification performed on human beings by capital,23 and Marcuse’s roll call of drives and instincts may likewise appear rather uncomplicatedly gourmandizing and libidinal. Indeed, perhaps the most significant feature to take from Sutherland’s reading of Marx is its insistent focus on a foodstuff and the physical response it might provoke. It is worth pausing at this point to acknowledge that Marx’s play on jelly as a metaphor for the production of abstract labour as expounded by Sutherland is just that – a metaphor. Yet the lines of demarcation between literal and figurative in Marx’s text are somewhat harder to draw than that way of putting it would suggest. The identification of jelly as capital’s paradigmatic commodity,


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along with the repeated play on the manner of its production, seek to capture the literal effect on human beings of capital’s appropriation and rendering of their labour and, at the same time and through the same discursive means, to expose to satire precisely this mechanism of appropriation by allegorizing it. It is especially useful to bear in mind this interaction of literal and figurative senses of affective states when we turn to Theodor Adorno’s critique of the falsity of the pleasures purveyed by what he (with Max Horkheimer) called ‘the culture industry’.24 While Adorno is willing to rehearse the standard distinction (which he traces to Kant) between aesthetic and gustatory taste,25 he nevertheless insists at the start of Aesthetic Theory (1970) that the distinction between interest and disinterest – for which the distinction between the gustatory and the aesthetic may be taken as emblematic – requires mediation, since ‘[t]here is no art that does not contain in itself as an element, negated, what it repulses. If it is to be more than mere indifference, the Kantian “without interest” must be shadowed by the wildest interest, and there is much to be said for the idea that the dignity of artworks depends on the intensity of the interest from which they are wrested.’26 Moreover, Adorno’s insistence that affective categories are profoundly social as well as natural may likewise be construed such that there is no final distinction (for him) between literal and figurative uses of a category like ‘disgust’. The section of Sutherland’s chapter in which he focuses on the non-appearance of ‘jelly’ in Fowkes’s Capital (and which we have been exploring) revealingly begins with an epigraph from Adorno’s important but under-appreciated ‘Thesen über Bedürfnis’ (‘Theses on Need’ (1942)). Needs and how to satisfy them are, in fact, significant throughout Adorno’s work. In ‘Sur l’eau’, for example, an aphorism from Minima Moralia (1951) to which we will have cause to return later, Adorno declares that ‘[t]here is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more.’27 We need here to attend again to how German is carried over into English. Adorno’s text is: ‘Zart wäre einzig das Gröbste: daß keiner mehr hungern soll.’28 While E.F.N. Jephcott’s expository translation is certainly warranted in the context of the aphorism’s leading concerns – the aphorism opens with a consideration of possible answers to the question of what an emancipated society is for – that translation nevertheless dilutes the force of Adorno’s ‘Zart wäre einzig das Gröbste’: as a necessarily unidiomatic and awkward English translation might have it: ‘Only the grossest (or crudest or coarsest) would be tender (or delicate or fine)’. There is no explicit ‘demand’ in Adorno’s formulation and, in contrast with the substantivized ‘grob’, ‘rough, coarse, etc.’, there is

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no substantive ‘tenderness’, only adjectival ‘zart’. The sense is, then, that grossness, coarseness, the fulfilment of the most basic human needs, including the need to eat, is delicate or refined – and especially so in a situation where the readiest answers to inquiries about the aims of an emancipated society have recourse to visions of ‘the fulfilment of human possibilities or the richness of life.’29 Adorno, moreover, restates a version of this conviction at a crucial juncture of Negative Dialectics (1966): ‘It is in the unvarnished materialistic motive only that morality survives.’30 On the one hand, such statements mark an emphasis in Adorno’s thinking on the satisfaction of needs, the avoidance of suffering, and an insistent materialism in response to idealist – and idealistic – patterns of thinking. On the other hand, however, Adorno is far from espousing a version of the celebrated dictum from Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera (1928): ‘Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral’:31 ‘grub first, then morals’. Adorno does not recognize the stark distinction between, on the one hand, animal needs and their satisfaction (Brecht’s Fressen, rather than Essen, is animal, rather than human, food) and, on the other, a morality that can wait; on the contrary, the satisfaction of the needs of all would be refined, delicate – the hallmark of a truly civilized society morally ordered. And those needs are themselves, to turn to the ‘Thesen über Bedürfnis’ itself, equally natural and social (this is the opening of the ‘Thesen’, which includes the sentences that Sutherland takes as his epigraph): Need is a social category. Nature, the ‘drive’, is contained within it. But the social and natural moments of need cannot be separated, as primary and secondary, from one another in order then to establish a hierarchy of satisfactions. Hunger, conceived as a natural category, can be satisfied with locusts and gnat-cakes, which many savages consume. The satisfaction of the concrete hunger of civilized people involves them getting something to eat that does not disgust them, and in disgust and its opposite the whole of history is reflected.32

Adorno’s recourse to the labels ‘civilized’ and ‘savage’ is doubtless an unfortunate inheritance of the nomenclature of nineteenth-century anthropology. Moreover, it might be taken, here, to give the impression that the course of the relation between disgust and its opposite is, as it were, all one way: savages will eat anything; civilized people are more discerning. Adorno teaches us, however, to be wary of such narratives of linear development. Perhaps his most characteristic expression of such wariness comes in his brief but dense consideration of ‘universal history’ in Negative Dialectics. As one would expect, Adorno is critical of a view of universal


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history that, despite the horrors already witnessed and the ones doubtless to come, would intone that all is ultimately for the best in the best of all possible worlds. Yet he does not conclude that the concept of universal history is therefore simply to be jettisoned. On the contrary, following Hegel’s conception that universal history is unified merely by dint of its contradictions – but unified nonetheless – Adorno goes on to argue that abandonment of the concept of universal history would be to ‘spiritually consolidate’ sheer facticity, things as they are. Things as they are, ‘the discontinuous, chaotically splintered moments and phases of history’, Adorno contends, are in fact (a rhetorical filler here rendered fluid by Adorno’s re-reading of the brute facts of history) subject to ‘the unity of the control of nature, progressing to rule over men, and finally to that over men’s inner nature.’33 Hence, in a justly famous apothegm: ‘No universal history leads from savagery to humanitarianism [vom Wilden zur Humanität], but there is one leading from the slingshot to the megaton bomb.’34 And so: No universal history leads from gnat-cakes to îles flottantes, but there is one leading from locusts to jelly. It is no doubt high time to acknowledge the sensibility of those readers for whom jelly is not disgusting. After all, easily swallowed, initial aversion to oleaginous gloop can readily be overcome; sweetened, even a liking for it is far from impossible, as a thousand children’s parties witness. And moreover, the method by which jelly is produced is hardly a secret, even if it is not exactly broadcast to the children who gulp it down. Two significant points flow from these reflections. First, Sutherland is right to emphasize that Marx seeks not – or at least not only – to educate his readers, but to disgust them. Hence the repeated play on jelly and its production, the queasy swaying back and forth across the line dividing theory and style. Second, however, merely knowing how something is produced has no necessary consequences for how we feel about it. It is only once disgust takes over from knowledge that any actual response becomes possible. The second of these two points is crucial both to Adorno’s account of the culture industry and our responses to it, and, indeed, to that industry’s own self-presentation. I wish now, therefore, to turn to a set of phrases that crop up in advertising for the culture industry, what they reveal about it, and their resonances in Adorno’s thinking. What do makers of inflatables and popcorn machines, retailers of party wares, children’s entertainers, and owners of marinas for leisure-craft have in common? Amongst other things, they all use a revealing phrase to advertise what they do: ‘We Manufacture Fun’.35 There is something catchy and incongruous about this motto, possibly owing in part to the inverse anticipation of ‘fun’ right

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at the heart of ‘manufacture’, a lexical quirk that pleasingly emblematizes Adorno’s critique of leisure time as the mirror-image and extension of work.36 This motto is revealing in a number of other ways as well. First, it may be read as a frank admission that ‘fun’ is just as much a product of industrial processes as anything else. But we must not over-emphasize the confessional aspect of such a motto, as if in declaring ‘we manufacture fun’, representatives of the culture industry could bear no longer the truth about its procedures. While Adorno did indeed seek to emphasize in the context of the culture industry the specifically industrial character of concepts that, with regard to works of art, have a quite different character (his most important example is ‘technique’, which in the context of the culture industry pertains to the mechanical reproduction and distribution of products, whereas in the context of art ‘technique’ pertains to the internal constitution of an artwork),37 it is at the same time a central plank of his theory of the culture industry that people both see through and consume its products. Knowledge that cultural goods are churned out won’t bring a halt to consumption of them; we will look in a moment at what Adorno thinks might do so. But the motto ‘we manufacture fun’ and, especially, the different manufacturing, retail, and leisure concerns by which it is deployed, does certainly, and unwittingly, reveal the sheer qualitative indifference of ‘fun’. Attention, that is, is deflected away from the specific qualities of popcorn machines, inflatable toys, or (perhaps most incongruous of all) berths in which to moor your boat, and instead onto a putatively universal and available affective state. We touched briefly above on the occasional difficulty of rendering Adorno’s German into English. There is also the question of rendering Adorno’s English into English. Adorno not infrequently uses English words and phrases in his German texts, a fact that can be invisible when those texts become English texts. And perhaps the English term to which he has most frequent recourse is ‘fun’, which he often prefers to the German Spaß. It is impossible to say if Adorno had any inkling of the somewhat obscure etymology of ‘fun’, though he would surely have found it conducive to his purposes. The first sense for the noun ‘fun’ listed by the OED is ‘[a]n act of fraud or deception; a trick played on a person; a joke’ and while this usage has, apparently, been restricted to the Scottish islands since around the turn of the twentieth century, it nevertheless lives on in such phrases as ‘to make fun of’ and ‘to poke fun at’ (OED). Digging further back into the etymological record (though the OED is keen to hedge its speculations as it reaches into the past of ‘fun’) we find an association between ‘fun’ and the now obsolete verb ‘to fon’: ‘To lose


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savour, become insipid or sickly in flavour.’ Aside from the fact that with its fall into obsolescence, this (to my ear) rather useful English verb has itself lost its savour, it is notable that the word ‘fun’ concentrates in its little space both Adorno’s sense that the administered pleasures of the culture industry are fraudulent, a trick played on their consumers, and his sense that those pleasures are insipid and sickly. The sense that ‘fun’ is a trick played on a victim, that it is extorted, cajoled, is crucial to Adorno’s insistence that it is, specifically, false pleasure. In formulating this view, Adorno is drawing on two strands of thinking about how people feel. First, he is relying on an account of the formation of consciousness that is broadly similar to other such accounts in the tradition of thinkers following Marx. Second, however, he is drawing implicitly on a specific sense, traceable to Kant’s account of aesthetic judgement, that pleasures that merely conform to general expectations are not really pleasures.38 Adorno expands on the argument that conformist pleasure is false in an important aphorism from Minima Moralia, ‘Spoilsport’. First, he diagnoses the puritanical defamation of satiety: ‘The bourgeois have made of satiety, which might be akin to bliss [Seligkeit: also ‘redemption, salvation’], a term of abuse. Because others go hungry, ideology requires that the absence of hunger be thought vulgar. So the bourgeois indict the bourgeois.’39 It is worth noting that the ideological response to satiety here is a discursive categorization, rather than an affective response: satiety is ‘thought vulgar [für ordinär gilt]’. Moreover, with regard to a specific feeling at least, Adorno goes on to make explicit that ‘[i]t is not ecstasy [Rausch] but socially approved love that is followed by disgust: it is, to use Ibsen’s word, sticky.’40 Disgust is then, for Adorno, the response to pleasures that are manufactured with the expectation of eliciting its opposite, as he states toward the end of the aphorism: It is not so much the exhausted senses that are to blame for dégoût, as the institutional, permitted, assimilated character of pleasure, its false immanence in an order that cuts it to shape and imparts to it in the very moment of ordaining it a deathly melancholy. Such repugnance can so increase that finally ecstasy prefers to withdraw completely into renunciation, rather than sin by realization against its own principle.41

Adorno’s answer to defensive asceticism in the face of the threat of pleasure – or, rather, of ‘bliss’ or ‘ecstasy’, his much more emphatic terms, preferred precisely for their socially indicted and embarrassing resonances, both eschatological and sexual – is, then, hardly a recommendation of hearty, uninhibited indulgence. It is for this reason that Adorno is critical

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of supposedly therapeutic practices – such as he takes psychoanalysis to be – aimed at disencumbering the capacity for pleasure: Prescribed happiness looks exactly what it is; to have a part in it, the neurotic thus made happy must forfeit the last vestige of reason left to him by repression and regression, and to oblige the analyst, display indiscriminate enthusiasm for the trashy film, the expensive but bad meal in the French restaurant, the serious drink and the love-making taken like medicine as ‘sex’.42

Once again, we need to note Adorno’s English, since there are three important instances of it here, which are made invisible by the fact of translation. First, in Adorno’s text the ‘French restaurant’ is an English ‘French Restaurant’. If that is a routine sneer at the snobbery associated with French cuisine in the Anglophone world, more significant are the English ‘drink’ and ‘sex’. The resonance of the latter especially, and despite the translator’s scare-quotes, goes damagingly missing, not least since the soft-focus, velveteen ‘love-making’ is unaccountably chosen to translate Geschlecht – the German term for sexual intercourse. Although it might be perverse to translate, not Adorno’s German, but rather his English, if anything ‘love-making’ and ‘sex’ would be better the other way round here: it is precisely the analyst’s prescription of the socially approved, aggressively marketed pleasures that is Adorno’s target. (Other things go missing in translation too, of course, such as the jaunty alliterative rhythm of ‘dem seriösen drink und dem als sex dosierten Geschlecht . . . ’) It seems that, in the above passage, Adorno is urging not an affective reaction against the analyst’s prescriptions, but an intellectual one: the implication is that the patient should do all he can to cling to his last vestige of reason. And this sense is reinforced when Adorno goes on to advocate ‘a cathartic method with a standard other than successful adaptation and economic success’, which ‘would have to aim at bringing people to a consciousness of unhappiness both general and – inseparable from it – personal’.43 Yet the opposition of intellect and affect is precisely a result of the denigration of pleasure and is insisted upon by the culture industry. Disgust at what is on offer is far from cognitively insignificant, a powerful but ultimately futile reaction to the over-abundance of trashy films and coq au vin. We may be reminded here of Sutherland’s account of what Marx is attempting through his play on jelly and abstract human labour: he is seeking to educate and disgust his reader. In Adorno, that education happens by means of disgust: Only in the surfeit of false pleasure, in repugnance at the choice of goods, in the suspicion of the inadequacy of happiness, even when it is that, to say


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I have chosen to depart altogether from Jephcott’s generally exemplary translation here because the grammatical structure he adopts for this sentence – ‘Only when sated with false pleasure [. . .] can men gain an idea of what experience might be’45 – while having the distinct virtue of idiomatic English, misses something vital in Adorno’s conception of affect and intellect here. (I imagine that no-one, incidentally, could capture in English Adorno’s wry play of ‘aufgehen’ – ‘to rise, to crop up, to sprout, etc.’ – against ‘Aufgabe’ – here, ‘relinquishment, abandonment’, though the sense of ‘task, assignment’ is hardly irrelevant in the broader context of the aphorism as well.) First, satiety with false pleasures, etc., is not past, as ‘sated’ would suggest, but rather a condition that the subject is in – a subject, incidentally, that is not the grammatical subject of this sentence. In this, satiety is akin to happiness and truth, which it negatively foreshadows, since for Adorno ‘[t]o happiness the same applies as to truth: one does not have it, but is in it.’46 Second, rather than being something that ‘men [can] gain’, a formulation that smacks far too much of the ‘economic success’ that Adorno criticizes earlier in the aphorism and in any case lacks a grammatical warrant in the German, it is the thought of what might be experienced that is itself the subject of this sentence. Even that thought, however, can hardly be said to be active, exactly, instead rising like dough or sprouting in the ineffable, involuntary way of seeds. All of this is crucial to the relationship between affect and intellect that Adorno is developing here. It is not the case that false pleasures can be countered by inculcating the right thoughts about them – much as Adorno’s recommendation of a ‘cathartic method’ might seem to suggest just that. Instead, that thought – which in its uncontrollable mode of origination already shares something of the experience that, in thought, it foreshadows – that thought results when fun has reverted to the insipidity, the sickliness, it always was. Hopefully, this reading of aphorisms from Minima Moralia will have forestalled any sense that Adorno pits the intellect against affect. Rather, as he had already, in fact, argued in his early cultural criticism, that opposition is a cherished tactic of the culture industry, not of its critique. Discussing contemporary (in 1938) music, for example, Adorno had expressed his suspicion of isolated moments of enjoyment – but not because they were enjoyment: The isolated moments of enjoyment prove incompatible with the immanent constitution of the work of art, and whatever in the work goes beyond them

‘We Manufacture Fun’: Capital and the Production of Affect


to an essential perception is sacrificed to them. They are not bad in themselves but in their diversionary function.47

So, Adorno allows that moments of enjoyment ‘are not bad in themselves’. Yet this would hardly seem to promise a particularly satisfying account of enjoyment itself. And to be sure, the idea of providing a satisfying account – a text ripe for ‘theoretical consumption’, to borrow again from Sutherland – could hardly be further from Adorno’s intention. It is perhaps revealing, in any case, that the closest he does come to giving a description of what pleasure would be in a society where it is not a commodity to be manufactured and sold is, precisely, non-specific. In ‘Sur l’eau’, the aphorism that concludes the second part of Minima Moralia and which I touched on above, Adorno addresses Marx directly and emphasizes Marx’s difference from certain identifiable elements of what might be called Marxism. In particular, Adorno notes that Marx resisted ‘positive blue-prints of socialism’, which were barbarous not in their levelling-down, but rather in their ‘conception of unfettered activity, of uninterrupted procreation, of chubby insatiability, of freedom as frantic bustle’.48 In addition to programmes of activity for a socialist society, such an account would likewise seek to chasten something like Marcuse’s enthusiasm for unleashed libidinal energy. What Adorno suggests instead might characterize an emancipated society is altogether calmer: If uninhibited people are by no means the most agreeable or even the freest, a society rid of its fetters might take thought that even the forces of production are not the deepest substratum of man, but represent his historical form adapted to the production of commodities. Perhaps the true society will grow tired of development and, out of freedom, leave possibilities unused, instead of storming under a confused compulsion to the conquest of strange stars. A mankind which no longer knows want will begin to have an inkling of the delusory, futile nature of all the arrangements hitherto made in order to escape want, which used wealth to reproduce want on a larger scale. Enjoyment itself would be affected, just as its present framework is inseparable from operating, planning, having one’s way, subjugating.49

The influence of Marx’s thinking is hard to miss. But Marx’s thinking subsists here in relation to a host of other sources – as, indeed, it does in most of the thinkers I have examined in this chapter. Marcuse (to recall his example again) attempts to bring together aspects of Marx’s and Freud’s thinking, and moreover, in his magisterial history of modern aesthetics, Paul Guyer has suggested that Marcuse might have found strong affinities with his project in the work of Edmund Burke and Moses Mendelssohn (with


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whom he does not engage), forerunners of Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schiller (with whom he does).50 In the closing reflections of ‘Sur l’eau’, in addition to the Kantian concept of ‘perpetual peace’ and a Christian conception of the goodness of mere being in its unfallen state, Adorno also wishes to draw attention to other, distinctly less heralded witnesses: Rien faire comme une bête, lying on water and looking peacefully at the sky, ‘being, nothing else, without any further definition and fulfilment [Erfüllung]’, might take the place of process, act, satisfaction [Erfüllen], and so truly keep the promise of dialectical logic that it would culminate in its own origin. None of the abstract concepts comes closer to fulfilled utopia than that of eternal peace. Spectators on the sidelines of progress like Maupassant and Sternheim have helped this intention to find expression, timidly, in the only way that its fragility permits.51

The references to the writer Guy de Maupassant (from whose work, incidentally, the aphorism borrows its title) and playwright Carl Sternheim are examples of Adorno’s frequent recourse to figures rarely included in standard accounts of mainstream intellectual and cultural history. Slightly earlier in Minima Moralia – and immediately before announcing the greater eloquence of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Heinrich Hoffmann’s Struwwelpeter, and the ‘pert and puerile piano pieces’ of Erik Satie on such weighty topics as ‘history’ and ‘experience’ in contrast to works by more routinely acknowledged (including by Adorno) figures such as Christian Friedrich Hebbel and Arnold Schönberg – Adorno had declared that ‘[t]heory must needs deal with cross-grained, opaque, unassimilated material, which as such admittedly has from the start an anachronistic quality, but is not wholly obsolete since it has outwitted the historical dynamic.’52 This statement might, moreover, serve as a motto for Sutherland’s reading of Marx with which this chapter began: one task of theory is to show that assimilated and translucent material has its origins in highly differentiated and opaque specificities, which are made to cohere with the historical dynamic by violent and disgusting means. Certainly, anything not swept up in the historical dynamic is worthy of notice in a critique that does not see all its historical hopes vested in the concept of dynamism. Like Maupassant and Sternheim, Adorno himself, writing aphorisms in exile, is surely on the margins of history. And again, does not their marginal spectating from the outside – they are ‘Zaungäste’, literally, ‘fence-guests’ – foreshadow the peaceful looking into the sky (‘und friedlich in den Himmel schauen’) that might be one of the non-activities of achieved utopia?

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A number of criticisms may be levelled at Adorno’s ‘Sur l’eau’, perhaps especially at what may be taken to be its implicit recommendation of disengagement from the dynamics of historical struggle. Georg Lukács’s widely known caricature of Adorno and like-minded intellectuals, for example, given yet greater prominence since it lent the title to Stuart Jeffries’s recent group biography of the Frankfurt School,53 may be felt to apply quite directly to the vision of human emancipation and historical struggle evinced in ‘Sur l’eau’: Adorno has ‘taken up residence in the “Grand Hotel Abyss”’54 – or rather, in ‘Sur l’eau’, he floats on the abyss contemplating heaven. Adorno’s response to Lukács’s criticism of his perceived disengagement – and it would hardly be lost on Adorno that this criticism was made in the course of the kind of self-criticism incumbent upon officially sanctioned Soviet intellectuals – was to renew precisely his suspicion of energetic involvement in the march of history: ‘we are left with the feeling of a person who rattles his chains hopelessly, imagining that their clanking is the march of the Weltgeist.’55 It is not necessary further to rehearse the controversy between Lukács and Adorno here. However, it is worth considering whether Adorno’s vision of emancipated humanity, ‘being, nothing else, without any further definition and fulfilment’, in fact leads us back to an undifferentiated humanity, reduced to mere being, whose nightmare version we encountered at the start of this chapter in Marx’s jelly. Certainly, it would seem that the Adornian vision for humanity – of doing nothing, like an animal – runs counter to the Marxian emphasis on the hope for humanity’s achievement of its distinctive species-being. And moreover, the prospect of lying on water and looking at the sky seems wholly devoid of the affective states in which, for example, Marcuse invests so heavily. But it is precisely the compulsion to be always buying, eating, and fucking (as the opening lines of Keston Sutherland’s Hot White Andy would have it)56 written into certain blue-prints for utopia by which Adorno is, as we have seen, disgusted. ‘The conception of unfettered activity, of uninterrupted procreation, of chubby insatiability, of freedom as frantic bustle, feeds on the bourgeois concept of nature that has always served solely to proclaim social violence as unchangeable, as a piece of healthy eternity.’57 Despite the fact that this is a consideration of the relation between two conceptions, Jephcott’s ‘feeds on’ nicely tilts ‘zehren’ in the direction of voracious materiality and thereby hints at the cannibalistic merry-go-round of capitalist and pseudo-socialist modes of production alike. Disgust at false riches may not resolve into a teeming carnival of the affects, but into relief at being, at last, allowed to be.


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Notes 1. Keston Sutherland, Stupefaction: A Radical Anatomy of Phantoms (London: Seagull Books, 2011), p. 38. 2. Ibid. 3. Ibid. p. 46. 4. See, for example, Natalie K. Eschenbaum and Barbara Correll (eds), Disgust in Early Modern English Literature (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016). 5. Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, trans. by Ben Fowkes, 3 vols. (London: Penguin, 1990), vol. I, pp. 135–36. 6. Karl Marx, Das Kapital, in Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (Berlin: Karl Dietz Verlag, 1972-), vol. II/8 (1989), p. 70. 7. Marx, Capital, p. 134. 8. Sutherland, Stupefaction, p. 40. 9. Ibid. p. 39 (Sutherland’s emphasis). 10. Raymond Williams and Michael Orrom, Preface to Film (London: Film Drama, 1954), p. 21. 11. Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1965, repr. 1971; first publ. London: Chatto & Windus, 1961), pp. 57–88. 12. Ibid. pp. 63, 64. 13. Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 128. 14. Ibid. p. 132. 15. See, for example, Williams, Long Revolution, p. 64, and Marxism, p. 131. 16. Williams, Long Revolution, ibid. 17. Ibid. pp. 63, 66. 18. E.P. Thompson, ‘The Long Revolution, Part I’, New Left Review (May–June 1961), pp. 24–33 (p. 29). I thank Stefan Collini for drawing my attention to this essay. 19. Williams, Long Revolution, p. 129. 20. Williams, Marxism, p. 131. 21. Herbert Marcuse, The Aesthetic Dimension: Toward a Critique of Marxist Aesthetics, trans. by Marcuse and Erica Sherover (London: Macmillan Press, 1979), pp. 3–4 and 5. 22. Ibid. p. 17. 23. Ibid. p. 19. 24. Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, ed. by Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, trans. by Edmund Jephcott (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), pp. 94–136 and Theodor W. Adorno, The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, ed. by J.M. Bernstein (London: Routledge, 1991; repr. 2001), pp. 98–106. 25. Theodor W. Adorno, Ästhetik (1958/59), ed. by Eberhard Ortland (Frankfurt-amMain: Suhrkamp, 2009), p. 11; cf. Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. by Robert Hullot-Kentor (Athlone, 1997), p. 10. 26. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p. 11.

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27. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, trans. by E.F.N. Jephcott (London: Verso, 1974, repr. 2000), p. 156. 28. Theodor W. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, ed. by Rolf Tiedemann et al., 20 vols (Frankfurt-am-Main: Suhrkamp, 1970–1997), vol. IV, p. 178. 29. Adorno, Minima Moralia, pp. 155–156. 30. Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. by E.B. Ashton (London: Routledge, 1973, repr. 2000), p. 365. 31. Bertolt Brecht, Die Dreigroschenoper: Der Erstdruck 1928, ed. by Joachim Lucchesi (Frankfurt-am-Main: Suhrkamp, 2004), p. 67. 32. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. VIII, p. 445 (my translation). 33. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, p. 320; cf. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. VI, p. 314. 34. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, ibid.; cf. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, ibid. 35. I first encountered this phrase over the landward entrance to the Essex Marina on the River Crouch and have gleaned the further instances alluded to above from the internet. 36. Adorno, Culture Industry, p. 187. 37. Ibid. p. 101. 38. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, trans. by James Creed Meredith, rev. by Nicholas Walker (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 112–114. 39. Adorno, Minima Moralia, p. 176; cf. Gesammelte Schriften, vol. IV, p. 200. 40. Adorno, Minima Moralia, ibid.; cf. Gesammelte Schriften, ibid. 41. Adorno, Minima Moralia, p. 177. 42. Ibid. p. 62. 43. Ibid. 44. Adorno, Gesammelte Schriften, vol. IV, pp. 69–70 (my translation). 45. Adorno, Minima Moralia, p. 62. 46. Ibid. p. 112. 47. Adorno, Culture Industry, p. 33. 48. Adorno, Minima Moralia, p. 156. 49. Ibid. pp. 156–157. 50. Paul Guyer, A History of Modern Aesthetics, 3 vols (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), vol. III, pp. 96–97. 51. Adorno, Minima Moralia, p. 157; cf. Gesammelte Schriften, vol. IV, p. 179. 52. Adorno, Minima Moralia, p. 151. 53. Stuart Jeffries, Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School (London: Verso, 2017). 54. Georg Lukács, The Theory of the Novel, trans. by Anna Bostock (London: Merlin Press, 1971; repr. 2003), p. 22. 55. Theodor W. Adorno, Notes to Literature, trans. by Shierry Weber Nicholsen, 2 vols (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), vol. I, p. 239. 56. Keston Sutherland, Hot White Andy (London: Barque Press, 2007), unpaginated: I allude here to the opening lines of the poem. 57. Adorno, Minima Moralia, p. 156.

chapter 6

Jacques Lacan’s Evanescent Affects Jean-Michel Rabaté

There is an urgent need to elaborate a theory of affects for Lacanian psychoanalysis. This is Colette Soler’s intention in her book Lacanian Affects: The Function of Affect in Lacan’s Work (2015).1 Soler announces that she will provide a systematic overview of Lacan’s copious yet misunderstood theses on affects. Indeed, her book engages with affects like “anguish” (Fink has decided to choose this term to render the French word angoisse, instead of the more common “anxiety”) but also sadness, joy, guilt, boredom, moroseness, anger, shame, love, hatred, enthusiasm, and so on. Soler rightly points out Lacan’s Freudian point of departure and highlights his distinctive contribution, even though she acknowledges that his concept of affect was fraught with tensions, false starts, or even contradictions. Lacan, as usual, offers brilliant insights couched in impenetrable and punning prose. When closing Soler’s book, though, one cannot help registering a certain degree of frustration: the original promise of presenting a clear and systematic Lacanian theory of affects has not been fulfilled; too often, the book remains mimetic in tone and style and not explanatory enough. Such a promise of theoretical transparency may have been a lure from the start, annulled in advance by Lacan’s well-known reluctance to provide anything like a “metalanguage.” One will not start from clear-cut definitions and end by applying them to exemplary case studies. Lacan was not Freud, neither was he Spinoza, although both thinkers would prove determining for his idiosyncratic insights on affects. Soler sketches an interesting evolution in Lacan’s thought. There are several distinct moments in his elaboration of affects. It culminated with the seminar on Anxiety from 1962–63 that has been recently translated.2 This Seminar is introduced by a glowing blurb from Adam Phillips who asserts that this is one of the “most remarkable psychoanalytic and philosophical works of our time” because it opens new vistas on “this fundamental experience that paralyzes speech and so immobilizes people’s lives.” Whether deliberately or unwittingly, Phillips highlights one key concern 116

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not only with the manifestations of anxiety in our lives but also with Lacan’s theory: the central role of speech and language. Surprisingly, Soler’s book does not mention a former disciple of Lacan who severely criticized him on the issue of affects and whose work has had a huge impact in French psychoanalysis. For André Green, who died in 2012, Lacan’s mistake was quite simply to reduce affects to language. This was the main objection of Le discours vivant, originally published in 1973, a book which contains a severe indictment of Lacan’s linguistic turn, along with a systematic development of a Freudian theory of affects. In fact, Green accuses Lacan of neglecting affects altogether: Lacan’s work is exemplary in this regard, not only because affect has no place in it, but also because it is explicitly excluded from it. “In the Freudian field, the words notwithstanding, consciousness is a characteristic that is as obsolete to us in grounding the unconscious [. . .] as affect is unsuited to play the role of the protopathic subject, since it is a function without a functionary.”3

Here, Green quotes Lacan’s “The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire,” a text from 1960. Green questions the very phrase “protopathic subject,” which suggests some kind of immediate physiological response to basic stimuli. For Green, this dismissive concept should be compared with Freud’s subject for whom the Id manifests itself mainly through affects. Moreover, he astutely parallels this haughty reduction of affects to reflex psychology with Lacan’s concepts of the drive and jouissance, both of which entail a certain distance from the subject’s position to speech understood as the locus of the Unconscious, since both notions are developed later in the same text. For Green, Lacan had started well when he understood language as a “subtle body” in 1953, but then went astray when he reduced everything to signifiers. As Green knows, Lacan always stressed the drives, and presented the drives as not reducible to language. Thus the same “Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire” states: “Hence the concept of the drive, in which the subject is designated on the basis of a pinpointing that is organic, oral, anal, and so on, which satisfies the requirement that the more he speaks, the further he is from speaking.”4 Lacan’s evasive formulation hints at the crux pointed out by Green and Laplanche.5 Because they object to his notorious linguistic slant, they find in affects a lever with which they try to prove that there is a limit to the power of language. They hold to the notion that, even if we can agree that the Unconscious is “structured like a language,” this does not render affect


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a linguistic manifestation of the Unconscious, whereas Lacan believes that affects can only be approached psychoanalytically when mediated by signifiers. For Green and Laplanche, the very idea of affect requires an analysis of non-verbal behavior. This is the assumption that Soler’s book attempts to dispel. Indeed, Lacan’s theory tried hard to distinguish between affects whose essence is not to be repressed and unconscious signifiers that were repressed. One finds this distinction at the outset of the seminar on Anxiety when Lacan mentions objections that he brushes away: What is anxiety? [. . .] it’s an affect. Those who follow the movements of affinity or aversion in my disquisition [. . .] think that I’m less interested in affects than anything else. That’s absurd. [. . .] What I said about affect is that it isn’t repressed. Freud says it just as I do. It’s unfastened, it drifts about. It can be found displaced, maddened, inverted, or metabolized, but it isn’t repressed. What are repressed are the signifiers that moor it. (S X, p. 14)

We need to examine the consequences of this distinction – a distinction that, as Lacan states, would require a huge elaboration: “The relationship between affect and the signifier would necessitate a whole year on the theory of affects” (S X, p. 14). He never spent that year on such a project, and in the same session, hints that he has already worked on anger, an affect that he thinks was best treated in Aristotle’s Rhetoric. This in itself offers a useful suggestion: affects should be understood from the point of view not of the soul but of language, which means that for Aristotle anger is a political passion and not an individual symptom. Moreover, two years earlier, Lacan had discussed anger in the January 1960 meeting of the Seminar on the Ethics of Psychoanalysis. However, the allusion to anger is made to ensure that his domain is not conscious mechanism but unconscious ones. He reiterates a point he will never abandon: the danger that lies in dealing exclusively with affects corresponds to a recurrent temptation for psychoanalysts to indulge in psychology. The psychology of human passions is no doubt interesting but this is not what psychoanalysts should consider as their praxis: “I haven’t taken the dogmatic path of prefacing what I have to say to you about anxiety with a comprehensive theory of affects. Why not? Because we aren’t psychologists here, we’re psychoanalysts. I’m not developing a psycho-logy for you, a disquisition on the unreal reality that is called the psyche . . . ” (S X, pp. 14–15). If anxiety is a key concept, it will have to be understood from the point of view of unconscious desire, not as one of the many-sided human emotions. We recognize here Lacan’s main tenet, his rejection of an American egopsychology that has made a travesty of Freudian psychoanalysis and that keeps

Jacques Lacan’s Evanescent Affects


on stressing the subject’s self-esteem and rejecting the most disturbing aspects of Freud’s metapsychology like the death drive. Lacan’s starting point is always strictly Freudian, and Freud indeed maintained that affects were not repressed. This occurs almost by definition: “It is surely of the essence of an emotion that we should feel it, i.e. that it should enter consciousness. So for emotions, feelings and affects to be unconscious would be quite out of the question.”6 However, Freud immediately adds an important qualification when he explains that in psychoanalysis one often speaks of “unconscious love, hate or anger.” Moreover, paradoxical phrases like “unconscious anxiety” (unbewußte Angst)7 are current. Freud explains that this way of speaking condenses two factors: often it happens that an affect will be perceived by consciousness but misconstrued because of unconscious repression: “If we restore the true connection, we call the original affect ‘unconscious,’ although the affect was never unconscious but its ideational presentation has undergone repression. In any event, the use of such terms as ‘unconscious affect and emotion’ has reference to the fate undergone, in consequence of repression, by the quantitative factor in the instinctual impulse (Triebregung)” (ibid). Freud’s comprehensive analysis of affects in that section of his essay distinguishes between degrees in the repression of affects, and concludes that the aim of repression is to get rid of affect entirely, which leads him to contrast repressed affects and repressed ideas: “So that, strictly speaking (. . .) there are no unconscious affects in the sense in which there are unconscious ideas. But there may very well be in the system affectformations which, like others, come into consciousness. The whole difference arises from the fact that ideas are cathexes (Vorstellungen Besetzungen) – ultimately of memory-traces – whilst affects (Affekte) and emotions (Gefühle) correspond with processes of discharge, the final expression of which is perceived as feelings (Empfindungen).”8 This passage exhibits three different levels that are often confused: affects, emotions and feelings. They are mentioned in an order that is not random, for if affects look closer to unconscious ideas, feelings are completely conscious, while emotions stay in a space in between. If one rewrites Freud’s “ideas” as Lacan’s “signifier,” one has a faithful reconstruction of Lacan’s mode of thinking in 1962. How does Freud distinguish between affects, emotions and feelings? A footnote makes this clear: for him, “affect” keeps the mechanical aspect of a forceful discharge, it is more quantitative than qualitative; the other two concepts introduce the qualitative factor: “Affectivity (Affektivität)


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manifests itself essentially in motor (i.e. secretory and circulatory) discharge (Abfuhr) resulting in an (internal) alteration of the subject’s own body without reference to the outer world, the motility (Motilität) in actions that are designed to effect changes in the outer world.”9 The original English translation was slightly misleading because it introduced a semi-colon after “outer world,” as if the definition of “motility” was a further gloss on the previous sentence. It is clear here that Freud opposes “affectivity” and “motility.” “Affectivity” remains an inner process while “motility” causes subjective behavior resulting in actions in the world. This dichotomy is important because “affectivity” presupposes an inner chain of actions and reactions and it works thanks to a process of “discharge.” We can see that Freud has not changed one iota the theory he had launched in his juvenile “Project for a Scientific Psychology,” a chapter of which sketches the problem of the disturbance of thought because of affect. Freud illustrated this disturbance with a simple example: in “agitation caused by great anxiety,” he forgot to use a telephone that had been introduced into his house only a short time before, and concludes: “The recently established path succumbed to the state of affect. The facilitation – that is to say, what was established of old – won the day. Such forgetting involves the loss of the power of selection, of efficiency and of logic, just as happens in dreams.”10 Thus the affect is always too close to the drives or to what Freud calls “primary processes” to remain unscathed by repression: “the affective process approximates to the uninhibited primary process,” which means in the end that “it is the business of the ego to permit no release of affect, since this would at the same time permit a primary process.”11 Freud illustrated this mechanism with his famous analysis of what he called the “proton pseudos” (the first lie, or first logical mistake) of hysteria.12 Freud’s theory of affects is complex, subtle, rich in insights – and always unexpected. One example of this startling freshness can be seen in the recurrent analysis of affects in dreams in The Interpretation of Dreams. As Freud states, the agency of repression is felt when one notices a sudden transformation of affect, be it from pleasure to unpleasure, from enjoyment to disgust, or from laughter to tears.13 In the last case, it can happen that primary modes of reasoning are inhibited and produce a comic effect: “a surplus of energy which has to be discharged in laughter, if we allow these modes of thinking to force their way into consciousness” (ID, p. 644). An example of this reversibility, a process that underpins the entire “jokework,” will be provided by a dream Freud borrowed from his friend Sandor Ferenczi. An elderly man woke up his wife at night because he was laughing

Jacques Lacan’s Evanescent Affects


profusely in his sleep. He told her that in his dream a guest had come to the room and that he could not help laugh seeing her in her nightshift in front of a total stranger. The dreamer, most likely Ferenczi himself, surmised that the stranger represented Death. He, as an elderly man, was laughing in view of his imminent demise. What seemed to announce his death was the fact that he had been impotent with his wife an hour before. The dreamer was thus transforming the terror of death into its exact opposite, which was sheer laughter (ID, p. 511). In half a page, we are treated to a scene shifting from slapstick to existential angst, as in any Beckett play. Our detour through Freudian metapsychology shows the complexity and refinement of his insights on affect. However, against Green’s relentless critique, our detour also proves that Lacan is not lying when he reiterates that he is Freudian from beginning to end. Green contents himself with stating that the analysis of affect in the case of Emma, the young hysteric who gave rise to the theory of the proton pseudos, “would merit a whole study to herself.”14 We need to take seriously the reproach that Lacan was wrong to replace “repressed ideas” leading to “repressed affects” in Freud’s theory with a linguistic turn predicated on Saussure’s signifiers. Actually, it may come as a surprise that the author who paved the way for Lacan’s central concept – the signifier as offering a privileged mode of access to affects – was not Freud or Ferdinand de Saussure but was none other than Jean-Paul Sartre. Sartre’s early essay Sketch of a Theory of Emotions stages a confrontation between existential phenomenology and psychoanalysis. At the outset, Sartre explains that his idea parallels a program developed by Ludwig Binswanger, a thinker who was to interest Michel Foucault whose first published work, Dream and Existence (1954), was an introduction to Binswanger’s launching of existential psychiatry. Binswanger had published his essay in 1930, just before Sartre and Lacan came upon the scene. Here, one catches Sartre disclosing the origin of his rejection of the Unconscious. Already then as in Being and Nothingness (1943), Sartre deemed the Unconscious incompatible with a philosophy founded upon consciousness, even when sketching an existential psychoanalysis. In this short book Sartre treats emotions as bodily affections that apparently come to us from the outside. Sartre quotes Charcot’s disciple Pierre Janet and psychoanalysts like Wilhelm Stekel and Alfred Adler. He mentions Henri Wallon, the child psychologist who analyzed the “mirror stage” in 1931 and provided Lacan with his first major handle on psychoanalysis. Lacan made a lot of the “mirror stage” in 1936, two years before


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Sartre wrote about emotions, because he found in this psychological moment determining for a child’s identity the roots of his critique of the ego considered as a stable entity: the ego is only a visual projection, a mirage, a construction – its “psychology” cannot provide a philosophical foundation. Sartre examines cases of paradoxical behavior like a clumsy thief who wanted to be caught in order to be punished. He also discusses phobias. What is key is that in his investigation of affects, Sartre suddenly hits upon a loaded couple of terms, the binary of signifier and signified. This occurs in a discussion of psychoanalysis whose main position is rejected. Sartre identifies the dominant feature of psychoanalysis as providing interpretations of conscious phenomena all read as symbolic realizations of an unconscious desire, a desire that has been repressed by censorship. Such a desire only exists in our consciousness as an emotion, whether it manifests itself as a conscious wish or as a more obscure phobia. Psychoanalysis cannot but see things in this way, otherwise it would have to admit of the concept of “bad faith,” a notion that psychoanalysis cannot allow. Sartre develops this: “If it was otherwise and if we had some consciousness, even implicit, of our true desire, we would be in bad faith, and the psychoanalyst will not accept this. The consequence is that the signification of our conscious behavior is entirely exterior to this very behavior, or, if one prefers, that the signified is entirely cut off from the signifier.”15 In his summary of psychoanalytic technique, Sartre highlights the practice of deciphering: “The behavior of the subject is in itself what it is (if we call ‘in itself’ what it is for itself ), but it is possible to decipher it by appropriate techniques, as one deciphers a written language” (Sartre 1938, p. 35). The Hegelian language used here generates a theory of signs that owes more to Augustine’s disquisitions than to the 1916 publication of de Saussure’s notes on general linguistics, as the next sentence proves: “In a word, the conscious fact is for the signified as a thing is to some event, provided the thing be the effect of this event; for instance as traces of a fire lit in a mountain for those who have made the fire” (Sartre 1938, p. 35). The link is in both cases an external or causal link; the traces are passive remainders, and a consciousness deprived of the basic techniques needed to make a fire would not perceive these traces as signs. Sartre understands that the exteriority of the “signifier” can be compared to a “thing” whose effect we understand only if we know its general process of production. However, his logic then adopts a circular form: consciousness cannot constitute itself as signification without being conscious of the signification it constitutes (Sartre 1938, p. 36). Thus these signs, those

Jacques Lacan’s Evanescent Affects


psychoanalytical affects split between signifier and signified, cannot be available to the consciousness of the subject. Indeed, one needs another person to read them as signs. Hence objections crop up: isn’t there a contradiction between this “in itself ” and this “for itself ” in the subject’s cogito? If there is a cogito, how can it not create all the significations? Sartre had briefly glimpsed a psychoanalytic truth and thematized the binary of signifier and signified only to close the door to affects that would be determined by exteriority and thus appear as “things.” What is remarkable in these pages that Lacan read with great interest if not without some distaste, is not only that they usher in the crucial hinge between signifier and signified, a conceptual couple that Lacan would deploy at length only in the 1950s, but also that they point to a residual thingness of affects. Sartre leads Lacan towards the Thing, a term that Lacan would unearth from a dense passage of Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology in Seminar VII in 1959–60. After that, the concept of the “Thing” became of primary importance in Lacan’s discourse and was developed extensively by Slavoj Zizek. Whereas the Project for a Scientific Psychology analyzed a remainder of exteriority for objects that could not be processed by consciousness, the concept provided Lacan a tool with which he could upgrade the Freudian process of sublimation by defining it as a process in which any object will be “raised to the dignity of a Thing.”16 Of course, for Sartre, the notion of “thingness” was all negative, for the term conveyed passivity, opacity, alienation, the nausea generated by the sense of being glued to objects, an abandonment of the dynamics of the signifying activity of consciousness. In 1938, Sartre believed in a Cartesian cogito, and chose Husserl’s reactivation of Cartesian intentionality over Heidegger’s more suggestive examination of the affects spelling out fundamental modalities of the Dasein’s presence in the world. For Sartre’s voluntarist drift, consciousness decides to make itself “moved” (émue) because of the needs of purely internal significations (Sartre 1938, p. 37). Only a phenomenological description of emotion can overcome the apparent contradiction between activity and passivity, a recurrent theme in all theories of affects. An emotion will be thus understood as a “transformation of the world” (Sartre 1938, p. 43) even if it generates behaviors that can imply a loss of consciousness, as for instance when I faint (Sartre 1938, pp. 45–46). The theme of emotions then allows Sartre to link a Cartesian rationalism with a Heideggerian analysis of “Being-in-the-World” introduced at the last minute, on the last page of the essay. Heidegger had analyzed the mode of existence of consciousness and saw “care” (Sorge) as an opening to the


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truth that we are all destined to die. Emotion is thus a “structure of consciousness” that signifies something for my psychic life, but cannot be understood in a deterministic system like that of psychoanalysis. For Sartre, human reality entails the power to make a world: one makes emotions that shape the whole universe, in a facticity that dispels any passivity. As Lacan quipped, what distinguishes Sartre in his often brilliant, suggestive, but misleading descriptions, is a “wonderful talent for sidetracking” (S X, p. 184). Lacan also read Heidegger. He even arranged to meet him several times, although this happened a little later. Lacan was to exploit Heidegger’s philosophy of Being and language. However, if the Seminar on Anxiety pays homage to Heidegger, it is mostly in rapid and perfunctory references to “utensils” and Sorge (care). As Soler notes astutely, it is Kierkegaard who provides most of the philosophical insights about anxiety, a concept duly inscribed in the vulgate of existentialist philosophies. Nevertheless anxiety provides a key symptom for psychoanalysis: as Lacan repeats, it is an affect that does not lie, and it is accompanied by recognizable bodily manifestations (it can be measured by heartbeats, blood pressure, sweats, etc.). Freud opposed anxiety to fear because he believed that fear had an object, whereas anxiety appeared deprived of objects and was triggered by vague, diffuse, or abstract sources of worry like the fear of dying. Typically, Lacan inverts this idea and argues that anxiety is “the affect that never deceives” because it has an object: this object is lack, the paradigm of a-symbolizable objects. Thus the term of “affect” subsumes all emotions and passions because it relates them to the Other, a language of the Unconscious source caught up between the body, signifiers and drives. In fact, references to Heidegger in Lacan’s Seminar on Anxiety are replaced by a series of more literary echoes of T. S. Eliot. In the seminar, Lacan twice quotes The Waste Land – a text that he had begun to translate into French during the war. The main insight that Lacan finds deployed in the poem is an excessive female jouissance, which triggers a discrepancy between desire and enjoyment. Tiresias, called “the patron saint of psychoanalysis” (S X, p. 183) had been struck blind by the gods for having revealed that women know a higher degree of voluptas than men. Tiresias knew this because he had been changed into a woman, and then back into a man, which gave him an awareness of the superiority of feminine orgasms. Eliot famously attributed to Tiresias the ability, despite his blindness, of seeing “the substance of the poem.” This substance refers to sexual jouissance insofar as it is unevenly distributed between men and women. If there is an excess on the side of women, it is because there is a limitation put to male

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jouissance by castration. Here lies the ultimate cause of anxiety both for Freud and Lacan, but with a different twist in Lacan’s elaboration. Freud assumed that anxiety was mostly male and derived from fears that the penis might be cut or maimed; such a fear is repressed and returns without having specific objects, which sketches a genesis for the phenomenon of anxiety. On the contrary, Lacan asserts that anxiety has an object: it is caused by being too close to the main object, which is the phallus, or the symbol of castration. All this would remain abstract without illustrations. Lacan provides one in his seminar by revisiting The Waste Land. He focuses on the “young man carbuncular” who has sex with a consenting but bored typist while Tiresias watches the scene. Lacan comments on the debasement of love-making that stains the whole of sexuality; sex is here reduced to an automatic and unsatisfactory action. This leads to formulations that anticipate the later maxim that “There is no sexual rapport”: “Man’s jouissance and woman’s jouissance will never conjoin organically. [. . .] It is because the phallus doesn’t achieve any matching of the desires, save in its evanescence, that it becomes the common-place of anxiety” (S X, p. 265). The Waste Land formalizes a sexual paradox: on the one hand, women enjoy sex much more than men; on the other hand, because their jouissance is incommensurable with that of men, they desire an object that will remain phallic. Hence they desire a purely imaginary phallus. In Eliot’s poem, the young woman is glad that the abortive sexual romp is over; music from a record helps her recover from a sexual fiasco. Meanwhile, the young man carbuncular slips away, having kept his illusion of a sexual triumph. The meaning of this scene is left for Tiresias to ponder; that is, to the psychoanalyst who meditates on all that one has had to endure or “foresuffer” in the pornographic dramas enacted by the others. Suffice it to say at this point that when affects are debased in such sordid travesties, love appears as a cheap poultice thrown on an open wound. This can be taken to characterize the dominant mood of modern times – times more illustrated by affects such as boredom and moroseness than by existential angst. By contrast, anxiety keeps a positive function. It even has a decisive role to play facing cheap farces of contemporary sexuality reduced to tendering mutual services with or without payment; only anxiety will open up the hole of truth. Anxiety subverts the weak consensus through which partners attempt to breach the gap in sexuality, and it is thus the indispensable counterpart of love. Soler’s book makes good sense of later Lacanian affects like shame, moroseness and boredom, while noting that the list changes a lot over time. Of course, pride of place has to be given to the couple love and


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hate, shown to be more complementary than opposites, but Lacan adds the passion for ignorance – our repeated attempt to deny the workings of the Unconscious, a passion that no doubt animated Sartre in his proliferating writings. One affect that is introduced rather weirdly by Lacan is the affect of shame that he decided to introduce at the end of the Seminar The Other Side of Psychoanalysis in June 1970. Starting with the idea of people who die of shame, Lacan linked the affect with what he called the master signifier that is death. In a stark reversal from the Heideggerian notion that any consideration of death should force us to be more authentic, Lacan argues that there is a shame at being alive when our lives have lost the sense of causes for which one feels it might be worth dying.17 Here Lacan is addressing the students who had been marked by May 1968, and who, having overcome the shock, were returning to a cynical mode of enjoyment without any existential risk, avoiding any higher stakes. The revolt against old masters had just led to the wish to have new masters. Punning on the word “honte” for shame, Lacan tells them that they are mired in “Shameontology” (Hontologie). Already Darwin had tried to pinpoint the uniquely human affect on the expression of shame. Darwin’s book on the expression of emotions in humans and animals had showed that there were parallels in expressions of affects such as anxiety, dejection, despair, anger, disgust, surprise, horror, and shame, with emotional expression in humans and animals. Only one of these affects presents an exception; Darwin concludes that blushing is a uniquely human affect. His chapter on blushing, an affective or pathetic manifestation apparent even among blind people or subjects who cannot perceive the others’ gaze, would bring grist to Lacan’s mill. This moment corresponds to the increasingly ethical turn in Lacan’s thought. It was exemplified pointedly in his television interview from 1973. Again rejecting both psychology and philosophy, Lacan critiqued the idea that the soul was the seat of affects. Affects are created by the interaction between the body and language, which leaves us with a special duty, the duty of “saying well.” The Roman rhetorician Quintilian extolled the ability to “speak well.” Book 12 of his Institutio Oratoria gave specific instruction to develop and facilitate the idea launched by Cato that the good man is a “vir bonus, dicendi peritus”: a “good man is man speaking well.” This bien dire also suggests the possibility of stating what is truly good. One ought to express oneself as best as one can, whether facing the most horrible or the most trivial incidents of one’s life. Echoing Dante’s condemnation of the Sullen in Canto 7, Lacan discusses their sin, which he calls, much like Spinoza, “sadness.”

Jacques Lacan’s Evanescent Affects


In Television, Lacan stresses the fact that sadness should not be construed as “a state of the soul”: it is simply a “moral failing.” Here is how he develops his analysis: “it is simply a moral failing, as Dante, and even Spinoza, said: a sin, which means a moral weakness, which is ultimately located only in relation to thought, that is, in the duty to speak well, to find one’s way in dealing with the unconscious, with the structure.”18 The sadness that Spinoza characterized in the Ethics as a diminution of our being is here equated with a despair facing language, or rather a lack of courage in applying language to what eludes us for being unconscious. Sadness would be the sin of human speakers who fail to use language to battle with their unconscious. It is not simply what a psychoanalytic cure entails; indeed, the whole effort of literature in its straining toward expression comes under this double injunction: to have the courage to say, and to obey the duty to say well. This sends us back to the Spinozist beginnings of Lacan. Lacan’s doctoral dissertation had an epigraph, a Latin quote from Ethics, book III, proposition 57: “Quilibet uniuscuiusque individui affectus ab affectu alterius tantum discrepat, quantum essentia unius ab essentia alterius differt.” It is only at the end of his book that Lacan provides the expected paraphrase: “Let us say, in order to express the very inspiration of our research, that ‘any affect of any given individual differs from the affects of another as much as the essence of the one differs from the essence of the other’” (Ethics, III-57). He adds: “By this we mean that the determining conflicts, the intentional symptoms and the instinctual [pulsionnelles] reactions of a psychosis differ from the relations of comprehension defining the development, the conceptual structures and the social tensions of the normal personality according to a measure determined by the history of the subject’s affections.”19 In her biography, Elisabeth Roudinesco highlights the fact that Lacan did not choose to translate the Latin “affectus” with the French “affect,” which remains closer to Freud’s Affekt, but used “affection” instead.20 Should one for all that conclude that Lacan was not fully Freudian in his dissertation? This is not my opinion, as I have argued elsewhere.21 As Roudinesco shows, Lacan was using the 1906 translation by Charles Appuhn, who felt at the time that “affect” was not a French word. However Roudinesco observes that Lacan’s main philosophical reference is Spinoza, and I fully agree. Lacan’s philosophy of affects appears Spinozist throughout. In Ethics, Spinoza adds the concept of desire to his analysis of affects. If all affects are related to desire, joy, or sadness, it is desire that spells out the specific essence of individuals: “[T]he desire of each individual differs from the


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desire of another as much as the nature, or essence, of the one differs from the essence of the other.”22 Desire, affect, and differential personal genealogies converge. Gilles Deleuze analyzed the logic of expression in Spinoza’s Ethics, and began by distinguishing between suffering, passion, feelings, affection and affect.23 The expression of affect is not just a Romantic privilege granted to any creator, whether divine or artistic. Expression entails taking into account the concept of infinity. Here is why the two main affects in Spinoza’s philosophy are joy, which occurs when our being is augmented, and sadness, when it is diminished. Spinoza’s Ethics introduces the notion of infinity, ultimately predicated on the unity between Nature and the human soul. All in all, the many references to Spinoza’s Ethics throw an important bridge between Lacan and Deleuze, too often seen as theoretical enemies. However, unlike what we find in Book Three of Ethics, there cannot be a systematic “theory” of Lacanian affects. Lacan only quotes Dante, Augustine, Spinoza, Freud, Sartre, Heidegger, because there is no principle of economy or exhaustivity in a proliferating nomenclature that keeps on adding new terms. If only key signifiers are repressed, if affects exhibit themselves, one of the difficulties will be to name them. Once we can name them, Lacan suggests, then and only then can we know something about them, including how to deal with them. As we have seen with Freud, the problem of affects is that they often prove misleading: laughter can contain tears, as Joyce suggests when he coins “laughtears” in Finnegans Wake.24 Even a pure scream can remain ambivalent. I will illustrate the semantic and conceptual lability of the Lacanian affects with a short story by Katherine Mansfield dated from 1919 and entitled, in an apposite manner, “Psychology.” The narrator seems privy to the feelings of one of the two characters in presence, a thirty-yearold writer of plays, who has the surprise of an unannounced visit. It is her close friend, a thirty-one-year-old novelist. Although she is delighted to see him, she gains time by preparing tea in an elaborate manner, whereas he seems ready for immediate action, whether fully sexual or not. The narrator glosses their intimacy in these terms: “For the special thrilling quality of their friendship was in their complete surrender. Like two open cities in the midst of some vast plain their two minds lay open to each other. [. . .] And the best of it was they were both of them old enough to enjoy their adventure to the full without any stupid emotional complication. Passion would have ruined everything; they quite saw that.”25 While it is not clear whether they have been lovers, what stands out is that their intimacy is founded upon a “modern” rejection of emotions.

Jacques Lacan’s Evanescent Affects


They are ready to see their closeness grow, but are uncertain of how to proceed. The man praises her lovely cakes and tea, explains that he can recall the studio in all its details once he has left it. He asserts that he feels at home there, in a way that he cannot know elsewhere. In spite of all these engaging remarks, their conversation tends to lapse into silences, broken only when both start speaking at the same time, and find a safe topic in the discussion of a book: They were off and all was as usual. But was it? Weren’t they just a little too quick, too prompt with their replies, too ready to take each other up? Was this really anything more than a wonderfully good imitation of other occasions? His heart beat; her cheek burned and the stupid thing was she could not discover where exactly they were or what exactly was happening. She hadn’t time to glance back. And just as she had got so far it happened again. They faltered, wavered, broke down, were silent. Again they were conscious of the boundless, questioning dark. Again, there they were – two hunters, bending over their fire, but hearing suddenly from the jungle beyond a shake of wind and a loud, questioning cry . . .

The narrator plays on the dichotomy between a wild response to sexuality and the civilized repression that relies on genteel notions of propriety: “Why didn’t they just give way to it – yield – and see what will happen then? But no. Vague and troubled though they were, they knew enough to realize their precious friendship was in danger. She was the one who would be destroyed – not they – and they’d be no party to that.” Their conversation shifts to the popularity of “psychological novels,” by which is meant novels impacted by psychoanalysis, a fad that the woman rejects while it is wholeheartedly embraced by the man. She says ironically: “Do you mean you feel there’s quite a chance that the mysterious nonexistent creatures – the young writers of to-day – are trying simply to jump the psycho-analyst’s claim?” and he replies: “Yes, I do. And I think it’s because this generation is just wise enough to know that it is sick and to realize that its only chance of recovery is by going into its symptoms – making an exhaustive study of them – tracking them down – trying to get at the root of the trouble.” She only complains that this will generate a rather “dismal” perspective on life. However, she notices that by becoming engrossed in a theoretical discussion of “psychological” novels, they move further away from the possibility of sexual intimacy. The man may have made a point, but he appears “bored” by his own theories. She laments the direction their conversation has taken: “‘What a spectacle we have made of ourselves,’ thought she. And she saw him laboriously – oh, laboriously – laying out the grounds and herself running after, puffing here


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a tree and there a flowery shrub and here a handful of glittering fish in a pool. They were silent this time from sheer dismay.” Given all the silences that engulf them, the man longs to break their embarrassment, but cannot choose between speaking and not speaking. What is clear is that speech has been reduced to “their ordinary maddening chatter.” Eager to break away from this morass, the man blurts out that he has to leave for an appointment. And instead of insisting that he should stay longer, the woman pushes him out, even though she resents his acquiescence. She feels hurt by his aloof attitude yet does not allow her heart to speak out. Her ambivalence is rendered realistically by a series of simple contradictions: “‘You’ve hurt me – hurt me,’ said her heart. ‘Why don’t you go? No, don’t go. Stay. No – go!’ And she looked out upon the night.” Once she is left alone, she curses herself and him. She feels utterly stupid not to have been able to retain him. In her rage, she concludes that all is over between them and swears never to see him again. She is disturbed by another visitor for whom she opens the door, but just because she thinks that it might be her male friend who has changed his mind and come back. It is only a bothersome older woman who has a crush on her, and whom she usually dismisses. This time, her arrival entails a remarkable change in her feelings. The friend has brought a miserable bunch of wilted flowers, and to thank her she puts her arms around the woman who is wild with surprise and joy. They both say good night to each other, and her mood having turned to positive feelings, she writes a letter to her male friend that begins with the issue of psychological novels but ends with a renewed invitation to visit her. This story falls in line with other explorations of female ambivalence by Mansfield, and can be compared with the title story, “Bliss,” in which inexplicable moments of bliss are experienced by a young woman even after she discovers that her husband is having an affair with a woman whom she has invited to a dinner party because she had an inclination for her.26 If Mansfield was known for her bisexual affairs and her volcanic temper, this story goes beyond the impact of psychoanalysis on literary “psychology” often considered as a hallmark of the Bloomsbury group. What Mansfield explores with great skill is the impossibility of naming affects, especially when they deal with sexuality and its necessary sublimation. Hate and love are not opposed but combined, and the arrival of a silly older friend who “idolizes” the main character in “Psychology” is enough to make her renounce an immature decision to break up with a frustrating friend. The irony is contained in the title: after psychoanalysis, and especially after the psychoanalysis of affect, no “psychology” as such is possible,

Jacques Lacan’s Evanescent Affects


which means that there cannot be any psychology if we consider it as a nomenclature of emotions, feelings, and passions. This is an insight that Kafka had reached at the same time and via similar chains of reasoning that also borrowed Freudian ideas: “Never again psychology!”27 Mansfield and Kafka would thus give us perfect Lacanian analyses of these evanescent, as often devastating as thrilling, post-Freudian affects.

Notes 1. Colette Soler, Lacanian Affects: The Function of Affect in Lacan’s Work, trans. Bruce Fink (London and New York: Routledge, 2016). 2. Jacques Lacan, Anxiety, The Seminar Book X, edited by Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. by A. R. Price (Cambridge: Polity, 2014). Hereafter cited as S X with page number. 3. André Green, The Fabric of Affect in the Psychoanalytic Discourse, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Routledge, 1999), p. 99. 4. Jacques Lacan, Ecrits, trans. Bruce Fink (New York: Norton, 2006), p. 692. 5. See Jean Laplanche, Problématiques IV, L’inconscient et le ça (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1981), pp. 27–29. Laplanche considers Lacan’s omnipresent signifier as being a translation of Freud’s representation theory. 6. Sigmund Freud, “The Unconscious,” in Philip Rieff (ed.), General Psychological Theory, Papers on Metapsychology (New York: Collier Books, 1963), p. 126. 7. Sigmund Freud, “Das Unbewußte,” Psychologie des Unbewußten, Studienausgabe III (Frankfurt: Fischer, 1982), p. 136. 8. Sigmund Freud, “The Unconscious,” p. 127 (translation modified). 9. Ibid. p. 128, footnote (translation modified). 10. Sigmund Freud, “The Disturbance of Thought by Affects,” Project for a Scientific Psychology, in The Origins of Psychoanalysis, trans. Eric Mosbacher and James Strachey (New York: Basic Books, 1977), p. 414 (translation modified). 11. Ibid. p. 415. 12. See Freud, Origins of Psychoanalysis, pp. 410–414. 13. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), trans. James Strachey (New York: Avon Books, 1965), p. 643. Hereafter cited as ID with page number. 14. Green, Fabric of Affects, p. 27. 15. Jean-Paul Sartre, Esquisse d’une théorie des émotions (1938; Paris: Hermann, 2010), p. 35, my translation for all quotations. Hereafter cited as Sartre 1938 with page number. 16. Jacques Lacan, The Seminar Book VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959–1960, trans. Dennis Porter (London: Routledge, 1992), p. 112. 17. See Colette Soler, Lacanian Affects: The Function of Affect in Lacan’s Work, pp. 93–97.


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18. Jacques Lacan, Television, trans. Denis Hollier, Rosalind Krauss, and Annette Michelson (New York: Norton, 1990), p. 22; translation modified. “Devoir de bien dire” has been translated as “the duty to be Well-spoken,” which tones down the “imperative of saying,” a concept that was to be of crucial importance for a writer such as Beckett. 19. Jacques Lacan, De la psychose paranoïaque dans ses rapports avec la personnalité (Paris: Seuil, 1975), pp. 342–343. 20. Elisabeth Roudinesco, Jacques Lacan, trans. Barbara Bray (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), pp. 54–55. 21. See my chapter “Lacan’s turn to Freud” in The Cambridge Companion to Lacan, ed. Jean-Michel Rabaté (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 1–24. 22. Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics, trans. Edwin Curely (London: Penguin, 1966), p. 101. 23. Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Zone, 1992), pp. 218–221. 24. James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (London: Faber, 1939), p. 15. This is a page to which Lacan alluded frequently in the seventies. 25. The story was published in Bliss and Other Stories. Available online at www [last accessed 26 June 2019]. All subsequent quotes from the text come from this unpaginated website. 26. For an excellent Lacanian reading, see Alan Pero, “‘Jigging away into nothingness’: Knowledge, Language and Feminine Jouissance in ‘Bliss’ and ‘Psychology,’” in Katherine Mansfield and Psychology, ed. Clare Hanson, Gerri Kimber and Todd Martin (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016), pp. 100–112. 27. Franz Kafka, “Collected Aphorisms,” The Great Wall of China and Other Short Works, trans. and ed. by Malcolm Pasley (London: Penguin, 1973), p. 95.

chapter 7

The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory Geoff Gilbert

Queers Feel Different Can the project of imagining queer difference depend on affect? Is it better to think that queers feel different, than that we are a different species or a different set of psychological cases, that the fat settles differently around gay waists, or that something has happened to all of us in our youth? Positing of difference, for bodies and social groups whose differences are scrutinized and policed, is always problematic. But neither have we conceded that the presence of queer people is only a discursive effect, a question of distinctions and structures, with no matter of valuing and desiring to serve as its ground. It seems sad fate for the queer person to stand only for the deconstructive unravelling of the normative grounds of other lives, when there is such odd flaming promise in the difference we might feel. If we can’t just be different then we maybe can make difference. That is one version of the project of queer theory, performatively to discover the difference that cannot simply be empirically received. Again: if that difference were felt difference? When David Halperin imagines that there is a – complex – teachable approach to the active construction of gay identity and gay praxis, part of his focus is on sentimental styles. The book and the class from which it emerged ‘set out to explore gay men’s characteristic relation to mainstream culture for what it might reveal about certain structures of feeling distinctive to gay men.’1 To learn to be gay is to learn to feel gayly, and his work explores an American repertoire and ‘dissident’ tradition with rich affectionate complexity. There’s a gay-male queerness here that wants to preserve and teach a tradition of feeling – in the name of radical politics, in the name of an ongoing emancipation of desire – in order performatively to shape and maintain a queer project. 133


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The movement of affect theory through the humanities has – as the Introduction to this volume makes very clear – owed a lot to queer theory. As I explore how queer theory, as a particular kind of affective writing, might make – might discover and performatively enable – queer difference, I feel a burden of responsibility for how queer theory can be transmitted without locking feeling into contexts that disable contemporary historical vitality (while the question here is specifically about queer theory, I think that it might contribute to a more general question about the transmission of ‘theory’ in our period). I’ll be thinking this through some of the 1970s work of the Parisian activist, theorist, and writer Guy Hocquenghem. He can be placed at one kind of origin for queer theory, in the reception of his work in the 1970s; his writing is also part of a second originary moment, as the second volume published in Duke University Press’s series Q. That series – to which the work of Eve Sedgwick was central – is partly responsible for attaching affect theory to queer theory.2 Hocquenghem insists on a set of affects in a way that is still troublingly live for me, unlike the feelings conserved in the work of Halperin, and he locates those affects very tightly in relation to particular social arrangements. Queer difference is vital to his work, as is a recognition that when that difference is named it is in danger of sliding off into an affectless and assless norm. So, to give an example which anticipates later sections of this essay, in 1974, Hocquenghem borrows a mode of thinking from contemporary feminism. ‘One is woman before being Trotskyite or Maoist, why not faggot?’,3 he asks. Being a faggot, a ‘pédé’, is a declaration that comes ‘from the guts’ (‘on veut parler avec nos tripes’4) and it also adds something to politics – an affective talking based in the variability of private life that is absent, for Hocquenghem, from Trotskyism or Maoism (indeed it is aggressively policed within these political moments). Affective – desiring, shamed – bodily need is declared within and against social and political role (even revolutionary role). This is the pédé, ‘born that way’, chronologically before and politically more foundational than the Trotskyite or the Maoist that he also might be, nourishing the revolution with his particular revolt.5 But when Hocquenghem imagines some of the content of the faggot, the meaning of gayness is to want to fuck across classes, and more specifically, to feel called to have sex with Arab migrant workers whom he imagines to be in ‘sexual misery’. Affective difference here is scripted into a social process which is radically historical, but which cannot simply be empirically received. So the positioning of the pédé, ‘avant d’être Trotskyist’ is not a naturalizing move founding queer identity in a set of eternal feelings

The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory 135 that pre-exist history, but a suggestion that the naming of roles, even roles like ‘Trotyskist’ or ‘Maoist’ within revolutionary process, is in danger of closing down the divergent political possibility which is signaled in queer bodily affect. To read queer affect through Hocquenghem is to place the priority of affect over names and roles within a particular historical scene (a post-68, pre-HIV context); it is also – given his position at the origin of a 1990s construction of queer theory, and given an attempt to read his feeling now – to consider the ageing of the exorbitant feelings that emerge in that configuration, and their productivity for other futures.

Affect Theory and Queer Theory the smile in response to the human face makes possible all those varieties of human communion which are independent of eating and touching the other.6

Queer thought – necessarily, I would argue – appears in the form of an affective writing. To stay around the moment when Series Q was launched, in 1993: I think of a time at the beginning of my graduate studies, when a venerable Americanist was moved – clearly he was shocked and angered and troubled – to walk or perhaps actually to storm out of a talk by Leo Bersani. I remember the talk being a version of the ‘gay outlaws’ section of Homos,7 in which the anti-social elements of Genet’s writing are aligned with questions of sexual gesture. A mode of fucking in Genet’s Pompes funèbres (1947) emerges from and builds against the affective alignment of postliberation French national identity. Something mannered and provocative in Genet’s styles, which Bersani reads through his ethics of betrayal, and out of which he develops his theorization of an anti-social queerness, was activated again against the generally harmonious seminar room. Or I think of the still stomach-dropping sentiment when I first read the sentence: ‘it’s always open season on gay kids’ in Sedgwick’s essay ‘How to Bring your Kids up Gay’.8 The affective indication of gay youths as the object of violence and effacement from psychiatry is all the more powerful because those queer kids are not merely empirically received: they have no essential identity, rather the article stages the ‘erotically invested affirmation of many people’s felt desire or need that there be gay people in the immediate world’.9 There are precedents: in the early 1970s, the liberation of the child into sexuality is an important front for Hocquenghem’s queer politics;10 or a member of ‘Les Gouines Rouges’ (‘The Red Dykes’, the lesbian faction of the Mouvement de libération des femmes) declared that their project (with


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the Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire, of which Hocquenghem was a founder) was to liberate heterosexuals from (social) reproduction towards sexuality: ‘let the heterosexuals be satisfied to produce us! We will educate ourselves and we will educate their children, who will be like us.’11 These seventies moments jostle slightly weightlessly on cheaply produced journals in a space of political factionalisms, in which the pathway between an affective statement and its ‘political effect’ is unclear. Sedgwick’s queer formulation is in some ways identical, but the social ground of the affect is very different – we can imagine her feeling transmitted through advocacy groups and lobbying organizations, such that it becomes part of a contestatory moment within the mechanics of the state. One effect of the power of Sedgwick’s writing and pedagogy has been to put shame at the center of the theory of affect in the humanities, and to associate it with questions of queer and gay identity.12 I want to take two things from Sedgwick’s reading of Tomkins’s account of shame: shame blocks a potential interest and enjoyment in the world; and shame shadows the emergence of the question of identity. So shame marks the fact that there could have been interest and enjoyment, that there was a moment there for me to feel it, but it has been refused; and identity appears isolated and visibly linked to that interest at the moment it is blocked. I am caught wanting, and something in my ‘script’ finds the visibility of my particular positive attachment to the world an occasion for shame. I want to disappear, for the world to swallow me up. At the same time, the trigger for that plummet into abjection may have nothing directly to do with me at all. I can feel it because of your transgression as much as for my own. My identity – as I feel it and feel from it – emerges here as affective intensity located in myself and across a world of others. The moment of recoil back from possible interest or excitement or enjoyment or joy, and towards shame and humiliation, registers also a shift in the social shape of feeling. The way in which other people appear in the structure of affect changes. For Tomkins, the affect structures of enjoyment and joy are marked by mutuality or communion. Enjoyment depends upon being felt mutually with others, and it is magnified when there are others present also to feel it; my smile is realized and amplified by your correspondent smile. Shame, by contrast, is structured as a relation between my identity, isolated and enclosed, and others – particular others and generalized others, concrete and abstract others – who absolutely do not share my identity in a mode of communion. I want to name these two modes of affect ‘mutualizing’ and ‘relational’ affects.

The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory 137 So shame – for example – offers a visibility to others in relation to you, having blocked a mutualizing or communion with those others you might have ‘smiled with’. Both of those populations can exist internally to the self as well as externally. Some of the political or ethical claims organized around shame depend upon a horror at the breach of mutuality: that is, for this ethics – a kind of global humanism of shame, explored and critiqued with great beauty and complexity in the work of Ukai Satoshi13 – any occasion for shame is the moment for an endless sharing and circulation of shame that would enfold and overcome our power-filled separations (turning a relational mode back towards something mutual). Tomkins entertains the idea that socialization through shame is aligned with democratic modes, and socialization through contempt with hierarchical societies.14 ‘When one man expresses contempt for another the other is more likely to experience shame than self-contempt insofar as the democratic ideal has been internalised. This is because he assumes that ultimately he will wish to commune with this one who is expressing contempt and this wish is mutual.’15 This difference – for minority groups for example – may not be as stable as he suggests. Jonathan Flatley has very brilliantly read scenes where, in response to humiliation and contempt, African American writers have faced the choice between returning contempt and returning shame. In his reading of Du Bois, Souls of Black Folks, for example, he sees Du Bois’s hope for ‘access to the privileges and rights that are available on the other side of the veil’, as the determination of his ‘open[ing] himself up to the experience of shame’.16 But Flatley argues that this ‘internal attenuation’ of the hierarchy enacted by contempt is no easier to bear. ‘Indeed, in Du Bois’s account, the African American subject is perpetually and precipitously shame prone, liable to fall into shame-filled depressiveness with every fresh rejection or exclusion. On the level of daily emotional life, the sense of shame is much more tormenting than reciprocal contempt.’17 Flatley’s reading of the expense of contempt within structures of racialization, and of a settling into shame as a debilitating psychically-affordable compromise, offers an explanation of how the democratic contains hierarchical relations which are experienced affectively, and at the same time refuses that they be recognized or revealed, by demanding a transformation of relational affect into humanist mutuality. Thus the distinction between mutual and relational is not quite an empirical one; it needs to be maintained theoretically, in a categorizing of the affective evidence of the world. Look at this structure in Tomkins, in which a ‘barrier’ appears to block potential interest and enjoyment,


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holding me apart from a promised and desired communion and mutuality. The barrier might appear because one is suddenly looked at by one who is strange, or because one wishes to look at or commune with another person but suddenly cannot because he is strange, or one expected him to be familiar but he suddenly appears unfamiliar, or one started to smile but found one was smiling at a stranger.18

Affect and its social structure are immediately discovered in the surprising experience of the strange, and written into the social material as though they were empirical. But we can imagine this affective script going queer, when the relation that is felt as shameful opens a cruising zone for desire, rather than retreating against the failure of mutuality. For Tomkins, lightly, and for later affect theorists rather dogmatically, the smile is not a representation or a signifier. It is the affect itself. Ruth Leys has charted the regular attempts at an empirical naturalization of the smile within the history of psychological affect theory. For Leys, this history of experiment has failed to make its case (there is always a social, cultural, or political supplement within the nature of the smile); and those claims that affect is non-intentional which depend upon the experimental ground are invalidated by this failure. Further, she sees this process as driven by and confirming a de-valuing of relations with the world as a key part of psychic life.19 Tomkins is quite clear that this ambition to fully biologize the smile is misguided. The smile that is mutualized and magnified and mirrored in the familiar, and blocked by the strange, and which offers me the sure knowledge that I feel something rather than read something and that the thing I feel is unfakably part of the organization of my body, teases outwards into the shape of a social sign, a conventionality through which groups are formed. The section on the smile in Tomkins’s enormous study is followed by an excursion on language, where language is treated as a place of sharing before it is a tool for the operation of the world.20 For Tomkins, language is part of the natural conveyance of affect, with its horizon of communion and mutuality. At the same time, it is a relatively autonomous mechanism, by which affects are attenuated, modified, prolonged, and managed. The temporal shape of my feeling is different when I feel anger at you, than it is when I say ‘you make me angry’. This difference from a fully naturalizing physiological account of affect, rather than taking us outside affect theory, should still be thought of as within the extended mechanism of affect. The sign become conventional may still be non-intentional for the subject – my

The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory 139 smile and my words seek a communion and a mutuality which may be imagined independently of its particular object. But it is also irreducibly and concretely social. The attempts to naturalize and totalize affective experience deny ‘style’ and ‘affectation’ as internal to affect structures, to the life of affect, and to the social body. For now then, as we prepare to approach Hocquenghem, the difference of queer feeling is best located in the distribution of mutualizing and relation-producing modes of affect, rather than within any particularly distinctive affects or patterns of affect. That is, the abrasion of queer feeling happens in spaces where there is consensual activity which is becoming normative, and it applies that friction to the becoming-conventional of the signs which mark the social life of the natural history of the affects. The queer happens in the pursuit of the strange feeling when you smile strange at a stranger. Against this version of affect theory we might feel some of the history of humanities work on the sign. We might move to a deconstructive account, in which the linguistic undoes the ground by which the normalization of affect comes to seem to be its nature. I don’t want to go there, because going there takes away any possibility of an account of queer people feeling differently, or it places that difference of feeling at the service merely of an unravelling of the image of a meaningful sameness of feeling, a ricocheting dissemination across the surfaces of endless frozen smiles. Rather, I think, as this essay moves towards the 1970s for inspiration, and feels how queer theory becomes possible in France in this moment, we might remember the British cultural studies work of the 1970s that imagined subcultural difference. Dick Hebdige’s work, for example, imagines a radical difference of feeling and a difference of identity based on feeling, in which ‘style’ and even ‘inauthenticity’ are key modes.21 Importantly, his book emerges from a shift in the class structure of the UK education system, and culturalstudies thought could usefully be read as a registering of the new constitutive non-consensuality of the lecture hall. This is a way of making meaning in a world of people who do not feel the same. Affect is the immediate register of value. The powerful feeling, happening below or before cognitive control, that I want things to be closer to me or that I want them away from me or that I want to disappear from their sight, felt directly as an affective response, is a measure of the world rather than a content-empty reaction to it. If the field of affect is socially shaped in a distribution of mutual and relational energies, then we might hazard a value-theory for affect: my affective valuation meets and contributes to a social abstraction, an objective account of value, which is also prior to it.


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This is what I feel when I experience the social as an affective coercion, or when my feeling falls flat, or in the very mechanism that blocks my interest-enjoyment, turns me to my shame, and marks my dominated status as part of an objective affective distribution.22 When we consider that language for Tomkins is ideally an extension of mutuality, we recognize that the origin of the idea of affectedness – or style – appears here. Affectedness in affect is awareness of mutuality become relation, making the abstraction visible, through which my participation in the social returns to me as the objective condition of my life. Style – the vestimentary, the subcultural, the style of writing – would be the enacting of this as purpose. While theory emerges from this and is about this, I don’t think that we can hold queer affect in theory, because of the fact that affect, by this account, is objectively and absolutely historical, and inheres in the grouping of persons.

This Is What Guy Feels Like Mais que c’est triste, une espace politique [How sad that is, a political space]23

Michael Moon and Edmund White have both suggested that Guy Hocquenghem was the first gay theorist that they encountered; and as his work repudiates the ideal of homosexual identity as fast as it invokes it, I will call this queer theory as well as gay. I don’t want to worry too much about the priority of the ‘first’ here: Hocquenghem himself is explicitly excited and impelled by gay activist and theoretical writings that come from the US, and much of his work as activist and thinker is a transposition of ideas emerging transnationally within feminism. For Moon, it was his ‘first model of the gay appropriation of poststructuralist theory’, and, as he suspects was the case for many readers before him, ‘our first working example of theoretical discourse strongly inflected by gay activism’.24 He sees in Hocquenghem’s first book, Homosexual Desire (1972, translated into English in 1978), a mode of writing and thinking that would not ‘become current’ in the anglophone academy until the impulsive mood of ‘the HIV/ AIDS epicrisis’. That book was reissued as the second volume – after Sedgwick, Tendencies (1993) – in Duke University Press’s Series Q, which offered it an anchoring position in the consolidating canon of queer theory. The series indicates an imbrication of queer theory with affect theory. Series Q operates under the sign of Sedgwick, and Katherine Boyd Stockton and Ann Cvetkovich both published key works about affect

The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory 141 there before it closed down in 2011. A range of works published in the series develop beautiful and complex cross-patternings among the thought of the queer and the thought of affect, but it impels that mix from within an historical process different from the historical production of Hocquenghem’s work. Homosexual Desire is still a challenging work, dense with references to emerging theory (particularly Deleuze and Guattari, but also to the psychoanalysis that the text repudiates), as they are taking their place within new constellations of the left in Paris. Hocquenghem’s argument displaces the question of ‘homosexual’ difference into questions of the norms. ‘[W]e constantly need to repeat that there is no difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals, that both are divisible into rich and poor, male and female, good and bad [. . .] because there is a distance, because there is a repeatedly unsuccessful effort to draw homosexuality back into normality’.25 In order to maintain the contingent promise in the difference of homosexuality, Hocquenghem argues against the idea of ‘homosexuality as an individual problem, as the individual problem’: this is ‘the surest way to subject it’ to the ‘collective phantasy’ of Oedipal oppression and social reproduction. Against this, in the bravura chapter on ‘Capitalism, the Family, and the Anus’ he imagines a ‘grouping’ [groupalisation] of the anus. Homosexual desire ‘groups the anus by restoring its functions as a desiring bond, and by collectively reinvesting it against a society which has reduced it to the state of a shameful little secret’.26 This ‘group’ is a threat to the structuring of the social. It is freshly possible to think about Hocquenghem’s feelings thanks to two excellent recent books: Antoine Idier’s sociological biography Les Vies de Guy Hocquenghem: politique, sexualité, culture (2017, along with his collection of Hocquenghem’s journalism, Un Journal de rêve),27 and Todd Shepard’s very brilliant construction of one context for thought about sexuality and left politics in France, Sex, France, and Arab Men, 1962–1979 (2017), with his consideration of Hocquenghem in that context .28 In the quick account that follows, I will draw heavily on Idier’s narrative, selection of evidence, and interpretations, and more occasionally on Shepard’s narrative, as part of an account of the mood of the moment. Jonathan Flatley has given a very useful synoptic account of some historical modes or frames for the thought of feeling, as part of an ambition to see the ‘importance of mood and affect to a Marxist concern with the representability of history . . . and the possibility for our collective participation in and transformation of our own history as it unfolds’.29 Affect enters the world, interacts with the world, in three modes – emotion,


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mood, and ‘structure of feeling’. Emotions are ‘the results of the inevitable interaction of affects with thoughts, ideas, beliefs, habits, instincts, and other affects’,30 so emotions are reducible and variable between contexts and between persons. ‘Mood’ is an affective atmosphere, giving a ‘world’ rather than particular objects, but setting the conditions for what kind of intentions and affects might operate. Moods are total or totalizing, they ‘are not in us; we are in them; they go through us’,31 and they may thus provide for or impede collective action. ‘Structure of feeling’, a conceptual frame Flatley develops from Raymond Williams’s sketch, is related to mood, and is developed by Williams and taken up by Flatley because they want a term for a mode of feeling that underpins ‘practical consciousness’. A ‘structure of feeling’ names ways of imagining and feeling the possibility of change within life before those possibilities harden into an ideology.32 Mood and structure of feeling organize the availability of the object world for valuing, and thus, politically, for transvaluation. As he puts it: ‘depression is a mood, not a structure of feeling; however, we might describe . . . the depression of the residents of a decimated New Orleans after Katrina as a structure of feeling’.33 The difference of a queer feeling partakes in each of these modes, and thus any claim of continuity of queer feeling will have to reckon with the stratified bases of mood, structure of feeling, and emotion through which affect meets the world, through which my feelings can be understood to be of the world as well as being autotelic and non-intentional. A queer affective difference – even or especially the queer affective difference that Hocquenghem wants to posit as happening conceptually ‘before’ Trotskyism or any other particular ideological naming – finds a place here within historical process. So what does Hocquenghem feel like? The question takes us into the moods of the Paris of the ‘long May 1968’, still rippled with the aftershocks of Algerian decolonization. It engages the structures of feeling that mark his fitful passionate participation in the unstable groups of the revolutionary left and the liberationary struggles within and alongside and against that left, particularly as a key member of the short-lived Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire (FHAR). It also registers the particular dispositions – to borrow Idier’s Bourdieusian mode – that emerge within Hocquenghem’s negotiation of his social and institutional and professional trajectories, as a student of the ‘elite’ Ecole normale supérieure, as a lowstatus lecturer at the Nanterre campus, as a journalist who writes for Libération, and for the emerging gay press. Those dispositions register for him and for others as his ‘self’.

The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory 143 These feelings involve a marked proximity with and difference from feminism, particularly the feminism of the Mouvement de Libération des Femmes (MLF).34 When Hocquenghem in 1974 writes about the beginning of the FHAR in 1971 and the complexity of its relation to the MLF, he notes: It was the dykes that started it off: most of the MLF as it happens were reticent if they weren’t frankly critical about this newly arrived runt [avorton], the FHAR, which copied the organization of the MLF (weekly general assembly at the Art School), and mimicked its styles (songs, weekends together, love amongst ourselves, war on the phallocracy). Issue 12 of Tout even contained a Manifesto of the 343 sluts who got buggered by Arabs.35

There is a bit to unpack here. The MLF, founded in 1970, had a mission to extend and correct the focus of revolutionary activity after 1968. The manifesto that Hocquenghem refers to responds to the epochal manifesto of April 1971, put together by Simone de Beauvoir and co-signed by many members of the MLF, in which 343 women named themselves publicly as ‘sluts’ (‘salopes’) who had had abortions, as part of a campaign to reform the legal framework for termination. The FHAR ‘manifesto’, produced in the month after the original, parodies and sexualizes it, and introduces the idea of Arab men into the space. This is radically, pointedly, and intentionally tasteless (although the ‘avorton’ here may in the context of a response to a manifesto about reproductive rights be careless as well as offensive). The FHAR is non-serious here, superficial, mimicking the real politics of the MLF, consistently sordidly and abjectly sexual rather than aiming at ‘love’ as it claims the MLF does: ‘According to the women, the faggots talk a lot about sex and little about love. They are sexually obsessed, their fantasies circle around the sordid or the abject, the urinal or the bushes in the Tuileries.’ It displays ‘an irresponsible side; an incapacity for strategic thought’. There is radical contrast, for Hocquenghem, between a feminism that represents ‘half of humanity, a real community’, as opposed to ‘the brownian motion of a few hundred faggots’.36 But the undermining distinction between the groups is doubled by political alliance: if ‘privately the faggots hate the women’, where ‘hatred’ is Hocquenghem’s excessively affective gloss on any relation which is not libidinally charged, ‘in the struggle, they find themselves side by side’.37 That patterning of antithetical proximity, non-consensual solidarity, between male homosexual and feminist – and the apparently contingent appearance of a third element, the figure of the Arab man to whom we will return – is fairly constant: ‘Problem: the girls explained that they were fed


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up with being whistled at by men in the street. To which the faggots replied that that was all they wanted: to be whistled at, for a hand to grope their ass. That this was why they went to Morocco or Tunisia. Perhaps we ought to wander the streets in pairs, a faggot + a woman, and divert the homage offered to one towards the other’.38 The pattern repeats: when the MLF in 1972 critically deforms the opening of the Communist Manifesto by introducing the gendering of the category of domestic labour, asking the question: ‘Workers of the World: who is washing your socks?’, the FHAR follows up charmingly but unhelpfully with: ‘Workers of the World: touch yourselves! [caressez-vous]’. The tonal or affective undercutting or undermining of a feminist position to which the FHAR remains politically proximate is aggressively nonconsensual. This is partly Hocquenghem’s disposition, which Idier accounts for very brilliantly as evidencing his social and educational trajectory. It is also more generally characteristic of the queer left structure of feeling. There are perhaps more extreme versions of it: the Gazolines, for example, the loose trans wing of the FHAR, shouting ‘bite au cul’ (‘cock in ass’) as they enter a room, fight against any solemnization of thought and settling of feeling. In one tract they demand the ‘sodomisation’ of ‘the presidents of contemporary thought that will soon become the object of explanation and commentary . . . Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze’.39 Queer thought will not settle into a philosophy. Or, to give another example of the way that an affective extreme blocks any communion with the philosophical, appended to a very good, clearminded ‘explanation and commentary’ on Deleuze and Guattari’s AntiOedipus (1972), quickly published in 1973, presumably for a student market, Hocquenghem’s friend and collaborator Michel Cressole signs a contrarian ‘Letter to Deleuze’ about what philosophy is for queers, denying Deleuze authority in the matter.40 Hocquenghem’s close association with Cressole did not stop Deleuze writing a preface for Hocquenghem’s book of the next year.41 In the ‘Letter’, Cressole describes what a queer reading of Anti-Oedipus is like: Want to maintain the same relationship with that book [Anti-Oedipus] as with the film (not always the same one – this time it was called ‘The Man Without a Face’) showing in the cinema where I went after having visited you [Deleuze], it’s just next door by happy chance. From the high balcony which is a bit set back from the auditorium, you can only watch the film slantwise, and perhaps because of this angle, the spectators are the actors of a vast suck and thrust, fragments of the film glimpsed between trembling legs, little scraps of romantic dialogue confused with the moans of pleasure,

The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory 145 the characters in The Man without a Face, ripped out of their pathetic Madein-Hollywood adventures, the plot-thread of which everyone has lost, are caressed by the thigh of the body next to you without a face; the screen may be in front or behind, as everyone is in front of and behind everyone, nothing and nobody is in its place. When it is done, just like ‘AntiOedipus’, nobody could tell you the plot, and everyone will tell you that it was really good.42

‘Bite au cul!’, les Gazolines say to philosophy as it aims to channel the social shapes of post-68 France; queers read Anti-Oedipus through an orgy, says Cressole to Deleuze, as Deleuze and Guattari try to formulate an anticapitalist theory of desire; we get fucked too, and by arabs!, the FHAR says to the MLF, as feminism attempts to struggle with pervasive patriarchal residues within the structure of left-wing thought and left-wing groups. A minoritarian position which is constantly also attached to the sexual remains within relations of social violence, retaining an affective element to all cognitive process, refusing the consensual. Issue 12 of Tout (April 1971), sold in large numbers at the May-day rally, specifically aimed to widen the constituency of left politics: it gives voice (as Hocquenghem notes in his editorial) to ‘all those who are refused or repressed by Big Politics, even left politics, even leftist [. . . ]: faggots, dykes, women, prisoners, those who have had abortions, the a-social, the insane’.43 Hocquenghem notes in that issue – again following and disrupting the example of feminists – that the revolution that is being imagined on the French left offers nothing for queers. Hocquenghem sees this blockage as refusing some kinds of talking: The leftists have this particularity: they never talk about their milieu, their family, but always about others’. [. . .] We do not want to be that any more. We want to talk with our guts. We want to say what we are, what we feel.44

There is endless irony here, in a call for a political talking that comes from the guts, that says what we feel, which appears to be unalienated and emerging directly from the body, and which is so quickly diverted away from the ‘serious’ questions of politics towards questions of sex and superficial provocation, shouting ‘bite au cul’ into serious debate, and organizing General Assemblies that devolve into ‘an enormous cruising over six floors of a university building, probably the most heavily populated cruising ground in Paris, if not Europe’.45 When Hocquenghem wants a politics that speaks from its guts, the ‘tripes’ do not signify the repressed proletarian subject of class domination. This abstracted body is mannered, affected, ‘styled’. At times this clearly models a passéiste avant-gardism which Idier writes so well about, and sees as part of Hocquenghem’s emotional


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disposition; at times it is part of a moving towards writing, a becoming literary. I am setting Hocquenghem up as the image of a productive political queer difference, and he is embarrassing me. I find him interesting, and then he turns and suggests ‘Let’s not speak about women, I don’t really know what I think about that. Let’s talk about faggots’.46 I wish that he were less about gender, that his articulation of sex and race was more considered, that he were less clearly part of a French educational elite, less posturing, less dismissive; more coherent, consistent, compassionate, committed. The intensity of his investment in the idea of the FHAR is measurable in the brevity of his engagement with the organization, and in his acts of betrayal of its organization while he claims to speak for it. Where I find myself desiring backwards towards his scene of the queer, feeling my way into an objective affective arrangement which also appears to me as affected, I know this is the kind of intense crush that would have crushed me: he would have irritated me; I would have been scared of boring and disappointing him. It is impossible to be consensual with this language, to feel along with it entirely. Something violent, which is not always sexy, keeps getting in the way.

Nonconsensual Acts This queer displacement – a formalization of gesture, an abstraction, that means that when I try to speak politically from my guts I end up writing archly about the anus – is evident in one telling example of his writing: ‘Not everyone can die peacefully in their bed’. Hocquenghem published the article, on the death of Pasolini, in Libération in 1976. It is included in La Dérive homosexuelle, essays collected in 1978, a book of theory that contains brilliant pieces of writing but was much less successful than Homosexual Desire.47 Hocquenghem writes in response to the death of Pasolini, and to the construction of sentimental-political response to that death. His thesis shapes itself round the barbed truism that ‘Pasolini is dead, murdered by a hustler. Not everyone can die in their bed, like Franco’ (the Spanish dictator Franco died peacefully on 20 November 1975, a little more than two weeks after Pasolini was murdered), and situates itself against the righteous indignation of an Italian left seeking to give Pasolini’s murder political explanation, to frame his killing as an act of fascism (or ‘microfascism’). Hocquenghem accepts this account, but his tone is bored. ‘Absolutely, absolutely’, he intones dismissively, ‘it is impossible not to

The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory 147 agree with the analysis’. But at the same time he is unsatisfied with this ‘external’ and ‘political’ account ‘of the homosexual murder’.48 He is interested rather in how it feels, in how he feels about it, and his analysis proceeds through the touchstone of his own affective response: At the same time, the death of Pasolini does not seem either abominable or even perhaps, regrettable. I find it pretty good, that death, personally. So much less stupid than a car accident. In a way, I wish this dying for dying’s sake [mourir pour mourir] for myself, and I wish it for all of my friends.49

He hopes that this isn’t just a ‘Sadean aestheticism’. However mannered and literary his response may be, however aggressively subjective and iconoclast, Hocquenghem claims that his account – his feeling – is of a fact that is social before it is aesthetic or political. He focuses on the key ‘lived’ element of the scene, which for him needs to be expressed through a difference in sensibility (including the enjoyment of disgust, and excitement at being the object of humiliating insult), which escapes political analysis and evades those who aim to protect homosexuals from their potential murderers. This key element is ‘the intimate, ancient, and very strong [complicity] between the homosexual and his murderer. . . . An urban perversion, delinquent homosexuality is married from its very origins with the crime of the underworld’.50 This contingent and external arrangement of criminal and sexual deviant, by which a ‘homosexual murder is a unity’, is ‘preferred’ as a ground of identity by Hocquenghem to any ‘probable transformation into the psychiatric category of deviance’.51 It indicates a mode of life, styled already by Genet, in which the murderer is a figure for the homosexual, not merely psychically or through a taste for transgression, but because there is a materially marginal world in which the two come together; for the homosexual, ‘it is actually possible to encounter’ murderers.52 The mode of writing here is – as Idier notes and as Hocquenghem admits – pre-emptively nostalgic, seeing in Pasolini a ‘prodigious remnant’ of a world which is disappearing.53 A setting for an idea of difference of impulse and feeling and valuation is felt to be disappearing, where queer feelings were structured around secrets and closeting and dissimulation, and gays sought spaces in literal and material margins. These structurings, for Hocquenghem, aren’t a kind of distortion which results from material exclusion; his etiology works differently. He sees closets and secrets and separation as serving to preserve the difference of a prior affective tendency, ‘a delirious drive tending towards the underworld, a libido magnetized by [aimenté par] objects outside the law of common desire’.54 That difference


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is from heterosexual feeling; again it is also distinguished from the positions of particular feminist groups. When he prefaces the article on its 1978 republication, he claims that ‘[w]omen had never had the secret complicity with their aggressors that faggots have with the hooligans that bash them.’55 While difference from heterosexual feeling and feminist feeling is key in positioning queer affective response, the key ‘sameness’ against which Hocquenghem revolts is a style which is potentially internalized, that of ‘the State homosexual, integrated into the state, formed by the state and close to it in taste, and furthermore reassured by the presence in power of such and such a minister who is himself homosexual’.56 This State homosexual, for Hocquenghem, ‘with neither complexes nor affectations’ replaces and effaces the ‘baroque diversity of traditional homosexual styles’, which develop ‘in the short circuits between social classes’.57 Against this, he prophesies the appearance of ‘a finally white/blank [blanche] homosexuality in all senses of the term’.58 This colourless indifferent State homosexual figure will ‘obviously’ continue to be ‘a sexual pervert, he will try out a fist in the anus or some flagellation, but with the cool good sense of the sexology magazines, and not within social violence, but rather as sexual technique’.59 But this perversion doesn’t mark a difference, isn’t a style, isn’t a meaningful affectation, isn’t a social fact, doesn’t trouble the state of feeling. Style and sex need to remain within ‘social violence’, in an affect which does not seek the smile of mutuality. The refusal of the integrative ideal of ‘official faggot’ or the ‘State homosexual’ in favour of a position of queer sex within social violence gives fresh difficult edge to the tone by which Hocquenghem distinguishes his position from contemporary feminisms. ‘Will we see faggots’, he asks, ‘just like the women demanding that rapists be sentenced by the courts, call for the protections of the law?’60 This argument anticipates ‘V-I-O-L’ (March 1977), another Libération article, which sees Hocquenghem at his most mannered and ‘most literary’, as he distances himself from an account of rape that excludes thinking and feeling social violence. He refers, punning obscenely with Verlaine’s ‘Chanson d’automne’, to the discourse produced around rape as the ‘[s]anglots longs [long sobs] du viol [of rape], devrait-on dire [or should one say] de la viole?’61 Verlaine’s poem is an exercise in sonorities, miming the ‘long sobs’ of the violin. Here the marking of gender as part of an account of rape – an invented femininegendered version of the word for rape – turns ‘viol’ into the viola, in a joke that goes absolutely nowhere, except to the refusal of mutual feeling, and a provocative exorbitant affectation of style.

The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory 149 He claims not to understand: ‘I cannot get it into my head that a slight wound inflicted by the blunt instrument named cock could be worse than painful burns and dangerous violence’; and this lack of understanding is also still grounded in an imagined affective difference: ‘Because really, who ever saw a faggot complain about having been raped? Being beaten, mugged, yes. But raped? It seems decidedly the case that the faggot anus is not gifted with the same transcendent qualities as the vagina’.62 Maintaining the anus as a site for grouping desire, against the kinds of collective fantasy that, in Homosexual Desire, he had argued Oedipalize the subject, sponsors an unbearable stylistic disdain. The scene is stranger even than this. Todd Shepard has written a very brilliant history of how ‘Algerian questions – and answers – made the sexual revolution French’;63 it includes an account of the language of rape through the 1970s, including a reading of the case that Hocquenghem discusses. The anti-racist left noted that reporting of sexual violence always (even according to official police statistics) overstated the role of Maghrebin (which tended to mean ‘Arab’, which tended to mean ‘Algerian’) men as rapists.64 On the left, ‘fixated on the harm that unjust accusations of rape inflicted on Arab men in France’, some commentators had nothing to say about rape victims or about gender.65 Tahar ben Jelloun’s La Misère sexuelle (1975), detailed a world of ‘sexual impoverishment’ among migrant workers and read that lack of sexual satisfaction as equivalent to economic and political domination;66 some elements of leftwing discourse around the rape case Hocquenghem discusses see the rape primarily as a symptom of ‘misère sexuelle’. For them, feminist concentration on the violence of the rape and the damage to the victim of rape, and a general politics of male violence that enables it, and a belief that justice might comprehend such a case, blocks access to this other political dimension. Hocquenghem positions himself again in proximity to and distinction from feminist politics; the fantasy of non-consensual sex with fantasized Arab men offers a technicolour model for a politics of queer sex and queer desire. Shepard’s analysis of the case is brilliant in its understanding of how anti-immigrant, feminist, queer, and revolutionary left-wing positions find themselves arrayed around this rape case, and how they radically miss the point. Or, rather than missing the point – I do not think there can be logical reduction of the debate to a point – the positions meet here in a mode which can only be affective, and the problem to be faced is in the affective space. In all of this, Shepard demonstrates, the stated and lived positions of Arab men who do not define themselves through their sexual


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desire, and of women who experience sexual violence, are effaced by the prevalence of ‘rape as metaphor’. The lived feminist position is asked through the totalizing power of that metaphor to connect materially unconnected spaces – the Algerians who are the object of racialization and women who are the objects of violent misogyny. The spaces are discrete, but anti-racist and racist discourses wish to build bridges between them. Hocquenghem also wants to build a bridging language here, in which sexuality will be political, in which queer affect has historical valence. This story of feeling – a sexual mode and an identity to bear it that is ready to concentrate into a sexual ‘grouping’ all of the affect of the world without wishing for reproductive identity – has its moment in a violence in the body which responds – smiles strangely at a stranger – to the violences of social division.67 Hocquenghem’s writing of that feeling, in arch and affected proximity and distinction from the left and from feminism, maintains irreducible affect.

Here Is What Guy Read Disco’s combination of romanticism and materialism effectively . . . lets us experience . . . that we can enjoy materiality but that the experience of materiality is not necessarily what the everyday world assures us it is. Its eroticism allows us to rediscover our bodies as part of this experience of materiality and the possibility of change. . . . disco can’t change the world, make the revolution. No art can do that, and it is pointless expecting it to. But partly by opening up experience, partly by changing definitions, art, disco, can be used. To which one might risk adding the refrain – If it feels good, use it.68

Thinking back to Hocquenghem feels complex. It might be different from remembering Foucault, for example, in which an achieved theoretical position describes a discursive production of sexuality, a completed paradigm relative to which Foucault could disappear. His iconic physical presence corresponds with the theoretical completeness, but does not add anything to it.69 It is more difficult to distance the provocation of Hocquenghem’s presence from his work. Everyone remembers how good looking Hocquenghem was (although there are contrasting images too in Idier’s biography – including images of his social awkwardness, and of his total absence from the memories of the professors at the ENS whose courses he did not attend). That memory – like the (unsodomized) memories of Foucault, Lacan, Deleuze, Barthes – is supplemented by surviving footage of TV interviews, and his presence in some

The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory 151 films, including his role exploring and narrating the cruising grounds of Paris at night in Soukaz’s Race d’ep.70 It does not work for me to settle him as the ‘author’ of a discourse, the father of a discipline (and then to decide whether to honour or to deny his paternity);71 it doesn’t feel as though the right form of the historiographical question can be: what is the continuous and continuing effect and legacy of Hocquenghem’s writing, of his ‘position’ on gay rape, of his representations of Arab men or of feminism, of his conflicted use of psychoanalysis? And perhaps I would generalize from that – the right way to enter ‘queer theory’ may not be a critical inheriting of the tradition as a set of guidelines and templates and models for contemporary thought, for contemporary queers (in the manner of my very reductive account of Halperin’s gay pedagogy). The better form might be: when we enter affectively into the affective intensity of the past of queer theory imagined as affective writing, where the affects indicate social divisions and commonalities, mutualities and relations, smiles that failed shamefully and stranger smiles with new possibilities, what opens up for us? Douglas Crimp met and interviewed and became friends with Hocquenghem when he came to New York in the 70s and 80s.72 As Crimp prepares his memoir, Before Pictures (2016), in 2008, he looks back into a folder from the 1970s, aware that its survival through to the present is surprising, given that he had ‘purged’ most of his documents when he renovated his apartment in the 1990s. In the folder he finds an abandoned book proposal, hubristic in ambition but also pleasing to him because he finds that he was already thinking in terms of the ‘postmodern’ in 1976. Also in the folder are his notes on disco, the only papers he remembers having looked at before, between their writing in the 1970s, and his writing this memoir now. He revisited them in the 1990s at the time of the renovations because of the sentiment that linked them to his memory of Hocquenghem, who was there in the apartment in 1976, and who has died in 1988 (he also speaks movingly and desiringly of Hocquenghem in 2007 in his contribution to the ACT UP Oral History Project).73 Hocquenghem’s alignment of activism and writing and hotness is still motivating for Crimp, and his thought of Hocquenghem, opening up to his memory of disco, dissolves the complexity of queer time in the same moment as it stages it. The few pages on disco in this folder are the only ones I had looked at between the time I wrote them and now. The reason is that they carry a particular sentimental value. Around the time I wrote them, Guy Hocquenghem visited New York and stayed with me in my loft on Chambers Street, and one night while I was out, he read what I’d written.


geoff gilbert When I returned later, he said to me that such a straightforward description of gay culture was just the sort of thing that gay activists should be writing. I was embarrassed that Guy had found and read the pages. I’m selfconscious about my unfinished writing; this was not at all the sort of writing I did professionally and thus had any confidence in; and, though a couple of years younger than me, Guy was both a heartthrob and an idol. While still in his early twenties, he had been one of the founders of the FHAR (Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire, the French gay liberation organization) and a year later, in 1972, published Homosexual Desire. Although he had subsequently published a second gay liberation tract, L’Après-mai des faunes, he was now turning his attention from theory to fiction. He had recently published Fin de section, a collection of short stories, and begun work on his first novel, Love in Relief. Perhaps the storylike way I begin the fragment on disco is what attracted Guy to it. Eventually, in 1980, he would write his own descriptions of gay life in Le Gay voyage, his guide to the gay scene in a number of major cities. Here is what Guy read:74

The past tense of ‘Guy was both a heartthrob and an idol’ references quietly his passing, but that past quickly intensifies, as the present of Hocquenghem’s career in writing is imagined. That ‘now’, the literary present tense ‘I begin’, and the ‘eventually he would write’, which gets attached to a date which is in the future of this moment of disco, are all part of the ‘sentimentality’ that can allow this piece of writing to have survived the ‘purge’ of the other documents. Something of that movement is given as unsettling the quality of theory, as moving to fiction. And so the words that we are about to read appear live in a time composed by feeling, owing their continued material existence to that sentiment; we read the surviving transcribed words as ‘what Guy read’, in Douglas Crimp’s apartment – the same space, since made new – as though they were a memory. What we read there is vivid and strangely time travelling and locked into an account of affect: Crimp remembers the feeling of odd druggy complex anticipation of hearing your favourite song while you are still in the line for the coat check, so knowing that you won’t get to dance to it, but already propelled onwards into the experience. There are gorgeous wild accidental anachronisms in the reading: What would it be like if we were able to somehow produce ecstasy synthetically? If we were able to just plug ourselves into a machine that would produce pleasure? Is ecstasy something that can exist in a pure state, apart from some interpersonal context, from a connection of the ecstatic moment with a whole matrix of feeling about, let’s say, another person with whom that ecstasy might be linked?75

The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory 153 This has been the key question about affect: whether it can be separated from its objects and scenes, whether it can become the non-intentional aim of our theorization. The question, though, arises here through an affective engagement in remembering Hocquenghem reading. Life before HIV is remembered as a production of queers (‘these people have identical bodies, and their bodies are also strikingly different from other bodies’) and of ecstatic queer feelings. These are codified and conventional, affected even (he discusses the appearance of the newly gym-produced gay body in relation to a ‘gay tetas’ competition at the disco); and the affected and artificial is the path to the imagination of an affect – synthetic ecstasy – produced ‘before’ forms of naming. The affective is questionably before and immanently in the social arrangement that separates and groups queer experience. Through the sponsoring vision of Guy reading his thought, Crimp finds and feels the queerness of his writing – of the act of writing as well as the world he writes about. The memoir elaborates on this feeling, seeing the history of his published writing as given rhythm by its relation to queer dancing and sexual communities. He remembers having broken his hip at a roller disco, and that the writing of his essay on the ‘pictures’ generation was slowed by his not being able to go out after a day of writing to reward himself with ‘a little dancing and maybe a trick’.76 But the article in this light is also important to him, as it clarifies for him that ‘postmodernism’ is not a separate period in time, but the feeling of an ongoing break from modernism, an affective intensity which seems to be concentrated in the queer world. Crimp remembers Hocquenghem into the 1990s, and his activism is live with something of that memory, a reading forward of the feeling of the past into the live present, of the pre-HIV queer feeling into the HIV moment.77 He critiques passionately Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, his play about the early years of the HIV-AIDS activism movement ACT-UP, for seeking out a normality of feeling within queerness, in order that mutuality with the straight world can be achieved. Kramer feels that this mutuality becomes urgent during the HIV years, and requires a sublimation of existing gay sexual promiscuity and sociality. Crimp’s critique is partly sponsored by Hocquenghem’s image.78 The 2014 HBO production of The Normal Heart presents the dates as captions on the screen, but it styles the bodies with no care for history.79 Any attraction I feel for the film is limited to the kinds of attraction I might already have felt for Mark Ruffalo; the affective pull of the film’s universe aims to replace any sense of conflicting relations with a grand consensual communion


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and a mourning of the dead. The dancing is terrible. By contrast, Robin Campillo’s 2017 film about French ACT-UP, 120 BPM, does not mark historical dates explicitly, but it does have a strong sense of 1990s style.80 Campillo notes in an interview that he wanted the music and the dancing scenes and the clothes of his characters to be retro, to feel like what a contemporary young queer might wish to pastiche, thinking back towards the 1990s. He tried to enact ‘a form of dandy militantism, a kind of elegance, an aspect which is brilliant, paradoxical, exorbitant and in reality very funny.’81 The film is full of scenes of complex refusal of consensuality (there are scenes where the ACT-UP meetings worry explicitly whether their posters are too ‘consensuel’, that they will create too much easy communion across the gay world). There are reasonably rich and complex and unpredictable patterns of alliance and distinction between gay men and women, among gay men, between organizational modes and sexual energies, and not all of these are resolved into a single sentiment by the end of the film. Where The Normal Heart garnered some industry acclaim and awards, 120BPM, it is claimed, had differently direct effects. The film led to an influx of members to ACT-UP Paris, younger and differently militant, focused on racism, on trans questions, on class, on post-colonial politics.82 Within months of the film’s release, the existing officers of the organization had resigned and the direction of the organization had changed: Xavier Cœur-Jolie, ex-president and spokesperson, feared (with some zoological invention) that ‘Act Up Paris has become an empty shell, and young political militants have flooded into the organisation, in broad daylight, like the Hermit Crab come to expel the traditional occupier.’83 This is a risky transmission, based not in pedagogical transmission of a queer repertoire, but in making the queer past and its theorization – defined by humiliating relations rather than striving through shame towards humanist communion – available for affective investment. It means risking the revelation that queer bodies and queer theories have aged, such that their styles and affectations may not support identities, or may provoke occupancies whose affiliations are wild.

Notes 1. David Halperin, How to Be Gay (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 7. 2. Sedgwick’s interest in Hocquenghem continues through to the end of her writing career, for example in ‘Anality: News from the Front’, Studies in Gender and Sexuality 11 (2010): 151–162.

The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory 155 3. Guy Hocquenghem, L’Après-mai des faunes: volutions (Paris: Grasset, 1974), 188. All unattributed translations are my own. 4. Ibid. 79. 5. Ibid. 6. Silvan Tomkins, Affect Imagery Consciousness: The Complete Edition (New York: Springer Publishing Company, 2008), 1: 225. 7. Leo Bersani, Homos (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996). 8. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, ‘How to Bring Your Kids Up Gay’, Social Text, no. 29 (1991): 18. 9. Ibid. 26. 10. See for example Guy Hocquenghem, ‘L’enfance d’un sexe’ (1974), in La Dérive homosexuelle (Paris: Jean-Pierre Delarge, 1978), 109–121. 11. ‘Prolétaires de tous les pays, caressez-vous’, Gulliver, 1 (November 1972): np. 12. Tomkins’s arguments are developed in his four-volume study, Silvan Tomkins, Affect Imagery Consciousness: The Complete Edition, 4 vols. Sedgwick and Frank represent that body of work well in Silvan Tomkins, Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader, ed. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995). 13. Ukai Satoshi, ‘The Future of an Affect: The Historicity of Shame’, in Naoki Sakai (ed.), Traces: A Multilingual Journal of Cultural Theory and Translation 1. Specters of the West and the Politics of Translation, trans. Yukiko Hanawa (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2001), 3–36. 14. Tomkins, Affect Imagery Consciousness, 1:361–363. 15. Ibid. 1:363. 16. Jonathan Flatley, Affective Mapping: Melancholia and the Politics of Modernism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 127. 17. Ibid. 18. Sedgwick and Frank (eds), Shame and Its Sisters, 135. 19. Ruth Leys, The Ascent of Affect: Genealogy and Critique (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017). 20. Tomkins, Affect Imagery Consciousness, 1:230–243. 21. Dick Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London and New York: Routledge, 2008). 22. In this they resemble an earlier mode of formalization of feeling (1759), in Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, ed. Knut Haakonssen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). Smith also depends upon the claim that humans enjoy mutuality, in order to derive the idea that we experience corrective affects when others feel inappropriately, within an affective economy that produces a social ‘propriety’ which is also an unaffected naturalness of being. Smith is fundamentally against style as a marker of social difference, as it impedes commerce. Robert Crawford has traced this tendency into Smith’s role in developing the teaching of English literature as a way of eradicating Scottish linguistic difference, in Devolving English Literature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992). A lot is silently excluded in this


23. 24. 25. 26. 27.

28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40.

41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47.

geoff gilbert adaptive emergence of an equilibrium of social feeling and imagination of identity, including more profoundly bodily feelings (because the body is not as flexible as the imagination); that which is excluded takes the form of potential crises at the limits of the social and human space. In another place I will explore how those crises articulate with the limit points of the market processes in The Wealth of Nations, in which our relation to ‘ineffectual demand’ – demand that cannot be registered by the market because it is not sponsored by a capacity to pay – becomes powerfully and ineffectually affective (and thus the affect needs to be corrected towards propriety). Hocquenghem, L’Après-mai, 196–197. Michael Moon, ‘New Introduction’, in Guy Hocquenghem, Homosexual Desire, trans. Daniella Dangoor (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), 9. Hocquenghem, Homosexual Desire, 33. Ibid. 111. Antoine Idier, Les Vies de Guy Hocquenghem: politique, sexualité, culture (Paris: Fayard, 2017); Guy Hocquenghem, Un Journal de rêve, ed. Antoine Idier (Paris: Verticales, 2017). There was already excellent material in Bill Marshall, Guy Hocquenghem: Beyond Gay Identity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997). Todd Shepard, Sex, France, and Arab Men, 1962–1979 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017). Flatley, Affective Mapping, 27. Ibid. 16. Ibid. 22. Ibid. 25. Ibid. 27. Some of the key texts of the MLF are gathered in Cathy Bernheim et al. (eds), Mouvement de libération des femmes: textes premiers (Paris: Stock, 2009). Hocquenghem, L’Après-mai, 188. Ibid. 189–190. Ibid. 188. Ibid. 190. Quoted and discussed in Idier, Les Vies de Guy Hocquenghem, 92. Michel Cressole, Deleuze (Paris: Editions universitaires, 1973). See the discussion in Idier, Les Vies de Guy Hocquenghem, 97–100, 105–106. Idier claims that Hocquenghem had made a major contribution to the writing of Cressole’s book, 98. Gilles Deleuze, ‘Préface’, in L’Après-mai, 7–17. Cressole, Deleuze, 104. Quoted and discussed in Idier, Les Vies de Guy Hocquenghem, 89. Quoted in Idier, 77. Hocquenghem, L’Après-mai, 196. Hocquenghem, La Dérive homosexuelle, 107. This claim was made by the publisher, and is quoted in Idier, Les Vies de Guy Hocquenghem, 170. The article is republished in Un Journal de rêve, 40–46.

The Durability of Affect and the Ageing of Gay Male Queer Theory 157 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58.

59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64.

65. 66. 67. 68. 69.


Ibid. 40. Ibid. Ibid. 41. Ibid. Ibid. 42. Ibid. 44. Ibid. 45. Hocquenghem, La Dérive homosexuelle, 125–126. Hocquenghem, Un Journal de rêve, 43. Ibid. 45. Ibid. 44. ‘ All senses’ include ethnic whiteness, which Hocquenghem explores in La Beauté du métis: réflexions d’un francophobe (Paris: Ramsay, 1979), and also perhaps an allusion to the notion of ‘écriture blanche’, a writing defined against ‘style’, deriving from Roland Barthes, Le Degré zéro de l’écriture (Paris: Seuil, 1952). Hocquenghem, Un Journal de rêve, 44. Ibid. 42. Hocquenghem, La Dérive homosexuelle, 137. Ibid. Shepard, Sex, France, and Arab Men, 1962–1979, 1. Ibid. 229–231. Edouard Louis’s recent novel, Histoire de la violence (Paris: Seuil, 2016), which represents his rape by a Berber Algerian man, and the impossible relation between this moment and the justice system, describes the persistence of the figure of the Arab rapist in the carceral imagination. Ibid. 235. Tahar ben Jelloun, La Plus haute des solitudes: misère sexuelle d’émigrés nordafricains (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1977). Shepard notes that Ben Jelloun’s book sold more than 75,000 copies. An equally extreme case is described in ‘La Faille de Barcelone’, in La Dérive homosexuelle, 140ff. Richard Dyer, ‘In Defence of Disco’, Gay Left 8 (1979): 20–23. David M. Halperin’s classic work Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995) argues against the accusation that there is something affected in his attachment to Foucault; his aim is to ‘acquire and maintain the authority to speak, to be heard, and to be taken seriously without denying or bracketing my gayness’ (8). Bersani contrasts the promise of Foucault’s later work with the vision of a completed paradigm, and locates it in his own supplementary – mannered? – affective imagination of Foucault in the S/M clubs, experimenting with ‘an authentically new organization of the body’s pleasures’ (Bersani, Homos, 81). Lionel Soukaz, Race d’ep (Little Sisters Production, 1979). The film, offering four moments of queer history, including material on the experience of the Holocaust, was followed by a book authored by Hocquenghem, which has recently been re-published (Bordeaux: Editions La Tempête, 2018).


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71. Hocquenghem is perhaps best known in France for his accusatory account of the ageing towards anti-revolutionary respectability of the generation of 1968, in Lettre ouverte à ceux qui sont passés du col Mao au Rotary (Paris: Albin Michel, 1986). 72. Douglas Crimp, ‘The New French Culture: An Interview with Guy Hocquenghem’, October 19 (Winter 1981): 105–117. 73. Douglas Crimp and Sarah Schulman, ‘Interview of Douglas Crimp: ACT UP Oral History Project’ (16 May 2007), ACT UP Oral History Project: http:// [last accessed 27 June 2019]. 74. Douglas Crimp, ‘DISS-CO (A FRAGMENT) From “Before Pictures”, a Memoir of 1970s New York’, Criticism 50, 1 (Winter 2008): 1–2. 75. Ibid. 5. 76. Ibid. 16–17. 77. See for example Douglas Crimp, ‘How to Have Promiscuity in an Epidemic’, October 43 (Winter 1987): 237–271. 78. Douglas Crimp, ‘Portraits of People With Aids’, in Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula A. Treichler (eds), Cultural Studies (New York: Routledge, 1992), 117–139. 79. Ryan Murphy, The Normal Heart, DVD (HBO Films, 2014). 80. Robin Campillo, 120 battements par minute, DVD (Memento Films, 2017). 81. Didier Péron, ‘Interview. Robin Campillo : «Chaque action d’Act Up était déjà enrobée par la fiction»’, Libération (20 August 2017), http://www.libera 82. Active membership grew from some dozens to 170 in a few weeks. 83. ‘Act-up: y a-t-il une guerre de générations à la tête de l’association anti-sida?’, Journal de dimanche (4 avril 2018).

chapter 8

Affect, Meaning, Becoming, and Power: Massumi, Spinoza, Deleuze, and Neuroscience Anthony Uhlmann

Brian Massumi and others, such as William Connolly, draw together a number of approaches into what becomes a syncretic whole in developing a version of affect theory that depends upon a sharp distinction between affect and emotions, and which posits affect as autonomous from cognition. The key elements of this mix are Deleuze and Guattari, Spinoza, and theories of affect drawn from psychology and neuroscience. In recent times, there has been significant criticism of some of the foundational approaches taken by this model of affect theory. The most telling relate to how this model of affect theory reads science, as set out by Ruth Leys in her 2011 paper ‘The Turn to Affect: A Critique’ and how this affect theory reads Spinoza, as set out by Moira Gatens in her 2014 chapter ‘Affective Transitions and Spinoza’s Art of Joyful Deliberation’. Both of these critiques are addressed to the work of Brian Massumi and particularly the systems he sets out in the first chapter of Parables of the Virtual (2002), which was originally published in 1995 as a journal article, ‘The Autonomy of Affect’. In this chapter I will attempt to do a number of things. Firstly, I will situate the critiques Ruth Leys and Moira Gatens make of Massumi. Secondly, I will work through a reading of Deleuze’s, as well as Deleuze and Guattari’s, use of the concepts of affect and intensity and how these relate to Massumi’s understanding of these terms. Finally, I will briefly discuss the work of cognitive scientist Antonio Damasio and how steps might be taken to the ‘new paradigm of affect theory’ that Leys considers is now essential.

Gatens against Massumi Both Moira Gatens and Ruth Leys take issue with a particular reading that underwrites much of Massumi’s understanding of the nature of the affects: 159


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that is, that bodily affect is autonomous from mental deliberations, and that affect can thereby be decoupled from meaning. For Gatens this begins with Massumi’s reading of ‘Libet’s missing half-second’ – between bodily affects and our conscious awareness of them.1 Gatens continues: Here, the ‘timing of affect’ refers to the premise that although consciousness may posit itself as the cause of some bodily action or affect, experimental science claims to have shown that our conscious awareness typically lags behind our bodily affections. In his seminal paper, The Autonomy of Affect, Massumi builds on the idea that there is a gap between affect and cognition to claim that what usually are held to be ‘higher functions’ (e.g., volition, intention, consciousness) in fact are ‘automatic’. (‘Affective Transitions’, 18)

From this idea of a gap Massumi argues, while claiming Spinoza as a precursor for his position, for a distinction between ‘affect’, as an automatic intensive response which is ‘understood [. . .] to be unbound by meaning and signification’ (‘Affective Transitions’, 22), and ‘emotion’ which is associated with personal feelings that involve narrative and interpretative understanding. Gatens is troubled by this distinction, which she does not find within Spinoza’s system. Indeed, she argues it involves a fundamental misreading of Spinoza, which sets up an assumption that there are two systems at play: ‘affect-body’ and ‘cognition-mind’ (‘Affective Transitions’, 22). In short, for Gatens, this amounts to re-imposing a body/ mind dualism, which Spinoza’s system is careful to avoid. Gatens argues that Massumi misreads Deleuze’s argument concerning the devaluation of consciousness in Spinoza.2 She states: ‘Massumi fails to note the very thing that Deleuze rightly stresses, namely, that the devaluation of consciousness does not amount to the devaluation of thought’ (‘Affective Transitions’, 23). To put this another way, what Massumi calls purely bodily and automatic affect, would, for Spinoza, always also involve thought (though not necessarily conscious thought). For Gatens this fundamental misreading of Spinoza brings with it confused understandings of how thought and extension are related in Spinoza’s system: ‘Spinoza’s ontology is a dual aspect monism where every bodily thing in extension necessarily involves a corresponding, or parallel, idea in thought’ (‘Affective Transitions’, 25). In short, every affect necessarily involves a corresponding thought. The idea that affect, as automatic bodily states, might be decoupled from thought is incompatible with Spinoza. So too, Gatens has problems with the emotion-affect distinction Massumi develops (with emotion involving interpretative understanding and affect automatic bodily responses) because ‘Spinoza’s account

Affect, Meaning, Becoming, and Power


of affect is explicitly associationist and [. . .] deeply sociable’ (‘Affective Transitions’, 26). Affect in Spinoza is associationist because affects are caused, even when we are ignorant of these causes, which often involve devious lines of causation, and associations of images with things that increase our power (joy) or things that decrease it (sadness). That is, against Massumi, Spinoza understands affect to carry meaning with it. When Gatens says that affect is also deeply sociable in Spinoza she further points to the devious lines of causation which determine our actions and limit our freedom: the associations we carry with us (which judge things to be good or evil) are deeply influenced by our social formations and the associations and prejudices these commonly bring with them. While Ruth Leys directs her criticism at the manner in which Massumi makes use of science rather than philosophy, the distinctions she focuses her criticism upon are identical to those taken up by Gatens. That is, the distinction between affects, which are seen to be automatic and nonsignifying, and emotions, which involve interpretations which always come after the automatic affects. It is important to consider what is at stake: for Gatens, Massumi’s position is explicable if it is understood as a means of getting around an impasse in poststructuralist theory, whereby the subject is viewed as ‘formed in and through subjection’ and is therefore hopelessly subjected to power. The question becomes: if one is formed by discourses and ideologies of power how might one ever hope to escape these powers? The answer, for Massumi and others, seems to be that we can escape through ‘affect’ which is prior to any process of intention or meaning (given that meaning and intention, in line with this limiting poststructuralist reading, are always understood as predetermined by power). Gatens argues that it is in order to get out of this bind that Massumi embraces the idea of a disjunction between affect and emotion which allows some residue; something outside of ideology, to have an impact. Yet, as we have seen, Gatens rejects the connections claimed between Massumi’s position and Spinoza’s concepts. The fault lies in the readings of poststructuralism, which claim that we are incapable of confronting or contesting the views of ideologies which form us. For Spinoza, we can and do contest what we are told to believe, by using our powers of reason, imagination, and intuition. Moving beyond Gatens’s readings one can go still further in distancing the assumptions that underlie Massumi’s pessimism with regard to challenging power intellectually from Spinoza’s positions. Unlike those poststructuralist positions that align ideology and thought with language, Spinoza sees meaning as residing not in words or images, but in


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understanding itself. The ‘idea’, for Spinoza, is not found in a word or an image; rather, it is the act of understanding itself.3 We are given access to such understanding through intuition or the third kind of knowledge, and through our nature as beings that have access to reason (precisely because we are part of Nature which is intelligible because it is determined by laws and lines of causation). The impasse that Massumi assumes, is false, following Spinoza.

Leys against Massumi Ruth Leys’s concerns are slightly different. She takes issue with positions in psychology and neuroscience which she sees being embraced in the humanities through affect theory. These positions seek to decouple the body and its assumed automatic affective responses, from the conscious intentional self, which is able to reflect and interpret through ideology and belief as well as reason. Leys is concerned that this model removes agency from individuals and limits the extent to which individuals might be thought to think and engage intentionally in political discourse and other discourses. Against Massumi’s affect theory and the pessimistic readings of poststructuralist theory it carries with it (which sees us imprisoned by language and ideology), Leys adopts an optimistic liberal humanist view; one that affirms our capacity to understand because of our belief systems, our intentions, our ideology and systems of reason. In effect, then, Massumi, Gatens, and Leys all have the same concern. All want understandings of the mind or thought (or cognition or the brain) that allow for human freedom and agency. Each of them have different understandings of the nature of freedom and its conditions of possibility. Yet this is not to say their claims cannot be evaluated because of these differences. Rather, the pertinent questions then become: 1) which of these models of thinking most accurately represents the nature of the affects? 2) Which of these models of thinking allows freedom and agency? Leys considers that the model adopted by Massumi and others is flawed, and, rather than finding an escape hatch from subjection through the idea of the automatic affect, instead limits freedom. Leys takes issue with the idea that: affects must be viewed as independent of, and in an important sense prior to, ideology – that is, prior to intentions, meanings, reasons and beliefs – because they are nonsignifying, automatic processes that take place below the threshold of conscious awareness and meaning.4

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For Leys, Massumi and others take up this view because they are strongly influenced by a dominant paradigm in psychology and neuroscience developed by Silvan S. Tomkins and Paul Ekman, which she calls the ‘Basic Emotions paradigm’ (‘Turn to Affect’, 437–439). This paradigm ‘assumes that affective processes occur independently of intention and meaning’ (‘Turn to Affect’, 437). She continues: They [Tomkins and Ekman et al.] posit a constitutive disjunction between our emotions on the one hand and our knowledge of what causes and maintains them on the other, because according to them affect and cognition are two separate systems. (‘Turn to Affect’, 437)

The Basic Emotions paradigm sees primary emotions as reflex-like, and posits a number of hardwired emotions, which ‘minimally include [. . .] fear, anger, disgust, joy, sadness, and surprise’ (‘Turn to Affect’, 438). For the Basic Emotions paradigm there is a radical disconnect between the hard-wired emotions and any process of appraisal or association, or beliefs and desires.5 Leys contrasts this kind of theory with another view, set out by ‘appraisal theorists’ (with whom she herself aligns), for whom ‘emotions are intentional states directed towards objects and dependent on beliefs and desires’ (‘Turn to Affect’, 438). Drawing upon the work of allies from neuroscience, Leys argues that the experimental evidence for the existence of a specific number of hardwired emotions is ‘seriously flawed and [. . .] the theory underlying the paradigm is incoherent’ (‘Turn to Affect’, 439). Most tellingly she turns to the work of psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett who concludes that ‘the emotion categories posited by Tomkins and Ekman do not have an ontological status that can support induction and scientific generalization or allow for the accumulation of knowledge’ (‘Turn to Affect’, 439–440). Leys concludes that a group of critics (the appraisal theorists) now contend that a new paradigm for research into the emotions is required, one that ‘will be based on assumptions that make the question of affective meaning to the organism or subject of the objects of its world a central issue and concern’ (‘Turn to Affect’, 440). For Leys, then, the dominant theories of emotion in psychology and neuroscience are deeply flawed and under sustained attack. She moves from this position to discuss how Massumi and others, drawing on a number of philosophers, including Spinoza, but Gilles Deleuze in particular, develop a theory of the relation between affect and emotion that seems different from the Basic Emotions paradigm, in that it does not argue for hardwired reflex emotions, but depends instead on a concept of ‘intensity’. Yet the relations Massumi develops, for Leys, turn out to be


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strikingly compatible with the Tomkins-Ekman position (‘Turn to Affect’, 441–442). In particular, Leys contends, both Massumi’s affect theory and Tomkins-Ekman are fundamentally anti-intentionalist and share ‘the belief that affect is independent of signification and meaning [. . .] affect is a matter of autonomic responses that are held to occur below the threshold of consciousness and cognition and rooted in the body’ (‘Turn to Affect’, 443). She goes on to heavily criticise Massumi’s readings of the scientific work he makes use of in developing his theory, focusing in detail on errors she sees in Massumi’s reading of the ‘snowman experiment’ and Libet’s idea of the missing half-second (‘Turn to Affect’, 444–458). It is important to take stock. Firstly, Massumian affect theory has been strongly critiqued, both from the point of view of its relation to the work of Spinoza and from the point of view of its relation to scientific theory. Whereas the relation of this theory to the work of Spinoza seems inexact at best, Leys shows how Massumi does have allies of a kind within psychology and neuroscience but suggests that the use he makes of their work is problematic. Leys further suggests that the disconnect with the scientific theory is seemingly justified by Massumi through reference to the work of Deleuze, whom she takes as Massumi’s principal inspiration. Leys does not attempt a reading of Deleuze or Spinoza which would allow her to judge the extent to which Massumi’s work is consistent with theirs. We have seen from Gatens’s reading that the relation between Massumi’s theories and those set out by Spinoza are imprecise and inaccurate. It is important, then, to consider the extent to which Massumi’s theories align or fail to align with the work of Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari.

Deleuze and Guattari: Affect and Intensity A Thousand Plateaus (1980) is justifiably considered a challenging work. In some ways, it sits within a tradition of high modernist literary writing: imperious in its uncompromising use of allusion and the juxtaposition of ideas or images. Of the Plateaus within the work Plateau 10, ‘1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible . . . ’, is among the most difficult. In setting out some level of exposition, then, I will attempt to follow particular threads in order to shed light on the relation between the idea of intensity and the idea of affect. Affect is linked to intensity by Deleuze and Guattari in The AntiOedipus (1972) in relation to the ‘Body without Organs’. Deleuze and Guattari borrow this term from the French avant-garde writer, theorist and

Affect, Meaning, Becoming, and Power


performer Antonin Artaud,6 and the link between affect and intensity in the Body without Organs is reaffirmed in A Thousand Plateaus. However, Deleuze also considers the relation between intensity and affect in his books Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, and Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (1968). I will begin by setting out the concept of intensity developed by Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari before comparing it to Massumi’s definition of intensity. The nature of the link between affect and intensity is subtle. While Massumi identifies the two terms in Parables of the Virtual, stating, ‘For present purposes, intensity will be equated with affect’, in Deleuze and Guattari it is not so simple. Things can be clarified by considering how Deleuze uses the concept of intensity in his readings of Spinoza. In Spinoza: Practical Philosophy intensity is identified not with affect but with the modes (that is individuated entities), yet these two things are also related: AFFECTIONS, AFFECTS. – 1. The affections (affectio) are the modes themselves. The modes are the affections of substance or of its attributes (Ethics, I, 25, cor.; I, 30, dem.). [. . .] 2. At a second level, the affections designate that which happens to the mode, the modifications of the mode, the effects of other modes on it. These affections are therefore images or corporeal traces first of all (Ethics, II, post. 5; II, 17, schol.; III, post. 2); and their ideas involve both the nature of the affected body and that of the affecting external body (II, 16).7

The modes are not only affections of the substance (God or Nature) or the attributes of the substance (thinking and extension), they are eternal essences. For Deleuze, Spinoza needs to solve the problem as to how all of the modes might go together in such a way that they are not incompatible with one another. He distinguishes Spinoza’s system from that of Leibniz. Whereas for Leibniz there are monads (each of us would be a monad, all individuated things are monads), and these monads are distinct from one another, for Spinoza all of the modes are interrelated with one another. They are distinguished from one another by intensity, or degree of power. Deleuze explains this in Expressionism in Philosophy by turning to the definition of intensity developed by the medieval scholastic philosopher Duns Scotus. Duns Scotus and other of the Scholastics offer ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ distinctions, and Deleuze relates these distinctions to Spinoza. In Spinoza there is one substance which is infinite and indivisible and comprises all being. For Spinoza substance has an infinite number of attributes, yet we only know two: thinking and extension. According to the Scholastic terminology the attributes are distinguished from the one


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substance qualitatively. The modes too, are further distinguished from the attributes, yet these are distinguished quantitatively.8 This can best be explained through an example. The scholastic philosopher Duns Scotus gives the example of the colour white. Imagine that one of the attributes, say, extension (or body, to speak loosely), is the colour white. There are various grades of the colour white and let us say that these gradations of colour are infinite in number, yet they all nevertheless partake of the attribute white. Every mode is individuated by the degree of whiteness or the intensity of whiteness. In this way, the essence of every mode can be said to be its particular intensity, or degree of power, which is distinguished, using the scholastic terminology, quantitatively. The mode then (or the individuated being, such as you or I or a rock or a molecule) is identified with the concept of intensity. It is an intensity that is understood intrinsically and corresponds to an essence and this essence does not change. That is, each of us, as modes, have an eternal essence that corresponds to the degree of power (or intensity) that makes us what we are and distinguishes us from all other things even though we could not exist or come into being without all of those other modes which partake of the same attributes. We have seen how affections and affects are also related, so if intensity is identified with the mode as an affection how, for Deleuze, is the affect related to intensity? Here it is useful to return to A Thousand Plateaus. Deleuze and Guattari have already turned to Spinoza in defining the mode from a different angle, as a relation of speeds and slownesses that groups together the infinity of parts of which we are composed. They continue with a second definition that concerns the degree of power: To the relations composing, decomposing, or modifying an individual there correspond intensities that affect it, augmenting or diminishing its power to act; these intensities come from external parts or from the individual’s own parts.9

The intensities that affect an individual, then, are other modes, they are other individual beings. Affects are defined as that which registers a shift in power. For Spinoza, there are three primary affects from which all the other affects derive (just as all colours might be produced through mixing primary colours): joy, sadness, and desire (desire relates to our conatus or desire to persist in being, but here I will concentrate on joy and sadness). In short, when our power increases we are affected with joy, when our power decreases we are affected with sadness.

Affect, Meaning, Becoming, and Power


According to Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza, then, the mode (or affection, or intensity), is a state, and the affect is a passage or transition from one state to another. This is why Deleuze and Guattari famously state that ‘Affects are becomings’ (ATP, 256). They build on this, however, by further claiming that affects define what a body can do. That is, following Spinoza, the more an individual is capable of being affected the more powerful that individual is. Human beings are capable of being affected in many ways. In A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari add to Spinoza by seeking to define a body not by ‘its organs and functions’ or its ‘Species or Genus characteristics’ but by the affects of which it is capable. To underline what they mean, Deleuze and Guattari offer an example of the tick from the work of biologist Jakob von Uexküll. The tick has only three affects: [1] attracted by the light, it hoists itself up to the tip of a branch; [2] it is sensitive to the smell of mammals, and lets itself fall when one passes beneath the branch; [3] it digs into the animal’s skin, at the least hairy place it can find (ATP, 257). Yet what are the benefits of defining an individual via its affects? Deleuze and Guattari claim that it allows us a deeper understanding of the ethical relations of a body: We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in other words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body, either to destroy that body or to be destroyed by it, either to exchange actions and passions with it or to join with it in composing a more powerful body. (ATP, 257)

Deleuze and Guattari in turn relate this idea of ethics to ‘ethology’, which situates and understands the behaviour of animals within their environments. This is not all, however. Central to this plateau, ‘1730: BecomingIntense, Becoming-Animal . . . ’ is the setting out of a distinction that already appeared in slightly different form in The Anti-Oedipus, where it was called the ‘molar’ and ‘molecular’ (273–296). Here it involves the distinction between the plane of consistency or composition and the plane of organisation. This first (the molecular) involves fluid identity, driven by the affects, and the imagination. This concerns processes of becoming or passages from one state to another. The second (the molar) are determined states, existing on the plane of organisation, in which we are identified as subjects or selves, and as such recognised by the state, or corporations, for example. For Deleuze and Guattari we shift between these planes, and even require both (as without some organisation we would simply perish):


anthony uhlmann The plane of organization is constantly working away at the plane of consistency, always trying to plug the lines of flight, stop or interrupt the movements of deterritorialization, weigh them down, restratify them, reconstitute forms and subjects in a dimension of depth. Conversely, the plane of consistency is constantly extricating itself from the plane of organization. (ATP, 270)

So, what might be the benefits of thinking in terms such as these? In this plateau Deleuze and Guattari trace affects, or becoming in the understandings of spirituality and religion; in the minds of children; in creative work; in sexuality (masochism) and elsewhere. The becomings they emphasise predominantly occur at the margins, among minoritarian positions. Although this plateau follows through examples of becoming animal it is also made apparent this is only one kind of becoming, or affective transference between states. What has to be underlined strongly is that these kinds of transference are not merely imagined, they are real. It is useful to think of an easy-to-grasp example, and transgender experience is one that might explain what is at stake (Lucas Cassidy Crawford has developed an argument along these lines).10 A transgender person is defined by affects not by a physical body. While one might undergo gender reassignment via surgery and hormonal treatment the transgender person already has the affects that make them really of the other gender before any such surgery. What Deleuze and Guattari allow, via their emphasis on defining individuals through the affects of which they are capable, then, is a more nuanced and viable understanding of the kinds of being we might inhabit through the affective relations we enter into. One might contrast this with state assigned identity: a transgender person, for example, might be forced to have their birth gender listed on identity documents through legislation, or to use a bathroom related to their birth gender.

Massumi and Intensity Brian Massumi makes use of the theorists he engages with in a strategic, rather than a theoretically precise, way, and he says as much himself when he claims that ‘a philosophical sleight of hand like Spinoza’s is always necessary’.11 While I would argue that the sleight of hand he attributes to Spinoza is no such thing (because while it is challenging, the relation between substance and attributes that Massumi is referring to in this quotation is consistent within Spinoza’s system), it is clear that Massumi is himself reconciled to the idea that for strategic purposes one might make claims that cannot be justified on

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theoretical grounds. That is, although he references them to situate his arguments, Massumi develops quite different positions to those outlined by both Deleuze and Guattari and Spinoza. In effect, he develops his own concept of intensity/affect, which is incompatible with theirs. In ‘Autonomy of Affect’ Massumi begins with an example of a TV programme about a snowman that begins to melt and is then moved to the mountains where it stops melting. The programme upsets children and because of this it becomes the subject of a psychological experiment. As part of this experiment children, watching one of three versions, are wired up to test heart and breathing rates and skin conductivity. They are also asked to respond to what made them feel happy and sad in the film. Massumi directly equates ‘intensity’ with the Galvanic skin response measures, which are, in one group, seen to fall at the same time as their hearts beat faster and breathing deepened. Ruth Leys directly questions Massumi on this point, suggesting that while Massumi interprets this as a complete dissociation of results, the two readings are not necessarily incompatible. What concerns us here, however, is the definition of intensity. Massumi claims the Galvanic skin response measures autonomic reaction because it is on the surface or skin. He defines it as follows: ‘Intensity is embodied in purely autonomic reactions most directly manifested in the skin – at the surface of the body, at its interface with things’ (‘Autonomy’, 85). Over the page he underlines that the experiment showed a dampening of intensity. This allows us to understand that for Massumi intensity equates to a level of arousal such as will be picked up via a Galvanic skin response measure; that is, such responses will be more or less intense (‘Autonomy’, 86). He goes on to add: Intensity is [. . .] a nonconscious, never-to-conscious autonomic remainder. It is outside expectation and adaption, as disconnected from meaningful sequencing, from narration, as it is from vital function. (‘Autonomy’, 85)

That is, for Massumi, the concept of intensity says nothing in particular about the being in question (it is ‘disconnected [. . .] from vital function’) and does not concern anything that involves making sense or meaning for that being (it is ‘disconnected from meaningful sequencing’). He further clarifies that for him the intensity aligns with an idea of the event, which is distinguished from structure: Nothing is prefigured in the event. It is the collapse of structured distinction into intensity, of rules into paradox. It is the suspension of the invariance


anthony uhlmann that makes happy happy, sad sad, function function, and meaning mean. (‘Autonomy’, 87)

Yet this reading seems deeply at odds with the concept of intensity developed by Deleuze and Guattari, and the concept of affect developed by both Spinoza and Deleuze and Guattari. As we have seen, for Deleuze and Guattari intensity is that which allows the mode to be distinguished from other modes; further, the mode is affected by intensities (other modes) and these affects mark the shifts in power of the mode as it is affected. These affects in turn are registered as various mixtures of joy (which involve the sense of our power increasing) and sadness (which involve the sense of our power decreasing). That is, rather than ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ being suspended, against Massumi, Deleuze and Guattari and Spinoza align the affects with joy and sadness and the relations to our degree of power that they meaningfully convey. The distinction is subtle, and so it is worth underlining it here, at the risk of repeating myself. For Spinoza, and Deleuze and Guattari, affects are the very things that indicate whether an individual’s power to act has been augmented or diminished. That is, against Massumi (and in line with the criticisms of Massumi’s position put by Gatens and Leys), affects are immediately meaningful: they signify an increase or decrease in one’s power to act. Further, Massumi’s new concept, intensity/affect, loses the relation to the concept of power which is central to the concepts of intensity and affect developed by Deleuze and Guattari and the concept of affect developed by Spinoza. That is, going back to the example set out above, Deleuze and Guattari’s readings allow us to see how their concepts might be beneficial to, and empowering for, understanding the kinds of oppressions faced, for example, by people of transgender. Further, it provides arguments for resistance to those kinds of oppression. Such arguments might even be in some ways falsifiable through scientific arguments, if scientific research could be made to understand the prescience of the philosophical concepts, and such work might further strengthen a rhetorical argument for the resistance to such oppression. It is not possible to gain insight of this kind via Massumi’s new concept, intensity/affect, and, further, one might suggest that Massumi’s concept is inconsistent, both with the philosophical systems it leans upon and with the scientific evidence it draws upon. If one attends closely to Massumi’s essay it is clear that, subtle thinker that he is, he is aware of the distortions he brings into play; that he is making use of Spinoza in particular as a talisman for a new position in

Affect, Meaning, Becoming, and Power


cultural studies rather than rigorously engaging with his system. As such the strategies Massumi adopts have significant downsides. Firstly, if one were to agree wholeheartedly with his theory and his approach one would also have to assent to accepting glaring misreadings of Spinoza as well as aspects of Deleuze and Guattari that are in dialogue with Spinoza. So too, critics have suggested that the model developed by Massumian affect theory makes it more difficult to develop an effective critique of power, as the idea of the affects remains indeterminable, nonsignifying agentless background noise, rather than something that might be instructive to an understanding both of how power acts upon us and how we might act upon it. If Massumi’s approach was developed to better address the sociopolitical problems we face by adopting a rhetorical posture and focusing, at least metaphorically, on the subliminal levels of persuasion we are now more and more subjected to, so as to somehow have an effect upon these processes, it has failed. It is now crucial to rethink it, since it is clearly not working. It has not changed politics. The means of persuasion, instead, have become ever more insidious. The reputation of theory in the humanities has suffered and has failed to convince because it is seen to be deliberately obfuscating and unable to engage with knowledge produced in other disciplines. Surely now it is time to return to methods that seek to trace the real affects produced by theoretical systems such as affect theory. It is crucial, then, that we rethink the concepts of affect theory. Following Leys, and other critiques from the sciences or social sciences (not to mention law and other disciplines), one might wonder if the approach needs to shift for other reasons; that is, so research from the humanities might be taken seriously within the sciences; so that genuine exchange might take place between them. Leys, who is a humanities theorist, though one with a strong relation to the sciences, demonstrates that this is impossible if humanities scholars are seen to deliberately or carelessly misrepresent work from the sciences in order to build strategic arguments. A clear line of potential engagement between the arts and sciences involves the theoretical models developed by Spinoza, and others who follow him consistently, such as Deleuze and Guattari. Bergson too, is an example of another philosopher whose work on affect should be of interest to cognitive psychology and neuroscience. In Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain, Antonio Damasio claims to have been inspired by Spinoza’s prescience.12 Writing in 2003, Heidi Morrison Ravven has set out the extent to which Spinoza has influenced neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists.13 Opportunities exist, then, for the


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humanities not only to better identify concepts from the history of philosophy, the arts, and social theory that might be useful to and used by scientists, but to create new concepts that might have similar beneficial effects. In order to do this, however, both sides will need to find ways of talking to one another more effectively.

Re-reading Damasio Ruth Leys’s critique is powerful and offers crucial insights into the process; however, I would also argue that there are limitations with her position. The second half of her essay attends to the work of Antonio Damasio, and, having aligned his work with the Tomkins-Ekman paradigm, she seeks to dismiss his approach. I would argue that in this dismissal an opportunity is missed. While aspects of Damasio’s theory do seem to align with the Basic Emotions paradigm, other elements seem to point the way to a more nuanced understanding. The distinction Damasio makes between emotion (which involves preconscious cognitive activity as the brain reports without conscious reflection on the condition of the body) and feeling (which emerges after this initial preconscious appraisal has been made and involves conscious reflection on this initial appraisal) is provisional, and although he does equate emotions with the body and feelings with the mind (Looking, 28), the detail of his argument demonstrates that the two processes are part of the same system (Looking, 57–65). Unlike the picture Leys paints that sees Tomkins-Ekman and the affect theorists as excising all meaning from automatic emotional (or affective) reactions, Damasio insists that the triggering of emotions always involves appraisal, both in the initial moment of triggering and in the further associations that come into play (including memories of previous encounters) in consequence of the initial triggering (Looking, 62–65). That is, before one consciously reflects upon what is taking place (what Damasio calls feeling), there is already appraisal; in effect, appraisal, and so meaning, is, or should be present at every step of the emotion-feeling continuum Damasio describes. The appraisal mechanism is coextensive with the emotion mechanism, then, at each step. When they are disconnected, which Damasio argues is possible, the consequences for the subject unable to appraise due to brain injury are devastating (Looking, 79). This, then, distinguishes Damasio from the readings offered by Massumian affect theory and Leys’s reading of the Basic Emotions paradigm in psychology and neuroscience, which evacuates meaning from what Massumi calls affect.

Affect, Meaning, Becoming, and Power


A potential problematic difference occurs only if one insists upon meaning, and so thinking, being tied to conscious thought. It is not clear, in my reading of Leys, whether or not her understanding of the essential nature of meaning, and intention, and belief, to cognitive processes always requires consciousness, or whether they might equally be involved with preconscious processes. It is not clear why all processes of thought would have to be considered conscious, and I would argue, following Spinoza and Gatens’s reading discussed above, that thought does not have to be identified with consciousness and that doing so leads us into error. Thought, for Spinoza, is the idea of the body. It is not inconsistent with Spinoza, then, to claim, as Damasio does, that certain kinds of cognitive processes are preconscious; indeed, it is difficult to see how any other claim might be accurate. This only becomes problematic if one exclusively identifies such pre-conscious cognition with the body alone and conscious thinking with the mind alone, which Spinoza does not do (as thinking is not reducible to consciousness for Spinoza). In short, then, Damasio remains an important figure in contemporary debates because he has helped to open a dialogue between data being collected in contemporary cognitive science and the powerful theories of affect developed by Spinoza. The critiques offered by Leys and Gatens are crucial to a reconceptualisation of affect theory. A new paradigm of affect theory, must, as Leys and Gatens both contend, be able to account for the meaningful nature of thought. That is, such a theory cannot afford to fall back into the hoary error of body/mind dualism. Yet equally, such a theory must not make the mistake of exclusively identifying the mind with conscious thought. Spinoza’s theories of affect offer a model of thinking (as the idea of the body) that escapes both of these traps. It is important to apply the lessons he offers rigorously both in humanities theory and as a means of developing dialogue with contemporary psychology and neuroscience.

Notes 1. Moira Gatens, ‘Affective Transitions and Spinoza’s Art of Joyful Deliberation’, in Marie-Luise Angerer, Bernd Bösel and Michaela Ott (eds), Timing of Affect: Epistemologies, Aesthetics, Politics (Berlin: Diaphanes, 2014), p. 18. Further citations appear parenthetically in text as ‘Affective Transitions’. 2. Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1988), pp. 17–22. 3. Spinoza, Ethics, trans. Edwin Curley (London: Penguin, 1996), EIIP43 Schol., p. 58.


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4. Ruth Leys, ‘The Turn to Affect: A Critique’, Critical Inquiry, 37:3 (Spring 2011), p. 437. Further citations appear parenthetically in text as ‘Turn to Affect’. 5. This renders this paradigm incompatible with Spinoza’s theories, which understand the affects as being produced through associations of images which necessarily involve appraisals of whether they interact positively or negatively with one’s conatus or desire to persist in being. 6. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, The Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane, Preface by Michel Foucault (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983). 7. Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, p. 48. 8. Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Zone Books, 1992), pp. 191–199. 9. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Volume 2, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. 256. Further citations appear parenthetically in text as ATP. 10. Lucas Cassidy Crawford, ‘Transgender without Organs?: Mobilizing a Geo-Affective Theory of Gender Modification’, WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, 36:3 & 4 (Autumn/Winter 2008): pp. 127–143. 11. Brian Massumi, ‘The Autonomy of Affect’, Cultural Critique, No. 31, The Politics of Systems and Environments, Part II (Autumn, 1995): pp. 83–109, p. 99. Further citations appear parenthetically in the text as ‘Autonomy’. 12. Antonio Damasio, Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain (New York: Harvest Book, 2003). Further citations appear parenthetically in the text as Looking. 13. Heidi Morrison Ravven, ‘Spinoza’s Anticipation of Contemporary Affective Neuroscience’, Consciousness and Emotion 4:2 (2003): pp. 257–290.

chapter 9

Translating Postcolonial Affect* Sneja Gunew

While we might all agree that there are universal emotions, we might differ on how we typically display or recognize their manifestations. After the many discussions over the last decade in the fields of Affect Studies and the history of the emotions it seems prudent to take into account neuroscientist and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett’s statement that ‘the facts remain that no one has found even a single reliable, broadly replicable, objectively measurable essence of emotions.’1 How we might parse affect differently is part of a larger project that resists the universalization of affect in terms of the European ‘psy’ (psychiatry, psychology and psychoanalysis) disciplines.2 Two elements guide this chapter: one is the understanding that language (and hence a specific language) plays a role in generating and attempting to articulate affect, and the second is the realization that in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), as well as in medical anthropology and comparative ‘psy’ studies, there is little hesitation about naming ‘culture-bound symptoms.’ In relation to medical anthropology, Barrett’s study suggests that we learn about emotions in terms of a conceptual apparatus that is embedded in particular language systems that ‘commonly have emotion words whose associated concepts have no equivalent in English.’3 Symptomatic of the universalizing gestures that are being interrogated is the question as to why the ultimate praise for a text, particularly if it is perceived as ‘foreign,’ is to describe it as having ‘universal’ appeal. Why that flattening move? What exactly does it mean and what anxiety underpins it? And what does this term ‘universal’ camouflage? For example, in the texts that have been translated into English, Han Kang writes about anger in ways that render it strange to an Anglophone world. None the less, a review of Han Kang’s Human Acts (2016) rather *

Thanks to the following who all helped me sort through this material: Dina Al-Kassim, Amalya Layla Ashman, Alessandra Capperdoni, Margery Fee, Christine Kim, Bronwen Levy. My thanks as well to Carole Ferrier who published a much earlier version of my piece in Hecate, 42:2 (2016).



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nervously invokes the term ‘universal’ at the end of an otherwise detailed and historically informed account revealing that the text deals with a very specific massacre of ordinary Korean citizens including women and children in Gwangju Province in 1980 – a Korean precursor perhaps of the Tiananmen massacre, where the state turns on its young in order to secure its hold on power.4 Human Acts makes for harrowing reading and I will return to it. However the major part of this chapter deals with Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (2015), translated from the Korean, and a recent Man Booker winner. The central question this chapter poses is: what are the affective grammars arising out of specific languages and belief systems that help us understand this text? What, in turn, does it teach us about how to make affective and emotional concepts legible in a global context? But before embarking on a reading of this text let me pause to consider ‘affect’ as a sensation before it locates itself in emotions or feelings, a distinction in Teresa Brennan’s work where she states that ‘I define feelings as sensations that have found the right match in words,’5 and reiterated in Rei Terada’s influential introduction to affect theory: ‘by emotion we usually mean a psychological, at least minimally interpretive experience whose physiological aspect is affect. Feeling is a capacious term that connotes both physiological sensations (affects) and psychological states (emotions).6 In this approach affect functions as sensation before it has been defined and contained by being named as emotion and thus entering a taxonomy of emotions reinforced over time. Affect overwhelms us with sensation so that we corral/articulate it as a specific emotion in anxious response. The passage from delineating an inchoate affect to the more precise naming of an emotion takes place in a specific language that always comprises a cultural system. It has been argued that Deleuze and Massumi were at pains to distinguish between affect and emotions because they resist any attempts to curtail or instrumentalise the unique energy generated by affect.7 In the (tentative) work I have done with rasa/bhava and Sanskrit taxonomies of affect/emotions8 it is also helpful to suggest that affects and emotions are useful tools for registering distinctive forms of embodiment or the somatic. The subsequent discussion of Korean han throws further light on this process. What follows is one reading of The Vegetarian using familiar Western concepts. Han Kang clarified in an interview9 that The Vegetarian began in a short story published in 2000 titled ‘The Fruit of my Woman’ that depicts a scenario in which a woman turns into a plant.10 The story is told from both the point of view of the wife (who, in a letter to her mother, reveals her growing suffocation within an urban environment) and of the

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husband who, though increasingly bewildered, demonstrates his support of his wife by planting her in a pot on their balcony: Now her form retains barely a trace of the biped she once was. Her pupils, which seemed to have metamorphosed into shining round grapes, are gradually being buried in brown stems. My wife cannot see anymore. She can’t even flex the ends of the stems. But when I go out onto the balcony I feel a hazy sensation that defeats all language, like a minute electric current pulsing out from her body and into mine. When the leaves which were once my wife’s hands and hair all fell out, and the place where her lips had meshed together split open, releasing a handful of fruit, that sensation ended like a thin thread snapping.11

Originally published as three separate novellae, The Vegetarian retains the three sections that juxtapose the points of view of three characters. The protagonist, Yeong-hye, does not have a separate section and her point of view appears in italics throughout, as well as through direct speech. The text turns upon self-annihilation (rather than suicide) because the text makes clear that various acts of violence perpetrated upon Yeong-hye contribute to her desire to transform, or to stop a certain form of life, a certain form of endurance. The first section, titled ‘The Vegetarian,’ is narrated by Yeonghye’s husband, Mr. Cheong whose first sentence is ‘Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.’12 He goes on to explain ‘there was no reason for us not to get married.’13 Such statements seem to indicate a character who sees his wife as a generic female rather than a unique individual. The narrative continues to describe the inexplicable change in this ‘ordinary’ woman when she suddenly discards all the expensive meat in their fridge and becomes a vegetarian (vegan actually). Her explanation is that she had a dream. The outraged husband recruits her family to overturn this conversion. The result is a family dinner where the father violently forces meat into his daughter’s mouth only to have her retaliate furiously and slit her own wrist so that she has to be rushed to hospital. Subsequent to these events, the husband divorces his wife and she recuperates at her sister’s house. Her brother-in-law, a video artist never named in the text, develops an obsession for her that leads eventually to a psychological breakdown for both of them. The second section, ‘Mongolian Mark,’ is told from the perspective of the un-named brother-in-law who becomes fascinated when he hears his wife Inhye mention a birthmark, known as a Mongolian mark, that her sister still bears rather than having it typically disappear after childhood. More of this later. The artist begins to fantasize a video in which he films the process of painting flowers over Yeong-hye’s body which extends to filming a man, also


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painted with flowers, having intercourse with her. He recruits a colleague for this role after persuading Yeong-hye to accede to this project. Overcome by a squeamish resistance, the colleague stops short of the requested intercourse. Meanwhile, it is clear that this proxy projection of desire is actually a materialization of the artist’s own uncontrollable lust for Yeong-hye, and eventually he does have sex with her, after getting his own body painted with flowers by a willing female colleague. His wife In-hye discovers the video and calls the authorities – outraged that he had taken advantage of her sister’s mental fragility. Their marriage ends and In-hye is left to care both for her young son and her rapidly disintegrating sister. Interestingly, blurbs on the cover and reviews of the book refer to the eroticism of the text, and the film made shortly after the book appeared plays on this as well.14 Yeong-hye’s own complicity in her sexualization remains ambiguous: was she exploited while in a mentally disabled state or was she using sexual intercourse as a way to reach another form of life? There is a telling moment in the second section when the brother-in-law narrator states: Only then did he realize what it was that had shocked him when he’d first seen her lying prone on the sheet. This was the body of a beautiful young woman, conventionally an object of desire, and yet it was a body from which all desire had been eliminated. But this was nothing so crass as carnal desire, not for her – rather, or so it seemed, what she had renounced was the very life her body represented.15

The third section, ‘Flaming Trees,’ is narrated from the point of view of Inhye, the older sister.16 It reveals a legacy of domestic abuse by their father, directed particularly toward Yeong-hye, the younger and more vulnerable child.17 Based on her awareness of this history, In-hye describes her increasing sympathy for her sister although Yeong-hye’s body functions throughout as an enigma – the motives for her actions remain opaque, mysterious. In-hye’s increasingly desperate need to understand, to unspool her sister’s motivations reveal a kind of fungibility of the characters: they stand in for each other – Mr. Cheong is a mirror of the father, and In-hye increasingly transforms into Yeong-hye, although at the beginning the contrast between the sisters is accentuated. Unlike her sister, In-hye is an extrovert and a successful business-woman as well as a mother – she copes or endures, no matter what is thrust at her. Her breaking point is when she is forced to watch her sister being intravenously fed after she had stopped eating entirely. The explanation is that Yeong-hye feels herself turning into a tree and indeed her mental fragility is given material form in both her desire to be naked and her need to stand on her head so that she resembles

Translating Postcolonial Affect


a tree. Sun and water are all she requires. By the end of the text In-hye too feels drawn to this other form of life.18 So what is the nature of the enigma? In the first instance it is difficult to fully grasp the dimensions of the public shaming Mr. Cheong feels in relation to his corporate life (because his wife’s nipples are discernible at a corporate banquet, and she also shows ‘bad manners’ in refusing elaborate dishes since they contain meat). In addition, the degree of the family’s anger at Yeong-hye’s vegetarianism is also disconcerting. Again, a kind of public shaming is indicated. In relation to the details of Yeong-hye’s quest, what motivates this process of ‘becoming’ vegetarian, or vegetable, or tree? One way is to say that the desire to leave the human (‘deterritorialize’ it in Deleuzian terms) is due to the ways in which the human is depicted as being fundamentally premised upon and animated by, as well as entitled to, violence against other life-forms. Yeong-hye dreams of a voracious face but hints that this monstrous and predatory visage is a projection of what is located inside her: ‘The face is inside my stomach. It rose up from inside my stomach.’19 There are moments for example (in terms of classic horror representation) where she is depicted as sitting semi-naked in public grasping a partially eaten bird in her fist.20 Her motivation is a question in everyone’s mind – this is where affect comes in – when Yeong-hye depicts a storm of raw sensations before we know what to call them. So here one might locate a resistance to the universalization of affect. How does one (should one) translate these sensations into definitive feelings or emotions? Yeong-hye’s symptoms are identified as anorexia and schizophrenia, as her doctor ‘helpfully’ suggests,21 and they could be interpreted as one of those extreme examples of universalization represented by the categories of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Feminist readers have long noted that anorexia is still mostly linked with women and that the control and punishment typically involved are self-directed and often appear driven largely by self-disgust. What crime has Yeong-hye committed that leads her to want to punish herself? Meat eating is one and is generally accepted as involving the abuse of other life forms, which is increased in magnitude with the industrialization of meat harvesting.22 But this does not explain Yeong-hye’s outward serenity at the same time that we become conscious of a roiling anger that she keeps in check,23 nor the brief eruption of her sexual desire when confronted with the flowers painted on her own and another’s body. Nor does it explain her desire to metamorphose into a tree, a process that has a familiar genealogy in Western mythology (one thinks of Daphne fleeing her rapist by becoming a tree) but may mean


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something quite different in other cultural contexts. In the course of the text, both the sisters are, indeed, raped by their partners. In addition, the father’s forcing meat onto Yeong-hye could also be seen as constituting a form of rape – certainly as an assault that breaches her bodily integrity. In classic terms, she feels alienated from her body; for example, she feels a lump in her breast from all the meat she has eaten.24 The scenario of the Freudian uncanny is also present – the metamorphosis of what was known, comforting, and familiar into something monstrous, for example, the affective context produced by marital rape.25 Another example of the uncanny concerns the memory of the family dog that is tortured to death by the father as punishment for biting and is subsequently eaten by the family.26 There is also the curious figuration of the Mongolian mark that the never-named artist brother-in-law obsesses over. Here is a telling moment: ‘It called to mind something ancient, something pre-evolutionary, or else perhaps a mark of photosynthesis, and he realized to his surprise that there was nothing sexual about it; it was more vegetal than sexual.’27 In the world of the DSM or of comparative ‘psy’ disciplines, or medical anthropology, there have been numerous studies that examine the cultural contexts of diseases including what are called ‘culture-bound syndromes.’28 The following comprises treading on eggshells (since I don’t know Korean) but at the same time tries to suggest that these other factors might yield unexpected illuminations. In a review of Han Kang’s second novel to be translated into English, Human Acts, Pasha Malla draws attention to the Korean legacies of ‘hwa-byung’ (anger disease) and ‘han’ (resentment, grief).29 These terms are also extensively analyzed by the Korean psychiatrist Sung Kil Min as primary examples of ‘culture-bound syndromes.’30 Both terms have been linked in generative ways not just with the individualism the ‘psy’ disciplines inevitably suggest but as well with a kind of ‘social suffering’, where ‘the trauma, pain, and disorders to which atrocity gives rise are health conditions; yet they are also political and cultural matters.’31 And it is this transition from the personal to the collective that is of interest here. The ‘psy’ disciplines have traditionally focused on the individual rather than the group. Concepts from other cultures don’t necessarily maintain such a distinction and the Korean concept of han offers one such example. So let me attempt to unpack the meaning of han and see what it offers.

Introducing Han In a talk delivered in 2000, the well-known novelist Pak Kyong-ni referred to han as comprising the contradictions of sadness and hope that define life

Translating Postcolonial Affect


and argued that it is, moreover, the essence of what generates literature. She also distinguishes in that same talk between Korean han and Japanese ourami (or urami): The Japanese word ourami evokes images of the sword and the seeds of militarism, and is a characteristic feeling of the Japanese, for whom vengeance is a virtue. Therefore the Japanese word ourami is completely different from the Korean word Han. [. . .] Han is an expression of the complex feeling which embraces both sadness and hope. The sadness stems from the effort by which we accept the original contradiction facing all living things, and hope comes from the will to overcome the contradiction. In the present, we accept it; in the future, we will overcome it.32

Pak also links han to shamanism and I will return to this. The pioneering critic on Asian American literature, Elaine Kim describes han as ‘the sorrow and anger that grow from the accumulated experiences of oppression [. . .]. When people die of han, it is called dying of hwabyong, a disease of frustration and rage following misfortune.’33 Kim discusses han in relation to the occluded history of Korean Americans in the wake of the Rodney King beatings. Tellingly, her essay is titled ‘Home is where the Han is’ and catalogues somewhat bitterly the ways in which Korean Americans were and are reminded that they are not authentic Americans and that they will always be part of the nation on sufferance. So here in essence is an important element of han: that it personalizes a history of political and colonial oppression. This personally felt political dis-ease (both singular and plural) is what makes han distinctive, something also referred to by Pak in relation to the Japanese colonization of Korea and explored by Han Kang in her novel Human Acts, which deals with the legacy of such political oppression and colonialisms in collusion with the series of authoritarian dictators who have ruled Korea in contemporary times. Another aspect of unpacking Korean han is to consider the ways in which han is bequeathed generationally. Seo-Young Chu argues that for the generations who have not experienced historical trauma, the imagination allows them to enter it through the genre of science fiction. She describes the dynamic via the concepts of metonymy (contiguity) and apostrophe (direct address to an absent figure): Metonymy is literalized as the genetic transference of han-filled memories from a Korean mother to her unborn Korean American child (to whom she is literally contiguous and closely related by blood). Apostrophe is literalized as extrasensory mind-to-mind communication between two people separated by temporal, generational, and geographical distance. Lyric time is literalized as the simultaneity of past and present within the Korean


sneja gunew American psyche. The invocation to the muse is literalized each time the ghost of a Korean ancestor uses a descendant’s organs of speech to vocalize experiences that happened before the descendant was born. What unifies these literalized tropes, incorporating them into a coherent science fiction narrative, is the Korean American telepath.34

Chu also links her analysis to the Korean American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s text Dictée (1982).35 Cha was tragically murdered at the age of thirty-one when her work was gaining recognition, and she remains an iconic precursor for Korean American writers amongst others. Here Chu singles out the ways in which ‘apostrophe’ or direct address is linked to a kind of literary possession by the muse,36 one that I will tentatively connect to shamanism. In her recent book the Canadian feminist critic Christine Kim explores postmemory in relation to the hiatus in affect involved in intergenerational transmission of emotions, particularly in the context of diaspora. Using her own history Kim analyzes the work of Canadian artist David Khang and states, ‘I am, in fact, profoundly disturbed to realize that while the images from Wrong Places push me in all kinds of intellectual directions, they do not provoke any visceral reactions even though they raise pressing issues of social justice, political representation, and ideological violence.’37 Later in her study she suggests that ‘perhaps the absence of palpable emotions is precisely how these disruptions are felt given that diaspora involves dispersal not only in terms of geography and generation, but also the translation of affect and emotion.’38 For Kim, like Chu, the gap between the direct experience of han and its collective aspect turns it into a useful form for thinking without reducing such thinking to instrumentality – something that theorists of affect have long argued.39 James Freda’s (1999) early and influential essay ‘Discourse on Han in Postcolonial Korea: Absent Suffering and Industrialist Dreams,’ links han to the Korean liberation theologies of the 1970s arguing that this ‘existential field of immiseration’ provides a way for the masses to work towards utopian revolution,40 and suggests that the rise of han constituted a politicizing factor – politics viscerally experienced and articulated in terms of invoking the concept of han as quintessentially a defining national characteristic. He also, revealingly, sees the roots of han in shamanism which is perceived as a defining folk culture.41 Jae Hoon Lee, a scholar of comparative religions, also explores han in relation to minjung liberation theology and states that:

Translating Postcolonial Affect


Korean Shamanism, the indigenous religion that has served as the matrix of Korean culture throughout its history, has been developed around the reality of han. The shamans, the living symbol of han in Korea, become themselves through the experience of han, while the main pursuit of their rituals is to resolve the han of the people.42

Lee argues further that ‘The discrimination against females in that society [the Yi dynasty] was so extreme that the existence of femininity is often directly identified with han’43 and ‘The han of the shaman represents the han of Korean women’.44 More recent studies from cultural anthropology have indeed explored the preponderance of female shamans and their female clients in Korean culture, particularly the work of cultural anthropologist Laurel Kendall.45 To summarize: han suggests a link between the singular and the plural – historical and social suffering intertwined with individual experience. It also suggests that the social is modified by how individuals actually deal with han. This is something that Han Kang explores in this text as well as in Human Acts: the ways in which the Gwangju massacre is experienced via a group of individuals who are both – individuals who have unique experiences and who are also part of an oppressed group. As one character states: ‘The force of my suffering surges through me in a fury that seemed it would burst my heart.’46 It is one of the biggest ethical challenges facing us now and always – that of seeing victims as individuals in the face of overwhelming statistics. So informed with han as a newly translated ‘structure of feeling’ (Raymond Williams’ neutral designation)47 how might one interpret The Vegetarian infused by considerations of han? What if we were to see the whole text as a sustained allegory of female han – a suffering that is composed not only of individual elements but also involves the collective suffering experienced by women under patriarchy? In the first section we move between the husband Mr. Cheong’s outrage at his hitherto ordinary wife’s growing rebelliousness figured by the fact that she not only refuses to eat meat at important business banquets but also refuses to be constricted by wearing a bra. In other words, she appears to shame him deliberately in public. Meanwhile Yeong-hye: Dreams of my hands around someone’s throat, throttling them, grabbing the swinging ends of their long hair and hacking it all off, sticking my finger into their slippery eyeball . . . I become a different person, a different person rises up inside me, devours me . . . Can only trust my breasts now. I like my breasts, nothing can be killed by them.48


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As her anorexia advances, though, these markers of her gender (and her humanity in general) wither away. What grows is her awareness of being haunted by the suffering of the lives she has absorbed: Yells and howls, threaded together layer upon layer, are enmeshed to form that lump. Because of meat. I ate too much meat. The lives of the animals I ate have all lodged there. Blood and flesh, all those butchered bodies are scattered in every nook and cranny . . . their lives still stick stubbornly to my insides.49

In the second section, ‘Mongolian Mark’, the brother-in-law describes Yeong-hye’s slitting of her wrist as her trying ‘to hack at it like it was a piece of meat.’50 So in a sense she is rejecting her own body because it too is meat. After he covers her body in flowers it is as though she had been given another carapace or model for being; she becomes more serene and less dominated by her dreams. In ways that recall the short story, the brotherin-law dreams of her body as green and exuding sap.51 The Mongolian mark is described in Korean folklore as a shamanic mark associated with birth and so there may be a suggestion that Yeong-hye is undergoing a shamanistic initiation or transformation. In the third section Yeonghye arguably functions as a guide to another state of being for her sister Inhye. While initially she is a figure of abjection, increasingly her behavior raises questions concerning certain normative modes of existence: She was no longer able to cope with all that her sister reminded her of. She’d been unable to forgive her for soaring alone over a boundary she herself could never bring herself to cross, unable to forgive that magnificent irresponsibility that had enabled Yeong-hye to shuck off social constraints and leave her behind, still a prisoner. And before Yeong-hye had broken those bars, she’d never even known they were there.52

In-hye also recognizes that Yeong-hye had absorbed their father’s violence ‘deep into the marrow of her bones’ thereby absolving her from having to deal with it. Eventually she realizes that ‘She had never lived . . . she had done nothing but endure . . . she was nothing but a child who had never lived.’53 Mysteriously she begins to hemorrhage even after the ostensible reason (a uterine polyp) has been cut away. She too now perceives her body as an open wound. Meditating on her sister’s state In-hye wonders: What other dimension might Yeong-he’s soul have passed into, having shrugged off flesh like a snake shedding its skin [. . .]. Had her body metamorphosed into a sturdy trunk, with white roots sprouting from her hands and clutching the black soil? [. . .]. When Yeong-hye had balanced upside down and stretched out every fibre in her body, had these things been awakened in her soul?54

Translating Postcolonial Affect


A little earlier she had been struck by the existence of trees as green flames but had found their presence ‘Merciless . . . and a frighteningly chill form of life.’55 As her dying sister speeds away in an ambulance In-hye scrutinizes the flaming green trees again, ‘As if waiting for an answer. As if protesting against something. The look in her eyes is dark and insistent.’56 Reading this text within the context of debates about the post-human raises questions concerning affect as a modality of translation. The European ‘psy’ disciplines have traditionally reinforced the boundaries of a self-contained subjectivity – the manifestation and shoring up of the sovereign self. Exploring affective concepts outside that tradition may enable us to imagine a new materialism, a new corporeality urgently required to deal with the global transformations we face. In relation to the new materialism, the political theorist William Connolly considers the ‘role affect plays in perception as they jolt the tacit feeling of belonging to the world [. . .] transfigured into a feeling of vertigo.’57 That vertigo is what I mean by the idea of affect as a modality of translation that does not foreclose too quickly on the reassurance of familiar taxonomies of emotions. A concept such as han provides the unfamiliar intensity of suffering and frustration yoked to plural as well as specific histories of political exploitation linked to dense substrata of national groups enduring colonialism and other forms of oppression. If it is thoroughly gendered in this text that is not surprising given the profound misogyny always bubbling beneath the surface of our existence with volcanic ferocity. The Vegetarian might be seen as the story of a conversion where one sister guides the other to a more planetary model of existence. Why planetary? I am using it in the sense that Gayatri Spivak has suggested the human as being a planetary accident rather than the measure of things; ‘planetarity’ speaks of ‘an imperative to re-imagine the subject as planetary accident [. . .] rather than global agents.’58 It also brings to mind Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable where he analyzes ‘the uncanny intimacy of our relationship with the nonhuman.’59 Dwelling on the notion of the uncanny Ghosh argues: No other word comes close to expressing the strangeness of what is unfolding around us. For these changes are not merely strange in the sense of being unknown or alien; their uncanniness lies precisely in the fact that in these encounters we recognize something we had turned away from [. . .] the presence and proximity of nonhuman interlocutors.60

Yeong-hye and In-hye represent the possibilities of post-human subjectivity in which there is an abdication from or relinquishment of the


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Anthropocene. Becoming tree represents an inversion, a perceptual vertigo, in many ways. Trees are the conduits between earth and air. They also represent a new version of the ‘mouthwork’ I have explored elsewhere – the mouth that eats and speaks is linked in women to the mouth that gives birth.61 Traditionally the birth mouth has been used to displace and silence the speech mouth. My argument has been that The Vegetarian constitutes such a contradictory text. In this allegorical text the inversion where the birth mouth sprouts flowers indicates other possible forms of life and modes of articulation. When Yeong-hye stops speaking, her sister takes over and the trees themselves beckon in post-human solidarity. There are many other examples of trees to consider in literature and one example is Australian Aboriginal elder Bill Neidjie’s text Story About Feeling where there is a whole section titled ‘Tree’. What for they cutting it land? Because tree going down and that road e go. Soon as bitumen there e don’t grow any grass there. That road e stay . . . no grass. Side e’s right but middle of it nothing. You drive, you look lumber-stick there, big log there, Big ‘dozer pull it out . . . Well your body you feel. You say . . . “Oh . . . that tree same as me!” I look tree but I say . . . ‘Just like mother, father or brother, grandma.’ ‘Course your granny, your mother, your brother because this earth, this ground, this piece of ground e grow you’.62

Here too, as with han, the affect generated is both plural and individual and requires a translation that involves both linguistic and cultural specificity. Such understanding is facilitated by moving outside a monolingual sphere to the multilingual – in this case the parallel taxonomies of affect and emotion that exist in many cultures and languages: overlapping but not identical. These concepts can be translated to some degree but always suggest an excess that eludes translation and it is this excess that is vital for understanding those affective sensations that always resist full translation into carefully codified taxonomies of feelings.

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Notes 1. Lisa Feldman Barrett, How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), p. 173. 2. Sneja Gunew, ‘Subaltern Empathy: Beyond European Categories of Affect Theory,’ Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies, National Taiwan Normal University, 35:1 [Special issue: Affect] (2009), pp. 11–30. 3. Barrett, How Emotions Are Made, 103. 4. Nami Mun, ‘What the Dead Know,’ New York Times Sunday Book Review (15 January 2017), p. 12. See also Nancy Abelmann, Echoes of the Past, Epics of Dissent: A South Korean Social Movement (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996). 5. Teresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), p. 5. 6. Rei Terada, Feeling in Theory: Emotion after the ‘Death of the Subject’ (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 4. 7. See Maria Hynes and Scott Sharpe, ‘Affect: An Unworkable Concept,’ Angelaki, 20:3 (2015), pp. 115–129. 8. Gunew ‘Subaltern’ and Sneja Gunew, ‘Editorial,’ Samyukta: A Journal of Gender and Culture 16:1 (January 2016) [Special Issue: Decolonizing Theories of the Emotions], pp. 7–15. /2016/07/decolonising-theories-of-the-emotions/ [last accessed 27 June 2019]. 9. Krys Lee, ‘Violence and Being Human: A Conversation with Han Kang,’ World Literature Today, 90:3–4 (May/August 2016), pp. 61–67. 10. Han Kang, ‘The Fruit of my Woman,’ trans. D. Smith (London: Granta, 2000), pp. 2–24. 11. Ibid. pp. 21–22, my emphasis. 12. Han Kang, The Vegetarian, trans. D. Smith (London: Portobello Books, 2015), p. 3. 13. Ibid. p. 3. 14. Lim Woo-Seong, The Vegetarian (film) (2009) [last accessed 27 June 2019]. 15. Kang, Vegetarian, p. 85. 16. There is also a brother but he does not play much of a role in the narrative. 17. Kang, Vegetarian, p. 157. 18. Ibid. p. 169. 19. Ibid. p. 115. 20. Ibid. p. 52. 21. Ibid. p. 140. 22. Texts such as Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats (New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1998) come to mind. 23. Kang, Vegetarian, p. 86. 24. Ibid. p. 49.


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25. Ibid. p. 81. This aspect is also singled out by reviewer Jiayang Fan, ‘Buried Words: Han Kang and the Complexity of Translation,’ The New Yorker (15 January 2018), p. 63. 26. Kang, Vegetarian, p. 41. 27. Ibid. p. 83. 28. See Sandra L. Somers, ‘Examining Anger in “Culture-bound” Syndrome,’ Psychiatric Times (1 January 1998). try/examining-anger-culture-bound-syndromes [last accessed 27 June 2019]. 29. Pasha Malla, ‘Han Kang explores the legacy of 5.18 in Human Acts,’ Globe & Mail (17 September 2016), p. 18. 30. Sung Kil Min, ‘Hwabyung in Korea: Culture and Dynamic Analysis,’ World Cultural Psychiatry Research Review (January 2009), p. 12; Sung Kil Min, ‘Culture and Somatic Symptoms: Hwa-byung. A Culture-Related Anger Symptom,’ in R. B. Koh (ed.), Somatization and Psychosomatic Symptoms (New York, NY: Springer, 2013), p. 51. 31. Arthur Kleinman, Veena Das and Margaret Lock, ‘Introduction,’ in Kleinman, Das and Lock (eds), Social Suffering (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997), p. ix. One thinks as well of Fanon’s work in relation to the colonial complicity that marked the ‘psy’ disciplines in the African context. See Françoise Vergès, ‘To Cure and to Free: The Fanonian Project of “Decolonized Psychiatry,”’ in Lewis R. Gordon, T. Denean SharpleyWhiting and Renée T. White (eds), Fanon: A Critical Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), p. 85. 32. Pak Kyong-ni, ‘The Feelings and the Thoughts of Korean People in Literature.’ This essay can be accessed online: RY/HanTheSoulofKoreanLiterature/tabid/1557/Default.aspx [last accessed 26 July 2019]. 33. Elaine H. Kim, ‘Home Is Where the Han Is: A Korean-American Perspective on the Los Angeles Upheavals,’ in R. Gooding-Williams (ed.), Reading Rodney King: Reading Urban Uprising (New York, NY: Routledge, 1993), p. 215. My thanks to Christine Kim for alerting me to the full citation and sharing with me the chapter in her recent book that uses the concept of han. 34. Seo-Young Chu, ‘Science Fiction and Postmemory Han in Contemporary Korean American Literature,’ MELUS 33:4 (2008), p. 100. 35. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictée (New York, NY: Tanam Press, 1982). 36. Chu, ‘Science Fiction,’ p. 111. 37. Christine Kim, The Minor Intimacies of Race: Asian Publics in North America (Urbana, OH: University of Illinois Press, 2016), p. 98. 38. Ibid. p. 106. 39. See Nigel Thrift, ‘Intensities of Feeling: Towards a Spatial Politics of Affect’, Geografiska Annaler 86B.1 (2004), pp. 57–78.

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40. James Freda, ‘Discourse on Han in Postcolonial Korea: Absent Suffering and Industrialist Dreams,’ Jouvert 3 (1999) #8. vert/v3i12/freda.htm [last accessed 26 July 2019]. 41. Ibid. #31. 42. Jae Hoon Lee, The Exploration of the Inner Wounds – Han (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1994), p. 2. 43. Ibid. p. 103. 44. Ibid. p. 104. 45. Laurel Kendall, Shamans, Housewives, and Other Restless Spirits: Women in Korean Ritual Life (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 1985); Laurel Kendall, Shamans, Nostalgia and the IMF: South Korean Popular Religion in Motion (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai’i Press, 2009). See also Merose Hwang, ‘The Mudang: The Colonial Legacies of Korean Shamanism,’ in Korean Canadian Women’s Anthology Collective (eds), Han Kut: Critical Art and Writing by Korean Canadian Women (Toronto: Innana Publications, 2007), pp. 103–119. Hwang examines the disciplining of the ‘mudang’ or female shaman in contemporary Korean politics. 46. Han Kang, Human Acts, trans. D. Smith (London: Portobello Books, 2016), p. 180. 47. Raymond Williams, ‘Structures of Feeling,’ in Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 128–135. 48. Kang, Vegetarian, pp. 32–33. 49. Ibid. p. 49. 50. Ibid. p. 66. 51. Ibid. p. 96. 52. Ibid. pp. 142–143. 53. Ibid. p. 162. 54. Ibid. p. 170. 55. Ibid. p. 169. 56. Ibid. p. 183. 57. William Connolly, ‘Materialities of Experience,’ in Diana Coole and Samantha Frost (eds), New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 192. 58. Gayatri Spivak, ‘Imperative to Re-imagine the Planet,’ in An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), p. 339. 59. Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017), p. 33. 60. Ibid. p. 30. 61. Sneja Gunew, ‘“Mouthwork”: Food and Language as the Corporeal Home for the Unhoused Diasporic Body in South Asian Women’s Writing,’ in Malashri Lal and Sukrita P. Kumar (eds), Interpreting Homes in South Asian Literature (India: Pearson Longman, 2007), pp. 99–109. 62. Bill Neidjie, Story About Feeling, ed. Keith Taylor (Broome, Western Australia: Magabala Books, 1989), p. 30.

chapter 10

Making Sorrow Sweet: Emotion and Empathy in the Experience of Fiction Alison Denham

And so in regard to the emotions . . . and all the appetites and pains and pleasures of the soul which we say accompany all our actions, the effect of poetic imitation is the same. For it waters and fosters these feelings when what we ought to do is to dry them up, and it establishes them as our rulers when they ought to be ruled, to the end that we may be better and happier men instead of worse and more miserable ones. Plato, Republic 606d1–71

Relations between experimental psychologists and analytic philosophers have often been marked by mutual distrust and misunderstanding. In recent decades, however, a new agenda has developed of collaborative theorizing. The resulting sub-disciplines of ‘experimental ethics’ and ‘experimental aesthetics’ have refined and progressed both the evaluative dimensions of naturalistic psychology and the naturalistic ones of evaluative philosophical theory. In principle, the claims of empirical and conceptual investigations should dovetail: psychological accounts of target phenomena should complement, rather than compete with, their philosophical counterparts. For theories of the origins, nature and value of affective engagement with fiction, however, this ideal has proven elusive. Psychological studies have focused principally on the causal mechanisms explaining our affective interactions with fictions, prescinding from questions concerning their rational justifiability. Analytic philosophers, by contrast, have often struggled to move beyond those questions, and to overcome longstanding doubts about fiction’s wider epistemic value. The result has been a theoretical impasse in which the power of fiction to ‘transport’ a reader is at once often lauded (by psychologists) as a privileged route to interpersonal understanding, and condemned (by philosophers) as an abdication of the authority of reason. This chapter surveys some of the central claims on both sides, tracing the source of the 190


Making Sorrow Sweet

debate, at least in part, to competing conceptions of rationality. I will focus primarily on emotional and empathic responses to fiction, but much of the argument extends to affective states more generally. I begin with a brief review of some psychological findings about emotional transportation in fiction-reading and its relation to empathic responsiveness. I then turn to the so-called ‘paradox of fiction’ as addressed by philosophers, and the proposal that emotions targeting fictions are themselves fictional or ‘make believe’ gestures in a game of pretence. I argue that the allure of the putative paradox is dispelled by a more nuanced distinction between rational and irrational emotions; the norms of rationality governing our emotional responses to fictional characters are those appropriate to experience-based evaluations, rather than beliefs. As such, these responses – like our evaluations of expressive properties – are answerable to non-inferential norms of justification. The chapter concludes with some related observations on the prudential rationality and value of our emotional immersion in fictional portrayals of aversive experience.

Emotional Transportation: How Does Fiction Make Us Feel? [Fiction] . . . is a form of consciousness that can be passed from one mind to another . . . Keith Oatley2

Much recent research in the psychology of literature has focused on the mechanisms of affective and imaginative immersion in narratives, exploring both how it occurs and what are its wider effects. The central construct of this research agenda is the phenomenon of ‘emotional transportation’, whereby persons ‘become emotionally involved, immersed, or carried away imaginatively in a story’.3 The construct itself is ambiguous and ill-defined, and no consensus about its proper measurement exists within the literature. Nonetheless, Transportation Theory has delivered several striking, replicated findings. I will mention and comment on four of these here. The first finding is that readers are more significantly transported by fictional narratives (e.g., fictional stories and novels) than by factual ones (e.g., journalistic accounts).4 Being ‘transported’, as the term is typically used, involves not only affective responsiveness but imaginative tracking of sense-based descriptions and attunement to both explicit and implicit evaluative attitudes expressed by a narrative. With respect to readers’ specifically emotional responses to fiction, the more transportation that occur[s] in reading a story, ‘the greater the story-consistent emotional


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experience has been found to be’.5 It is perhaps unsurprising to find that fictional narratives are significantly more powerful transporters in this regard than journalistic articles (the usual control literature) when these are matched for general topic and valence. Even randomized studies which controlled for subjects’ usual reading preferences delivered this result: fiction reliably elicits heightened transportation over non-fiction, even across subjects who normally prefer the latter. The possible reasons for the enhanced transportative effects of fiction are many, and will be familiar to literary theorists. For instance, fictional narratives have the liberty of describing events as from the subjective, first-personal points of view of its characters, in a way that factual narrative cannot (save perhaps through interview and third-party reports). In keeping with this ‘licensed subjectivity’, fictions also enjoy a freer hand at describing first-personal sensory, affective, motivational, and interpersonal experiences; details of such content are a natural way of constructing the internal perspective fictions often adopt. Additionally, because fictions do not allow the reader to affect the outcome of a narrative through his own actions, one common motivation for resisting transportation and remaining distant from characters is eliminated, namely, a felt obligation to intervene.6 A second finding concerns the psychological effects of such transportation: fiction reading more significantly than non-fiction enhances readers’ wider empathic, affective and perceptual Theory of Mind skills.7 This result is robust across a wide variety of instruments and measurements, including The Mind in the Eyes test, narrative completion tasks and autonomic measures of excitation.8 Moreover, it holds for both episodic, occurrent empathy (tested during and after reading) and for sustained, dispositional empathy (tested up to a week later). Early studies probing this hypothesis were vitiated by failing to control for subjects’ usual reading habits; it was thus impossible to tell whether more empathic subjects tended to read fiction, or reading fiction had made them more empathic. More recent randomized studies controlled for this, and also ensured that subjects were exposed to the same fictional and non-fictional material over the same period of time. The results were sustained: even following an incubation period of one week, the fiction-reading subjects scored significantly higher on empathic facility.9 In a sense, this is to be expected, given that empathic facility is very nearly built into the definition of ‘transportation’, higher transportation is likely to correlate with higher empathy (and regularly does) for fiction-reading. However, a third finding is important in this context. When nonfictional texts concerning the fortunes of real people and events elicit strong emotions, this tends to lead to lower empathy. So, for instance, higher

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transportation levels often correlated with lower subsequent empathy in the case of non-fiction narratives of distress, e.g., journalistic accounts of suffering refugees. This result lends support to the idea that factual narratives can sometimes ‘block’ empathic responses by indirectly imposing obligations of practical action and eliciting heightened personal distress, well-known to be inversely correlated with other-directed empathic concern.10 A fourth finding is perhaps the most surprising: literary fiction is more efficacious than popular fiction in facilitating both transportation and empathy, exercising a more significant and more lasting influence on subjects’ sensitivities to others’ affective states.11 Why should that be? After all, the category of ‘middle-brow’ fiction is more popular, and if readers seek out narratives in part to enjoy their transportative capacities, then ‘high-culture’ novels ought to be in greater demand. There are, however, several other variables in play that may explain its limited market appeal. For instance, high-culture literature is often informed by social, aesthetic, cultural and linguistic environments that differ significantly from those of the wider reading public. There are also many formal and structural features of literary fictions that are likely to facilitate transportation positively – properties remarked by both literary theorists (for instance, Mikhail Bakhtin and Roland Barthes) and psychologists. For instance, literary writing tends to demand more of readers, engaging them in a discourse that forces them to fill in gaps and search for ‘meanings among a spectrum of possible meanings’.12 While both popular and literary fiction enjoy the licensed subjectivity mentioned above, the latter more commonly relies on presupposition and indirect allusion (rather than explicit statement) and more often introduces multiple perceptual and evaluative perspectives. As Jerome Bruner has observed, the skills required to interpret information presented in these ways actually mimic those required for affective empathy and imaginative exercises in mindreading.13 These four results all directly or indirectly lend support to an empirical hypothesis at the heart of transportation theory, namely, that attentively following a well-composed fictional narrative instigates a process of simulation: the reader tracks the narrative experientially, mirroring its descriptions through first-personal perceptual imaginings, affective and motor responses and even evaluative beliefs.14 Simulation effects in each of these categories (perceptual, affective and motor) have been extensively explored, using behavioural measures, autonomic measures such as heartrate and skin conductance, and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).15 By every measure, vivid, high-imagery, semantically and structurally


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complex literary descriptions most effectively elicit the predicted firstpersonal correlates. Even where subjects’ self-reports did not reveal the predicted mirroring effects, these were often evidenced physiologically. When Keith Oatley refers to fiction as ‘the simulation of selves in interaction’, he does not overstate the case. This brief outline of transportation theory indicates the approach to fiction reading now favoured by experimentalist psychologists. The operative framework recognizes affective responses to fiction (and especially fictional characters) as valenced, pre-rational, psycho-physical responses, both occurrent and dispositional, that are naturally elicited by fictional, and especially literary, descriptions. It is significant that these responses are closely associated with heightened empathy, not least because this suggests one reason that the practice of fictional discourse has evolved. Empathic attunement to our conspecifics is a nature-given, adaptive capacity, of first importance not only to successful social coordination but to many of the other-regarding prescriptions at the core of our human morality. What promotes empathy thus stands also to promote societal harmony. For this and other reasons, Frank Hakemulder describes fiction as our ‘moral laboratory’ and as an indispensable civilizing force by which we bind ourselves to others, forming a common moral community.16 The idea that responding emotionally to fiction might be irrational, let alone immoral, is wholly alien to this research framework. That thesis has been left to philosophers.

Emotions and Reasons [W]e do not feel horror because we are threatened by a sphinx; we dream of a sphinx in order to explain the horror we feel. Jorge Louis Borges, citing Coleridge17

Plato famously puzzled over the attractions of literary discourse (or ‘poetry’) in his Republic and other dialogues. His objections to literary devices are notoriously complicated and various, and do not target fiction alone.18 However, through them all runs the thread of his ‘epistemology of affect’ – his view that affective ‘passions’ are deleterious to our epistemic aims. Plato held that the passions are at best indifferent to the truth, and at worst systematically hostile to our epistemic interests. He combined this premise with two further observations: first, that literary uses of language (and of dramatic mimesis, specifically) tend to invite and arouse affective responses; secondly, that this arousal of emotion is alluring to us. Our love of literary and other artistic illusions is owed to the fact that they appeal to

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‘the emotions . . . and all the appetites and pains and pleasures of the soul’.19 For Plato, this was no good thing; men at their best are truthseekers, guided by their capacity to reason. To be ruled by one’s capricious, undiscerning passions is to be psychologically enslaved, and fictions are ruthless gaolers: they nourish the irrational parts of the soul, systematically undermining our capacity for reason and making us ‘worse and more miserable’ men.20 Plato thus addresses both the question of whether emotional engagement with fiction is rational (it is not) and that of its value or disvalue (it frustrates the aims of reason, undermining our highest interest: knowledge of the Good).21 Almost no theorist today shares Plato’s wholesale skepticism about the epistemic perils of affectivity as such. On the contrary, in contemporary epistemology and moral epistemology in particular, affectivity (and especially the emotions) have moved to centre-stage in many naturalistic theories of the nature and origins of moral, aesthetic, and other evaluative knowledge.22 Perhaps Plato was right to observe that literary fictions ‘water and foster’ the emotions, but it does not follow that they are inherently hostile to our epistemic goals. Nonetheless, the worry has persisted that when affective states with intentional content – typically, the emotions – target fictive entities, they are irrational. This worry has been a focus of analytical aesthetics for more than half a century, taking shape as the socalled Paradox of Fiction. As formulated by Colin Radford, the paradox is produced by combining three, individually plausible premises:23 • P1. We experience genuine emotions directed at fictional characters and situations. • P2. To experience an emotion towards something, one must believe that thing exists. • P3. We do not believe that fictional characters and situations exist. This ensemble of claims is inconsistent in the classical sense of entailing a contradiction: P2 and P3 entail the negation of P1. Endorsing jointly inconsistent claims is irrational, if anything is: any reader of whom all three are true (that is, who has genuine, existence-presupposing emotions directed at fictions whilst failing to believe their targets exist) is, the worry goes, guilty of ‘inconsistency and incoherence’. Radford, for one, embraced this unpalatable conclusion.24 The three claims, he argued, accurately describe the practice and psychology of our emotional responses to fictional entities; we are adopting contradictory commitments when we fear Frankenstein’s ire, hope for Raskolnikov’s redemption, grieve for Anna Karenina’s shame and cheer Jane Eyre’s final words (‘Reader, I married him’). We are then in


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much the same position as one who claims ‘Socrates was mortal and Socrates was not mortal’, or ‘It is raining here and now and it is not raining here and now.’ Radford’s diagnosis sits uncomfortably with the psychological framework of contemporary transportation theory, which regards fictional engagement as facilitating our capacity accurately to perceive others’ psychological, and especially their affective states. It also falls foul of everyday critical practice which likewise holds that affective engagement with a fictional work – and specifically emotional engagement with its characters – is as much a part of understanding a work as of enjoying it aesthetically. Within philosophical meta-ethics, for instance, recent decades have seen a rebirth of interest in the moral and psychological insights afforded by literature, and its epistemic value more generally.25 Virtually all cognitive theories of literature regard our first-personal, emotional responses to fictional characters as not merely rationally permissible but indispensable to that value. It would be odd indeed if the knowledge fictions have to offer could be grasped only by those prepared to embrace a reductio ad absurdum. The preferred path out of the paradox has been to reject one or more of the premises producing it. Premise 3 is a conceptual, and perhaps even an analytic truth, which makes it an unpromising target of criticism.26 For this reason, challenges to Premises 1 and 2 have largely dominated the debate, producing what I shall call the ‘Pretence Theory’ and the ‘Imagination Theory’ respectively. I discuss these in turn. Pretence Theory One of the most influential analyses of the Paradox of Fiction is owed to Kendall Walton. It is of a piece with his wider treatment of engagement with the mimetic or representational arts, according to which this constitutes a mode of pretence. That wider theory characterizes representational artworks as ‘props’ which, by long-established conventions as well as certain natural qualities, come to prescribe specific imaginings, much as do children’s props in games of make-believe. (One of Walton’s early inspirations was Ernst Gombrich’s ‘Meditations on a Hobby Horse’.27) Walton proposes an ontological distinction between the actual world and the various ‘fictional worlds’ which such games generate, and further demarcates the ‘game world’ of individual participants and that of the artwork itself, the content of which is circumscribed by its internal features. Artworks-as-props come in two varieties: sensory depictions (such as

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programme music, paintings and sculptures) and verbal representations (verbal narratives as in stories and novels, and the linguistic constituents of film and theatre). Applying this theory to the Paradox of Fiction, one might expect Walton’s target to be Premise 2 (that genuine emotions presuppose belief in their objects). That is not, however, how he proceeds; indeed, Walton took Premise 2 to articulate a ‘principle of commonsense’ that ‘ought not to be abandoned if there is any reasonable alternative . . . ’28 Instead, in his now-classic paper, ‘Fearing Fictions’, Walton proposes a distinction between ordinary or conventional emotions and those targeting fictional entities. The latter are ‘quasi-emotions’, manifesting much of the same first-personal phenomenology as ordinary emotions, but functionally identified as make-believe experiences. That quasi-emotions are distinct from conventional, garden-variety ones, and are recognized as such, Walton argues, is shown by the fact that they are motivationally inert, i.e., they do not move us to action: we do not attempt to stay Othello’s hand before he slays Desdemona, nor do we flee the cinema as the zombies approach. On Walton’s view, this is because we recognize that in the make-believe activity of reading and responding to fictions, the objects of quasiemotions no more demand action than a child’s mud pies demand eating. Walton’s account thus acquits the fiction reader of Radford’s charge of irrationality by stipulating a new psychological type, the quasi-emotion, which abjures the troublesome existential commitments and practical import he takes to feature in ordinary emotions. Does Walton’s Pretence Theory deliver an accurate phenomenology of our everyday experience of fictions? There is certainly something right in his suggestion that engaging with fictional representations involves a kind of make-believe and willing suspension of disbelief – a tacit agreement to cooperate with and track a work’s imagined narrative. But it does not follow that the emotions we then bring to bear themselves become part of what is imagined – states of a distinctive psychological kind – mere makebelieve responses. It certainly does not seem, first-personally, that when one grieves with Shakespeare’s Lear or feels dismay at the injustices suffered by Thomas Hardy’s Tess, one is pretending to experience these emotions. Moreover, the psychological evidence of subjects’ behavioural dispositions, autonomic responses and neurological activations overwhelmingly indicates that emotions had in response to fictions are psychologically and physiologically manifested in the same way as everyday ones. Neither do fiction-elicited emotions differ from everyday ones in other important respects. Consider the relation of emotions to agentive control: if


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quasi-emotions were part of a willing game of make-believe, we ought to be able to opt in or out of them at will – to simply shut off our emotional responses by leaving the game (putting the book aside or exiting the cinema). This is not typically possible. As Noel Carroll observes, ‘if . . . [the fear produced by chiller films] were a pretend emotion, one would think that it could be engaged at will. I could elect to remain unmoved by The Exorcist . . . ’29 Secondly, no distinction between authentic and quasi-emotions can plausibly rest on the criterion Walton proposes, viz., motivational engagement. We are regularly subject to motivationally inert emotions in countless real-world contexts. Through memories, we respond but do not act on past, recollected events (the joy and relief of finishing one’s examinations, the grief and aloneness following a parent’s death). Likewise, through imaginings, we have non-motivating but genuine hopes, fears, etc. for our own and others’ future selves. Sometimes motivation is absent because time and distance make action impractical or too difficult, as when one sympathetically hears of a faraway disaster. On other occasions, however, we simply experience an emotion as ‘free-standing’, disengaged from our practical deliberations. It is far from obvious that action-intentions are an internal feature of emotions themselves, rather than a common response to them. If they are not, then the principal motivation for stipulating an independent category of quasi-emotions collapses. In that case, Pretence Theory offers little more than an ad hoc stipulation of a novel psychological kind – the only virtue of which is that it avoids the Paradox of Fiction. As Noel Carroll remarks, ‘Walton’s theory appears to throw out the phenomenology of the [affective] state for the sake of logic’.30 If one’s sole motivation for positing an independent psychological kind is to avoid a theoretical paradox, then that seems a good reason to question the basis of the theory itself.

Emotion and Empathy in Fiction: Reasons and Causes The failure of Pretence Theory is instructive as a caution against rejecting the authenticity of emotions experienced in response to fictional entities – the first premise of Radford’s troublesome trio. A better candidate is Premise 2, requiring an existential commitment to the objects of our beliefs. Transportation Theory, for its part, does not hesitate to abandon this premise. Indeed, psychologists typically conceive of emotions as experiences, not beliefs, and experiential contents as such need entail no existential commitments. This also seems to be true of many familiar instances of emotions. Consider the jealous husband’s wave of rage when he even entertains the idea of his (faithful) wife’s infidelity, or the intimacy enjoyed by the bereaved parent who converses with a photo of his deceased

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child. These are both cases of genuine, episodic emotions: valenced, affective states with a distinctive phenomenology, identified and individuated by evaluative, intentional contents. In general, one need not believe that an object exists in order to be afraid of it, or saddened by it, or hopeful about it; one need only entertain the thought of it or imagine it. You can experience terror by entertaining the thought of an intruder in the night, or joy when fantasizing about professional acclaim, or sorrow when imagining the loss of a valued friend. In these cases, the causes of your emotions are counterfactual thoughts, and the objects of those counterfactuals – what they are about or represent – are possible, but non-actual states of affairs. This suggests that Premise 2 should be revised: • Revised Premise 2: To experience an emotion towards something, one must represent that thing in thought. Such is the strategy of the ‘Imagination Theory’ of emotional engagement with fictions.31 Imagination Theory Imagination Theory re-describes what emotions are: they are responses to representations, requiring no existential commitment to their referents. Jenefer Robinson, for example, endorses a conception of emotions (and an ontology of their contents) which is substantially the same as that informing Transportation Theory, characterizing them as ‘ongoing interactions between an individual and the environment . . . where the environment includes not only the world of the physical sciences but the world as it appears to us in our thoughts and imaginings’.32 Applying this notion to the classic case of readers’ pity for Anna Karenina, she writes: If I feel my interests and values to be at stake in my encounter with this object of imagination, then I can respond emotionally to it (‘her’). Just as I can get all worked up imagining my parents dying in a car crash, so I can get all worked up imagining someone called Anna Karenina going through all the wrenching experiences Tolstoy describes her as having. This is just a fact about how human emotions function. Furthermore . . . emotions do not require beliefs about anything, but only a perspective on things, in terms of our own wants, interests, and values. What Tolstoy succeeds in doing so masterfully is in getting us to find our own wants, interests, and values to be at stake in Anna’s story, so that we respond emotionally to her. Indeed, there are scenes in the novel which can induce almost the full panoply of


alison denham emotional responses: physiological changes, facial and vocal expression, and action tendencies.33

Robinson’s conception of emotional responses to fiction harmonizes well with the experimental findings discussed earlier. Moreover, those findings suggest that she is right to insist that (given how ‘human emotions function’) the inner world of our imaginings is efficacious in causing a wide range of vivid emotional responses. That is why we often resonate with fictional characters as we do, and why they can be proper targets of both emotion and empathy. In these respects, Imagination Theory is compatible with naturalistic accounts of emotions, focusing on the causes of, rather than reasons justifying emotions. (Robinson’s own conception of them as ‘bodily perturbations’ happily identifies them as ‘pre-rational’.) Moreover, it disposes neatly of the Paradox of Fiction. Unsurprisingly, however, philosophers have questioned whether and how Imagination Theory can accommodate the apparent rationality of our feelings for fiction. By endorsing an ‘inner world ontology’ of imagined characters, events, etc., it seems to leave emotions answerable only to how things appear to the subject who has them. And if we are justified in having an emotional response to anything we imagine, can we still mark the difference between rational and irrational emotions at all? It is useful in this context to distinguish two ways in which our mental states can fail to be rational. A first way, as we have seen, is to transgress against the principle of non-contradiction, which prohibits the simultaneous endorsement of contradictory assertions or beliefs (‘I believe that P and I believe that not P’). It is this requirement which Premises 1, 2 and 3 jointly contravene. Non-contradiction, however, is only the most minimal requirement: rationality norms typically demand more than the avoidance of inconsistencies, and apply to attitudes other than belief. Specifically, rationality requires that many of our intentional states are backed by reasons. As Thomas Scanlon puts it, they are ‘judgement-sensitive attitudes’: [There] are attitudes that an ideally rational person would come to have whenever that person judged there to be sufficient reasons for them and that would . . . ‘extinguish’ when that person judged them not to be supported by reasons of the appropriate kind. Hunger is obviously not a judgmentsensitive attitude; but belief is, and so are fear, anger, admiration, respect, and other evaluative attitudes such as the view that fame is worth seeking . . . [J]udgment-sensitive attitudes constitute the class of things for which reasons . . . can sensibly be asked for or offered.34

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Emotions are typically subject to a norm of rationality in this wider sense; we expect ourselves and others to be ‘reasons responsive’ in respect of them. For instance, we very often expect a person to offer reasons when we ask them why they are angry, delighted, sad and the rest, and to take into account reasons why they should or should not have these attitudes. At the same time, emotions are also ‘reasons resistant’ in familiar and intelligible ways. Everyday emotions sometimes are indifferent to belief, without failing to be intelligible. Even after your neighbour reveals that his snarling Pit Bull is toothless, you may still find the dog’s demeanour threatening; that is just how he looks to you, and that is the response he evokes. Literary fiction, too, is replete with examples of unjustified emotions, often to their characters’ great detriment. In Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Angel Clare may believe that Tess was ‘more sinn’d against’ than sinning, but his emotions of indignation and disgust prevail. Likewise, Tess herself appreciates that she is morally blameless for her fall, and yet she is overwhelmed with shame. Such cases of ‘emotional perseverance’ against our best reasons are not, by Scanlon’s lights, rational, but they are far from incoherent. Is our emotional engagement with fiction defective in a similar way? Even if it involves no internal contradiction, does it remain irrational in this wider sense? Consider the agoraphobic’s terror of the open space of his garden, or the habitual gambler’s hope for his ‘big win’, convinced (against all probability) that this lies just around the corner. These are responses to imagined representations. They are surely genuine emotions, but they also seem to be paradigm cases of irrational emotions. And so they are. Can Imagination Theory distinguish between justified emotions and cases such as these? If not, then it threatens to place the emotionally immersed and empathic fiction reader on the same rational footing as phobics and fools. The motivating worry here is that if emotions are not governed by an epistemic norm of correspondence-to-the-facts, then they are ungoverned altogether. Like many skeptical worries, it is misplaced. To see why, consider an analogy: the epistemic norms governing judgements of the expressive properties of artworks, where the expressed content is an emotion, e.g., that the music is cheerful, the poem is whimsical, the painting is gloomy, and so on. Different accounts of artistic expression tie such judgements to actual, experienced emotions in different ways. Specifically, some accounts take attributions of expressed emotions to be justified by (true) beliefs about the work in question, while others take them to be justified by experiences of the work – experiences typically including occurrent emotional responses. Accounts of the first kind include certain


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so-called ‘appearance’ theories of expression. Appearance theories deny that genuine emotions are required either for the expression of emotion or for justified judgements of expressive properties. Rather, works of art express a given emotion if and only if they appear like some natural manifestation of it – for instance, by looking or sounding or moving in ways that resemble a person expressing that emotion. Just as a basset hound can have a melancholy look without either possessing or causing a melancholic state of mind, so a piece of music can sound sorrowful without this reflecting anyone’s actual sorrow – either the composer’s or listener’s. A work’s expressive properties are thus constituted by its appearance only – an appearance that floats free of any actual, affective experience. Judgements of the work’s appearance are accordingly both inferred from and justified by beliefs about the work’s properties, e.g., the formal and sensible properties it shares with the ‘look’ of natural manifestations of the attributed emotion. Appearance theories of expression are, for obvious reasons, congenial to Pretence Theories of emotional responses to fiction: if a reader responds to a fictional work with, say, sorrow, he is responding to a ‘mere appearance’, requiring no existential commitment to its target. By contrast, an ‘arousal’ theory of artistic expression holds that what it is for a work to express this or that emotion is just for it to arouse, or be disposed to arouse, that emotion in an audience, whether actual or ideal. Arousal theories count attributions of expressive properties as justified just if the constitutive arousal occurs (or if the work is disposed to elicit them in suitable conditions). Arousal theories thus take expressive attributions to be more like perceptions than beliefs: they are experience-based, where the relevant experiences are emotions themselves. While most versions of arousal theories are vulnerable to well-known objections, they respect the intuition that expressiveness in a work of art ‘must be perceivable, not just inferable, in order to deserve that appellation’.35 As Robinson comments, ‘If you smile a Duchenne smile that expresses your happiness, I am able to see your happiness in your smile; I don’t just make inferences from your behavior to your state of mind’.36 Robinson herself endorses a hybrid ‘romantic’ theory of expression which holds that what it is for a work to express some emotion is for it to ‘articulate and individuate’ an emotion experienced by some persona (which could, but need not be the artist). On this view, the arousal of emotion in the audience is not constitutive of its expressive properties. However, such arousal – along with other experiential states such as empathic attunement and perceptual imaginings – nonetheless provides reliable evidence of those properties and justifies our judgements of them. As Robinson

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puts it, ‘expressive qualities . . . can be grasped through the emotions they arouse’, and ‘a good criterion for what should count as expressive qualities is that they evoke corresponding emotions in audiences’.37 Note that both appearance and arousal accounts of expressive judgements may be governed by a norm of correctness – an epistemic norm determining whether a given attribution is or is not rationally justified. They differ in respect of the proposed justifying grounds (beliefs versus experiences) and the justificatory procedure (rational inference versus emotional response). But experience-based judgements of expressive properties, just as much as belief-based ones, are accountable to other, nonexpressive and even non-evaluative features of the work.38 Suppose that you judge Mozart’s Requiem to be expressing awe and wonder because it elicits those emotions in you, while I experience it as expressing dismay and terror. Our judgements are answerable to indefinitely many other salient features of the work – for instance, its melodic, harmonic, rhythmic and structural properties. True enough, our experience-based judgements are not inferred or reasoned from beliefs about those properties of the work; they are based on and caused by our listening experiences and the affectivity with which those are embued. They do not derive from ‘good reasons’, in Scanlon’s sense, nor could any such reasons entail them, simply because experiences are entailed by nothing: they are caused. (Only hearing Mozart’s music can bring them about.) Nonetheless, they are not arbitrary nor ungoverned by rational norms. They are answerable to the internal properties of the work, and justified (or not) by the considerations that can be adduced for and against them. Not all rationally relevant considerations license inferences to conclusions; sometimes they simply nudge us to experience things in a different way, or from a different point of view. Likewise, our emotional responses to fictions, and especially our empathic responses to fictional characters, arise from natural, psychological trajectories. Those trajectories, as psychologists describe them, are causal, not inferential ones. They are, however, governed by a norm requiring them to be sensitive to other salient features internal to their referents. If I find Anna Karenina’s tragic circumstances funny or (like the dreadful Countess Lydia) merely distasteful, or (like Vronsky, over time) rather boring, my emotional responses have gone badly awry. Emotions, qua experiences, remain accountable to indefinitely many natural properties which both cause and justify them; some responses do, and others do not, count as getting it right, and the wrong emotions are rationally corrigible. In these ways, the logic of emotional engagement with fiction is not at all like the phobic’s irrational fears or the gambler’s irrational


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hopes. Consideration of the other, salient properties of the phobic’s and the gambler’s referents (the familiarity and security of the garden, the vanishingly small chances of a big win) fail altogether to support their emotions. They are not simply embracing an alternative ontology along the lines of Robinson’s ‘inner world’. Strictly speaking, their problem is that they have no alternative ontologies, and conflate the referents of their emotions with the mind-independent, outer world. The phobic and the gambler are making a specifically epistemic error: they fail to recognize that their emotions have imagined contents, and that these imaginings are not veridical. Not so the reader of fiction, who knows exactly where to look for both the explanation and justification of his experience, viz., the words on the page, and the imaginings they inspire. Neither is the fiction reader guilty of irrational emotional perseverance, such as Angel Clare’s moral indignation and Tess’s shame. Angel’s and Tess’s attitudes fail to be sensitive to a rationally salient feature of the situation eliciting them, viz., that Tess was more a victim than an agent of her fall. Their attitudes are still largely intelligible to us, of course, in a way that the phobic’s and the gambler’s attitudes are not. This is because we can appreciate that other, salient features of their actual situation, while not sufficing wholly to justify their attitudes, suffice to render them rationally intelligible (human psychology being what it is). We may even empathize with Angel’s and Tess’s epistemic predicaments, and with the imperfection of their reasons, in part because we recognize such imperfections in ourselves. That being so, reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles can be an exercise in suffering twice over: once for its characters, and once again for ourselves – just as transportation theory predicts.

Transportation and the Paradox of Tragedy [When I read Celine] I do not learn that love does not exist, that all human beings are hateful and hating (even if – and I am sure this is not the case – those propositions should be true). What I learn is to see the world as it looks to someone who is sure that hypothesis is correct.

Hilary Putnam39

At the start of this chapter I presented the central claims of transportation theory and surveyed some of the evidence supporting it: evidence that readers of literary fiction engage first-personally with affective states appropriate to fictional characters, and respond empathetically to those characters,

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simulating their specific moods, emotions and evaluative attitudes. The resulting profile of the interactions of fiction, emotion, and empathy supports the pre-reflective experience of many readers, but poses challenges to its rational justification. I have attempted to outline how those challenges can be addressed, and how empathic and other emotional responses to fiction remain answerable to epistemic norms. Epistemic norms are not, however, the whole of rationality. In conclusion, I should mention too the challenge that fiction has seemed to some to pose to prudential rationality. Very often – as in the classic example of Anna Karenina and other narratives of misfortune – engaging emotionally with a fictional text compels us to simulate experiences that we would find highly aversive in everyday life. Why, then, do we not only submit to but enthusiastically seek out occasions for such experiences in fiction? We often actively appreciate aversive events presented in fictions, when we do not appreciate, and indeed strive to avoid, such events in life. This is one way of formulating the so-called ‘Paradox of Tragedy’ – a psychological question which, while not strictly a paradox in the logical sense of the term, is perhaps more genuinely puzzling than the putative Paradox of Fiction. If Pretence Theory were true, then it would offer a solution to both paradoxes, for if fictions only delivered ‘quasi-affects’ – make-believe emotions, moods and motivations – this might explain why we do not avoid them. Pretence Theory is mistaken, however, so that solution is not available. I have argued that there is nothing epistemically irrational about our emotional responses to fiction. Is there nonetheless something prudentially irrational about our willing, affective engagement with fictional depictions of distress? It is natural and prudentially rational to seek out experiences which promote, rather than frustrate or defeat our personal ends, and few readers have as ends the sufferings of an Oedipus, or an Anna, or a Tess. Even if we elucidate prudential rationality so that one’s personal ends have a wide scope that includes the well-being or flourishing of other persons, or (even more widely) our species, it is difficult to see how these would be served by engaging with fictional tragedies. Here again, descriptive psychology may offer part of the answer. Recall that the sort of emotional transportation promoted by fiction, and by literary fiction especially, tended to facilitate both affective Theory of Mind and empathic attunement. Psychologists often mention the instrumental value of these capacities. Oatley, for example, suggests that ‘fiction is the simulation of social skills’. Just as people improve their aviation skills in flight simulators, ‘those who read fiction might improve their social ones . . . ’40 The findings cited


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earlier lend some support to this claim, and they arguably identify a beneficial psychological effect of fiction reading. However, they do not speak to the Paradox of Tragedy, for that is a puzzle about motives, not consequences: the puzzle is that we find something intrinsically valuable about experiencing human suffering through fiction. We do not typically engage with tragic works of literature as part of an instrumental programme of skill enhancement, and when a novel (or film or drama) is commended as ‘moving’, this is freestanding praise, even if the way in which one is moved is to grief or fear. Why do we value the experience of being moved by fiction? A careful answer to that question would have as many parts and dimensions as there are types of fictions, and would require a much more elaborated psychology of affectivity reaching beyond the emotions to moods, evaluations and the wider panoply of human attachments and aversions. I cannot pursue that here. In closing, however, I offer an observation that I take to be an important part of the answer. Marcel Proust wrote that within an hour a novelist can present ‘all kinds of happiness and misfortune, which would take years of our ordinary life to know’.41 The novelist achieves this not by introducing new beliefs, nor even by providing evidence for existing beliefs, but by provoking first-personal experiences of something that is typically opaque to us: others’ inner lives. It is a feature of our natural constitutions that, while we are designed to pursue intimacy with our fellows, each of us occupies a distinct, physical location and site of consciousness – a discrete and isolated locus of experience with its own path through space and time, its own, often silent, hopes and fears, and its own impending death. In responding to a well-composed literary work, however, the reader is carried beyond the outer world shared by all, to another site of subjective experience, complete with its own vivid and moving phenomenology of perceptions and sensations, animated by its own affective life. ‘Transportation’ may be a metaphor, but it is an apt one. What happens through engagement with literature has something in common with the folie-à-deux of human love, turning others’ sorrows into sweet episodes of intimacy and understanding. By delivering different sites – not of beliefs, but of experience – literary fictions deliver us to one another.

Making Sorrow Sweet


Notes 1. Plato, Republic, trans. G. M. A. Grube, rev. with Introduction by C. D. C. Reeve (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett, 1992), 606d1–7. 2. Keith Oatley, ‘Fiction: Simulation of Social Worlds’, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 20:8 (August 2016), pp. 618–628. 3. P. Matthijs Bal and Martijn Veltkamp, ‘How does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation’, PloS One, 8:1 (2013): e55341. 4. Keith Oatley, ‘On Truth and Fiction’, in Michael Burke and Emily T. Troscianko (eds), Cognitive Literary Science: Dialogues between Literature and Cognition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 261. 5. Ibid. The quality or intensity (‘greatness’) of emotional experience is often measured by self-report questionnaires of a commonsense sort, asking for Lykert Scale responses to questions such as ‘How moved were you by N’s experiences?’ 6. See Bal and Veltkamp, ‘How does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy?’, e55341: ‘Because fiction does not follow the reader into real life, the reader can allow oneself to freely experience strong emotions, without immediate transfer of these emotions to real life. Moreover, we can allow ourselves to sympathize strongly with a character of a fictional story, because we do not have obligations towards the characters of a fictional story, while sad reports in a newspaper may cause feelings of obligation towards the victims to help them.’ 7. Keith Oatley, ‘Fiction’, pp. 618–628. 8. The ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ test was developed and published by Simon Baron-Cohen et al. as a novel measure of Theory of Mind proficiency. It presents images of human eyes which subjects are tasked to pair with one of thirty-six target mental states such as ‘playful’, ‘frightened’, ‘depressed’, ‘delighted’. It has been shown successfully to discriminate adults with Aspergers Syndrome or High-Functioning Autism from controls, and has also been used to evaluate differing levels of mindreading proficiency in neurotypical (non-pathological) subjects. See Simon Baron-Cohen et al., Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38 (1997): (813–822). 9. Raymond A. Mar, Keith Oatley, Maja Djikic, and Justin Mullin, ‘Emotion and Narrative Fiction: Interactive Influences Before, During, and After Reading’, Cognition & Emotion, 25:5 (2011): (818–833), pp. 828–829. 10. Alison E. Denham, ‘Empathy and Moral Motivation’, in Heidi L. Maibom (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Empathy (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017), p. 234. 11. Maja Djikie, Keith Oatley, Sara Zoeterman, and Jordan B. Peterson, ‘On Being Moved by Art: How Reading Fiction Transforms the Self’, Creativity Research Journal, 21:1 (2009): (24–29), p. 26.


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12. Jerome Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016), p. 25. 13. Bruner, Actual Minds, Possible Worlds, passim. 14. David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, ‘Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind’, Science 18 (October 2013), pp. 377–380. 15. Diana I. Tamir, et al., ‘Reading Fiction and Reading Minds: the Role of Simulation in the Default Network’, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 11:2 (2015): 215–224. 16. Frank Hakemulder, The Moral Laboratory: Experiments Examining the Effects of Reading Literature on Social Perception and Moral Self-Concept (Utrecht: John Benjamins Publishing, 2000). 17. Jorge Luis Borges, Dreamtigers, trans. Antonio Frasconi (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1964), p. 48. 18. In Book II of the Republic, Plato notes that the content of Homer’s narratives stands to corrupt the spectator’s soul, and that ‘even if they were true’ they ought not to be told. 19. Plato, Republic, 606di–607. 20. It would be wrong, however, to suppose that one can draw a hard line between a literary work’s descriptive and expressive properties; in literature, as in other representational artforms, expression often occurs by way of representation. For instance, Giorgione’s painting, La Vecchia (Old Woman, c. 1508–10) expresses both the fatigue and wistfulness marking the final stage of a long human life by depicting a face that itself manifests those emotions. Likewise, in literature, it is how agents, scenes and events are described that they individually, and the work overall, express what they do. In general, one thing X expresses another A, if it conventionally or naturally denotes A, and is a realization or manifestation of A. Thus, for instance, your tears express your sadness: they naturally denote or indicate your sadness, and do so by manifesting it. 21. One might argue that both answers cannot be correct; after all, if fictions deliver pleasure, then it surely is rational to engage with them. 22. Neo-Humean theorists, of course, have long held that our evaluative beliefs derive from the sentiments, while denying that such beliefs ever constituted knowledge. Hume himself may be interpreted, for instance, as holding that the properties targeted by our evaluative beliefs are mere projections of sentiment, and thus have no mind-independent existence; in that case, their truth is always relative to our particular, sentimental constitutions. Some contemporary expressivist theorists have more radically denied that our evaluative commitments are proper beliefs at all, arguing that evaluative statements are disguised avowals or expressions of affect. 23. Colin Radford, ‘How Can We be Moved by the Fate of Anna Karenina?’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplemental Vol. 49 (1975): pp. 67–93; Colin Radford, ‘Tears and Fiction’, Philosophy 52 (1977), pp. 208–13. 24. See Radford, ‘Tears and Fiction’.

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25. For examples of this literary turn in metaethics, see Martha Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), A. E. Denham, Metaphor and Moral Experience (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), and Richard Moran, The Philosophical Imagination (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). 26. That said, some have been undeterred, proposing either that we suspend disbelief when absorbed in a fictional ‘world’, or that our emotions are directed at various real-world correlates. 27. E. H. Gombrich, Meditations on a Hobby Horse and Other Essays on the Theory of Art (London: Phaidon Press, 1963). 28. Kendall Walton, ‘Fearing Fictions’, Journal of Philosophy (75.1), 5–27, pp. 6–7. 29. Noel Carroll, The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart (New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 74. 30. Ibid. 31. Imagination Theory, sometimes referred to as ‘Thought Theory’, is credited in its current form to Philip Lamarque. See Philip Lamarque, ‘How Can We Fear and Pity Fictions?’, British Journal of Aesthetics, 21:4 (1981): pp. 291–304. 32. Jenefer Robinson, Deeper than Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 184. 33. Ibid. p. 185. 34. Thomas M. Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other (Cambridge, MA: Belknap, 2000), pp. 20–22. 35. Jerrold Levinson, The Pleasures of Aesthetics (Cornell, NY: Cornell University Press, 1996), p. 105. 36. Robinson, Deeper than Reason, p. 264. 37. Ibid. pp. 291–292. 38. While I will not argue for it here, my own view is that attributions of aesthetic properties generally, including expressive ones, can never be inferred from nor conclusively justified by beliefs about its non-aesthetic ones. 39. Hilary Putnam, ‘Literature, Science and Reflection’ in Meaning and the Moral Sciences (London: Routledge, 1979), p. 488. 40. Keith Oatley, ‘Fiction’, p. 619. 41. Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way (Remembrance of Things Past, Vol. 1), trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin (1913, repr. London: Vintage, 1989), p. 84.



chapter 11

Feeling Feelings in Early Modern England Benedict S. Robinson

Affect, Passion, Emotion Affect theory and early modern texts face each other across a substantial divide. The early modern period saw the rise of a whole discourse on “the passions” – free-standing books on the passions were written and produced in the period on a scale not seen since antiquity – but passions, as early moderns understood them, are not affects. Affect theorists typically distinguish affect from emotion by arguing that it is non-cognitive, presubjective, something like a vibration, an atmosphere, a contagious mood, or a pure bodily “intensity,” in Brian Massumi’s phrase.1 Affects are forces that are in us but not of us and that shape our conscious thoughts and feelings in an unseen way. Affect is both subpersonal – taking place in the body at a level below conscious personhood or individual psychology – and suprapersonal, circulating between people or even between people and things like a physical force. Above all, it is something other than individual experience and feeling. For Massumi, affect is raw intensity, and emotion is affect taken up into consciousness, language, culture: emotion is affect given shape and meaning. As such, affect theory is associated with a series of contemporary concerns, from the critique of “the subject” to more recent forms of post-humanism, object-oriented ontology, animal studies, vitalism. It would be surprising if we would find those orientations in any direct way reflected in a four-hundred-year-old discourse on the passions, even if we can of course find places where that discourse touches on issues that matter to us now: the relations of body and mind; the boundary between the animate and the inanimate; the dimension of passivity or receptivity that belongs to lived experience; the subject’s intimate and often strange relations with a world of objects that seems to stand outside it and yet continually turns out to both shape and be shaped by it. Rei Terada, Sara Ahmed, Sianne Ngai, and Ruth Leys have questioned the affect-emotion distinction as usually formulated.2 I think those 213


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critiques have merit: the distinction between emotion and affect is unstable. For now I simply want to note that, in the terms given by that distinction, early modern concepts of passion lie firmly on the side of emotion.3 From antiquity to the Renaissance, passion was defined as an embodied judgment or appraisal. It is felt in the body; it entails a relationship to both sensory experience and humoral physiology; but it is not identical with either sensation or humorology, and what differentiates one passion from another is invariably stated in cognitive terms. A passion is a thought, a judgment, a value-laden perception, an act of imagination. It is closely related to the primary faculties of perceptual knowledge – estimation, cogitation, imagination – which abstract from sensation and enable the living being to negotiate her world.4 The classic example – a thought experiment repeated and reimagined from Avicenna to the seventeenth century – is the case of a sheep who sees a wolf and, even in the absence of prior experience, sees it as “an evill thing in himselfe,” and so “detesteth” it, as Thomas Wright puts it.5 Passion emerges from an excess of perception beyond the senses. It brings a kind of rough and ready knowledge of the object of perception that is the product of faculties of the soul beyond that of sensation.6 The cognitive dimensions of passionate experience are highlighted in the most often-quoted formula for passion from late antiquity to the Renaissance, John of Damascus’s definition according to which passion is – as Wright quotes it – “motio sensualis appetitivæ virtutis, ob boni vel mali imaginationem,” “a sensual motion of our appetitive facultie, through imagination of some good or ill thing” (B4v). This formula emphasizes, first, that passion is intentional, that is, directed toward an object; but it also insists that this object must be, as Wright later puts it, “knowne [. . .] in the imagination” before the heart can respond (D7r). Passion’s object is not a thing as it is in itself, nor is it a set of attributes or properties: it is a thing seen in its significance for the perceiver, a thing invested with value and meaning by the perceiving subject. Subject and object constitute each other in the kind of intimate reciprocal bond so often traced by modern phenomenology, sometimes under explicitly Aristotelian inspiration.7 A direct consequence of this for virtually all medieval and Renaissance theories of the passions is that the passions truly are, as they are so often called, “passions of the soul,” or, as Wright puts it, “passions of the mind.” According to a Latin phrase, they are motus animi, motions of the soul, where “motion” is understood not as physical movement from one place to another – locomotion or local motion – but as what the scholastics call the motion of alteration: in Aristotelian thought, change itself is one of the

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kinds of motion, and the passions are alterations or changes in the soul.8 The passions are felt in the body because, in passion, the soul acts on the body, moving the heart, blood, spirits, skin, viscera. The soul is in the most intimate relation to the body. We feel our passions in the body not because that is where they are but because that is where the soul is: as the living power of action in the body, the soul is, as Timothy Bright puts it, the “sole mouer” in the body, the principle because of which anything that happens in the body does happen.9 Only with Descartes will this soul-to-body account of passionate experience be reversed: for Descartes, passions are actions of the body affecting the soul by means of the ligature of body and soul at the pineal gland. Body acts on soul, in a new kind of way. And yet even for Descartes, when it becomes time to differentiate the passions from each other, bodily physiology is not enough: when he turns to the particular passions, he distinguishes them as thoughts, perceptions, ways of “intending” the world: “to discover all the passions,” he argues, “we need only consider all the possible effects of these [i.e., sensory] objects”; and with this we are back in the circle of mutually-constituting objects and subjects, because “the objects that move the senses arouse different passions within us [. . .] in respect of the various ways in which they can harm or benefit us, or generally make a difference to us.”10 This results in definitions like the one Descartes offers of love and hatred: “when a thing is represented to us as good from our point of view, that is, as being beneficial to us, that causes us to feel love for it; and when it is represented as bad or harmful, that stirs us to hatred.”11 Once again it is a matter of how things are represented in the mind: that is, it is a question of cognitive processes following from but also supervening over the senses. Even the early modern philosopher most often named as a source for affect theory – Spinoza – operates in a conceptual universe remote from most concepts of affect. Affect theorists draw on Spinoza in part because Spinoza critiques Descartes’s substance dualism: for Spinoza, thought and extension are not separate substances but aspects of one universal underlying substance. All things in some way think, and the more complex the body, the more sophisticated the ideas it is capable of having. But while Spinoza argues strongly that there are not two kinds of “stuff” that make up the world, he also insists that his single substance has distinct attributes – the two he discusses are thought and extension – that must be conceptualized separately: “[t]he order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things”; and yet “[e]ach attribute of a substance must be conceived through itself.”12 In fact because “[t]he body cannot


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determine the mind to thinking, and the mind cannot determine the body to motion, rest, or to anything else” (III P2), Spinoza’s single substance requires radically distinct modes of analysis, which each trace sequences of causes and effects extending to infinity but never interfering with each other (I P28, II P48). “[T]he mind and the body are one and the same thing,” but they are “conceived now under the attribute of thought, now under the attribute of extension” (III P2 S). This division in the ways in which we conceive of substance is in its own way as intransigent a split as Descartes’s separate substances: the split is just located at a different ontological level. To focus on Spinoza’s substance monism while forgetting his aspect dualism is to risk turning him into a full mental reductionist – and that is to misunderstand his system. Spinoza defines affectus as “affections of the body by which the body’s power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time, the ideas of these affections” (E III D3). This should already indicate that the phenomenon in question is more like emotion than affect: it is at once an affection of the body and the idea of that affection, at once bodily and cognitive. It, too, must be thought from two directions. No weight should be put on Spinoza’s choice of the word affectus for the phenomenon he analyzes: that word was a perfectly traditional Latin synonym for passion going back to Quintilian.13 Moreover, the doubling of affect and affection in Spinoza is strictly parallel to the traditional Aristotelian doubling between “passion” as a quality – a concept from logic and physics designating any form of being-acted-upon or beingaltered – and that kind of passion that is a passion of the soul. In Spinoza, the underlying ontology of body and mind has changed, but the general scope of his terms “affect” and “affection” has not. As a consequence, Spinoza’s definitions of the particular passions mix bodily and cognitive elements: thus love is “a joy, accompanied by the idea of an external cause,” and joy in turn is “a man’s passage from a lesser to a greater perfection” (III Def Aff VI, II). If joy is something like a pure affect – the “passage from a lesser to a greater perfection” or the feeling of a diminishment in the body’s “power of acting” being for Spinoza something like Massumi’s pure intensities – love is that affect “accompanied by” an idea. One might compare Aristotle’s Rhetoric, where passions are said to be “those things through which, by undergoing change, people come to differ in their judgments and which are accompanied by pain and pleasure.”14 Here too, passion is said to be one event “accompanied by” another event, so that both Aristotle’s passion and Spinoza’s affectus straddle a line. But they approach that line from different directions: for

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Spinoza, affectus is a bodily feeling accompanied by a thought; for Aristotle, passion is a thought accompanied by a bodily feeling.15 Elsewhere, I trace a materialist turn in early modern natural philosophies of the passions: from Melanchthon’s use of Vesalian anatomy in his Liber de anima to Thomas Willis’s effort to build a vitalist theory of the soul on the ground of his anatomy of the brain and nervous system, the early modern period was beginning to reconceptualize the passions: the passions could increasingly be said to be caused by events in the body, or they could even be treated as though they were nothing but their physiology. The center of this increasingly physiological account of the passions was a new anatomy of the nerves, which prepared the way for an eighteenth-century “culture of the nerve” as well as for the discourses of sentiment and feeling, and would still later shape the background from which psychoanalysis emerged out of Charcot’s neurology.16 In that later history we can see the emergence of a distinctively modern concept of affectivity and the intellectual origins of something like a concept of “affect.” The discourse around that concept has been ably described by Thomas Dixon: it is one that talks about “passive [. . .] non-intellectual feelings or states”; about “mere feelings” originating in the central nervous system; about “involuntary,” “non-cognitive states” that are “reducible to physical feelings.”17 The name for these states, as Dixon shows, was emotion: even in terms of its historical genesis, affect is not the opposite of emotion but is something like its telos, the direction in which modern theories of emotion were moving. But it remains at a considerable remove from the largely cognitive accounts of passion that remained dominant through at least the first half of the seventeenth century.

Feeling Words If affect is an anachronistic concept from the standpoint of most Renaissance texts – a concept we can trace there only in an attenuated, emergent form – it is not entirely clear whether we should worry about that. There is after all no reason that we have to restrict ourselves only to concepts available in a period when analyzing texts from that period. Affect theory is in the same position as virtually every other theoretically informed approach to early modern texts, bringing to bear on those texts a concept that finds its legitimacy on theoretical, not historical grounds. It also seems perfectly plausible that, even if available early modern theories of affectivity are remote from affect, other, non-theoretical texts – literary texts among them – might exhibit processes best understood in terms of affect, even if


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the period itself had no way of conceptualizing that. To read early modern texts for evidence of affect would simply be another way of reading against the grain, looking to recover not the period’s own selfunderstanding but something else. Recognizing this also forces us to address the question of how we read: we cannot look for signs of affect in those passages that speak about passion; we have to disclose affect at work not by way of what these texts say but through some other means. But of course this is the case for any literary scholar who wants to read for affect: since affect is defined as radically outside language, recovering the signs of it in writing necessarily means going beyond the words themselves, at least insofar as those words are seen as carrying meaning, as having content or communicating ideas. What I am going to do here is something else: I am going to argue that we can look to early modern language for evidence of ways of thinking about affectivity that go beyond the formulas available in explicit discourses on the passions, even if those cannot be assimilated to a concept of affect; and I will suggest that literary texts represent a significant archive of material for doing this. They do so in part precisely because they are not trying to theorize affective experience at all. But they are also not simply trying to dwell in, evoke, or express particular kinds of affective experience, in a way associated above all with post-Romantic traditions in poetry. The essentially rhetorical basis of early modern literature means that the focus is squarely on the communication of passion: on ways of soliciting, transmitting, or shaping the passions of others.18 This is passion understood as an essential element of persuasion, as a key part of all communication, and therefore as a fundamentally social phenomenon. This focus on the transmission of passion in rhetorical acts, I want to argue, was hospitable to ways of thinking affectivity that go beyond the definitions circulating in philosophy. Moreover, rhetoric’s approach to the passions was not limited to statement or even style, but also – because it was still rooted in essentially oral practices – embraced aspects of performance: gestures, facial expressions, tones of voice. And this concern with the transmission of passion at times opened the door to ways of thinking about passion that treat it as, in effect, a kind of force that circulates through a communicative scene. In fact the concept of “force” – vis, in Latin – has an important home in rhetoric: rhetoric is the discipline that attempts to address how it is that one person can act on another even at a distance, through the medium of embodied utterance.19 It is well known that seventeenth-century rhetoric was quick to adopt ways of thinking about the passions derived from new forms of natural

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philosophy and physiology: rhetoricians like Bernard Lamy drew on Descartes, grounding their accounts of the passionate effects of rhetoric on a mechanistic account of body and soul.20 Thomas Conley calls these “motivistic” rhetorics, because in them passion is no longer one aspect of persuasion alongside logos and ethos but has become the only way persuasion happens: we are moved to see things one way or another; the passions simply are what moves us to do or think anything; all persuasion depends on passion.21 But previous rhetorics had long had a place for the kind of thinking that saw the passions as forces that act on us. In Cicero’s De oratore, Crassus – who argues for a philosophically-informed, scientific rhetoric – analogizes the orator’s power over the passions to the act of playing a musical instrument: [N]ature has assigned to every emotion [motus animi] a particular look and tone of voice and bearing of its own; and the whole of a person’s frame and every look on his face and utterance of his voice are like the strings of a harp, and sound according as they are struck by each successive emotion. For the tones of the voice are keyed up like the strings of an instrument, so as to answer to every touch, high, low, quick, slow, forte, piano, while between all of these in their several kinds there is a medium note; and there are also the various modifications derived from these, smooth or rough, limited or full in volume, tenuto or staccato, faint or harsh, diminuendo or crescendo.22

Passion is like the vibration of strings; those strings are set in motion by different kinds of touch, such that the rhetorician is expected to have to hand a repertory of affective appeals whose effects are described in terms of pitch, speed, volume, contour, energy. Passion here seems to be a non-cognitive force akin to instrumental music. Early modern writers went to school with such passages, imbibing these ways of imagining the transmission of affectivity with the rhetorical education provided in the grammar schools. All of this was readily appropriated to the production of literary texts: rhetorical education was, among other things, an education in the nature and purposes of literature, including exercises in the narration of actions and events, the description of objects, places, and persons, and the invention of speeches in the persona of various historical or mythical characters.23 It was also, I am trying to suggest, a laboratory for various ways of thinking about affectivity. Drama was particularly hospitable to this because of the way it both stages and solicits forms of affective response. In this context, I am particularly fond of a passage from Montaigne, adapted from a famous passage in Plato’s Ion, which turns to physics for an analogy: poetry “prickes and moves” like a magnet, which


benedict s. robinson drawes, not onely a needle, but infuseth some of hir facultie in the same to drawe others: And it is more apparently seene in theaters, that the sacred inspiration of the Muses, having first stirred vp the Poet with a kinde of agitation vnto choler, vnto griefe, vnto hatred, yea and beyond himself, whether and howsoever they please, doth also by the Poet strike and enter into the Actor, and consecutively by the Actor, a whole auditorie or multitude [. . .]. Even from my infancie, Poesie hath had the vertue to transpierce and transport me. But that lively and feeling-moving [ressentiment bien vif] that is naturally in me, hath diversly beene handled, by the diversitie of formes, not so much higher or lower (for they were ever the highest in every kind) as different in colour. First a blithe and ingenious fluitidie, then a quaint-wittie, and loftie conceit. To conclude, a ripe and constant force.24

Montaigne is describing theater’s capacity to move its audience to passion. But the language of the passage combines the familiar idea of being moved – transported – with an insistent emphasis on sometimes violent forms of touch: poetry has the power to “transpierce” as well as “transport”; it produces an “agitation” that can “strike and enter” first an actor and then “a whole auditorie or multitude”; it is a “ressentiment bien vif,” a lively feeling, or – as Florio renders the phrase – “a lively and feeling-moving,” a phrase that unites, if awkwardly, a series of distinct registers: life and liveliness; motion; feeling. All of this is summed up in that final word “force,” a familiar word from both rhetorical and poetic theory, here given a particularly immediate instantiation through the figure of magnetic attraction. I want to single out one of the terms Florio uses to translate Montaigne’s ressentiment bien vif – “feeling” – in order to suggest that early modern uses of that word, which unites sensation and passion in one inseparable concept, index an increasing tendency to draw the passions closer to the body, and to understand passion on the model of the sense of touch. While that cannot be taken as marking the emergence of a concept of affect, exactly, it does suggest a move in that direction: an increasing willingness to treat passion as a physical or physiological force. Of course, the word “feeling” long predates the early modern period. It is one of Anna Wierzbicka’s semantic universals, concepts she claims are found in all human languages.25 According to the OED, uses of the verb “feel” meaning “experience emotion” go back to Anglo-Saxon, though meanings linked to affectivity seem to proliferate through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; OED traces the nominalization of this as “feeling” to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.26 If feeling is not new to the early modern period, there are reasons to think that the word began to carry a new kind of weight in

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that period, carving up the field of affectivity in a way distinct from ancient terms like passion and affection. Early modern feeling suggests an increasing tendency to conceptualize passions not as motions of the soul but as forms of physical touch, impingements or contacts, moments of direct exposure to empassioning objects; that in turn suggests a kind of materialization of the passions. If passions are forms of touch, then they are truly passions: receptions of forces acting on the body. In this, the language of feeling in the early modern period anticipates the direction taken by an eighteenth-century language of “sentiment” and, later, by modern discourses on “emotion.” Early modern feeling is distinct from its modern usage in a way that reflects the deep early modern concern with passion as an element of linguistic communication. Here I want to take as representative a moment near the start of Book 3 of Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Britomart is riding with Redcross. We are in the process of discovering that she has fallen in love with Arthegall based on a vision glimpsed in a mirror, knowing virtually nothing about him. She takes this occasion to learn what she can. But she does not ask: rather, she pretends to be seeking him because he has done her “foule dishonour,” in order to see what Redcross will say.27 She immediately regrets the lie she tells here, but before she can take it back, Redcross tells her she must be mistaken. Now she doubles down, calling Arthegall a “faytour false” (3.2.13), and this time Redcross offers a more spirited defense that has an almost literal impact on Britomart: “His feeling words her feeble sence much pleased, | And softly sunck into her molten hart” (15). “Feeling” is here a property of Redcross’s words: this is not an inner state but an aspect of linguistic performance. Recognizing this also raises questions about the ownership of this feeling. Redcross speaks in the heat of his own convictions, but the feeling he imparts to his words is received by Britomart in a different way than he could possibly have intended because he does not know Britomart’s story nor why she prompted him to speak. The feeling that hangs in the air between them does not exactly belong to either of them: externalized as a linguistic performance, it is best understood as a communicative event. But Spenser also describes it in a way that seems to turn it into a kind of physical force: Redcross’s words pleased Britomart’s “feeble sence” and “softly sunck into her molten hart,” lines that illustrate in a compressed way the process by which a perceptible quality affects the sensory organs and then passes beyond them to solicit the heart. Spenser figures that as a kind of penetration, a sinking-in, a physical touch. This is figurative language – I think it would only confuse the issue to suggest that Spenser


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means that Redcross’s words in some literal sense sink into Britomart’s heart – but it ascribes a kind of as-if physicality to the operations of linguistically communicated feeling. The same phrase appears two more times in The Faerie Queene: first, when Arthur encounters a distraught Una in Book 1 and tries to “allay, and calme her storming paine” with “[f]aire feeling words” (1.7.38); and again when Britomart consoles Scudamore, offering “[f]it medcine” for his “griefe” (3.11.13), “feeling wordes” that “neare the quicke did goe” (15). “The quick,” OED notes, is either “[t]he highly sensitive area of a finger or toe covered by the nail plate”; or comparably sensitive parts of the foot of a horse or the claw of a bird; or any “sensitive and painful” area in “a wound, an ulcer, the body, etc.” It is also “[t]he seat of feeling or emotion in a person” and even “the core of a person’s being,” here suggesting “acute mental anguish or irritation.” And it is generally “[a] tender, sensitive, or vital part” or “the central, vital, or most important part of a thing.”28 All of this appears in the entry “quick, adj., n.1, and adv.,” where “quick” is broadly a term for that which lives. Britomart’s words strike Scudamore “neare the quicke,” that is, near the source of his life, or in the place – the heart – where his passions lie, or in the center of his being, or in a tender or painfully inflamed or injured part of his body. The phrase draws together physical distress, passion, and the primary properties of living flesh: if Britomart’s feeling words are a kind of medicine for Scudamore’s grief, they are also like a knife that cuts into him in exactly the place where he is most susceptible. That this conjunction of life and feeling, of sensation and passion, belongs to the language of passionate rhetoric is suggested by another Spenserian phrase, this one from the “argument” to the February eclogue in the Shepheardes Calendar, where Thenot is said to tell “a tale [. . .] so liuely and so feelingly, as if the thing were set forth in some Picture before our eyes.”29 The last part of this phrase is a rhetorical formula going back to Quintilian and Cicero, describing enargeia or vividness: the quality of a narration that makes us seem to see the events narrated rather than hear about them or read about them. Enargeia was always said to provoke passionate response.30 In Spenser, vivid narration is linked to qualities of life and feeling such that the act of narrating seems to entail not just the production of a “Picture” but almost the fabrication of a living body, a piece of artificial life. Feelingly-told tales or feeling words are communicative acts that solicit passion and, in so doing, touch us where we live. “Feeling” in this sense is far from affect. For one thing, the feelings in question are directly associated with language and even with acts of persuasion and narration. None of this can really be made to reveal any

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particular ontology of the feeling subject or the feeling encounter, nor is any of it meant as an explicit assertion about what “feeling” is. No doubt if Spenser were pressed to offer such an assertion, he would come up with something close to the formula for passion from John of Damascus. But when he describes moments of affective transmission, Spenser does something slightly – but significantly – different: he imagines passion as an immediate, sensory contact between bodies, a form of touch. And that draws passion very close to immediate sensation. All of this is made possible by the fact that Spenser is thinking about passion not from the standpoint of philosophy but from that of practical social encounters, of communicative action, of the affective or emotional force that can be carried by words. The early modern language of feeling does not map onto a concept of affect, but it brings us to a space where some of the questions raised by affect theory – questions about the relations of body and mind, about the communicative sociality of feeling, about the relations between physical forces and psychophysical phenomena – are actively at issue.

See Feelingly I want to end by suggesting that the word “feelingly” provides some of the best evidence for early modern ways of talking about affectivity. To “speak feelingly” is a well-attested collocation in the period, a phrase that had sedimented into usage and thus functioned as a kind of formula: in the version of Early English Books Online (EEBO) hosted via the Corpus Query Processor (CQP) at Lancaster University, the collocation feelingly-speak appears seventy-seven times, the earliest example being William Cornwallis in 1601: “I will nowe speake more feelingly.”31 Among the verbs that appear within three words of the word “feelingly” in CQP, “speak” shows up twice as often as the next most common one (see Table 11.1): Table 11.1 Top ten results for the CQP search _VV0 ≪3≫ feelingly

1 2 3 4 5




speak know say pray let

35 16 13 12 8

14.34% 6.56% 5.33% 4.92% 3.28%


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When an early modern speaker reaches for an adverb to describe the quality of persuasive or moving speech, “feelingly” lies ready to hand. OED dates the word “feelingly” to the time of Wyclif and Chaucer, and those two names can stand as shorthand for the two discourses in which uses of the word seem to cluster in the early modern period as well: on the one hand affective devotion, and on the other literature. I will largely set the first aside, though it is clearly significant to early modern culture. In sermons and other devotional texts, “feelingly” attaches to forms of both perception and knowledge as an index of the fully affective qualities of those experiences. Thus for example George Abbott writes about what it is for people “feelingly to knowe their own miserie,” that is, to be moved by the knowledge of their own sinfulness and utter dependence on God’s grace.32 As the quality of a perceptual experience – a way of knowing or perceiving, or an index of the depths at which a perception or recognition lodges within us – the word “feelingly” signals the place of passion as an integral part of devotional experience. What I want to emphasize here is the word’s place in literature. The earliest recorded instance of the word in EEBO is in Surrey’s translation of the Aeneid, where it translates Dido’s “agnosco veteris vestigia flammae,” rendered by Fagles simply as, “The signs of the old flame, I know them well.”33 In Surrey’s hands this becomes something quite different: “Now feelyngly I taste the steppes of myne olde flame,” a synaesthesia in which touch, taste, recollection, perception, and passion all seem to merge in a profoundly embodied experience that defies any narrow definition.34 From here we might leap to Gloucester’s famous line in King Lear: “you see how this world goes,” Lear remarks, and blind Gloucester replies, “I see it feelingly.”35 Here again the quality of feeling overflows the boundary between one sense and another, so that sight and touch merge in an experience of the world in which – as Stephen Booth has written – “a mental boundary vanishes, fails, or is destroyed.”36 The mental boundary in question is a boundary of “the mental” itself, one of those compartments into which we inevitably and perhaps impossibly seek to structure experience. Between Surrey’s Aeneid in 1554 and King Lear around 1605, the word “feelingly” describes a trajectory that passes right through early modern literature: Spenser’s Shepheardes Calendar, Sidney’s Arcadia, Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy, Shakespeare’s Rape of Lucrece. Shakespeare’s plays use the word five times in all. The other four – as from Lear – clearly indicate the word’s role in communicative scenes: it is part of Osric’s ostentatious and inept

Feeling Feelings in Early Modern England


rhetoric in Hamlet; in As You Like It, Duke Senior describes the cold winter wind as “feelingly” persuading him of his weakness; in Twelfth Night, Maria proposes forging letters from Olivia in which Malvolio will “by the colour of his beard, the shape of his leg, the manner of his gait, the expressure of his eye, forehead, and complexion [. . .] find himself most feelingly personated,” that is, described or represented; in Measure for Measure, the “First Gentleman” insults Lucio then asks, “Do I speak feelingly now?”37 Lear mounts a sustained exploration of the resources of the word “feel” in all its forms. No other work by Shakespeare uses that word so often. In Lear it is associated with virtually every kind of experience, from immediate sensory suffering – “Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel” (3.4.34) – to perception, passion, even knowledge. “[T]his tempest in my mind | Doth from my senses take all feeling else, | Save what beats there,” Lear says, and it is clear that passionate feeling can by its intensity produce a kind of hiatus in the senses, a failure of perception (3.4.12–14). Edgar later describes himself as one “[w]ho, by the art of known and feeling sorrows, | Am pregnant to good pity,” a phrase that – like much of what Edgar does in the second half of the play – evokes a familiar understanding of tragedy as an “art” of sorrows that encourages compassionate response (4.6.217–218). But in the play’s final speech, Edgar – or, in the quarto, Albany – instructs the assembled hearers to “Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say,” an injunction that highlights the unruly paradoxes of this play: the only rule for the feelings the events of the play inspire turns out to be the refusal of rules; the demand to speak from the heart even when such speech overthrows all limits marks the outer edge of any passionate rhetoric of feeling words as well as any account of tragedy’s healing influence, bringing us to a place where feeling turns out to be incommensurate with any notion of fitness or decorum. Through all of this, feeling in Lear is at once sensation, perception, passion, knowledge. None of these uses maps onto affect: there is a richness and complexity here that risks being lost in too rigorous an imposition of a concept that has after all been chiseled through the demands of a very specific critical history. The concept of affect draws lines between the subjective and the non-subjective, the cognitive and the non-cognitive, the bodily and the mental, the psychological and the physiological. Early modern feeling crosses all those lines. But recognizing that allows us to begin to assemble the archives through which to document significant shifts or movements in the conceptualization of affectivity – archives that need to extend well


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beyond the set of texts that directly theorize the passions, assembling evidence from much more everyday ways of speaking and writing.

Notes 1. Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 24–26. 2. Rei Terada, Feeling in Theory: Emotion after the “Death of the Subject” (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001); Sara Ahmed, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 2nd edn (New York: Routledge, 2014); Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 24–28; Ruth Leys, “The Turn to Affect: A Critique,” Critical Inquiry 37:3 (Spring 2011): 434–472, as well as the ensuing debate, Critical Inquiry 37:4 (Summer 2011), 791–805, and 38:4 (Summer 2012), 870–891. 3. The next four paragraphs touch briefly on points made more systematically in my book-manuscript, The Accidents of the Soul – though the arguments in that book are not framed around the concept of affect. One of the most useful accounts of premodern philosophies of the passions seems to me to be Dominik Perler, Transformationen der Gefühle: Philosophische Emotionstheorien 1270–1670 (Frankfurt: S. Fischer, 2011). See also – among many other books – Simo Knuuttila, Emotions in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon, 2004), and Susan James, Passion and Action: The Emotions in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997). Among modern theories of emotion, one of the most useful remains Jesse J. Prinz, Gut Reactions: A Perceptual Theory of Emotion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). 4. See what is in some ways the companion piece to this essay, my article “Thinking Feeling,” in Amanda Bailey and Mario DiGangi (eds), Affect Theory and Early Modern Texts: Politics, Ecologies, and Form (New York: Palgrave, 2017), 109–127. 5. Thomas Wright, The Passions of the Minde in Generall (London, 1604), C4r; hereafter quotations from Wright will be cited in the body of the text by signature. See also Robinson, “Thinking Feeling,” 116–119. 6. Compare Joseph LeDoux, Anxious: Using the Brain to Understand and Treat Fear and Anxiety (New York: Penguin, 2015). 7. E.g., Stephan Strasser, Phenomenology of Feeling: An Essay on the Phenomena of the Heart, trans. Robert E. Wood (1954; repr. Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1977). 8. “Motion for the schools signified change in the broadest sense”: Daniel Garber, Descartes’ Metaphysical Physics (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 194. Thomas Blundeville lists six kinds of motion: “generation, corruption, augmentation, diminution, alteration, and mouing from place to place”: The Arte of Logick (1599; London, 1617), H2r.

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9. Timothy Bright, A Treatise of Melancholie (London, 1586), H8r. 10. René Descartes, The Passions of the Soul, trans. Michael Moriarty (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), Articles 51, 52. 11. Descartes, Passions of the Soul, Article 56. 12. Spinoza, Ethics, in A Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other Works, trans. Edwin Curley (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994), II P7, I P10. Hereafter cited in the body of the text by book and proposition. 13. Quintilian, The Orator’s Education, trans. Donald A. Russell (Cambridge, MA: Loeb, 2001), 6.2.20: “quod παθος dicitur nos adfectum proprie vocamus.” 14. Aristotle, On Rhetoric, trans. George A. Kenney, 2nd edn (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 2.1.1378a. 15. For a somewhat different way of reading Spinoza on affect – as well as Massumi on Spinoza on affect – see Anthony Uhlmann’s essay in this volume. 16. On this, see my essay “Thinking Feeling.” On the eighteenth-century culture of the nerve, see George S. Rousseau, Nervous Acts: Essays on Literature, Culture, and Sensibility (New York: Palgrave, 2004). 17. Thomas Dixon, From Passions to Emotions: The Creation of a Secular Psychological Category (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 124, 125, 156, 251. 18. For a different but related consideration of narrative as in effect a kind of therapy of the passions, see Dana Lacourse Munteanu’s essay in this volume. 19. The role of rhetoric as a discipline promising knowledge of the passions, and its influence on both literature and the development of new sciences of the mind, is the subject of my book-manuscript tentatively titled The Accidents of the Soul. 20. Bernard Lamy et al., The Art of Speaking (London, 1676). 21. Thomas Conley, Rhetoric in the European Tradition (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 152. 22. Cicero, De oratore, trans. E.W. Sutton and H. Rackham (Cambridge, MA: Loeb, 1988), 3.57.216–217. 23. Progymnasmata: Greek Textbooks of Prose Composition and Rhetoric, trans. George A. Kennedy (Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003). 24. Michel de Montaigne, Essayes, trans. John Florio (London, 1603), 115; French quoted from The Montaigne Project: ojects/montaigne/ [last accessed 29 June 2019]. I have elided one sentence from the quotation, because Florio’s translation of it presents difficulties that in this context would be distracting. 25. Anna Wierzbicka, Emotions across Languages and Cultures: Diversity and Universals (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999). 26. OED, “feel, v,” 5a, 7a, 7b; “feeling, n,” II. 27. Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. A.C. Hamilton (New York: Longman, 1977), 3.2.8. Hereafter cited in the text by book, canto, and stanza. 28. “quick, adj., n.1, and adv.,” B, n.1, 3a–d. 29. Quoted from The Yale Edition of the Shorter Poems of Edmund Spenser, ed. William A. Oram et al. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989).


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30. See, e.g., Heinrich F. Plett, Enargeia in Classical Antiquity and the Early Modern Age: The Aesthetics of Evidence (Boston, MA: Brill, 2012). 31. William Cornwallis, Essayes (London, 1600–1601), Y3r. The CQP version of EEBO-TCP Phase II, administered by Andrew Hardie of Lancaster University, can be found at 32. George Abbott, An Exposition vpon the Prophet Ionah Contained in Certaine Sermons (London, 1600), 2F5r. 33. Virgil, The Aeneid, trans. Robert Fagles (New York: Penguin, 2006), 4.30; Latin verse 4.23 quoted from the J.B. Greenough edition, hosted at the Perseus Digital Library: eus:text:1999.02.0055 [last accessed 29 June 2019]. 34. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, trans., Certain bokes of Virgiles Aeneis (London, 1557), D3v. 35. William Shakespeare, King Lear, ed. R.A. Foakes (London: Arden, 1997), 4.6.143–145. Hereafter cited in the body of the text by act, scene, and line. 36. Stephen Booth, King Lear, Macbeth, Indefinition, and Tragedy (1983; Christchurch: Cybereditions, 2001), 43. 37. William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Harold Jenkins (London: Arden, 1982), 5.2.109; William Shakespeare, As You Like It, ed. Juliet Dusinberre (London: Arden, 2006), 2.1.11; William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, ed. Keir Elam (London: Arden, 2008), 2.3.154; William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, ed. J.W. Lever (London: Arden, 1965), 1.2.33.

chapter 12

Laughable Poetry Matthew Bevis

Evading and then relaxing and then stipulating and then hearing that there is a protection is not the whole way to have it said that there has been laughing. – Gertrude Stein

The nineteenth century began with a laugh. In 1800, Humphry Davy published Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, Chiefly concerning Nitrous Oxide, in which, alongside the testimony of others who had inhaled the gas under laboratory conditions, Davy recorded his own sensation: initial laughter was followed by a state in which ‘voluntary power was altogether destroyed . . . I existed in a world of newly connected and newly modified ideas’.1 Others described an experience in which volition was suspended even as they received an invigorated feeling of ‘vital power’; subjects were unable to say why they laughed, but were able to suggest how they felt as they laughed. Searching for a suitable analogy, one said that ‘I felt like the sound of a harp’; another claimed that his feelings ‘resembled those produced . . . by reading a sublime passage in poetry’.2 One person’s sublime is another’s ridiculous, and some sceptics took to poetry itself to mock the apparent nonsense spoken by those under the influence: ‘thy living beverage whilst I quaff, | I laugh – ha, ha – yet know not why I laugh’.3 But other poets – Coleridge and Wordsworth among them – took this wondrous confusion seriously, sensing links between the effects of the strange gas and the correspondent breeze of Romanticism.4 Davy himself acknowledged that many who tried nitrous oxide ‘appeared ludicrous to those around’,5 but he also pointed out that the current state of the language of feeling was a constraining factor on the public reception of his experiments (‘When pleasure and pains are new or connected with new ideas’, he explained, ‘they can never be intelligibly detailed unless associated during their existence with terms standing for analogous feelings’).6 Laughing gas, by helping individuals to push against the limits of the sayable, created fresh opportunities for apprehending new patterns of feeling – or new relations between old ones. 229


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Much modern poetry can be read as similarly open to ridicule – and to possibility. Luigi Pirandello observed that ‘by the rebellion of precisely the subjective elements of the spirit, which characterizes the Romantic movement, humor asserted itself freely’,7 and one way to consider this odd sense of humour in Romantic and post-Romantic writing would be to explore what a handful of poets and thinkers have made of the laughable. Keats’s confession of his need to write ‘fine things which cannot be laugh’d at in any way’ may be taken as paradigmatic not simply of the modern poet’s ambition, but of his precarious station as the joker who might, at any moment, turn into a joke. At the time he made the confession, Keats was concerned about what reviewers would make of Isabella, or the Pot of Basil, fearful that what he fondly termed its ‘amusing sober-sadness’ would render it ‘too smokeable’.8 Yet his love of the acting of Edmund Kean – specifically, of the way in which Kean seemed to ‘laugh to himself’ in the sheer pleasure of performance – is a vital part of the Keatsian effect.9 To bring this medley of the amusing and the serious into poetry is to entertain – and to encourage – the laughable without falling victim to it. In the same year that Davy published his book on nitrous oxide, Friedrich Schlegel observed that ‘all modern poetry resembles pantomimes’.10 This sounds wilfully tendentious, but Schlegel was on to something (pantomime, too, was structured as a composite, amusingly sober-sad form: the harlequinade section stood as a parodic complication of the ‘serious’ opening story). When Keats admitted that he loved ‘to mark sad faces in fair weather; | And hear a merry laugh amid the thunder’, he was led immediately to think of ‘Visage sage at pantomime; | Funeral, and steeple-chime’.11 And pantomime informs one of the founding statements of modern poetics: I dined too (for I have been out too much lately) with Horace Smith & met his two brothers . . . they only served to convince me, how superior humour is to wit . . . They talked of Kean & his low company – Would I were with that company instead of yours said I to myself! . . . Brown and Dilke walked with me & back from the Christmas pantomime. I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, on various subjects; several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me . . . I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable feeling after fact & reason.12

As a form of hybrid comic theatre helps to coax this definition into being, an appetite for what Keats calls ‘humour’ (as opposed to ‘wit’) is linked to a positive-negative capability. The line of thought is close to what Pirandello would later see as the keynote of modern humour: ‘one of

Laughable Poetry


perplexity: I feel as if I were suspended between two forces: I feel like laughing, and I do laugh, but my laughter is troubled and obstructed by something that stems from the representation itself’.13 Or, as Keats had put it a century earlier: ‘While we are laughing the seed of some trouble is put into the wide arable of events’.14 Poets are often looking for this kind of trouble.

* Laughter might be read not simply as a troubled affect, but as the troubling of affect: perhaps it’s not so much an affect in itself, but more the result of being affected, of being in a particular state of affect. Or: laughter might be the expression of an uncertainty about precisely how one is being affected, a bafflement of mind and body. Modern theories of the laugh have tended to set themselves against the assurance of Thomas Hobbes, who interpreted the sound as a cry of ‘sudden glory’, a person’s expression of superiority over ‘some deformed thing in another, by comparison whereof they suddenly applaud themselves’.15 From around the 1750s this focus gave way to more negatively-capable readings of the phenomenon. (By the early nineteenth century, Coleridge saw the Hobbesian position as something of a joke: ‘To resolve Laughter into an expression of Contempt is contrary to fact, and laughable enough.’)16 A wish to avoid resolving (or solving) laughter is evident on the opening page of Lyrical Ballads (1798), when Coleridge speaks of the ‘laughsome’: ‘Nay, if thou’st got a laughsome tale, | Marinere! come with me.’17 This is the OED’s first instance of the word as meaning ‘That [which] causes laughter; amusing’, as opposed to the older definition: ‘inclined to laughter; mirthful’. But even as Coleridge shifts the laughsome from being a propensity of the subject to being a property of the object or situation, his tale is intent on destabilizing our sense of what things can rightly or safely be apprehended as funny. When ‘the Pilot’s boy, | Who now doth crazy go, | Laugh’d loud and long’,18 the gentle reader may feel both more and less than amused. An early reviewer thought the poem ‘the strangest story of a cock and a bull that we ever saw on paper’ and wondered whether he had quite got ‘the joke’.19 It would appear that the issue of how – or whether – laughter is an appropriate response in the poem has become bound up with the issue of whether laughter is an appropriate response to it. If laughter is a sign that you’ve gone crazy, what hope is there for the philosophers who try to tame it by accounting for it? Frances Hutcheson, James Beattie, Kant, and others had resisted Hobbes by stressing incongruity, not superiority, as the key term: ‘Every ludicrous combination is


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incongruous’, Beattie observed, ‘The cause of laughter is something compounded’.20 Still, both superiority and incongruity theorists tended to read laughter as a transitive force – as ridicule aimed at an object, or as amusement at something oddly compounded within it. But the poets were more interested in the phenomenology of laughter, and in conceiving the laugh itself as an incongruity: from this perspective, the laughing person embodied as well as observed a ludicrous combination. ‘Excess of sorrow laughs’,21 Blake proclaimed, while Byron was drawn to ‘sad merriment’ (‘if I laugh at any mortal thing, | ’Tis that I may not weep’).22 Not only does laughter interrupt speech, it also makes it hard for the laugher to put his feelings into words once he has recovered his sobriety. ‘Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell’, Keats’s sonnet begins.23 The laugh prompts a need for voice because it will not voice its demands clearly, and somewhere inside the poet’s question, one suspects, lie others: Why write this poem tonight? Is my poem like my laugh in some way? If so, what’s it for? Debates about the intelligibility and significance of laughter stretch far back (the Greeks had debated whether the affect was merely ‘playful’, or ‘consequential’),24 but in modern thought one can discern a new emphasis: the desire to read the laughable in relation to evolving debates about the category of the aesthetic. Addison’s essays were the first sustained attempt to resist a moralised sense of laughter as a form of ridicule and to suggest that one’s response to the comic is analogous to one’s response to the beautiful. When, in 1767, the Gentleman’s Magazine observed that ‘what is humour is as much a question of taste, as what is beauty’,25 it was acknowledging the way in which the two realms were being conceptualised as part of a discourse dealing with potentially (or allegedly) disinterested responses to objects. Alexander Gerard’s Essay on Taste (1759) was the first treatise to accord the humorous the status of a distinct object of taste, and philosophers increasingly read the laugh as a detached entertainment of different perspectives in one form.26 Laughter itself was becoming aestheticized. Kant put forward an analogy between jokes and works of art in the Critique of Judgement, figuring laughter as a minor version of the disinterested play of understanding. Schiller’s touchstone essay ‘On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry’ (1796) involved discussion of laughter (particularly the moment in which ‘mockery’ turns into something less judgemental), of ‘play’, of humorous poetry, and of the purpose of comedy as ‘the highest after which man has to struggle’.27 In his 1831 essay on Schiller, Carlyle wrote that ‘Humour has justly been regarded as the finest perfection of the poetic genius’;28 by the mid-century George Eliot was speaking of ‘humour’ as something which

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‘continually passes into poetry’, an instinct which ‘flows along without any other law than its own fantastic will’;29 and by the 1890s Walter Pater could mischievously – yet seriously – observe that the English critics who had introduced, via the German idealists, ‘the distinction between the Fancy and the Imagination, made much also of the cognate distinction between Wit and Humour’.30 Elsewhere at around this time Robert Louis Stevenson was using ‘poesy and comicality’ as near synonyms, and speaking of himself and his friends as ‘disinterested’ while ‘we pursued our joke’.31 It is sometimes as hard to believe in aesthetic disinterestedness as it is to believe someone when they tell you that they are ‘only joking’. Still, this analogy plays itself out across the nineteenth century and beyond as writers are drawn to disquisitions on the laughable as a way of considering the privilege and predicament of art itself. In ‘The Essence of Laughter’ (1855), when Baudelaire contrasts the Hobbesian laughter of ‘superiority’ with the laugh of ‘innocence’, he adds: ‘Setting aside all considerations of usefulness, the same difference obtains between these two types of laughter as between the literature of involvement and the school of art for art’s sake.’32 Fifty years later, in The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious, Freud concedes that the joke may in some respects be like the playful judgment of ‘aesthetic freedom’, yet he also senses that the laughter caused by the joke is not as disinterested as it appears. The affect speaks volumes about our compulsions; ‘we can only laugh’, he observes, ‘when a joke has come to our help’.33 A related ambivalence is present in Henri Bergson’s theorization of laughter, for although he confidently tells his readers that ‘many a drama will turn into a comedy’ when they ‘look upon life as a disinterested spectator’, at other times comic disinterestedness itself becomes an incongruous creature: Laughter, then, does not belong to the province of aesthetics alone, since unconsciously (and even immorally in many particular instances) it pursues a utilitarian aim of general improvement. And yet, there is something esthetic about it, since the comic comes into being just when society and the individual, freed from the worry of self-preservation, begin to regard themselves as works of art.34

This tussle between utilitarian aim and aesthetic autonomy can be felt across the twentieth century. In 1956, Harold Nicolson conceives laughter as ‘a protective mechanism’, as ‘shield’, and as ‘refuge’, before suddenly turning back on himself and pronouncing: ‘The sense of humour, like aesthetics, is not limited by service to any particular purpose; it has a nondetermining character’.35 A decade or so later, Helmuth Plessner observes:


matthew bevis Laughter is a response to a situation . . . from which we step back without really wishing to free ourselves from it . . . The reason that laughter reveals itself here in its purest and freest form is doubtless to be found in that aesthetic distance which lays claim only to our contemplation and apprehension and even lets us sit in the orchestra while we ourselves stand on the stage.36

So the aesthetic may be distance, yet it is also response. Even laughter’s ‘freest form’ is not complete free-play because the laugher doesn’t want to be wholly emancipated from the confusions that set his laugh in motion. When we are beside ourselves with laughter, we are in two places at once – observers and partakers of ourselves. By extension, aesthetic disinterest may be read not so much as cool transcendence, but as a sort of half-pleasurable, half-perplexed loss of bearings, something akin to the feeling Walt Whitman describes in Leaves of Grass: before all my arrogant poems the real Me stands yet untouch’d, untold, altogether unreach’d, Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows, With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word I have written, Pointing in silence to these songs, and then to the sand beneath. I perceive I have not really understood any thing, not a single object, and that no man ever can.37

The distant, ironical Me who laughs is never quite arrived at. He is intimated, postulated, desired by an I who doesn’t so much mock himself, as entertain his poetic possibilities. Indeed, the I who hasn’t ever ‘really’ understood anything cannot definitively claim to have a ‘real’ Me. The apprehension of the laughable is the undoing of the self as well as the making of it.

* The question of whether the laughable character of the modern artwork is to be championed or resisted can be related, then, to debates about whether either poems or laughs are (or should be) consequential, reputable, useful.38 The position of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh is revealing in this respect, and in some ways paradigmatic; she wants to make something of herself by making something of her art-form, and she bridles at readers who are looking simply for laughs: My critic Jobson recommends more mirth Because a cheerful genius suits the times, And all true poets laugh unquenchably Like Shakespeare and the gods. That’s very hard.39

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It’s hard because she finds so many things that are cause for tears. In Book I of her poem, however, Aurora admits to feeling that the poet is indeed epitomised by a love of ‘everlasting laughter’,40 so she would appear to be divided against herself as well as resistant to her critics. The character’s mixed feelings are shared by her creator, and a related tussle can be felt in one of Barrett Browning’s best poems, ‘A Musical Instrument’, where both desirousness and recklessness abet creative achievement. The great god Pan is to be found breaking the golden lilies, making piercingly sweet music by tearing out reeds, opening up gaps, and blowing in air: ‘This is the way,’ laughed the great god Pan (Laughed while he sate by the river,) ‘The only way, since gods began To make sweet music, they could succeed.’ Then, dropping his mouth to a hole in the reed, He blew in power by the river.41

We laugh, as we speak, by modulating an outward breath, and here the great god miraculously does both at once by speaking in laughter. His mouth is ravishing in both senses of that word, and Barrett Browning’s pleasure as well as horror at this power – the way her rhythm becomes its accomplice, not simply its anatomist – is close to the delirious heart of her poem’s life. Laughter is sexual or sensual before it is ethical or social, something the body does before (and often after) the mind has expressed its disapproval. ‘This is the way’: the poet-maker-laugher is wayward, or simply waylaid, led in directions she does not always want to go. Pan laughs and then does something, and the poets’ handling of one rhyme in particular can serve as a microcosm of the larger question regarding laughter’s effects. ‘Momentary fits of laughter | Still bequeath a blessing after’,42 observed Hartley Coleridge, although others would take on the same rhyme to suggest that the blessing might be a mixed one. In Beppo (1818), Byron confessed: I fear I have a little turn for satire, And yet methinks the older that one grows Inclines us more to laugh than scold, though laughter Leaves us so doubly serious shortly after.43

The slide from ‘I’ to ‘one’ to ‘us’ gently coaxes these lines from mere personal confession to psychological fact. Laughter – and, by extension, poetry – is again apprehended as a backing off from the clear agendas of Hobbesian satirical engagements. From which it does not follow that either the comic or the aesthetic need be tucked away in the realm of the frivolous, or seen under the


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aspect that Kant sees laughter: namely, as ‘an affect resulting from the sudden transformation of a heightened expectation into nothing’.44 Laughter is both hiatus and catalyst, a break from criticism and a pause for reflection. A similar movement is present in Shelley’s ‘To a Skylark’ (1820): We look before and after, And pine for what is not: Our sincerest laughter With some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.45

The laughable is a secret sharer of the lyrical impulse itself, which yearns for a sound entwined with thought. Laughter reaches before and after, like the rhymes that help to make the song. Towards the end of the century, Jean Ingelow plays the rhyme over again: For gladness I break into laughter And tears. Then it all comes again as from far-away years; Again, some one else – oh, how softly! – with laughter comes after, Comes after – with laughter comes after.46

Thomas Hood suggested that ‘a life of mere laughter is like music without its base’,47 and the musical life of laughter as it is given expression in Ingelow’s metred form has a sombre base (in recent experiments, recordings of laughter have been slowed down and a peculiar effect detected: if the laugh has high notes, Robert Provine observes, then the sounds between the notes sound like a ‘weak sigh’).48 Ingelow’s run-on line – from mere laughter to laughter and tears – also becomes a way of re-staging the complex affect that can arise from laughter, and of suggesting that laughter is itself a mixed feeling, an echo of uncertain portent. ‘Some one else’ may be a loved one, or another long-lost version of the self, or both, as laughter goes about fracturing and multiplying identity. Or perhaps the someone extends to the reader, who is invited to be not simply an observer of the poem, but a participant in it. Much later, Elizabeth Bishop ponders the reverberations of both the rhyme and the affect once more, in ‘The Wit’ (1956), when she describes herself and her friends responding to someone who had made ‘a brilliant pun’: We gave a thunderclap of laughter. Flustered, your helpers vanished one by one; And through the conversational spaces, after, we caught – back, back, far, far, – the glinting birthday of a fractious star.49

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Glossing her poem, Bishop explained that ‘making a pun is unlike logical thought; it fractures, in a contrary way – as we might imagine the birth of a star, or creation itself’.50 Those who laugh assist at the birth, for the helpers who get the joke are like the readers who might ‘get’ the poem. Yet both groups also get more than they bargained for; the life of their laughter seems to extend beyond them, to become larger or more far-reaching than they could have imagined. If, as David Appelbaum observes of laughter, ‘the thunderclap or rolling sonic boom leaves semantics quivering in the wake’,51 then when we are lost in laughter we are also lost to what we mean. And the ‘fractious star’ here is in some sense the laugh-centred lyric, glinting with potential, not fully beholden either to its maker or to its audience. ‘With laughter comes after’ – and with after comes a sense of before-ness, a sense of all the things that might feed into both laughs and poems: half-acknowledged feelings, weird thoughts, strange longings for both the flustered and the fractious.

* When Romantic and post-Romantic poets talk about laughter, I’m suggesting, they are often looking for ways to think about what poetry might be and do. The development and influence of various modes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – nonsense poetry, parody, and ‘light verse’ – might be offered as partial (perhaps too partial) support for such a claim,52 but there are frequent glimmers of this self-consciousness in poets who are not especially renowned for their humour (who are renowned, indeed, for their lack of it). When Hazlitt described his first acquaintance with poets, he recalled observing ‘a severe, worn pressure of thought’ about Wordsworth’s temples, but he also noted something else: ‘a convulsive inclination to laughter about the mouth, a good deal at variance with the solemn, stately expression of the rest of his face.’53 He was picking up on a trait in the poet which, while not central to his style, is not exactly peripheral to it either. It might provisionally be described as a feeling for comedy, rather than comedy itself, and it can also be sensed in the work of those who wrote in his shadow. Tennyson, like Wordsworth, has often been laughed at (as G.K. Chesterton noted, ‘We cannot help feeling that Tennyson is the Englishman taking himself seriously – an awful sight’).54 You know what he means. Still, a poet might take himself seriously by imagining the laughability of his penchant for the lyrical. Laughter loiters with dubious intent in the poet’s writing when he is most inclined to indulge in a Tennysonian moan. In ‘My life is full of


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weary days’ (1832), the speaker imagines that his own grave is soon to be met by the time when the sappy field and wood Grow green beneath the showery gray, And rugged barks begin to bud, And through damp holts new-flushed with May, Ring sudden laughters of the jay55

John Wilson Croker was not impressed: Laughter, the philosophers tell us, is the peculiar attribute of man – but as Shakespeare found ‘tongues in trees and sermons in stones’, this true poet endows all nature not merely with human sensibilities but with human functions – the jay laughs, and we find, indeed, a little further on, that the woodpecker laughs also; but to mark the distinction between their merriment and that of men, both jays and woodpeckers laugh upon melancholy occasions. We are glad, moreover, to observe, that Mr. Tennyson is prepared for, and therefore will not be disturbed by, human laughter, if any silly reader should catch the infection from the woodpeckers and jays.56

This is characteristic of Croker: he’s seized on an interesting detail and chosen to handle it in a deeply uninteresting way. We do of course sometimes laugh upon melancholy occasions (that’s one resource we have for dealing with them), but, more to the point, that the jay is laughing while the poet pours out his melancholy moan may be part of the poem’s meaning, its willingness to countenance a sound beyond its own warbling. Tennyson was bothered enough by the review to change ‘laughters’ to ‘scritches’ in later editions, but he also added a note: Originally ‘laughters’ . . . I did once catch a jay in the act of laughing. I once crept with the greatest caution thro’ a wood and came right underneath a jay. I heard him chuckling to himself; and the afternoon sun was full upon him. I broke by chance a little rotten twig of the tree he was perch’d on, and away he went.57

This contains a nod back to Shelley’s claim in A Defence of Poetry that ‘A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds’.58 But the fact that Tennyson’s jay – a surrogate for the poet’s own aspirations towards entrancing song – should inspire a need to see it as well as to hear it tells of a more down-to-earth approach to the human mind’s imaginings. This bird is not singing to cheer its own solitude in darkness (this would make it an apt match for Tennyson’s oh-so-lonesome speaker), but chuckling to itself in broad daylight. To catch it in the act of laughing – to sneak up on it with such

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caution – is to sneak up on your own lyrical gift and to sense that somewhere within it there’s a joke, or that it harbours a sense of humour like a close-kept secret. Frequently, in this kind of writing, one senses that the artistic impulse is being sent up, heckled even, especially when the poet is given to imagining sounds that disturb the polished composure of a page too far removed from background noise. In ‘The Palace of Art’ (1832) the speaker builds an ivory tower in which his soul can dwell forever with ease; ‘reign thou apart, a quiet king’, he intones. Once the palace is built, though, the peace and quiet become too much for the soul to bear: Deep dread and loathing of her solitude Fell on her, from which mood was born Scorn of herself; again, from out that mood Laughter at her self-scorn. Back on herself her serpent pride had curl’d. ‘No voice,’ she shrieked in that lone hall, ‘No voice breaks through the stillness of this world: One deep, deep silence all!’59

Laughter stands between voice and silence. Like the song of the jay as Tennyson hears it, laughter is inarticulate, yet expressive – a figure for an impulse which may come out of artistic self-scorn but which is not quite reducible to it. The soul’s own gravitation towards repetition in these lines – ‘Scorn . . . self-scorn’, ‘No voice . . . No voice’, ‘deep, deep silence’ – is itself a gentle rebuke to lyrical solipsism, an attempt to create conversation if only through echo. Bergson would later observe that ‘Laughter appears to stand in need of an echo . . . it is something which would fain be prolonged by reverberating from one to another . . . to continue in successive rumblings’.60 And laughter – a sound which echoes itself, and which also invites other echoes – is for Tennyson a promise of community; or, in this poem, a plea for it, a need for something shareable to issue from a still world. Call it poetry’s way of defending a need for its own space even as it aspires towards what Bishop called conversational spaces. Or call it poetry’s means of laughing at and to itself in the hope that audiences will join in. In The Princess, Tennyson refers to ‘secret laughter’.61 When the Prince takes the opportunity to break into full Tennysonian mode by singing one of the seductive interpolated lyrics (‘O Swallow, swallow, flying, flying south’), the auditors in the poem (the Princess and her friends) are not seduced by the lyric’s central conceit: namely, the idea that the swallow would stand in for the poet and whisper sweet nothings in the lover’s ear.


matthew bevis I ceased, and all the ladies, each at each, Like the Ithacensian suitors in old time, Stared with great eyes, and laughed with alien lips, And knew not what they meant; for still my voice Rang false62

The falsity is caused partly by his falsetto (the Prince is trying to sing like a girl; he’s already told us, ‘maidenlike as far as I could ape their treble | Did I sing’). And, beyond this, the sonorous lyrical impulse is again being framed, humoured, lightly laughed at. Yet what’s most arresting here is the idea that the auditors are somehow unhinged or unselved by laughter, lost in it and therefore not quite able to know what they mean by it. Ronald de Sousa has ventured the suggestion that ‘If we can answer the question “What did you intend by laughing?” then it was not genuine laughter’.63 One mark of the genuine for Tennyson – and for others writing in the wake of Romanticism – is not being too sure about what you’re doing, not being fully aware of the intention or end that you have in sight. The poet would also seem to be interested in passing on this uncertainty to his or her audiences; as we read, we stare with great eyes, laugh with alien lips.

* The poets’ fascination with the laughable contains a confusion that resonates across the nineteenth century and beyond, one that can be felt in the word ‘laughable’ itself, for the OED’s definition – ‘Able to be laughed at; amusing. Now chiefly: ludicrous, absurd’ – signals a notable shift of emphasis. When, in 1693, Dryden said of a writer that he ‘was not good at turning things into a pleasant ridicule; or, in other words . . . he was not a laughable writer’, or when, a century later, Elizabeth Rigby pronounced herself ‘much pleased’ by ‘a very natural and laughable comedy’, the adjective was a compliment. The OED’s first citation of the modern, pejorative meaning comes in 1841 (Carlyle observes that ‘Puritanism was despicable, laughable then’), even as the earlier emphasis on achievement or ability (laugh-able) appears to linger on elsewhere. The earliest books I’ve found containing ‘Laughable’ in the main title date from the 1790s (Fairburn’s Laughable Songster (1807) and a flurry of other books quickly follow).64 The word is used in such contexts to signal to readers that there’s nothing too serious going here. Yet when Edward Lear publishes Laughable Lyrics (1877), one senses a glint of pride (and provocation) inside the apparent wish to pass off the volume as just a bit of fun. The noun and adjective aren’t necessarily an odd couple, and perhaps those readers who

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conceive the ‘laughable’ as something to be merely condescended to are themselves being laughed at. Lear’s collection features a boy, named A, who falls over and hurts his arm. All the other letters of the alphabet quickly line up to suggest ways of putting a stop to his tears: O said, ‘An Owl might make him laugh, if only it would wink.’ P said, ‘Some Poetry might be read aloud, to make him think.’65

So ‘A’ might be made to laugh, or made to think. Yet these options needn’t be mutually exclusive: Poetry can be a wise old owl, and its call is often summed up in that most poetic of vocables, the apostrophic lyric ‘O’ that cries out to be read aloud. The lines wink to us, hint that the lyrical (Poetry with a capital P) might be enhanced rather than enervated by the laughable. In this couplet, laughter comes first, then thought, with the former as a spur to the latter, and Lear’s lines are faithful to an emerging emphasis of his Romantic forebears: Charles Lamb observed that, faced by comic works, ‘we do not merely laugh at, we are led into long trains of reflection by them’;66 when experiencing comedy, Coleridge noted, ‘the more profoundly I think, the greater is the satisfaction that mingles with my laughter’;67 and Hazlitt, having allowed his audience to have its fun, adds that ‘the reader laughs (as well he may) . . . but he lays down his book to think’.68 To read laughter in this way is to read the affect as a premonition, not merely a response. It’s as though, as we laugh, we are not so much having a thought, but on the way to having one – or giving in to the process of letting our thoughts have us. The effect is analogous to the way in which Alice responds to a poem she reads once she’s stepped through the looking-glass: ‘Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas – only I don’t exactly know what they are!’69 Modern poetics – nonsensical or otherwise – can in this sense be conceived as an ally of certain trends in modern philosophy and theory. Nietzsche observed in Beyond Good and Evil that ‘I would go as far as to allow myself a rank order of philosophers based on the rank of their laughter’,70 and – their differences notwithstanding – one could see the laughable as a significant part not just of Nietzsche’s thought, but also of Kierkegaard’s, or Schopenhauer’s.71 Or one might ponder the implications of Wittgenstein’s feeling that ‘Philosophy ought really to be written only as poetic composition’72 alongside his claim that ‘A serious and good philosophical work could be written that would consist entirely of jokes’.73 The list could go on: ‘there is no better trigger for thinking than laughter’, claimed Walter Benjamin, ‘convulsion of the diaphragm usually provides better


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opportunities for thought than convulsion of the soul’,74 and those opportunities have increasingly been taken by a wide range of thinkers.75 In the spirit of Lear’s laughable-thoughtful alphabets, one could plot an A to Z stretching from, say, Adorno’s thoughts on the comic in Aesthetic Theory (1970) to Zizek’s funny turns in Zizek’s Jokes (2014). Georges Bataille, for whom laughter is ‘the central given, the first given, and perhaps even the final given of philosophy’, claims that ‘laughter hangs in suspense, affirms nothing, alleviates nothing . . . What is hidden in laughter must remain so.’76 The actions of T. S. Eliot’s funny-man in ‘Suite Clownesque’ are another version of this process of hiding in plain sight; ‘Here comes the comedian’, Eliot announces, ‘the most expressive, real of men’, the man who ‘Explodes in laughter’: It’s all philosophy and art. Nose that interrogates the stars Interrogates the audience Who still continue in suspense77

The image – and the instinct – stayed with Eliot. ‘From one point of view, the poet aspires to the condition of a music-hall comedian’, he later observed, adding that every poet would like to think he had ‘a part to play in society as worthy as that of the music-hall comedian’.78 Elsewhere he conceded of his analogy that I am aware that this is a dangerous suggestion to make. For every person who is likely to consider it seriously there are a dozen toymakers who would leap to tickle aesthetic society into one more quiver and giggle of art debauch. Very few treat art seriously. There are those who treat it solemnly, and will continue to write poetic pastiches of Euripides and Shakespeare; and there are others who treat it as a joke.79

To take poetic art seriously is to take it neither wholly solemnly nor wholly jokingly. If a straight face is too tight-lipped, a giggle is too safe (a sound that doesn’t have the courage to graduate to full laughter). A few years later, turning on what he perceived as the lack of ‘philosophical faculty’ in English poets, George Orwell felt emboldened to claim that ‘Literature, especially poetry, and lyric poetry most of all, is a kind of family joke, with little or no value outside its own language-group’.80 Maybe, although one way to treat poetry as something other than a joke is to listen out for the jokes that poems might be making, and to attend to them not as evasions of thought, but as the un-doings (and re-doings) of thinking. Eliot’s challenge is still being issued in different forms. Geoffrey Hill’s enduring admiration for Ken Dodd, for example, could be set alongside his

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claim, in the final poem of his final book, that ‘The glory of poetry is that it is solemn, | Racked with anarchic laughter’.81 The anarchism of laughter – the sense of the affect as something that can’t be wholly accounted for (or held to account) – is what strikes the modern note. Three hundred years before Hill’s comment, Addison ended one of his Spectator papers by bringing the following testimony against Hobbes: The Metaphor of Laughing, applied to Fields and Meadows when they are in Flower, or to Trees when they are in Blossom, runs through all Languages . . . This shews that we naturally regard Laughter, as what is in itself both amiable and beautiful.82

There are certainly moments like this in modern poetry, but the beautiful isn’t always so tameable or amiable. Take the moment when Wordsworth recalls: The Sea was laughing at a distance83

Or the moment when Elizabeth Bishop notices: all the trees laughed at some joke84

Or the moment when John Ashbery observes: laughter danced in the dim fields beyond the schoolhouse: It was existence again in all its tautness85

We are not being invited to think that the landscape is simply echoing the poets’ moods. The sea’s ‘distance’, along with ‘some’ joke, and those dim fields in all their ‘beyond’-ness, are not merely pathetic fallacies or straightforward extensions of what ‘we naturally regard’. They flash into the writing as mysterious forces, tell of an energy which is laughingly not under the poets’ control but which they would harness as an influence on – and a figure for – their own work. Like the peculiar sounds and operations of poetry, laughter is apprehended as the herald of unfinished business. The last laugh – or the next-to-last laugh – can go to Roy Fisher, who ends his poem ‘Toyland’ with lines that bring together the features of laughable poetry as I’ve adumbrated, or entertained, or invented them here: as a form of detachment or disinterestedness that nonetheless feels like a commitment to a certain way of being in the world; as a making (or ‘making much’) of something in order to make nothing happen in a new way; and as a confession of bewilderment that feels curiously like a bequest. Watching people go about their daily business, and ‘loving it all’, the poet observes:


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The secret laugh of the world picks them up and shakes them like peas boiling; They behave as if nothing happened; maybe they no longer notice. I notice. I laugh with the laugh, cultivate it, make much of it, But still don’t know what the joke is, to tell them.86

Notes 1. Humphry Davy, Researches, Chemical and Philosophical; Chiefly Concerning Nitrous Oxide (London: Johnson, 1800), 460, 488. 2. Davy, Researches, 505, 496, and 501. 3. ‘The Pneumatic Revellers: An Eclogue’, in The Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine, 6 (May 1800), 113. 4. I explore this matter – and others discussed in this essay – in more detail in Wordsworth’s Fun (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2019). 5. Davy, Researches, 489, 524. 6. Davy, Researches, 494–5. 7. Luigi Pirandello, On Humor, trans. Antonio Illiano and Daniel P. Testa (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1960), 94. 8. John Keats, The Letters of John Keats, ed. Hyder Edward Rollins, 2 vols (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), ii. 174. 9. See John Bayley, ‘Keats and the Genius of Parody’, Essays in Criticism, 43:2 (April 1993), 112–22. 10. Friedrich Schlegel, Philosophical Fragments, trans. Peter Firchow (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), 26 (fragment no. 69). 11. John Keats, ‘Welcome joy, and welcome sorrow’, in Complete Poems, ed. Jack Stillinger (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 171. 12. Keats, Letters, i. 192. 13. Pirandello, On Humor, 118. 14. Keats, Letters, ii. 79. 15. Hobbes, Leviathan (1651), ed. Richard Tuck, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 43. 16. Coleridge, Table Talk, ed. Carl Woodring, 2 vols (London and Princeton: Routledge and Princeton University Press), i. 428. 17. Coleridge, The Complete Poems, ed. William Keach (London: Penguin, 2004), 147. 18. Coleridge, Poems, 165. 19. Charles Burney [unsigned review], Monthly Review (June 1799), reproduced in Wordsworth: The Critical Heritage, ed. Robert Woof (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 2001), 75. 20. James Beattie, Essays on Poetry and Music, as They Affect the Mind; On Laughter and Ludicrous Composition; On the Usefulness of Classical Learning (London: Dilly, 1779), 324, 319. 21. William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in The Complete Poems, ed. W. H. Stevenson (Harlow: Pearson Longman, 2007), 114.

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22. Lord Byron, The Major Works, ed. Jerome J. McGann (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 681, 519. 23. John Keats, ‘Why did I laugh tonight?’, in Complete Poems, 243. 24. See Stephen Halliwell, Greek Laughter: A Study of Cultural Psychology from Homer to Early Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 18–30. For discussion of this issue in Roman culture, see Mary Beard, Laughter in Ancient Rome: On Joking, Tickling, and Cracking Up (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2014). 25. Gentleman’s Magazine, 37 (1767), 75. 26. See Ronald Paulson, Don Quixote in England: The Aesthetics of Laughter (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998). For an excellent history of changing theories of comedy, humor, and laughter in this period, see Stuart Tave, The Amiable Humorist: A Study of Comic Theory and Criticism of the 18th and Early 19th Centuries (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1960). 27. Friedrich Schiller, ‘On Naïve and Sentimental Poetry’, in H.B. Nisbet (ed.), German Aesthetic and Literary Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 177–233. 28. Carlyle, ‘Schiller’ (1831), in The Works of Thomas Carlyle, ed. H.D. Traill, 30 vols (London: Chapman & Hall, 1896–99), xxvii. 200–1. 29. George Eliot, ‘German Wit: Heinrich Heine’, in Selected Essays, Poems, and Other Writings, eds A.S. Byatt and Nicholas Warren (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990), 70. 30. Walter Pater, ‘Charles Lamb’, reproduced in Selected Writings of Walter Pater, ed. Harold Bloom (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1974), 170. 31. Cited in Claire Harman, Robert Louis Stevenson: A Biography (London: Harper Perennial, 2005), 278, 77. 32. Charles Baudelaire, in Selected Writings on Art and Literature, ed. and trans. P.E. Charvet (London: Penguin, 2006), 152. 33. Sigmund Freud, The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious, trans. Joyce Crick (London: Penguin, 2002), 92, 99. 34. Henri Bergson, Laughter, reproduced in Comedy, ed. Wylie Sypher (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), 63, 73. 35. Harold Nicolson, The English Sense of Humour and Other Essays (London: Constable, 1956), 17–18. 36. Helmuth Plessner, Laughing and Crying: A Study of the Limits of Human Behavior, trans. James Spencer Churchill and Marjorie Grene (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1970), 79, 112–13. 37. Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, ed. Jerome Loving (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 202. 38. It’s noteworthy that in Thoughts on Laughter (London: William Pickering, 1830), Basil Montagu thought it necessary to devote half his book to discussion of the ‘Uses of Laughter’. 39. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, ed. Margaret Reynolds (New York, NY: Norton, 1996), 75.


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40. Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, 32. 41. Elizabeth Barrett Browning: 21st-Century Oxford Authors, eds Josie Billington and Philip Davis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 473–4. 42. Hartley Coleridge, Poems (London: Baldwin and Cradock, 1833), 108. 43. Byron, Beppo, in Major Works, 330. 44. Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgement (1790), trans. Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 209. 45. Shelley, ‘To A Skylark’, in Major Works, ed. Michael O’Neill (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 466. 46. Jean Ingelow, ‘Echo and The Ferry’, in Poems of the Old Days and the New (Boston, MA: Roberts Brothers, 1885), 43. 47. Thomas Hood, ‘Preface to National Tales’, in The Works of Thomas Hood, ed. Thomas Hood, Jr. and E.E. Brodernip, 10 vols (London: Moxon, 1869–73), v. 321. 48. Robert R. Provine, Laughter: A Scientific Investigation (London: Faber & Faber, 2000), 61–7. 49. Elizabeth Bishop, ‘The Wit’, in Poems, Prose, and Letters, eds Robert Giroux and Lloyd Schwartz (New York, NY: Library of America, 2008), 198. 50. Cited in Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker, The Complete Correspondence, ed. Joelle Biele (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2011), 171. 51. David Appelbaum, ‘The Laugh’, in Voice (New York, NY: State University of New York Press, 1990), 23. 52. See, for instance, W.H. Auden’s introduction to his Oxford Book of Light Verse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1938). For a far-reaching argument about the centrality of nonsense to modern poetics, see Hugh Haughton’s introduction to The Chatto Book of Nonsense Poetry (London: Chatto & Windus, 1990). 53. Hazlitt, ‘My First Acquaintance with Poets’ (1823), in The Complete Works of William Hazlitt, ed. P.P. Howe, 21 vols (London: Dent, 1930–34), xvii. 118. 54. G.K. Chesterton, The Victorian Age in Literature (1913; reproduced, Denton: Brynmill Press, 2001), 100. 55. The Poems of Tennyson, ed. Christopher Ricks (London: Longmans, 1969), 359. 56. John Wilson Croker, ‘Poems by Alfred Tennyson’, Quarterly Review, 49 (Spring 1833), 84. 57. Tennyson, cited in The Works of Tennyson [Eversley Edition], ed. Hallam Tennyson, 9 vols (London: Macmillan, 1908–10), i. 101–2. 58. Shelley, A Defence of Poetry, in Major Works, 680. 59. Tennyson, Poems, 415–17. 60. Bergson, Laughter, reproduced in Comedy, 64. 61. Tennyson, Poems, 792. 62. Ibid. 788. 63. Ronald de Sousa, The Rationality of Emotion (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1987), 282. 64. The word can be found as part of the subtitle of earlier works. See, for example, Henry Fielding, The entertaining and curious history and adventures

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65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71.



74. 75.



of Joseph Andrews, and his friend Mr. Abraham Adams: containing many curious and laughable adventures, calculated to provoke mirth and merriment (1775 edition). Edward Lear, The Complete Nonsense and Other Verse, ed. Vivien Noakes (London: Penguin, 2006), 420. Lamb, ‘On the Genius and Character of Hogarth’, in Charles Lamb: Selected Prose, ed. Adam Phillips (London: Penguin Classics, 2013), 35. Coleridge, Biographia Literaria (1817), in The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: 7, eds James Engell and Walter Jackson Bate, 2 vols (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), ii. 185. Hazlitt, Lectures on the English Comic Writers, in Complete Works, vi. 35. Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the LookingGlass, ed. Hugh Haughton (London: Penguin, 2003), 134. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Judith Norman, eds Peter Horstmann and Judith Norman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 175. See, for example, The Humor of Kierkegaard: An Anthology, ed. Thomas C. Oden (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004); and John Morreall (ed.), The Philosophy of Laughter and Humor (New York, NY: State University of New York Press, 1987), 51–64. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Culture and Value, ed. G.H. Von Wright, trans. Peter Winch (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 24. For a range of translations of – and commentary on – this claim, see Marjorie Perloff, ‘Writing Philosophy as Poetry: Wittgenstein’s Literary Syntax’, in Volker Munz, Klaus Puhl, and Joseph Wang (eds), Signs, Minds, and Actions (Rutgers, NJ: Transaction, 2010), 279. Cited in Norman Malcolm, Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958), 29. See also Eric Griffiths, ‘Ludwig Wittgenstein and the Comedy of Errors’, in Michael Cordner, Peter Holland and John Kerrigan (eds), English Comedy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994). Walter Benjamin, ‘The Author as Producer’ (1933), in Selected Writings, ed. Michael W. Jennings et al., trans. Howard Eiland et al., 4 vols (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996–2003), i. 160. Theoretical discussions of jokes, comedy, and laughter I’ve found especially suggestive, all published in the last decade or so, include Paulo Virno, ‘Jokes and Innovative Action’, in Multitude: Between Innovation and Negation, trans. Isabella Bertoletti, James Cascaito, and Andrea Casson (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2007), Alenka Zupančič, The Odd One In: On Comedy (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2008), Anca Parvulescu, Laughter: Notes on A Passion (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2010), and Catherine Conybeare, the Laughter of Sarah: Biblical Exegesis, Feminist Theory, and the Concept of Delight (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). See Bataille: A Critical Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 149–51, and Parvulescu, Laughter, 85.


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77. T. S. Eliot, ‘Suite Clownesque’, in Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909–1917, ed. Christopher Ricks (New York: Harcourt Bruce, 1996), 32–8. 78. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (London: Faber & Faber, 1933), 32, 154. 79. Eliot, ‘The Possibility of a Poetic Drama’ (1920), in The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (1920; reproduced London: Faber & Faber, 1997), 58. 80. George Orwell, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius’ (1941), in My Country Right or Left, 1940–1943, in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (London: Secker & Warburg, 1969), ii. 66. 81. Geoffrey Hill, Al Tempo de’ Tremuoti, in Broken Hierarchies: Poems 1952–2012, ed. Kenneth Haynes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 935. 82. Joseph Addison, The Spectator no. 249 (15 December 1711); reproduced in The Idea of Comedy: Essays in Prose and Verse, Ben Jonson to Meredith, ed. W.K. Wimsatt (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969), 107–8. 83. Wordsworth, The Prelude (Book IV, l. 333), in William Wordsworth, ed. Stephen Gill (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 356. 84. Bishop, ‘Once on a Hill I Met a Man’, in Poems, 205. 85. John Ashbery, ‘The Big Cloud’, in April Galleons (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984), 58–9. 86. Roy Fisher, ‘Toyland’, in The Dow Low Drop: New and Selected Poems (Newcastle: Bloodaxe, 1996), 72.

chapter 13

Modernism, Formal Innovation, and Affect in some Contemporary Irish Novels Derek Attridge

I. The relation between formal innovation in works of literature and readers’ affective responses has not been the subject of wide discussion. Modernism, as Julie Taylor notes in her introduction to the collection Modernism and Affect1, has often been characterised as ‘cold, hard and cerebral’ in contrast to the Victorian penchant for sentiment that it was challenging. Laura Frost is being uncontroversial when she refers to the ‘daunting, onerous, and demanding reading practices’ required to wrest pleasure from modernist texts, and asserts that ‘modernism’s signature formal rhetorics, including irony, fragmentation, indirection, and allusiveness, are a parallel means of promoting a particularly knotty, arduous reading effect’.2 Many modernist writers themselves emphasised their control of emotion, T. S. Eliot only being the most prominent. Moreover, the influential attack on the so-called ‘affective fallacy’ by W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley3 meant that the practitioners of New Criticism, who found in modernist texts the ideal material for their analyses, were wary of talking about emotional response.4 And it is commonly assumed that the reader faced with sentences that require unusual effort, language that fails to conform to its own norms, and narratives that defy generic expectations is too busy carrying out the necessary intellectual deciphering to experience an emotional reaction to the text. By contrast with famously unsentimental modernist writing, the argument goes, it is the realist techniques developed by Victorian novelists (and their counterparts in other linguistic traditions) and carried into the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries that provide readers with finely-drawn characters whose narrated experiences arouse strong empathetic responses.5 Among philosophers concerned with literature and affect, few treat questions of form at any length, though one exception is Jenefer 249


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Robinson, who, in Deeper than Reason, argues that literary form acts as a ‘coping device’, allowing the reader to deal with painful emotion in a way that produces pleasure.6 (There are echoes here of Wordsworth’s account of metre in the Preface to Lyrical Ballads.) The closest Robinson comes to an analysis of innovative formal devices is in a brief mention of Robert Coover’s short story ‘The Babysitter’, of which she writes: [F]orm is so foregrounded that almost our every response is controlled and managed by the master manipulator who relates the story. Our ordinary emotional processes have very little chance of getting going before they are nipped in the bud by assertive reminders that the (implied) author is firmly in command and that readers are responding to an artfully constructed story that celebrates not life but the supremacy of form and structure. The story is more like a hall of mirrors than a slice of life. Postmodern stories of this sort may still appeal to our emotions in a sense – they can be funny or disturbing – but the emotions evoked are managed to such a high degree that we are mainly aware as we read of the cognitive pleasures of intellectualizing and distancing than of the rewards of deep emotional engagement with the characters or situations described. (228)

I doubt if every reader finds the sex and violence in Coover’s story as evacuated of emotional impact as Robinson does, but it’s not unreasonable to assume that conspicuous formal devices invite an intellectual engagement that masks or dulls any potential affective response. Paige Reynolds has a similar view of the effect of the formal innovations of Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing7 (to which we shall return): ‘McBride’s use of modernism offers a prophylactic from intense absorption, keeping us at bay with its difficulty, its obfuscations, its knowing invocations of literary tradition’.8 The question I am posing, then, is this: is it possible to use innovative formal devices inherited from modernist writing in the service of, rather than as a distraction from, literary works’ emotional power?

II. In order to explore this question, something needs to be said about the amorphous body of ‘affect theory’. I say ‘amorphous’ because no single, coherent theoretical argument has emerged from the flurry of writing over the past twenty years to which this label has been attached.9 Since my interest is in the way writers use the resources of language to evoke emotional responses in readers, I don’t wish to theorise about the psychology of affect or to erect yet another scheme attempting to distinguish

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among the related but slippery terms emotion, affect, and feeling.10 (I will use all three more-or-less interchangeably.) One major branch of affect studies seems to me to offer very little to my own project: the theory of affects as pre-cognitive and pre-linguistic – and even pre-subjective – derived from Deleuze and Guattari, and from their readings of Spinoza and Bergson.11 The common-sense view that emotion is both physiological and mental, with a constantly operative relay between the two, seems to me the most useful: if I freeze with fright at the sudden appearance of a figure in my bedroom the physiological is primary, but when I read a scary passage in The Mysteries of Udolpho it’s my mind that communicates fear to my body. As many affect theorists have emphasised, feelings are not private and subjective but socially and historically produced, and hence as amenable – in principle, at least – to analysis as formal features or material conditions.12 Individual responses, such as those I report in this essay, are the reflex of much wider norms, though of course they can always be challenged if they appear to others to be idiosyncratic. In discussing affect in a literary context, one distinction that is crucial to keep clear is that between the representation and the eliciting of emotion: the former involves the emotions experienced by the characters in the fictional world and, sometimes, by the narrator of the fiction; the latter the emotions experienced by the reader. Although the reader’s feelings are often an empathetic echo of the character’s or the narrator’s, it is equally possible for the two emotional registers to be very different. Think of all those moments when a character is heading, in blissful ignorance, into a trap that the reader has been made aware of: when the events are related by a neutral narrator the experience of fearful apprehension is the reader’s alone, a feeling heightened by the absence of fear on the part of the character. Conversely, we often perceive the emotions being experienced by characters or narrator without feeling them ourselves. This may seem an obvious point to make, but it’s surprising how much writing about affect and literature remains unclear as to the location of the emotions being discussed.13 We also hear occasionally about the expression of emotion, with the implication that the task of the writer is to feel strongly, and then encode those feelings in language so that the reader experiences them in turn. This may be a true account of how some literary works get written, but it’s certainly not a generalisable one. A more likely scenario is that when the writer becomes the reader of her own work during the process of composition she experiences feelings in the same way as her future readers will do – though the feelings aroused by works of art are not identical to the feelings


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aroused by events in our lives. The sorrow we may feel at Cordelia’s death is related to, but not the same as, the sorrow we would feel at the loss of a daughter.14 My interest, then, is in the use of literary techniques both to represent and to elicit emotion. The work of literature is not an object to be interpreted but an event experienced by a reader – and an important part of that experience is the changing complex of feelings it arouses. However, the terms we have at our disposal to describe such feelings are extremely limited; it’s part of the power of literature that it can affect our bodies and minds in ways that exceed our descriptive powers.15 In discussing some exemplary passages of formally experimental fiction I hope to show the strength but also the elusiveness of the affective power they possess.

III. In 2013, a literary prize was established by Goldsmiths, University of London, ‘to celebrate the qualities of creative daring associated with the University and to reward fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form’.16 Of the five winners so far, three have been Irish: Eimear McBride in 2013, for A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing; Kevin Barry in 2015, for Beatlebone;17 and Mike McCormack in 2016 for Solar Bones.18 These authors have all made clear the importance to them of the earlier achievements of Irish modernism. McCormack expresses it clearly: In Ireland, our pinnacle, our Mount Rushmore, is the Father, Son and Holy Ghost: James Joyce, Flann O’Brien and Samuel Beckett. And it feels like we’re digesting their legacy. I don’t know if it’s something about being able to see them clearly now, but people are no longer afraid to name-check the three masters. My generation were a bit wary of picking up the challenge those old fellows had laid down for us. Now I see it not as a challenge, but a license. Beckett and Joyce and Flann are giving me the quest: go forth and experiment.19

Barry has commented, ‘I love the radical streak – Beckett and Joyce and Flann O’Brien were happy to go nuts on the page and be inventive’,20 and when he was asked whether he included ‘Beckettian and Joycean moments’ in Beatlebone deliberately, he replied: ‘Very often they’ll come in without your quite knowing it. Irish writing has this wonderful reputation, and so much of it is built on the work of three writers: Beckett and Joyce and Flann O’Brien in the first half of the 20th century’.21 And McBride’s

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anecdote about her initial inspiration for A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is well-known but worth repeating: Joyce really set my universe on its end. Reading Ulysses changed everything I thought about language, and everything I understood about what a book could do. I was on a train on the way to a boring temp job when I was about 25; I got on at Tottenham, north London, and opened the first page of Ulysses. When I got off at Liverpool Street in central London, I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say the entire course of my life had changed.22

It is partly their clear allegiance to the modernism of the first half of the twentieth century that leads me to use the same term for McCormack, Barry and McBride; we could call them late modernists or metamodernists, but I would hesitate to call them post-modernists, given the association of that label with a playful, free-wheeling, deliberately depthless, recycling of assorted styles – though, finally, I don’t think the labels matter. These three writers have accepted the challenge laid down by their modernist predecessors, and have shown that it is possible to create highly successful fiction that, though it may be unimaginable without the earlier example of the Irish modernists, breaks open new ground in the writing of fiction. All three of the novels I’ve mentioned in reviews have been described as ‘moving’; I’m asking whether this quality is achieved by means of or in spite of their formal and linguistic innovations.

IV. Kevin Barry was known as the author of two accomplished collections of short stories and a frankly weird novel, City of Bohane (2011), depicting gang warfare in a dystopian future, when, in 2015, Beatlebone appeared. Its formal peculiarities are many, including stretches of minimalist dialogue scattered over the page without even Joyce’s initial dash to indicate speech; unannounced shifts of time and space; sections set out as playtexts; a sixpage monologue with no punctuation other than question marks and dashes; and a twenty-eight-page section detailing the author’s own adventures in researching for the book (an account that may also be fictional, of course) and some of the fruits of those researches. The background described in that section concerns John Lennon’s purchase in 1967 of a small island in Clew Bay, on the west coast of Ireland, his two visits to it in that same year and in the following year, and the alternative communities who lived on islands in the bay in the 1970s. The main narrative of the novel imagines a third visit by Lennon, now aged thirty-seven, in 1978,


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in the hope of rekindling his apparently extinguished creative energies. (Lennon fans will know that the period 1975–1980 was a fallow one in his creative career, a period during which his life revolved around Yoko Ono and their young son.) Two types of writing dominate the novel: a narrative of Lennon’s actions, thoughts, and feelings, slipping easily into free indirect discourse from time to time and maintaining the character’s perspective on the world; and dialogues between him and Cornelius O’Grady, his irrepressibly mordant driver, boatman, and guide to the strange world of Clew Bay. These dialogues are for the most part brilliant comedy, though they often have a tinge of melancholy: they clearly owe a great deal to Flann O’Brien, and particularly to the conversational preposterousness of Sergeant Pluck in The Third Policeman (1967). When the narrative focus is on John – he is called by his first name throughout these passages – the tone varies considerably, but one of the achievements of the novel is to convey, through all its variations in style, the array of conflicting emotions that has driven the stalled artist to this apparently crazy expedition. (Late in the novel, John is asked ‘what class of feelings’ he is having, and his reply is ‘Very fucking complicated ones’ (258)). The stylistic diversions play their part in keeping a sense of imaginative creativity alive during a period of despondency, and the reader’s response is likely to be a mixture of empathetic recognition of the condition of creative blockage and amused contemplation of the absurdity of the events and conversations. It’s not possible to select a ‘representative’ passage, since there are so many different styles in the novel, but let me take one that illustrates both the waywardness of the narrative and the affective complexity it induces at a turning point in the story. John has fetched up, thanks to Cornelius, in the Amethyst Hotel on Achill Island, to the north of the bay, which is occupied by a community devoted to a version of primal scream therapy (a practice that John Lennon and Yoko Ono had themselves engaged in for a while). After a section titled ‘The Rants’ and modelled on the playtext form of Joyce’s ‘Circe’ episode, the style reverts to a close-up portrayal of John’s inner world as he escapes from the hotel in the early morning and finds a cave on the shore to hide in. He is there all day and all night, and reaches some kind of accommodation with his situation and his past, memories of which have been haunting him and threatening to drown him in sentimental recollection. The agent of this accommodation is a seal, which appears in the cave during the night and starts a conversation:

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There is a hard splash as the water splits, and the great sleek head shows, and the dapper spindles of the moustache, and the long fat body works its muscles onto the rocks. It sidles up to the cave’s entry – hello? – and pokes a sober look inside. The sad doleful eyes; the night caller; the seal. There is a moment of sweet calm as their eyes lock on each other’s. Alright? he says. Alright, John, the seal says. (181–2)

If the reader has retained his suspension of disbelief to any degree during the unlikely events that precede this moment, the last shreds are surely now blown away. The deadpan presentation of an absurd and impossible event is, first of all, comic, but it is also oddly moving as a kind of wish fulfilment at this point in John’s creative life, a dream of communication that anyone will recognise who has been looked at by a seal’s ‘sad doleful eyes’. One way of understanding the seal’s intervention is that it is the emergence of another part of the self, an interpretation strengthened when we learn that the animal has a Liverpool accent. But the animal is less prone to sentimentality than John, who has been reciting to himself the numbers of the Liverpool buses and recalling the ‘rainsome air and the steam of a caff’. It admonishes him: Reality, John, tends not to hang around. A lonely bloody suburb in 1955 – it’s gone – and the rattle of the train for Central under your bony arse – it’s gone – and the smell of the sweat and the red raw of the acne and a tumble in the Formby dunes – it’s gone – and her with a kisser on that tastes of salt and Bovril . . . He hadn’t remembered the Bovril tang – a strange seal this. . . . and all of it, John? It’s all got the same weight as a bloody dream. So what’s left that’s real? This, the seal says. Where you’re sat just now. The clouds drift to hide the moon; the cave darkens. A pool of silence is allowed to open. (185)

This is an example in which the reader is invited, with the assistance of the present tense, to share the affective experience of the character to some degree, though John’s response to the talking seal is more matter-of-fact than the reader’s. The message that the seal brings would be trite if spelled out in conventional terms, but the novelty of the situation and the vividness with


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which memories are presented even while their reality is being denied make this, for me at least, a passage that works in subtle ways on the emotions. The feelings aroused by knowledge of the pastness of the past at the same time as a registering of its lasting power are both negative and positive – what we might call, if it weren’t a cliché, bittersweet emotions. The very specificity of the visual, tactile, audible, olfactory, and gustatory memories evoked by the seal testify to that power, though the oddity of the seal’s superior memory contributes to the strangeness of the scene – just what part of John’s consciousness or unconscious does the seal speak from? And while it’s true that there is something Hollywoodish about the clouds drifting over the moon at just the right moment, the darkness and the silence are necessary to signal that the seal’s hard truth is sinking in. A short while after this encounter, John is seized with the idea of a new album.

V. While Barry’s novel swings, Joyce-like, from style to style, the other two novels I’m looking at, Solar Bones and A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing, remain stylistically consistent from beginning to end. Mike McCormack, like Barry, has published two collections of short stories: Getting It in the Head (1996) contains some early examples of his stylistic inventiveness and liking for bizarre narratives; Forensic Songs (2012) is stylistically more conventional, but still dark. In between, McCormack published two novels, Crowe’s Requiem (1998) and Notes from a Coma (2005). The former rather awkwardly mixes magic realism with a tale of a lonely heart, but the latter achieves a much more controlled juxtaposition between, at the top of the page, a series of voices telling the story of a Romanian orphan’s unusual life in Ireland, and at the bottom a running commentary on the events of the narrative from an unidentifiable voice or voices, sometimes clinically exact, sometimes lyrical. The Goldsmiths Prize-winning novel is different again; as the reviewers liked to observe with due awe, it consists of a single sentence running across its 224 pages.23 For this work, McCormack has devised a style that looks forbidding on the page but is in fact highly readable – we realise quite quickly that we don’t need the stop and start of sentence endings and beginnings as conjunctions will do quite as well. Unlike Molly Bloom’s monologue, which this style superficially resembles, we don’t have to mentally insert the full stops that make the language comprehensible. McCormack has made reading progress easier by inserting paragraph breaks on every page, sometimes several, sometimes just one or two; apart from any local effects achieved by these breaks, they enable the reading eye to remain

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aware of its place on the page. A solid page of prose such as occurs occasionally in Beatlebone and A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing – and of course in Molly Bloom’s monologue – is, for purely physiological reasons, more of a challenge. Sometimes a paragraph break in McCormack’s text contributes to the articulation of the sense or the evocation of emotion; sometimes it coincides with a syntactic break or a change of speaker; sometimes it occurs in the middle of a grammatical unit. McCormack can thus avail himself of some of the resources of free verse, as we shall see. The novel is a long series of reminiscences and meditations by an Irish engineer, Marcus Conway, while he stands and sits in the kitchen of his house outside Louisburgh, County Mayo, on 2 November, All Souls Day, 2009.24 There is no conventional narrative, but there are gripping accounts of significant episodes of Marcus’s life as a father and an engineer, and harrowing descriptions of his wife’s suffering from cryptosporidiosis, a virus derived from human waste that lodges in the digestive tract – and one contracted, along with many other victims, as a result of civic incompetence. (This is only one of the signs of a disintegrating world that these recollections chart.) And it is intensely moving – at least one reviewer confessed being reduced to tears near the end of the book. However, it’s not easy to give names to the emotions that are likely to be aroused during the reading of Solar Bones. Past experiences involving powerful feelings are related, but they are now looked back on from a present in which Marcus is no longer a passionate participant in the urgent affairs of life. Although some of the book articulates strong condemnation of the corrupt political practices and shoddy engineering that for Marcus have darkened the world in which he has lived, the anger is mediated by the distance implied in this retrospective gaze. The evenness of the run-on sentence contributes to this sense of muted emotion: no utterance is allowed to fully complete itself before the language is moving on to the next one, and the breaks on the page ask to be crossed by the voice because of the grammatical continuity. There are therefore few moments of climactic culmination, such as powerful feeling seems to demand: climaxes, instead of arresting the narrative, become part of its onward current. Let me look at one moment of strong emotion, recalled by Marcus as he thinks back to the artistic career of his daughter Agnes. He and his wife have attended the opening of Agnes’s show in Galway, for which she has covered the walls of the gallery with texts taken from newspaper reports of criminal court cases written out in a red substance, which Marcus gradually realises is his daughter’s own blood. His response is not what we might expect:


derek attridge . . . Agnes’s blood was now our common element, the medium in which we stood and breathed so that even as she was witness-in-chief, spreading out the indictment which, however broad and extravagant it may be on rhetorical flourish, however geographically and temporally far-flung it might be, the whole thing ultimately dovetailed down to a specific source and point which was, as I saw it me nothing and no one else but me plain as day up there on the walls and in the sweep of each word and line, I was the force beneath, driving it in waves up to the ceiling and it was clear to me through that uncanny voice which now sounded in my heart, a voice all the clearer for being so choked and distant, telling me that I did this I was responsible for this whatever it was definitely something bad and not to my credit because only real guilt could account for that mewling sense of fright which took hold of me there in the middle of that room, something of it returning to me now sitting here at this table that same cramping flash within me which twisted some part of me … (44)

For a moment, the relative calm with which Marcus surveys his past is broken as he relives the feeling of guilt his daughter’s artwork produced in him and reexperiences something of the physical pain that hit him at that moment. But what are the reader’s feelings? I can only speak for myself, of course, not having undertaken a survey of reader responses. I find I share something of the unease experienced by the viewers in the gallery at the thought of pints of Agnes’s blood being collected and used as ink, but the prose doesn’t attempt to elicit a visceral response to the artwork itself; the focus is all on Marcus’s extraordinary reaction, as he takes his daughter’s creation to be a reflection of some horror in her own life and consequently as an indictment of his own treatment of her as a father. The breaks in the sentence underline this focus on personal responsibility: the isolated ‘me’, twice, and the separate lines for ‘I did this’ and ‘I was responsible for this’ – all the more effective in the context of the continuities of the prose. I as reader can’t feel any of Marcus’s powerful emotion, but rather feel something like compassion for this man so unsure of his own relationship with his daughter in the past and now so tortured by the memory – even though the subsequent meeting with his wife and daughter put his fears to rest.

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McCormack could have written this passage, and the book, in conventional sentences, and the result would certainly have communicated complex emotions to the reader to some degree. But it is McCormack’s handling of English syntax that imparts a unique affective quality to the writing: he takes advantage of the many ways in which an utterance can be prolonged, sometimes bending the rules though seldom leaving the reader uncertain as to meaning, in order to capture the incessant onrush of thought and emotion peculiar to the situation in which Marcus finds himself (an unusual situation revealed at the end of the novel). In the quoted passage we begin with something like a main clause with subject and predicate: ‘Agnes’s blood was now our common element’; this is followed by a noun in apposition to ‘blood’ – ‘the medium’ – itself followed by a relative clause, ‘in which we stood and breathed’. Then there is a conjunction (‘so that’) leading to a new main clause (‘the whole thing ultimately dovetailed down to a specific source and point’), but separated from that clause by an adverbial clause (‘even as she was witness-in-chief’) qualified by an adjectival phrase (‘which, spreading out the indictment’) which is in turn modified by two adverbial clauses (‘however broad and extravagant it might be on rhetorical flourish’; ‘however geographically and temporally far-flung it might be’) that also seem to lead to ‘the whole thing’ and thence to the climactic ‘me’. And ‘me’ is only a momentary stopping point; it is immediately further specified and elaborated on as the language rolls forward. If the reader felt it necessary to parse every phrase, the intellectual effort would certainly inhibit the affective response; however, the slightly indeterminate nature of the grammatical relationships allows for unimpeded reading and the evocation of a sequence of shifting emotions that invite an equally delicate affective play on the reader’s part.

VI. If reviewers reported themselves moved, and occasionally brought to tears, by Beatlebone and Solar Bones, the emotional responses recorded in accounts of Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing were of a different quality: ‘wrenching’, ‘emotionally overwhelming’, ‘raw and devastating’, ‘visceral’, are some of the terms used. ‘It explodes into your chest’, wrote one earlier reviewer. Announcing the winner of the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize, Tim Parnell said of the work: ‘If ever a novel gave the lie


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to the notion that formal inventiveness necessarily precludes feeling, it is this one’.25 Yet of the three novels, this is the one that takes most liberties with the English language and the conventions of the novel. At the opposite extreme from McCormack’s continuous sentence, McBride’s prose is truncated, sliced, spliced, shredded; sentences are either chopped into fragments or run together. The story the novel tells is of a sister’s love for a brother as the one sustaining element in a life wrecked on the shoals of male sexual appetites, starting at the age of thirteen at the urging of a forty-one-year-old uncle, and thereafter, and in consequence, with boys at her school and later with men, so many men, mostly anonymous and uncaring. When the brother – there are no names in the novel – dies after a recurrence of the brain tumour that had first been operated on when he was a baby, the girl’s self-destructive sexual encounters reach a new pitch and the desire to live abandons her. Writing that invites an emotional response from the reader occurs on almost every page, and once more this response is a complex combination of feelings that resists simple labelling. We feel sympathy for the exploited girl, anger at those who mistreat her, dismay at her selfdestructiveness, and horror at some of the things that happen to her. But it’s not the events of the narrative alone that elicit the comments I’ve quoted, I believe, painful though they are, but the language in which these events are related. The most viscerally affecting passages in the novel deal with sex, none of it of a pleasurable nature. (In her second novel, The Lesser Bohemians (2016), McBride uses a related technique to describe much more positively experienced sex.) The passage I am going to quote is by no means one of the most graphic. Devastated by her brother’s death, the girl leaves the house at night for the place where she expects to find a man who earlier had violent sex with her; he is there, and the coitus that follows is more brutal than any of the earlier encounters – something that is reflected in the way the very words themselves are damaged and uppercase letters erupt in unexpected places. The text becomes literally unreadable (though McBride makes a good attempt in her audio performance of the book), our struggle with the words, one might say, becomes part of our physiological response to the episode – emotion experienced in the gut as much as the brain. Home again, the girl’s uncle finds her in the bathroom and insists on sex, which she tries unsuccessfully to resist. This passage follows, a sequence of thoughts presented, like the entire novel, in the present tense, in which she continues to address her dead brother as ‘you’:

Modernism, Formal Innovation, and Affect


i go i off to the room where i lie and lie down on my face. Think of this. Did i give him all he asked for then? Mouth tasting of sick. Eye back in my head. A burning stomach. A body wet from the rain. It did tonight I remember. I recall. Wet and freezing. No it. Did it? I. Give it to him if he wanted it. I don’t. I think he did. Fuck the. I’m the girl. Did that is that love to me. I’m. Spite and spit and sick. That’s me that was. Is now. What me? In the layers of make-up? In the smear on his shirt? In the cold pocket between my legs? Where do I live? Where am. Someone he can see and cut into. Good to be. Butter and knife. No. What he takes. What he takes is the what there is of me. Now you’ve. I thought was nothing left. Now you’ve. How he knows it. He knows it is there for the beating the stealing the. I. Some place around that. No. I am there. Now you’ve. I. What’s it like in the silence when. You. I. Where. I. Hello. Hello. Is he are you there? Ssssss. There? I’m only here in my bones and flesh. Now you’ve gone away. (198)

As we have seen, Paige Reynolds has argued that the fragmented style of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing acts to reduce our emotional involvement in the narrative. Here is a fuller extract from her argument, which deserves careful consideration: Reynolds does not deny the work’s powerful emotional impact, but doesn’t see the modernist techniques as contributing to it: The shocking and lurid details accompanying the disturbing sexual encounters recounted throughout A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing confirm that McBride is not seeking in this novel to perform modernist impersonality. However, by adeptly adopting and adapting so many elements of modernist form, she does offer a buffer for her readers. McBride’s use of modernism offers a prophylactic from intense absorption, keeping us at bay with its difficulty, its obfuscations, its knowing invocations of literary tradition. Strikingly, this tactic is in dialogue with her endeavor through graphic portrayals of all varieties of transgressive sex (among other unsettling moments in the protagonist’s life) to pull us into the narrative. [. . .] The armature of modernist intertextuality provides readers protection from identifying too closely with the protagonist’s abnegation. It thwarts our readerly empathy, engaging our intellects even as our emotions are pulled into the suffering of this young woman. By interjecting these overtly modernist formal maneuvers, McBride provides the reader, though not her character, the protections afforded by the literary, and by language.

However, I think passages like the one I’ve quoted – and I could have quoted from just about any page – show the opposite (and the responses of other readers suggest I’m not alone): that the linguistic abnormalities result in an unusually direct communication of affect. Even more than is the case in Solar Bones, the rules of the English language are transgressed, and any


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attempt to pin down each word as a participant in a grammatical sequence leads to an intellectualisation that empties the writing of affective power. However, such pinning-down is not an appropriate way to read McBride’s prose: one has to take the language as it comes, allowing the meaning – often the shreds of meaning – to emerge. There isn’t space to look at the passage in detail, but the point may be made if we rewrite part of it in conventional sentences: I go off to the room where I lie face-down and think of what happened. Did I give him all he asked for, then? My mouth tastes of sick. My eyes feel as though they have been forced back into my head, and I have a burning stomach and a body wet from the rain. It did rain tonight, I remember. I can recall being wet and freezing. No, it didn’t rain, did it? I always gave my body to him if he wanted it. I don’t know why, though I think he did. He wanted to fuck the girl that I am. I’m the girl he always wanted. He did that to me – is that love? I’m not sure.

The rewritten passage seems to me much less powerful than the original in its capacity to arouse emotion. It creates the impression of a reflective speaker, standing back slightly to observe her actions, feelings, and thoughts, even though it’s in the present tense. It also narrows down meaning considerably: for instance, I’ve guessed that ‘No it. Did it?’ refers to the rain, but this is only one possibility; it’s more likely that there is some inexpressible impulse relating to the sex act. I have no way of expanding the ‘I’ that follows – is it the beginning of a thought that gets cut off? A verbless reference to the self in its helplessness and hurt? (‘I’ appears often in the text in isolation like this, including instances later in this paragraph.) These ambiguities might be considered a weakness, but they seem to me to be an effective part of the writing’s texture, suggesting a maelstrom of thoughts that reach verbal form only in splinters: that is to say, there is no complete verbal utterance that these fragments are part of; rather, they are isolated words thrown up by the inchoate mental processes. ‘You. I. Where. I.’ can’t be completed; they are pain-ridden gestures of love, loss, and who knows what else. The effect is of a more direct access to the character’s inner life than conventional prose is capable of. At one point, there is only a sound: ‘Ssssss’. At other times, syntax gives way under the stress of emotion, for instance in: ‘What he takes is the what there is of me’, which makes perfect sense, especially when followed by ‘I thought was nothing left’, or ‘Is he are you there?’, where attention to the uncle gives way to the focus on the brother. This is not a passage likely to elicit emotions that echo those of the narrator, except perhaps for a reader who has experienced something like

Modernism, Formal Innovation, and Affect


the girl’s situation and feelings, but it’s very hard to give a precise account of what one’s affective response is. Compassion, again, is part of it, and anger at what has been done to the girl, and a chill at the words she chooses to refer to her vagina – ‘the cold pocket between my legs’ – and at her simile for sex with her uncle – ‘Butter and knife’. And there is also something more positive, though also poignant, in the way she continues to address her brother through the miasma of suffering and self-laceration.26 McBride’s fractured language invites an emotional response on every page of A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing. But as The Lesser Bohemians proves, it is not a matter of linguistic fragmentation automatically producing negative affect: such language may also be used to convey and celebrate the excitement of fulfilling sexual experiences. After all, intense physical passion at its most life-enhancing can be just as destructive of the conventional structures of grammar. It is McBride’s successful fusing of formal innovation and the evocation of a life lived at the mercy of destructive impulses from both without and within that makes the affective consequences of the novel so close to being unbearable.

VII. To read any of the three novels I’ve been discussing is to be emotionally engaged from start to finish, which means both to be attentive to the emotions experienced by the three main characters and to respond affectively to their feelings, experiences, thought-processes, and revelations, as these are fashioned by the text. And an important aspect of that fashioning is the chosen technique in each case: Barry’s shifting styles and spaced-out dialogues, McCormack’s unbroken verbal sequence and visual breaks, McBride’s fragments of language and dislocated syntax – all are part and parcel of the emotions invoked. Of course, there are many other writers who are publishing formally and generically innovative work today, not all of whom are committed to eliciting from their readers powerful and complex affective responses. To give a non-Irish example, one of the most original and successful of young English novelists is Tom McCarthy, a writer whose central characters – I’m thinking particularly of the novels Remainder and C – are deliberately portrayed as lacking in affect, and the reader’s enjoyment of the fiction does not require any emotional involvement with them.27 This is not to judge either type of writing as better; just to note the difference. What these contrasting examples show is that there is no necessary connection between


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formal innovation and affective resonance: form, like every other aspect of literary writing, can be exploited to elicit powerful emotions or to keep affect from playing a significant part in readerly responses. While the pleasures offered by much of Joyce’s Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are intellectual, both works have passages with a strong affective charge; ALP’s final monologue in the latter book, for instance, is one of the most moving literary representations of aging, loss and acceptance woven together to produce a complex tissue of feelings. Whether a work of literature adheres to the formal conventions of the realist tradition or challenges those conventions through linguistic and generic innovation does not, in itself, lead to predictable affective responses. The appeal that each literary work makes to the intellect and the emotions is singular, and that singularity is built from a variety of different materials that, in the final analysis, exceed any critical determinations such as ‘modernist’ or ‘realist’.

Notes 1. Julie Taylor (ed.), Modernism and Affect (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015). 2. Laura Frost, The Problem with Pleasure: Modernism and Its Discontents (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), p. 3. 3. W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, ‘The Affective Fallacy’, in Wimsatt and Beardsley, The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (Lexington, MA: University of Kentucky Press, 1954), pp. 21–40. 4. Emotional response was important for I. A. Richards, but this aspect of his approach was seldom followed up by his followers (see Helen Thaventhiran’s essay in this volume). 5. A recent account of a twenty-first century novel that proceeds along these lines is Christopher T. White, ‘Embodied Reading and Narrative Empathy in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road’, Studies in the Novel 47 (2015): 532–549. 6. Jenefer Robinson, Deeper than Reason: Emotion and Its Role in Literature, Music, and Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005). Robinson’s Chapter 7 is titled ‘Formal Devices as Coping Mechanisms’ (pp. 195–228). 7. Eimear McBride, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing (London: Faber & Faber, 2014; first published Norwich: Galley Beggar Press, 2013). 8. Paige Reynolds, ‘Trauma, Intimacy, and Modernist Form’, Breac (11 September 2014): [last accessed 29 June 2019]. 9. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth usefully spell out in their introduction to The Affect Theory Reader (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010) the ‘multiple trajectories’ of their subject (p. 12).

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10. I have discussed these terms, and analysed one kind of emotional response to fictional writing, in Chapter 9 of The Work of Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015). 11. See, for instance, Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002) and Marco Abel, Violent Affect: Literature, Cinema and Critique after Representation (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2008). For concise critiques of this branch of affect theory, see Ruth Leys, ‘The Turn to Affect: A Critique’, Critical Inquiry 37 (2011), pp. 434–472, and ‘Trauma and the Turn to Affect’, in Ewald Mengel and Michela Borgeza (eds), Trauma, Memory, and Narrative in the Contemporary South African Novel (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2012), pp. 3–28. Leys traces the history of affect studies in The Ascent of Affect: Genealogy and Critique (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2017). 12. See, for instance, Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), p. 25. 13. Ngai, in Ugly Feelings, discusses some of the more complicated relationships that may occur between these two sites of emotion, including the projection of the reader’s feelings onto the artwork (p. 82) and what she calls ‘metaaffectivity’ (p. 83), which is evident when we have feelings about the feelings (or lack of feeling) elicited by the artwork. However, Ngai’s positing of feelings located in neither the fictional world of the work nor the response of the reader is, to my mind, problematic. 14. See Derek Attridge, The Work of Literature, Chapter 9, for a discussion of the distancing effect of fiction and form. There are, of course, many emotions directly elicited by works of literature, such as dismay at weakness of plot, embarrassment at bad writing about sex, or pleasure in elegantly turned sentences. 15. As Susan L. Feagin puts it in her study of affective responses to literature, ‘I find myself at a loss to describe most of the feelings I have when reading fiction’ (Reading with Feeling: The Aesthetics of Appreciation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988), p. 16). 16. [last accessed 29 June 2019]. 17. Kevin Barry, Beatlebone (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2015). 18. Mike McCormack, Solar Bones (Dublin: Tramp Press, 2016). 19. Mike McCormack and Stephanie Boland, ‘British fiction is dominated by an intellectual conservatism: interview’, New Statesman (7 November 2016): [last accessed 29 June 2019]. 20. Kevin Barry and Anita Sethi, ‘I want to go as wild as I can within my stories’, The Guardian (8 November 2015): kevin-barry-interview-beatlebone-john-lennon-city-of-bohane [last accessed 29 June 2019]. 21. Kevin Barry and Julia Brodsky, ‘Long and Winding Road: An Interview’, Irish America (April/May 2016): [last accessed 29 June 2019].


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22. Eimear McBride, ‘My Hero, James Joyce’, The Guardian (6 June 2014): [last accessed 29 June 2019]. 23. In the 2017 Canongate edition it runs to 270 pages. 24. Marcus sees a newspaper with an article on the crash of 29 September 2008, when he registers his own present as ‘one year on’. The jacket précis gets it wrong. 25. Cited in David Collard, About a Girl: A Reader’s Guide to Eimear McBride’s ‘A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing’ (London: CB Editions, 2016), p. 152. 26. Annie Ryan’s stage version of the novel, brilliantly performed recently by Aoife Duffin, consists of only about one-sixth of the original, and is as emotionally draining, for performer and for audience, as anything I have seen on the stage (Eimear McBride, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing: Adapted for the Stage by Annie Ryan (London: Faber & Faber, 2015)). 27. For this reader at least, the narrative and graphic play in the novel that was awarded the 2017 Goldsmiths Prize, Nicola Barker’s H(a)ppy, prevents the emotional turmoil of the main character from eliciting an affective response of any strength.

chapter 14

The Antihumanist Tone Christopher Nealon

This essay forms part of a project whose aim is to develop a clear picture of the sources and styles of contemporary antihumanism. Though we tend to think of the critique of “the human” as a project led by the French poststructuralism of the 1960s, it is both older than that, and more various. The sources of antihumanism are as old as the classical rhetoric of misanthropy, and include an enduring strain of Christian theology that insists on an infinite, humbling difference between God and “man.” And though the primacy of post-structuralism in the literary academy has long subsided, the antihumanist rhetoric in which it took part has survived, even flourished, in recent years. In contemporary politics, antihumanism shapes a whole flank of environmentalist discourse that bemoans humanity’s supposedly innate rapaciousness, and it forms part of current anti-racist rhetoric, which includes “Afro-pessimist” arguments that, because dehumanization (or a structural position outside “humanity”) so centrally shapes the experience of Black people in America, they might best give up on the category of “the human” as a staging ground for appeals to dignity. A similar argument can be found in queer theory, which includes a whole variety of arguments in favor of seeing queerness as monstrous or inhuman. In contemporary philosophy, meanwhile, antihumanism is at the center of new “object-oriented ontologies” that make much of how supposedly ego-driven, overweening human subjects get in the way of better understandings of the workings of everything from political life to the universe itself. We can even find a strange, triumphalist strain of antihumanism in the techno-optimist rhetoric of Silicon Valley, not least in conversations about “the singularity” – the projected future moment when robots surpass humans in every aspect of cognition, possibly including emotion. As these different aspects of antihumanist rhetoric blend into modern antihumanism, they are also increasingly visible as arguments about how we should feel about being human. Though antihumanism is generally framed as 267


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an argument about humanity, in other words – the claim, for instance, that cosmically speaking we are tiny to the point of insignificance – its claims may be most significant for the tone in which they are delivered (our insignificance, if that’s what it is, can be described in tones both wonderstruck and baleful). Indeed I have come to think of antihumanism less as a set of propositions than as an historically transmitted, and rarely questioned, repertoire of attitudes. These attitudes, I want to suggest, are as much about the material conditions that structure human relationships as they are about the existential value of humanity. In the twentieth century, this meant that such attitudes were, however ontologically they were framed, also always attitudes about capitalism. In the opening chapter on “tone” in her pathbreaking 2005 volume Ugly Feelings, Sianne Ngai argues that “tone’s generality and abstractness should not distract us from the fact that it is always ‘about’ something.”1 For Ngai, the “aboutness” of tone cannot be compassed by New Critical models of tone as a set of reader-writer relations, such as address; instead, she thinks closely through Adorno’s struggle both to incorporate and hold emotion at bay as the property of art objects. Adorno’s Marxism is of use to Ngai because his dialectical method continually points to a set of determining conditions that are contradictory products of social struggle, which makes it possible to read the strange way tone seems both to emanate from objects and to be created in response to them: there is no one “subject” in the subject-object dyad favored by theorists of tone. In a brilliant later essay, Ngai hones her sense of this elusive “aboutness” by tracing the afterlife of Marx’s concept of value as it produces the concept of “real abstraction” – a way of understanding that no one commodity can fully express its capitalist value, since valueproduction under capitalism depends on the totality of the process of accumulation.2 This essay means to pick up Ngai’s discoveries from a slant angle, by framing antihumanist rhetoric in terms about a particular kind of “aboutness” it never quite acknowledges – that is, its concern, not just with “humanity,” but with property and value-production, expressed in a set of imaginary class relations. I will try to convey the centrality of tone to antihumanism by focusing briefly on some moments in English-language literary modernism, and then on a few moments in the history of critical theory. Reading these moments together, we should be able to see at least two of the key features of twentieth-century antihumanist rhetoric: an insistence on an absolute gap between humanity and its others (God or nature, especially), and a critique of meaning-making, symbols, and metaphors as devices of false consolation that distract us from the hard wisdom

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of appreciating this absolute gap. I will close with a parenthetical gesture in the direction of exciting developments in contemporary Marxist scholarship that has no particular use for this comportment, and with a contemporary poem that is part of a remarkable new literary anticapitalism that doesn’t depend on antihumanist tropes.3

Modernist Antihumanism I’ll begin with a 1916 essay by T. E. Hulme called “Humanism and the Religious Attitude.” Hulme was a polymathic critic and poet who died young in the first world war, but who had a notable impact on a range of key modernist thinkers, not least T. S. Eliot and Robert Frost. His writing is blunt and polemical, so he gets very clearly at some key antihumanist ideas – most importantly, here, the idea of an absolute gap between humanity and God. At the beginning of the essay, he asserts that his aim is to clarify problems in our perception of reality. “Certain regions of reality differ,” he writes, “not relatively but absolutely.” He elaborates this way: Let us assume that reality is divided into three regions, separated from one another by absolute divisions, by real discontinuities; (1) the inorganic world, of mathematical and physical science, (2) the organic world, dealt with by biology, psychology and history, and (3) the world of ethical and religious values. Imagine these three regions as three zones marked out on a flat surface by two concentric circles. The outer zone is the world of physics, the inner that of religion and ethics, the intermediate one that of life. The outer and inner regions have certain characteristics in common. They have both an absolute character, and knowledge about them can legitimately be called absolute knowledge. The intermediate region of life is, on the other hand, essentially relative; it is dealt with by loose sciences like biology, psychology and history. A muddy mixed zone then lies between two absolutes. To make the image a more faithful representation one would have to imagine the extreme zones partaking of the perfection of geometrical figures, while the middle zone was covered with some confused muddy substance.4

This cosmology and its attendant theology are also an aesthetics. Critiquing the religious art of the Renaissance as not really religious at all, Hulme writes, When the intensity of the religious attitude finds proper expression in art, then you get a very different result. Such expression springs not from a delight in life but from a feeling for certain absolute values, which are entirely independent of vital things. The disgust with the trivial and


christopher nealon accidental characteristics of living shapes, the searching after an austerity, a monumental stability and permanence, a perfection and rigidity, which vital things can never have, leads to the use of forms which can almost be called geometrical.5

Hulme’s essay is a dense crossroads for several aspects of antihumanist rhetoric. There is a reason, for instance, that he keeps returning to geometry as his preferred language for aesthetics and cosmology alike: as Amir Alexander has argued, in seventeenth-century Europe geometry was the Catholic Church’s preferred basis for mathematical inquiry, since it was easily interpreted as the study of the works of a maker with no contiguous relation to humanity. Alexander shows very clearly how geometry emerged as the math of church authority when it was confronted with an emergent calculus, whose language of differentials implied that the differences among things – perhaps even humanity and divinity – could be described in terms of slopes and gradients, rather than chasms. This math opened up a dangerous bridge, so to speak, between god and humanity, suggesting the possibility of a human arrogation of divinity to itself, if it were to be able to conceptualize infinity.6 Hulme’s aesthetics also has what we could call a literary component, since in insisting on the unbridgeable discontinuities among zones of reality, he is partaking of a long hostility to metaphor that can be traced to Plato, but which reaches a polemical high point with Nietzsche. You may recall that in “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense,” from 1873, Nietzsche regards metaphor as a pathetic human invention designed to keep us from recognizing the puniness and the ephemerality of our life as a species. He begins by writing, In some remote corner of the universe, flickering in the light of the countless solar systems into which it had been poured, there was once a planet on which clever animals invented cognition. It was the most arrogant and most mendacious minute in the ‘history of the world,’ but a minute was all it was. After nature had drawn just a few more breaths the planet froze and the clever animals had to die.7

This is virtually a recipe for later Lovecraftian weird tales and horror stories about the insignificance of humanity, tales that are championed by contemporary “speculative realists” as delivering hard truths about an absolute break between humanity and the cosmos.8 In its dramatic distance-taking from the dailiness, or even the historical character, of human life, Nietzsche’s language here also partakes of the rhetoric of prophecy (which comes to fullest flower, of course, in Thus

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Spake Zarathustra (1891)). And there is something of the prophetic in much antihumanist writing. Indeed the trace of the prophetic offers an important way to think about antihumanism, since sooner or later the use of a prophetic tone or stance must produce the question, to whom is this prophetic language addressed? To reflect on this, I’d like to turn to a moment in literary modernism where the rhetoric of prophecy, given a broadly antihumanist coloration, both indicates and obscures its origins in very concrete circumstances. I’m thinking (you will not be surprised to learn) of T. S. Eliot’s 1922 poem The Waste Land, which has not only been figured since its first success as a kind of prophecy of the particular alienations native to twentieth century history, but also features a literal prophet, the mythical Tiresias of Thebes, as well as the Sibyl of Cumae. I am thinking of the poem, but also its title, which has received little scholarly attention. In English common law, the late-medieval definition of “the waste land of a manor” begins as a category to describe land that is either unusable or not in use, and which, therefore, was traditionally available for common use. Later, however, the concept of “waste land” becomes a political tool in the hands of capitalist landlords, who were given license by the concept to expropriate commonly held land that was “waste” only in the Lockean sense that it was un-capitalized upon.9 So we could say that one sense in which the tone of The Waste Land was able to be called prophetic was that it gestured, if broadly, at an earlier form of dispossession – the history of enclosure – that prefigures the later capitalist alienations of wage and commodity with which Eliot’s early readers would have been intuitively if not analytically familiar. This makes Eliot’s poem sound anticapitalist, which it surely was. We don’t often think of Eliot this way today, because contemporary anticapitalism is a language of the left; but a century ago it was still possible to be a right-of-center, even an aristocratic, anticapitalist. Eliot’s writing, not least his influential essay-writing, falls squarely in this zone.10 But The Waste Land itself bears this out inasmuch as the content of its prophecy is not only about universal dispossession, but also about something like secularization. Eliot’s poem, its readers know, makes inventive use of parallels between Greek myth and twentieth-century civilization, generally so as to depict contemporary life as fallen, distorted, and pathetic by comparison to mythic antiquity. The Waste Land strikes antihumanist postures, that is, inasmuch as it depicts humanity in a sorry relation to mythical divinity, or even just the dignity of mythic tragedy. That this is a political strategy as


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well as a literary one is clear in Eliot’s 1923 review of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), in whose similar techniques Eliot clearly found himself reflected: “In manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity,” Eliot wrote, “Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him . . . It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history.”11 Just a year earlier, the conservative German political theorist Carl Schmitt would argue, in his influential Political Theology (published the same year as Eliot’s poem), that “All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts.”12 The literary strategy Eliot describes as “controlling” and “ordering” a contemporary “anarchy” is met, elsewhere in Schmitt, with a conservative political theory championing strong sovereignty over and against exactly such “anarchy.” Schmitt’s theory of secularization, and Eliot’s depiction of the fall from mythic dignity, share more than a declensionary shape. In 1983 Hans Blumenberg wrote in The Legitimacy of The Modern Age that the history of the concept of “secularization” that helps shape Schmitt’s theory of sovereignty, is criss-crossed by episodes of alarmed objection to the expropriation of church lands from Westphalia on. These expropriations, Blumenberg suggests, intermittently but persistently dog more contemporary, neutral-sounding concepts of secularization. As we know, of course, the concept later becomes almost inconceivably broad, but – and here’s what interests me most – Blumenberg suggests that it still carries something of the aggrieved tone attached to the dispossession of a propertied class.13 So the prophetic, antihumanist tone of The Waste Land may be tangled up in the political history of land use in more than one way: not only because it makes contemporary life seem sorry in comparison with myth, and distantly analogizes that sorriness to the history of enclosure, but how it further analogizes the dispossessions of enclosure – which devastated peasants – to the dispossession of aristocrats and wealthy monastic communities at the hands of strong, “secular” states. If we could say that the use of the rhetoric of prophecy is a way to give literary shape to the antihumanist insistence on a wide or even absolute gap between humanity and divinity, we could also say that the “humanity” placed on one side of this gap gains literary force in part because prophetic and secularizing rhetoric erases the tracks of its class histories. This is ironic inasmuch as prophetic and secularizing rhetoric are meant, as in Hulme, Nietzsche, and Eliot, to come across as clear-eyed, hard truth. This irony, meanwhile, can clarify for us the ways in which a rhetoric of negativity or

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criticality can come, by dint of its tone, to obscure what it is meant to be critical of. If in English-language literary modernism the persuasive character of prophetic antihumanism had this effect, we can see a similar problem in modernist critical theory, which took up an insistence on absolute gaps by way of a critique of the symbol. Unlike the literary history of antihumanist language I’ve sketched here, though, the criticaltheoretical one tries not to obscure its class character, but to foreground it unambiguously from the left – at least at first.

Critical Antihumanism The critique of the symbol begins as a modernist reaction to an earlier, Romantic critique of allegory. Most commentators suggest that it was Goethe who transformed “symbol” and “allegory” from broadly synonymous terms into an opposing pair, writing in Maxims and Reflections that the symbol is the device by which writers express ineffable ideas, whereas allegory is the device by which they communicate specific concepts. Goethe argues that the symbolic technique is best suited for poetry because the symbol inexhaustibly excites our intuitions, whereas allegory is exhausted once it’s de-coded.14 In Coleridge, influenced by the German idealists, this difference in kind gets transformed into a difference in values: though Goethe did not impugn allegory per se, simply noting that it was most germane to kinds of writing he didn’t count as especially “poetic,” Coleridge influentially pits the modes against each other – at this point they have gone from being devices to being modes – by aligning the symbol with a living organicism, and allegory with a reductive mechanism. This is to say that the critique of the symbol has come down to us as a critique of organicism and of the idea of harmony. The lever by which pressure is applied to the idea of organic harmony between humans and nature is the idea of time. The symbol is contemptible to its critics, because it factors out time and history, offering a momentary flash of an impossible union between humanity and nature, and hewing to that moment of insight as though it were continuously accessible to us, or as though it were true. In a much-cited passage from his 1928 Origin of German Tragic Drama, Walter Benjamin puts the distinction this way: Whereas in the symbol destruction is idealized and the transfigured face of nature is revealed in the light of redemption, in allegory the observer is confronted with the death mask of history as a petrified, primordial landscape. Everything about history that, from the very beginning, has been untimely, sorrowful, unsuccessful, expresses itself in a countenance – or rather a death’s


christopher nealon head . . . this is the form in which man’s subjection to nature is most pronounced and it gives rise to the enigmatic question not only of the nature of human existence as such but of the biographical historicity of the individual.15

Allegory, here, rather than being merely a mechanical writer’s tool, is a mode of worldliness in which haunting emblems, rather than pointing at ineffable unity, keep us in mind of our scars, because it is narrative and durational rather than imagistic and instantaneous. It dispels our illusions of paradise with the hard truth and the cold water of lived human history. It is the hangover to the high of the symbol. But there are problems with this rhetoric of demystification. For one thing, while it appears to be the case that Benjamin champions allegory against the symbol because allegory does not offer a vision of redemption, it is more accurate to say that in the Trauerspiel book symbol and allegory have different relations to it – symbol promises instant redemption, while allegory, far from refusing redemptive language, heightens the drama of redemption by expanding its compass from the individual to society itself, and by insisting that redemption will only happen when all are redeemed. The preference for allegory over symbol, here, is less the demystification it purports to be than a prolongation of the suspense around redemption. So there is a crypto-optimism embedded in Benjamin’s revolutionary pessimism; I think his readers can generally sense this. Perhaps more unexpected, though, is that the vision of redemption on offer in the Trauerspiel and elsewhere in Benjamin’s work is a vision of sovereignty which he first built up in admiring response to the work of Carl Schmitt. As Horst Bredekamp has shown, in the Trauerspiel the young Benjamin polemically reverses the location of sovereignty in Schmitt from the ruler to the masses – a bravura move that nonetheless accepts the sovereigntyframework of the right-wing political theorist as the correct one.16 This remains the case in his 1940 “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” which pits a militant historical materialism against both Social Democratic politics and empirical historicism, both of which Benjamin finds wanting because they are expressions of an abstract, struggle-free concept of progress. Against these progressive forms of imagining time, Benjamin imagines it divided between a continuous flow and moments of dramatic arrest, akin to the Greek concepts of chronos and kairos, respectively. In Schmitt, it is the sovereign which is able to create or seize upon kairos; in Benjamin’s theses, it is the revolutionary classes who are able to do this. But, as Bredekamp suggests, it is sovereignty, rather than capital, that is at issue, despite the bravura inversion. We can see this in Thesis XVI, when

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Benjamin aligns the revolutionary hatred of ruling classes with the militant clarity of the historical materialist, both of whom exercise a particularly masculine sovereignty over themselves: A historical materialist cannot do without the notion of a present which is not a transition, but in which time stands still and has come to a stop. For this notion defines the present in which he himself is writing history. Historicism gives the “eternal” image of the past; historical materialism supplies a unique experience with the past. The historical materialist leaves it to others to be drained by the whore called “Once upon a time” in historicism’s bordello. He remains in control of his powers, man enough to blast open the continuum of history.17

This melodramatic vision of masculine militancy is built around the idea of absolute sovereignty as of a fleeting moment: the antihumanism of this idea becomes clear when we see that it is purchased at the price of a theory, not just of “homogeneous, empty time,” but of oblivion. Benjamin owes this to Nietzsche: indeed, Thesis XVI has close parallels with passages in The Use and Abuse of History for Life, from 1874, as when Nietzsche writes of the “man” who must come to terms with human insignificance this way: Then [he] learns to understand the words “once upon a time,” the “open sesame” that lets in battle, suffering and weariness on mankind, and reminds them what their existence really is, an imperfect tense that never becomes a present. And when death brings at last the desired forgetfulness, it abolishes life and being together, and sets the seal on the knowledge that “being” is merely a continual “has been,” a thing that lives by denying and destroying and contradicting itself.18

Benjamin inverts Nietzsche’s use of the phrase “once upon a time” – in Nietzsche it tears down the veil, while in Benjamin it is the veil – but he preserves the constellation of transformation, abolition, and history-as-“battle.” And Thesis XVIII precisely recalls the opening of Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lying,” cited above: “In relation to the history of organic life on earth,” writes a modern biologist, “the paltry fifty millennia of homo sapiens constitute something like two seconds at the close of a twenty-four-hour day. On this scale, the history of civilized mankind would fill one-fifth of the last second of the last hour.” The present, which, as a model of Messianic time, comprises the entire history of mankind in an enormous abridgment, coincides exactly with the stature which the history of mankind has in the universe.19

Benjamin’s revolutionary antihumanism, then, depends on a high-contrast binary between the masculine seizure of sovereign power and a vision of


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surrounding oblivion that, in its disregard for what today we might call social reproduction, is equally masculinized. This insistence on a model of militancy as tragic sovereignty directs attention away from opposition to capitalist accumulation, and toward a critique of false sovereignty – not least the false sovereignty of liberals and Social Democrats, who supposedly think they can benignly engineer human “progress” with light taps on the steering wheel. And it is this critique of hubris, rather than an anticapitalist or communist politics, that survives into the antihumanist criticism that would follow on Benjamin. Paul de Man, in his influential “Rhetoric of Temporality” (1969), tacitly borrows from Benjamin’s introduction of a chastening temporality into the symbol’s cloistered playroom. He is blunter than Benjamin, referring at one point to the symbol’s “ontological bad faith.”20 In a brief reading of Rousseau’s 1761 Nouvelle Héloïse, he suggests that the realism of the lover’s amorous feeling is in fact built around a highly literary reference to the allegorical Roman de la Rose of the thirteenth century. For de Man, this instance of literariness posing as realism points to the intertextual character of all literary writing, a feature of writing he then suggests is anterior to all pretensions to realism or to symbolic harmony: The prevalence of allegory always corresponds to the unveiling of an authentically temporal destiny. This unveiling takes place in a subject that has sought refuge against the impact of time in a natural world to which, in truth, it bears no resemblance.21

In the closing portion of his essay, de Man re-works his contrast between allegory and nature, which is rendered as a contrast between literariness and naturalism, into a contrast between fictionality and nature, where the privileged vehicle for fictionality is irony. As you likely recall, irony for de Man is a tool of self-objectification, by whose action we are reminded of our non-fit with the world, as when in Baudelaire’s famous essay on laughter we see our innate clumsiness when we trip and fall. Inasmuch as literariness is like fictionality, de Man seems to suggest, allegory is like irony. Both are endless, and both, he says, are demystifying: Allegory and irony are thus linked in their common discovery of a truly temporal predicament. They are also linked in their common demystification of an organic world postulated in a symbolic mode of analogical correspondences or a mimetic mode of representation in which fiction and reality could coincide. It is especially against the latter mystification that irony is directed.22

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These sentences describe a kind of baseline of shared values in literary theory and criticism that, if we disagree with them, require effort to dispel. In its language of nature’s non-resemblance to humanity, and its use of phrases like “authentically temporal destiny,” de Man’s essay partakes of the same spatialized domain model, and the same language of sovereignty, that we saw in Hulme and in the Schmittian aspects of Benjamin.23 But there are problems here. Why is intertextuality best characterized as abyssal, and why is its infinitude – if that’s what it is – seen as “inorganic”? Why is the inorganic seen as a tonic? What looks like a bracing demystification is actually the reappearance of the literary and philosophical topos we’ve seen already, in which human pretensions to omniscience need to be broken by contact with the infinite. Why is the literary equated with the fictional in the sense of the untrue? We have learned from the work of Mary Poovey that fictionality is not simply a Platonic truth-category, but a web of social relationships built up around the ability to trust in the reliability of a given fiction.24 Why is reality, as de Man puts it elsewhere in his essay, “empirical”? Frederick Beiser has shown that German philosophical debates throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, debates that follow on the same idealism to which Benjamin and de Man are responding, went far beyond a simple equation of reality with empirical fact.25 What does it mean to say that humanity “has no resemblance” to the natural world? The tradition of German philosophical anthropology, from Helmuth Plessner and Alfred Gehlen down to Blumenberg, persuasively suggests that our species-relation to nature is at least as well described in terms of wobbly, contingent fit, in which we are niche organisms only ever partly suited to dynamic, unstable environments.26 This view is borne out in debates in evolutionary biology, which Richard Lewontin, among others, has labored to make clear to non-scientists.27 That it is so easy to dismantle the claims of de Man’s essay suggests that its persuasive power lies less in its propositions than in its tone. Though the prestige of his variant of post-structuralism has subsided, the antihumanist web of argument in which he participates continues to serve as a critical default for literary academics whenever we make arguments built around the “demystification” of a text. We see this both in more avowedly leftwing Frankfurt schools arguments that pit a despairing negativity against an all-devouring capitalism, and we see it in contemporary antihumanist philosophy, which has made a sport of critiquing post-structuralism for a myopic focus on texts rather than on the cold immensity of the universe – a critique that repeats the very moves de Manian post-structuralists, relying


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on Nietzsche, once deployed against the humanisms to which they objected.28

Coda: Marxism without Antihumanism, Poetry without Modernity I am aware that much of what I have suggested so far might seem to dovetail with the widely discussed championing of “post-critical” literary studies in the work of Rita Felski and others. But I am after something different. Felski’s project, especially as summarized in her 2015 The Limits of Critique, is to pit one mood or attitude – the “critical” one – against a provisional set of tonal, methodological, and ethical opposites: appreciative instead of glowering, nuanced instead of reductive, humble instead of arrogant. But her project is generalizing, adjectival, and vaguely ad hominem: the book abounds in sentences like, “Critique’s fundamental quality is that of ‘againstness,’ vindicating a desire to take a hammer, as Bruno Latour would say, to the beliefs and attachments of others.”29 Inasmuch as the book has its own theoretical framework, it is drawn from Latour, whose Actor-Network Theory (ANT) is remarkable for shadow-boxing with caricatures of Marxism, in particular: in ANT, Marxism is irrelevant as a critique of political economy; instead, it is just another form of methodological “reductiveness” that can’t do justice to sensuous particulars.30 I am less interested in championing positive or negative affects and attachments in criticism, per se, than I am in trying to unpack the histories of the class imaginaries that shape them. I have directed my attention to antihumanist comportment in particular because its rhetoric presents an interesting problem for the Marxist literary criticism that matters to me most: it remains our most fully elaborated model of a reading style whose affiliations are militant, but it seems to me to borrow too much from rightist political values to provide the tools a twenty-first-century Marxist criticism will need. Among those tools would be concepts and historical frames that do not oblige literary writing, or critical interpretation, to waffle between transcendent meaning or mythical wholeness and their utter absence. Outside the precincts of network materialisms and postcritical reading, there is a lively conversation in Marxist scholarship today that has focused on how capitalism not only demands exploitable wage workers to produce value, but also a whole range of relations to the wage – direct and indirect, readily available and forcibly excluded – in order to reproduce itself.31 This focus on the production of different relations to the wage, and on the vicissitudes of social reproduction under capital in

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general, suggests the possibility of a political framework in which race, class, and gender all play roles in capitalist value production in ways that invite us to think of aesthetic value, not in terms of sovereignty, or spatialized domains of authority, or high-contrast oppositions between lost or impossible fullness and tragic or ironic fallenness. I can’t compass this scholarship here. What I can do, very briefly, is to suggest that in tandem with this conversation in Marxist studies, contemporary poetry in English has achieved a remarkably fresh and flexible range of ways to address the capitalist conditions that gave rise both to high modernism and modernist critical theory. I will close with one poem from this foment, by Sandra Simonds. It would give me great pleasure to offer a “close reading” of it – or, for that matter, a “distant” one, since the conditions of its emergence are also of great interest – but instead I’ll just suggest, by way of closing, that the poem is striking, but not unique, for how it thinks through a nexus of poetry-writing, teaching for low wages in the humanities, the property relations behind them, and the forms of social reproduction behind the property relations. The poem is evidence, I think, of the irony behind the project of post-critical reading – which, in construing militant styles of critique as forcing politics onto texts, is overlooking a great revival of militant literary writing. It is also evidence that, if we prise antihumanist rhetoric apart from the longer and broader history of rhetorics of militancy, we can see contemporary forms of militancy that don’t require the antihumanist warrants of absolute gaps, natural indifference, or steep-grade languages of sovereignty. Compared to the declensionary modernity stories I have visited above, the poem is an exciting and beautiful alternative: I Am Inside The Humanities And if I step too far out of it, I’m dead. The figure at the top left corner is Securitas. No rent! No work! No wages! No more! For those thinking of disturbing the peace, let the hanged man be your warning. In order to write this poem, I paid daycare $523 for the week. Make sure you premix the bottles, bring diapers. Make it worth something, this time. Mayan


christopher nealon countdown clock to Mayan countdown clock, two bodies, uncivilized, in a bed wanting the water of the world to give them back a pyramid. Also, the bronze head of Adam. Also, the world of children, their toys, the plastic imitation food – eggs, miniature cereal boxes, deformed mirror to the real. I could not keep working to make money for the people I despised, nothing is right, but I couldn’t afford not to either. Late at night, Chris said “I hate my job.” The hydro-geologists have to give permits to Gulf Oil for more water or someone will lose their livelihood. It was winter in Florida, the path to all principles of all inquiries led back to this one statement, like a recite from Publix: I was teaching the humanities again. In the garden of the fallen aristocrats, where no one sits on the lawn, it is as if heaven is on one side, hell, on the other, and somehow I have slipped very far into the abyss between the two, an abyss that contains suns the way black holes do not give back the history of light, the way a galaxy turns like a clock into the desperate desire for water and these flowers bloom like idiots, live as thieves. Chris’ cryptic texts from West Florida: “No coffee. nuclear power plant” and a picture of some industrial map of rust.

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O Apollinaire, eau-de-vie, in this garden, which is a mockery of all gardens, in this Bed, Bath and Beyond of the intimate, remember me, I know what is real and I will remember how to steal back what is mine.32

Notes 1. Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), p. 87. 2. Ngai, “Visceral Abstractions,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, 21:1 (January 2015), pp. 33–63. 3. My pivot from modernist poetry to critical theory, then back to contemporary poetry, takes a distant permission from Andreas Huyssen’s argument that critical theory can be interpreted as a post-facto speculative armature for the artistic avant-gardes that preceded it. See Huyssen, After The Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986). 4. T. E. Hulme, “Humanism and the Religious Attitude,” in Speculations: Essays on Humanism and The Philosophy of Art (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., 1936), pp. 5–6. 5. Ibid. p. 9. 6. See Amir Alexander, Infinitesimal: How a Dangerous Mathematical Theory Shaped the Modern World (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014). 7. Ibid. 141. 8. See, for instance, Eugene Thacker, In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy, Volume 1 (New York: Zero Books, 2011), and Graham Harman, Weird Realism: Lovecraft and Philosophy (New York: Zero Books, 2012). 9. For a detailed version of this argument see Ellen Meiksins Wood, Liberty and Property: A Social History of Western Political Thought from the Renaissance to Enlightenment (New York: Verso, 2012). 10. My sense of Eliot’s conservative anticapitalism has been shaped by the arguments made in Joel Nickels, The Imaginary International: Literature and Nonstate Space (forthcoming). 11. T. S. Eliot, “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” in Lawrence Rainey (ed.), Modernism: An Anthology (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005), p. 167. 12. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. George Schwab (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1985), p. 36. 13. Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of The Modern Age, trans. Robert Wallace (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983), pp. 18–22.


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14. Vance Bell provides a compelling summary of these twists and turns in “Falling into Time: The Historicity of the Symbol,” Other Voices, 1:1 (March 1997). 15. Walter Benjamin, The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (New York: Verso, 2009), p. 166. 16. Horst Bredekamp, “From Walter Benjamin to Carl Schmitt, via Thomas Hobbes” (trans. Melissa Thorson Hause and Jackson Bond), Critical Inquiry, 25:2 (Winter 1999), pp. 247–66. 17. In Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1977), p. 262. 18. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History, trans. Adrian Collins (Eastford, CT: Martino Publishing, 2015), p. 6. 19. Benjamin, Illuminations, p. 263. 20. Paul de Man, “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” in Wlad Godzich (ed.), Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), p. 211. 21. Ibid. pp. 206–7. 22. Ibid. p. 222. 23. I outline the persistence of this sovereignty-based aesthetic theory with Joshua Clover in “Literary and Economic Value,” encyclopedia entry for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature (online), August 2017. 24. See Mary Poovey, A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998). 25. See Frederick Beiser, After Hegel: German Philosophy, 1840–1900 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014). 26. Vida Pavesich outlines this conversation in “Hans Blumenberg’s Philosophical Anthropology: After Heidegger and Cassirer,” Journal of the History of Philosophy, 46:3 (2008), pp. 421–48. I am grateful to Chris Westcott for directing me to her essay. 27. See, for instance, Lewontin, The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000). 28. I make this argument in a bit more detail in “Infinity for Marxists,” Mediations: Journal of the Marxist Literary Group, 28:2 (Spring 2015), pp. 47–64. 29. Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2015), p. 129. 30. For an incisive account of Latour’s breezy dismissals of Marx and Marxism, see Benjamin Noys, “The discreet charm of Bruno Latour,” in (Mis)readings of Marx in Continental Philosophy (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2014), pp. 195–221. 31. This scholarship cuts across studies of race, gender, and more traditional Marxist scholarship. See, for instance, Chris Chen, “The Limit Point of Capitalist Equality,” and “The Logic of Gender: On The Separation of Spheres and The Process of Abjection,” in Endnotes 3 (September 2013). Chen’s work, which tries to understand racialization as a process that has

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historically included both compulsion to labor and exclusion from the labor pool, is in dialog with a revival of the question of the relationship between capitalism and slavery, one that explores both slavery’s difference from, and facilitating of, emergent wage-based exploitation. For a good synopsis of this work, see John J. Clegg, “Capitalism and Slavery,” in Critical Historical Studies, 2:2 (Autumn 2015), pp. 281–304. Similarly, the anonymous author of “The Logic of Gender” is working in a feminist tradition begun by Silvia Federici, who argues that wage labor emerges in medieval Europe partly by way of excluding women, and traditionally feminine forms of reproductive labor. See Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (New York: Autonomedia Books, 2004). And Aaron Benanav is developing an analysis of this dynamic around the post-World War II state’s framing of the category of unemployment, whose porousness reflects Marx’s own understanding of the labor market in Chapter 25 of Capital, volume 1, and elsewhere. See Benanav, A Global History of Unemployment since 1949 (forthcoming). What links these studies – not all of them yet in explicit dialog with each other – is the possibility they offer for a political analysis of valueproduction that unhitches Marxist scholarship from a hunt for a single revolutionary class, and that opens it to a more capacious and coalitional sense of the relationships among patriarchy, racism, and proletarianization. This political possibility has a literary-academic corollary inasmuch as it allows us to see how narrowly critical theory, working in a modernist vein, has conceived of the question of class composition, thinking of it in terms of sovereignty rather than in terms of differential relations to accumulation, and missing, thereby, any chance to grasp militant political energy or literary production that has “humanist” characteristics. 32. Sandra Simonds, in Steal It Back (Ardmore, PA: Saturnalia Books, 2015), pp. 87–9.

chapter 15

Bette Davis’s Eyes and Minoritarian Survival: Camp, Melodrama, and Spectatorship Amber Jamilla Musser

“So here, now, was Bette Davis, on that Saturday afternoon, in close-up, over a champagne glass, pop-eyes popping. I was astounded [. . .]. For, here, before me, after all, was a movie star: white: and if she was white and a movie star she was rich: and she was ugly.”1 Thus begins James Baldwin’s discussion of Bette Davis in The Devil Finds Work, his 1976 book-length essay about cinema. On screen in a role (20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932)) that predates her rise to stardom, Davis captivates Baldwin. Baldwin is unsure what to make of her, except that he recognizes a kinship between the two of them: Out of bewilderment, out of loyalty to my mother, probably, and also because I sensed something menacing and unhealthy (for me, certainly) in the face on the screen, I gave Davis’s skin the dead-white greenish cast of something crawling from under a rock, but I was held, just the same, by the tense intelligence of the forehead, the disaster of the lips: and when she moved, she moved just like a nigger.2

What to make of Baldwin’s claim that Davis “moved just like a nigger”? Though Baldwin’s spectator is male, certainly this moment of spectatorial pleasure and identification is distinct from Laura Mulvey’s claim that women exist in a frame of to-be-looked-at-ness.3 Part of Baldwin’s shock at encountering Davis on screen is the pleasure of finding someone who shares his “frog eyes.” That this identification is profoundly racialized is captured by his assessment that Davis moved like a nigger. I begin with this slide between Davis and Baldwin because in this space of “like a nigger” we see both the instability of white femininity and its constitution through spectatorship. Baldwin is not alone in finding himself in Bette Davis’s eyes. The opening scenes of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1962) feature an impersonation of Davis, an utterance immortalized on screen by Elizabeth Taylor – “What a Dump!” Writing in 2013, Hilton Als attributes a friend’s affection for Davis 284

Bette Davis’s Eyes and Minoritarian Survival


to the fact that she is “ugly with attitude.” In How to Be Gay (2012), David Halperin describes Bette Davis as a cultural touchstone for a modern gay sensibility. Women, too, are drawn to Davis. Adrienne Kennedy immortalizes her presence in her one-act play A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White (1976), and Patricia White describes the lure of Davis for lesbians in her analysis of the maternal melodrama. What to make of this fascination? Brushing aside the substantial scholarship on the particular attributes that grant her star status, I am interested in parsing the identitarian currents that flow between Davis and her unlikely set of admirers by focusing on two particular forms of identification with Davis: the camp and the melodramatic. Both build identification through excess and exaggeration; camp hyperbolizes style, while melodrama amplifies feeling. These queer forms attach to Davis in different ways revealing identificatory strategies for coping with the unhappiness of minoritarian subjectivity.

“Like a Nigger” – Camp and Artifice Bette Davis’s status as a camp icon is uncontroversial. Rather than ask what makes Davis so campy, however, I examine the dynamics of camp in order to argue that this form of identification relies on a productive distance between reality and performance. In “Notes on Camp” (1964), Susan Sontag understands this to be the distance between the natural and the artificial, with camp belonging to the realm of artifice and exaggeration: “Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.”4 This attachment to style (it is noteworthy that Sontag describes Davis as a great stylist of temperament and mannerism), results in a world that Sontag calls “the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater” where sincerity “is not enough. Sincerity can be simple philistinisim, intellectual narrowness.”5 In theorizing camp, Sontag juxtaposes authenticity with artifice and irony with sincerity, Camp being the style that mobilizes the greatest distance between these poles while not necessarily producing its own politics. Sontag is especially invested in camp’s alliance with homosexuality: “While it’s not true that Camp taste is homosexual taste, there is no doubt a peculiar affinity and overlap. [. . .] So, not all homosexuals have Camp taste. But homosexuals, by and large, constitute the vanguard – and the most articulate audience – of Camp.”6 Davis’s popularity with drag queens appears to be a perfect manifestation of Sontag’s analysis. In a footnote to Mother Camp (1972), Esther Newton writes that


amber jamilla musser No actress is more often impersonated by drag queens than Bette Davis. There is a profound identification with her style and many of her roles, especially that of the aging actress Marlo Cook in “All About Eve.” Here she plays a sophisticated and frankly sexual woman who competes with a pretty, scheming young thing. Marlo is bitchy and childish but has a “heart of gold.”7

Though Newton misidentifies the name of Davis’s character – it is Margo Channing, not Marlo Cook – her assessment of the character’s bitchiness is apt. As Margo Channing, Davis begins the film as a star and ends it in the same way. In the middle, however, she displays exactly how much of femininity is about misery – that is to say making other people miserable. Margo is acerbic and picks fights with friends and family; she is insecure about aging; yet, she is also shrewd enough to see through Eve’s plotting. Davis’s public persona, too, suggests a particular alliance with misery in that she was much married, estranged from her daughter, entangled in a decades-long rivalry with Joan Crawford (this reality made much of the filming of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) especially juicy), and known for her witty comebacks. This collective fascination with Davis and her unchanging bitchiness reveals a great deal about the undercurrents of misery in theorizing white femininity and its appeal to others. Successful drag queens, of course, inhabit this bitchiness through camp. Newton writes, “The clever drag queen possesses skills that are widely distributed and prized in the gay world: verbal facility and wit, a sense of ‘camp’ (homosexual humor and taste), and the ability to do both ‘glamorous’ and comic drag.”8 What this reliance on camp produces is a knowing distance between the femininity performed and the masculinity of the performers, revealing the work that femininity requires and rewarding both its approximation and acknowledgment that one is not actually a woman: “The interesting thing about drag queens is that they do not consider themselves to be females and neither do audiences. So if one is really a male, it is even more of a feat to look like a glamorous and exciting woman.”9 Newton elaborates on this gendered dichotomy to describe drag’s opposition of “the ‘inner’ or ‘real’ self (subjective self) to the ‘outer’ self (social self).”10 Newton writes: At the most complex, [drag] is a double inversion that says, “appearance is an illusion.” Drag says “my ‘outside’ appearance is feminine, but my essence ‘inside’ [the body] is masculine.” At the same time it symbolizes the opposite inversion; “my appearance ‘outside’ [my body, my gender] is masculine but my essence ‘inside’ [myself] is feminine.”11

Bette Davis’s Eyes and Minoritarian Survival


In Gender Trouble (1990), Judith Butler draws on Newton’s description of drag’s play on the difference between inner and outer selves to argue that “drag fully subverts the distinction between inner and outer psychic space and effectively mocks both the expressive model of gender and the notion of a true gender identity.”12 What Butler draws from Newton, and what is integral to this theorization of camp and distance, is that camp’s reliance on the distance between “real” and “artificial” femininity reveals the very artifice of the concept after all. As Butler writes, “in imitating gender, drag implicitly reveals the imitative structure of gender itself – as well as its contingency.”13 However, as Newton notes, this love is ambivalent in its disruption of the status quo: “The drag queen symbolizes all that homosexuals say they fear the most in themselves, all that they say they feel guilty about; he symbolizes in fact the stigma. In this way, the term ‘drag queen’ is comparable to ‘nigger.’”14 In this way, too, drag ironizes gender. The drag queens’ attachment to Davis, then, is both about her ability to play it straight and appear as a woman while also revealing the masculinity (the verbal sparring) that undercuts her portraits of glamorous beauties. What is crucial about Davis’s embodiment of camp, however, is that it does not occupy a static frame. Its disruption is about contrast and movement. A single frame of Davis does not excite Baldwin, but he locates being with her in her movement and it is in this way that she is “like a nigger.” Jane Gaines draws on this alliance between homosexuality and Davis in her discussion of Baldwin. She writes that Baldwin, “mak[es] out of Davis something like and not like himself, something to aid identification as well as to prevent it absolutely – to ward it off [. . .]. But no, Bette Davis, is not a black version of himself; she is a green version – neither black nor white, but in one of those in-between color categories that is anomalous to white but not to black society.”15 Gaines goes on to write that Baldwin “meets Davis in the category of ‘strange,’ which he says he knows because people ‘treated me so strangely’. [. . .] By now it should be clear that Baldwin is not only describing the constitution of a ‘raced’ subject via star images, but he is also describing the constitution of a flamboyant queer.”16 The distance and closeness that Baldwin desires is emblematic, Gaines decides, of camp: “Here that characteristic equation between drag and distance, that ironic relation between the queer and the world, is the astute sensibility that produces Bette Davis as green.”17 In Baldwin’s enjoyment of Davis, we do see an attachment to “homosexual style” and an articulation of something nearby, but slightly different. Gaines terms this green, but we might also consider varying our theorization of camp.


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While Sontag’s theorization of camp has often been imagined to be synonymous with upper-middle-class gay male life (here we might consider David Halperin’s How to Be Gay to be an updated articulation of these constellations of white middle-class gayness), José Muñoz argues that camp can be employed as a strategy of disidentification for minoritarian survival. Muñoz even draws upon Baldwin’s description of the lure and terror of this queerness and identification to help articulate his theory of disidentification: “Baldwin’s account is the way in which Davis signifies something both liberatory and horrible. A black and queer belle-lettres queen such as Baldwin finds something useful in the image; a certain survival strategy is made possible via this visual disidentification with Bette Davis and her freakish beauty.”18 Muñoz argues for camp being seen not merely as a style, but as a strategy for dealing with the dominant culture: It is a measured response to the forced evacuation from dominant culture that the minority subject experiences. Camp is a practice of suturing different lives, of reanimating, through repetition with a difference, a lost country or moment that is relished and loved. Although not innately politically valenced, it is a strategy that can do positive identity-andcommunity-affirming work.19

For Muñoz the distance is not between artifice and sincerity, but between the dominant culture’s dictates of representation and a self-presentation otherwise. In this Muñoz is close to Sedgwick’s reading of camp, which she offers in Touching Feeling (2002): camp is most often understood as uniquely appropriate to the projects of parody, denaturalization, demystification, and mocking exposure of the elements and assumptions of a dominant culture. And the degree to which camping is motivated by love seems often to be understood mainly as the degree of its self-hating complicity with an oppressive status quo . . . the desire of a reparative impulse, on the other hand, is additive and accretive. Its fear, a realistic one, is that the culture surrounding it is inadequate or inimical to its nurture . . . the communal, historically dense exploration of a variety of reparative practices is to do better justice to many of the defining elements of classic camp performance.20

Sedgwick and Muñoz thus both see camp as a practice that offers a way forward beyond the status quo’s assignation of unhappiness to particular subjects. Camp provides a way to feeling embraced by remaking objects in ways that better suit survival. While both Gaines and Muñoz are committed to reading Baldwin’s identification with Davis through the lens of racialized sexuality, already in

Bette Davis’s Eyes and Minoritarian Survival


Baldwin’s narration we see a tension between what it is to bridge the gap between being “like a nigger”, which is to say to embody blackness, and to be queer or strange, or aslant to social norms. Both are positions of misery, which require distinct strategies of survival, yet Baldwin refuses to fuse them completely, even as it is clear that misery (in the form of not conforming to the dictates of society’s normative expectations for happiness) is part of the conversation. This version of camp identification refuses to annihilate racial difference. It is clear from Baldwin’s meditation on cinema that he is most fascinated by the alternative reality that cinema enables: “It is said that the camera cannot lie, but rarely do we allow it to do anything else. [. . .] The language of the camera is the language of our dreams.”21 The distance between stars and their audience, the epic revolutionary struggles presented on screen, and personal travails, intrigue Baldwin as he narrates a childhood of attending the cinema and admiring its stars. If acting is beside the point, what fascinates him is the imaginary that celebrity enables: The distance between oneself – the audience – and a screen performer is absolute: a paradoxical absolute, masquerading as intimacy. No one, for example, will ever really know whether Katharine Hepburn or Bette Davis or Humphrey Bogart or Spencer Tracy or Clark Gable – or John Wayne – can, or could, really act, or not, nor does anyone care: acting is not what they are required to do. Their acting ability, so far from being what attracts their audience, can often be what drives their audience away.22

Baldwin wants his actors to present an alternative to reality, a space of fantasy. Here, we see an important contrast between spectatorship as voyeurism and spectatorship as a type of embodied movement. Through Davis’s movements, she creates a fantasy for Baldwin to inhabit. Here, we return to Baldwin, watching Davis on screen in Harlem in 1935. I have already mentioned his affection for Davis, but in his narration we see that the context for this affection is his identification with another white woman. Before Baldwin gets to Davis, he introduces Bill (Orilla) Miller, his elementary school teacher, who takes him under her wing. Baldwin loves her “with a child’s love,” savoring her lessons on world politics and attributing to her an understanding that whiteness does not have to correlate with evil: “It is certainly partly because of her, who arrived in my terrifying life so soon, that I never really managed to hate white people.”23 Through Bill, Baldwin learns to differentiate between whiteness as phenotype and whiteness as social position: “Bill Miller was not like all the cops who had already beaten me up, she was not like the landlords who


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called me nigger, she was not like the storekeepers who laughed at me.”24 By way of explanation for this difference, Miller, Baldwin argues, “was treated like a nigger, especially by the cops, and she had no love for landlords.”25 I begin with Baldwin’s rumination on Bill and whiteness because it sets the stage for Baldwin’s encounter with Davis. It is when he is seated next to Bill, contemplating the porosity of whiteness that Baldwin meets Davis and deduces that she, too, is “like a nigger.” Through Davis and Bill’s racialization as not quite white, they are positioned as figures who exist alongside Baldwin. This distance, the space that is encapsulated by the continued phrasing of “like a nigger,” is important. Bill teaches Baldwin the meaning of his social position, though there are limits to her pedagogy: “Bill could instruct me as to how poverty came about and what it meant and what it did, and, also what it was meant to do: but she could not instruct me as to blackness, except obliquely, feeling that she had neither the right nor the authority.”26 Davis is likened to Baldwin because of their shared “frog eyes,” but Baldwin admits that Sylvia Sidney “was the only American film actress who reminded [him] of a colored girl, or woman – which is to say that she was the only American film actress who reminded me of reality.”27 Importantly, this reality consists of depictions of Sidney “always beaten up, victimized, weeping.”28 So while Davis “moves” Baldwin and “moves like a nigger” she can never fully be one because she will never fully be victimized by society. Baldwin writes: “they [Bette Davis, Margaret Sullivan, or Carole Lombard] moved me from that distance. Some instinct caused me profoundly to distrust the sense of life they projected: this sense of life could certainly never, in any case, be used by me, and while his eye might be on the sparrow, mine had to be on the hawk.”29 In an interview with Eve Auchincloss and Nancy Lynch, Baldwin elaborates on what it is to be a “nigger”: What did you mean when you said that a black person should cultivate the nigger within? Well, I mean this. If I want to beat up a doorman, maybe I don’t beat him up, but I have to know that that’s what I really want to do. That I’m not being the poised controlled civilized cat that I dream of myself being at all. That if a policeman hits me, I’m very probably going to try to kill him. And if I don’t do it, it won’t be because I don’t want to. It will be because something else is operating and I know that I have to do something else. But I know it is there. That’s my protection against it. And it’s not a matter of black or white at all? It’s a matter of not telling any more lies than you can help. And some black people know that and some white people know that; and for the rest . . . well, there are very, very few.30

Bette Davis’s Eyes and Minoritarian Survival


Being a “nigger” for Baldwin is synonymous with the ability to tap into aggression as a guard against persistent racism and structural violence. Being “like a nigger,” then, is about locating a space of truth and meeting it headon. Davis, in her portrayal of the spoiled Southern woman, Stanley Timberlake, meets these demands in her own way. Throughout In This Our Life (1942), Davis manipulates those around her – she runs away with her sister’s husband, tries to seduce her sister’s new fiancé (the fiancé that she unceremoniously dumped to leave the town), and most egregiously kills a child while driving under the influence. She blames the accident on her black chauffeur, refusing to acknowledge her guilt even as the evidence mounts against her. Baldwin describes Davis as “ruthlessly accurate” in her performance because it illustrates “the white descent from dignity, devastating not only because of the enormity of the white pretensions, but because this swift and graceless descent would seem to indicate that white people have no principles whatever.”31 Yet despite her ability to find the honest racism of America, Davis is not a nigger, she remains white. Their closeness can only go so far, however this distance from Davis is where Baldwin produces space for himself, working through camp’s possibilities, this is the space of authenticity, not mimicry or masquerade.

Sincerity at the Limit – Melodrama Adrienne Kennedy, however, reads Bette Davis through the lens of melodrama rather than camp. Kennedy’s attachment to Davis is especially pronounced in her play A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White, which was first produced in 1976, the same year as Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work. The play puts Kennedy’s life into conversation with Davis – she is not merely a fantasy or icon on the screen, but a conduit for Kennedy to explore her feelings about domesticity through melodrama and sincerity. The play features Davis and Paul Henreid as they appeared in Now, Voyager (1942), alongside Marlon Brando and Jean Peters from Viva Zapata! (1952), Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters from A Place in the Sun (1951) and Clara, a surrogate for Kennedy, the mother, the father, and the husband. It dips between scenes from the films whose protagonists give voice to Clara’s inner fears about motherhood and scenes from her parents’ courtship and married life. While the play traffics in images and surrealism, Kennedy’s stage notes demand that the Davis who appears in her production is not played for laughs: “these movie stars are romantic and moving, never camp or farcical, and


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the attitudes of the supporting players to the movie stars is deadly serious.”32 Kennedy was no doubt aware of Davis’s stature among camp performers, but this explicit demand that Davis be sincere allows us to delve into the circuits of identification around sincerity and melodrama – its more excessive version. While camp produces distance and demolishes reality, what do sincerity and melodrama do? Here, I read Kennedy’s desire to present the movie stars as “romantic and moving” as part of a constellation of identifications around melodrama, a genre that offers escape through amplifying the stakes of domestic reality. Laura Mulvey argues that melodrama “offers a fantasy escape for the identifying women in the audience, the illusion is so strongly marked by recognizable, real and familiar traps that escape is closer to a day dream than to a fairy story.”33 In this way, melodrama remakes the quotidian into fantasy. Ien Ang connects this transformation to a resistance to thinking about the daily as banal by invigorating it with drama: “the melodramatic imagination is therefore the expression of a refusal, or inability, to accept insignificant everyday life as banal and meaningless, and is born of a vague, inarticulate dissatisfaction with existence here and now.”34 It is also, importantly, a genre connected to the feminine. Lauren Berlant argues that melodrama can be read as a minoritarian genre in that it offers a language for feminine survival strategies which are legible across many different class positions – “what was a minor register of survival aesthetics has also become a predominant way even for elites to orchestrate a claim that their social discomfort amounts to evidence of injustice to them.”35 Melodrama taps into the crushing banality of everyday life by amplifying its emotional currents. It is the language of feeling and sentimentality, which we can understand through Sedgwick as closeness: “modern emotion as vicariousness and misrepresentation, but also as sensation brought to the quick with an insulting closeness.”36 While this is different from camp’s refusal of reality – notably, I am not arguing that women can’t do or don’t get camp – the language of melodrama provides a different point of access that attaches to possibilities of identification. If camp destabilizes reality by rendering it distant and ironic, melodrama destabilizes by treating reality excessively sincerely. In his writing on melodrama, José Muñoz attaches this amplification of domestic feelings to racialized responses to daily oppression. He names melodrama as part of a constellation of “brown feeling” which “chronicles a certain ethics of the self that is utilized and deployed by people of color and other minoritarian subjects who don’t feel quite right within the protocols of normative affect and comportment.”37 These brown feelings

Bette Davis’s Eyes and Minoritarian Survival


are Muñoz’s mode of describing “the ways in which minoritarian affect is always, no matter what its register, partially illegible in relation to the normative affect performed by normative citizen subjects.”38 Muñoz views brownness as an identitarian position in that it is “a mode of attentiveness to the self for others that is cognizant of the way in which it is not and can never be whiteness, [which Muñoz defines as] a cultural logic that prescribes and regulates national feelings and comportment.”39 Here, Muñoz connects melodrama to an acknowledgement that minoritarian daily life is banal and out of alignment with the particular norms of whiteness. It is a way of discussing the different modalities of being unhappy and resisting them by producing a swell of affect. Here, we have much to dwell upon. I began this analysis of melodrama by arguing that in A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White Kennedy’s citation of Davis from Now, Voyager is the position from which she articulates her feelings about her own life. Having a movie star star in her life and describing its mundane issues is in itself its own meta commentary on melodrama’s use of exaggerated affect to raise the stakes of the quotidian. Within the play, Clara acknowledges this juxtaposition of the glamorous and the mundane: “[Eddie] thinks sometimes . . . to me my life is one of my black and white movies that I love so . . . with me playing a bit part.”40 David Willinger’s review of the 1995 production of the show at the Public Theater in New York emphasizes this contrast between reality and celebrity: “Movie Star evokes the uncanny atmosphere of black and white films – cool, chatty and redolent with both anxiety and glamour. The glamour is ironic, since it violates the apparent banality of Clara’s Midwestern family’s life.”41 Philip Kolin brings race into the conversation by calling our attention to the fungible forms of identification that Kennedy is enacting vis-à-vis Davis (and other movie stars) by writing that “a movie star has to star in a black woman’s life/script just as she has to do in representing a white woman’s life.”42 The contrast between black Clara/Kennedy and white Davis serves more than the mere amplification of emotions. It might register as a critique of the exclusionary, racist realm of Hollywood or a suggestion that cinema offers transcendent possibilities for identification. This ambiguity is productive, Berlant suggests, because it remains illegible: “Kennedy’s projection onto stars, cinema, and Davis in particular opens out a sense of surviving a repetition so ordinary and so tragic that it can barely phrase itself into a critique [. . .]. Kennedy manifests participation in the idiom of survival without offering the promise of optimism as a bribe.”43 In this vein, Elin Diamond writes that Kennedy’s identification


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with Davis reveals the nebulous materiality of racial difference, “Clara’s movie stars are proximate and continuous with her psychic life but their mimetic relation creates, rather than mystifies, cultural, social, and racial difference. In Movie Star, more than any other Kennedy text, the imbrication of identification and identity becomes full-scale collision.”44 This is to say that the process of identification, which is facilitated by the genre of melodrama, works to destabilize the parameters of identity itself. Proximity, it turns out, breeds category confusion. This complex set of crossings between identity, identification, and feelings is augmented by the affects at work in the source text for Davis’s character in the play. In this projected form, Davis is Charlotte Vale (or rather acting as Charlotte Vale since the script identifies Davis rather than her character’s name), the central character in Now, Voyager, a classic of the “maternal melodrama” genre. This doubling of feelings amplifies the possible critique of the domestic that melodrama offers while complexifying the Bette Davis that Kennedy identifies with. The narrative of the film contrasts with Clara’s narrative, giving more weight to Davis’s performance (and performance of feeling) in relation to Clara. Kolin provides an extensive list of their contrasts: Bette Davis’ character, Charlotte Vale . . . triumphantly escapes from a domineering mother who wants her to remain an old maid, subservient and unloved. In a contrasting family dynamic, Clara cannot escape from her mother’s legacy of failure in love. In another contrast, Davis raises Henreid’s young daughter, who reminds her of the frightened and neurotic child she once was. However, Davis and Henreid happily accept a marriageless but loving relationship, without physical intimacy, for the sake of ‘their’ daughter. On the other hand, Clara’s miscarriage (verbally) contrasts with the visual and contextual clues and prompts inherent in Davis’s character, who joyfully ‘births’ Paul Henreid’s child without bloodletting.45

These differences allow us to think more carefully about what is at stake in Kennedy’s attachment to Davis. If their narratives are not the same, is Davis (as Vale) acting out Kennedy’s fantasies about what her life could be like? Is this difference a critique of either path? Is it a commentary on the difference that race makes? Is Davis merely a foil for Kennedy’s desires? In this imagination or identification of Davis as other, we must also think about her character’s fundamental instability because one of the film’s central narratives is that of transformation through an embrace of the domestic. After her stay at a clinic, Charlotte emerges as a confident glamorous beauty. She enters into the aforementioned affair with Henreid, but ultimately ends the film alone, caring for Henreid’s daughter, Tina,

Bette Davis’s Eyes and Minoritarian Survival


whom she has helped blossom. Mary Ann Doane describes the moment of transformation as one of spectatorial pleasure in which “the woman’s beauty, her very desirability, becomes a function of certain practices of imaging – framing, lighting, camera movement, angle.”46 Drawing on Laura Mulvey’s famous 1975 argument that women interrupt the narrative of classic Hollywood cinema by provoking scopophilia, Doane writes that spectatorial desire is constructed by “seeing what is prohibited in relation to the female body. The image orchestrates a gaze, a limit, and its pleasurable transgression.”47 In this way, women function as a surface for the projection of desire: “To ‘have’ the cinema is, in some sense to ‘have’ the woman.”48 As these quotation marks indicate, however, what one actually possesses is an image of femininity rather than woman, herself. And, as we can see from Now, Voyager, it is a particular femininity at that. What is made visible in this moment of transformation is femininity’s relationship to masquerade, misery, and whiteness, but this does not solve the character’s problems: white femininity only serves to introduce the melodrama. But, read through Kennedy’s attachment to Davis, this instability and melodrama might also be welcome affective alterations to her understanding of the circumstance of her own/Clara’s life. Kennedy’s citation of Davis’s transformation, then, speaks to her attachment to becoming and specifically, becoming-glamorous. This becomingglamorous offers another way to think through melodrama’s status as what Linda Williams describes as a “body genre.” Williams argues that “melodrama can encompass films marked by lapses in realism, by ‘excesses’ of spectacle and displays of primal, even infantile emotions, and by narratives that seem circular and repetitive.”49 Williams locates melodrama’s particular excess in its solicitation of on and off screen sensation. Alongside horror and pornography, melodrama produces ecstasy, a feeling that the body is “beside itself”: “what may especially mark these body genres as low is the perception that the body of the spectator is caught up in an almost involuntary mimicry of the motion or sensation of the body on the screen along with the fact that the body displayed is female.”50 Importantly, Williams also notes that melodrama offers a temporality of the too late – too late for invention. We see this lack of utility (as too-lateness) in Kennedy in which her attachment to glamor may not change the fundamental aspects of her life, but it provides a way to survive and deal with that life. It is, perhaps, this affective promiscuity and excess that permit fantasies of a life otherwise. This attachment to other possibilities – especially as enacted by Davis – is made evident in Kennedy’s autobiography People Who Led to My Plays (1987), where she mentions Davis and Now, Voyager in five separate entries, all of


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which gesture toward transformation and mutability. In the first, which appears during her Junior High years (1943–1946), the entry “Paul Henreid and Bette Davis and Now, Voyager” focuses on transformation: “The idea of going on an ocean journey and becoming transformed by it caught fire in my mind when I saw Now, Voyager. Not only did this seem to happen to Bette Davis in Now, Voyager, but long journeys seemed to be a part of the destiny of people in many of the books I loved. Mary in The Secret Garden, Heidi and, again, Jane Eyre.”51 She writes again of Davis’s virtues: “Bette Davis: The heroines in her movies were reflective and independent and had opinions. They also dressed beautifully and were adored by men. I wanted to be like that.”52 Davis stands in for a fantasy of being able to make herself into something more palatable to society, less disjointed: Bette Davis in Now, Voyager : In this avid dream of transformation I still also daydreamed of myself as this character. She was plain. She was troubled. She was controlled by her mother and then one day she took a trip on an ocean liner and total fulfillment came to her because of this trip on the ocean. She became beautiful and loved. One day I’m going to take a trip on an ocean liner, I thought, and all my dark thoughts and feelings, all my feelings that I don’t belong anywhere will go away.53

Incredibly, Kennedy does find herself transformed on the trip she and her family make to Ghana on the Queen Elizabeth in the Fall of 1960 – she writes an essay, which will be her first publication on that trip. Interestingly, despite Kennedy’s claim to identification with Davis and the possibility of transformation enabled by glamor and melodrama, these terms have been denied because of Kennedy’s cross-racial identification. Suzan Lori Parks suggests the difficulty of this transracial identification in an interview with Kennedy: slp: And those shoes, their hair! But at the same time, there weren’t any black movie stars . . . I mean, to fall in love with being a ’40s movie star is to fall in love with something that didn’t include who you are. ak: As a child, I was blinded to that. slp: I think it’s puberty or adolescence when you realize, my hair! ak: I was blinded to that, too. But I’m still totally crazy about that particular period.54

Parks focuses on the limits of identification produced by fleshiness, specifically that Davis’s hair, no matter how mutable, was never going to be the same as Kennedy’s kinks. Elin Diamond draws on this limit of material difference in order to politicize Kennedy’s identification. By ignoring these

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aspects, Kennedy’s attachment to Davis reveals the “racism inscribed in conventional mimesis.” In this narrative, Kennedy’s identification is the result of a tremendous amount of affective labor, Diamond writes: For the subject of the enunciation not only did not resemble her model, but it was also unacceptable in the cultural discourses through which we think, speak, and most of all see, that she could represent her. In her impromptu performance Kennedy defamiliarized as well the problematic of identity. Insofar as it implies a stable and continuous referent – call it blackness, whiteness, woman-ness – which the subject imitates and enacts over time, identity blocks the workings of fantasy, of transformation.55

That this discourse of fleshy difference did not surround Baldwin’s announcement of identification might be connected to the distance enabled by analogy and camp as opposed to the melodrama’s emphasis on proximity. These denouncements serve to reify race as the primary force of difference, even as I understand Kennedy’s attachment to Davis to be located in the powers of transformation – via glamor and melodrama – and not necessarily sutured to whiteness itself. What these debates and Kennedy’s attachment reveal, then, is that the architecture of melodrama is not about producing distance between spectator and spectacle, but about bringing something close, perhaps close enough that the object itself is rendered strange. At the heart of melodrama, perhaps, is the surreality of transformation. It is the space where a black woman can transform into a white movie star despite the fact that everyone is incredulous. In this incredulity we see something about the unfungibility of blackness and race as well as the malleable possibilities of whiteness. Wanting to be does not put the black woman into the equation per se, but it is a recognition of the nonsubjectivity of the black woman and her familiarity with a different sort of misery. Whereas Baldwin wants to reinscribe distance from Davis, Kennedy wants to obliterate it altogether in order to become the same. At the presumptive center of this swirl of identifications is Davis, but where is she really? Despite the fact that Davis does not disappear into her roles, this degree of identificatory fungibility raises the question of the stability of white femininity as an essence. We can understand this Bette Davis as functioning in the multiple, but we can also understand this as a statement about the fundamental abjection of white femininity. Camp and melodrama become some of the forms for surviving with precarity, but we might ask about other embodiments of unhappiness – the feminist killjoy of Ahmed’s taxonomy, for example – who aim to critique by making others feel bad, rather than existing in misery itself.56


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Notes 1. James Baldwin, The Devil Finds Work (New York: Vintage International, 2011), 7. 2. Ibid. 3. Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure, and Narrative Cinema,” Screen 16 (1975): 6–18. 4. Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp” (1964), in Fabio Cleto (ed.), Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject: A Reader (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 1999), 53–65; 54. 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid. 64. 7. Esther Newton, Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1972), 94. 8. Ibid. 3. 9. Ibid. 57. 10. Ibid. 100. 11. Ibid. 103. 12. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Gender (New York: Routledge, 1990), 174. 13. Ibid. 14. Newton, Mother Camp, 103. 15. Jane Gaines, Fire and Desire: Mixed-Race Movies in the Silent Era (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 32. 16. Ibid. 33. 17. Ibid. 37. 18. José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 18. 19. Ibid. 128. 20. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 149–150. 21. Baldwin, Devil Finds Work, 35. 22. Ibid. 30. 23. Ibid. 5. 24. Ibid. 6. 25. Ibid. 26. Ibid. 10. 27. Ibid. 22. 28. Ibid. 29. Ibid. 30. Baldwin interview with Eve Auchincloss, “Disturber of the Peace: James Baldwin – An Interview” in C. W. E. Bigsby (ed.), The Black American Writer, Vol. 1 (Deland, FL: Everett-Edwards Press, 1969), 199–216; 199. 31. Baldwin, The Devil Finds Work, 61. 32. Adrienne Kennedy, “A Movie Star Has to Star in Black and White,” Electronic Edition by Alexander Street Press, L.L.C., 2017. © Adrienne Kennedy, 1976.

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33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56.


Also published in Adrienne Kennedy in One Act (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 1. Laura Mulvey, “Notes on Sirk and Melodrama,” Visual and Other Pleasures (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1989), 39–44; 43. Ien Ang, Watching Dallas: Soap Opera and the Melodramatic Imagination (New York: Routledge 1985), 79–80. Lauren Berlant, The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008), xii. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990), 150. José Esteban Muñoz, “Feeling Brown, Feeling Down: Latina Affect, the Performativity of Race, and the Depressive Position,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 31:3 (2006): 675–88; 679. Ibid. Ibid. 680. Kennedy, “A Movie Star,” 99. Willinger in Philip Kolin, Understanding Adrienne Kennedy (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2005), 99. Kolin, Understanding Adrienne Kennedy, 103. Berlant, The Female Complaint, 275. Elin Diamond, Unmaking Mimesis: Essays on Feminism and Theater (New York and London: Routledge, 1997), 95. Kolin, Understanding Adrienne Kennedy, 108. Mary Ann Doane, “Film and the Masquerade: Theorising the Female Spectator,” Screen 23.3–4 (1982): 74–88; 20. Ibid. Ibid. Linda Williams, “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre and Excess,” Film Quarterly 44:4 (1991): 2–13; 3. Ibid. 5. Adrienne Kennedy, People Who Led to My Plays (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1996), 47. Ibid. 57. Ibid. 97. Adrienne Kennedy interview with Suzan Lori Parks in Philip Kolin and Harvey Young (eds), Suzan Lori Parks in Person (New York: Routledge, 2013), 63. Diamond, Unmaking Mimesis, 90. Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

chapter 16

Affective Form Ankhi Mukherjee

In Parables for the Virtual (2002), Brian Massumi articulates his hope that the vocabulary of affect will “put matter unmediatedly back into cultural materialism, along with what seemed most directly corporeal back into the body.”1 Questioning the relationship of the body to subject-formation, Massumi wonders if the body can ever overcome its ideological prescript and whether its dynamism can be anything other than normative and predetermined sensation and progression. Not a return to the concrete, but a more rigorous and situated understanding of the abstract will enable a glimpsing of “the real incorporeality of the concrete,”2 Massumi suggests. “Concrete is as concrete doesn’t,” he wittily formulates, bringing home the point that matter, in all its “ontogenetic”3 heterogeneity, can only be apprehended when the terms of exegesis are modification, not essence, immanence and process, not product, emergent states and dynamic unities, not stasis. In this chapter I examine a singular instance of affective form in postcolonial fiction, which puts the body back in the body while also sustaining affect as a virtual substance, a potentiality that exceeds material and formal embodiments. Affect as a mode of signification and identification in the postcolonial novel is not just associated with the monistic subject: in fact, it is often a symptomatic reaction to the asymmetries of power and resources in the global world, the inseparability of neocolonialism from unlimited capitalism and neoliberalism, and the escalation of violence, global, internecine, ethnic, communal, or domestic, in erstwhile colonies. Aminatta Forna’s The Memory of Love (2010), which Kiran Desai described as “a profoundly affecting work,” is a novelization of the brutalizing effects of the Civil War (1991–2002) in Sierra Leone. Set in Freetown in 2001, the aftermaths of the genocide are narrated by three voices: Adrian Lockheart, a British psychologist trying to come to terms with a therapeutic scene where “ninety-nine percent of the population was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder”;4 Elias Cole, a former History professor at the 300

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city’s university and Lockheart’s only private patient; and Kai Mansaray, a Sierra Leonean orthopaedic surgeon who befriends Adrian. Lockheart is a trauma specialist who has flown in to help the nation “heal” from the Civil War. Lockheart is the nervous focalizer of some of the novel’s key themes: the incommensurability of the “universal” diagnostic and classificatory language of psychiatry with the quotidian and contingent problems of the local population in a brutalized postcolonial nation; the incommensurability of taxonomies of normalcy and pathology with the ground reality of Sierra Leone in the aftermath of a decade-long armed civil war; the uncanny correspondence between gender injustice in peacetime and the sexual violence that is used in the Sierra Leonian genocide as a military tool against civilians. When she won the Windham-Campbell Prize in 2014, the citation said “Aminatta Forna writes through and beyond personal experience to speak to the wider world in subtly constructed narratives that reveal the ongoing aftershocks of living through violence and war.”5 If The Memory of Love references the carnage of the 1990s in Sierra Leone, her third novel, The Hired Man (2013), tells of the aftermaths of ethnic cleansing following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. Forna’s first novel, Ancestor Stones (2006), archives subaltern voices and spaces in a decolonizing nation: while it is not ostensibly about the states of exception the civil conflict in Sierra Leone or Croatia present, it too is ravaged by personal loss and bloated with melancholia. “Somebody must stand guard over the past,” says Duro Kolak, custodian of a Croatian town named “Gost,” with all its echoes of guest, host, and ghost.6 Sometimes, the best way to remember is a willed forgetting. Faced with the resounding silence of his patients in The Memory of Love, Adrian Lockheart has to learn not to file it away under the rubric of “psychological avoidance” in the style of the PTSD diagnosis. The upshot of the novel is that he must learn to read faltering, ambiguous, and euphemistic speech as well as silence as strategies of symbolic containment in a melancholy nation space. Forna’s Hired Man reminds the reader of J. M. Coetzee’s style, as bleak as Ancestor Stones is sumptuous. The more unspeakable the reality, the more forensic and meticulous the prose gets. Forna’s a method writer: she learned to shoot as part of her research for Hired Man. For The Memory of Love she spent time at a hospital in Sierra Leone watching amputations. The book reviews tend not to pick up on the preternatural sensitivity to the non-human world, which she is shooting in more ways than one. Deer, elephants, ants, chicken, fish, conger eel, stones. Jean Turane, one of the key characters of Forna’s fourth novel, Happiness (2018), is a wildlife


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biologist fighting to keep London foxes safe from the rapacity of urbanization and its eugenicist biological imagination with relation to the nonhuman animal. As Nilanjana Roy observes in the Financial Times review of Happiness, for Forna, “the wilderness is never far away”:7 parakeets, a falcon chasing down a pigeon, skeletal remains of horses archived in the riverside mud. The quest for truth, “the desire to examine every inch of her surroundings in a way that went beyond childish curiosity,”8 is pitiless, as any reader of the rats-in-winter scene in The Hired Man will testify. In Ancestor Stones, Forna calls it “the African way of seeing,”9 though it would equally apply to inhabitants of Croatia or Sierra Leone. It is a way of seeing patterns and logic in signs “invisible yet visible, apparent to those who belong.”10 Forna’s poetics of third spaces – neither sleep nor wakefulness, neither past nor the present, head nor heart, neither real nor unreal – finds trenchant expression in the aesthetics of the liminal state of “Rothoron” through which some of her female protagonists in Ancestor Stones survive their short and brutish lives, or the “fugue” states and dissociative episodes she describes in The Memory of Love. In her influential genealogical study, Trauma (2000), Ruth Leys takes issue with experts who see psychic trauma, especially in the institutionalized form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), as “a timeless diagnosis, the culmination of a lineage that is seen to run from the past to the present in an interrupted yet ultimately continuous way.”11 Although the shock of an acute sensory overload is a known cause of psychological disturbances that manifest over time, Leys points out that it was the British physician John Erichsen who, faced with victims of railway accidents, invented trauma syndrome in the 1860s. The term “traumatic neurosis” was coined by the neurologist Paul Oppenheim and acquired its psychological dimensions in the work of J. M. Charcot, Pierre Janet, Alfred Binet, Morton Prince, Josef Breuer, Sigmund Freud, and others. The waning interest in trauma, which Leys attributes to Freud’s problematic debunking of the seduction theory – from 1897, he prioritized erotic infantile fantasy over actual incidences of sexual seduction or assault – and Babinski’s dismantling of Charcot’s hysteria discourse, changed with eruption of the Great War. The tide of collective trauma resulting from modern trench warfare, captured in make-shift descriptors such as “war neurosis” or “shell shock,” ushered a return to Freud’s ideas of dissociation and the Breuer-Freud cathartic method. Despite the work of psychoanalysts such as Sándor Ferenczi and Abram Kardiner in the interwar period, or the pioneering therapies advocated by William Sargant, Roy Grinker, and John Spiegel in the aftermath of the Second World War, Leys notes that

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it was only after the Vietnam War that “the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM] (1980) accorded the traumatic syndrome, or PTSD, official recognition for the first time.”12 An outcome of the mobilization of support between Vietnam Veteran pressure groups and anti-war psychiatrists, PTSD would soon come to signify not merely the psychic response to an exceptional event outside the range of human experience, as the American Psychiatric Association initially suggested, but also violent though not unusual events such as rape, incest, and child abuse. The Memory of Love is scathing in its critique that Western conceptions of trauma and the methods proposed for curing the same do not sufficiently declare self-interest or their entanglements in specific histories, geographies, or what David Scott terms “the conscripts of modernity.”13 The “conscripts” of Scott’s book title are modernity’s ostensible strictures, often a colonial inheritance, but he argues that these could be repurposed as critical conceptual resources to remake the postcolonial present. It is possible to test this argument in relation to the diagnostic toolkit of psychiatry, undoubtedly a conscript of colonial neuroanthropology. However, as The Memory of Love as well as Forna’s latest novel Happiness suggests, it is possible to prevent the coercive epistemology of psychiatry from superseding postcolonial futures. In fact, interventions such as Forna’s show how psychiatry and the Euro- or America-centric “psyontology”14 of the trauma cure, instead of hollowing out interiority, could provide an expedient affective form for agential modes of posttraumatic recovery in the postcolony. Returning to The Memory of Love, Lockheart is troubled by the dwindling numbers of patients to see him at the Freetown Hospital: the idea that he was “neither wanted nor needed [. . .] had simply never occurred to him.”15 Frustrated by his lack of patients, Adrian obsesses on the diagnosis of a local woman called Agnes – an “enigma” whose “dissociative” episodes of unconscious wandering pique Adrian’s curiosity.16 Having first encountered Agnes in a state of confusion in a marketplace, Adrian later recognizes the woman on a visit to a psychiatric ward at the local mental hospital. The resulting trajectory, reminiscent of the end-oriented rush of a sensation novel – its atmosphere of mystery building up to the exposure scene – offers Forna’s most damning critique of the psychiatric paradigm. As Kai says of humanitarian conquistadors like Adrian: It was errantry that brought them here, flooding in through the gaping wound left by the war . . . [t]hey came to get their newspaper stories, to save


ankhi mukherjee black babies, to spread the word, to make money, to fuck black bodies [. . .] Modern-day knights, each after his or her trophy, their very own Holy Grail.17

This damning indictment is for colonial administrators like Adrian’s grandfather as well as the influx of journalists, foreign investors, and NGO workers to Sierra Leone. Adrian ascribes to Agnes the illness identity of a complex amnesia listed in the DSM as “Fugue”: “Characterised by sudden, unexpected travel away from home [. . .] often coupled with subsequent amnesia,” the disorder, which first appeared in 1887, as the novel cites, is a “rarely diagnosed dissociative condition” whereby sufferers appear “to inhabit a state of obscured consciousness from which they eventually emerged with no memory of the weeks, months or even years they had spent away.”18 The 1994 DSM identified “fugue” as a “dissociative disorder.” The psychiatrist Herbert Spiegel, chair of the dissociative disorders committee for the DSM IV, claimed that dissociation was caused by trauma, though this was not substantiated by the “Comprehensive Review” of psychogenic amnesia and fugue conducted before the publication of DSM IV. As Adrian synchronizes Agnes’s behavior to Eurocentric taxonomies, he feels the “anxious euphoria of a person who happens upon what they think might be a lost treasure in a field.”19 Ethan Watters astutely observes that “if you were an ambitious researcher in psychology or psychiatry during the 1990s, PTSD was where the action was.”20 Keen to build on the lukewarm reception of a past paper, Adrian’s humanitarian enterprise is a corollary to vulture capitalism. If he could demonstrate the presence of fugue in this population, it would be a considerable achievement; if he could “also demonstrate a clear link to post-traumatic stress disorder? Well, that could make his name.”21 In Mad Travelers: Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illnesses (2002), Ian Hacking makes the thought-provoking claim that “fugue” was a fin-de-siècle phenomenon, and its “ecological niche” (Hacking pointedly uses the term “ecological” instead of the Foucauldian “discursive”) was France and a few other European countries: Fugues, that is to say strange and unexpected trips, often in states of obscured consciousness, have been known forever, but only in 1887, with the publication of a thesis for the degree of doctor of medicine, did mad travel become a specific, diagnosable type of insanity.22

Hacking argues that the following vectors led to the emergence of this “transient” disease, by which he means it is a mental illness that can only

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exist in a specific space-time configuration: the epistemological greed driving medical taxonomy; the polarity of romantic travel and criminal vagrancy; an emerging culture of surveillance in France and Europe, which regulated moving bodies; and the medical relief that was in place for the Fugueurs. It could be argued that the affect of The Memory of Love is comparable to a fugue state, with its haunting landscape and haunted characters. The novel is crowded with transients – Adrian, Attila, Kai, Agnes, Ileanna – although it is only the locals whose border crossings are pathologized. Adrian “feels like a sleepwalker,”23 the train timetables ordering his London existence giving way to the abrupt timekeeping of a country without twilight or the intermediary seasons of spring and autumn. Attila, the chief psychiatrist at the mental hospital is a more liminal figure. Here, for instance, mocking the absurd national PTSD diagnosis rate, he moves uncertainly between native informant and colonial subject: “When I ask you what you expect to achieve for these men, you say you want to return them to normality. So then I must ask you, whose normality? Yours? Mine? [. . .] This is their reality . . . . You call it a disorder, my friend. We call it life.”24

The wandering figures sometimes cross over novels. Forna’s latest, Happiness (2018), sees the return of the Ghanaian psychiatrist. If repetition is at the core of trauma, Sierra Leone returns too, this time as farce: we find the war-weary Sierra Leoneans posted in Iraq, “used to war conditions, hardship, and jolly happy to be earning $750 a month.”25 Attila has come to London to give a keynote speech on trauma, trailing the dust of refugee camps in Sri Lanka, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and the Turkish/Syrian border: his is the “filthy work of clearing up after other people’s wars, listening to the survivors’ accounts of what had been done to their sisters, mothers, brothers, fathers, themselves.”26 In The Memory of Love as well as Happiness, Forna seems also to be questioning the cultural assumption, tacitly supported by the medical establishment, that the immobilization of PTSD is tantamount to victimhood. In a Columbia Law Review article, Saira Mohamed critiques the victim-oriented approach of academic trauma theory and international criminal justice today: monsters suffer from PTSD too, she argues.27 Mohamed cites the well-known argument between trauma theorists Ruth Leys and Cathy Caruth, where the former challenged the latter’s reading of Tancred and Clorinda from Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered. Ruth Leys takes issue with making Caruth’s depiction of Tancred the subject of


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trauma – hasn’t he (unwittingly) killed Clorinda, the woman he loves? Disaggregating PTSD from the narrative of victimhood, Forna describes the way in which psychoanalysis and psychotherapy can use a re-patterning of traumatized states to change not only the prototypes of narration and historiography which bear witness to the same, but the very materialdiscursive logic of the cure. Attila, whose own perpetually fugitive state cultivates a healthy disdain of boundary protocols, wants to stop at roadblocks and ask the violent perpetrators about their dreams. “Nobody funded those kinds of conversations” (67). It is true that a perpetual war is raging in the space-time crimped globe, and no one can sleep these days, Attila observes. However, he forcefully protests the ubiquity of the vocabularies of trauma and valorizes endurance, resilience, and flexibility instead. He has never known an African who asked “why me?” he tells Kathleen Branagan: “the script of life for most of us is, dare I say, a great deal more fluid.”28 Adrian’s temporary loss of control, “surrounded by languages you don’t understand,”29 or the selflessness he tries to cultivate, is defeated by overriding self-interest. “There were too many like Adrian, here living out their unfinished dreams.”30 In Sierra Leone, the mainstays of globalized psychiatry lead to misrecognition and missed cultural encounters. There is, for example, the Swedish doctor’s diagnosis of a “possible suicide attempt” when he sees wrist injuries in a patient.31 The local surgeon Kai has never treated an attempted suicide, nor has he heard of it once in his career. “Perhaps the Swedish doctor imagines himself trying to end it all if he lived here,”32 he thinks to himself, convinced that the affective response to postwar trauma in Sierra Leone was more likely to be obdurate survival: “Survival was simply too hard-won to be given up lightly.”33 In Happiness, Attila’s Hippocratic ideals are far from compromised, but he feels co-opted nevertheless by ruthless military governments, “tasked with the job of trying to keep the young men sane while what they were being asked to do was an insanity itself.”34 Forna’s narrative is structured around gaps, elisions and mysteries, but these do not necessarily signify the formalization of the unconscious mechanisms of traumatic memory: instead, she is hinting at the role played by cultural difference. Adrian initially attributes the reluctance of Sierra Leoneans “to talk about anything that had happened to them”35 to the collapse of witnessing built into trauma. He feels ill at ease with the silences that punctuate conversations – “the notion that a conversation is a continuous act is bred into his bones and silences like nudity should be covered up lest they offend”36 – and the opacity or banality of uttered

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speech. “[I]t’s as though the entire nation are sworn to some terrible secret.”37 Ileana reminds him that the elected muteness could well be a function of a failed interpellation. “After all, it was us Europeans who invented the talking cure. And most of the maladies it’s designed to treat.”38 It is when he begins to treat these silences not as dissociative absences, but as full and present signifiers, that Adrian achieves a breakthrough: he learns to read the use of ambiguous and euphemistic speech as well as muteness as strategies of containment in a nation space destabilized by outbreaks of extreme violence. Faced with cultural untranslatables, such as the story of Agnes, and with little grasp of local visual, verbal or etymological nuance, Adrian drifts toward intersubjective spaces where alternative loci of enunciation may be uncovered.39 With the aid of Salia’s cultural translation, he comes to know that Agnes is “crossed”: “when a spirit enters a person sometimes it makes them act a certain way, what people call crazy.”40 Differentiating between “crossing” and “possession,” Salia explains the former as a co-inhabiting of the material and spirit worlds. Not the negative determination of fugue, then, or the stigma of dislocation, migration, and refugee camps associated with the figure of the vagrant, but an intersectional mode of belonging: trans- and inter-, it is, Adrian realizes, a viable way of being in a disjointed world. If Forna flouts a hegemonic (Western) understanding of consciousness in The Memory of Love, she is also wary of nativism and forced cultural dualisms. The narrative of Kai, the “worldly” (49), cosmopolitan Sierra Leonian, draws on interlocking memory systems. Kai can be analyzed because he is Western educated, always already a product of colonial soul-making. Repressed memories flood his mind at unguarded moments: “a sudden intrusion of conscious thought upon his world of sleep.”41 In the final chapter, we see the surgeon, driving across the bridge where he was abused, and which he has avoided in the previous chapters. His successful recovery is attributable to the newly reciprocal engagement between the two men, Adrian and Kai, which results in a transformation of (traumatic) memory. With Adrian’s help, Kai moves from what the trauma theorist Judith Herman calls “passively experienced symptoms” to the traumatic reaction, a symbolic repetition of the primal event, which leads to “an active understanding.”42 As the philosopher Catherine Malabou states, “being affected means to be modified – that is altered, changed.” Turning to Jacques Derrida’s notion of “heteroaffection,” Malabou asks “Is the affected subject, then, someone else, the presence of another subject within itself? Or is it just nobody, the absence of a substantial first person?”43 Adrian


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gets the answers he had once doggedly sought after he has stopped grasping for them: the etiology of Agnes’s fugue comes unbidden, in a letter from Kai, enfolding the coast of Norfolk in the coast of West Africa. In The Memory of Love, affect is heteroaffection, the affect of the other, intersectional affect, or the affect of the self-disjunction Massumi talks about. “One day perhaps he will return,”44 Adrian thinks, unable to let go of the past or the future. “Everything Adrian had known must be true but had never been able to discover, never been able to prove,”45 writes Forna, describing his reaction on receiving Kai’s eight-page letter describing the story of Agnes. The Memory of Love as well as Happiness have, at their core, the quest for a serviceable narrative form for postcolonial trauma: in the precursor novel, this is made available to Adrian only after he has attuned himself to a discourse whose terms of exegesis are deferral, displacement, and silence. The novel hints that Adrian’s failure to fit the symptomatology of “fugue” neatly to Agnes’s malaise – as Kai observes, she is not searching for something, like the classic fugueur, but is fleeing something instead – constitutes a productive failure, a more empathetic mode for the secular ministering of souls that is therapy. In Happiness, Attila is brought in as expert witness to validate a PTSD diagnosis, which would absolve defendant Adama Sheriff of the crime of arson. Adama is the wife of a man who was once kidnapped in Iraq, and is supposedly suffering from the belated shock of the prior event and the more recent one of the death of her spouse. She sets fire to a pile of sewing (Adama is a seamstress), and Attila quickly realizes that it is not a response to the racism of her neighbors, nor a belated experiencing of public and personal trauma, but an explosive expression of the grief and rage the widow feels at being shunned by happy families. Fighting the stereotyping diagnosis, as he and Kai had done with PTSD verdicts in Freetown, and the political marginalization concomitant on the affixing of labels to disenfranchised minorities, Attila asserts that Adama needs “neither diagnosis nor treatment.”46 He challenges the nascent orthodoxies and prevalent misconceptions around trauma, especially when they readily attach to raced bodies historically subjugated by symbolic overdeterminations. The designation of victimhood to the trauma sufferer forecloses the empowering potential of trauma, the hopefulness, if not the happiness, Attila thinks. Trauma, he argues, is not merely damage: suffering may well lead to change, and it is more often than not transformed into resilience. Psychiatry is “more art than science,” he observes.47 Forna’s complex explorations of the vicissitudes of trauma theory in crosscultural applications show how psychological interventions, like her

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instigating narratives, can provide expedient affective form for unheard testimonies from the war zone. “Belief has waned for many, but not affect,” says Brian Massumi of our post-capitalist, information-saturated and hypermediated culture.48 Affect is often confused with emotion, though they “follow different logics and pertain to different orders,”49 as Massumi points out. Emotion is subjective, personal, narratable: it is qualified intensity that is transmitted through semiotic and semantic circuits, unlike affect, which is unqualified, and not structured narratively. Rei Terada uses the term “feeling” to connote both affects, which she defines as “physiological sensations,” and emotions, which are “psychological states.”50 Massumi refers to the same duality when he defines affects as “virtual synesthetic perspectives anchored in (functionally limited by) the actually existing, particular things that embody them.”51 Affects are virtual in that they are potentialities, often opposite tendencies (related, for example, to pastness and futurity, or happy and sad) that coalesce and connect. Yet, they are bodily, bringing about an intermingling of the senses, and the translation of one sensory mode into another. Affect is embedded and embodied, yet autonomous of the very historical figure whose vitality it expresses. Massumi argues that affect is resistant to critique, because it is unconscious, neither ownable nor easy to anatomize. It short-circuits the logical connection and linear temporality between content and effect, or action and reaction. In other words, affect is innocent of meaning and while affects are, indeed, available to registers of experience, they are not analogues of the same. To illustrate this, Massumi cites Ronald Reagan’s ability to manipulate intensities of affect. Despite his verbal incoherence and faltering body image, the asignifying intensity of Reagan’s voice could “produce ideological effects by nonideological means . . . His means were affective”: He was an incipience. He was unqualified and without content. . . . It was on the receiving end that the Reagan incipience was qualified, given content. Receiving apparatuses fulfilled the inhibitory, limitative function. They selected one line of movement, one progression of meaning, to actualise and implant locally.52

In this reading, affect is also a transferential circuit. Reagan’s emergence, according to Massumi, is perpetuated by technologies of image transmission, then relayed by apparatuses such as the school, church, chamber of commerce, which, hypermediated, presented “the nervous system of a new and frighteningly reactive body politic.”53


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Massumi’s statement on the (non)waning of affect is a response to Fredric Jameson’s delineation of the five symptoms of postmodernity, of which the first is the depthlessness of image, and which Jameson relates causally to a waning of affect. In Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), Jameson sees the logic of late capitalism shattering and dispersing affect into “free-floating and impersonal” intensities.54 In this reading, affect emanates from a monadic subject: in the absence of such autonomous bourgeois monads in postmodernity, the psychopathologies of the ego, such as anxiety and alienation, disappear too, and affect is de-subjectivized and rendered contentless. Jameson likens the waning of affect with the schizophrenic condition, wherein, as Jameson’s Lacanian definition goes, the signifying chain, which articulates syntagmatic series of signifiers to constitute an utterance, snaps. In the late capitalist postmodern world, the relationship between the signifier and the signified is replaced by “that objective mirage of signification generated and projected by the relationship of signifiers among themselves”:55 hyperreality and hyperreflexiveness supplant history in this disruption of temporal and spatial moorings. In a later work, Antinomies of Realism (2013), Jameson categorically associates affect with the temporality and aesthetic mode of (nineteenthcentury European) realistic fiction. He addresses a paradox attendant on theorizations of affect: how can affect be nameless and unclassifiable and yet also aid “a transformation of the sensorium”56 achieved by diligent Victorian writers? How can a phenomenon which eludes positivist nomination and definition be discursively posited? Jameson begins to answer this conundrum by distinguishing affect from emotions. Emotion is inherently a nominated entity, a phenomenon that lends itself to a critical vocabulary, while affect “somehow” eludes the baleful naming and apprehending function of historical language at any given point. “I am . . . insisting on the resistance of affect to language, and thereby on the new representational tasks it poses poets and novelists in the effort somehow to seize its fleeting essence and to force its recognition.”57 Note here the use again of “somehow”: affect is not reducible to formulae, and the act of representing affect – unpredictable yet recognizable in its manifestations – is singular and contingent, and as such it is also instrumental in the invention of the new. Another key distinction between emotion and affect is mobilized by Jameson: I provisionally follow Rei Terada’s idea (derived ultimately from Kant) that affects are bodily feelings, whereas emotions (or passions, to use their other

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name) are conscious states. The latter have objects, the former are bodily sensations . . . if the positive characteristic of the emotion is to be named, the positive content of an affect is to activate the body.58

Jameson argues that nineteenth-century realists like Zola activate the phenomenological body in language. Jameson uses as an example Zola’s description, in Le Ventre de Paris (The Belly of Paris), of seafood heaped orgiastically in Quenu’s storehouse. The list seems at first to help organize the overload of sensations, as lists do. Soon enough, however, the litany of fish names (cod, haddock, flounder, plaice, dabs, eels, skate, dogfish) has given way fitfully to tactile and visual triggers (“tuna fish, smooth and glossy, like bags of black leather,” or “a sombre assortment of colours from filthy toad to poisonous flower”) which recombine into unstable, equivocal affects. The reader, in their increasing intimacy with the things so passionately archived, imbibes more than what the register of representational language has supplied. The “ecstatic giddiness” of the reader, as Jameson calls it,59 is the space for bodily affect, wherein, for example, the visual lends itself to the verbal, the conceptual, and the visceral, but seems also to assert a new kind of autonomy. Jameson is not suggesting that affect did not exist in pre-modern humanity: his (albeit contentious) claim is that the regime of affect had not been publicly ushered in language as a mode of identification and signification before the mid-nineteenth century. Jameson’s historical contextualization of affect is valuable to the discussion in this chapter, which has insisted on several occasions on the cultural particularity of mental illness and the pernicious colonial and neocolonial legacies of universalist metaphysics. We could take this a step further to ask how artistic movements and representational modes can ever correspond to affect, which, its historical formation notwithstanding, is what Adrian Johnston and Catherine Malabou call “a positive term for a negative x.”60 Johnston and Malabou, discussing the cognitive dimension of affectlanguage in the context of psychoanalysis and neurobiology, pose the following question: “if affects can be signifiers insofar as the category of signifier is a formal rather than a substantial category, then what are affects?”61 And how does the nomination of nineteenth-century realism not kill the thing? What kind of a representational apparatus would be necessary to identify affect without reducing it to its name, or defining content? Affects do not have the mediation of concepts to establish a oneto-one correspondence with a set of phenomena: as Johnston and Malabou observe, the fuzzy word affect has purchase in the symbolic economy because of the fuzzy realities it stands for.


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Affect, whose temporality is best understood as a differing, deferring network “in which each infinitesimal moment differentiates itself from the last by a modification of tone and an increase or diminution of intensity,”62 has obvious analogies, Jameson states, with art. The compositional technique that is Wagnerian “chromaticism,” with its waxing and waning of the scale,63 could be called a harmonic vocabulary of affect. Similarly, Monet’s impressionism, which momentarily integrates the heterogeneity and temporal succession of the shades of passing light on cathedrals into a homogeneity and a temporal unity, is a handy illustration of the way bodily affect may be orchestrated. The pervasive corporeality of nineteenth-century literature and culture in Jameson’s expositions on affect should not, however, make us associate affect with bodily doings, for it can just as well be about disembodiment, bodily becomings and undoings. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, editors of The Affect Theory Reader (2009), approvingly cite an anecdote where the celebrated anthropologist and philosopher Bruno Latour asked his conference audience to write down the antonym of the word “body.” Of the answers he received, the most curious to him were “unaffected” and “death.” “If the opposite of being a body is dead [and] there is no life apart from the body . . . [then] to have a body is to learn to be affected, meaning ‘effectuated,’ moved, put into motion by other entities, humans or nonhumans.”64 If you don’t engage in this learning, you drop dead, according to Latour. In other words, the body realizes its live bodiliness by allowing itself to become affected, effectuated, overcome. The question of agency (who is subject here, and which is object) is vexed here, and affective states are indeed a twilight zone of indistinction, as Brian Massumi and Fredric Jameson have observed. And it is probably this decentring and dismantling (of the individual subject) associated with affect that has made it vital to the deconstructive rhetoric of the postcolonial present. The constitutive indeterminacy of affect can be related back to the issue of trauma, trauma as vacillating between affect as host of wounding feelings which disarticulate subjectivity and affect that can be the bedrock of new modes of cognition. Bessel van der Kolk notes in The Body Keeps Score (2014) that trauma “produces actual physiological changes, including a recalibration of the brain’s alarm system, an increase in stress hormone activity, and alterations in the system that filters relevant information from irrelevant.”65 Van der Kolk’s study urges a non-dualist understanding of the traumatized state, which he redefines as both a psychoneurosis and a physioneurosis, and wherein changes in the brain compromise the “embodied feeling of being alive.”66 By the same token, the brain can be

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treated to better heal the body, its neuroplasticity utilized to make survivors feel more alive, more in control of the present. In Aminatta Forna’s Happiness, Attila, challenging the orthodoxy which sees trauma sufferers as damaged or disabled, makes a startlingly similar claim. Addressing an audience of 800 members of his profession in a conference in London, he speculates whether the mind-body reorganization brought on by traumatic shock can be reclaimed in more constructive and affirmative registers: “What if, by labelling our patients damaged from the outset, we not only condemn them to a self-fulfilling prophecy, but have overlooked a potential finding of equal importance? That the emotional vulnerability of trauma is oftentimes transformed into emotional strength.”67

Van der Kolk, a psychiatrist specializing in trauma, suggests three distinct pathways of trauma cure: talking and reconnecting with others, allowing the traumatized mind to understand what has happened to it as it processes difficult memories; taking medicines that shut down hyperactive alarm systems; and, finally, allowing the body to have experiences that viscerally contradict the immobilization and powerlessness associated with traumatized states. It is important to note that while Van der Kolk finds narrative – “finding the words to describe what has happened” – profoundly meaningful, he is convinced that “usually it is not enough.”68 The act of telling a story does not, he insists, alter the physical or hormonal responses of the traumatized body which remains painfully hypervigilant, fearing violation and assault all the time. “For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the present,” Van der Kolk asserts.69 This critical stance is a departure from the “wound-and-the-voice” scholarly paradigm popularized by academic trauma theorists such as Cathy Caruth, who, in Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History (reprinted in 2016), describes trauma as a wound of the mind, a breach in the way it experiences time, self, and the world, which bears alienated witness to the unassimilable event. In Caruth’s Freudian interpretation, the text and rhetorical potential of trauma, even when these present a beguiling itinerary of recurrences and repetitions, are sites where historical testimony can be located by the reader/listener/analyst. According to Van der Kolk, and the Aminatta Forna novels I have discussed in this essay, however, trauma cure is not reducible to generating “the narrative of a belated experience,” as Caruth puts it.70 Nor is it predicated on the dyad of speaker and listener, as in the parable of Tasso’s Tancred and Clorinda, where Clorinda’s sorrowful voice speaks through the wound (and because of the infliction of the wound) Tancred has unwittingly re-inflicted in the hallucinatory reality of the magic


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forest. Forna’s analysts acquiesce to the sober realization that people trapped in chronic disfiguring violence need obdurate hope more than the narrative arc inaugurated and sustained by psychotherapy: “I fall down. I get up. Westerners Adrian has met despise the fatalism. But perhaps it is the way people have found to survive.”71 In the quote by Brian Massumi with which I started this essay, he is not talking about the body mediated by discourse or bound by subject identity. He draws attention to the potentiality of even the most physically realized affects, which are “virtual synesthetic perspectives anchored in (functionally limited by) the actually existing, particular things that embody them.”72 We see affect unfolding in and through the body, but it is not individualized: subjectivity remains a fictive entity that can be made, unmade, or remade through affect. What I have identified as the “affective form” of Aminatta Forna’s psychoanalytic fiction such as The Memory of Love or Happiness draws strength from its depiction of the abstract and concrete materialities of traumatic states. Formally, this manifests in an overlapping narrative structure whose complexity cannot be grasped by individuals on either side of the ideological divide. As Caroline Levine said of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (1853), “the networked plot hints at immeasurable durations and extensions that lie beyond its own considerable reach.”73 The turn to affective capacity is undoubtedly a function of literature and literary criticism at the present time, marred as this time is with the realities of perpetual global war, mass violence, and a failure of collectively imagining a shared world. The affect-led approach to recoding postcolonial history joins other critical interventions that fruitfully examine the complex, often embodied, interconnections between political, economic, socio-cultural, and psychic scripts.

Notes 1. Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), p. 4. 2. Ibid. p. 5. 3. Ibid. p. 8. 4. Aminatta Forna, The Memory of Love (London: Bloomsbury, 2010), p. 319. 5. [last accessed 26 July 2019]. 6. Aminatta Forna, The Hired Man (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), p. 43. 7. Nilanjana Roy, “Happiness by Aminatta Forna – the London that Foxes Know,” Financial Times (16 March 2018): 91-11e8-b27e-cc62a39d57a0 [last accessed 26 July 2019]. 8. Ibid. 207.

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9. Aminatta Forna, Ancestor Stones (London: Bloomsbury, 2006), p. 6. 10. Ibid. p. 6. 11. Ruth Leys, Trauma: A Genealogy (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), p. 3. 12. Ibid. p. 5. 13. David Scott, Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2004). 14. Nikolas Rose, Inventing Our Selves: Psychology, Power, and Personhood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 190. 15. Forna, The Memory of Love, p. 320. 16. Ibid. p. 112, p. 359. 17. Ibid. pp. 218–19. 18. Ibid. p. 325. 19. Ibid. p. 128. 20. Ethan Watters, Crazy Like Us: The Globalisation of the Western Mind (London: Hachette UK, 2011), p. 72. 21. Forna, The Memory of Love, p. 168. 22. Ian Hacking, Mad Travelers: Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illnesses (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 13, p. 8. 23. Forna, The Memory of Love, p. 45. 24. Ibid. p. 319. 25. Aminatta Forna, Happiness (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), p. 194. 26. Ibid. p. 66. 27. Saira Mohamed, “Of Monsters and Men: Perpetrator Trauma and Mass Atrocity,” Columbia Law Review (2015), 1157–1216. 28. Forna, Happiness, p. 202. 29. Forna, The Memory of Love, p. 27. 30. Ibid. p. 220. 31. Ibid. p. 339. 32. Ibid. p. 341. 33. Ibid. p. 341. 34. Forna, Happiness, p. 210. 35. Forna, The Memory of Love, p. 321. 36. Ibid. p. 48. 37. Ibid. p. 322. 38. Ibid. p. 169. 39. Ibid. p. 187. Later in the novel, we learn that there is no sanctuary for Agnes in post-war Sierra Leone, for she is living under the same roof as the man she witnessed murdering her husband. This man has now married her daughter, so Agnes gags herself to protect her daughter from the devastating knowledge. 40. Ibid. p. 115. 41. Ibid. p. 286. 42. “The Politics of Trauma: A Conversation with Judith Herman,” Listening to Trauma: Conversations with Leaders in the Theory and Treatment of


43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73.

ankhi mukherjee Catastrophic Experience, ed. Cathy Caruth (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014), p. 141. Adrian Johnston and Catherine Malabou, Self and Emotional Life: Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), p. 8. Forna, The Memory of Love, p. 440. Ibid. p. 441. Forna, Happiness, p. 238. Ibid. 215. Brian Massumi, “The Autonomy of Affect,” Cultural Critique 31 (Autumn 1995), p. 88. Ibid. p. 88. Rey Terada, Feeling in Theory (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 8. Massumi, Parables, 35. Ibid. p. 39. Ibid. p. 41. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), p. 16. Ibid. p. 26. Fredric Jameson, The Antinomies of Realism (London: Verso, 2013), p. 32. Ibid. p. 31. Ibid. p. 32. Ibid. p. 34. Adrian Johnston and Catherine Malabou, Self and Emotional Life: Philosophy, Psychoanalysis, and Neuroscience (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), p. 209. Ibid. Jameson, Antinomies, p. 42. Ibid. p. 39. The Affect Theory Reader ed. Melissa Gregg et al. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 11. Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma (London: Penguin, 2014), p. 3. Ibid. p. 2. Forna, Happiness, 279–80. Van der Kolk, The Body Keeps Score, p. 22. Ibid. p. 22. Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016), p. 7. Forna, The Memory of Love, p. 320. Massumi, Parables, p. 35. Caroline Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Heirarchy, Network (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015), p. 130.

chapter 17

Subaltern Affects Stephen Morton

Towards the end of Mahasweta Devi’s short story ‘Douloti the Bountiful’, we are presented with the harrowing image of the eponymous protagonist lying face down on a map of India that a school teacher had drawn on the ground of a village school to celebrate the coming of India’s independence: In the morning at six, Mohan Srivastava, the master at the Basic Primary School in Bira village of Tohri Block, heard an uproar as he was fixing the Indian tricolor on a bamboo pole. He came out with the flag in his hand. Quite a few people have crowded around the map of India that had been carefully drawn, first by cutting the outline and then by pouring liquid chalk into it. Today is Independence Day, the first day of the month of Bhadra. Children will come to raise the flag and elders come to see the fun. It is they who are standing crowded together, pointing with their fingers, speaking fearfully, pausing often. Mohan Srivastava came down from the room and then, looking front, he closed his eyes. His body jerked again and again, as if his arms and legs were tied and a machine-gun was being emptied into him. Filling the entire peninsula from the oceans to the Himalayas, here lies bonded labor spread-eagled, kamiya-whore, Douloti Nagesia’s tormented corpse, putrefied with venereal disease, having vomited up all the blood in its desiccated lungs. Today, on the fifteenth of August, Douloti has left no room at all in the India of people like Mohan for planting the standard of the Independence flag. What will Mohan do now? Douloti is all over India.1

To Mohan Srivastava, the sudden appearance of Douloti’s tormented corpse on his roughly drawn map of India is shocking. Her body effaces the physical details of the Indian subcontinent detailed on the map, and in so doing raises profound questions about the very meaning of the nation. The unwelcome presence of Douloti’s body on Mohan’s map interrupts the lesson in political geography that the schoolteacher had prepared for his students, and thereby also seems to prevent the transmission of knowledge. 317


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Yet the appearance of Douloti’s corpse on the map also points to another cartography of sex work, bonded labour, hunger, and dispossession, which raises significant doubts about the democratic promise of a new beginning that Mohan’s pedagogical performance of postcolonial independence claims to herald. This cartography is perhaps not immediately intelligible in the scene that Mohan witnesses, but it is strongly implied in the phrase ‘Douloti is all over India’.2 To benevolent readers such as Mohan Srivastava, the appearance of Douloti’s corpse on the map of India may also appear to be shameful. But what does it mean for the indebtedness and sexual exploitation of one body to be experienced by someone else as a form of shame? In a commentary on this story, Gayatri Spivak has suggested that something of the affective power of Douloti’s body remains in the closing scene of the story. Rather than a passive vehicle for an elite narrative of the postcolonial nation, the image of Douloti’s corpse certainly marks the specific ways in which the combined and uneven development of capitalist modernity persist in the transition from empire to nation in postcolonial India. In the fictional world of the story, feudal socio-economic practices such as bonded labour continue to coexist alongside more modern economic practices such as manufacturing, industry, and financial speculation in the political space of contemporary India. In the elite structures of postcolonial Indian society, the story also suggests that there is no space in which the subaltern can speak or act politically. And yet what is particularly powerful about the fictional subaltern body depicted in the story is the capacity of that subaltern body to affect readers in particular ways. If the gendered subaltern cannot speak, Devi suggests that the subaltern’s embodied knowledge and historical experience of the cycles of capital accumulation, dispossession, debt, poverty, and starvation might be transmitted in different ways. I begin with this extract from ‘Douloti the Bountiful’ because it raises important questions about the significance of affect and feeling in postcolonial world literature and culture. If affect theory is principally concerned to account for the visceral forces and intensities that relate human and non-human bodies, how might it help to make sense of the force and intensity of capitalist cultures of accumulation and extraction as they are lived, felt, and understood by subaltern bodies living and dying in the Global South? In what ways might the transmission of affect associated with the political and economic legacies of European colonialism shape the understanding of such contemporary cultures of accumulation, extraction, and dispossession? And how might technologies of representation, such as

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printed books, help to illuminate the ways in which the sign systems of the market economy, the media, and the state affect the bodies and lived environments of those who feel the slow violence of debt, capital accumulation, and dispossession most acutely? This chapter tries to address these questions by considering how subaltern histories are registered affectively through the transmission of human remains. Building on poststructuralist theories of subaltern affect and psychoanalytic accounts of affect in the decolonial thought of Frantz Fanon, it suggests that the histories of those whose lives are deemed without value and denied expression in hegemonic forms of speech and representation are nevertheless transmitted in the embodied experiences of subalternity. In an editorial introduction to a special issue of Angelaki, the journal of the theoretical humanities, Jon Beasley Murray and Alberto Moreiras suggest that affect might provide a means of understanding subaltern politics outside the hegemonic structures of speech and representation, which tend to exclude subaltern bodies. As they put it: ‘If there were a privileged (indeed, exclusive) relation between hegemony and speech, would there be a privileged (if not perhaps exclusive) relation between subalternity and affect? Is, in short, the positive relation between hegemony and speech shadowed by a (similarly positive) relation between subalternity and affect?’3 Such questions are certainly thought provoking, but they are also limited by a particular understanding of affect, as I now explain. In the Global South, the legacy of neo-colonialism and the economies of abandonment associated with structural adjustment have a very particular affective charge, which has not been fully explored or theorised. One possible way to account for the affect associated with neo-colonialism and structural adjustment is to pursue some of the leads suggested by postcolonial thought. In A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (1999), Gayatri Spivak suggests that European enlightenment concepts of reason, and the civilising rhetoric of imperialism, which draws on these concepts, also depend on what Spivak calls the foreclosure of affect. For Spivak, this foreclosed affect is projected onto a figure that she calls the ‘native informant’.4 The native informant for Spivak is a subaltern figure who is deprived of speech, or, to be more precise, of the capacity to make speech acts. Importantly, the figure of the native informant is not simply or only the absent colonial subject of the European enlightenment; nor is she the subject of western ethnography. The native informant is also, Spivak explains, the ‘poorest woman of the South’, who marks the persistent foreclosure of ‘the South’s crucial assistance to the North in keeping up


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its resource-hungry lifestyle’.5 In this statement, Spivak also picks up and elaborates a cluster of points that are touched on a few pages earlier: about the historical connections between imperialism, neocolonialism, and ‘the dynamics of the financialisation of the globe’ in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet bloc.6 One implication of this point is that the contemporary financialisation of the world is bound up with the historical cycles of capital accumulation and dispossession that were made possible by the longer history of European territorial colonialism and the passage to neo-colonialism and post-Soviet globalisation. Such contemporary economic concerns may seem far removed from the philosophical categories of European enlightenment thought with which Spivak is also concerned. The crucial point, however, is that the framing of the natural world as a sublime object of aesthetic contemplation for the European subject of enlightenment thought prefigures the imperialist worlding of the world as a resource for capital accumulation and contemporary financial speculation. By framing the world in this way, however, the voice and experience of those who are dispossessed by such global cycles of capital accumulation are foreclosed. Spivak borrows the psychoanalytic language of affect and foreclosure to describe the ways in which the contemporary global economy depends on the repression of its political unconscious. For Lacan, foreclosure was a translation of the Freudian term repression, and was used to describe the way in which the ego ‘rejected an incompatible idea together with the affect, and behaves as if the idea had never occurred to the ego at all’.7 In Lacan’s formulation, foreclosure entailed the rejection or expulsion of an incompatible idea together with the affect it generated from the Symbolic Order, but he went on to observe that this foreclosed affect reappears in the Real. Spivak draws the inference that ‘the Real is or carries the mark of that expulsion’,8 before proceeding to declare that: ‘I think of the “native informant” as a name for that mark of expulsion from the name of Man – a mark crossing out the impossibility of the ethical relation’.9 In this reworking of Lacan’s theory of foreclosure, one might also consider who bears the symbolic burden of affect and who gets to foreclose that affect. If ‘the poorest woman of the global South’ embodies the affect that is associated with the violence of finance capitalism, it seems reasonable to assume that the individuals who stand to benefit most from contemporary formations of capital accumulation and financial speculation are among those who are most likely to foreclose the affect associated with such inequality. To put it another way, the gendered figure of the native informant becomes a symbol of shame or guilt for the enlightened subject of European humanism.

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One potential difficulty in approaching affect in this way is that it runs the risk of conflating the distinct categories of affect and emotions, feelings, and sentiments. For some affect theorists, affect ‘is a physiological and biological phenomenon, signalling why bodily matter matters, what escapes or remains outside of the discursively structured and thus commodity forms of emotion, of feeling’.10 Such a conception of affect may seem antithetical to particular modes of identity politics that are rooted in fixed ideas of representation and subjectivity. And yet, as Jasbir K. Puar has argued, it is also possible to imagine race, sex, and class as intersecting elements of an assemblage, or a ‘series of dispersed but mutually implicated and messy networks’, which draw together ‘enunciation and dissolution, causality and effect, organic and nonorganic forces’.11 Puar’s observations raise important questions about the methodological challenges of following the affective register of subaltern history and politics. What does it mean to approach subaltern histories in terms of a politics of affect concerned with contingent and as yet unknowable processes of becoming rather than a politics of representation that is centred on fixed and knowable identities or subject positions?12 If, as Spivak has suggested elsewhere, the subaltern is a position without identity or a situational term that eludes positive categorisation,13 how might the language of affect provide a way to account for the dynamic forms of collective life, agency, and sociability that are sometimes designated as subaltern? A consideration of affect could provide another way to understand the transmission of subaltern histories, which have been denied expression by hegemonic modes of representation. And yet such histories cannot be understood or accounted for without recourse to some form of representational vocabulary, even if such a lexicon of representation is invoked to reinforce the point that affect is by definition unrepresentable.14 Rather than trying to disentangle the affective and representational forms in which subaltern histories are experienced and understood, this essay considers how the affective and the representational are densely entangled in the fabric of postcolonial thought and aesthetics. In so doing, it suggests that subaltern histories present an urgent political as well as epistemological challenge to predominant approaches to affect. In a discussion of the colonisation of psychic space, Kelly Oliver has suggested that ‘drives and affects do not originate in one body or one psyche but rather are relational and transitory – they can move from one body to another’.15 Citing Frantz Fanon’s observation that the negative affects of the oppressors are ‘deposited into the bones of the oppressed’, Oliver argues that affects ‘move between bodies; colonization and


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oppression operate through depositing the unwanted affects of the dominant group onto those othered by that group in order to sustain its privileged position’.16 Oliver’s comments are particularly germane to the affective turn in postcolonial thought with which this essay is concerned, for they offer a thought-provoking account of the affective dimension of colonial sovereignty and anti-colonial struggle. What Oliver implies in her reflections on Fanon is that the sovereignty of colonial power is partly sustained in and through the affective force of rhetoric. Such a mode of sovereignty seeks to control the bodies of those subjected to that rhetoric by limiting their capacity to act. This is not to suggest that the transmission of colonial affect takes place exclusively through language or representation. For the intensity of colonial governmentality and its neo-colonial aftermath has a profound effect on the nervous systems of those who are subjected to such modes of power. When Fanon speaks of how the VietMinh revolted against French colonial rule in former Indochina because they couldn’t breathe,17 for instance, he makes clear that colonial sovereignty acts upon the vital biological processes of the human body. And yet, in the transition from a suffocating colonial sovereignty to a new postcolonial dispensation, the liberation of the body’s autonomic processes from colonial regimes of capital accumulation and dispossession is far from clear. If, as Oliver suggests, the psychic life of colonial power is sustained in part by the transmission of negative affect associated with stereotypes, it is important to emphasise that such stereotypes have a potent affective charge precisely because they are bound up with the necro-economic imperatives of imperialism. It is worth recalling here that classic theories of imperialism such as those of Vladimir Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg held that imperialism is the uneven process by which European capitalist markets expanded across the surface of the globe through violent processes of extraction, accumulation, and dispossession. A major casualty of imperialism is the colonial subject, who was effectively treated as a form of disposable humanity by restricting their access to property, land, and resources. In the transition from European colonialism to a postcolonial order, the colonial subject is refashioned, and endowed with the formal rights associated with citizenship. And yet the invisible hand of the former European colonial sovereign continues to assert its indirect economic influence over the lives, livelihoods, and bodies of postcolonial citizens, even after the process of decolonisation. In an account of how Europe underdeveloped the colonial world, Fanon

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explains how the legacy of European colonialism affected the environment and infrastructure of decolonising societies: Today, national independence and nation building in the underdeveloped regions take on an entirely new aspect. In these regions, except for some remarkable achievements, every country suffers from the same lack of infrastructure. The masses battle with the same poverty, wrestle with the same age-old gestures, and delineate what we could call the geography of hunger with their shrunken bellies. A world of underdevelopment, a world of poverty and inhumanity. But also a world without doctors, without engineers, without administrators. Facing this world, the European nations wallow in the most ostentatious opulence. This European opulence is literally a scandal for it was built on the backs of slaves, it fed on the blood of slaves, and owes its very existence to the soil and subsoil of the underdeveloped world. Europe’s well-being and progress were built with the sweat and corpses of blacks, Arabs, Indians, and Asians.18

Here, Fanon identifies a general tendency across the postcolonial world: ‘the same absence of infrastructure’, and the ‘same poverty’ collectively help us to make sense of what he calls ‘a geography of hunger’. But this ‘hungry world’, which Fanon also calls an ‘underdeveloped world’, is not simply a sign of a failed postcolonial state or a failed economy. On the contrary, it is Europe and the legacy of the European colonial project that has underdeveloped the postcolonial world and continues to profit from that underdevelopment. Such underdevelopment is experienced as a form of poverty and hunger, which is aided and abetted by the absence of infrastructure. At the level of the body, poverty and hunger are felt and experienced as a loss of energy and a capacity to act. And yet, in order to make sense of the affect associated with this loss of energy, Fanon makes use of prosopopoeia to give voice to the violence of neo-colonialism: When a colonialist country, embarrassed by the claims for independence made by a colony, proclaims to the nationalist leaders: ‘If you wish for independence, take it, and go back to the Middle Ages,’ the newly independent people tend to acquiesce and to accept the challenge; in fact you may see colonialism withdrawing its capital and its technicians and setting up around the young State the apparatus of economic pressure. The apotheosis of independence is transformed into the curse of independence, and the colonial power through its immense resources of coercion condemns the young nation to regression. In plain words, the colonial power says: ‘Since you want independence, take it and starve.’ The nationalist leaders have no other choice but to turn to their people and ask from them a gigantic effort.19


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It is through the personification of ‘the colonial power’, in other words, that Fanon makes sense of the global economic and political forces that have stripped the colonial world of its resources and infrastructure. Such a rhetorical figure may give a face and a voice to the affective force of colonial dispossession, starvation, and abandonment. Yet it also elides the visceral forces and intensities of neo-colonial violence. Earlier in ‘Concerning Violence’, Fanon refers to ‘an atmospheric violence’ or a ‘violence rippling under the skin’.20 This suggestive reference to the slow temporality of an as-yet-unarticulated anti-colonial violence that eventually makes its presence felt when it explodes (or ‘blows its lid’) may seem ineffable. But it also gestures towards a more precise understanding of the ways in which intense and routine exposure to poverty, discrimination, and violence gradually produce an atmosphere of disaffection. In the quasi-legal language of British colonial sovereignty, disaffection was synonymous with sedition: it named an insurgent affect that was promoted by seditious speeches, literature, music, or propaganda. Such seditious forms of expression gave form and meaning to the material conditions of poverty, hunger, and discrimination which not only underpinned disaffection, but also affected one’s embodied capacity to act. There is something similarly seditious about Fanon’s ‘Concerning Violence’, concerned as it is with the violent atmosphere of colonialism. Re-reading the earlier section of the essay in light of Fanon’s later reflections on neo-colonialism helps to illuminate the ways in which the intensity of anti-colonial disaffection could prefigure a similar atmosphere of violent disaffection in postcolonial societies. Considered in relation to predominant theories of affect, moreover, disaffection could name those insurgent structures of feeling that stand outside hegemonic forms of representation. Writing in the late 1950s, Fanon’s reflections on the kinds of demands and pressures that are placed on former colonised populations after independence are striking in their prescience. Indeed, Fanon’s observations in ‘Concerning Violence’ seem to prophesy the regimes of austerity that were subsequently imposed on debtor countries in the global South during the 1980s: A regime of austerity is imposed on these starving men; a disproportionate amount of work is required from their atrophied muscles. An autarkic regime is set up and each state, with the miserable resources it has in hand, tries to find an answer to the nation’s great hunger and poverty. We see the mobilization of a people which toils to exhaustion in front of a suspicious and bloated Europe.21

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On a first reading, it might be difficult to see why Fanon is talking about hunger and poverty in an essay called ‘Concerning Violence’. If it is true that European commercial banks, private investors, and finance ministers were indirectly implicated in the fate of postcolonial national economies after decolonisation, it is also true that European financial institutions do not wield weapons or threaten torture in the same way that the colonial soldiers or military police did in the colonial wars that informed and inflected Fanon’s earlier writings. And yet, the legacy of colonial plunder, and the withdrawal of private capital investment from African countries after decolonisation can be understood as form of slow violence, in which the collapse of infrastructure, and the scarcity of resources leads to spiralling costs, rising national debt, austerity and unemployment. Slow violence, as Rob Nixon explains, denotes a violence of delayed destruction that occurs gradually and out of sight – in another place and another time.22 Slow violence also names the structural violence of neoliberalism, where policy decisions about currency devaluation and austerity measures that were subsequently made in the name of free trade in the board rooms of the International Monetary Fund in the US and Europe can work to increase mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa. If Europe underdeveloped the colonial world, Fanon suggests, underdevelopment can also be understood as a form of slow violence. A consideration of the geographical determinants of hunger and poverty may contribute to a recalibration of predominant understandings of affect by bringing the material need for food or subsistence back into our analytic frameworks and vocabularies. Parama Roy has argued that the emphasis on food security in the planning of the Indian state after 1947 ‘has failed to decisively curb conditions of alimentary inequality and alimentary violence, including hunger and malnutrition’.23 What Roy does not fully account for, however, is the way in which debt has provided a technique of governance and labour exploitation which exploits this need for food and subsistence, particularly among the landless peasantry in the Global South. Indeed, the cycles of debt, hunger, and famine could be understood as part of a neo-colonial war machine that contributes to the uneven development of capital accumulation on a global scale. In his recent work on debt, the Italian philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato has argued that a consideration of the creditor-debtor relation in primitive societies questions the moral logic of equality that is presumed to underpin the principle of exchange between labour and capital. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of money in Anti-Oedipus, Lazzarato argues that debt establishes an asymmetrical power relationship between the creditor and


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the debtor that also places the indebted subject in a relation of infinite debt, or debt without limits.24 The practice of bonded labour in contemporary South Asia is sometimes regarded as a sign that so-called primitive forms of accumulation persist in postcolonial societies. What such an observation ignores, however, is the way in which global supply chains depend on such inhuman forms of labour exploitation. As Siddharth Kara explains: Bonded labor is at once the most ancient and the most contemporary face of human servitude. While it spans the breadth and depth of all manner of servile labor going back millennia, the products of present-day bonded labor touch almost every aspect of the global economy, including frozen shrimp and fish, tea, coffee, rice, wheat, diamonds, gems, cubic zirconia, glassware, brassware, carpets, cigarettes, bidis (Indian cigarettes), apparel, fireworks, knives, sporting goods, and many other products. Virtually everyone’s life, everywhere in the world, is touched by bonded labor in South Asia.25

How might we begin to account for this complex geography of touching that is often foreclosed in our immediate encounter with everyday objects and commodities? And how might the aesthetic form of postcolonial texts help us to make sense of this touching, and the ways in which everyday objects transmit the material circumstances of bonded labour that is somehow congealed within their fabric? To begin to address these questions, I turn now to a contemporary novel by Neel Mukherjee. At the start of Mukherjee’s 2014 novel, The Lives of Others, readers are presented with an account of a family murder. In this description, we see the indebted and starving rural labourer, Nitai Das, walk back from the local landlord’s house in a remote village in Bihar to his hut, after being refused a cup of rice and beaten up by the landlord’s guards: The landlord has explained to him what lies in store for his children if he does not pay off the interest on his first loan. Nitai has brought them into this world of misery, of endless, endless misery. Who can escape what’s written on his forehead from birth? He knows what to do now.26

By suggesting that ‘Nitai has brought [the children] into this world of misery’, the third-person narrator suggests that Nitai is himself responsible for that misery and for the socio-economic conditions of his family’s misery; for he is framed as the agent of the sentence, and thereby encouraged to feel responsible for maintaining the debt repayments to the local landlord as well as for the subsistence of his family. Yet through the use of free indirect discourse, the narrator suggests that these are the words of the local landlord, which Nitai is forced to internalise and readers are invited to question. To the rural poor in late twentieth-century South Asia, Mukherjee suggests, the

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modern world economic system is lived and experienced as ‘a world of misery, of endless, endless misery’ as ‘adivasis, the so-called “scheduled tribes”’, were dispossessed by ‘the collective might and muscle of Steel Authority of India, Tata Steel and Hindustan Cables [. . .]’.27 The repetition of the adjective ‘endless’ in the prologue underscores a sense in which the affect associated with debt and dispossession has an indefinite temporality, from which there is no escape. Rather than foreclosing this affect, however, Mukherjee tries to explore the ways in which the affective life of the rural subaltern has not only touched the lives of others, but has also been made intelligible through that touching. The narrator proceeds to explain in graphic detail how Nitai manages to summon up enough energy to take the lives of his emaciated wife and two children, before taking his own life. In the words of the narrator: ‘he too is returned from the nothing in his life to nothing’.28 The implication of this statement is that the murder itself was a mercy killing. Death offers an immediate escape from the slow violence of debt, dispossession, and interminable hunger, which the narrator calls ‘a slow, beyond-the-end nothing’.29 The narrative framing of this grim act of matricide, double infanticide, and suicide in a remote part of rural Bihar prefaces another narrative that chronicles the history of the Ghoshes, a middle-class family who live in a large house in Calcutta. What links this family history and the fortunes of the family’s paper manufacturing and printing empire to the impoverished conditions of the dispossessed rural peasantry is the narrative of Supratik Ghosh, the rebellious son of Adinath and Sandyha Ghosh, who drops out of university to join the armed Naxalite struggle to redistribute land to the landless in rural India. It is Supratik who mediates the story of Nitai Das through his notebooks on the slow and painstaking work of political organising that he undertakes in the peasant villages. Indeed, the novel ultimately subordinates the stories of dispossessed rural peasant figures such as Nitai Das to Supratik’s first-person account of his involvement in planned acts of violence committed by the Naxalites against local landowners and the police. Such a narrative technique may strike readers as ambivalent, as Ankhi Mukherjee suggests in a review of the novel.30 Certainly, the novel’s representation of the acts of violence which Supratik and his Naxalite comrades execute against local landlords and the police is bloodthirsty; what’s more, Supratik’s theft of his family’s jewellery to fund a bombing operation and his framing of the family servant for that crime is represented as a questionable moral act that borders on the reprehensible. And yet, the novel’s haunting evocation of Nitai Das’ miserable life and death in the prologue to the novel


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overshadows these subsequent acts of political violence and helps to make sense of the profoundly unequal socio-economic context in which the Naxalite movement came about. If, as Ankhi Mukherjee suggests in her chapter to this book, ‘affect as a mode of signification and identification in the postcolonial novel is [. . .] often a symptomatic reaction to the asymmetries of power and resources in the global world, [and of] the inseparability of neocolonialism from unlimited capitalism and neoliberalism’,31 this mode of signification is also often narrated in and through a literary form that is a product of those very asymmetries. In The Lives of Others, the socio-economic differences between the educated intellectual and the rural subaltern are certainly brought to the fore. In his diary, Supratik acknowledges during the period when he lives with the rural peasantry in Majgeria that he and his comrades might be perceived as the ‘class enemies’ of the peasantry.32 Indeed, this distance between the educated middle-class Calcutta radicals and the rural peasantry is further underscored in an earlier conversation between Supratik and his comrade, Samir, about how Supratik’s everyday practice of writing in a diary might be regarded as ‘conspicuous’ by the Bengali peasantry in the village ‘who are, almost without exception, illiterate’.33 If Supratik’s mode of identification with the plight of the rural peasantry is understood as an affective mode of identification, the representation of the conditions of the rural peasantry in the narrative structure of a handwritten diary would also seem to foreclose that affect in the act of representing it and making it intelligible. For affect is, by definition, an embodied sensation which cannot be easily named or defined as a positive thing in discourse. And yet in the act of representing (and thereby foreclosing) the affect associated with dispossession and immiseration in the pages of a contemporary novel, a trace of that subaltern affect remains, as we will see. In a discussion of the politics of representation in postcolonial fiction, Neil Lazarus writes of how the success of writers in ‘opening up’ for us structures of feeling or fields of vision, in enabling us as readers imaginatively to inhabit those structures or fields, depends on their ability to find the words, concepts, figures, and narrative forms to mediate and thread together – in ways that are not merely plausible, but more importantly intelligible and transmissible – what are in fact discrepant and discontinuous aspects of reality.34 Although Lazarus does not talk specifically about affect or the affective dimension of writing, his use of Raymond Williams’ term ‘structures of feeling’ is closely related to the concept of affect with which this essay is concerned. If affect denotes an automatic response to an external stimulus, structures of feeling name those ‘affective elements of

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consciousness and relationships’ that are lived and felt by particular social groups.35 In The Lives of Others, the juxtaposition of different fictional life worlds works to mediate and transmit a subaltern structure of feeling that gradually takes shape across the temporality of the narrative. By moving between the details of power struggles within the Ghosh family household in Calcutta and Supratik’s first-hand account of the material conditions of the rural poor in the villages of West Bengal, the narrative enjoins readers to consider the profoundly uneven and unequal temporality of capitalist modernity, as it is lived and experienced in different quarters of Bengali society in the late 1960s. The elite nationalist narrative represented by the Ghosh family drama is at one and the same time a narrative that forensically details the contingent circumstances that contribute to the falling rate of profit in the Charu paper empire, and the family arguments that ensue. By interrupting the temporality of this family narrative with an account of the class war that Supratik wages alongside landless peasants in the countryside and against a wealthy class of landlords, the novel also invites readers to reflect on the ways in which an ineffable political energy is mobilised and understood: The village was humming and buzzing with stories. And with fear. You could feel it in the air, a sort of invisible mantle that had come down over everything. [. . .] A strange sensation had us in its grip – not quite ennui, or quite inertia, but the lull that sets in after you think you’ve achieved what you set out to do.36

The fear that ‘you could feel in the air’, which also energises the ‘humming and buzzing’ of stories may be read as a form of anxiety about reprisals for the acts of violence carried out by Naxalite militants against corrupt and exploitative landlords. If it is considered in relation to the discrepant narrative of the bourgeois family plot at the centre of the narrative, however, we can begin to see how the patriarchal family is not isolated from such turbulent political events, but part of the problem. As the young Supratik declares to his mother before he goes off to join the Naxalite struggle: ‘Has the thought ever crossed your mind that the family is the primary unit of exploitation?’37 In saying this, Supratik draws attention to the ways in which the fortunes of the Ghosh family are tied to the misfortunes of the peasantry in the surrounding countryside, even if these connections are often repressed or hidden from view. Yet it is the novel’s ghostly evocation of the colonial past that registers the connections between the bourgeois family, capital accumulation, and the embodied experience of poverty and dispossession. In a haunting image


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from the 1943 famine in Bengal, at a time when the Charu paper business was flourishing, the narrator refers to a woman who had starved to death at the side of the road in a Calcutta suburb, and how her emaciated child had not been able to summon up the energy to throw a stone at a crow that was attempting to pluck out one of his mother’s eyes. The repetition of this image in the late twentieth-century context of the story may suggest that little has changed in the transition from colonial sovereignty to a new postcolonial capitalist economy. It also suggests a connection with earlier literary representations of the Bengal famine, and attempts to capture the political mood of the poor, both in the city and the countryside, which may help to shed further light on the ways in which the affective condition of subalternity is registered in The Lives of Others. In an interview published in the Hindustan Times, Neel Mukherjee identifies a story by the Bengali writer, Manik Bandyopadhyay, as one of the key literary influences on his novel. This story – entitled ‘Chhiniye khay’ni keno?’ (‘Why didn’t they snatch and eat?’) – is staged as a dialogue between an elite gentleman and a man called Jogi, who the narrator describes as an urban bandit; we are told that Jogi had stolen food, but also nursed the dying on the streets during the Bengal famine. The title of the story is a question attributed to the former president of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, who is reputed to have asked why the poor did not loot and steal food during the Bengal famine of 1943. In an account of his failed attempt to organise and mobilise a group of people to loot rice from a landlord who was stockpiling rice in a warehouse, Jogi explains that hunger affects one’s desire to eat: ‘When one goes without a meal, it is not just the body that gets dried up, the urge to fight for life and grab food goes down too’.38 This urge may seem unnameable, but it also foregrounds how the economic violence of imperialism is experienced at the level of the body: to be reduced to a condition of bare life through intense forms of economic dispossession and famine that impact on the vital biological systems of the body is to be stripped of the ‘urge’ to survive and to express disaffection with the very economic system that is reducing one’s capacity to act. Such an assessment of the affective lives of the poor during the Bengal famine may help to shed light on the state of Nitai Das’s mind just before he takes his own life and that of his family. This is not to suggest, however, that the socio-economic conditions of the rural peasantry in postcolonial South Asia necessarily limit their capacity to act, even if it affects their embodied sense of being in the world. As the second epilogue to Mukherjee’s Lives of Others suggests, there are also ways in which the precarious lives of the subaltern register and transmit their lived, embodied experience of neocolonial dispossession

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and abandonment through particular tropes and figures. In an account of Sabita Kumari’s rage, the third-person narrator struggles to find words to articulate such bodily sensations: People talk of rage as something fluid: it boils, flows, spills over, scalds. For her, it is not any of these things. Instead it is a vast, frozen sea, solid as rock, unthawable. She has never seen the sea, but she knows it wraps around three-quarters of the world. All her anger is that and more.39

The worldly scale of Sabita Kumari’s rage serves as a powerful reminder of how the intensity of the tradition of the oppressed is transmitted and registered in ways that are not immediately intelligible or nameable in the hegemonic form of the Anglophone postcolonial novel; rather, such intense embodied sensations are mediated through sublime tropes and metaphors of the unrepresentable and the unnameable. In this respect, the language of affect may provide another way of understanding how it is that the historical experiences and embodied knowledges of subaltern groups who are conventionally denied a voice in hegemonic political discourse still manage to transmit and communicate a sense of these historical forms of knowledge and experience. Such literary representations of subaltern affect have significant and far-reaching implications for understanding how dispossessed constituencies who are denied a political voice and rendered expressionless in hegemonic forms of political representation nevertheless manage to find a way to communicate their disaffection with the socio-economic injustices of neo-colonialism in terms that both defamiliarise and interrupt the language of pre-dominant political discourse.

Notes 1. Mahasweta Devi, ‘Douloti the Bountiful’, in Imaginary Maps, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 93. 2. Ibid. 3. Jon Beasley Murray and Alberto Moreiras, ‘Subalternity and Affect’, Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 6:1 (April 2001), p. 2. 4. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 5. 5. Ibid. p. 6. 6. Ibid. p. 3. 7. Ibid. p. 4. 8. Ibid. p. 5. 9. Ibid. p. 6.


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10. Jasbir K. Puar, Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), p. 207. 11. Ibid. p. 211. 12. See ibid. pp. 203–222. 13. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, The Postcolonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues, ed. Sarah Harasym (London: Routledge, 1990), p. 141; Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), p. 431. 14. Puar, Terrorist Assemblages, p. 207. 15. Kelly Oliver, The Colonization of Psychic Space: A Psychoanalytic Theory of Oppression (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), p. xix. 16. Ibid. 17. Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks, trans. Charles Lam Markmann (London: Pluto, 2008), p. 176. 18. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Richard Philcox (New York: Grove Press, 2004), p. 53. 19. Ibid. pp. 53–54. 20. Ibid. p. 31. 21. Ibid. pp. 54–55. 22. See Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012). 23. Parama Roy, Alimentary Tracts: Appetites, Aversions, and the Postcolonial (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), p. 22. 24. Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of Indebted Man, trans. Joshua David Jordan (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2012), pp. 78–79. 25. Siddharth Kara, Bonded Labor: Tackling the System of Slavery in South Asia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), p. 3. 26. Neel Mukherjee, The Lives of Others (London: Chatto and Windus, 2014), p. 2. 27. Ibid. p. 62. 28. Ibid. p. 4. 29. Ibid. p. 2. 30. Ankhi Mukherjee, ‘The Great Bengali Novel in English’, Contemporary Literature, Volume 57, Number 3, Autumn 2016, pp. 462–470 (p. 470). 31. Ankhi Mukherjee, ‘Affective Form’, in Affect, ed. Alex Houen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018), pp. 300–16. 32. Mukherjee, The Lives of Others, p. 176. 33. Ibid. p. 128. 34. Neil Lazarus, The Postcolonial Unconscious (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 79–80. 35. Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 132. 36. Mukherjee, The Lives of Others, p. 304. 37. Ibid. p. 79.

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38. Manik Bandyopadhyay, ‘Why Didn’t They Snatch and Eat?’ in Elizabeth Ammons and Modhumita Roy (eds), Sharing the Earth: An International Environmental Justice Reader (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2015), p. 155. 39. Mukherjee, The Lives of Others, p. 501.



chapter 18

Affect and Environment in Contemporary Ecopoetics Margaret Ronda

In recent ecocriticism, the most pervasive approach to the subject of environmental affects has undoubtedly been the new materialist turn.1 Whether by emphasizing the existence and force of more-than-human forms – what Bruno Latour has called “actants” – or by highlighting the corporeal interfusion of human bodies with material entities, new materialism theorizes a posthuman subject wholly enmeshed with their surroundings. New materialist philosopher Rosi Braidotti defines this “enfleshed Deleuzean subject” as “an ‘in-between’: it is a folding-in of external influences and a simultaneous unfolding outwards of affects.”2 The vital energy Braidotti describes as animating the subject extends, as well, to the nonhuman realm, according to theorists such as Jane Bennett, who argue against a view of “active subjects” and “passive objects” in favor of a world composed of “lively and essentially interactive materials,” of “bodies human and nonhuman” complexly entangled.3 These posthumanist ontologies refuse what Braidotti terms the “generic figure” of “Man” that has dominated inquiry in the humanities, arguing instead for radical new forms of “egalitarianism” that cut across, and serve to undermine, various categorical distinctions.4 These theories conceptualize bodily affects as a shared ontological field. Drawing on Brian Massumi’s definition of affect as “an ability to affect and be affected,” affect in new materialism appears as an “intensity” common to and transmissible across various entities, not only the human.5 Affect is reframed as what Bennett calls a “geoaffect” or an “impersonal affect” that appears in nonhuman phenomena such as “technologies, winds, vegetables, minerals” as well as humans, animals, and other terrestrial beings.6 The affective register becomes the primary means by which we conceive ourselves as transversal rather than bounded subjects, constituted in and through common material processes and forms. In learning “to feel myself as not only human,” as Bennett puts it, we learn to expand our sensory capacities and to explore unexpected affective affinities with other entities.7 337


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Reflecting the Deleuzean inheritance of these accounts, there is an emphasis on the sensuous, even erotic corporealities of various forms of matter in relation. From Braidotti’s description of the subject as a “piece of meat activated by electric waves of desire” to Karen Barad’s assertion that “materiality itself is always already a desiring dynamism, a reiterative reconfiguring, energized and energizing, enlivened and enlivening,” new materialism describes the material world as affectively charged with a positive, amorous liveliness that we participate in as bodily beings.8 Focused on the momentary, potential-filled nature of affect as a charge that courses through bodies and phenomena, new materialism attends to the ways these shared affects reveal broader ecological relations as impure, lively, intercorporeal. By emphasizing the force and energy of material forms, many of these works counter not only discourses of human exceptionalism but what Braidotti calls the “outpour of anxiety” that accompanies much environmentalist rhetoric.9 Instead, they describe enmeshed ecologies in terms that highlight immanence and transcorporeal immersion, arguing for a renewed ethical sense that accompanies these immersive relations. These theories find powerful resonance in many recent works of North American ecopoetics that investigate transcorporeal affects as a means of thinking beyond anthropocentric logics. Poetry by writers including Brenda Hillman, Sawako Nakayasu, C.A. Conrad, Ariana Reines, CodyRose Clevidence, Joyelle McSweeney, Gabriel Gudding, Evelyn Reilly, Jody Gladding, Hoa Nguyen, Angela Rawlings, Myung Mi Kim, Melissa Mack, and Linda Russo, among others, depicts affective engagements with the more-than-human world in terms we might call new materialist, attentive to the ways these affects arise as impersonal and shared rather than interiorized and private. Delving into extended considerations of forms of matter from crystals to bark beetles, styrofoam to glaciers, ants to cow carcasses, these writers highlight the strange dynamics of and uncanny intimacies with these lively forms. Such explorations yield portrayals of subjects “in-between,” to use Braidotti’s phrase, centered on embodied perspective embedded in a material surround. As an emergent poetic field whose development is coterminous with the rise of posthumanist and new materialist theories, ecopoetics is often defined by its practitioners by this deprioritizing of the anthropocentric in favor of more decentered affective engagements. As Reilly writes in an essay on ecopoetic principles and practices: “Ecopoetics reflects yet another in a series of human decenterings, as from an ecological perspective, the self dissolves into the gene pool and the species into the ecosystem. In fact, ecopoetics

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requires the abandonment of the idea of center for a position in an infinitely extensive net of relations.”10 To take just one recent example of this ecopoetic endeavor, acclaimed poet Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge often explores encounters with plants, animals, clothing, air, trees, and qualities of light to highlight the affective mutuality of these charged moments. In one poem, “Glitter,” from her most recent book, Hello, the Roses (2013), Berssenbrugge depicts a dynamic interaction with a violet that creates a sensation of shared identity: I stop and welcome it, cooing, walking around it, not as if I were floating, but the surface of the world circled unfurling petals. Person and violet with so little in common my voice reveals as a resonance of unmanifest identity. The violet, looking back, loses objectivity and enters the expansion of recognized things. You could say our identities reach out to encompass the forest environment, like telepathy; a moment opens space by rendering it transparent in intensified consciousness.11

These lines portray a momentary act of attentiveness that involves both violet and person, rendering both as sentient, perceiving beings. The apostrophic gesture here serves to embed the speaker more deeply in her surround, as the speaker’s “voice” becomes the locus of deep resonance between entities rather than a sign of distinction between human and silent other. Through the vibrancy of sound and color occurring in this heightened moment and the series of similes Berssenbrugge deploys, a shared register of sensation emerges. Berssenbrugge foregrounds the intensities of “surfaces” here – “glitter, the mirror,” petals, color – as they reorient attention in lateral ways. Such moments lead not to any grand epiphanic revelation; instead, they cultivate an awareness of what Berssenbrugge terms “the energy between people and plants” as an ever-present field of affective potentiality (60).12 These poetic practices reorient attention, then, to the sensuous phenomenologies of everyday life, offering a capacious lexicon for envisioning forms of ecological responsiveness that do not center on anthropocentrism. Yet for all their power and promise, such methods provide only a partial approach to the complex psychic conditions of our ecological present, the time of the Anthropocene. From the radical upheavals associated with climate change to other forms of ecological devastation such as deforestation, pollution, and species extinction, the Anthropocene is characterized by unprecedented, anthropogenically-produced transformations to the Earth’s systems.13 For climate scientists and environmental historians, the


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Anthropocene not only denotes the geological imprint of this activity and its various impacts on earth systems, but is also a term that reflects a dawning awareness of the outsized impact of humans on planetary life.14 In the face of these realities, urgent new questions about individual and collective affective experience arise, beyond the purview of posthumanist discourse. How can we understand the processes by which we come to register and interiorize a sense of profound environmental alteration? How do these processes unmake or reshape feelings of ecological relationality? How might they affect conceptions of self-identity, social existence, and understandings of the human and develop new forms of kinship with other beings? In what ways do new reckonings with the scale and speed of planetary change and with complex dynamics of vulnerability and accountability find subjective expression, both in everyday responses and in the mediations of literary (and particularly poetic) form? To understand the constitution and effects of these difficult questions, we must turn, I argue, not to theories of ontological immanence but to developmental models of subject-formation such as object-relations theory. Object-relations approaches stress the complex processes by which a person comes to understand herself as at once differentiated and dependent, agential and susceptible. These psychic modes, in turn, depend on a conception of subject formation as irreducibly relational – a relationality built as much on antagonism and recognitions of difference as on intimacy and immersion. Developed by figures such as Melanie Klein and D.W. Winnicott, and further theorized by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Barbara Johnson, object-relations theory considers how psychic development proceeds not only through human interaction but through relations with other others: objects, elemental conditions, the “holding environment.” As Sedgwick writes of Klein’s work on subject formation, “human mental life becomes populated, not with ideas, representations, knowledges, urges, and repressions, but with things, things with physical properties, including people and hacked-off bits of people.”15 How we internalize, project onto, negotiate with these forms is central, in object-relations theory, to how we develop psychic “positions” for moving through the world (depressive, paranoid-schizoid). These positions are importantly non-linear, recursive, rather than developmentally teleological; they involve ongoing practices rather than singular experiences; they reveal our determination by social relations and reflect the ways those relations can provide emotional sustenance as well as profound harm. By torquing these methods to address questions of environmental

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relationality, we can discover a capacious means of approaching the complex dimensions of affective experience in a time of biospheric crisis. In turn, various key ecologically-oriented works of poetry, from Inger Christensen’s groundbreaking alphabet (1981) to recent works by Jorie Graham and Craig Santos Perez, offer nuanced examinations of these affective dynamics, creating multi-layered portraits of ecological relationality in the Anthropocene.

Object-Relations Theory and Environmental Affects For Melanie Klein and other object-relations theorists, nature’s affective claims on the subject relate back to early psychic formations of dependency, love, and aggression. “The manifold gifts of nature are equated with whatever we have received in the early days from our mother,” Melanie Klein writes in her classic essay, “Love, Guilt, and Reparation” (1937).16 Our love for the nonhuman world is connected to a recognition of basic reliance on its phenomena and processes, which we unconsciously associate with early experiences of care, Klein argues. Both the maternal figure and the natural world generate feelings of security connected to the fulfillment of essential needs and the sense of physical safety, warmth, and wellbeing.17 Another early feeling that emerges, both in relation to human figures of care and the natural world, is perceptual reciprocity. Psychoanalytic theorist Shierry Weber Nicholsen writes that such “reciprocity arises within a shared field in which both – indeed, all – parties are participating.” This field, she continues, is “something that palpably contains us, something we are in and part of” – a “holding environment” that is responsive and dynamic.18 At the same time, object-relations theory foregrounds the centrality of negative responses to these formative subjective experiences, which not only involve figures of early care but extend to elements of the natural world. According to Klein and other objectrelations theorists, we can feel forms of aggression and hostility toward aspects of our surroundings that mirror our earliest responses to felt deprivation or neglect. In turn, we cope with such complex and contradictory feelings through interactions with introjected objects, an activity that begins in infancy and continues throughout our lives. Aspects of the nonhuman environment – weather, plants and trees, animals, rocks, the elements – can become an object through which the subject engages imaginatively with her earliest desires, sensations, and fears. These interactions with objects, whether imagined or material (as in Winnicott’s transitional objects), involve


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various forms of destructive fantasy that enact feelings of aggression and hatred.19 Such fantasies of omnipotence are often accompanied by restorative impulses that attempt symbolically to recuperate the destroyed object. These dynamics of aggression and guilt, destruction and restoration play out in the internal world of the child’s developing psyche and form the basis of her relational identity. The recognition of the survival of these objects beyond their symbolic destruction becomes a crucial means of understanding the bounds of self and other, even as these fantasies of destruction arouse feelings of guilt and a desire to repair damage. Klein calls the psychic state associated with these feelings the “depressive position,” a state grounded in a recognition of otherness and the felt capacity to love, but also an acknowledgment of real limits and loss. For Klein, this is the position associated with psychic integration and the development of mature relations. It is also the position from which we can act on feelings of kinship and communal identification, including the bonds that exceed the human. While Klein understands human interactions with the nonhuman environment to be a reflection of our earliest intersubjective relations, she also stresses the real consequences of these interactions as they move beyond the symbolic and into the actual. In several places across her body of work, Klein highlights the ways natural phenomena and processes are susceptible to real violence and exploitation. In “Love, Guilt, and Reparation,” she discusses how those who live in adverse environmental conditions understand their surroundings as a “grudging and exacting mother, whose gifts must be forcibly extolled from her.”20 By drawing attention to this forcible appropriation of nature’s resources, Klein gestures, however obliquely, toward the larger dynamics of extraction and exploitation that characterize modern socioecological relations at a systemic level.21 Stressing the ways anthropogenic activity harnesses nature’s capacity to create and destroy, Klein describes how these appropriative modes are material extensions of certain psychic tendencies. Klein provides another example of these psychic dynamics in a late essay, “On the Sense of Loneliness” (1963), where she describes an adult patient whose childhood relationship to the countryside had provided psychic recompense for a difficult family life. As a child, the patient had believed that any damage he did to elements of the landscape – robbing nests, damaging hedges – would be reparable, as nature appeared to him “rich and invulnerable.”22 This patient caught a field-mouse as a present for his young child, then placed it in a box in the trunk of his car and forgot about it until the following day; the mouse had gnawed through the box and

Affect and Environment in Contemporary Ecopoetics


hidden in a far corner of the trunk, where it had died. A cathected object, this real creature presents a stark contrast to the good object of the pastoral fields and forests of the patient’s youth. Conveying a vivid manifestation of larger dynamics of environmental enclosure and destruction, the mouse undermines the patient’s early psychic fantasy of nature’s self-restorative qualities, revealing instead the profound vulnerability of the natural world and dramatizing his own capacity for harm. In these examples from Klein’s work, early primal anxieties and fantasies of omnipotence find real-world analogues in environmental activity, from the everyday to the systemic. She describes the fundamentally depressive responses that emerge from a recognition of the nonhuman world’s real susceptibility to anthropogenic harm at various scales. The subject’s development into mature awareness involves, then, not only a consciousness of her immersion within and dependence on the natural world but a reckoning with the consequences of the exploitative or violent action she participates in, directly or indirectly. Thus while her theories do not engage with the particular affective implications of ecological crisis, Klein’s writings on the dynamics of environmental response provide essential groundwork for such a consideration. For later psychoanalytic theorists, particularly Harold Searles and Shierry Weber Nicholsen, awareness of environmental crisis plays a newly determinative role in the dynamics of subject constitution.23 Across their work, both of these writers stress the primacy of the nonhuman environment to the ongoing creation of subjectivity and relational bonds. Nicholsen writes of ecological surroundings in The Love of Nature and the End of the World (2002): “in being an environ, surrounding us and gathering us inside itself, it gets inside us, providing the very ground of our being as a felt sense of interiority.”24 According to Searles and Nicholsen, such interiorized identification with qualities of the natural world, from the elements we rely on for survival to particular dimensions of a deeply familiar environment, is a foundational aspect of object relations, facilitating the development of perceptual, phenomenological, and ethical capacities. Yet what happens, these thinkers ask, when a grounding belief in the stability of the containing environment becomes endangered or entirely unavailable amidst turbulent conditions of ecological instability? In his groundbreaking essay from 1972, “Unconscious Processes in Relation to the Environmental Crisis,” Searles argues that the pervasiveness of ecological threats – from DDT contamination to air pollution, radioactive waste to the possibility of nuclear cataclysm – creates an abiding sense of paranoia and fears about the health of our own bodies, the stability of ecosystems and biospheric processes, and


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the sustained existence of planetary life.25 We respond to these realities, Searles argues, with numbing apathy and depression, as well as through omnipotent fantasies involving technological solutions to conditions of planetary crisis.26 In Nicholsen’s work, the psychological effects of rapid, unpredictable ecological change are comparable, though in a more muted register, to other experiences of trauma. These responses often return the subject to “the dreadful anxieties first encountered in early infancy: the fear of annihilation, of utter loss of orientation, of abandonment,” while also invoking feelings of denial or sublimated guilt.27 At the same time, all these theorists provide accounts of more integrated forms of relationality that can emerge through practices of reparation and processes of mourning, activities that gain new resonance in an era of pronounced biospheric crisis. In Klein’s theory, these reparative practices begin in the depressive position, with the impulse to reconstitute objects into something resembling a new whole that will then bestow new dimensions of security and meaning on the subject. This process of reconstitution is fundamentally imaginative, occurring not only in child’s play but through lifelong creative acts. Through these practices, a more ethically-based awareness of the other, and a corresponding impulse toward care and love for the self, can emerge. For Searles and Nicholsen, processes of mourning similarly allow for realistic assessments of what is lost, what remains, and what can emerge or be assembled anew from present conditions. Mourning is a means of taking measure, accounting for responsibility, and learning to cope with altered circumstances, Nicholsen asserts. Above all, she writes, mourning involves “learning from experience, in that something of the experience is taken inside and becomes part of who we now are.”28 Such experiential learning becomes a critical need in a time that demands new forms of psychological adaptability and resilience. Object-relations theories thus offer a useful corrective to recent theoretical approaches that privilege ecological mutuality at the expense of examining more ambivalent, even contradictory dynamics of environmental identification, care, detachment, appropriation, and violence. By providing an account of these dynamics, object-relations theory presents a compelling itinerary for tracking affective responses to the forms of precarity, at once universal and differentially distributed, that are characteristic of Anthropocene life. In her recent book, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (2015), Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing argues that rather than being an exceptional or unusual state, “precarity is the condition of our time.”29 She goes on:

Affect and Environment in Contemporary Ecopoetics


Precarity is the condition of being vulnerable to others. Unpredictable encounters transform us; we are not in control, even of ourselves. Unable to rely on a stable structure of community, we are thrown into shifting assemblages, which remake us as well as our others. We can’t rely on the status quo; everything is in flux, including our ability to survive.30

To persist within these new normative conditions of ecological precarity, Tsing argues that we need to develop new “arts of noticing” that attend to the complex lifeworlds that ecological entities and phenomena dwell within. Her own book demonstrates such an engagement via its extended consideration of the socioecological networks of the matsutake mushroom within the larger planetary whole. Though it does not draw in any way on psychoanalytic theory, this text might be approached as an intellectual project in the reparative mode that Klein and other objectrelations theorists describe, rescaled to ecocritical proportions. This reparative mode begins in an acknowledgment of ecological precarity and relations of mutual dependence, and it attempts to discover forms of ongoing life in capitalist ruins by working through a particular object, considering its various forms of appearance and reconstitution in disturbed ecologies.31 Similarly, various recent works of ecologically-oriented poetry undertake an object-relations approach that formalizes and responds to the intense, disturbing realities of biospheric change, often through extended meditations on particular ecological phenomena. Like Tsing’s ecocritical endeavor, these texts often do not draw directly on the resources of psychoanalytic thought, but their essential orientations and themes can be broadly understood within its parameters. Exploring the constitution of subjectivity in the Anthropocene as defined by new reckonings with ecological precarity, these works engage in mournful and reparative practices that elaborate various dimensions of feeling-in-relation. As they evoke these complex affective responses, they also develop “arts of noticing,” alert to new patterns and reconstituted forms of ecological existence that emerge in precarious times. In this sense, the poem itself becomes what D.W. Winnicott calls a “third area,” a site of creative activity that facilitates the working-through of difficult and contradictory affects.32

Depressive Ecopoetics “Apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist,” begins Inger Christensen’s acclaimed poetic meditation on ecological sustenance and planetary calamity, alphabet.33 This book-length poem, a foundational work of


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contemporary ecopoetics and a template for subsequent texts, opens with this single line, calling forth the simple figure of fruit trees as an emblem of the regenerative and nourishing presence of the natural world. Employing an abecedarian form and the Fibonacci sequence as formal principles, alphabet surveys the systemic order and complexity of all that “exists,” beginning with this simple image of ecological continuity and then expanding outward. Seasons, weather, animal and plant life, planetary forces and processes, chemical elements, children, all enter the expanding catalog of Christensen’s poem. In the early sections, accretive repetitions serve to name these various living entities, gathering them in their variety as common “small beings” inhabiting the planet: life, the air we inhale exists a lightness in it all, a likeness in it all, an equation, an open and transferable expression in it all, and as tree after tree foams up in early summer, a passion, a passion in it all (alphabet, 33)

Such images invest all beings with a common vitality that is “transferable” and shared. As in Berssenbrugge’s poem, this section of alphabet employs a language of “likeness” that draws various entities into relations of fundamental similitude. Christensen celebrates the natural intelligence of ecological entities, the capacity for “thinking” that animates a “cloud,” “a leaf on a tree,” “lichen” and “grubs,” connecting human perception with these nonhuman beings in their shared sensory capacities (alphabet, 42). Through these portrayals, Christensen illustrates the vast, complex system of planetary life in its cycles of generation, death, decay, and regeneration, within which human life is only one component. At the same time, she imbues these various ecological presences with subjective significance: these entities dwell not only in the world but “in the heart” and in human memory, as in an image of the speaker’s grandmother cooking dried apricots, indelibly brought forth by the smell of the fruit (alphabet, 19). They live, as well, in “names” – “names like narwhal / nettle, names like carnation, tawny owl / and nightjar, names like nightingale, new moon” – that inscribe the complexity of human experiential engagement with other beings in linguistic form (alphabet, 63). With their sensory-rich language of curiosity and delight, these early sections evoke the qualities of phenomenological immersion and perceptual reciprocity that theorists such as Nicholsen associate with early ecological development and affective response.

Affect and Environment in Contemporary Ecopoetics


Yet as alphabet progresses, the book turns from celebratory chronicles of the manifold forms of earthly existence to more disturbing apprehensions of the imminent possibility of planetary calamity, reframing earlier ecological entities in newly damaged, vulnerable terms. This turn unfolds, early in the book, with an introduction of the conditional tense: “The kingfisher’s miniplunge into blue-frozen / March streams exists, if streams exist; / if oxygen in streams exist” (alphabet, 20). Here the poem’s assertive chronicle of ongoing presence shifts into a recognition of newfound uncertainty about the continuing endurance of elemental phenomena. “Atom bombs exist,” Christensen writes, detailing haunting apocalyptic images of denuded landscapes covered with ash: “snow / is not snow at all / when it snows / in mid-June” (alphabet, 24, 35). Such scenes name real events – Christensen mentions Hiroshima, Nagasaki, nuclear experiments in the Pacific – and also gesture toward future cataclysm. Earlier images of trees flowering and snow covering the ground reemerge here as omens of the capacity for all life to “vanish” in an instant of white darkness: “the darkness is white, but not / white like the white that existed / when fruit trees existed, their blossoms so white” (alphabet, 21). Christensen sets these decreative images of an all-destroying whiteness in an uncanny past tense, as if written from an almost unimaginable future of atomic aftermath. The affectively flat tone of these lines intimates a traumatized perspective whose response is characterized by numb despondency. Alongside these images of future cataclysm, Christensen unfolds scenes of everyday slow violence, where “defoliants” and other environmental toxins degrade ecosystems at a more incremental pace (alphabet, 54).34 Echoing Rachel Carson’s images of the gradual degradation of soil, water, air, and ecosystems in Silent Spring (1962), Christensen’s text registers slow processes of “vanishing,” as “the ground is dusty with sickness” and apricot trees bear a “thin veil on the outspread branches” (26). alphabet points, as well, to the extractivist logics that govern anthropogenic activity, from “ore in the mountain” to scenes of intensive agricultural production and factory life (alphabet, 44). Through these various scenes portraying the exploitation, reconfiguration, and degradation of the energetic capacities of human and nonhuman life, Christensen forwards a key claim: humans have lost the “capacity to / think of nothing” (alphabet, 40). The aggressive, omnipotent nature of anthropogenic ingenuity, whether materialized in economic systems or in weapons of mass destruction, seems utterly boundless in its ability to create, exploit, accelerate, destroy. These capacities have fostered an inability for humans to be still or slow, to “think of nothing,” to remain attuned to larger biospheric cycles and processes. Instead, we are


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intervening in, altering, and unmaking these processes at all turns. “We / ensure ourselves all or / nothing,” Christensen writes, so that “the crucial / nothing gets no chance / to make the poetry / that wind can make / in air and water” (alphabet, 41). Across its sections, alphabet undertakes a sustained depressive inquiry into the affective dimensions of these profound changes as they reveal new scales of anthropogenic agency and planetary vulnerability. It does so primarily by meditating on the changing presence and potential absence of various natural objects it calls forth, from apricot trees to birds and flowers. First presented in the fullness and simplicity of their existence, these entities are transfigured over the course of the poem into vulnerable, damaged beings whose continuing presence can no longer be assured. By the final sequences, the repeated naming of entities that “exist” has been replaced by evocations of beings that are “vanishing” or may be lost entirely. Through these figurative transformations, Christensen indicates that our capacities to extract, appropriate, transform, and destroy threaten to separate us irrevocably from our bonds of “likeness” with other beings and to unmake the complex systems of biospheric life. In this way, the poem’s appreciation for the formally intricate and dynamic nature of ecological interdependence becomes irrevocably bound up with an awareness of its profound fragility. This fundamental uncertainty about planetary viability continues through the poem’s last lines, which refuse any sense of comforting closure. At the end of alphabet, Christensen underscores the way ordinary life – the speaker sitting in her apartment, writing; doves flying outside; the setting moon – is overwritten by calamitous potential, as these images transform into darker figurations of a postapocalyptic scene of burned fields, with little hope for new growth. At the same time, the poem itself becomes a reparative practice, reflecting on these aggressive, world-destroying anthropogenic systems and attempting to find compensation through its own creative activity. Christensen points to her own act of writing as forging images that mimic elements in the natural world: “I write like wind”; “I write like the water’s edge / writes a tideline / of seaweed and shells” (alphabet, 59). Through such lines, Christensen describes her writing as offering a compensatory reconfiguration of the seasons, natural cycles, the elements, the living body, imaginatively restoring relationality through this pattern of similes. Through the creative work of writing, the poet can imaginatively reconstruct these formal patterns, not as mimetic reflections but as reconstituted forms that remain available for what Eve Sedgwick calls “nourishment and comfort.”35 Emerging from and offering

Affect and Environment in Contemporary Ecopoetics


a reflection on the depressive position in a time of planetary crisis, this poem’s reanimation of the natural world materializes in poetic language a longing for an untroubled ecological wholeness. It meditates, as well, on the difficult feelings elicited by the recognition of ecological damage at various scales. In the form of this aesthetic artifact itself, Christensen creates an object that gathers in and works through these affective responses, developing a new language – an alphabet – for turbulent times. A variety of contemporary poets, including Cecily Nicholsen, Allison Cobb, Camille Dungy, Rita Wong, Juliana Spahr, and Cheena Marie Lo, have taken cues (whether directly or indirectly) from Christensen’s groundbreaking work, turning poetic attention to dimensions of global environmental turbulence beyond the nuclear threat. Jorie Graham’s most recent book, Fast (2017), extends Christensen’s ecopoetic mode to consider the catastrophic speed of ecological destruction as it reconfigures everyday affective life. To chart the effects of this hurtling pace, Graham often employs arrows and long dashes between phrases in long poetic lines and dense, crowded prose blocks, marking the accelerations of Anthropocene time and punctuating the poems with a palpable sense of claustrophobia and impending finitude. “Are we ahead of time or too late?,” she writes in one poem, “Self Portrait at Three Degrees” (where “three degrees” refers to current predictions of global temperature rise by the year 2100).36 As this poem title indicates, Graham’s works are concerned with how our modes of affective being – our forms of relationality and subjective identification, as well as our capacity for harm – are forged anew in the context of ecological turmoil. “Define anthropos. Define human. Where do you find yourself,” she writes in “Self Portrait” (Fast, 7). These poems proceed through a kind of internal dialogue with stated questions and halting answers, or through voices that seem to break in without being fully understood, mixing an uncanny omniscience with an unknowing perspective. “When are you going to tell me what is going on. It is going on. The calculations are off. Something was too long. Some years had to be cut off. It all had to fit. Who is this talking now” (Fast, 11). Graham often evokes these redefinitions through extended meditations on oceanic life and its particular susceptibility to degradation. The ocean, once a site of profound otherness and mystery, reemerges here as a damaged and diminished being, subject to sustained anthropogenic violence. In “Self Portrait,” Graham writes that plankton is “the most important plant on earth – think love – composes at least half / the biosphere’s entire primary production – love this – love what – I am saying / you have no choice” (Fast, 8). Following a Kleinian line, Graham suggests


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here that love and survival are indelibly bound; one has “no choice” but to love what one is so utterly dependent upon. Yet anthropogenic climate change is causing, among other calamitous changes, a massive die-off of plankton: “within 50 years if we are lucky – I am writing this in 2015 – like spraying weedkiller all over the world’s vegetation” (Fast, 8). How can we reconcile this necessary “love” of this vegetal life with our ongoing, systemic destruction of it? Graham depicts this depressive knowledge as a psychic weight no one wants to bear: “take it – here you take it, I can’t hold it anymore – you don’t want it – I / don’t care – you carry it for now – I need to catch my breath” (Fast, 8). In another poem, “Deep Sea Trawling,” Graham’s uncannily plural speaker understands her personhood to be bound up in and haunted by the violence perpetrated by humans against other life-forms: “I am haunted but by what? / Human supremacy? The work of humiliation. The pungency of the pesticide./ What else? The hammer that comes down on the head. / Knocks the eyes out” (Fast, 7). Graham’s text draws together these densely woven, intricate considerations of oceanic and biospheric degradation with intimate portrayals of her cancer treatment and the death of her parents. Images of bodily touch, breath, motion serve to illuminate the fragility of individual bodies, a susceptibility we share with flowers, birdlife, aquatic creatures, other earthly beings. In this way, individual mortality becomes inextricably bound to larger questions of planetary survival. Graham’s poetry can be understood as an extended practice of mourning that reckons with losses at many scales. Like alphabet, Fast also portrays its own creative activity as a means of working through these losses, discovering a language that can convey care, love, and attention for what is lost and what continues. Across the book, Graham turns to sustained descriptions of the patterns and forms of life in motion, working to make them “visible” – the last word of the book. Writing in the final poem, “Mother’s Hands Drawing Me,” of a “swell of wind, billowing, fluent – ink chalk charcoal – sweeps, spirals, / the river that goes nowhere, that has survived the astonishments,” Graham cultivates a stance of curiosity, generational continuance, and love that outlasts loss (Fast, 84). A recent book by Craig Santos Perez also explores reparative ways of living on amidst planetary crisis, in poems oriented by gestational time and attuned to the life-worlds of island ecosystems. In from unincorporated territory [lukao] (2017), his latest instalment of a poetic series exploring the indigenous history, ecology, and effects of colonization of Guam, Perez, a Chamorro poet, turns to personal reflections on conditions of

Affect and Environment in Contemporary Ecopoetics


reproduction and indigenous futurities. In lukao, Perez details the prenatal development, birth, and early life of his child through a blending of Chamorro birth rituals and indigenous creation stories, intimate lyrics, and documentary description of the toxic conditions of Guam and Hawai’i. Images of reproductive generation, from the prenatal trimesters through the first year of the infant’s life, emerge next to more disturbing scenes, local and far-flung: plastic littering the beaches of O’ahu, pesticides in Guam’s fields and cancer clusters from strontium-90 exposure, ocean acidification, the extinction of island birds. Contrasting the durability of synthetic materials and plastic waste products with the infant’s vulnerable being, Perez writes: “i wish / our daughter was derived / from oil so that she will survive / our wasteful hands // so that / she, too, will have a ‘great future.”’37 Throughout the book, the child is evoked both in her miraculous particularity and as the locus of larger fears of ecological precarity. In “ginen understory (second trimester),” Perez describes working with his pregnant partner in the local community garden in Manoa, as they share their fears about pesticide spray affecting their daughter “whose nerve /endings are just beginning to root.” As they “dig and plant, //dirt under fingernails,” the speaker wonders, “what will our children / be able to harvest in this paradise of fugitive / dust” (lukao, 29). Another piece, “ginen understory (first fever),” interweaves the newborn baby’s first fever with images of global pandemics and outbreaks: “when the planet warms, our bodies / host fever chains of transmission” (lukao, 49). Connecting the intimate with the global, the vulnerable newborn with other fragile beings such as pilot whales, kingfishers and native fire trees, Perez offers a powerful meditation on the fears new life engenders in a time of pronounced catastrophe. “[neni] will be born in april / of the hottest year in history,” Perez writes in “ginen understory (first ultrasound)” (lukao, 45). Yet the baby also becomes a means of meditating on the enduring possibility of “survivance,” in indigenous scholar Gerald Vizenor’s term.38 The book describes daily scenes of care for the child’s body as a form of sacred connection that ties back to ancestral and generational practices. Perez gathers in birth stories from his family, Hawaiian nursery rhymes and Chamorro creation myths and chants, placing them alongside these immediate scenes to reconstitute a new “ocean of stories” to shelter the child within. Such images of care and indigenous cultural reconstruction extend outward to local island ecosystems as well, as Perez details the gardens, foodways, breadfruit trees and coconuts, coral reefs and sea life that compose the complex web of island life.


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Perez’s book ends with a long poem of gratitude, “Mahalo Circle,” for this intricate network of community – familial, local, islander, generational, ecological. Saying “Mahalo” to those known and unknown, human and nonhuman, unborn and ancestral, Perez’s poem works in reparative fashion to gather together these entities into a new whole. This “Mahalo” reaches toward the future, conveying a dream of his child “dancing with our wind and tree relatives, dancing with our water and dirt relatives, dancing with our fish and bird relatives” (lukao, 83). This reparative image of the future involves, as well, the ongoing energy of resistance against imperialism and capitalism as culturally and ecologically destructive forces: “Mahalo for giving [us] the strength to say: no, [we] won’t let them poison our land and water anymore, no, [we] won’t let them say our homes are wastelands or idle assets or military bases// [we] promise to protect and defend our sacred islands” (lukao, 83). Moving between past and future, persons and ecosystems, and between positions of dread, resistance, and praise, Perez’s ecopoetics offers a compelling model for how the creative work of reparation might be undertaken amidst calamitous times.

Notes 1. For a useful overview of new materialist theory, see Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin (eds), New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2012). 2. Rosa Braidotti, “Teratologies,” in Ian Buchanan and Claire Colebrook (eds), Deleuze and Feminist Theory (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000), 159. 3. Jane Bennett, “Systems and Things: On Vital Materialism and ObjectOriented Philosophy,” in Richard Grusin (ed.), The Nonhuman Turn (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2015), 223–240. 4. Rosa Braidotti, “Critical Posthuman Knowledges,” South Atlantic Quarterly 116:1 (2017): 83–96. 5. Brian Massumi, “The Autonomy of Affect,” Cultural Critique 31 (Autumn 1995): 83–109. 6. Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), 61. 7. Ibid. 116. 8. “‘Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns, and remembers’: Interview with Karen Barad,” in Dolphijn and van der Tuin, New Materialism: www.quod.lib–new-materialism-interviews-carto graphies?rgn=div2;view=fulltext [last accessed 1 July, 2019]. 9. Braidotti, “Critical Posthuman Knowledges,” 87. 10. Evelyn Reilly, “Eco-Noise and the Flux of Lux,” eco language reader, ed. Brenda Iijima (Brooklyn, NY: Nightboat Books, 2010), 257.

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11. Mei-Mei Bersenbrugge, Hello, the Roses (New York: New Directions, 2013), 47. Further references appear parenthetically. 12. Ibid. 60. 13. See Jeremy Davies, The Birth of the Anthropocene (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2016) for an excellent overview of the historical and geophysical parameters of the Anthropocene concept. 14. Various recent theorists, particularly Andreas Malm and Jason Moore, have taken issue with the concept of the Anthropocene and its undifferentiated language of species, pointing to the profound differentiations among populations in terms of carbon footprints and susceptibility to disaster. Despite its conceptual shortcomings, however, the Anthropocene remains an important framework for considering multiscalar dimensions of Earth system transformations. 15. Eve Sedgwick, “Melanie Klein and the Difference Affect Makes,” in Jonathan Goldberg (ed.), The Weather in Proust (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 126. 16. Melanie Klein, “Love, Guilt, and Reparation,” in Love, Guilt, and Reparation and Other Works, 1921–1945 (London: Virago Press, 1988), 336. 17. Such descriptions denote the essentialism, repro-normativity, and universalist language of object-relations theory that queer and critical race theorists such as Eve Sedgwick and José Muñoz, among others, have critiqued. Both of these writers also point toward the way aspects of object-relations theory can be reframed to de-emphasize the normative, heterosexual, and implicitly white subject of Klein’s theory to attend to more specific and nonlinear aspects of affective experience. See Sedgwick, “Melanie Klein and the Difference Affect Makes,” and José Muñoz, “Feeling Brown, Feeling Down: Latina Affect, The Performativity of Race, and the Depressive Position,” Signs 31:3 (Spring 2006), 675–688. 18. Shierry Weber Nicholsen, The Love of Nature and the End of the World: The Unspoken Dimensions of Environmental Concern (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 64. 19. See D.W. Winnicott, Playing and Reality (London: Routledge, 1989). 20. Klein, “Love, Guilt, and Reparation,” 337. 21. Highlighting maternal care as connected to the unpaid work of natural processes, Klein’s analysis connects in intriguing ways to recent worldsystems ecological theories that consider the fundamental connection between the unpaid work of reproductive labor and the appropriation of nature’s resources as essential components of the capitalist world-ecology. See Jason Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life (London: Verso, 2015). 22. Melanie Klein, “On the Sense of Loneliness,” Envy and Gratitude and Other Works 1946–1963 (London: Virago Press, 1988), 308. 23. Searles is often credited with inaugurating the field of ecopsychology. For a compelling account of this field’s methods, see Andy Fisher, Radical Ecopsychology: Psychology in the Service of Life (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2013).


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24. Nicholsen, The Love of Nature and the End of the World, 38. 25. Harold Searles, “Unconscious Processes in Relation to the Environmental Crisis,” Psychoanalytic Review 59:3 (Autumn 1972), 361–374. 26. Today’s version of this belief in technological fixes would be the turn to geoengineering and other technological solutions to climate change. See Clive Hamilton, Earthmasters: The Dawn of the Age of Climate Engineering (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), for a recent history of these ideas. 27. Nicholsen, The Love of Nature and the End of the World, 10. 28. Ibid. 181. 29. Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2015). 30. Ibid. 20. 31. Other ecocritical projects in this vein would include Donna Haraway’s recent book, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Eduardo Kohn’s How Forests Think, and Branka Arsić’s Bird Relics. 32. D. W. Winnicott, “Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena,” in Playing and Reality, 3. 33. Inger Christensen, alphabet, trans. Susanna Nied (New York: New Directions, 2000), 11. Further references cited parenthetically in the body of the chapter. 34. See Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011). 35. Sedgwick writes that “once assembled to one’s specifications, the more satisfying object is available both to be identified with and to offer nourishment and comfort in turn.” Eve Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, Or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay is About You,” in Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 128. 36. Jorie Graham, Fast (New York: Ecco/Harper Collins, 2017), 9. Further references cited parenthetically in the body of the chapter. 37. Craig Santos Perez, from unincorporated territory [lukao] (Oakland, CA: Omnidawn Press, 2017), 13. Further references cited parenthetically in the text as lukao in the body of the chapter. 38. See Gerald Vizenor, Survivance: Narratives of Native Presence (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2008).

chapter 19

Contemporary Crisis Fictions: Twenty-First Century Disaffection Emily Horton

This chapter explores contemporary twenty-first century crisis as one precisely for affect, reflected in a narrative preoccupation with emotional alienation, numbness, and estrangement. This, I want to argue, represents a notable shift in the representation of crisis today, a movement away from deep psychology and its focus on the subject and the interior, towards the transpersonal and material emphasis of affect theory. In order to explain this tendency, I want to begin by examining one short passage from Ben Lerner’s novel Leaving the Atocha Station (2011), wherein the narrator, Adam Gordon, describes his reasons for smoking hash: Many people, I believed, used similar drugs to remove themselves from their experience, but because, for as long as I could remember, I always already felt removed from my experience, I took the drug to intensify the vantage from said remove, and so experienced it as an intensification of presence, but only at my customary distance from myself; maybe, when I panicked, that distance was collapsing.1

Here, the anxiety regarding an absence of felt emotion, or, as Adam puts it, the sense of feeling ‘removed from [his] experience’, becomes the overt focus of meditative reflection, even as the way that this is characterised, in relation to Adam’s drug use, is itself a form of presence: ‘an intensification of presence, but only at my customary distance from myself’. In this way, crisis takes the form of a negative relationship to one’s own feeling, but one that is described not in terms of flatness, as might be expected, but rather intensity. This disjointed affective and spatial-temporal experience is not uncommon in the twenty-first century novel, where in various instances disembodied voices register affective estrangement or removal. Tom McCarthy’s Remainder (2005) offers another pointed example of this trend, again juxtaposing intellectual acumen with emotional detachment. In this novel, the unnamed narrator’s forgotten encounter with failing ‘technology’, ‘parts’, 355


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‘bits’2 leaves him disturbingly ‘short-circuited’3 with respect to his own thought and behavior, unable to control his emotional or bodily responses in the way that he used to. Commenting on this experience whilst deciding on whether to return home before heading to the airport one day, the narrator finds himself ‘jerking back and forth like paused video images do on low-quality machines’; ‘It must have looked strange. I felt self-conscious, embarrassed’.4 Note that his embarrassment here results from a previous and simultaneous sense of estrangement over his situation. His efforts to regain control over his mind and body leave him awkwardly aware of his own performativity, uncomfortably conscious that everything he thinks or does is ‘second-hand’, a ‘re-enactment’.5 What is interesting about these texts, then, despite their formal and stylistic differences, is that they explore scenarios wherein detachment takes the place of overt panic as a crisis modality, or, perhaps better, wherein the absence of affect is itself felt to be the source of crisis. In other words, these novels register a dissociative condition on the part of their first-person narrators, which functions to situate their emotions in the realm of the dysphoric – in the realm of ‘second-order panic’,6 felt at a remove or only reflexively, and often responding precisely to an apparent inadequacy of affective response.7 As Sianne Ngai puts it, these emotions are ‘perceived rather than felt’, even while their ‘very nonfeltness is [itself nevertheless] perceived’;8 they are only semi-experienced or experienced virtually, in terms of their ‘resistance to being psychically captured as one’s own’.9 In response to this, I want to consider such representations as instances of a new, and in this case, notably twenty-first century crisis aesthetic, in which the narrative orientation relates not psychological (or indeed emotional) concerns so much as affective ones. This latter distinction (between emotion and affect) is now fairly well recognised within critical theory, having emerged as part of a continuing critical debate regarding affect’s meaning, particularly in relation to its political connotations. One principle thread of this conversation, much discussed in recent critical writing, concerns the idea of affect as fundamentally non-rational and non-psychological, in contrast to emotion’s status as subjective, cognitive, and narrational. Thus, as Megan Watkins remarks, ‘Against the more social expression of emotion, affect is often viewed as a preliminal, preconscious phenomenon. [. . .] affect is often conceived as autonomous and ephemeral.’10 Similarly, Idelbar Avelar argues that affects ‘are not exhausted within the boundaries of ego psychology or any other narratives grounded on the primacy of interiority and the self.’11 Rather, they can be delimited as ‘immanent to the social field’, in

Contemporary Crisis Fictions: Twenty-First Century Disaffection 357 this way seen as emerging precisely as a result of present socio-political trajectories and cultural forces.12 What these accounts make evident, then, is affect’s more unspecified, dispersed understanding, as ‘indicating what cannot be clearly named, and what tends to be linked to pre-discursive or pre-ontological bodily excitations.’13 Contingent upon their agenda, critics have disagreed in upholding this distinction, at times seeing it as awkward in reinforcing a separation between mind and body that affect theory was initially proposed to contest.14 For the purposes of this chapter, however, the difference is informative, allowing for recognition of affect theory’s pointed challenge to a dominant humanist imperative shaping the direction of the novel ‘from at least the early modern period’15 – an imperative that ignores humanism’s forceful and often damaging impact on social and political relations. Commenting on this directly, Peter Boxall notes the violence of humanist thinking, which determines ‘the plight of those who have been denied certain rights under sovereign law’ on the basis of ‘the question of who “counts” as human’, this privilege being denied to a vast range of historical communities: ‘slaves in nineteenth-century America, for example, Jews in twentieth-century Germany, foetuses in the contemporary west’.16 Thus, turning to affect, the novelist finds an inviting prioritisation of non-human forces shaping human agency and selfhood, a consideration that recognizes entities outside and beyond ‘conscious knowing’.17 As Nick J. Fox and Pam Alldred make clear, this affective ontology is less interested in being per se (‘with what bodies, things, ideas or social institutions “are”’, or whether or not they qualify as human) than in the relations between things, focusing on how these entities ‘interact [. . .] to produce specific capacities for action and desire: “what a body can do”’, as Giles Deleuze briefly puts it.18 In this way, affect provides a fascinating substitute for humanism’s essentialism, prioritising flux, process, and connectivity as less rigid, less anthropocentric, explanations for identity. Indeed, what is particularly interesting about this perspective from the viewpoint of the novel is the way that it moves attention away from traditional readings of character and temporality as understood through deep psychology and linear causality, towards an emphasis instead on the relational and processional ‘capacity to affect or be affected’.19 As Heather Houser writes, looking to affect allows contemporary writers to ‘think outside of causality’, and to ‘imagine embodied engagement with environments and reconceive ethical relations with the more-than-human.’20 This is already, in a sense, what Zadie Smith is referring to in her well-known 2008 essay ‘Two Directions for the Novel’, which highlights McCarthy’s


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Remainder as a preeminent instance of anti-humanist invention, and underlines its challenge to the ‘(often unexamined) credos upon which Realism is built: the transcendent importance of form, the incantatory power of language to reveal truth, the essential fullness and continuity of the self.’21 In this way, Smith reaffirms McCarthy’s pioneering significance as a spokesperson for contemporary fiction, emphasising his work’s importance in seeking out new formal and ideological possibilities for the genre. Even so, there is arguably something missing from this account when it comes to affect’s specific centrality in McCarthy’s work as well as that of Lerner. What this chapter seeks to provide, then, is something like an initial investigation of this focus, surveying affect’s meaning for these novels, partly in relation to the personal crises their narrators betray, but also in terms of the surrounding discourses, spaces, and institutions which shape these crises and contribute to their advancement or resolution. My claim, ultimately, is that, in understanding character and narrative development in this way, not in the form of overt interior struggle and achievement, but instead through a focus on contiguous material and immaterial relations and processes contributing to dysphoric affects, these novels place social crisis in a new critical light, not as the inescapable product of historically determined relations, but as the highly contingent and always malleable expression of existing realities – realities which at the moment might appear fixed, but which, depending upon one’s response, need not be. In this way, these novels contribute to what has been called a ‘new sincerity’ within twenty-first century writing, though they take such sincerity in different directions.

*** Turning to McCarthy’s Remainder first, then, one way of appreciating this message textually is in relation to the unusual, notably anonymous, firstperson narrator, whose introductory traumatic experience leaves him, at first sight, markedly unaffected, or at least not affected in the usual way that readers might expect him to be. What we are presented with is a narrator oddly detached from the world around him, engaged in an increasingly relentless project of reenactment, and unfazed by the extreme measures he is willing to take in order to feel ‘natural’. On the one hand, this is not especially unusual behaviour on the part of a trauma victim, whose symptoms might include, as Roger Luckhurst points out, a search for ‘situations that repeat or echo the original’, as well as, ‘a general sense of emotional numbing’ or even ‘the total absence of recall of the significant event’.22 In this respect, it would seem, the depiction is oddly mimetically

Contemporary Crisis Fictions: Twenty-First Century Disaffection 359 accurate: it offers a version, however irreverent, of what Cathy Caruth calls a traumatic ‘structure of reception’.23 Even so, as Pieter Vermeulen reflects, this is clearly not what readers are used to in trauma fiction: ‘Remainder does not pause to assess the psychological damage the accident inflicts on its nameless narrator, nor does it qualify its representation of the traumatized mind by registering its awareness of the ethical stakes involved in the rendering of injury and pain’.24 On the contrary, what the reader is offered is a narrative strangely devoid of almost any type of feeling, this being replaced by an endless, detail-oriented reconstruction of remembered or witnessed scenes and events.25 Indeed, the development of the plot turns pointedly around such staged reenactments, which the narrator accomplishes with a view to attaining authenticity: ‘to be real – to become fluent, to cut out the detour that sweeps us around what’s fundamental to events, preventing us from touching their core: the detour that makes us all second-hand and second-rate’.26 To this effect, his emotions fall under the domain of the dysphoric: he determinedly recreates imagined spaces and events to relate an immediacy of ‘first-hand’ experience, yet ultimately he achieves no more than disjointed bodily sensations and affective intensities: a sense of awkwardness or ‘dizziness’, or contrastingly, a ‘tingling’, when things go well.27 That concern is evident from the very start of the novel, in the way that the narrative conceives the project of recovery. The project is presented firstly in a technical language as an assignment of neural ‘rerouting’, such that science here emerges initially as the dominant register. In effect, the narrator is instructed to teach his brain to rebuild damaged neural networks in order to regain a fluidity of movement that trauma obstructed. In this way, traumatic recuperation is understood straightforwardly in a twostep process, as a task of cognition and enactment, an approach that effectively reassures the narrator until he is confronted with the actual effort of putting his skills into action: I closed my fingers round the carrot. It felt – well, it felt: that was enough to start short-circuiting the operation. It had texture; it had mass. [. . .] This carrot [. . .] was more active than me: the way it bumped and wrinkled, how it crawled with grit.28

Here, in a language loosely comical in its register – granting the ‘pathetic fallacy’ a twist – the discourse of feeling in this scene is shifted from science to affect, up-ending convention by affirming the agency of non-human forces. In effect, the scene presents an inanimate object as positively active and engaged in resistance, uncannily overturning the narrator’s efforts to


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regain control. Indeed, the narrator’s uncanny description here might be seen as paralleling the discourse of Actor-Network-Theory, which, as its founder Bruno Latour describes, sees ‘any thing that [modifies] a state of affairs by making a difference [as] an actor’.29 Rather than prioritise human subjectivity on account of its intentionality, the narrator instead positions his behaviour within a larger web of affective relations, thereby rethinking the social aggregately, as opposed to molecularly.30 Within this understanding, the narrator’s lack of control over his actions strengthens his need to see beyond the taken-for-granted: he becomes concerned with relations invisible to him, as he attempts to engage with and navigate his surroundings; as he puts it, the carrot becomes ‘more active than [him]’. Indeed, echoing also Margaret Ronda’s object-relations theory emphasis in her chapter in this collection, which sees psychic development as proceeding ‘through relations with other others’, the narrator here reconstructs his damaged selfhood only by recognising environmental interconnectivity, situating himself within a network of non-human agents: carrots, fridge doors, escalator steps, city streets, ‘rails and wires and boxes, all connected.’31 Nevertheless a problem emerges in relation to the narrator’s goal in staging these reenactments. The crisis element surfaces insofar as the narrator’s aim in looking at the world is not simply to understand relations phenomenally, but to achieve control over them in a manner that reaffirms a form of authentic, transcendent selfhood. As he puts it, ‘I wanted to reconstruct that space and enter it so that I could feel real again’; ‘not only was total control of movement and matter necessary [. . .] but so, too, was control of information’.32 From this perspective, the novel’s focus on affect becomes tied not to a concern with relationality but with power, sanctioning a legitimation of violence in the name of restored authenticity; a view of wholeness not in terms of connectedness, but instead in terms of an allcontrolling self. What’s more, at certain moments the narrator believes he has actually achieved this omniscient transcendent position, reproducing a particular euphoric affect, a ‘tingling’ or ‘contentedness’,33 which seemingly balances his previous dysphoria and grants him authenticity. However, these endeavours inevitably end by disclosing matter’s stubborn persistence, reinforcing, in Daniel Lea’s apt summary, how ‘experience is inauthentic’ precisely ‘because it remains within the phenomenal’.34 This drive for authenticity is what underlies the crisis element of the narrative, trapping the narrator in a death-bound project of traumatic reenactment. As McCarthy himself puts it, the narrator approaches ‘the Bull’s Horn that

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threatens to tear and rip and rupture a certain harmony of a crafted plane’.35 Despite this self-destructive project, the narrator’s efforts remain important in affirming phenomenal reality and upholding a form of lived intensity, or affective experience, that might be read as a distinctive, nonhumanist register of self-hood. As Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift explain, the legacy of post-structuralism is not to dismantle the subject entirely, but rather to ‘re-map’ it in ways that better recognise lived experience’s complex relevance: ‘the subject and subjectivity are [now] more likely to be conceived of as rooted in the spatial home of the body [. . .] and as registered through a whole series of senses’36; ‘the subject lives the material world; it is of that world and produced by it’.37 Similarly, in Remainder, the narrator’s reiterative investments, involving his repeated simulation of a supposedly transcendent reality, are significant in reinforcing an often-overlooked bodily reality that exists mundanely. At the end of the novel, for example, following the deaths brought about by an attempted rehearsal of a bank heist, and in the build-up to his own death in an airplane accident, the narrator is left conscious of the real, material impact his actions have on the world: ‘everything must leave some kind of mark’.38 Regarding the genre of the novel itself, McCarthy’s text speaks to a new idea of character and temporality: a conception of selfhood imagined corporeally and affectively, rather than psychologically. As Vermeulen writes, Remainder ‘does not depend on the mimesis of the traumatized psyche, but rather on the liberation of a dysphoric affect that confronts the reader with an evacuated subjectivity’39 – the representation is ‘realistic’ in the sense that it captures trauma’s dysphoric experience, not in the sense of following genre conventions and mapping out a complex account of the protagonist’s interiority. As McCarthy writes, the depiction underlines a ‘non-humanist form of depth’,40 which captures authenticity precisely by navigating the material and affective density of individual moments. As a consequence, ‘time becomes a field that you can manipulate’, a ‘topographic surface’, which can be played with to accomplish greater and greater successes – like the athlete who ‘expand[s] every second’ in order to win the race.41 In this way, the focus of the novel on individual moments and their various affective and material repercussions sheds light on the mutability of the phenomenal, underlining a flexible experience of spatial-temporal investment, which challenges the received determinism of humanist thinking. As the narrator puts it at one point, his experience allows him to ‘slow time down, expand it, push its edges out and move around inside it’.42 It is


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this which arguably offers the principle locus of promise in an otherwise death-driven narrative. Indeed, the novel, echoing Fredric Jameson’s Antinomies of Realism (2013), underlines affect’s physical-temporal importance, seeing this as critical to explaining realism’s failure to represent time convincingly. As Jameson puts it, there is ‘a temporality specific to affect, which I will call the sliding scale of the incremental, in which each infinitesimal moment differentiates itself from the last by a modification of tone and an increase or diminution of intensity’.43 This ‘affective dimension’ is particular for ‘the scenic possibilities it opens up and begins to undermine at one and the same time’,44 at once ‘enriching language with all kinds of new meanings’ opened up by physical sensation,45 and at the same time enfeebling ‘named emotions’, and making experience ultimately ‘unrepresentable and unnameable’.46 In Remainder, the narrator’s obsession with reproducing affect reiterates this critique, predicating failure in the turn to description rather than merely ‘enactment’. As the narrator puts it at one point, ‘I just wanted the motions and the words, all deadpan, neutral – wanted the re-enactors to act out the motions without acting and to speak the words without feeling, in disinterested voices.’47 In effect, by cutting out performance or embellishment in this way, the narrator aims to return to the merely physical, enacting meaning not with description but with material specifics. As Jameson writes, here ‘nameless bodily states’48 stand in for affect’s ‘registering of external contingency’,49 paving the way for a narrative gripped by ‘chaotic multiplicity’.50 Similarly, Remainder’s refusal to assign description emerges as a means of getting around realism, casting aside its narrative architecture for the sake of immersion.


Much like McCarthy’s unnamed narrator, the narrator of Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station, Adam Gordon, is also obsessed with questions of authenticity and enactment, which is similarly reflected in his seeming inability at times to feel positively, or at least to feel passionately or empathically in the way he thinks others around him do. This becomes apparent in the opening scene of the novel, in which Adam encounters in a museum a fellow visitor who breaks down and cries in front of a painting (and after that, two other paintings), which Adam regularly looks at. The problem, as he recounts it, is that he does not know how to interpret this emotional display, whether to read it as a ‘profound experience of art’ or merely madness.51 In other words, he debates whether to view it with sympathy or with a Bourdieuvian cynicism that sees such emotion as

Contemporary Crisis Fictions: Twenty-First Century Disaffection 363 necessarily artificial, derived from a drive for status that understands emotional performance as a central component.52 Indeed, his concern is not simply that he does not know how to interpret this man’s experience critically, but also that whatever reading he accepts reflects on his own authority as a poet: he himself has never had a ‘profound experience of art’, and indeed has ‘trouble believing that anyone had’,53 but he nevertheless fears that this is something that he perhaps should have had: Insofar as I was interested in the arts, I was interested in this disconnect between my experience of actual art and the claims made on their behalf; the closest I’d come to having a profound experience of art was probably the experience of this distance, a profound experience of the absence of profundity.54

In this way, Adam’s crisis-bound response to a moment of witnessed emotion is one of pointed intellectual detachment: a sense of being removed from events, which nevertheless provokes anxiety regarding affect. One way of theorising this moment, in accordance with Ngai’s writing, is by pointing to contradictions alive within the concept of institutionalised art itself. As Ngai explains, the sense of ‘powerful powerlessness’ often produced by dysphoric affect ‘can also be thought of as exemplified by literature or art itself, as a relatively autonomous, more or less cordoned off domain in an increasingly specialized and differentiated society.’55 This is, in effect, Theodor Adorno’s theory of art in Aesthetic Theory (1970), wherein he points to art’s increasing ‘separateness from “empirical society”’, which he sees as coinciding with a shame-faced artistic self-consciousness regarding art’s incapacity to connect socially: ‘a growing awareness of its inability to significantly change that society – a powerlessness that then becomes the privileged object of the newly autonomous art’s “guilty” self-reflection’.56 In other words, Adorno understands art as progressively more conscious of its failure to impact on society, which then itself becomes a guilty focus of elite self-reflection. Leaving the Atocha Station brings this appreciation explicitly to attention as a cause for intellectual concern, as when Adam reflects on his ‘profound experience of the absence of profundity’, a feeling that underlines his sense that art is incapable of producing strong, impacting emotions or of motivating direct political change. He later states, ‘No writer is free to renounce his political moment, but literature reflects politics more than it affects it, an important distinction.’57 This concern is also visible in Lerner’s The Hatred of Poetry, where he observes how poetry ‘is always


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a record of failure’, seeing as a ‘condition of its possibility a perfect contempt’ for its final expression. He continues, ‘There is an “undecidable conflict” between the poet’s desire to sing an alternative world, and as Grossman puts it, the “resistance to alternative making inherent in the materials of which any world must be composed”’.58 Even so, what Ngai observes regarding this failure or incapacity is also visibly true for Adam: namely, that art’s self-reflexive anxiety may in fact prove an aid to its presenting a social conscience: its ‘preoccupation with its own “powerlessness and superfluity in the empirical world”’ being exactly ‘what makes it capable of theorizing social powerlessness in a manner unrivalled by other forms of cultural praxis’.59 In effect, just as Adam finds himself fascinated by art’s ‘absence of profundity’ in the moment of reception – accrediting this absence itself, rather than profundity, as an authorising criterion – so also, the novel, narrated by Adam, takes on this fascination as a means to accrediting its own social value, not positively, as a source of deep emotion and empathy, but rather negatively, as a means to making the misconceptions and prejudices implicit in institutionalised art more explicit. As Lerner argues in The Hatred of Poetry (2016): ‘Our contempt for any particular poem must be perfect, be total, because only a ruthless reading that allows us to measure the gap between the actual and the virtual will enable us to experience, if not a genuine poem – no such thing – [then] a place for the genuine’.60 This outlook becomes increasingly evident in the novel as Adam reflects on his own struggles to gauge how to interact with the surrounding world, and as he connects this to his meditations as an artist wondering how to make an impact. Indeed, the social powerlessness that the novel theorises is one that directly reflects Adam’s own emotional dysfunction; despite his privilege, he remains estranged from his surroundings, unable to fully engage socially or politically with important events or other people. Instead he feels incapacitated, always anxious of being an imposture. This is shown in numerous scenes in the novel as Adam strategises ways of appearing authentic or caring, even as he privately retains a sense of fraudulence and emotional remove. For example, he refrains from acknowledging instances in which he struggles with linguistic competence in Spanish, while also wondering how this behaviour is affecting the course of his relationships: ‘Now I feared I’d neither be able to be eloquent positively or negatively and [. . .] I realized with a sinking feeling that the reductions of our interactions to the literal [. . .] would necessarily strip my body of whatever suggestive power it had previously enjoyed.’61 In this way, performance becomes a visible source of increasing

Contemporary Crisis Fictions: Twenty-First Century Disaffection 365 anxiety, as Adam equates verbal eloquence with bodily magnetism and a capacity to attract women. Similarly, when Adam lies to both Isabel and Teresa about the supposed death of his mother, offering this as an explanation for his already enacted display of poetic sadness, he remains ultimately aghast at his unabashed mendacity, secretly anxious that his lies will have real effects, that ‘this lie [. . .] would kill her, or at least that [. . .] I would always feel and be at least in part responsible’.62 In this way, even as he performs his strategies of authenticity, he simultaneously betrays an unease regarding his emotional detachment: he desires to be more real than his performances allow him to be, but fails to know how to shed the performance or to feel in the way that he wants to. His tendency is instead to project outward, to assume that everyone is a fraud: ‘Who wasn’t squatting in one of the handful of prefabricated subject positions proffered by capital or whatever you wanted to call it, lying every time she said “I” [. . .]?’63 As James Wood comments, it is difficult to know to what extent this pronouncement is itself a performance: ‘Adam talks grandly about admitting his bad faith in good faith, but perhaps it’s an example of apparently good faith admitting itself in bad faith?’64 This is true also of Adam’s view of his poetry, which he continually declares not to be ‘about anything’,65 but which, ultimately, and almost in spite of himself, he desires to move people. One scene in particular makes this especially apparent when he reflects that I could lie about my interest in the literary response to war because by making a mockery of the notion that literature could be commensurate with mass murder I was not defaming the victims of the latter, but the dilettantes of the former, rejecting the political claims repeatedly made by the so-called left for a poetry radical only in its unpopularity. I had been a small-time performance artist pretending to be a poet, but now, with an alarming fervor, I wanted to write great poems.66

In effect, despite his cynicism regarding poetry’s socio-political value, Adam retains an unshakable yearning to write poetry meaningfully and politically, a desire that indeed reveals his cynicism itself as something of a performance, though one about which he remains largely unaware. Likewise, in The Hatred of Poetry, Lerner explains how he (as a poet) ‘live[s] in the space between what I am moved to do and what I can do, and confront in that disconnect not only my individual limitations [. . .] but also the structure of the art as I conceive it’.67 Thus, poetry is understood not simply as a means of realising political change, but instead precisely as


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a measure of its failure to do so: its justification is located in its virtual, rather than its actual potential.68 In the framework of contemporary affect theory, one way of reading this expression is in terms of a desire to escape political depression, this emotion itself being understood as an affective consequence of feeling powerlessness. That is not to grant poetry any transcendent capacity, but to acknowledge a (necessarily unachievable) desire for transcendence (of history, and the depression it entails) behind it. As Lauren Berlant explains: Political depression persists in affective judgements of the world’s intractability – evidenced in affectlessness, apathy, coolness, cynicism, and so on – modes of what might be called detachment that are really not detached at all but constitute ongoing relations of sociality.69

Adam himself can similarly be read as exhibiting the symptoms of such a depression, which reflects his sense of artistic pessimism. Nevertheless, he also betrays a certain disappointment about his outlook; a selfconsciousness that his posture of cynicism is itself disappointing. In this way, the novel invokes a defence of art as meaningful, but with a view of this meaning as tentative, rather than guaranteed: always dependent upon society’s engagement with it. Despite the cynicism the narrator unmistakably feels, he is driven by his commitment to poetic writing, recognising that in a world without artworks, ‘I would swallow a bottle of white pills.’70 In the final pages of the novel, this comes through in a surprising ‘protectiveness’71 that Adam feels towards his poetry, which he begins to appreciate not merely as performance but as a true (if contradictory) expression of his thoughts and feelings: [M]y research had taught me that the tissue of contradictions that was my personality was itself, at best, a poem, where ‘poem’ is understood as referring to a failure of language to be equal to the possibility it figures; only then could my fraudulence be a project and not merely a pathology.72

By reconciling selfhood and incongruity – seeing both as a type of poetry – and by seeing writing itself as inflected by a similar, admissible ‘tissue of contradictions’, Adam responds to his sense of depression by claiming a non-normative set of values, seeking confidence precisely in the virtual, in-between experience that he has heretofore equivocated: ‘only then could my distance from myself be redescribed as critical’.73 Regarding the shape of the novel, this again opens the way to a new mode of writing, a style that takes comfort in the experience of affect as less than consolatory. Adam’s underlying fraudulence emerges as more than

Contemporary Crisis Fictions: Twenty-First Century Disaffection 367 a clue to his self-absorption and offers a reminder of the need to admit contradictoriness: the tendency to manifest a variety of feelings, often at odds with each other. In this way, taking hope in the effort of embarking on a project, even where this project itself lacks contour, and resides more genuinely in the act of trying than in the final product, the novel makes clear that what is valuable for Adam is ultimately the very trial of sorting through life, this being seen as a continuing task of actualising potentials. As Lerner argues, ‘poetry is an attempt to figure – with the irreducibly social materials of language – possibilities that have not yet been actualized.’74 Similarly, ‘Adam’s obsession with the virtual’ can also be seen as ‘a way of going deeper into the actual reality of his own life’75 so that his performances become ways of navigating new modes of still immanent feeling and being.

*** The focus on actualising the possible is key to what I see as twenty-first century ‘crisis fiction’, a genre that responds to the experience of radical contingency through a turn to affect. Indeed, both of the novels that I have explored here, even while emphasising their narrators’ ultimate failure to bring about the changes or successes that they envision, nevertheless underline an encounter with the possible as emotionally significant. In Remainder, this emerges through the prospect of manipulating and expanding time to contemplate alternative realities, seeing enactment as a tool for registering affect’s mind-altering intensities. Similarly, in Leaving the Atocha Station, Adam learns to appreciate poetry in terms not of what it does but of what it tries to do, its importance located not in final products, but instead, in the desire it elicits to contemplate a changed world vision. Developing this understanding, I want to comment on this fiction’s connection to what has been called the ‘new sincerity’ – this latter genre’s significance, as I see it, again emerging largely in relation to its ideas regarding affect and future possibility. On one hand the new sincerity (associated with such writers as David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers, Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Franzen, and Kazuo Ishiguro) has been interpreted by some to infer a necessarily more direct emotional and ethical language – one critic calling it ‘a willingness on the part of the poet to give equal airtime to [. . .] the problems of the heart’.76 On the other hand, as Adam Kelly comments, a more theoretically informed definition promises to explain more adequately some of the critical and emotional nuances of this writing, including an attention to the ways in which traditional ‘notions of character, selfhood, and expression’ are challenged and


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revised.77 As Kelly remarks, despite a clear concern with emotional pronouncements within much new sincerity writing, ‘it is equally true that the legacy of postmodernism – which is the context in which New Sincerity writers are most often read – substantially complicates any revival of the expression of “one’s deepest self” in literary form.’78 In this way, entwined within the concept is an acknowledgement of representational ambiguity; sincerity is not necessarily direct or expressive, but rather textual and open to interpretation. While it may seem tempting to regard the new sincerity as an inversion of Jameson’s ‘waning of affect’,79 reading contemporary writing as associated with sentiment and raw feeling, on the other hand, one key element of the new sincerity also involves its willingness to engage with potentially complex and second-hand emotions or affects, again reflecting these writers’ general familiarity with poststructuralist theory.80 One notable example is Eggers’ title-defining play with notions of emotional sincerity, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000), in which narratorial pretention repeatedly undercuts the narrator’s claims to emotional candour.81 Similarly, in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010), the pervasive emotional confusion and self-destructiveness of the characters speaks to the difficulty of straightforward emotional expression: what is central is not raw feeling so much as repressed, inexplicable, or, in some cases, missing emotions. In this regard, these fictions highlight the oft-visible sophistication of new sincerity writing, which is frequently layered with ambiguity and contradiction. Indeed, one central facet of this writing, visibly connecting it to McCarthy and Lerner’s novels above, is its attention not only to emotional subtlety or misrepresentation, but also to how ‘feeling slips in and out of subjective boundaries’82 enveloping a wider affective realm elusive to the language of interiority. For example, in works such as Eggers’ What is the What? (2006) and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005) the question of who controls the narrator’s voice and of how affects might transfer from one environment or person to the next is always prominent: in the former, through an attention to the narrator’s constant changes of setting and his dependency upon translation to convey his story, and in the latter, through the clones’ unmistakable reliance on the institutions who have created and schooled them to provide their emotional vocabulary. In this way, feeling comes to be seen as much more multifaceted than ‘heartfelt emotion’, instead enveloping political, historical, and cultural forces acting outside the narrator’s knowledge or control.

Contemporary Crisis Fictions: Twenty-First Century Disaffection 369 In both of these novels, as well as in the two novels by McCarthy and Lerner that I have focused upon, what is crucial to the narrative development is a burgeoning sense not of the narrator’s internal cohesion as an individual subject, but a growing awareness of how each character’s experience and possibility is shaped by and contingent upon surrounding energies, situating him or her within webs of affective transfer to which he or she is often unaware. This is visible as much in Eggers’ attention to Achek Deng’s reliance on his own authorial outlook (and on that of other translators he comes across in his travels),83 as it is in Ishiguro’s constant emphasis upon Hailsham’s ideological indoctrination.84 In both cases, possibility is represented as wrought upon multiple external dynamisms. What is compelling about McCarthy and Lerner’s writing is how they draw attention to these complex emotional and affective questions, bringing to light ‘models of subjectivity, collectivity, and agency not entirely foreseen by past theorists’,85 and registering agency as finally more intricate and impersonal than uncritical versions of sincerity would make it out to be. This entails a focus on crisis on the part of these texts’ narrators, their failure to control their feelings prompting dread and spiralling panic, yet it also registers moments of affective immersion and artistic investment which complicate this narrative, underlining a more multifaceted picture of social engagement. Indeed, what is perhaps most compelling about these novels is how they finally upend their own initial impressions, starting out with a portrayal of radical disaffection, to reveal multiple intensities. In this way, these novels might be seen as paving the way for future writers interested in redefining sincerity more critically.

Notes 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station (London: Granta, 2011), pp. 66–67. Tom McCarthy, Remainder (London: Alma Books, 2005), p. 5. Ibid. p. 97. Ibid. p. 15. Ibid. pp. 24, 139. Ben Lerner, 10:04 (London: Granta, 2014), p. 146. Also, Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), p. 51. 7. Ngai, Ugly Feelings, p. 10. 8. Ibid. p. 76. Pieter Vermeulen also discusses Ngai’s writing on dysphoric affect in relation to McCarthy’s Remainder, in an article that very much inspires what I argue here. However, while Vermeulen focuses on Remainder’s relation to trauma fiction and the ‘afterlife of the novel’, my concern is instead to explore the text’s representation of crisis to connect this to a ‘new sincerity’ shaped, as


9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14.

15. 16. 17. 18.

19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33. 34.

emily horton I see it, by preoccupation with affect. See Vermeulen, ‘The Critique of Trauma and the Afterlife of the Novel in Tom McCarthy’s Remainder’, Modern Fiction Studies 58:3 (Autumn 2012), pp. 549–568 [p. 557]. Ngai, Ugly Feelings, p. 76. Megan Watkins, ‘Desiring Recognition, Accumulating Affect’, in Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth (eds), The Affect Theory Reader (London: Duke University Press, 2010), pp. 269–285 [p. 269]. Idelbar Avelar, The Untimely Present (London: Duke University Press, 1999), p. 23. Ibid. p. 23. Birgit Schippers, ‘Violence, Affect, and Ethics’, in Moya Lloyd (ed.), Butler and Ethics (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), pp. 91–117 [p. 94]. See, for example, Schippers, ‘Violence, Affect, and Ethics’, p. 94, and Ngai, Ugly Feelings, pp. 27–28. Also see Margaret Wetherell, Affect and Emotion: A New Social Science Understanding (London: Sage, 2012), p. 20. Peter Boxall, Twenty-First-Century Fiction: A Critical Introduction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 85. Ibid. Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, ‘An Inventory of Shimmers’, in Gregg and Seigworth, The Affect Theory Reader, pp. 1–25 [p. 1]. Nick J. Fox and Pam Alldred, ‘The Sexuality-Assemblage: Desire, Affect, Anti-humanism’, The Sociology Review 61:4 (November 2013): pp. 769–789 [p. 772]. See also, Giles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (New York: Zone Books, 1990), p. 218. Ibid. p. 772. Heather Houser, Ecosickness in Contemporary U.S. Fiction: Environment and Affect (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), pp. 6, 4. Zadie Smith, ‘Two Directions for the Novel’, in Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (London: Penguin, 2009), pp. 71–98 [p. 73]. Roger Luckhurst, The Trauma Question (London: Routledge, 2008), p. 1. Cathy Caruth, Trauma: Explorations in Memory (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995), p. 4. Vermeulen, ‘The Critique of Trauma’, pp. 550–551. Ibid. p. 551. McCarthy, Remainder, p. 244. Ibid. pp. 11, 17, 115, 128; see also Vermeulen, ‘The Critique of Trauma’, p. 557. Ibid. p. 21. Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-NetworkTheory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 71. Ibid. pp. 237–238. McCarthy, Remainder, p. 33. Ibid. pp. 62, 245. Ibid. pp. 11, 138, 151. Daniel Lea, Twenty-First-Century Fiction: Contemporary British Voices (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2016), p. 125.

Contemporary Crisis Fictions: Twenty-First Century Disaffection


35. Quoted in Matthew Hart and Aaron Jaffe, with Jonathan Eburne, ‘An Interview with Tom McCarthy’, Contemporary Literature 54:4 (Winter 2013), pp. 656–682 [p. 680]. 36. Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift, ‘Introduction’, in Mapping the Subject (London: Routledge: 1995), pp. 1–12 [p. 11]. 37. Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift, ‘Mapping the Subject’, in Mapping the Subject, pp. 13–51 [p. 19]. 38. McCarthy, Remainder, p. 561. 39. Vermeulen, ‘The Critique of Trauma’, p. 555. 40. Quoted in Hart and Jaffe, ‘An Interview with Tom McCarthy’, p. 671. 41. Ibid. p. 667. 42. McCarthy, Remainder, p. 223. 43. Fredric Jameson, Antinomies of Realism (New York: Verso, 2015), p. 42. 44. Ibid. p. 43. 45. Ibid. p. 54. 46. Ibid. p. 55. 47. McCarthy, Remainder, p. 164. 48. Jameson, Antinomies of Realism, p. 32. 49. Ibid. p. 52. 50. Ibid. p. 52. 51. Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station, p. 8. 52. See also Rachel Sagner Buurma and L. Heffernan, ‘Notation after “The Reality Effect”: Remaking Reference with Roland Barthes and Sheila Heti’, Representations 125:1 (2014), pp. 80–102 [p. 95]. 53. Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station, p. 8. 54. Ibid. p. 8. 55. Ngai, Ugly Feelings, p. 2. 56. Ibid. p. 2. See also, Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, ed. and trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), p. 225. 57. Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station, p. 175. 58. Ben Lerner, The Hatred of Poetry (London: Fitzcaraldo Editions, 2016), pp. 8, 5, 8. 59. Ngai, Ugly Feelings, p. 2. 60. Lerner, The Hatred of Poetry, p. 9. 61. Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station, p. 51. 62. Ibid. p. 29. 63. Ibid. p. 101. 64. James Wood, ‘Reality Testing’, The New Yorker (2011), n.p. Available at: www [last accessed 1 July 2019]. 65. Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station, p. 36. 66. Ibid. p. 101. 67. Lerner, The Hatred of Poetry, p. 9. 68. Ibid. pp. 38, 65. 69. Lauren Berlant, ‘Cruel Optimism’, in Gregg and Seigworth, The Affect Theory Reader, pp. 93–117 [p. 97].

372 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77.

78. 79. 80.

81. 82. 83. 84. 85.

emily horton Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station, p. 45. Ibid. p. 164. Ibid. p. 164. Ibid. p. 164. Quoted in Tao Lin, ‘Interview with Ben Lerner’, The Believer (2012), n.p. Available at: [last accessed 1 July 2019]. Ibid., n.p. Jason Mo