affect: a definition

‘affect’ describes both (i) the power of bodies to combine and (ii) the felt effects of power in the body. the content and expression of affecting and being affected. bodies combine in a very concrete sense, like nourishment or poison, to produce passional sensations of joy or sadness.

affect is caught like one catches a cold: through contagion. it can’t be quantified any more than freud was able to quantify libido. and when it’s qualified, felt as ’emotion’ for instance, its measurement still comes out dull like a nurse taking your temperature.

the purest way to experience affect has been distilled in art and its mobile army of sensations. the ninth symphony was never beethoven’s. “relations are always external to their terms.” it is a block of sensation that could bathe clockwork orange’s alex in waves of ultra-violence just as equally as celebrate a triumphalism fall of the berlin wall. art is a tricky thing though, sensations only stick when they have their own percepts and affects to share.

living in an era when power produces more than it represses, we too must explore what bodies are capable of rather that simply commanding them as-is. the ethics of our age requires us to develop adequate knowledge about the causes of our affection. yet our natural condition gives us bodies far more capable than the necessarily confused and distorted information we’ve given of those bodies.

a whole set of philosophers tried to gain passage to knowledge through consciousness. but “consciousness is only a dream with one’s eyes open.” so the hipster might stroll past boutiques to see what catches his eye. or the militant might lock himself in the party headquarters to avoid the corruptions of bourgeois culture.

but the nomad opens herself up to the world of desire, sniffing out pre-sentiments of what affects might emerge from new encounters until something smells good and she jumps for it. the key is that affections are the cause of consciousness, and not the other way around, but even though consciousness is a fiction, it is our only path in the process of becoming.

A Questionnaire:

Intensive Capacity (latitude)

  • What does this do to me?
  • How does this change my own capacities?
  • How much more until I transform into something else?

Extensive Relation (longitude)

  • What am I a part of?
  • What are we capable of?
  • How much more until I lose myself in the mix?


  • How long does this mixture last?
  • Will it leave an aftertaste?
  • Does this make something irreversibly different?

5 thoughts on “affect: a definition

  1. Is the gendering of hipster, militant, and nomad important to this definition of affect–what bodies can do? Or was this he, he, her series coincidental?

    As an aside, these notes remind me very much of a paper I presented at Purdue last year (a conference at which Euguene Holland was one of the keynotes) where I posed this question within a discourse on rights and terrorism/pre-terrorism. It was ultimately a poorly formulated project to think a concept of rights outside of both a statist and humanist framework . . . it really hasn’t gone anywhere since then . . .

    1. I played around the wording a few times, trying to expunge the certain specificity. After failing, I moved around the genders a few times too, finally landing on ‘he’ ‘he’ ‘she’. I don’t know what it means, other than my distaste for all things male-d.

      Sorry to hear about your ‘failed’ attempt. We’ll see where this all goes for me. It’s in preparation for an exam question that fits under the problematic: is affect a model for post-modern power?

  2. I would just add that instead of ‘contagion’ (which might imply that affects somehow come over your body, determine them, like something from the outside, that your body is in no way in control of) you could talk about affects in terms of ‘resonance’.

    Resonance implies that the body which is affected is composed in a specific way, which makes it move differently when exposed to the affecting tone than another body would do.

    Sometimes a body will be affected by this and that in this or that way. But another body will be affected in a completely different way.

    Of couse this goes for ‘contagions’ too, if you really want to get into the biology of it all: no cold is ever just the same, because different bodies have different thresholds and ways of reacting to it.

    But the formulation of ‘resonance’ really puts the mutuality of it in front. Also, it brings with it the whole terminology of audio, with it’s wave-space (penetrating and surrounding bodies, sound going through walls etc.) instead of the particle-space of contagion (where you can isolate bodies, so they won’t get affected by the cold etc.).

    I’m just associating a bit here. I think it was The Invisible Comité who first wrote something about ‘resonance’ instead of ‘contagion’, even if it was only said real quick. I haven’t read it elsewhere at least.

    1. MM: I like the notion of resonance, but I’ve been trying to think through it v/v Bachelard’s phenomenology and D&G’s “micropolitics and segmentarity” plateau.

      In both of their accounts, resonance has to do with signification and meaning – which for D&G is used to by the state to capture hetergeneous social forms for overcoding. Now, I know that Invisible Committee means something slightly different from it, but I haven’t had the time to complete work through it.

      A colleague and I have an idea in the mix to build a system using the reverberation-resonance doublet. Our preferred form of political activity would likely focus on reverberation rather than resonance (though, of course, it is expressed through resonance). But I don’t want to reveal too much before we’ve though it through.

      But as you say – contagion is a bit funny. I thought it fit well with the analogies — colds, nurses, doctors, etc — only to be later problematized through questions of management (biopolitics, etc). I do think it works well with the art example, however, because it notes that affect _is_ autonomous from the bodies it produces affections in (Spinoza, Deleuze, and Massumi are quite explicit on this one).

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