Monday, August 22, 2005

Back to school

My grad seminar (Rhetorics of Motives, Emotion, Affect) will be blogging here this semester. Just had our first class, and since my blog is in some real need of content, I offer a few of my "lecture" notes:

For the first two class meetings, I want to address the questions of why emotion/affect (and what the heck is motives doing in there?). If I could have assigned readings for the first day (and I could have, I suppose, but never have done such a thing, though I know it’s done), I would have focused the class today on what we’re doing next week. So here’s what we’re doing next week, as a preview and as a context for what we’ll be talking about today:

Next week, we’ll be reading four essays:
• Worsham, “Going Postal”
• Hardt, “Affective Labor”
• Hariman & Lucaites, “Dissent and Emotional Management in a Liberal-Democratic Society”
• Grossberg, “Ideology and Affective Epidemics,” from We Gotta Get Out of This Place

I think of these four as providing a way of thinking about possible motives (attitudes as prelude to action: Burke) and exigencies (situations that call out rhetorical responses: Bitzer) for the study of emotion and/or affect:
• Worsham, in particular, offers theoretical/political motives for a study of emotion. [a change in mind doesn’t always or often lead to change]
• Hardt offers a contextual motive/exigence (affective labor as one aspect of “immaterial labor,” the labor that dominates the Postmodern economy, according to Hardt [and Negri—this argument appears in much the same form in Empire and is also taken up in the earlier Labor of Dionysus.]
• Hariman & Lucaites offer a theoretical motive (rhetorical studies has yet to seriously take up the question of emotion) and contextual exigence (emotional management is a primary task of liberal-democratic societies, and visual rhetoric is especially powerful in effecting that management).
• Grossberg offers an important theoretical concept (“affective epidemics”) especially relevant, according to G, for our neo-conservative times. (Hmm: really especially?)

[That “and/or” in “emotion and/or affect” is significant, and it’s the and/or that we’ll be focusing on in today’s class. IE, we’ll be sort of “defining,” but not with a view toward some sort of Socratic resolution of what these terms mean, but rather with a view toward thinking about what the terms do and how they open up possibilities for thinking and acting.]

Emotion/Affect/Feeling: Terministic Screens:

I want to think about these three terms as “terministic screens” that enable ways of thinking/feeling/acting, rather than as terms to define, once and for all. Because, for one thing, we won’t be able to do that. They shift around a lot, depending on who uses them and to what end.

First, though, let’s think about this idea of “terministic screens.” [Handout of first two pages of Burke’s essay.]
scientistic and dramatistic
definition itself as necessarily dramatistic
suasive, directing the attention
terms select, and thus also deflect
add to it: terms as necessarily emotionally laden: terministic avalanche? Terministic affective networks?

We might also usefully think of Burke’s idea alongside Massumi’s (via Deleuze): brick/toolbox
A concept is a brick. It can be used to build the courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window. What is the subject of the brick? The arm that throws it? The body connected to the arm? The brain encased in the body? The situation that brought brain and body to such a juncture? All and none of the above. (Foreward xii)

Deleuze’s own image for a concept is not a brick, but a “tool box.” He calls this kind of philosophy “pragmatics” because its goal is the invention of concepts that do not add up to a system of belief or an architecture of propositions that you either enter or you don’t, but instead pack a potential in the way a crowbar in a willing hand envelops an energy of prying.
. . .
The question is not: is it true? But: does it work? What new thoughts does it make possible to think? What new emotions does it make possible to feel? What new sensations and perceptions does it open in the body? (xv)

Terms that get stuck to “emotion”?
Prop: Dove “promises”—the candy itself, the wrapper, the tactile, the body, the gender implied, the message

What’s the difference between an “emotion” and a “feeling”?
Damasio: handout
“In our attempt to understand the complex chain of events that begins with emotion and ends up in feeling, we can be helped by a principled separation between the part of the process that is made public and the part that remains private. For the purposes of my work I call the former part emotion and the latter part feeling in keeping with the meaning of the term feeling I outlined earlier.” (Looking for Spinoza 27)

“The principal meaning of the word feeling refers to some variant of the experience of pain or pleasure as it occurs in emotions and related phenomenon; another frequent meaning refers to experiences such as touch as when we appreciate the shape or texture of an object. Throughout this book, unless otherwise specified, the term feeling is always used in its principal meaning.” (3)

“Making whole returns us to Spinoza’s claim that body and mind are parallel attributes of the same substance. We split them under the microscope of biology because we want to know how that single substance works, and how the body and mind aspects are generated within it. After investigating emotion and feeling in relative isolation we can . . . roll them together again, as affects.” (133)

• What does this way of thinking of emotion do? How does it confirm what we think we know? How does it challenge received ideas about emotion? What could we do with these ideas, both positively and maybe negatively?


According to Damasio, “affects” is the name Spinoza gives to the whole ensemble of “drives, motivations, emotions, and feelings.” But according to Brian Massumi, Deleuze and Guattari use the term in a very different way, even though they too bring Spinoza into the picture:

From Massumi’s “Notes on the Translation” for A Thousand Plateaus:

Affect/Affection. Neither word denotes a personal feeling (sentiment in Deleuze and Guattari). L’affect (Spinoza’s affectus) is an ability to affect and be affected. It is a prepersonal intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation or diminution in that body’s capacity to act. L’affection (Spinoza’s affectio) is each such state considered as an encounter between the affected body and a second, affecting, body (with body taken in its broadest possible sense to include ‘mental’ or ideal bodies). (xvi)

1 comment:

Becky Howard said...

Too funny: I'm one of those who does assign first-day reading for grad seminars. And sometimes there's a palace revolt. Mostly, though, the grad students just humor me and read the stuff.

FYI, my fave piece on the affective is this one:
Clark, Suzanne. "Rhetoric, Social Construction, and Gender: Is It Bad to Be Sentimental?" Writing Theory and Critical Theory. Ed. John Clifford and John Schilb. New York: Modern Language Association, 1994. 96-108.

It's not terribly well-crafted, but once you crack the argument, it's very useful—or has been for me, anyhoo.