Monday, February 4, 2013

On The Problem of Transferrence in Affect Theory

The title of this post, "On The Problem of Transference" may evoke, momentarily, the assumption that its subject is psychoanalytic in nature. Indeed, transference is usually reserved for debates about the methodological problems with moving from the level of the individual to the social in Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis.

Yet, the subject of this post is a similar problem in affect theory raised by Lawrence Grossberg in his book Cultural Studies in the Future Tense. The title of this post is subsequently meant to draw a parallel between these arguments. In his reading of Brian Massumi, Grossberg highlights one crucial problem: most theorists of affect do not make distinctions between the psychological, social, and individual levels of affect. This is a problem for Grossberg because it leads critics to transfer social and collective psychological affects onto the level of the subject and equivocate three differently-textured processes. Indeed, the social affects of contemporary culture and apparatuses, the affects of desire and neuroses, as well as the individuating affects of emotion and action are each qualitatively different and require attention in different ways. (To this, I would add the affects of geology and physics).    

My goal in this post is to posit a possible answer to this problem. Before I do so, however, it is important to note that Grossberg risks replicating a strict separation between the tripartite registers of psychoanalysis. That is, the effort to parse these differences, in my view, is similar to efforts by some Lacanians to parse the symbolic, imaginary, and real, which together compose the world of the contemporary psyche. To be fair, Grossberg argues that affect is a mediating force in everyday life, and all of these affects are on a single plane of becoming. Indeed, it should be impossible, as I argue, to map these affects as separate from each other, or on different levels. Here, I cannot shake the feeling that Grossberg's criticism of Massumi is an intrusion of Freudian sensibilities that undergrid some of his earlier work. For instance, his insistence on the existence of a register of affect with neuroses and desire, where desire does not become descriptive of emotion and action seems to miss the turn towards a materialist psychoanalysis in Deleuze and Guattari's work.

The remainder of this post, then, posits Massumi's concept of resonance as a force that points to the impossibility of mapping different registers of affect. For Massumi, resonance is the outcome of a complicated process whereby the duration of affects exert effects on subjective experience. Here, the external, or extensive, forces that are encountered by subjects are selected and mixed with previous experiences to become intensities. These intensities fold together and emerge at particular times to animate human perception of encounters in the present.. In so doing, they effect changes in thought and action. Resonance, then, is a concept that explains the relationship between subjective thought and the overwhelming forces that constitute material reality.

The effects of resonance on epistemology are particularly important for my argument. Because the extensive forces resulting from our encounters with the world (many of which are not registered into awareness) are infolded and bubble up as affects unattached to the conditions of their production, there is no way for critics encountering a particular plane or map to effectively delineate the level of affect on which a particular connection resides. If, as even Grossberg acknowledges, affect is a form of mediation, then the distinctions between different levels of affect cannot be rendered intelligible to the critic who themselves is experiencing the event. Indeed, the operative answer is that it is all levels of affect, including the geo-physical, at play in the production of meaning and culture.

Moreover, from another perspective, resonance plays a role in mediating the different levels of affect, such that we can see how subjects become fixated on particular conceptions of geo-physics, culture, the state, and collective fantasies. It seems to make little difference what level of affect one attends to if you can demonstrate a potential effect on subjective experience, and show how that produces a fixation on particular points that constitute the broader milieu. 

Now, the obvious objection to my argument is that this leaves the critic with little space to effectively map the movement of affect. Yet, it seems, that there are a number of tools int he humanities toolbox that may contribute to this. For instance, prior to making this argument, Grossberg's theory of "mapping," similar to Deleuze's human ethology, only required attention to the effects of affect. Similarly, it seems that different forms of ethnography, auto-ethnography, uptake studies, and textual analysis only require attention to the production of affects.   

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