debating affect

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Let me begin by posing a simple question: Why are so many scholars today in the humanities and social sciences fascinated by the idea of affect? In an obvious sense an answer is not difficult to find; one has only to attend to what those scholars say. “In this paper I want to think about affect in cities and about affective cities,” geographer Nigel Thrift explains, “and, above all, about what the political consequences of thinking more explicitly about these topics might be– once it is accepted that the `political decision is itself produced by a series of inhuman or pre-subjective forces and intensities.'” Similarly, cultural critic Eric Shouse states that “the importance of affect rests upon the fact that in many cases the message consciously received may be of less import to the receiver of that message than his or her nonconscious affective resonances with the source of the message.” He adds that the power of many forms of media lies “not so much in their ideological effects, but in their ability to create affective resonances independent of content or meaning.” In the same spirit, political philosopher and social theorist Brian Massumi, one of the most influential affect theorists in the humanities and social sciences today, attributes Ronald Reagan’s success as a politician to his ability to “produce ideological effects by nonideological means. . . . His means were affective.”

more from Ruth Leys with responses at Critical Inquiry here.

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