Affect, Pervasive and Elusive

What is affect? Affect circulates through different spaces, it is multifaceted and flips easily from one ridge to another: individual and collective, private and public, owned and disavowed, approximated and distanced, embraced and avoided. Affect is visceral, olfactory, visual, tangible, palpable. It is atmospheric and pertains to luminosity, pulsation, and texture. What is affect? Notoriously hard to define, whatever it is, it does not mean anything, rather, affect provokes, arouses, triggers, disappoints, vexes, throws off balance, enamors, and disgusts. Affect is a deeply embedded feeling, the feeling worked into the body, it is the way the body is broken down to the settings in which it operates; affect is a state of soul, mind, and gesture. Gregory J. Seigworth and Melissa Gregg define affect in following categories: “Affect arises in the midst of in-between-ness: in the capacities to act and be acted upon. Affect is an impingement or extrusion of a momentary or sometimes more sustained state of relation as well as the passage (and the duration of passage) of forces or intensities. That is, affect is found in those intensities that pass body to body (human, nonhuman, part-body, and otherwise), in those resonances that circulate about, between, and sometimes stick to bodies and worlds, and in the very passages or variations between these intensities and resonances themselves.” (Seigworth, Gregg, 2010, 1). The number of “key terms” emerging in this passage – in-between-ness, passage, intensities, circulation, resonances – map out the unsteady territory of affect in public imagination. Affect is like phlogiston believed to be emerging during combustion in the 18 century: “In general, substances that burned in air were said to be rich in phlogiston.” (Conant, 1950, 14). During combustion, object dephlogisticate. It is possible to be dis-affected as well. Similar to objects rich with phlogiston, bodies are “said to be saturated with affect,” and it’s the circulation of affect that makes affect evident.

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