Ficha de Leitura: The forms of the affects – Eugenie Brinkema

BRINKEMA, Eugenie. The forms of the affects. Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2014.

Affect”, as turned to, is said to: disrupt, interrupt, reinsert, demand, provoke, insist on, remind of, agitate for: the body, sensation, movement, flesh and skin and nerves, the visceral, stressing pains, feral frenzies, always rubbing against: what undoes, what unsettles, that thing I cannot name, what remains resistant, far away (haunting, and ever so beautiful); indefinable, it is said to be what cannot be written, what thaws the critical cold, messing all systems and subjects up. Thus, turning to affect has allowed humanities to constantly possibly introject any seemingly absent or forgotten dimension of inquiry, to insist that play, the unexpected, and the unthought can always be brought back into the field. […] One of the symptoms of appeals to affect in the negative theoretical sense–as signaling principally a rejection: not semiosis, not meaning, not structure, not apparatus, [xiii] but the felt visceral, immediate, sensed, embodied, excessive–is that “affect” in the turn to affect has been deployed almost exclusive in the singular, as the capacity for movement or disturbance in general (When Lone Bertelsen and Andrew Murphie succinctly declare “affect is not form ,” it is because they align affects with “transitions between states” and the very essence of what is dynamic and unstable, against and impoverished notion of form as inert, passive, inactive.) (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. xii-xiii)

Critical positions that align with what generally and amorphously resists (structure, form, textuality, signification, legibility) hold on the notion of a transcendental signified, hold fast to the fantasy of something that predates the linguistic turn and that evades the slow, hard tussle of reading texts closely. What I claim in this book is not only that this desire is retrogade and reintroduces an untheorized notion of affect (specifically, one that is fundamentally incapable of dealing with textual particularities and formal matters), but that the return to affect on the part of critics from wildly divergent disciplinary backgrounds is, in most cases, a naïve move that leaves intact the very ideological, aesthetic, and theoretical problems it claimed to confront. Thus, even some of the most radical theory coming out of the humanities today begins with the premise that affects and feelings are the forgotten underside of the linguistic turn. Indeed, in some cases the affection for affect has itself been subsumed by a more powerful theory that demanded the deep attention required for interminable difficult reading. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. xiv)

Affect is not where reading is no longer needed. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. xiv)

Rejecting the ways in which percept and affect (defined following Deleuze) have been “subordinated to textuality and the Law of the signifier,” Shaviro instead insists on attending to the “immediacy and violence of sensation that powerfully engages the eye and body of the spectator.” […] He shares with theorists such as Brian Massumi the sense that intensities are necessarily and utterly divorced from all that signifies. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 28)

Affect, as I will argue in this book, is non-intentional, indifferent, and resists the given-over attributes of a teleological spectatorship with acquirable gains. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 33)

In place of affect as a matter of expression, communication, address, spectatorship, experience, or sensation, affect will be regarded as a fold, which is another way of saying that affects will be read for as forms. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 36)

One wager of this book is that affect is the right and productive site for radically redefining what reading for form might look like in the theoretical humanities today. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 37)

Specifically, this book makes two moves regarding form: reading for form is the methodological strategy, and reading affects as having forms is the theoretical intervention. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 37)

We may well be at the beginning of what will eventually be called the twenty-first-century “return to form” in the humanities. There has been a growing sense of frustration and disenchantment (affects both) with textual digest, the banality of tropes (hegemony, power, the other), and a lack of interest in formal processes. Calls in the past decade for a return to reading in literary and cultural studies, and recent growing interest in work on aesthetics from philosophers such as Jaques Rancière, suggests that after a long historical stretch of criticisms, disparagement, and outright hostility, we are ready to get back to texts, forms, closeness, attention, specificity. But reading for form does not involve a retreat from other theoretical, political, and ethical commitments. As Ellen Rooney wonderfully words it, all that is required for taking formalism seriously is “refusing to reduce reading entirely to the elucidation, essentially the paraphrase of themes.” To the many advantages to reading that Rooney describes for literary studies, I would add that reading affect for form allows a richer language for describing the concept (beyond violences or frienzies or intensities); avoids the tendency of thematizing affect; and allows for a nuanced articulation of the ineluctable specificity and complexity of individual texts and individual affects as a way into something new and nos as a confirmation of prior, static models. Of special value in her polemic is Rooney’s insistence that reading for form does not involve a retreat from theory: “rather, the renewal of form as an operation intrinsic to reading enables literary and cultural studies fully to take the pressure of those interventions.” To this list of interventions better taken stock of through the renewal of form I would add work on affect, despite its penchant for being defined as instrinsically the antipode to form or structure. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 39)

“Excess,” like “affect,” was also routinely invoked in the singular general, universal as the capacity of a text to fail in relation to structural systematicity. Thus, simply returning to excess cannot solve the problems borne out by affect today. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 42)

Thus, even when form and affect have been considered together, the marked stubbornness of the theoretical interest in how form affects spectators ultimately has made the study of affects in the history of film theory into little more than the study of effects. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 44)

Mise-n’en-scène suggests that in addition to reading for what is put into the scene, one must also read for all of its permutations: what is not put into the scene; what is put into the non-scene; and what is not enough put into the scene. Formal affects, affects with and in forms, affects after interiority and after spectatorship–these trouble the very philosophical binaries that hold apart presence and absence, interiority and exteriority, self and other, excretion and reception. It is only fitting to follow the logic of the fold into one that upsets a reading method that has only ever looked for presence and so often only found what it knew it would see. One critical pressure that affectivity in particular brings to bear on form is in the way that negative affects exert negative stresses on, even distentions of, cinematic construction, undoing grids, schemas, orderings, all aesthetic plans. The genealogy of non-unities written by an attention to the mise-n’en-scène is a fitting anti-narrative for an approach to form that reads for its impersonal impresence and structural destructurins. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 46)

Presence is materialized in Barthes’ theory of the photograph. The return of the dead that Barthes sees in all photographs is not a figural return but an ontological fold: “the corpse is alive, as corpse: it is the living image of a dead thing.” His realist take on the image relies on the photographic referent being defined as the undeniably and necessarily real object that was placed at a specific place and in a unique moment in time before the lens. This ontological adherence of the referent to the subsequent image changes the object of inquiry: photography is no longer a medium like any other but a medium without mediation. And all because of light. The noeme “that-has-been” (ça a été) is made possible by the technological discovery of the possibility “to object.” (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 83)

The violence of a need to vomit–

In the long run Bacon’s Figures aren’t wracked bodies at all, but ordinary bodies in ordinary situations of constraint and discomfort. A man ordered to sit still for hours on a narrow stool is bound to assume contorted postures. The violence of a hiccup, of a need to vomit, but also of a hysterical, involuntary smile….Bacon’s bodies, heads, Figures are of flesh, and what fascinates him are the invisible forces that model flesh or shake it.

–is a formal violence. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 115)

This chapter and the next continue this book’s broader project of reading for a formal affectivity–for the forms of affects and for the way in which affects inhere in textual and visual forms–with the affect marked by its ambivalent relationship to both senses of taste: disgust. Like Deleuze’s reading of Bacon’s paintings, my argument centers on formal distentions and deformations that ultimately involve the autonomy and force of color. Unlike Deleuze, however, I do not convert taste to hapticity, or tasting to touching, or mouth to eyes, but let “taste” hover between aesthetic propriety and the tongue’s work, bridging what is in “good taste” with what tastes good and noting how good aesthetic and literal taste also have an intimate relationship with all that tastes bad and is forever in bad taste. From transcendental aesthetic we move to transcendental gastronomy to see the way in which the negative of good taste (dis-gust, de-gôut) organizes the field of haute cuisine as much as it does aesthetics. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 116)

As opposed to figuring the body as a substance with an essence, as in classical ontology, the move to an immanent philosophy in Spinoza and Nietzsche (and its resurgence in the twentieth-century philosophy of Deleuze) refigures the body as a singularity comprised of force, or as an assemblage of multiple forces. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 122)

Disgust poses the problem of relating the two forms of taste (aesthetic) and taste (tasting) to each other, a relation that will be figured as an irreducible opposition. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 126)

“For horror appears to be one of those genres,” Carroll argues, “in which the emotive responses of characters into “a set of instructions, or, rather, examples about the way in which the audience is to respond to the monsters in the fiction.” (BRINEMA, 2014, p. 134)

Deleuze finds in certain paintings of Bacon’s, the point at which “color-structure gives way to color-force. Each dominant color and each broken tone indicates the immediate exercise of a force on the corresponding zone of the body or head; it immediately renders a force visible.” (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 174)

But in the next turn to the wilds of anxiety, this book is also moving to the debased realm of an independent horror film. I have insisted throughout this study that highly formalist films are suffused with affects, and the inverse is true, as well: genres taken to be (and, it must be said, [180] often derided as) nothing but affect, such as horror, are themselves governed by a rigorous formalism. (BRINKEMA, 2014, p. 180)

What might form do, how might the potentially of form transform, liberate its motor restriction, and involve the future not only as a space of the possible but as a space of the certain, where the event as the event may instate itself? This pure form of the positive where things take place in formºlet us call it joy.


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