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DOING THINGS: EMOTION, AFFECT,
This paper considers some implications of the recent ‘‘affective turn’’ in cultural
studies, focusing on the ways in which it may help us explore the entanglement of the
human with the material. This latter aspect has synergies with Georgina Dopico-
Black’s exploration in this issue of the limits of the human. The overall drift of my
paper, as should become clear at the end, is to try to find ways of thinking beyond, or
outside of, representation. My discussion draws on the work of scholars in the
humanities and the social sciences (anthropology, communications); if the social
sciences underwent a ‘‘cultural turn’’ in the 1970s, the humanities can profit today
from culturally-oriented research in the social sciences. The paper is entirely
exploratory. It is intended as a stimulus to new forms of research which, to my
knowledge, have not been tried in Spanish studies*at least, not with explicit
reflection on the issues involved.
My title ‘‘Doing Things’’ is intended in two senses: that of ‘‘1c.»¸ things’’ and that
of ‘‘doing ·|.»¸·’’. The first sense*‘‘1c.»¸ things’’*raises the question of what it
might mean to think of emotions as ¡.o.·...·, rather than as states that exist inside the
self and are often regarded as properties of the self. Thus, following Sara Ahmed’s 1|.
co!·o.o! tc!.·..· c¡ i¬c·.c», I want to consider not what emotions o.. but what they 1c
(4). Here I am influenced by anthropology as a discipline which studies the symbolic
systems constituted by social practices. ‘‘Subjectivity’’*a term used regularly by
literary and cultural critics*is not a word used by anthropologists, since they are
concerned with the behavior of groups, and since the methodology of participant
observation allows access to what individuals are feeling only insofar as it is
externalized through social practice.
I do not propose that we abandon the study of
subjectivity, but would like to argue for a concept of subjectivity that is based on
relationality with others and with things. That means paying attention to feelings as
well as ideas, and viewing feelings, not as properties of the self, but as produced
through the interaction between self and world. And it means seeing that interaction,
not as the coming together of two separate entities, but as a process of entanglement
in which boundaries do not hold. It also means taking into account not only conscious
feelings, but also what is felt at the level of the body, questioning the body/mind
The other sense of my title*‘‘Doing ·|.»¸·’’*is concerned with how we might,
as cultural scholars, study materiality, with reference not just to bodily processes, but
also to the material world outside. The aim would be to get beyond thinking about
our relationship to things in terms of a subject/object divide, which puts agency on
one side of the divide (our side) and supposes that things exist solely as ‘‘objects’’ to
be ‘‘mastered’’. In this respect, I am again influenced by anthropology, in which
material culture has become an important field; it is a topic which has also been taken
on board by historians. A question here is whether it is only possible to study things in
terms of what people do with them*much work in material culture is concerned
Journal of Spanish Cultural Studies Vol. 11, Nos. 3Á4 SeptemberÁDecember 2010, pp. 223Á233
ISSN 1463-6204 print/ISSN 1469-9818 online –2010 Taylor & Francis
http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/14636204.2010.538244
with this: for example, the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai’s 1|. :c..o! t.¡. c¡ 1|.»¸·
(1988) or the historian Lisa Jardine’s Pc.!1!, ccc1· + :.« u.··c., c¡ ·|. r.»o.··o»..
(1996), both of which consider how commodities circulate. I should like to consider
what it might mean to study what things themselves do*what we might call ‘‘doing
I will devote most of this paper to an overview of recent theorizations of ‘‘affect’’
in English-language cultural theory, since this is the least familiar of my three terms,
and since it stands as a midway point between, and thus in relationship to, the other
two more readily graspable terms: ‘‘emotion’’ and ‘‘materiality’’. I shall be brief in my
discussion of emotion (I am keenly aware of how much more could be said), focusing
on the ways in which it is distinct from ‘‘affect’’. After discussing ‘‘affect’’, I shall give
a brief review of recent theorizations of materiality.
Although ‘‘affect’’ is often used as if it were synonymous with ‘‘emotion’’ (and
dictionary definitions support that interchangeability), in recent English-language
cultural theory it has taken on a distinct meaning borrowed from cognitive science.
This is a problem for scholars working in Spanish studies, since in Spanish ‘‘afecto’’
remains equivalent to ‘‘sentimiento’’ (emotion). Curiously, the Spanish ‘‘emocio´n’’
comes closer to what is meant by ‘‘affect’’ in its restricted English sense, since
‘‘emocio´n’’ designates ‘‘excitement’’; that is, a strong response to a stimulus (as in
‘‘¡Que´ emocio´n!’’). Emotions (in the English sense) are by definition conscious:
if I feel afraid, I am aware of feeling afraid, and I have a word to give to that
emotion: ‘‘fear’’. (Of course, different languages classify emotions differently.)
Emotions additionally involve judgment: hate, love, fear express moral attitudes
(Ahmed 195Á6). As defined by Teresa Brennan in 1|. 1.o»·¬.··.c» c¡ +¡¡..· (2004),
‘‘feeling’’ is an umbrella term straddling emotion and physical sensation (5). Like
emotion, feeling is conscious*one ‘‘feels it’’*and also involves a degree of
judgment since it does not just register sensory information but interprets it (5). By
contrast, affect is the body’s response to stimuli at a precognitive and prelinguistic
level. Nonetheless, Brennan insists that affect is not value free; she defines it as ‘‘the
physiological shift accompanying a judgment’’ (5).
In his path-breaking to.o/!.· ¡c. ·|. ¡..·oo! Mc·.¬.»·, +¡¡..·, :.»·o·.c» (2002),
communications scholar Brian Massumi defines affect as ‘‘intensity’’*an arousal that
can be measured physiologically but which happens so fast that consciousness cannot
register it. Once a conscious response kicks in (half a second later, according to
neurological research), we are in the realm of sensation (awareness of the physical
experience, for example, of fear) and, following shortly after, emotion (the reflective
acknowledgment ‘‘I am afraid’’). Emotion is thus, in practice, an amalgam of feeling and
thought*though the element of judgment involved in sensation and even affect makes it
difficult to call them entirely ‘‘thought-free’’. It is hard to find a vocabulary to talk of the
kind of judgments made by affect in that half second preceding conscious response: this is
a kind of ‘‘thinking’’ done by the body and not the mind. As Brennan stresses (136, 141),
by comparison with affect, conscious thought*traditionally privileged*is slow.
Affect, sensation, and emotion thus occupy different points on a continuum going from
body to mind, each having a different temporality. All of theminvolve judgment in some
way; sensation and emotion are felt consciously; and emotion forms a further continuum
with reason in that both are forms of conscious moral thinking.
As a neurological
response, affect involves the brain but not consciousness. It has nothing to do with the
2 2 4 J OURNAL OF SPANI SH CULTURAL ST UDI E S
Freudian unconscious, which consists of repressed emotions, since affect, not having
reached consciousness, cannot be repressed; it is preconscious. Affect is, in a way,
‘‘matter in motion’’ since it ‘‘moves’’ the body*quite literally if it makes us start
running away from the bear that has made us afraid, in that half-second before we
become conscious of the physical sensation of fear, which in turn makes possible the
reflection ‘‘I am afraid’’ (Ahmed’s example, 7Á8).
As Michael Hardt notes in his introduction to Patricia Clough’s edited volume 1|.
+¡¡..·.·. 1o.» (2007), affect has become a current object of study because it demonstrates
the impossibility of thinking of body and mind as separate (ix). Clough and Massumi
trace the genealogy of affect back through the work of Deleuze and Guattari to Bergson
and Spinoza (Clough 203; Massumi 17). Affect also complicates the notion of agency: it
is not a passive Pavlovian response to an external stimulus*as we have seen, it involves a
kind of judgment enacted at the level of the body*but, being preconscious and
prelinguistic, it cannot be directed by reasoned argument. Affect requires a view of the
body, not as an organic closed system (as in Freud), but as something close to Deleuze
and Guattari’s concept of a ‘‘machinic assemblage’’ (Clough 11Á2), radically open to the
world*that is, existing in a self-world continuum in which the terms ‘‘subject’’ and
‘‘object’’ make no sense. In effect, the neurological study of affect shows the body to be
an information system whose potential is greater than that of consciousness. Massumi
calls this zone of potentiality ‘‘the virtual’’, located in that half-second before response
becomes conscious (30)*that is, before stimulus and response become perceived as
‘‘real’’ and consciousness closes down the body’s defenses. The belatedness of
consciousness suggests a need to revise psychoanalytical interpretations of the
‘‘belatedness’’ of trauma.
Massumi (5) observes that affect is the ‘‘real-material-but-
incorporeal’’; it is to the body what energy is to matter. This ‘‘real-material-but-
incorporeal’’ dimension of the body cannot be called a ‘‘thing’’ for, in Massumi’s neat
formulation: ‘‘A thing is when it isn’t doing’’ (6). Affect is doing all the time, though at
different levels and rhythms of intensity. (The last part of this paper will challenge
Massumi’s suggestion that things ‘‘don’t do’’; nevertheless, his definition of things is
correct inasmuch as they are inanimate matter.)
Massumi notes that affect does not have a straightforward relation to content, nor
to emotion. He describes a neurological experiment with children, wired up while
watching three versions of a short film*one wordless, one with purely factual voice-
over, one with a voice-over incorporating expressions of emotion*and interviewed
after the screening (23Á5). When asked which scenes they had liked the most, the
children came up with the scenes they had found most scary, contradicting*as
Massumi notes*Freud’s supposition that pleasure is linked to the drive for stasis
(23Á5). The experiment showed that the emotional version was the one the children
remembered best (and also found pleasurable). But the one they rated the most
pleasurable of all (meaning the scariest) was the wordless version, which produced the
greatest bodily response at the level of the skin: that is, at the level of interface with
the outside world. Curiously, the factual version*least liked and least re-
membered*was the one that produced the greatest bodily response in terms of
quickened heartbeat and deep breathing. Massumi attributes this agitated bodily
response to the impact of (conscious) narrative expectations set up by the factual
voice-over. While accepting this divided physiological response, Massumi concludes
that the response at skin level is the barometer of affective intensity, particularly since
E MOT I ON, AF F E CT, AND MATE RI AL I TY 225
it is a response to a wordless version. The fact that the emotional version, while the
most remembered, was the one that produced the least bodily arousal leads Massumi
to claim a disconnect between emotion and affect, concluding that they ‘‘follow
different paths and pertain to different orders’’ (27).
Massumi notes the tendency in contemporary cultural theory to see the body as
always already mediated; that is, as a ‘‘discursive’’ body (2) constituted through
technologies of knowledge production. Affect, being outside of discourse, presents a
challenge to Foucauldian theories of biopolitics. (I will later ask whether affect really
is as non-discursive as Massumi gives to understand.) As Massumi observes, late
capitalist culture may have seen a loss of belief but it is characterized by a surfeit of
affect. Thus, he pleads: ‘‘Much could be gained by integrating the dimension
of intensity into cultural theory’’ (27). Massumi warns that the incorporation of affect
into cultural theory would mean accepting ‘‘the collapse of structured distinction into
intensity, of rules into paradox’’*something to be welcomed since structure is ‘‘that
explanatory heaven ( . . . ) where nothing ever happens’’ (27). But, as he notes: ‘‘The
problem is that there is no cultural-theoretical vocabulary specific to affect’’ (27).
Massumi’s own vocabulary comes primarily from a mix of Deleuze, cognitive science,
and communications theory. He does, however, hold out some hope, observing that,
while one cannot observe a force, one can observe its effects: ‘‘Newton did not see
gravity. He felt its effect: a pain in the head’’ (160). Noting that to work on affect is to
work on relationality (234), Massumi suggests: ‘‘The difference[s] between minds,
bodies, and objects are perhaps not as essential as philosophers stuck on the
subjective-objective divide make them out to be’’ (201). In his final chapter, he
attempts an analysis of the mystique of Frank Sinatra as popular singer, in terms of his
ability to turn his body movements into a ‘‘carnal melody’’ that repeated at a sensible
level the linguistic content of his lyrics (249). This is an analysis of expressive culture
as embodiment, communicable in pre-cognitive terms through what Massumi calls
‘‘lifestyle contagion’’ (250).
Teresa Brennan’s 1|. 1.o»·¬.··.c» c¡ +¡¡..· (2004) is concerned specifically with
the ways in which affect breaks down the subject/object divide, making possible an
ethics of relationality. Affect means to be affected by and to affect; one person’s affect
affects others. Brennan seizes on the Spanish expression of sympathy ‘‘Lo siento’’ as an
example of this ability to feel what others are feeling, arguing that neurological
research into affect shows that we are wired up to ‘‘feel with others’’ if we can stop
thinking of the self as a bounded subject (123). This also means ceasing to privilege
vision over the other senses, since vision is what constructs the person who sees as
subject and the person seen as object (17Á9, 150). As Brennan puts it, the
theorization of affect shows ‘‘that we are not self-contained in terms of our energies’’
(6). Indeed, reversing the traditional notion that thought is objective because it is
impersonal, she argues that: ‘‘Thoughts, indeed, appear more individual or personal
than affects’’ (7).
Brennan’s book contains some interesting discussion of how thinking about
emotion has changed over the centuries, noting that the pre-Enlightenment concept of
the ‘‘passions’’ had much in common with the contemporary theorization of affect,
inasmuch as it supposed that the ‘‘passions’’ entered the body from outside: the
‘‘passions’’ were bodily phenomena that one ‘‘suffered’’ and it was taken for granted
that they were transmitted (16). It was only with the Enlightenment theorization of
2 2 6 J OURNAL OF SPANI SH CULTURAL ST UDI E S
the autonomous individual, reinforced by the privileging of vision over the other
senses, that the term ‘‘passions’’ gave way to ‘‘sentiments’’ or ‘‘emotions,’’ viewed as
constituent elements of an ‘‘authentic’’, bounded self. The notion of transmission
would be revived in the late nineteenth century but in the pathological form of the
‘‘primitive’’ contagion that drives crowd behavior (51Á4). Nevertheless, as Brennan
observes, for the Enlightenment, ‘‘sensibility’’ went hand in hand with reason as a
civilizing force. David Hume picked up on Adam Smith’s 1|. 1|.c., c¡ Mc.o! :.»·.¬.»··
(1759) to argue that all ethics are based on passion or emotion, since sentiment, as a
reflective stance on what one feels, involves moral judgment (104Á5). Passion,
emotion, and sentiment are here used interchangeably, as Brennan notes (105).
Starting with Romanticism and increasing in the course of the nineteenth century, a
major shift occurs as reason and sentiment come to be seen as in conflict; this is not
the same as the premodern notion of the conflict between reason and passion since, in
the earlier period, passion was not ‘‘our true nature’’ (Brennan 105) but came from
without. The collaborative research project ‘‘Emotional Cultures in Spain from the
Enlightenment to the present’’ which I co-direct with Elena Delgado (University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and Pura Ferna´ndez (CSIC, Madrid), bringing together
an interdisciplinary team of scholars from the US and Spain, has shown how the
increasing dissociation of reason and emotion in the course of the nineteenth century
affected a range of cultural fields.
Having explored the continuum that runs from emotion to materiality, with affect
occupying the complex middle ground of the ‘‘real-material-but-incorporeal’’, I will
move now to recent theorizations of materiality*what the critic of American
literature Bill Brown has called ‘‘thing theory’’ (1|.»¸· 1Á22). There is sometimes a
fine line between the study of objects in order to disclose the social practices that
determine their disposition in time and space, and the study of objects in order to
show how they produce the subjectivities of the humans with which they intersect.
Daniel Miller’s ethnographic study of the objects in the homes of the diverse
inhabitants of a London street, 1|. cc¬¡c.· c¡ 1|.»¸· (2008), claims both to reveal
‘‘how people express themselves through their possessions’’ and ‘‘the role of objects
in our relationships, both to each other and to ourselves’’ (6).
This second claim
echoes the anthropologist Marilyn Strathern’s well-known proposition, in her study of
a Melanesian gift economy, that the gift is what constitutes the partners in the
exchange as social persons in the first place (cited in Henare, Holbraad and Wastell
19). In his edited volume Mo·...o!.·,, Daniel Miller (editor of the journal Mo·...o!
co!·o..) notes that ‘‘in most of the religions that dominate recorded history ( . . . )
[w]isdom has been accredited to those who claim that materiality represents the
merely apparent, behind which lies that which is real’’ (1). Such a supposition, shared
by many world religions and not just the legacy of a Western Platonic tradition, forms
the basis of a theory of representation: the world is not simply what it is but a cipher
of a higher reality. Examinations of material culture that seek to prise out the human
relations ‘‘behind’’ things could be said to partake of the same representational
paradigm, whereby things always represent something else (this, for example,
underlies much analysis of ¬.·..»·..». in film studies, especially in melodrama where
¬.·..»·..». is theorized as a projection of repressed emotion). Marx’s commodity
fetishism inverts this paradigm, arguing that the abstract value of commodities is
E MOT I ON, AF F E CT, AND MATE RI AL I TY 227
worshipped as a way of not seeing the all-too-material labor relations that produce all-
Much has been written on fetishismin relation to material culture; I will limit myself
here to Peter Stallybrass’s brilliant re-reading of Marx in his essay ‘‘Marx’s Coat’’.
Drawing on the earlier work of the anthropologist William Pietz, Stallybrass notes that
the term ‘‘fetish’’ derives from the word ‘‘feitic¸o’’ used by sixteenth- and seventeenth-
century Portuguese traders in West Africa to refer to objects which the indigenous
peoples refused to sell, thereby rejecting the capitalist market economy based on
abstract monetary value. Pietz notes how the concept of the fetish was taken up by
Enlightenment thinkers because it offered a non-deist explanation of the origins of
religion. In these eighteenth-century readings fetishism became interpreted, not as the
attachment of value to things for what they are rather than for their monetary value, but
as a superstitious belief that inanimate things could have animate properties. For
Enlightenment thinkers, fetishism*the worship of things*was ‘‘the definitive mistake
of the pre-enlightened mind’’ (Pietz 139): that is, a category confusion which refuses the
binary opposition person/thing (or subject/object). Pietz notes how subsequent
theorizations of the fetish progressively dematerialized it, making a discourse about
things into a discourse about something else, the salient examples being late nineteenth-
century sexological interpretations of fetishism, and Baudrillard’s late twentieth-
century semiological reading which makes fetishism an idolatry of signs (123Á4).
Stallybrass suggests that Marx’s theory of commodity fetishism was one of his ‘‘least
understood jokes’’ (184), ‘‘ridicul[ing] a society that thought it had surpassed the ‘mere’
worship of objects supposedly characteristic of ‘primitive religions’’’ (186). Stallybrass,
like Pietz, sees Marx’s theory of fetishism as an attempt to return to the original sense of
fetishism as the attribution of value to things on account of their materiality: what, in a
famous quote, Marx called ‘‘the religion of sensuous desire’’ (Pietz 133). In a joke of his
own, Stallybrass argues that Marx wrote co¡.·o! (the text in which he elaborated his
theory of commodity fetishism) so as ‘‘to give the coat back to its owner’’ (187); that is,
in order to ‘‘redeem’’ his overcoat, cherished for its material qualities, from its repeated
trips to the pawnbroker where it became converted into abstract exchange value. In
contrasting a negative capitalist fetishization of monetary value with a positive pre-
capitalist worship of things for their materiality, Marx*in Stallybrass’s reading*
demolished the subject/object distinction on which modernity depends.
Daniel Miller echoes Marx’s materialist analysis when he claims that it is
philosophically incorrect to talk of ‘‘subjects and objects’’ since ‘‘our humanity is not
prior to what it creates’’ (Mo·...o!.·, 10). Indeed he argues, following Latour, that there
is a sense in which one can talk of the agency of things, as when a computer crashes or a
landmine kills: ‘‘Where material forms have consequences for people that are
autonomous from human agency, they may be said to possess the agency that causes
these effects’’ (Mo·...o!.·, 11). Miller also echoes Marx’s materialist reading of things*
valued for their material qualities and not as a cipher of something else*when he argues
against representational readings of material culture that assume that objects represent
people: what he calls the ‘‘tyranny of the subject’’ (Mo·...o!.·, 29). Decrying the
tendency to assume that ‘‘a material form makes manifest some underlying presence
which accounts for that which is apparent’’, he proclaims, ‘‘the clothes have no
emperor’’ (Mo·...o!.·, 29). For, he continues, ‘‘if your very understanding of the nature
of representation is such that it privileges the immaterial, it is that much harder to give
2 2 8 J OURNAL OF SPANI SH CULTURAL ST UDI E S
respect to the nature of human action and history as merely material culture’’ (Mo·...o!.·,
31). This last phrase resonates with the philosopher Simon Critchley’s eloquent homage
to the poet Wallace Stevens, entitled 1|.»¸· M...!, +..
The principal theorist of non-representational theory is the cultural geographer
Nigel Thrift, whose book :c»r.¡..·.»·o·.c»o! 1|.c., :¡o..tc!.·..·+¡¡..· (2008)
explores ways of analyzing everyday life in terms of what he calls ‘‘the geography of
what happens’’ (2). This means exploring the materiality of experience: something
that is continuously changing since ‘‘the human sensorium is constantly being re-
invented’’ and ‘‘what is experienced as experience is itself variable’’ (2). Thrift’s aim
is to capture life in movement, by studying persons as forces rather than subjects*
forces being relational rather than existing ‘‘in’’ the individual. This is a performative
concept of culture which includes the precognitive, since ‘‘consciousness seems to be
a very poor thing indeed’’ (6). Thrift calls for modes of perception that are ‘‘anti-
biographical’’: ‘‘Biography did to the dead what Freud feared that psychoanalysis
might do to the living. Instead I want to substitute a ¬o·...o! ·.|.¬o·.·¬ in which the
world is made up of all sorts of things brought in to [·..] relation with each other by
many and various spaces through a continuous and largely involuntary process of
encounter, and the violent training that such encounter forces’’ (7Á8). This means
considering the human body as not separate from ‘‘the thing world’’ (10). Thrift
acknowledges the importance of not idealizing this world of swirling affect, since
embodiment can involve negative experiences, in which not everything is intensity*
indeed, not all intensity is nice. In keeping with his attempt to get beyond
representational thinking, Thrift proposes to question the divide between theory and
practice by using practice to theorize (22). Consequently, Thrift defines affect as a
kind of non-reflective thought: ‘‘thought in action’’ (175). He is similarly concerned
with ‘‘the doing of emotions’’, noting that, although conscious, they are largely non-
representational since they tend to be ‘‘ways of expressing something going on that
talk cannot grasp’’ (176). Since emotions come from encounters with the world,
rather than from within, to be emotional is, literally, to be ‘‘beside oneself’’ (180).
Thrift’s example of a practice that generates theory is the video-art of Bill Viola (193Á
7), not coincidentally since the video image moves at a speed which allow only a
fraction of what impacts on the brain to be experienced consciously (this is true even
of the 24 frames per second of pre-digital 35 mm film). Digital media, as Mike
Featherstone notes in a 2010 special issue of ic1, ç :c...·, on +¡¡..·, allow one to slow
down the image to observe what, at the normal speed, is not perceived but felt at a
pre-cognitive level (199). Featherstone suggestively takes as his example of affective
intensity the charisma communicated by movie stars: ‘‘It is the sense of energy, of a
force, of a change of register*an .»·.»·.·, It is an unstructured non-conscious
experience transmitted between bodies, which has the capacity to create affective
resonances below the threshold of articulated meaning’’ (198Á9).
As cultural scholars, then, how might we benefit from this new interest in the
non-representational*a new interest in emotions, affects, and things, and what they
do? Its relevance for the analysis of cultural practices is clear*and more work is
needed in Spanish cultural studies on practices rather than texts. It is less immediately
obvious how this new interest in the non-representational might help us talk about
cultural texts. But it might be strategically useful to look at cultural texts not through
E MOT I ON, AF F E CT, AND MATE RI AL I TY 229
the lens of representation (representation of what?) but as examples of expressive
culture*the term used in performance studies as well as anthropology.
To analyze the experience of watching a film in terms of affect*levels of
intensity*is not so difficult. Since the mid-1990s, thanks to the work of Steven Shaviro
(1|. c.».¬o·.. ic1,), Laura Marks (1|. :|.» c¡ ·|. t.!¬), and Giuliana Bruno (+·!o· c¡
i¬c·.c»), a key concept in cinema studies has been ‘‘the haptic’’*Deleuze’s termfor the
tactility of vision. Contrary to the earlier critical paradigm of gaze theory, which saw the
cinematic gaze as an objectifying tool of control, theories of the haptic suppose that
viewers abandon themselves corporeally to the flowof images on screen. The concept of
the haptic can also be productive for analyzing still images*after all, Deleuze first
theorized the termin his reflections on the paintings of Francis Bacon. But what would it
mean to analyze print culture in terms of affect? I see no reason why this should not be
possible*particularly in the case of literary texts, since literary language depends on
surprise effects. To analyze a literary text in terms of affect would mean exploring the
ways in which it offers forms of embodied knowledge. This kind of reading ought to
produce a renewed interest in poetry, whose rhythms impact on us with particular
intensity; in recent decades, there has been a return to the notion of the poet as
performer and not simply as author. Study of affect*intensity*would certainly
require drama to be studied as performance and not as text. It would also allow critical
revaluation of sensationalist popular literature like the nineteenth-century ¡c!!.·ı» and
the early twentieth-century mass-produced »c·.!o .c.·o But even classic realist novels
affect us not only cognitively but also as a patterning of varying levels of intensity. I am
not, of course, suggesting that we abandon thinking about the meaning of texts:
structuralism tried to prescribe that when I was a student in the 1960s, fortunately with
short-lived effects. If structuralism made us think about ‘‘what texts are’’ rather than
‘‘what texts mean’’, the affective turn can make us attentive to ‘‘what texts do’’*and
what texts do is communicate all manner of things. So affect takes us back to meaning,
but to forms of meaning that are not restricted to the cognitive (the cognitive has been
the focus of most reader response theory, with the notable exception of the later Barthes
of 1|. t!.o·o.. c¡ ·|. 1.·· and co¬..o to..1o).
What would require some thought is how this kind of reading of cultural texts in
terms of intensities might contribute to cultural analysis in the sense of exploration of
how texts intersect with broader cultural processes in a particular historical moment
and place. First one has to deal with the problem that affect, being precognitive, is*
according to Massumi*outside of discourse. Or is it? That depends how one
conceives of the body. Body memory, for example, is a well established concept in the
social sciences, which supposes that bodies learn certain habits through repetition; this
is a process that can take place only within specific cultural constraints (Connerton). It
is also important to remember that all the points on the bodyÁmind continuum*
affect/sensation/emotion/reasoned argument*are entangled with each other, even
though, as responses to external stimuli, they occur in a temporal sequence, with
affect kicking in first and reasoned argument last. Massumi’s insistence that affect and
emotion obey different orders warns us not to establish a mechanical causal sequence
between affect and the sensations and emotions that follow; nevertheless, if affect can
be studied through its effects, those effects impact on sensation and emotion, which in
turn can impact on reasoned argument. Perhaps we are in the presence of the marks
of affect when we encounter particular intensities at the level of sensation or emotion,
2 3 0 J OURNAL OF SPANI SH CULTURAL ST UDI E S
or indeed at the level of reasoned argument*what we refer to as ‘‘passionate’’
conviction, for reason and emotion cannot be kept separate, as Martha Nussbaum
One thinks here of Carl Schmitt’s concept of ‘‘political intensity’’, explored
suggestively in this issue by Alberto Moreiras. Since affect, sensation, emotion,
and reason are all responses to the outside world, and*as previously argued*all
involve a measure of judgment, it is logical to assume that they are, at least in part,
Beyond the study of intensities, it is clear how attention to textures of emotion
can tell us much about the cultural specificity of a historical period*this is, after all,
what Raymond Williams (one of the founders of British cultural studies, whose work
has been hugely influential in Latin America) meant when he coined the phrase
‘‘structure of feeling’’ in 1961.
Ann Laura Stoler has demonstrated, with reference to
the former Dutch East Indies, how colonial archives, despite appearing at first sight to
be mere repositories of information, can tell us a huge amount about the emotional
life of both colonizers and colonized, provided one knows how to read in between the
lines. Justus Nieland’s recent Feeling Modern, which takes Massumi’s work on affect
into account, argues that modernist culture exalts feelings as public products of
modernity rather than as properties of the self. Nieland’s book does not mention the
Spanish avant-garde, which could profitably be explored in the same vein. The Spanish
avant-garde is also fertile ground for analysis of the presence and function of things in
cultural texts. It is a commonplace to talk of the importance of Spanish artifacts in the
cubist collages of Picasso and Gris; why is there, to my knowledge, no study of things
in Spanish avant-garde literary texts? Ramo´n Go´mez de la Serna’s El Rastro, for
example, questions the subject/object divide by dehumanizing persons and animating
things, as does Francisco Ayala’s Cazador en el alba, and indeed Garcı ´a Lorca’s Poeta en
Nueva York*this is something much more fundamental and exciting than the mere
recognition of urban alienation. Rachel Moore’s insights into Eisenstein’s and
Epstein’s fascination with modern film technology’s potential for the recreation of
‘‘savage thought’’ (‘‘primitive’’ animism) by giving life to things has not, to my
knowledge, been taken up by scholars of early Spanish cinema, despite the fact that
Bun˜uel trained with Epstein. Although there is in Spanish studies an established
tradition of scholarship on the history of the book as material object (albeit based on
empirical data rather than cultural analysis), there is no equivalent to Bill Brown’s
exploration, in his book A Sense of Things, of the cultural meanings of things in late
nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American literature. Above all, attention to
the cultural role of emotions and things could do a great deal to put Spain’s woefully
understudied eighteenth century back on the map, since this is a key period for the
retooling of sentiment and redefinition of the self in terms of personal property,
including one’s emotions as personal property. Studies of how the various Spanish
terms for emotions have altered over time would also make a hugely valuable
contribution to cultural understanding.
Earlier in this paper I drew a distinction between cultural practices and cultural
texts, as two different objects of analysis in cultural studies. But the above suggestions for
future work involve treating cultural texts as cultural practices. To treat cultural
practices as cultural texts, as became fashionable with the structuralist proposal that all
forms of culture (and even the unconscious) were structured like a language, is no longer
felt to be intellectually acceptable. But to treat cultural texts as forms of cultural practice
E MOT I ON, AF F E CT, AND MATE RI AL I TY 231
would, I suggest, be productive. Above all, it would show that cultural texts are ‘‘things
that do things’’: that is, things that have the capacity to affect us.
1 In practice, anthropological interviews*especially when they elicit life story
narratives*can be used as a basis for the study of subjectivity, but that is not the
focus usually adopted.
2 Martha Nussbaum (Love’s Knowledge; Upheavals of Thought) has insisted on the concept
of ‘‘emotional intelligence’’. See also Carol Gilligan’s conclusions, based on
psychological research, that girls tend to make moral judgments based on
relationality (‘‘ethics of care’’) while boys tend to make moral judgments based
on the abstract principle of the highest good of the individual (‘‘ethics of rights’’).
Gilligan’s work has prompted a strand of feminist legal theory advocating the
rethinking of legal principles in terms of an ‘‘ethics of care’’.
3 For an attempt to think through trauma in terms of affect, see Clough (13Á4) and
Callard and Papoulias (253Á6).
4 See also Miller’s recently published Stuff.
5 See also Goodwin, Jasper, and Polletta’s edited volume Passionate Politics.
6 Williams’ ‘‘On Structure of Feeling’’, originally published in The Long Revolution, is
reprinted as Chapter 1 of Jennifer Harding and E. Deidre Pribram’s excellent
anthology Emotions: A Cultural Reader. The volume brings together key texts from a
wide range of disciplines across the humanities and social sciences.
Ahmed, Sara. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. New York: Routledge, 2004.
Appadurai, Arjun. The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1988.
Ayala, Francisco. Cazador en el alba. Seville: Renacimiento, 2006.
Barthes, Roland. The Pleasure of the Text. New York: Hill and Wang, 1975. (French
***. Camera Lucida: Reﬂections on Photography. 2nd ed. Hill and Wang, 1982. (French
Brennan, Teresa. The Transmission of Affect. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004.
Brown, Bill. A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature. Chicago, IL:
University of Chicago, 2003.
***, ed. Things. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Bruno, Giuliana. Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film. New York: Verso,
Callard, Felicity and Constantina Papoulias. ‘‘Affect and Embodiment.’’ Memory: Histories,
Theories, Debates. Ed. Susannah Radstone and Bill Schwarz. New York: Fordham
University Press, 2010. 246Á62.
Clough, Patricia Ticineto. The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. Durham, NC: Duke
University Press, 2007.
Connerton, Paul. How Societies Remember. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
2 3 2 J OURNAL OF SPANI SH CULTURAL ST UDI E S
Critchley, Simon. Things Merely Are: Philosophy in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens. Abingdon:
Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Minneapolis, MN: University of
Minnesota Press, 2003. (French original 1981).
Featherstone, Mike. ‘‘Body, Image, and Affect in Consumer Culture.’’ Affect. Ed. Lisa
Blackman and Couze Venn. Special issue of Body & Society 16.1 (2010): 193Á221.
Garcı ´a Lorca, Federico. Poeta en Nueva York. Ed. Marı ´a Clementa Milla´n. Madrid: Ca´tedra,
Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.
Go´mez de la Serna, Ramo´n. El Rastro. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1998.
Goodwin, Jeff, James M. Jasper, and Francesca Polletta, eds. Passionate Politics: Emotions
and Social Movements. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
Harding, Jennifer and E. Deidre Pribram, eds. Emotions: A Cultural Studies Reader.
Abingdon: Routledge, 2009.
Henare, Amiria, Martin Holbraad and Sari Wastell, eds. Thinking Through Things:
Theorising Artefacts Ethnographically. Abingdon: Routledge, 2007.
Jardine, Lisa. Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance. New York: Nan A. Talese/
Marks, Laura. The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Durham,
NC: Duke University Press, 1999.
***. Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media. Minneapolis, MN: University of
Minnesota Press, 2002.
Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke
University Press, 2002.
Miller, Daniel, ed, Materiality. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.
***. The Comfort of Things. Cambridge: Polity, 2008.
***. Stuff. Cambridge: Polity, 2010.
Moore, Rachel O. Savage Theory: Cinema as Modern Magic. Durham, NC: Duke University
Nieland, Justus. Feeling Modern: The Eccentricities of Public Life. Urbana and Chicago, IL:
University of Illinois Press, 2008.
Nussbaum, Martha C. Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1992.
***. Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2001.
Pietz, William.‘‘Fetishism and Materialism: The Limits of Theory in Marx.’’ Fetishism as
Cultural Discourse. Ed. Emily Apter and William Pietz. Ithaca: Cornell University
Shaviro, Steven. The Cinematic Body. Minneapolis, MN: London, 1993.
Stallybrass, Peter. ‘‘Marx’s Coat.’’ Border Fetishisms: Material Objects in Unstable Spaces. Ed.
Patricia Spyers. New York: Routledge, 1998. 183Á207.
Stoler, Ann Laura. Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Discourse.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.
Thrift, Nigel. Non-Representational Theory: Space/Politics/Affect. Abingdon: Routledge,
E MOT I ON, AF F E CT, AND MATE RI AL I TY 233
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