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Australian Feminist Studies

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Bad Feelings
Elizabeth Stephens
To cite this article: Elizabeth Stephens (2015) Bad Feelings, Australian Feminist Studies, 30:85,
273-282, DOI: 10.1080/08164649.2015.1113907
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Published online: 24 Jan 2016.

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Date: 24 January 2016, At: 22:49

The article examines this by focusing on three representative texts. 273–282. forgetting. 30. Halberstam argues. and perhaps preferable. brutal honesty and so on. fatigue. In The Queer Art of Failure. at the start of the twenty-first century. such as stupidity. Rather. In this other archive. for example: and to unintelligibility’. mania. Stephens 2012). 106). earnestness. anger. nor to identify the early twenty-first century socio-political causes of this welling up of bad feeling. to nonsense. Halberstam’s book contributes to this negative turn by exploring the queer potential of negative forms of knowing. sincerity. The importance of negativity and negative affects to queer history and theory has been well recognised (Eribon 1999. spite. Jack Halberstam (2008) examines the anti-social turn in queer theory evident in the work of Leo Bersani. And so. boredom. The aim of this article is not to provide a summary overview of a recent negative turn in feminist theory. But. which have focused Australian Feminist Studies. whose No Future (2005) attempted to detach queerness from optimistic and humanistic models of the subject. and to ‘embrace the negativity that we structurally represent’ (2011. (152) As this list indicates. indirectness.FEMINIST DEBATES BAD FEELINGS An Affective Genealogy of Feminism Downloaded by [elizabeth stephens] at 22:49 24 January 2016 Elizabeth Stephens Abstract While the importance of negativity and negative affects to queer history and theory has been the subject of much recent critical discussion. whose Homos (1996) influentially conceptualised gayness as radically non-communal. then it is possible. however. for queer subjects to turn away from projects of redemption and reclamation. arch dismissal. incivility. This is evident in recent texts in feminist and critical race studies. http://dx. its purpose is to consider the way the increasing centrality of studies of affect to feminist histories and politics allows us to reconceptualise these as ‘affective genealogies’. As Halberstam argues in The Anti-Social Turn in Queer Studies: The gay male archive … is also bound by a particular range of affective responses. and that of Lee Edelman. No. indifference. failure and illegibility. impatience. 85.2015. again. over-investment. with another kind of politics and a different form of negativity. bad feelings are equally prevalent in contemporary feminist theory. ironic distancing. Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness (2010). intensity. Love 2007. insincerity and camp make up what Ann Cvetkovich (2003) has called ‘an archive of feelings’ associated with this form of anti-social theory. bad feelings are everywhere. we can identify.1080/08164649. rudeness. to anti-production.doi. ennui. this canon occludes another suite of affectivities associated. 2015 Vol. which it takes as representative of three key moments in the recent affective genealogy of feminism: Rosi Braidotti’s Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming (2002).1113907 © 2015 Taylor & Francis . If ‘the queer subject [ … ] has been bound epistemologically to negativity. while also expanding this male archive of queer negativity to include texts by women and people of colour. and Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (2011).

Each of these texts is a study in what Berlant and others have termed ‘public feelings’ (Berlant 2004). affect theory shifts the critical focus away from a study of stable objects and subjects. 116). mourning (Butler 2004). is not just a collection of documents. An archive. circulating power not primarily as a mode of discursive regulation but rather as the potential to “become otherwise”’ (Pedwell and Whitehead 2012. thus refers not to the emotions but to something closer to sensation or unconscious forces. 112). but on the contrary ‘disturbs what was previously considered immobile. focusing on the way emotional states are part of shared and communal experiences. then. perception and intellection are all highly mediated by affective states. can be made up of sensations. History. Instead. the particular affects examined have been overwhelmingly of a negative sort. theories of affect. In examining these implications. experiences and emotions as well as texts. A genealogy. grief (Cheng 2001). it shows the heterogeneity of what was imagined consistent with itself’ (82). it is most frequently understood as an ‘intensity that emerges via the “in-between” spaces of embodied encounters. In Melissa Gregg and Greg Seigworth’s field-defining account.Downloaded by [elizabeth stephens] at 22:49 24 January 2016 274 ELIZABETH STEPHENS on such negative states as depression (Cvetkovich 2012). here. much of the work in this field is predicated on the argument that experience. and Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism (2011). Drawing attention to the influence of affective states on both experience and knowledge formation. affect is that which operates ‘beneath. As studies of affect have come to take on a central role in contemporary critical theory. this article draws on a Foucauldian concept of genealogy. It is not a definitive or authoritative account of the past. envy and anxiety (Ngai 2005). as it is most frequently defined in contemporary critical theory. For Foucault. it fragments what was thought unified. which it will take as representative of three key moments in the recent affective genealogy of feminism: Rosi Braidotti’s Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming (2002). its purpose is to consider the way the increasing centrality of studies of affect to feminist histories and politics allows us to reconceptualise these as ‘affective genealogies’. Its study provides a way to emphasise the constitutive role affect plays in the production of knowledge and subjects. and which problematises the . rather than the product of ‘detached reason’ or ‘objective observation’ (2012. The first is that a genealogy does not provide a linear or teleological narrative of historical events. This critical focus has profound implications for how the history of feminism is understood. toxicity (Chen 2012). and towards dynamic forces and processes of subjectification. This article does not aim to provide a summary overview of a recent negative turn in feminist theory. the term affect describes the vital forces that influence our behaviour but which remain outside. 1). It will do this by focusing on three representative texts. or generally other than conscious knowing’ (2011. Although there are a number of different. these texts map out what appears to be a move from positive to negative affects. or prior to. as Cvetkovich recognised. Rather. and wilfulness (Ahmed 2014). it is comprised of a series of ‘accidents’ and ‘deviations’ (1977. Affect. while all focus on the constitutive role of sensation and emotion in the production of knowledge and subjectivity. sadness (Love 2007). is a historical study that takes account of discontinuities as well as continuities. and sometimes incompatible. rather than personal or private sensations. Sara Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness (2010). alongside. nor does it concern itself with a search for origins. genealogy differs from traditional methods of historical inquiry in two key ways. but something experienced in and through the body. 81). Together. however. conscious awareness. nor to identify the early twenty-first century socio-political causes of this welling up of bad feeling. As Carolyn Pedwell and Anne Whitehead (2012) argue in their excellent overview of feminist affect studies.

It is also one in which the focus of historical analysis shifts from the study of written texts. That is. judges. it appears in faulty respiration. like feminist philosophy. and towards the study of bodily forces. It is the consequences of this approach that this article will examine through its brief readings of works by Braidotti. For Deleuze. seeking out ways to enable the ‘creative overturning of the melancholia of negativity. Braidotti examines how feminists may explore its potential to create new political and subjective formations. perception and intellection. In her elaboration of this point. by taking control of both the processes by which they are constituted and the ways in which they respond to these (with joyous disobedience rather than gloomy resignation. and to the possibilities for new forms of becoming for women this in turn enables. 13). 119). Braidotti writes. 113). confessors and pornographers: all of [whom] rely upon negative.BAD FEELINGS cohesion of its own object of study. means that it is not simply the passive product of power. The second way in which genealogy differs from traditional forms of historiography is that it is a form of history focused on the body. Against the power of potestas—‘constraint. in improper diets. given that femininity has long been defined as the negative of western metaphysics. or what we might think of as an energetics. bad conscience. Braidotti draws on what she identifies as the positive philosophical tradition of Spinoza. Nietzsche.1 An affective genealogy. Downloaded by [elizabeth stephens] at 22:49 24 January 2016 The ‘Passionately Undutiful Daughter’: A Brief History of Positivity That bad feelings have not always been as ubiquitous as they are today is evident in the feminist philosophy of Rosi Braidotti. is a critical historical methodology in which vital and visceral forces are recognised to play a constitutive role in sensation. not gloom’. The philosophy of Spinoza. negativity’—Braidotti sets out to explore that of potentia—‘plenitude. entities and 275 . Describing her approach as one of ‘loving irreverence towards the stately institution of philosophy’ (2002. then. but rather their condition of mutual constitution. Feminism is best served by ‘a more joyful and empowering concept of desire and for a political economy that foregrounds positivity. in the debilitated and prostrate bodies of those whose ancestors committed errors’ (82). Braidotti argues. and Deleuze. its ongoing and dynamic actualisation of encounters and intensities. becoming is understood as ‘the actualization of the immanent encounter between subjects. and Deleuze provides a useful model for feminist philosophy not simply because it is positive but also because it calls attention to the established importance of affect in genealogies of European philosophical thought. Braidotti adopts a stance of ‘joyful and generous disobedience’ (110) in relation to this intellectual history. which approaches history as something inscribed ‘in the nervous system. what we might think of as an informatics. Drawing on a Nietzschean concept of affirmation. for instance). 57). censors. which. Nietzsche. the constant becoming of the subject. intensity. but rather represents a constant reconfiguration of the systems of power that produce subjectivities and processes of subjectification. This is possible because becoming does not describe the influence of one subject or state on another. Braidotti argues that joy and positivity are necessary pre-requisites for a feminist philosophy. Ahmed and Berlant. The significance of this shift is political as well as philosophical. disavowed affects’ (2002. 20). law and lack’ in which it is based (123). in the digestive apparatus. resentful. Braidotti shows. opposes itself to the ‘philosophy of priests. she argues (2002. Braidotti argues. in temperament. Engaging primarily with a Deleuzian concept of becoming. which is grounded in an ‘ethics of joy and affirmation’ (2002. expression’ (2002.

For Braidotti. it is not simply a force or intensity but a sensation or feeling. affective. In this respect. 99). Braidotti draws on a concept of affect that sees it as constitutive of subjectivity and subjectification. 117). 99). for Braidotti. then affective forces and cognition cannot be seen as distinct: ‘the construction of a thinking subject cannot be separated from that of a desiring subject’. It is precisely this creativity and affectivity that Braidotti intends to appropriate for feminist purposes.Downloaded by [elizabeth stephens] at 22:49 24 January 2016 276 ELIZABETH STEPHENS forces which are apt to mutually affect and exchange parts of each other in a creative and non-invidious manner’ (2002. another term for affect: ‘A force is a degree of affectivity or of intensity. Subsequent feminist theorists have not been . affect is understood as something experienced physically and emotionally. … Intensive. 100) It is important to recognise. is not as closely aligned with the emotions as it is in feminist (and queer) theory. in that it is open and receptive to encountering other affects’ (2002. for Deleuze. however. At the same time. those forces themselves are primarily understood as affective: as Braidotti notes. ‘force’ is. Moreover. Affect. her approach is productive of a ‘slightly more cruel’ feminism. In turning to a Deleuzian concept of becoming to theorise new possibilities for feminist subjectivities and philosophies. As Braidotti acknowledges. 112). but on the contrary because it is external to her. if becoming is an encounter of forces. with an obligation to ‘avoid sadness and the relations that express sadness’ (2002. ‘affectivity and intellectuality grow together in such a way as to make it difficult to separate reason from the imagination’ (2002. this ethics of joy and positivity is also coupled. but also remains in front of us. however. Instead. 117–118). that Braidotti’s association of positivity with joy and happiness also represents a shift in this Deleuzian-Spinozist understanding of affect. Such a move places responsibility for cultural affective conditions—such as misery in the face of structural oppression—onto the shoulders of individual subjects. Braidotti writes (2002. despondency and negative might be construed as personal ethical failings in a way that overlooks how mediated these affects are by wider cultural and subjective forces. in the Deleuzian schema. Braidotti positions affect as neither purely internal to the subject nor as external. This has important implications for how abstractions such as ‘politics’ and ‘philosophy’ are understood. but one that is ‘thankfully more unsentimental as well. When joy and positivity are privileged as ethical states. however. Braidotti’s celebration of joy as a stance of political and philosophical resistance has made her work enormously heartening for other feminists (myself included). If the subject is taken to be ‘dynamic. it is history inscribed in the intestines and nervous system. for Braidotti its positivity is one that is felt bodily as a sense of joy. As Braidotti explains: a nomadic or Deleuzian Spinozist approach stresses that affectivity is indeed at the heart of the subject. not because it is internal to that subject. external resonances make desire into a force that propels us forwards. Becoming opens new lines of possibility and positivity. 135) whose implications are somewhat troubling. interested in the political as well as philosophical uses of becoming. but external. corporeal and in-process’ (2002. but that it is equally the case that this desire is not internal. but rather as a state of becoming between these two possibilities. as it was for Foucault. who have been inspired by her brio and energised by her defiant optimism. as a dynamic. That is. shifting horizon of multiple other encounters. less sacrificial and more upbeat’ (2002. 112). not all of whom share Braidotti’s considerable resilience or privilege. (2002. Positivity is part of a genealogy that is felt and experienced physically.

Ahmed focuses on the present conditions and future possibilities for ‘those who are banished from [joy]. We might be affected differently by what gets passed around. Ahmed. 11) mediated by a phenomenological approach. however. is to ignore the plight of those who are excluded from happiness. For Sarah Ahmed. dissenters. (2010. For Ahmed. Ahmed cautions: to be affected by another does not mean that an affect simply passes or ‘leaps’ from one body to another. Clearly Ahmed is here talking about the emotions.BAD FEELINGS quite so dismissive of the role of negative affects to the history and experience of feminism. To avoid sadness. (2010. and how it is experienced differently according to cultural and subjective positioning. 14). 39) 277 . That is. rather than affect. 10). This is the focus of Ahmed’s critique of positivity in The Promise of Happiness (2010). sets out to reclaim the importance of bleakness and unhappiness for feminism. 75) The Promise of Happiness recognises that ‘to inherit feminism may be to inherit a certain history of sadness’ (75). and to transform political oppression into a personal failure to overcome that negativity. as Braidotti encourages us to do. Downloaded by [elizabeth stephens] at 22:49 24 January 2016 The Feminist Killjoy: A Brief History of Unhappiness Where Braidotti proposes an ‘ethics of joy and positivity’. or who enter this history only as troublemakers. but on a psychoanalytic and Marxist understanding of the emotions (2004. have their origins outside the subject. Ahmed’s approach to the study of the emotions draws not on the genealogy of Spinozist-Deleuzian theories of becoming on which Braidotti’s philosophy is based. as she explains in The Cultural Politics of Emotion. but between two different conceptions of affect. Compulsory happiness and positivity is thus for some an additional source of suffering and sadness: ‘So much grief expressed in the need not to be overwhelmed by grief. The movement between Braidotti’s and Ahmed’s texts is not one between positivity and negativity. 17). … To recognize loss can mean to be willing to experience an intensification of the sadness that hopefulness postpones. as the title of her earlier work The Cultural Politics of Emotion (2004) further indicates. killers of joy’ (2010. on the other hand. emotions are neither ‘‘“in”’ the individual or the social. when you are living a life that is meant to be happy but just isn’t. and thus two different understandings of its role in feminist politics as well as philosophy. too. It is hard labour just to recognize sadness and disappointment. but produce the very surfaces and boundaries that allow the individual and the social to be delineated as if they are objects’ (2004. Yet the way Ahmed understands the emotions here is very similar to the way Braidotti understands affect. In her study of the history of feminism as a history of unhappiness. the emotions. The affect becomes an object only given the contingency of how we are affected. Distinguishing her own position from Theresa Brennan’s influential study of the ‘transmission’ of affect (2004). however. As she argues in The Promise of Happiness: ‘Feelings do not simply reside within subjects and then move outward toward objects. Feelings are how objects create impressions in shared spaces of dwelling’ (2010. Ahmed is also concerned with the differences and processes of mediation by which affect is communicated amongst the individuals that make up a given group.’ Ahmed writes. Braidotti ‘offers a rather bleak reading of bleakness’ (2010. but feels empty. which is meant to be full. 87).

Happiness here is not simply the physical sensation or the unmediated experience of bodily good feelings. as it is . one which denaturalises happiness as a spontaneous feeling of good will or pleasure that wells up with the subject: ‘Rather than assuming that happiness is simply found in “happy persons”. disproportionately experienced by those subjects who occupy privileged cultural positions. or the distinction between subject and object. Ahmed encourages women to embrace the figure the ‘feminist killjoy’. For this reason. we might consider how claims to happiness make certain forms of personhood valuable. Feminists are typically represented as grumpy and humourless. 59). Ahmed argues. In a move that recalls Braidotti’s ‘ethics of joy’. you have to participate in certain forms of solidarity: you have to laugh at the right points. the concept of the inside and outside. The feminist killjoy is the figure of the ‘humourless feminist’.’ she writes. or conformity to. This prompts us to consider the question of happiness in a new way. happiness is best understood not as a spontaneous sensation of pleasure or positivity but on the contrary as a ‘disciplinary technology’ (2010. as if relative proximity to those norms and ideals creates happiness’ (2010. a vocally dissatisfied presence. This is what is overlooked if we ‘avoid sadness’. We see this in the way happiness is unequally distributed amongst social groups and individuals. The feminist killjoy ‘spoils’ the happiness of others. the positivity associated with particular affects should be understood as the cultural reward for our compliance with. or to meet up over happiness [ … ] In order to get along. To avoid sadness is to ignore the central role it has played in the history of feminism and the lives of feminists. Feminists by declaring themselves as feminists are already read as destroying something that is thought of by others not only as being good but as the cause of happiness. particular cultural norms. Ahmed argues: ‘The face of happiness looks rather like the face of privilege’ (2010. It is precisely this legacy Ahmed aims to recover. as one of the mechanisms by which disciplinary societies construct subjects by orienting them around cultural norms. which allows the reorientation of individual desire towards a common good’ (2010. and to recognise: ‘to inherit feminism may be to inherit a certain history of sadness’. the woman who is accused of bringing ‘everyone’ down because of her refusal to be silenced. 65) Ahmed’s account of the feminist killjoy demonstrates why studies of affective states need to take into account both the external origins of affect—the ways in which being identified as a ‘spoilsport’ or a ‘killjoy’ is determined by a range of cultural factors—as well as how this is experienced differently by different subjects—how the internal experience of affect is mediated by different bodies and subject positions. 22). The word feminism is thus saturated with unhappiness. on a sensory level. 22). ‘Attributions of happiness might be how social norms and ideals become affective. Ahmed writes: Feminists might kill joy simply by not finding the objects that promise happiness to be quite so promising. (2010. 75). on the contrary. Affect. or self and other. to assemble. She is a disruptive force. she writes. Accordingly. As a result.Downloaded by [elizabeth stephens] at 22:49 24 January 2016 278 ELIZABETH STEPHENS Emotions are thus neither external nor internal to the subject. is ‘how happiness is used as a technology or instrument. they are the forces that enable us to understand. in the Foucauldian sense of the term: that is. 8). often as a way of protecting the right to certain forms of social bonding or of holding onto whatever is perceived to be under threat. Ahmed notes (2010. a key point of Ahmed’s argument is that happiness is a political condition rather than a personal state. rather than celebrating joy. as Braidotti encourages us to do. What we learn from the history of feminism. she is a spoilsport because she refuses to convene.

in Ahmed’s account. that it is a sign that our lives are oriented in the right way. What is commonly thought of as a good life is actually only good for some. Berlant argues. Negativity here again provides a way to critique the compulsory positivity of contemporary Western cultures. The emotions. as Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism demonstrates. As in Ahmed’s account. for Ahmed. And yet. (2011. constituted within a field of ‘public feelings’. as Berlant recognises. or happiness —as markers of privilege. To understand these things—the good life. The things that hold out a false promise or future or hope to us are the things Berlant characterises as cruel. and that this is what makes life meaningful. so does Berlant argue that optimism might keep us oriented towards ideas about a good life even when these are bad for us. instead. it is a necessary part of any marginal politics. as it is examined in The Promise of Happiness. so does Berlant argue that the promise of a good life is something that can actively damage us: ‘the “good life” is … a bad life that wears out the subjects who nonetheless. and at the same time. rather. thus describes: a relation of attachment to compromised conditions of possibility whose realization is discovered either to be impossible. even though its presence threatens their well-being. is very difficult indeed. Sadness. because whatever the content of the attachment is.BAD FEELINGS understood by and mobilised in Ahmed’s study of the killjoy. the good life can be actively toxic. Just as Ahmed sees happiness as a disciplinary technology. is that the subjects who have x in their lives might not well endure the loss of their object/scene of desire. It is as difficult to give up dreams of a good life as it is to give up the idea that happiness is intrinsically beneficial. because they keep us attached to something we can’t have. on which much contemporary feminist theory has come to focus. Downloaded by [elizabeth stephens] at 22:49 24 January 2016 ‘The Hazy Luminosity of Attachment’: A Brief History of Cruel Optimism Berlant’s study of cruel optimism shares many points of continuity with Ahmed’s critique of happiness. and toxic. It is this singularity. and that this situation has played a crucial role in feminist history. one that encourages our docile compliance with systems of privilege by rewarding us with positive affects. or too possible. in which it is understood as an unconscious or disembodied force. it is very difficult to let go of one’s optimism that a good life is possible. is precisely the means and modality by which the subject’s inside and outside are mutually reconfigured. negativity is not something one can chose to avoid on ethical grounds. the continuity of its form provides something of the continuity of the subject’s sense of what it means to keep on living on and to look forward to being in the world. those for whom the good life is experienced as good are those privileged by existing cultural institutions and knowledge making practices. sheer fantasy. 24) In understanding cruel optimism in this way—in which optimism may be socially or psychically necessary to a subject even when it is actively damaging to that subject— 279 . find their conditions of possibility within it’. operate very differently to the way affect operates in a Deleuzian schema. and to reconceptualise positive affects not as spontaneous personal feelings but as political conditions. For everyone else. What’s cruel about these attachments. unlike Braidotti. 27). for Berlant. is an affective encounter between the singularity of the subject and the specificity of her political and cultural context. Cruel optimism. and not merely inconvenient or tragic. and an inescapable part of marginal subjects’ experience and history. Just as Ahmed takes as her starting point the fact that what is supposed to constitute a happy life can make us sad. For this reason. she writes (2011.

however. in which cruelty does not negate the possibility of positive affects. cultural and historical conditions in which she lives. People are worn out by the activity of life-building. … [P]eople learn to identify. Rather. Cruel optimism is thus not simply or exclusively a destructive force. Berlant and Edelman 2013). 53). it provides a new conceptual framework by which to understand how the positivity of certain affects is a result of a complex and ever-shifting arrangement of bodies. For some subjects. things. like Ahmed’s The Promise of Happiness. although it is obviously published in the context of her well-known work in feminist and queer theory (e. the potential cruelty of optimism draws attention to the way affective states operate a site of constant cultural negotiation and reconfiguration. and unlike Braidotti. Joy and happiness are never pure states but complex forms of entanglement between subject and cultural context: one can find it funny to be a feminist killjoy.Downloaded by [elizabeth stephens] at 22:49 24 January 2016 280 ELIZABETH STEPHENS Berlant’s work is both continuous and discontinuous with that of Ahmed and Braidotti. manage. 52). Berlant does not frame her study of cruel optimism as specifically feminist. even while appearing humourless to others. people make mistakes. Our attachments. the account above makes clear that she also does not want to foreclose all possibility for a positive outcome. 2008. the cultural imperative to be optimistic really can be exhausting or even toxic. as they are in Braidotti’s Metamorphoses (2002). But lives are singular. Berlant understands the role of affect as central to her project. and the specific political.g. may also be what make our lives seem bearable. both transient and transformational: they are ‘promises’ rather than ‘possessions’. While Berlant does not see optimism as enabling a ‘creative overturning’ of the existing order. which are shared by marginal subjects. it is a kind of ‘sustaining negativity’ (Berlant 2011. and the consequences of this for subjects not privileged by existing ideas about a good life should not be under-estimated. although it does complicate it. In the first place. as Braidotti did. and kind. as sites of constant becoming. institutions and wider cultural dynamics. Affective states hence must be understood as the result of their particular configurations. rather than the subject of an individual ethical stance. Affect here names. Berlant is primarily interested in affective states like cruelty and optimism as signs of ‘public feeling’ (Cvetkovich 2003). 44) Affective states are here understood. Berlant’s Cruel Optimism is thus important to an affective genealogy of feminism for two key reasons. Like these two theorists. cruel. (Berlant 2011. as it does for Ahmed. the two are thus best understood as bound in a productive tension. as Berlant recognises. . At the same time. Unlike Ahmed and Braidotti. and the extent to which they can be toxic or grind us down even while they feel good. especially the poor and the non-normative. and secondly. and maintain the hazy luminosity of their attachment to being x and having x. Cruel Optimism is a text replete with rich and detailed considerations of bad feelings in a way that draws attention to the complexity of affective forces. the dynamic intersectional space in which these various factors are constantly reconfigured. in a way that takes into account both the ‘irreducible specificity’ of the subject (Berlant 2011. As a result: it would be reductive to read the preceding as a claim that anyone’s subjective transaction with the optimistic structure of value in capital produces the knotty entailments of cruel optimism as such. part of a complex entanglement or ‘cluster of promises’ whose meaning and consequences cannot be simply unified or determined in advance. Like Ahmed. however cruel. and accidents happen. are inconstant. however. given that their attachments were promises and not possessions after all.

these texts all expand contemporary definitions of affect. reinscribing their cultural significance. In this way. however. Where affect is often assumed to refer to a spontaneous and unmediated bodily sensation. their theories of affect. it is ‘not just autonomic activity’ (2011. 4). Affectation is a visible sign of falsity or duplicity. it is a part of the disciplinary apparatus by which we are constituted as subjects. just the human sciences do away with the concept of the human: The body is the inscribed surface of events (traced by language and dissolved by ideas). as we have seen. The first is the defiant joy and positivity of Braidotti. Each understands affect as an intensive interface that mediates between subject and culture. Ahmed. rather. and despite the significant differences between their projects. affect is understood as something that is constitutive. For each of the theorists examined above. as Melissa Gregg and Greg Seigworth put it in their introduction to The Affect Theory Reader (2011. Although affect may be experienced as a bodily sensation. As such. The purpose of this article has not been to take account of this turn to negativity. Foucault’s point is that genealogy disintegrates the body. cruelty and optimism. as Berlant notes. these three theorists focus. nor to contrast these two moods. Positivity and negativity. In this respect. two moods—of recent feminist critique. subjective and bodily differences. each of the three texts examined above not only constitute pivotal moments in the affective genealogy of feminism. it is a mark of the distance between the subject and expression. happiness and sadness. and Berlant all share their understanding of the cultural function and subjective experience of affect. the second the political negativity of Ahmed and Berlant. For this very reason. It is precisely this phoniness that gives affect its political potential. of subjectivity. the word affect is also a verb. affect is also a site of corporeal and cultural training.Downloaded by [elizabeth stephens] at 22:49 24 January 2016 BAD FEELINGS This article has examined two modes—or. in their different ways. despite their opposed affective stances we have seen that Braidotti. DISCLOSURE STATEMENT No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author. the locus of a dissociated self (adopting the illusion of a substantial unity). which tend to refer to the term as a noun—‘positive affects’—or as an adjective—‘affect theory’. art and failure are not sets of opposing terms but orientation points in a larger field of possibilities. nonetheless share the fact that they are all very different from the theory of affect critiqued Ruth Leys in The Turn to Affect (2011). on the way affect is mediated by cultural. a ‘passage of forces and intensities’ which ‘emerges out of an unmediated relatedness’. ‘To affect’ an emotion is to feign or fake it. but are also exemplars of why it is important to recognise feminism as an affective genealogy. however. 52). However. not expressive. a ‘visceral response is a trained thing’. 437). Leys notes that in much contemporary critical theory—of which she takes the work of Brian Massumi to be exemplary— affects are seen as ‘irreducibly bodily and automatic’ and as ‘non-cognitive corporeal processes or states’ (2011. On the contrary. performing it in a way that calls attention to the pretence. because it allows us to adopt particular positions or stances without becoming lost in those. while derived from different intellectual genealogies. and one whose significance is especially productive for feminism in that it expands the range of ways in which this word is understood. and a volume in 281 . it is also a force that can be (re)deployed by subjects occupying a wide range of cultural positions. NOTE 1. That is. which is how we know something is being affected.

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