Affective criticism of literature: recasting social in a new key of affects.
I would first like to begin with my surgery of the social. A common question: What does it mean to 'think' the social? If the social constitutes economic and political practices of a given society and relationship of its members of a particular time, what forces constitute the fundamental substance of such practices and relationships? In other words, what constitute a socialized self (and even cognitive apparatus) in which are made manifest our economic and political practices, as well as the sets of relationships between social members manifest?
My answer to these questions is that it is the affects and the affective relations of bodies that constitute the very phenomenon of a social self. The social-the content of subjectivity-is mere a surface effect or a 'symptom' of the affects. Every social representation is a codified affect. As Nietzsche says, "the relation of representation and power [affect] is so close that all power is represented and every representation is of power." (1) The latent content of every social code is affect. If we remove the rubble of the social, we reach out to the bottom of human existence, where aesthetic processes are active in the formation of the socialized self. In an attempt to reread the nature of social, we find its underpinnings in the creativity and affirmation within [human] body. The body is a power house of auto-affects, which impose becoming in social realities and its semiotics, and thus create socialized self. One example for such imposition of auto-affects to social reality, as Foucault refers to, is the constitution of the gay community in San Francisco in the 1980s which was formed, not from the top down (state to society to individual), but from the "self-affectivity" of men who constituted themselves as gay, and eventually formed a community and added up new semiotics of sextuality in the very social. The individual group's act of self-affectivity is axiomatized as a social field-self-affectivity, I consider here, as an aesthetic phenomenon. So any attempt to understand a de-aestheticized social is blatantly ignoring the fundamental aesthetic principles in which human bodies work in the production of the social. All the domains of human subjectivity are social to the extent that these "living organisms, languages and societies are all expressions of particular structure" (2) of affects our bodies produce. Without this structure, neither the social nor the mental would exist. This understanding of the social breaks from the representationalist account, assuming social phenomenon as the mode of affects (3). This demands to envision a society undivided but works with the complex surface of relations, connections and interactions of one body with other body. Each of this social body is not just a unit but a mode of affects. I do not here mean that affects transcend facts, but I do mean that facts can only be understood in its relation with affects. I intend to recognize that beneath the social surfaces lies the aesthetic affectual preconditions of "strange' and 'wonder' of 'man.' Affects as strange, animistic forces underneath the social gives life dimension and energy, transforms 'fact' into dream! What separates one person from another is not only culture but affects. For instance, my colleague Puspa Damai is not just another Nepali [fact] but an affectual individual with substance, meaning and power [affects] who affects my individuation and be affected by mine. The political and economic summations are not enough to understand the new emergence or-beauty of "the blond beast"-in him. Reversely what binds me with Puspa is not just we are Nepali (the identical social and political units) but affectual engagement in which we share the particular culture. Affects also have trans-cultural quality. For example, I and my colleague Gregory Sadler formed a bond of friendship. Our friendship (an instance of the social) less stemmed from the fact that lies between American and Asian, 'colonizer' and 'colonized,' or 'Prospero' and 'Caliban' (or anything else along such lines) but more from the fact that our affectual relation that we built up in working and sharing a common academic world. Here, affects transcend political and social divisions. It is not because Greg is American and I Asian or he 'colonizer' and I 'colonized' that we create our affectual world, but it is our affectual world that helps us to transcend these facts to invest our affects to each other. (4
Who is speaking when I speak? It's a social body and its cultural, economic and political aggregates. That's true. But we should still ask in other way: what's working behind these aggregates? Physiologically speaking, it is the creative auto-affective forces which are constantly at play behind any social manifestations. It's the aesthetic drive of self-creation of the body which is invisibly immanent behind every social. Affect is "the interpretive, additive, interpolating, poetizing power" rooted in the bodies and shapes nature of social practices and social relations. It is not social relations that produce auto-affects in the body but it is the auto-affects that create and shape every social. Our creation of social units such as temples, slaughterhouses, army barracks, brothels, hospitals, bureaucracy, financial institutions, courts etc are actually more or less "social edifice of ... affects." (5) Society is necessary affective because it arises out of the relations between individuals, and more deeply, out of their affective relations. Social edifices are 'symbolic' codifications/representations of affects. These edifices are virtual and abstract, whereas affects are real "without being actual, ideal without being abstract." (6) My symbolic sense of the social is not fiction but 'symptom.' Social edifices are "connection of desires, conjection of flows, continuum of intensities." (7) They are created out of our inbuilt impulse to create positive forces in or out of our body; these phenomena are rooted in the aesthetic principle of affects. For instance, we create temples because we feel the need to create a positive force of holiness in us; we create slaughterhouses to create a force of satisfaction of eating blood and bones of animals; we create courts to create a force of normative moral pleasure of punishing the guilty and rewarding the virtuous; we create financial institutions in order to create a force of pleasure out of our consumptions. And interestingly enough, these institutions also act to form particular types of affective states in us by forming their corresponding modes of habit, taste and judgment-in short, our affectual self is created by the affects our social institutions produce. These whole things are revolved not around any outside order of politics or ethics (i. e. social) but around pure physical affects within the body. Affect is only the condition which justifies all of our human endeavors. We create "disciplinary societies;" put some members of society in prison houses, some in madhouses, and some in hospitals. The inherent condition of these whole human transactions, social regulations and moral orders in the everyday life is affect. So we need a new analytical principle for the study of social theory today from the point of view of affects. Paul Paton rightly says,
It is this understanding of resistance and counteractualization in the centre of order and things that becomes crucial in the constitution of a new social analytical practice, not in the sense that investigation and diagnostics should become artistic expression[affective investment to the world], but more in the sense that the modalities of art should become a form of biopolitical [I twist its meaning for my own use which signifies here: pleasure, sovereignty and self-cultivation] combat understood as an active ethics of being far removed from any moral prepositions and judgments. (8)
This in turn compels us to invent a new analytical criticism of literature, one of my major points to be established here, which 'teaches' us how to enhance pleasure, sovereignty and political practices from within through affects.
Our cognitive apparatus (which interprets the social) is also greatly structured by the laws of affects. In other words, our cognitive representations are related with bodily affects. Let us accept Marx's conception that consciousness is constituted by primarily economic relations-distribution of labour and property. True! But I want to question Marx that these surface relations are not enough to understand the nature of consciousness because the economic relations are not the cause in themselves. They are the 'symptoms' of the deeper cause. And these 'symptoms' are conditioned by the immanent auto-affects. So labour capacity of an individual and his property relations stratified by a given political relations have their affective connection with individual body and other bodies in nature. Any expected change of proletariat's consciousness requires a change in property relations. That's not the case. The radical transformation of the social consciousness may not follow after the rearrangement of the political and economic distribution. But it is possible only taking a 'line of flight' from these relational things. It is taking a break from representational relations, any Cultural Revolution and progress of consciousness is possible. The existing property relations among social members can be rearranged not by outside but by the auto-affectivity because it allows individuals to constitute themselves in a way that goes beyond the processes of 'normalization' and 'subjection' that are imposed on them by the current dispositif of state-power and its political and economic distributions. So the political program for social change must direct to the orientation of how to deploy conative forces of body from individual level toward 'outside.' In so doing, the auto-affectivity of the self can change in property relations. So our theory of political economy must inquire into the bodies and its affective engagement in order to take a 'line of flight' from the existing social contradictions. This is what I want to call aesthetic economy of body. The liberation of working class lies not in teaching them to destroy other bodies and their physical conditions (destroying factories and other infrastructures) but on teaching them to work from within to create and enhance the conditions of new sets of world for themselves.
I want to say, following Spinoza, that the ethical task is for a body to go to the limit of what it can do; to endeavor to persist in its own being a resistance to all those factors that try to 'annul' own sense of being sovereign individual. The bourgeoisie's laws are certainly obstacles for them to take a 'line of flight' in life. But I as a believer in the aesthetic 'Overman' ('Overman' is not a political dictator as many people misunderstand; he is a most humble man who creates his own values for himself; believes in his affective engagement with the world) assume that to say that bourgeois oppressive institutions--'outside'--are only responsible for the freedom of working people is to disavow one's responsibility for oneself. To accept such a thing is to let life be overwhelmed by the 'outside.' A true freedom comes when we are not overwhelmed by 'outside;' only the 'herd' lets this happen and lives by it. An autonomous individual is free from any given set of external relations (I do not mean such crappy relations are not there in society) and extends its dimensions for the conditions of new becomings in life. In other words, the 'nomadic' nature of affects in us resists any 'outside,' which persists to codify our essence. This seems strange to those whose perceptions are too much engrossed in surface politics and economics but I cannot imagine that an 'outside' overwhelmed my essence, even though I am affected by those coordinates to be sure. But an affectual individual more affects-or at least assume-those coordinates than is affected.
Consider Eliza in G. B. Shaw's play Pygmalion who raised up from a 'poor' girl who sells flower on the street to a status of the duchess who is befit in the ambassadors' garden party by the means of linguistic training upon her. Shaw is right to demonstrate that it is the "Life Force," which I would like to call affect, which makes an individual able to transcend social class. So our normative endeavor to give autonomy to an individual should first be free from the idea that a subject is mere an effect of the things like state, culture, politics and dig down deep into the aesthetic nature of what is human and its values (Foucault's project on Ethics); our new literature and philosophy should illustrate how an affectual individual affects and be affected in society; what are the conditions of affects. In such attempts, I contest, lies the possibility of change of social class, race, communality and other crappy representations-to transcend the limits set by the unjust 'outside.' To let the 'outside' overwhelm own's 'inside' is a reactive idea; an aesthetic man is autonomous; self-legislator and know what is wrong and what is right by himself; no state needs to guide him what is ought or what is oughtn't. The product of culture is, following Deleuze's interpretation of Nietzsche, not the individual who obeys the law, but the sovereign and legislative individual who defines himself "by power over himself, over destiny, over law. In Nietzsche the notion of ... the autonomous individual is no longer responsible to justice for his reactive forces, he is its master, the sovereign, the legislator, the author and the actor...." (9) It is not the world that interprets who I am but it's me who creates and interprets the world (s). This is entirely the aesthetic phenomenon. At this point, interpreting aesthetic in a new key of conative energy of body and its affective investment to the world, I assume I have given an answer to the possible questions my imaginary critic may conjure up: Why did faith in the affect relate to aesthetics? Why does the social reality, when confronted, allow for the aesthetics? Our affective investment to the world This fact helps us release our socio-politico centric concept of self assuming human as sublunary biped whose existence is aesthetic phenomenon (affectivity). Nietzsche says "It is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that the existence and the world are eternally justified." (10)--This is not any blurry idealism but a basic down-to-earth value. This needs exercise of the great impulse for intense existence; this demands to accept even the 'questionable and strangeness' in life beyond the established ones. This yes to questionability and strangeness "rejoice [s] over its own inexhaustibility ...." (11) an individual can expose himself to the grotesque possibilities imaginable. Hence our optimism for social and political ideals needs to incorporate aesthetic horizons of our essential humanity. Such aesthetic conditions actually prepare the ground for the "conditions of new;" for "a perpetually open future"/"absolute future."
The affect aesthetically shapes the ways of change of social or political as well literary and artistic products of human endeavors. The affect makes possible to set and accept the condition for becomings, imposes such becomings into the existing realities and directs us toward a different future for the conditions of newer forms of existence. So, in returning to my point, present day study of social and culture without discussion of the aesthetic conditions of affects underneath, I find, only assumes a "simple, transparent, and beautiful" form of reality whereas life and its worth lies on the creation of values that are quite strange, divergent, unheard, grotesque and sublime. The beautiful of social and political rationalism is neither enough nor can make us intelligible about the aesthetic conditions of human existence. The progress of civilization is not only the progress of social consciousness in its simple evolutionary line; it also is its entrance into different set of conditions for newer forms of beauty that life requires to assert itself. Literature and the arts must illustrate strange and grotesque form of life and its entries to newer social forms. So, affective criticism of literature that I am advocating crosses the Jamesonian limitations of social not to reject it but to incarnate it as a science of affects in order to provide a purely material basis of affects for his overtly unaesthetic interpretation of the aesthetics. The Jamesonian model of political interpretation of literature and society is too narrow. This is the reason Foucault abandoned his project of 'disciplinary society' as interpretive model of culture and society, at the end of his career especially with the publication of his book Ethics.
The world we inhibit rests neither on any trans-bodily social or political laws nor on any transcendental moral laws rather do they rest on pure physical laws of body. We create abstract morality, abstract laws and live by but underneath the abstractions there are natural laws or conditions of affects. It is on the same grounds that Nietzsche claims "The apparent world and the world invented by a lie. This is the antithesis. The latter has neither to be called the 'real world,' 'truth,', 'God.' This is what we have to abolish." (12) Human being is material being does not mean s/he stands for all culturally perverted Jamesonian inscriptions of political and economic codes imposed on his/her body rather his or her body as the material forces produce active affects and expands their influences on the social inscriptions. It is not the State that produces effects on us, but it is a group of individual which affects the stately things. So subject is not effects but the creation of new. And literature is not a recreation of 'buried voices;' it is a creation of entirely new voices. And this act of production and expansion of affects does less compose with the existing reality rather creates multiple conditions for the new sets of realities taking a 'line of flight' from the existing reality. This is not an elitist escapist idea but strictly based on materialist philosophy of affects. Value is created not on evolutionary line but on a break from the evolutionary line-on a 'line of flight.' Deleuze and Guattari say " ... a social field is less defined by its conflicts and contradictions than the lines of flight running through the social life" (13) in "a series of interlocking, overlapping, discrete systems of regulation of desire, language, thought and behaviour." (14) No political theory and social philosophy but only theory of affects brings us "biological values of what are useful, beneficent, life enhancing" (15) to our understanding of social. It's on this ground, we can agree with Nietzsche, that existence and the world are continuously justified as the aesthetic phenomenon. So a genuine philosophical inquiry accepts affects as a condition to "lay out a new plane of immanence, introduce a new substance of being and drew up a new image of thought" (16) of the social. It's in this plane of immanence that I see the need for revision of relation of literature and aesthetics with society today.
And this revision demands to reread the Jamesonian notion that the "political perspective" constitutes "the absolute horizon of all reading and all interpretation" (17) of literature. Such perspective fundamentally distorts not only "thought's relation to social experience" but also social experience's relation to affects. This occurs because Jameson, I argue, dislocates the Real when he (miss)interprets the nature of literary interpretation,
The type of interpretation here proposed is more satisfactorily grasped as the rewriting of the literary text in such a way that the latter may itself be seen as the rewriting or reconstruction of a prior historical or ideological subtext, it being always understood that that "subtext" is not immediately present as such ... but rather must itself always be (re)constructed after the fact. The literary or aesthetic act therefore always entertain some active relation with the Real (18)
His sense of social as 'texture' of the Real, as I explicated earlier in the essay, is just a 'symptom'. He misunderstands 'symptom' as the fact. The Real is affect. The reality of the 'immanent subtext [text]' of the real is not politics or ideology or even language but the affect. Therefore, the Real as social is just a complete messed up when he relates the Real with politics and ideologies. His sense of 'fact'/'matter' is also problematic since he equates it with social. Social is 'symptom' of the real affects inherent in the bodies as pure facts or maters. So the Real is largely grounded on a Spinozist materialist idea of physical affects. The act of rewriting the literary text certainly demands 'active relation with the Real,' but such act is not reconstructed after fact but itself an' immediacy of the presence' of the fact (fact as affect). And also there is no "inertly social 'content' within the formal or aesthetic" but they are the same and one in a sense that the substance of formal and social is identical i.e. affect. My body produces either 'joyful affects' or 'sorrowful affects.' That's all about our ideas of politics, morality, ethics and aesthetics. (19)
To understand thought's relation to social experience, it is not enough, therefore, to merely coordinate it to capitalism, socialism, class, ideology etc rather we have to understand how one body affects another body and be affected, and thereby produces the ideas of politics and ideologies. (20) These coordinates allow us to enjoy our relation with nature based on self-reliance and self-respect (intrinsic quality as opposed to extrinsic coordinates). To enjoy such experiences, we do not actually need to relate ourselves in terms of capitalism, socialism, class etc. These institutional forms of 'virtual' identity, to agree with Nietzsche again, needs to be abolished, if not abolished, at least needs to be trans-valued. Our society is too much 'over-symbolic' or over-codified with political and social inscriptions which relegate affecs to aesthetic transcendence where as affect is an aesthetic of immediacy or makes its presence as an 'immanent subtext' of language and thought and 'texture' of 'social experience.' The overtly codified society reduces everything into social, political and economic units and its advocates call for political interpretation as 'absolute horizon.' This overtly political interpretation jeopardizes our freedom to live with "grace/to be born and live as variously possible." (21) It misinterprets the function of literature in society as an emancipatory gospel whereas the function of literature is to be 'attentive' to how own body affects another body in nature, sometimes even without meditation of symbols and metaphors. It inspires us to enjoy not the 'false sublime' but real affects bestowed us by our Lawrencian body and Whitmanian songs in recognition that "this real world exists as a poem [aesthetic phenomenon]." (22) This can save aesthetics from being mere abstractions of political and economic codes-one of the dangerous aspects of Jamesonian program for literature. The practice of defining the human and its beauty by the abstractions of history and politics is not only detrimental to the real joy of art and aesthetics but also does not tell anything about the nature of forces that constitute our essential 'self.' The politicization and even normativization of forces of life cannot work in this age especially after Foucault, Deleuze and rise of neo-Spinozianism in the recent day making Jamesonian program almost irrelevant. Political theory itself is taking a new field of bio-politics in order to study the affective states of bodies and their affectivities over subjectivities.
Affective criticism of literature, unlike Jamesonian political interpretation, opens up infinite, divergent ways of reinvention of the "essential mystery of the past" into present and directs history into never ending future. This is not just a recovering the suppressed voices from buried history but creating new voices and setting new conditions for the voices 'yet to come.' This is not a return to past but reinventing past and present into 'yet to come' time. If history is "inexorable form of events," the 'events' cannot be alone understood as 'effects' in past but as the force in action moving toward future beyond the prevalent sets of social reality. History is neither, as Stephen Crane in James Joyce's Ulysses says, a "nightmare I want to forget" nor, as Jameson claims, a return to the past to listen the buried voices in it, but it is, as Deleuze says, an entry to a new. Subjectivity is a relationship formed with ever newer forces 'yet to come.' So history is the projection toward future. Affect provides an internal dynamics of such a movement toward the possibilities for the "conditions for new." So history and subject, as opposed to Jamesonian understanding, is ever an unfinished accomplishment of our essential humanity. And again, this accomplishment takes not a dialectical movement but a 'line of flight'-a break from the dialectics.
The other problem of the Jamesonian program is that it more tends to justify or redeem life in literature, whereas life is first to be affirmed, not justified or liberated. (23) Nietzsche says: "He is the god who affirms life, for whom life must be affirmed, but not justified or redeemed." (24) So a sovereign and legislative individual's essence cannot be shrunk down to any political representations and ideological categories. I, of course, do not mean such representations and categories are not there in society. I am just expressing my inability to accept such 'herd morality.' Human identity actually can only be defined in terms of "... force or energy we use to move away from any settled definitions of self that can so quickly come to imprison us. Self... equals the very will to change, to move onward ... 'Self ... is not an entity, not even a function, it is an intimation of presence, and it comes upon us out of the very act by which the self tries to elude definition 'the abandonment of already defined self.'" (25) So, literature more 'reveals' the 'intimation of presence' of force/affects and less communicates political and ideological representations. This sort of literature demands a resort to a return to aesthetics economy of body, freeing us from a Jamesonian political version in order to define the social in a new analytical key of affects, and to treat the social as an affective register in order to show "how history enters art rather than how art can be placed in historical contexts." (26) In doing so it postulates a critic not mere to be an interpreter of the 'cultural mystery of the past' but an inventor of new destiny, 'new tablets of values,' and entirely new sets of worlds for humanity. This sort of new order of creation of value is only possible by 'deprogramming' the artist's relation with his 'cultural self' (27) in order to clear a new ground for artist's imagination' and 'will to power' recasting social in the new key of affects.
(1) Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans Huge Tomlinson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), p. 80.
(2) Martin Fuglsang and Bent Meier Sorensen (ed), Deleuze and the Social (Edinburgh University Press, 2006), p. 32.
(3) Affective engagement of particular group with the world defines them more succinctly than political or economic categories.
(4) Charles Altieri beautifully illustrates how affects help readers/characters to empathize Dubliners' sympathetic everdayness crossing cultural boundaries set by society in James Joyce's Dubliners. See Charles Altieri, The Particular of Rupture: An Aesthetics of the Affects (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003).
(5) Eric Blondel, Nietzsche: The Body and Culture, trans Sean Hand (Stanford: Stanford University Press,1991), p. 213.
(6) Ibid, pp. 208-209.
(7) Gilles Deleuze and F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateus, trans B Mussami (Minniapolis: University of Minnesowota Press, 1987), p. 161.
(8) Deleuze and Social, p. 12.
(9) Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans Hugh Tomlinson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983, p. 137.
(10) Friedrich Nietzsche, The birth of Tragedy, trans, Douglas Smith (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p.5.
(11) Ibid, p.129.
(12) The Will to Power, trans W. Kaufmann and R. J. Hallingdale (New York: Vintage, 1986), p. 461.
(13) Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p 90.
(14) Deleuze and the Social, p. 28.
(15) The Will to Power, p. 804.
(16) Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy, trans G. Burchell and H. Tomlinson (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p 51.
(17) Fredrich Jameson, Political Unconscious (Cornell University Press, 1981), p. 17.
(18) Ibid., p. 69.
(19) See Spinoza's Ethics (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1955) for details.
(20) Here aesthetics and ethics are reconciled.
(21) O'Hara, "Why I Am Not a Painter," The New American Poetry, ed Donald M. Allen (University of California Press, 199), p. 248.
(22) Ibid., p. 248.
(23) Jameson prescribes literature the role of "the restoration or artificial reconstruction of the voice to which they were initially opposed, a voice for the most part stifled and reduced to silence, marginalized... by the hegemonic culture." This is what a Nietschean critic laughs at. For it is just a herd who seeks salvation or liberation or 'restoration.' Therefore, this is regressive. The function of literature or culture is not to teach to seek redemption--"resolution of determinate contradictions"--but to affirm life itself taking 'a line of flight' from the existing set of contradictions. It is to create different sets of conditions for the new becomings.
(24) Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, p.13. Andrew Epstein, Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 100-101.
(25) Andrew Epstein, Beautiful Enemies: Friendship and Postwar American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 100-101.
(26) Charles Altieri, The Particular of Rupture: An Aesthetics of the Affects, p.33.
(27) "I am that which must always overcome itself...Whatever I create and however much I love it-soon I must oppose it and my love; thus my will wills it."
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|Publication:||Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2010|
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