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Lesson 9: Affect

This lesson deals with affect as a tool for the artist to use in the social domain. Affect is at the heart of art as we define it as a mode of being expressive of experience, feeling, sensation, and emotion that finds meaning and content in an artistic form.



The questions in this lesson are based on the essay 'How is Affect Related to the Social?' written by Eliza Steinbock.
To read the essay, click here.

At the juncture of art and embodiment lies the question of affect, and the exercise of what the body (human and otherwise) can do, the extent of its power, its capacities to affect and to be affected.



In the To Do’s, by Isis Freitas Vale Germano, your will find different questions and exercises to work with concepts that were dealt with in the essay about the affective operations of art and how they involve the social.
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Affect is a feminist problem in the sense that these prehistories champion a model of a sovereign, universal personhood that is, in fact, neither. The feminist insight is that this foregoing model relies on the split of mind from body, thought from emotion; further, the split aspects of personhood acquire an association with positive and negative values.
Affect is at the heart of art because art is routinely defined as a mode of being expressive of experience, feeling, sensation, and emotion that finds meaning and content in an artistic form.
Eliza Steinbock

To do A

Around Christmas 2021, Dutch newspaper NRC opened its weekend issue with the headline “Give a Feeling, give Art”.

What is your view on the relationship between art and feelings? Is ‘giving art’ indeed, as the newspaper suggests, the same as ‘giving a feeling’? Think of a work of art that moves you into very strong feelings and try to explain to each other: how does this artwork ‘give’ you those feelings?
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To do A

After thinking about the first question, consider this phrase of Steinbocks essay with more care:

Literary theorist Ernst van Alphen coined the term ‘affective operations of art and literature’ to describe the social mode of art’s communication that powerfully transacts in affective intensities, trafficking in sensation that simulates thought.
Following this logic, the affective operations of art and literature are not simply about "feeling", but involve "the social” and involve “simulating thought”.

Think about the same example as in the first question and explore answers to the question:

How do the feelings you have when looking at or thinking about this work involve “the social”?
And how do the affective operations of the work relate to thought?
What is your view on the relationship between art and feelings? Is ‘giving art’ indeed, as NRC suggests, the same as ‘giving a feeling’?

To do B

Affect studies provides a set of vocabulary that scholars, artists, and artistic researchers can employ to grope towards and grasp what is hard to pin down: sensation, feeling, a doing and undoing to the body, a happening that is underway.


Eliza Steinbock, How is Affect Related to the Social?
What vocabulary do you currently have to grasp “feeling, sensation, a doing and undoing the body”? Set a timer for a maximum of 5 minutes and make a list of words you possess for grasping the ‘affective operations of art’. If you are with a group, compile your lists to make one comprehensive list of your available vocabulary.

Then, scan this essay again for new words and make a second list: what vocabulary is this essay using? Compare the lists. Does anything remarkable show up if you compare them?

How does a feminist perspective on personhood provide a new understanding of affect in the humanities?

Question

To do C

In a group, take time for a discussion to explore your assumptions, intuitions and opinions in response to:

Affect is a feminist problem in the sense that these prehistories champion a model of a sovereign, universal personhood that is in fact neither.
This quotation places affect in the context of an ideal of personhood that favours sovereignty, autonomy, individuality, the rule of mind over body and thought over emotion. New critical theories of affect have developed approaches to personhood that center intersubjectivity, relationality, and porous vulnerability.

Explore and discuss your own approach to (your) personhood in a class discussion. What do you believe constitutes a “person”?

Can you find examples of how your beliefs and ideals about personhood affect your choices? Would you say that the way you regard yourself is more in line with a model of personhood that favours sovereignty, or with a model of personhood that centers intersubjectivity? And what is better, or more true, and why?

Why did especially black women and queer men take the lead in articulating an understanding of affect and personhood different from the ideals of Enlightenment?

Question

To do D

As an experiment, see if you can weaponize affect and make it into a technology of oppression

Critical affect studies are thus infused with critiques coming out of postcolonial, queer, ethnicity and race, disability, intersex and trans theories that challenge the notion of a universal or baseline way of feeling, instead showing how affect can become weaponized or made into a technology of oppression, and likewise be a powerful source of knowledge and activist fuel.
For this assignment, we invite you to select an article in a newspaper, and design a prototype for an artwork that deals with the issue that is discussed in the newspaper.

Ask yourself: how can I weaponize affect in a work about this issue? How can the feelings and sensations I have provoke work as a ‘technology of oppression’?

Find a newspaper (30 min)
Select an issue (20 min)
Make a work (45 min)

Discuss each other’s prototypes. What affect is the work operating and what narrative about the issue does this convey? Whose perspective is represented in that narrative?
Frances Negrón-Muntaner
Frances Negrón-Muntaner

Frances Negrón-Muntaner

‘Decolonial joy’ is a term described by scholar and artist Frances Negrón-Muntaner

When injustice is the norm, even the law, it takes imagination and creativity to think that another world is possible. Once you bring courage and imagination together, you have change.

To do E

Eliza Steinbock uses in her essay the term ‘decolonial joy’, a term coined and described by scholar and artist Frances Negrón-Muntaner as “that ‘necessarily collective’ joy in knowing you are stepping away from the logics and values (the pain and suffering) set by the colonizer”.

In the previous experiment, you have explored ‘the dark side’: using affect to manipulate spectators or participants of your work to participate in or comply with oppression. For a final exercise, think of how you could create a moment of ‘decolonial joy’ in your art discipline and using its techniques.
While doing this ask yourself the following questions:

What is the predominant affect that is structuring the subject of your work?
How is this affect structuring the social?
Finally, think of a way that your work can create an alternative, decolonial, antipatriarchal affect, changing the ‘cultural logic’ and thus contributing to change.
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