Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Negotiating Affect in Media/Cultural Studies

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

Negotiating Affect in Media/Cultural Studies

Article excerpt

Jodi Dean's Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2010

Steven Shaviro's Post-Cinematic /lflecf Washington: Zero Books, 2010

Jussi Parikka's Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010

Media/ cultural studies occupies a rare methodological position within and between the humanities and social sciences, with one foot in vari- ous theoretical traditions (e.g., literary, feminist, psychoanalytic) and the other in various object-oriented approaches (e.g. textual analysis, actor- network theory, ethnography). At its most astute, m e dia/ cultural studies scholarship sets the theoretical and the material in close dialogue, trans- gressing their boundary and revealing their mutual interdependence. Such productive encounters are not fortuitous, but rather are part of media/ cul- tural studies' foundations. This is evident in the early texts of the discipline (anachronistically curated), for example, Walter Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" and Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media, and - more recently - in the turn in media/cultural studies towards affect, which renews and extends established method- ological concerns and commitments.

The affective turn, as theorized by Patricia Clough, engages "bodily capacities to affect and be affected or the augmentation or diminution of a body's capacity to act, to engage, and to connect . . ." (2007, 2). The sim- plicity and clarity of this characterization belies a nuanced and sophisti- cated challenge to a number of diverse intellectual traditions, including the anthropocentric social sciences, and meaning- and representation- centric strands of media/ cultural studies. In its focus on preconscious bodily capacities - where "bodily" includes "capacities beyond the body's organic-physiological constraints" - the affective turn asks us to take mat- ter seriously. This is not to continue to suppose a distinction between meaning and matter as the social sciences have done, but rather to begin to examine the social and political implications of their "entanglement," as Karen Barad phrases it. Jodi Dean's Blog Theory, Steven Shaviro's PostCinematic Affect, and Jussi Parikka's Insect Media take up this challenge and its implications in different ways, in the process offering up compelling and varied models of accounting for the primacy of affect in contemporary society.

Of the three books, Blog Theory is most critical of affect, insofar as Dean links it with a strain of pernicious contemporary sociopolitical malaise. In a similar vein to that of contemporary media scholars like Mark Andrejevic, Dean argues "that contemporary communications media capture their users in intensive and extensive networks of enjoyment, production, and surveillance" (3-4). In Blog Theory, Dean is especially concerned with and critical of networks of enjoyment. To elaborate her critique, she makes use of work by Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Zizek, and in particular Zizek's differentiation of desire from drive. As Dean explains (following Zizek), desires target lost objects, while drives target loss itself; "drive is a kind of compulsion or force. It's a force that is shaped, that takes its form and pulsion, from loss" (59). This distinction allows Dean to reframe the "enjoyment" we realize through participation online not as filling a desire but rather as fueling a drive. She writes, "I enter. I click. I like. I poke. Drive circulates, round and round, producing satisfaction even as it misses its aim, even as it emerges in the plastic network of the decline of symbolic efficiency" (60).

Zizek's theorization of the "decline of symbolic efficiency" is also central to Dean's argument. Dean argues that this decline is a result, in part, of our integration into cyberspace, and threatens three things: performativity, desire, and meaning. In her explication of this threat, she proposes that there is a "gap" left behind by the symbolic which has been occupied by "images and affects" circulated through the Internet. …

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