Affective Criticism of Literature: Recasting Social in a New Key of Affects

By Aryal, Yubraj | Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Affective Criticism of Literature: Recasting Social in a New Key of Affects


Aryal, Yubraj, Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry


My aim in this editorial is to prove that only an affective criticism of literature and society, unlike the Jamesonian political reading, can broadly correspond to social facts' relation to the human subjectivity. And such criticism of literature recasts our interpretation of the social in a new key of affects in order to confute any readings that impair the deep aesthetic conditions of affect underneath the social. I argue that the social/political is a manifestation/'symptom' of the affects, and therefore, to understand any social phenomena or 'political unconscious' of the literature and society, the incorporation of affect under discussion is imperative. I claim that every social is already an aestheticized social. There is no social which is not aesthetically conditioned. So when we interpret the social, we always need to weigh the underlying affective aesthetic dimension of the social. My use of the term 'aesthetic' here refers to the body and its affective engagement with the world, and 'social' to political, economic and ideological representations. And also, my sense of affective criticism refers to the body, affectivity and affects rather than language, text and emotion.

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. …

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