The Interruption: Investigating Subjectivation and Affect

By Dawney, Leila | Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, July-August 2013 | Go to article overview

The Interruption: Investigating Subjectivation and Affect


Dawney, Leila, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space


"As we climbed over a stile at the end of a field we noticed something written on it that made us stop, and silenced us for a second. The graffiti on the stile, in permanent black marker pen, said 'English out'."

Field notes, Cornwall, June 2010

The second of silence is an interruption: the pause in conversation and the charge resonating through the body as it recognises itself in those words. The conversation halts for just one second, and during that one second uncomfortable feelings are registered, feelings that push at the limits of experience as they disrupt its normal flow. This is the somatisation of politics and its emergence as feeling. The interruption is where we can read off the sociality of affect: the interplay of the affective and subjective that constitutes embodied experience. This is what Riley identifies when she discusses the materiality of the speech act: "In its violently emotional materiality, the word is indeed made flesh and dwells amongst us" (2005, page 9).

Introduction

This paper introduces the concept of the 'interruption' as both a tool for investigating the relationship between affect and subjectivation and as a means of inhabiting a reflexive position of critique through adopting a specific relation to the self.

The concept of the interruption is elaborated with reference to three incidents that took place during ethnographic fieldwork. These incidents were events that caused bodies to move in unexpected ways, to react somatically to situations such that the reaction itself became an object of interest. The interruption as figured here is a corporeal moment--a particular relation that halts and disrupts the flow of experience, that is both habitual and yet not. It emerges from habitual modes of being, yet at once calls them into question through the sense of disruption that it engenders. This corporeal interruption of the flow of experience provides a locus from which to interrogate the body and to ask questions of the various rationalities and regimes that work to produce particular 'natural' responses and modes of experience. By adopting a reflexive mode of engagement with such responses, it can operate as an intervention into the politics of the feeling body and of affect, raising the question: what presubjective politics inhabit the subject and reveal the sociality of its bodily responses? By adopting a critical attitude to the interruption, and to the limits of experience that it reveals, we can attempt to analyse these politics. In this way, the interruption as defined here becomes a specific, and critical, inhabitation of a moment that can bring about a questioning of the 'naturalness' of experience. (1) In this paper the interruption is understood in terms of temporal 'moments' and in terms of an autoethnographic enquiry which limits its definition to the individual body. (2)

By using the affective body as a tool for enquiry, the interruption can reveal the intertwining of affective and subjectivating forces that may not normally be apparent through other modes of investigation and analysis. In this way, the interruption enables us to position ourselves as critics of the politics of our own bodies, asking questions of the modes of productive power that give rise to bodies that experience historically specific affective responses (Foucault, 1978; 1988; 1992). Attention to the interruption can reveal something of these processes of subjectivation, providing a way of considering how the body's affective responses to particular situations contribute to, reinforce, and at times disrupt the political and material rationalities of its own production. Thus, the paper also offers a contribution to the critique of experience through a consideration of the social/material production of embodied experience.

There is a need to develop tools for thinking about the way in which the affective and subjective registers operate through each other and are constitutive of each other. …

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