Brain Massumi

Is a Canadian social theorist of much renown, he has done many translations of French poststructuralists like Jean-François Lyotard. His own work explores the field cultural thermodynamics. For this class we’re focused on affect and in his words  he uses affect“as a way of talking about that margin of manoeuvrability, the ‘where we might be able to go and what we might be able to do’ in every present situation. I guess ‘affect’ is the word I use for ‘hope’. One of the reasons it’s such an important concept for me is because it explains why focusing on the next experimental step rather than the big utopian picture isn’t really settling for less. It’s not exactly going for more, either. It’s more like being right where you are – more intensely. To get from affect to intensity you have to understand affect as something other than simply a personal feeling. By ‘affect’ I don’t mean ‘emotion’ in the everyday sense. The way I use it comes primarily from Spinoza. He talks of the body in terms of its capacity for affecting or being affected. These are not two different capacities – they always go together. When you affect something, you are at the same time opening yourself up to being affected in turn, and in a slightly different way than you might have been the moment before. You have made a transition, however slight. You have stepped over a threshold. Affect is this passing of a threshold, seen from the point of view of the change in capacity.”[1]


Parables for the virtual



According to Massumi the project of this book is to explore the implications for cultural theory of the reconceptulization of the body within the context of movement/sensation and change. He goes on to describe how the body was reduced to discursive circuits bleached from possibilities of ruptures, revolts or even everyday resistances that could lead to systemic change. Rather the body was frozen into fixed positions as an object on a grid. The link between the systemic and the local was created through the notion of positionality, within a grid that was devised between polarities of male/female and so on. Except this interpolation causes the body to be stuck, divorced from its fluidities and movement that could not be mapped onto a grid. The cultural photograph was a point stoppage and leads to the impossibility incorporating movement, since movement is not just for the purpose of the beginning and end point but the process that takes place in-between and that is not reducible to the ends. This movement is really a “qualitative transformation”(Massumi, 3), while matter is never properly attended to either.

Therefore the project is the “hope that movement, sensation, and qualities of experience couched in matter in its most literal sense (and sensing) might be culturally-theoretically thinkable, without falling into” (Massumi,4) the problematics of naïve realism or subjectivism or negating the important work of “poststructuralist cultural theory concerning the coextensiveness of cultural with the field of experience and of power with culture”(Massumi,4) the relationship between body and movement is transformational and opens the body to its own indeterminacy. This conceptualization of the body as “real-material-but-incorporeal” is to liken it to the relationship between energy and matter that are different forms of the same reality. This follows to a kind of incorporeal materialism where the movement can not be encapsulated by the endpoints of a trajectory where every point on the trajectory can infinite permutations, subsequently it is only retrospectively that we find the in-between positions. In fact the idea of space is also constructed this way retrospectively. 

The emphasis is on ideas of fluidity this presents a revolution in thought that presents the limits of thinking in stasis, positions and end-points.  The focus is on process rather than stasis and yet stasis can be explained as well. The point is that cultural theory today needs to incorporate affect and intensity.


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