- Affective Mapping: Melancholia and the Politics of Modernism by Jonathan Flatley
In this brilliant contribution to the studies of modernism, concerned with “a particular mode of modernist melancholizing” (2), the author [End Page 857] investigates the concept of loss central to Freud’s theory developed in “Mourning and Melancholia” (1917), choosing to combine individual histories of melancholia and loss, collective consciousness, ideology, culture, and the different predicaments of modernity. Jonathan Flat-ley’s “historical-aesthetic methodology” (3), with its many references to prominent theoretical works, is grounded on his dynamic concept of “Affective mapping,” namely “the aesthetic technology—in the older, more basic sense of a techne—that represents the historicity of one’s affective experience” (4). This book convincingly articulates theory and practice: in addition to a very useful glossary devoted to the key concepts of this essay (“Affect, Emotion, Mood [Stimmung], Structure of Feeling” [11–24]), two chapters describe the complex theoretical framework in detail, and the last three chapters offer a critical reading of three major literary narratives: Henry James’s The Turn of The Screw (1898), W. E. B. Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk (1903), and Andrei Platonov’s Chevengur (1926–1930).
In his introduction, where he posits that the modern subject is shaped by the social and historical forces of collective experience through emotions, Flatley claims the necessity to regard the mapping process as experimental and “revisable” (7), and “the map” in relation to the Deleuzean concept of “rhizome.” The reader will certainly appreciate how carefully the author delineates his critical tools in his glossary, insisting on the similarities and differences between “emotion” (“something that happens inside and tends toward outward expression” ), “affects” (“always experienced in relation to an object or objects” ), “mood” (“a kind of affective atmosphere” ), and “structure of feeling” (“the ways social forces shape or structure our affective lives” ). Flatley develops his critical perspective in chapter 1 “Modernism and Melancholia”, and in chapter 2 “Affective Mapping”: borrowing mainly from Freud, Benjamin, Heidegger, Adorno, and Jameson, he suggests that the modern relation to time and temporality, the overwhelming influence of science and technology, the many discourses of normalization, have all created the melancholic subject. But, the critic insists, the aesthetic enterprise offers a response to depression: by distancing both the creative stance and his receptor from the entropic zone of loss and mourning, the imaginary scene of literature, among other forms of artistic experiences, may become a site where affects are rearticulated and recontextualized in a positive way, following a logic similar to the transferential logic of psychoanalysis.
In chapter 3, “Reading into Henry James: Allegories of the Will to Know in The Turn of the Screw,” Flatley examines how “the ghosts from our past” (89) shape the reader’s experience and how the subtle dialectic between possession and dispossession affects [End Page 858] audiences. The critic considers Freud’s concept of tranference to be an essential component of James’s aesthetic venture in this novella. In addition, with reference to Michel Foucault and to the will to know that underlies the politics of modern sexuality, he argues that the embedded narratives of James’s work provide an emotional pattern of interpretation dominated by libidinal desire turned into textual energy. It is also relevant to relate the publication of The Turn of the Screw to its historical context, for the latter radically shaped the nature and function of creative imagination and altered the tenets of artistic commitment. Flatley insists on the historicity of James’s aesthetic, and he notes how, at the moment when epistemological doubt ushered the Western world into modernity, the novelist’s theory of reading responded to the collective sense of despondency by mapping individual affects and emotions into a shared experience of defamiliarization. James was genuinely convinced that “mimesis, possession, confusions of self and other and past and present—in a word ghosts—are necessary for life” (102). It is precisely this dominant mode of spectrality that combines pleasure, desire for the narrative, and imaginary identifications that so strongly appeals to most of us...