- The Invisible Gland: Affect and Political Economy
Certainly one of the primary impacts of the renewed interest in affect within the humanities and social sciences has been the problematizing of our traditional notions of social construction or cultural causality. The contention that the bulk of our feelings appear tied to fairly robust and physiologically instantiated “affect programs” has led humanities theorists to challenge previously dominant theories of social and ideological construction and to adopt a more empathetic stance toward research of the “hard sciences.” At the same time, the works of canonical philosophers who have more traditional homes in the humanities, such as Descartes, Aristotle, and Spinoza—thinkers who wrote before the drawing of disciplinary lines and who created theories that Affect Effect contributor Michael A. Neblo calls “psychologies with political intent” (27)—have enjoyed a renaissance within the social sciences and become for many a crucial adjunct to unpacking empirical research on autonomic responses. Much research in both of these exchanges has revolved around the complex parsing of cultural and subjective “triggers” for affective experience in relation to the material functions and response mechanisms of the endocrine and nervous systems.
The root causes for the turn to affect, however, may be much easier to map. One might, for instance, chart the rise of interest in affect as a response to the popularity of “post-human” [End Page 160] theory over the past decade. While many of the capacities previously taken as the unique domain of humans have been replicated in mechanical realms, affect has often been positioned, as in the work of N. Katherine Hayles, as a property that remains singular to humanity. Similarly, one could index the turn to affect in relation to changes in the technological resources and stylistics of aesthetic media, such as cinema. In this genealogy, a line could be drawn tracing movements from the early “cinema of attractions” (e.g., Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, 1896), to the birth of narrative film proper (The Great Train Robbery, 1903), to the era of pastiche and narrative recycling (to keep with the train theme: Throw Momma from the Train, 1987), and, finally, to the popularity of films that stage a return of sorts to the cinema of attractions by targeting viewers’ affective responses explicitly through the use of nonlinear sequencing and other devices (Trainspotting, 1996, and subsequent films such as Run Lola Run, 1998, and Requiem for a Dream, 2000, analyzed by Jamie “Skye” Bianco in her contribution to Affective Turn). However, the shift that intersects these others and informs some of the strongest work in both of the anthologies under review here is perhaps best described in reference to political economy—that is, if one takes the term “political economy” in its broadest sense to describe both how value is created within culture and the complicated mediations between individual and group identities within such a process. This genealogy might begin with Adam Smith’s paradigmatic gesture of “the invisible hand” of the market (one that survives in modified form today in free market enthusiasm of the Hayekian variety). It is this invention of Smith’s that fascinated the young G.W.F. Hegel and inspired the latter’s conception of “the ruse of reason” to foreground the complex interactions between the conscious and unconscious motivations of the individual as well as between the motivations of an individual and the collective. This latter structure, and in particular its further transposition by Marx, is the one most clearly being worked through and against in the pages of Affective Turn and Affect Effect, while their contributors assay the intensities of immaterial labor and the influence of human physiology on political belief and decision making in an era of post-ideological critical theory.
As the title suggests, Affective Turn positions recent work on affect in...