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  • Quagmires of Affect:Madness, Labor, Whiteness, and Ideological Disavowal
  • Rachel Gorman (bio)

Queer of color engagements with affect theory demonstrate that careful examination of structures of feeling can reveal phenomenologies of race. Interventions by scholars such as Sara Ahmed, Mel Chen, and Jin Haritaworn provide new insight into Marxist cultural theorists' conceptualizations of affect as the product of repetition and sedimentation of ideology, rather than of "preindividual bodily capacities."1 The "affective turn" has specific implications for mad theory and politics,2 which include, on the one hand, the reproduction of white, Western interests in disability theory, and on the other, the reproduction of the "immaterial" body and ideas of capitalism without class. Following Dian Million's call for a recognition of "felt theory,"3 which can witness the effects of and resistance to colonialism and racism, I argue that mad studies must grasp the dialectical (inseparable, nonidentical) relationship between sensation and consciousness.

While queer of color theorists (myself included) have used affect to mean ideological saturation and the structured feeling of racism/race, several celebrated affect theorists have used affect to mean nonconscious bodily capacities, which have, in turn, become the site of a new theory of (un/nonconscious) labor. As part of a broader new materialist tendency, Patricia Clough engages affect defined in this way to theorize a kind of biopolitical mining of bodies. This approach to affect has specific implications for both disability studies and emergent mad studies. Clough argues that

there is a putting into play something like a primitive accumulation for the reorganization of value around bodily capacities. Preindividual bodily capacities are made the site of capital investment for the realization of profit—not only in terms of biotechnology, biomedicalization, and genetics, but also in terms of a technologically dispersed education/training in self-actualization and self-control at the pre-individual, individual, communal, national, and transnational levels.4

This retheorization of value-without-labor-power seems to proceed from a feeling in privileged workers of the global North that they are being "worked [End Page 309] on." In a different sociological moment, these technologies of self-actualization might have been described as the habitus of the transnational class of privileged workers—yet the intensification of these technologies has made them appear as something new.

From the perspective of mad studies, the claim that we all have "preindividual bodily capacities," or affect, that can be invested in for the realization of profit, makes it difficult to imagine how we resist psychiatry or how we have developed mad studies at all. These unconscious, or nonconscious, capacities would give us a body that responds to psy treatments exactly as psy industries say it should—affect here implies a kind of placebo effect that bypasses or short-circuits consciousness. How do we make sense of this implication, knowing that these technologies have never achieved a totalizing or identical effect, as harmful and violent as they may be? The overarching argument here is that processes of labor reproduction are themselves productive, and so our attention shifts from workers in psychiatric systems or psychiatrized workers to the psychiatrized as the preconscious worker-who-works-by-being-worked-on.

The nonconscious worker being conjured here has some resonance with ideological signifiers of madness. The mad person in Western representation is read through the "aesthetic of absence"—as the quintessentially nonconscious.5 The mad artist fascinates cultural imaginaries of modernity as their artworks are taken as a gateway into the collective unconscious. Clough defines "affectivity as a substrate of potential bodily responses, often automatic responses, in excess of consciousness" and argues that "affect refers generally to bodily capacities to affect and be affected"; mad theory and mad movements risk similar reifications of essentialized "excess of consciousness"—specifically through adhering to ideologies of difference that emerge through disability rights claims and liberal identity politics in Western capitalist political formations and social movements.6 We risk uncritically adopting ideologies of mad identities that parallel diagnostic criteria.7 To take the appearance of affect as essential is to theorize madness as a quintessential mode of being, rather than as a name for an assemblage of an individual's engagements with sedimented formations of social/cultural...


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pp. 309-313
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