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  • Coming to Our Senses: Affect and an Order of Things For Global Culture by Dierdra Reber
  • Rebecca Janzen
Reber, Dierdra. Coming to Our Senses: Affect and an Order of Things For Global Culture. New York: Columbia UP, 2016. 334 pp.

Dierdra Reber's Coming to Our Senses analyzes Latin American and United States cultural texts from the final decades of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first. Reber's work proposes that affect is the contemporary cultural currency, and that its invisible patterns govern late capitalism. Her analysis covers an eclectic mix of works including popular films like James Cameron's Avatar (2009) and Walter Salles's Diarios de Motocicleta (2004) and the way Evo Morales gave Barack Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano's Las venas abiertas de América Latina (1971) when the two leaders met in 2009.

Coming to Our Senses begins with a preface, a prelude, and an introduction. The preface brings us into her work with personal anecdote and the prelude vaguely outlines the introduction that follows. The introduction is more standard. This structure is made more opaque by her selection of unusual cultural texts, which are not as well-known as she might think. It would have been helpful if the introduction had explained why they were selected and if the chapters had summarized them in greater depth.

Reber often historicizes with unusual results. For instance, her introduction suggests that the English Quakers were a counterpoint to the Reformation that occurred in parts of what are now Germany, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands (25–28). It would have made more sense for her to either analyze them in contrast with the Church of England, or to analyze the notions of the body, shared leadership responsibilities, and non-hierarchical community through the Anabaptists, as the Anabaptists confronted Catholics, Lutherans, and other Reformers in Continental Europe. The problem of ahistorical analysis remains throughout Coming to Our Senses.

The body of Reber's work is then divided into two parts, "The Feeling Soma" and "Homeostatic Dynamics"; each of these parts is comprised of two chapters. The first chapter provocatively argues for thinking of humanity as "The Feeling Soma: Humanity as a Singular 'We.'" It proposes that: "Moral [End Page 731] humanity—love being its synecdoche and sexual reproduction its telos—is democratically interwoven in a shared and infinitely capacious body governed by its homeostatic tendency toward well-being" (85). That is, it proposes that by analyzing contemporary texts such as a story on glial cells on NPR in 2010, and the opening of the Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT in 2006, we will see that love stands in as a metaphor for the whole of humanity, and that this love-humanity aims to reproduce itself while maintaining equilibrium.

The second chapter, "We are the World: Sentient People and Planet in Sustainability Discourse," engages with ideas developed in the first. "We are the World" critiques capitalist and anti-capitalist sustainability discourses. This chapter similarly covers a vast array of sources including John Elkington's best-selling Cannibals with Forks: The Triple Bottom Line of Twenty-First Century Business (1997), Andre Stanton's animated film Wall-E (2008), and Fernando "Pino" Solanas and Octavio Getino's documentary La hora de los hornos (1968). Based on these sources, Reber posits that the "construction of the politics of sustainability" in both North and South is one aspect of what she calls the "epistemic status of affect" in all types of politics (91). That is, affect is the key to propagating and ordering ideas and sustainability is one of its most obvious examples.

Coming to Our Senses' second part begins with "'Becoming well beings': Homeostatic Dynamics and the Metaphor of Health." This chapter moves from critiquing sustainability discourse to engage with the metaphor of health and what Reber terms the organizational dynamics of the body (127). Works analyzed here include Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis's documentary film The Take (2004), Diarios de motocicleta, and Matthew Weiner's television series Mad Men (2007–15). Reber's expert analysis of Mad Men posits that Don Draper's problems reflect capitalism in the early twenty-first century, and...


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