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Empire, Globalization


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Affect:Whatis it Goodfor?

Dictionaries and casualconversationboth tend to equate'affect'

with'emotion.' But affectalso often shadesover into 'feelingj and
as such seemsto point to a zone where emotion intersectswith
processestaking place at a more corporeal level. Even in its re-
latively untheorized invocations,affect carriestactile, sensuous,
and perhapsalso involuntary connotations.This essayis a crit-
ical exploration of the implications of such a categoryfor social
analysis.I write in the belief that only those ideas that compel
our desireaswell as our resistancereceiveand deservethe most

Embodied, : Thinking
lmpersonal Affect
Why is affect attracting so much attention in social and cultural
analysisthesedays?The quick, lazy answer is that the public cul-
tures we inhabit today have become more unabashedly affective.
From political to commercial discourse,we are being solicited in
an unprecedentedlyaffective,intimate register.I will have more
to say about this impressionof heightenedpublic intimacy, but
in order to get properly to grips with the analytical implications
of the category,we shall first have to dig a bit deeper.
From an analytical point of view, thinking affect points us to-
ward a terrain that is presubjectivewithout being presocial.As
such it implies a way of apprehendingsocial life that does not
start with the bounded,intentional subjectwhile at the sametime
foregrounding embodiment and sensuouslife. Affect is not the un-
conscious- it is too corporeallyrooted for that. Nor can it be aligned
with any conventional conception of culture, since the whole
292 r WilliamMazzarella Affect:what is it Goodfor? t 293

point of affect,accordingto its most influential contemporarythc more than dumb matter availablefor disciplineand cultural
orists,is that unlike emotion it is not alwaysalreadysemiotical,r, ,Is the body linked to a particularsubiectposition
mediated.Gilles Deleuze,in an essayon Divid Hume, creditstht, ;Vthi"g more than a iocal embodimentol ideolog?'(ibid':5'
latter with having discoveredthat 'tffective circumstances,prc originaiemphasis)'Massumiwants insteadto show us a non-
existand guidethe 'principlesof association'that constitutewhar doJitebody_ perhapsa spasticbody by mainstreammeasures,
we like to recognizeas reason (2001 Irg72l: a5). Deleuzeis thus Uuirtitt anirreduciblyandievealinglysocialbody.Mostgenerally,
confirmed in his belief that there is, in John Rajchman'swords,
'an element Massumiis askingui to imaginesociallife in two simultaneous
in experiencethat comes before the determinatiorr ,, on the 6ne hand, i registerof affective,embodiedin-
of subjectand sense'(2001: 15). Iririt' and,on the other,a registerof symbolicmediationand
Therelationbetweentheseregisters is'not
_ Drawing on and developing Deleuze'sruminations, perhaps discuisiveeiaboration.
the most significant recent scholarly intervention has been thu oneof conformityor correspondence but rather of resonation or
work of Brian Massumi, particularly his essay,The Autonomy interference, amplificationor dampening' (ibid': 25)'
of Affect' which first appearedin the mid-t990s and was latcr The implicationsof sucha positionwould seemmomentous.
included in Parablesfor the virtual (2002). Massumi characterizes It callsintb questionthe categorialcoherence of modesof social
affect as a domain of intensity,indeterminacy,and above all po inq"itv .unging from mainstieam psychologl (which takes the
tentiality, which the signifying logic of cultuie reducesor, iniis U.i.ugr.r"d'su-*bject as its beginning and its end) throughbour-
terms, 'qualifiesl Affect is both embodied and impersonal.Thc theindividual
t.oir iil.rut sociologr(in whichthestruggle.between
appearanceof personal, subjectivelife is, then, foi Massumi as ind societyis the perennially pathetic theme) to Foucaultian
for Deleuzea secondaryeffectof cultural mediation.This is whv portrt-.turalism (in which po*er proceeds above all through
affect cannot be equatedwith emotion: An examination of affect may well
i.o".t."t of subjectivation). under-
ioou. u, into theneighborhood of a socialaesthetics, if we
An emotion is a subjectivecontent,the sociolinguisticfixing of standby aesthetics the ancientGreek sense of aeslfuesls or sense
the quality of an experiencewhich is from that-point onwird ."p"'i""""'Butitisbydefinitionineducibletoanyanthropolory_ -
definedas personal.Emotion is qualifiedintensity,the conven- for:example,an anthropologrof emotion,or of aestheticsystems
tional, consensualpoint of insertion of intensity into semantic- that would seekto eiplain affectby situatingit comparatively
ally and semioticallyformed progressions,into narrativizable within integratedculturalorders'
action-reactioncircuits,into function and meaning.It is inten- SeenthiJ way,conventionalsocialanalysisis alwaysarriving
sity owned and recognized(Massumi2002:23). too lateat thesceneof a crimeit is incapableof recognizing: cul-
turehasalreadydoneitscoveringwork, a more-or-less hegemonic
From the standpoint of affect,societyis inscribedon our nervous .y-uoti. qualificationhasalreadybeenachieved. Thescholarly
systemand in our freshbeforeit appearsin our consciousness. The ri.rtft invariablymisrecognizes this secondary pr9{gct of c.ul-
affective body is by no means a tabula rasa; itpreservesthe traces tural mediationas the fundamental stuff of social life, missing
ofpast actionsand encountersand bringsthem into the presentas 'thoughtbridlesand
thewoundsinflictedby language(Deleuze:
potentials:'Intensity is asocial,but not presocial mutilateslife,makingit sensible'2001 [1965]:66)'
1...] tlie trace ol'
pastactions including a traceof their contexts WhenMassumiin.'siststhatheisnotinvokingsome.prereflex-
faie] ionserved in
the brain and in the fl esh'(2002: 3o :original emphasisj.Further,,The ive,romanticallyraw domainof primitiveexperientialrichness'
word.The senses,
Q6OZ:29)I think he shouldbe takenat his
trace determinesa tendency,the potential,if not yet the appetite,
ute tne self,havetheir histories. But Massumi's work, like so
f9r.lhe_lutonomic repetition'the and variation of the impingement;
(ibid.: 32). For all the talk of body' in current culturJtheory, muchthat is writtenin thisneo-vitalist vein, also quivers with the
Massumi complains,the body rarely appearsas anything much romanceof a fundamental opposition between, on the one hand'
294 r WilliamMazzarella Affect:Whatis it Goodfor? . 295

the productive,the multiple, and the mobile and, on the other.thc aru-",i" contrast,that between the middle of the 18th-century
death-dealingcertitudesof formal determination.As he puts it irr and the early l9th-century the normativeforms of Europeansov-
a moment of rhetorical exaltation: ,If there were no escape,no ereignty shifted from spectaculartheatricality to rationalized,
excessor remainder,no fade-out to infinity, the universewould affeit-evacuatedtechnicism.Out of a form of rule in which the
be without potential, pure entropy, death' (2002:55\. volatility of the visceral was both a principle of efficacy and 1
Facedwith suchmelodramaone might well object,with Michacl fatal structural flaw, modern governmentality emerged with all
silverstein (2004), that the radical binarization of conceptual the seamless,affectlessprecision of a machine.
mediation and affective immediacy is not only analytically unten Liberalsarguethat the reifying abstractionsof the commodity
able but also a contingent feature of modein Euiopean philo -
form, modern citizenship and bureaucratic reasonare necessary
sophy.twhile I shall indeedbe arg'ing that the major fliw besetting even liberatory - technologiesin complex, industrial societies'
contemporary affect theory is its romantic (and complicit) attach- Yes, Newtonian mechanics may once have consorted openly
ment to a fantasyof immediacy - or as I prefer to put ii, imme_ with the poetic doctrine of sympathies(Starobinski2003 [1999])
diation (Mazzarella2006) - I would nevertheless[Le to explore and astrologymay once have informed astronomy.Even G.W.F'
the possibilitythat the 'thing' it describesmay help us to reihink Hegel'sall-absorbingSpirit found someinspiration in 17th-century
the politics of public culture in a productiveiy criiical way. rn4istr vitalism (Beiser1995).But such infantile dallianceswith
'superstition' had to be disowned for grown-
TheClanandthe Crowd.Modernity
andAffect up modernity to take its soberscientificform. For their part, cri-
tical theorists of modernity from Karl Marx onward transform the
The just-so story we too often tell ourselvesabout the origins Romantic lament for lost aestheticfullnessinto a systemicpolemic
of modernity takes disenchantmentas its central theme. tn lhis against the bad faith embeddedin the discourseof modernity'
denuded fairy-tale, affect is progressivelyevacuatedfrom an in- 'The tools used by
Al Oskar Negt and Alexander Kluge note,
creasinglyrationalized bourgeoisworld to the point where pol- the rationalistic disciplinesnegatethe mimetic foundation that
itics becomes,in Paul Valery'swords, ,the art of preventing the is necessaryfor them to operate' (1993 11972):24).
from getting involved in what concernsthim' (quotld in The stage,then, is set for a kind of return of the repressed,
Maffesoli 1996 [1938]: 154). The legitimacy of bourgebismod_ whether in the form of a grand revolutionary reversalor a more
ernity seemshere to depend upon processesof abstriction that 'haunting' of the deathly
inconclusive, but no less subversive,
are at once universalizingand vampiric. The inevitableend point abstractions of modern knowledge by the vitally embodied
is Max weber's 'iron cage,'an arrogantly soullessbureauiratic energiesthey both require and deny. From the psychoanalytic
'nullity' ruled
by'specialists without spirit, sensualistswithout liberition theologr of a Herbert Marcuse or a Wilhelm Reich to
heart'(1998 [1920]:182). the teleological certitude of scientific socialism,affect will out.
Political legitimationalso,it seems,has taken the samecourse, On this point, conservativeindividualists ioin hands with rad-
Jiirgen Habermas (1989[1962]) narrates the transition from a ical populists, enabling Jos6Ortega y Gasset'sremark, made in
spectacular'publicnessof representation'in which the bodv of the 'The past has reason
the 1930s,to enact its own prophesytoday:
sovereign,ritually emerginginto public view, assertedand con- on its side, its own reason.If that reason is not admitted, it will
firm.edthe stability of the polity and the efficacyof royal power, return to demand it' (1932 [1950]:95).
to the rational-critical legitimation of the seCulardlmocratic The ideological discourse of modernity not only represses
order. Perhapsthe most sensuouslymemorable illustration of this and demonizesthe affectivebut also romantically fetishizesit
transition - even if it is mobilized to very different critical ends - particularly insofar as it can be located at the recedinghorizon of a
is Michel Foucault's famous opening diptyctr in Discipline & iuuug" disappearingworld,an anthropologicalother inthe glas-sic
Punish (1977 U9751),which seeksto convince us, by means of sense.One might say that what Michel-Rolph Trouillot (1991)
296I William
Mazzarella Affect:whatis it Goodfor?' 297

'In a crowd every

has calledanthropology's'savage slot'served,inter alia,to assist impulses and impressions.Gustave Le Bon:
of de-
the disavowal through which the discourseof modernity absolverl sentimentand acf is contagious'(2002[1895]:7). Composed
itself from grappling with its own affectivepolitics. individualizedbodies,the crowd is a kind of horrifyingly uncleact
In this regard, Emile Durkheim's The Elementary Forms ol body sociat,capableonly of the concretelogic of the saJag:mind:
Religious Life (1995[L912]) is a splendidly subversivetext. For .q cio*a thinks in imagis, and the imageitself immediately calls
starters Durkheim, quite consciouslywriting with and againsr up u t.ti.t of other imalges,having no logical connection with
the contemporaryfigure of the urban crowd, givesus something tiirt' (f S).The end resu'it,famously, is a'collective hallucination'
that in today'spolarizedtheoreticallandscapehasbecomealmost liOl,l masscognitivemeltdown that,invadesthe understanding
unimaginable: a social theory that is at once semiologicalanrl critical faculty' (18)' Thus savagesolidarity
"nd'pututyres"all judgment, but also
affect-based.Mulling over the proto-structuralist sign politics ,*pi"ut."us the very antinomy of reasoned
and the collectiveeffervescenceof the corroborree,he strivesto us ttt-"raw material of a new urban sociality'2
isolatethe constitutive functions of both the mediationsand the This was the outcome that Sigmund Freud would thematize
mania which so many of his contemporariescould only recog in his Group Psychology(1959[1921]),3when he argued
lhe affective bonds 1'love'; that were necessary for stable- socnl
nize as the regressiveaffinity betweendistant primitives and all-
too-proximate proletarian crowds. The Polynesiancategory ol relationships not only required a psychically problemati.c
limation of-basicdrives (the story of.ciuilization and its Discont-
manalends Durkheim a transhistorical,transcultural name for
the sacredpower of the social.But in stressingits volatile ,con- inii, tgeg I19501)but were also quite cfgarlyincompatible
tagiousnesslits amoral energy,Durkheim is also invoking the .t.ui tnin6.,g and soberjudgmenl. And in his remarkable
kind of nonsubjectivesensuousmimetic potential that seemed The Lauts ol l*itotion, Gabriel Tarde prefigured both Georg
to inform both the primitive communitas and the - precisely- simmel and walter Benjamin when he characterizedcity life
L singularmixture of anaesthesiaand hyperaesthesia' (1903: 85).
mindlessagitation of the crowd.
In the discourseof modernity, affect appearsas a socialphar- Tarde"moved from this diagnosisof the affectively conductive
urban crowd to a striking formula for social lif.e tout court as a
makon, at once constitutiveand corrosiveof life in common. In 'society is imita-
condition ofmimetic resonance:
the Durkheimian bounded clan, the harnessingof mana for pur- leneralized
posesof socialregenerationis a noisy,sweatybut relativelymech. and imitation is a kind of somnambulism'( 1903: 87,original
anical matter. But the organic complexity of industrial societies emphasis).
seemsto make the self-consciouslymodern deploymentof affect iypicaity the crowd, in its guiseas the paradigmaticpublicso-
much more complicated. The figure of the urban mob (when cial iorm oi -urs society,is either inert or hyperactive'In
caseit is eminently suggestible.a And in either case,analyststake
not simply sullen) is affectivelyeffervescent,to be sure,but also incommensurable,an em-
massaffect and reasonlo be radically
for that very reasonfrighteningly unstableand vulnerableto the it seems that this is the place
bur.urr-"nt to each other. oddly,
manipulationsof demagoguesand advertisersalike. In the closed cadences of Le Bon coincide
*h.r. the witheringly aristocratic
clan the energygeneratedby proximate bodies in motion, each contemporary neo-vitalists. In a sim-
*itt tt populism 6f our
mirroring the other's excitation, operatesas a principle of solid- " polarity (whicti leaves the ontological grounds
^ot of moral
arity and commitment. But in the open crowd thesevery same
tt. argumentuntouche-d)the crowd's formerly unacceptable
conditions herald excessand violence.Crowd agitation readsas emergentpuissance
unreason now reappearsas the productive, 'The mass man has no
regressive,driven by atavistic instincts at odds with the brittle
of ttt" multitude. Ortega y Gassetwrote
bonds of civilization. flesh'
ult.ntio" to sparefor rieaioning,he learns only in his own
Collectively comprising a howling feedback loop, the mem- not have guessed at the
bers of a crowd, quickly shedding their bourgeois individual- ltSfZltSSOl:'aS;.nut he could,I suspect,
..t.U*toty refunctioning to which a later generation of critics
ity, become mimetic, indiscriminately amplifying each others'
would submit these sentiments.s
298 ! William Mazzarella
Affect:Whatis it Goodfor? t 299

Comparativelyrare is the thinker who takes the ritual and/or pro-

professionalcoordination of affect - what one might call ,affect What I am suggestinghere,by contrast,is that any social
ject that is not i-por"a through force alone must be affective
management'- to be a central principle of social life and insti Massumi's
tutional survival.Elias Canetti capturesthis paradoxicalpursuit in order to be effeitive - i.e., iihas to speakboth of
'languages'concurrently: intensity aswell as.qualificatiol' lilefic
when he writes that the only way to create social institutions plausibility' Faced with the
that are durable yet suitably suffused with affective energy is ,"ronui." as well as propositional 'coherencei
g"";"rir"a requirementbf moreover, speech an-d
by means of 'a consciousslowing down of crowd events' (1984 incommensurable
Iocial practice must attempt to mediate these
[1960]:41). Without suchritual retardation,the crowd acceler as to make them appearto be mu-
ates inexorably towards orgasmic conflagration,the ,discharge ' ptu".t tntough each otheiso
lually entail"ia.1'nit is not just a requirement of overt discourses
that is at once its fulfillment and its undoing. In the houseof or- in the pragmatics of insti
oti"iiti-ution. Rather,one seet it too
ganizedreligion, conversely,'whatever the church has to show, is demands seek
tutloliuf practice, where abstract institutional
shownslowly' (1984[1960]:156,originalemphasis). And Michel reach for legalistic
affective resonance and affective appeals
Maffesoli notes,somewhat over-generally:'Any effervescenceis
structurallyfoundational.This is a basicsociologicalrule that did justification
-r +L:-,,--oo^r.,ahrc , l
not of course escapeDurkheim; the trick is to know how to use Onemightspeakofthisunresolvabledialecticasastructura
it is not in any sense a shortcoming. on
this effervescence, how to ritualizeit' (1996 [1983]: 142). flaw or a fiult line. But
'gap' is a condition of power's efficacy'if by ef-
The languageof ritual is the languageof power, insofar as it the contrary, this
enshrines the dramaturgical conventions of state nationalism ficacy we mean itsiapacity to harnessour attention' our
it might appearthat a.m herg
and officially sanctioned piety. But if we understand ritual as a m"ni u.ta our desire.I ,"il\r"that I
i"t"tii"e to the kind of psychologistic language which is bound'
speciesof social mediation, and institutional practicesas a form the affec-
of performativeritual, then we might also concludethat, contrary as I suglestedabove,to airive too late at the sceneof
be clear that I believe that affect
to the ideologicaldiscourseof rationalizedmodernity, the labile iive ntJlgut by now it should
to the mediations of such cat-
terrain of affect is not in fact external to bureaucratic process. is in fact neither wholly external
eft'ect of them' Further' the manner
Affect is not, then, so much a radical site of othemessto be policed .goti"t nor simply a disiursive -
or preservedbut rather a necessarymoment of any institutional iriwhich *e ate interpellatedin our lives ascitizens'consumers
- these
practice with aspirationsto public efficacy. und, i.r.r"uringly, consumer-citizens requiresthat we take
,subject'glc.) no.tonly asvitaiity-denying
If I venture to say that modernity is and has always been struc- 1,seiqtitizenl
turally affective,I want to be quite clear about what this might iJ""Trgi""i obfuscationsbut-asaffectively-imbued,compellingly
we are
mean. I am not merely suggestingthat the rationalizing, dis- flawed"socialfacts. When we are thus addressed'when
our identification always'failsi and that
enchanting institutions of modernity need to be understood offered such identities,
desire (a dialectical movement across
as vulnerable becausethere always remains a vital 'outside' or which we experienceas our
'other' that exceeds
their normalizing grasp.It has for example itt. g"p between affect and articulation) is always thwarted'
by now become quite routine to argue (not least with reference i"t iri"ir"ly this failure is the condition of our continued 'really
gage; Ii is not that public discourse misses who we
to colonial and postcolonialsettings)that the panoptic, capillary
ambition of modern governmentalityin fact leavesIargeswathes irJj tt ut its categoriesare always too general for our specific
.ip.ti.""" (indeeid,we only recognize- our'selves'in and through
of local lifeworlds relatively untouched and therefore external discourseaddressesus
ihft discursivemediation). Rather, public
to its sway. Unabsorbed,these densethickets of vernacular so- generality' One is
simultaneouslyon two levels of impersonal
ciality then perennially return as the uncanny repressedof the assemblage of citizen-
oUtt.u.t and pertains to the formal, legal
political order, unsettling and denaturing claims to rule by singular gut: it is equally
,trip utta civii society.The other gets us in the
sovereignreason. and solicits us as
i-p".to.tut but also shockingly intimate,
300 r WilliamMazzarella Affect:Whatis it Goodfor? | 301

embodiedmembersof a sensuoussocialorder.In relation to bottr invitesus to recuperatealienatedproperties'(2001 [1965]: 70)'

of theselevelsthe notion of the individual as bounded,volitional The comment needsto be historically situated.The generation
'subject' - while
ideologically crucial - must be taken as some of postwar French critical thinkers to which Deleuze belonged
thing of a strategiccompromise. grew up in a context where being radical meant subscribingto
Both the marketing of branded goods and electoral politics lhe twinned hegemonyof the FrenchCommunist Party and post-
demonstratethis principle at work. In either case,the official Hegelianexistential-phenomenological philosophy.The.extraor-
justification for the affect-intensiveFactor X (the candidate's dinirv influenceof Alexandre l(ojeve's 1930s lecturesat the Ecole
'charisma,'the of Splrll should not
brand'scompulsion)- that exceedsan instrumental. des Fiautes Etudes on The Phenomenotogy
rational appeal- is the need for a unique positioning in a field or be underestimated.6 The next generation'srebellion consequently
functionally interchangeablecommodities.But is it not the case involved a baby-with-the-bathwaterintellectual purge,in which
that we respond powerfully (with both excitement and alarml dialecticswas disastrouslyreduced to the Hegelian positiue
to being addressedat a level that exceedsour judicious deliber- dialectic - that is, the dialectic that is teleologicallyoriented to-
ation as rational choosers?In either case,we participate in a wards a future condition of fullness,in which all particulars are
double fetishism that projects this delicate tension bnto thc subsumedwithout significantremainderunder generalconcepts'
'inherent' properties The greatestcasualtyof this reduction was the possibility of im-
of the desired or dreadedobject as well as
onto the'ambivalent'motivationof the choosingsubject.I call this agining social and philosophical processesof mediation as non-
a fetishismsincethe dialectic in fact originatesin neither subject totatizing along the lines of, say, Theodor Adorno's negative
nor object,but is rather a structuralpropertyof the public cultural dialectici. For all the subtlety of its elaborations,the rebellion
fields in which subjectand object come to be for themselvesand bequeathedto the philosophies it spawned a crudely romantic
for each other, and in which, at the sametime, their apparently disfinction between,on the one side,all-encompassingform (whose
miraculous meeting as predestinedpartners (,made-fbr eacir totalizing ambition must be resisted)and, on the other side, the
other') is constantly staged. evanescentforms of affectiveand - it is often implied - popular
potentiality (which must be nurtured and celebrated).This re-
and Death ductive binary opposition between (in Deleuze and Guattari's
Attentive readerswill no doubt by now be troubled. How can to inform Massumian affect theory today in a way that under-
I start with Massumi and Deleuzeand now blithely be invoking cuts its considerablepower.
At points Massumi doesseemto acknowledgesomethinglike
such unabashedlyGermanic terms as mediation and dialectics,
a dialLctical relationship between emergenceand articulation,
especiallygiventhe extraordinary- I am temptedto sayphobic _
betweenaffectand qualification.For example,in the Introduction
level of vitriol that the Deleuzians reseroefor precisely such 'Possibility is back-
to Parables for the Virtual he notes that
concepts?In their highly influential work, Empire,Michael Hardt
formed from potential's unfolding. But once it is formed, it also
and Antonio Negri not only excoriate,the dialectic, that cursec
effectively feeds in' (2002:9). And yet Massumi continues to
dialectic!'(2000:377),butgo on to situatethemselvesin much the
insist upon a radical distinction between vital potential and the
samelineageasthat of Massumi,the neo-Nietzscheanmoment of
death-dealingwork of formal mediation. This is nowhere more
Frenchpoststructuralism(again,with the samevitaristforebears)
evident than when, in a slightly later passage,he seemsoddly
that refused what it took to be the totalizing ambition of the
keen to take at face value Hegel'stheory of subsumption at its
Hegelian dialectic in favour of ,refusal,resistance,violence.and
most megalomaniacal:
the positive affirmation of being' (ibid.: 57S).
Deleuze accusesthe dialectic of ,prestidigitationl figuring it If you apply a concept or systemof connection between con-
as a treacheroustemptation to totalize: 'Dialecticsis the art that cepts,it is the material you apply it to that undergoeschange,
302r William
Mazzarella Affect:whatis it Goodfor?t 303

much more markedly than do the concepts. The change is fails to provide a materialismof the mediation,an articulation of
imposed upon the material by the concept'i systematicity"antr the complex structuring of everydaylife' (2001: 163).
constitutesa becoming homologousof the material to th. ElsewhereI havearguedthat'On the one hand, reflexivesocial
system.This is all very grim. It has lessto do with ,more to th, entities(selves,societies,cultures)are fundamentallyconstituted
world'than 'more of the samelIt has lessto do with inventiorr (andnot just reconstituted)throughmediation.On the other hand,
than masteryand control (2002: U). as Derrida and other scholars suggest,this constitutive medi-
ation also always produces a fiction of premediatedexistence'
certainly the caricature of mediation-as-subsumptionas (Mazzarella 2004: 357).In other words, mediation is the social
sketchedhere is indeed very grim. And the saddestirony is thar condition of Lhe fantasy of immediation, of a social essence
this line of thinking, while ostensibly'critical,'actuallygrantstht, (vital and/or cultural) that is autonomousof and prior to social
would-be normalizing institutions of modern govein-mentalit.y processesof mediation.This is by no meansan obscureconsider-
preciselythe kind of totalizing efficacythat their-own ideological ation: our everyday'folk' senseof our apparentlygiven selvesand
discourseclaims.Ton the one hand, this position credits iisti our placesin the world depend on preciselysuch an illusion.
tutions with a seamlessness that they do nofenjoy. on the other - One might saythat the deepirony of mediationis that its consti-
and this is a crucial point-it fatally misidentifierih"ir power with tutive role in social life dependsupon its own masking.Michael
the possibility of such seamlessness. Urtimately, it uies this en Warner makes an analogouspoint when he arguesthat although
tirely reified vision of immaculate subsumption to lend plausi publics only arise through the circulation of texts, their social
bility to the singular integrity of its own vitil ,alternative.'For alr efficacydependson their seemingto exist prior to their textual
its claims to enablea ne., radical form of socio-culturalanalysis, constructicln:
sucha standpoint in practicepreventsus from understanditrgtn"
workings of any actually existing social institutions, becau"seir Public speechcontendswith the necessityof addressingits pub-
has alwaysalreadydismissedtheir mediatingpracticesas having lic as already existing real cannot work by frankly
compromised the potentialities that a more im-mediate vitaliti declaringits subjunctive-creativeproiect. Its successdepends
would embody. on the recognitionof participantsand their further circulatory
Much writing in this tradition presentsitself rather narcissis, activity,and peopledo not commonly recognizethemselvesas
tically as interveningin an 'insurrectionary'or'insurgent'manner virtual projections.They recognizethemselvesonly as already
into apparently authoritative realms of utterance ind practice. beingthe personsthey are addressedasbeing,and asalreadybe-
But rather than expendingvast amounts of energr recuperating longing to the world that is condensedin their discourse
the constitutiveinstability and indeterminacythat attends all (2002:82).
signification (asif it were really hidden, as if its ,revelation'might
enablesome momentous transformation),would it not be m6rc This illusion of pre-mediatedexistence- of immediation - is,
illuminating to explore how this indeterminacyactualryoperates then, at oncethe outcomeof mediationand the meansof its occlu-
in practice as a dynamic condition of our engagementwith the sion. It is also a fantasy sharedby the most reactionary political
categoriesof collectivelife? Ratherthan positingthe emergentas interests (those who would have us commit to the primacy of
the only vital hope againstthe dead hand of -Jdiation, wiy not race,blood, and nation) and, in a different register,the kind of
considerthe.possibilitythat mediationis at once perhapsthehost critical theory at issuein my discussionhere (where it becomes
fundamental and prod'ctive principle of all roiiul life precisely a principle of comprehensiverefusal, of perennial liberation)'
becauseit is necessarilyincomplete,unstable,and provisionati I am not of coursearguingthat thesetheoristsare crypto-fascists
Mark Poster'sobjectionto Maffesolideservesto be exiendedto the (although that kind of accusation is sometimes made from a
neo-vitaliststout court: 'His generousappreciationof ,,newtribalism,' Marxist-materialiststandpoint).But I do think that it is important
304 r WilliamMazzarella whatis it Goodfor?t 305

be to recognize
to note that the dream of immediation, far from being radical. the local, it seemsto me that our proiect should
and that
is in fact largely complicit with entirely mainstream currents irr ittuttnes" are in fact separabledomainsonly in discourse'
contemporarypublic culture -. all the way from the depoliticizing potiti"t in practice uhtuvt involves an ongoile ii1 n::^":l:;
'sive hnlte and
sensuoustheodicy of consumeristgratification to the neoliberirl meaiation between' on the one hand' claims to
to universal
will to allow the 'spontaneous'logic of the market to displacc io"ut.a identificationu.ri, on the other, an aspiration
the 'artificial' mediations of human institutions. -_Thisisnotsirnplytheresultoftheinabilityofuniversalizing
of lives as lived
WHvWr AneAr-lPeRveRse,
Eoceor abst.uctio.,sto contain the concreteparticularity
order and a forrn
in tt e wortd.8Ratherit is the outcomeof a social
MassPueLrcrrY ins.ists at once
oi lir,.r"uringly prevalent) governmentalitythat-
aid formal freedom. rhis insistence is
Maffesolinotesthe derivationof the term 'perverse'fromthe Latin attempt to paper
tit, itt turn, simply a contradictory or flawed
per uia ('by way of ). Perversion,then, would be the symptom ol social form
o.r"i tt contradictionsarising out of an impersonal
a detour through somethingexternalto ourselves.For Maffesoli, " Katner lt ls
that neverthelessrequiresour affectivecommitment'
committed as he is to recuperatinga 'proxemics'that woulcl dialectic by which
iii" iJrofogical formili zation of the negative
amelioratethe alienatedabstractionsof the rationalized society, publics' The crowd is
' we are all today constitutedas memberi of
perversionreallyis a pathologr- at besta'simulatedacquiescence - these people' these
alwaysat once a concrete,particular crowd
to the c<lmmandments of an intolerableorder (1996 [1988]:49). bodiesinthisplace-andaninfinitelyexpansiveformation.lnthat
But one might also think as follows: insofar as the perversc antitypeof the
r"..., tn" crowd is both theDoppelgangerandthe
detour is the mark of all mediation,and insofaras any notion ol figure
'identity' relies upon a mediated relation puUfii. And becauseit embodiesin a utopian-dystopiT
mass mobilization'
between two or morc itr" aynurni. tensionbetweenmassaffectand
terms,then it would appearthat we must all be perverse.Rathcr' il'ir;iil"rhaps the starting point for an adequatereading
than seekingto recuperatean emergentnon-alienatedstate,wc the politics of Public culture.
might instead productively pervert Massumi'sterminology,ancl 'Public culture' - the phrase itself is perverse'If publics-are'
acknowledgethat the condition of our becoming is indeed a as Warner argues,collectivitiesto which we in 'cul-
negatively dialectical one, in which we are always moving be vltuntarity, tlien what doesit meanto itxtapose'public'with
- hype -
tween immanence and qualification. tut.; u" iiio- of belonging that despitethe marketing
This is not just an existentialpredicament,but also the con would seemto be markid most stronglyby an involuntary'.even
is its simul
dition of our public cultural engagements.A distinctive featurc unconscious stamp? The puzzle of public address
is, Warner suggests' an
of modern democratic orders as well as of mass publicity is an taneous intimacy and anonymity' This
may resonate
uneasyoscillation betweenbounded categoriesof socio-cultural intimacy of strangers.A public communication
identification (by region,by class,by sex,by ethnicity) and the in 'Yet we know that it was addressednot
i; ; p"rronuf*uy'
moment we
finitely capaciousuniversal containersof modern self-hood (the eiactly io us, but to the strangerwe were until the
consumer,the citizen, the consumer-citizen).Partha Chatterjec tr"pp.""a to be addressedb! it (20.02:57)'
is tli,Lt it only finds its
(2004) has rightly critiqued Benedict Anderson's insistenceirr .oiiitio" of effectivepublic speech,then,
The Spectreof Comparisons(1998) on calling the 'bound serial- time to be aimed
rp""iti. target insofar'as it seemsat the same
ities' of closed, ethnic identity claims socially regressivewhilc TThebenefit in this practice is that it gives social re-
grantingprogressivestatusto the open,'unbound serialities'of ab- yet this open
i.uun." to private thought and life' (ibid': 58), and
strangers' is by the
stractlyinclusivenon-localizedcategorieslike citizenship.Rather mass publicityltnis solicitation of
than any reactivechampioning of the creativity or differenceol "Jg. "t
sametoken unnerving.
306 I William Mazzarella Affect:what is it Goodfor? t 307

Un-nerving?Perhapsnot exactlythat, after all. perhapsthinl, tosymbolizetransubstantiation.Inthismanner,theword.massa'that

by Christianity
ing affect and thinking the crowd in this connection allows us , enteredthat form of culturalhistoryaswasinfluenced
the unformed and the formed' and
different vantagepoint on the sensuouslyanonymousdimensi,r. hqJ u douUt. meaning,spanned
then, the divine spark that broughtthe
of public cultural communication.Maybe what is happeninghcrt. was thus redeemable.-since
has graduallybeen
is a doubling where the 'stranger'with whom we feet ourielv., utgi. massto life, or at leastset it in motion'
curiously aligned is not just the abstract figure of an unknou,' secularized(2000[1996]: 26)'
external other, but equally the impersonallyintimate domain .l JeanBaudrillardhaspropoundedaradicalizedversionofthisview.He
our affectivememory.If public communicationalwaysconveys,irs remarks:
of the political' nor good
a condition of its felicity,the odd sensationof neverquite hivirrg [The masses]are neither good conductors in general'
realizedits addressee, then perhapsthis is becauseits implicil conductorsof the social,nor goodconductorsof meaning
gt..Vtt i.g flows through them' everything magnetizes them' but
destinationis at once more innervatedand more abstractthar, a trace. They do not
diffuies thioughout them without leaving [...]
the 'subject'whosecoherentintentionalityis the preconditiorr from the outlying
radiate;on the contrary,they absorball radiation
for a liberally-imaginedcivic life. are inertia,
consteliationsof State,History,Culture,Meaning.They
the strength of the neutral (1985: 2)'
the strengthof inertia,
NOTES prone to electrical
Theoristsin a more vitalist tradition (while no less
have tended, conversely, to suggest that the energeticsof
hisuseof theword,conceptual,'
1. Specifying original and internal to the groups in question' and that
notes: cottectivelife are 'on high' (whether by deities
I intendthistermto be inclusive,thusnot makingthedistinctionbetwcerr the ideathat suchenergiesare iniectedfrom
'cognition'('ideas') 'affect' an interested ideological mystification'
and (,passions,)
that seemsto be a veryloc., o, d"-ugog.,es)is the-resultof
Hardt and Negri
sociocultural legacyof European, particularly(post)Enlightenmerr(. it, fo. initin.g both Ortegay Gassetin the 1930sand
,multitudes'- but for the formerthis term
discourseabout the mind, the first being equatedwith ultimatery seventyyearslaterwrite otihe
formalizablerepresentationality, the secondwith perturbationsin de,c.ib"salocusofinertiawhereasforthelatteritisthe|onsetorigoo|
organicphysiologicalpharmacologrand such.A group,sconcepts, uitut .n"tgy. Baudrillard'spositionis notablefor its
oilce sympathetic io the idea that mediation equalsdeath and
furthermore,are manifestedthrough any and all semioticarrange t e is at 'the masses''
unwilling to atiribute any originary energy to
mentsthroughwhich membersparticipatein events,not, of coursc.
contrast the rampant
just throughlanguageand language-like ,codes'(2004:622
n). - To be quite fair, even Le Bon appearsat times to
crowd favorably with the dead hand of bureaucraticreason,
2. lames Scott,in SeeingLihe A State,notesthat immigrantsto the ncw .r.igi"'r .f the
wherehe identifiesthe sinsof the latter as'irresponsibility'
modernistcity of Brasiliawere shockedto find a 'city without crowds' asin"thepassage
is no more oppressive desPoti-srn-
( 1 9 9 8 :i 2 5 ) . impersonalityiandperpetuity'There lhan
its;lf under this triple form' (2002 [1895] : 156)' Here'
3. It is worth noting that the group' of Freud'stitle is an infelicitous(but tf,at*tti"fr pretenti
quite deliberate)translationof the GermanMasse. LeBon,scadencesarereminiscentofthequasi-aristocraticNietzschean
4. Thereis an interestingquestionto be consideredhereaboutthe assumccl nostalgiaforaproudaffirmationofindividualbeingthatalsoinfuses
y Gasset('the State
origins of affectiveagitation.Most liberal bourgeoistheorists,largely suchliter criticsof the masssocietyas JoseOrtega
overbears society with its anti-vital supremacy' 1932 [1930]: l21l 19'
disdainfulof the crowd,tend to assumea nativepassivitywhich requl.",
(even attracts) an external infusion of energy.such is the thinkine ofcourse'thenmakesamorepopulistreturnintheworkofthel960s
elucidated,for instance,in Gertrud Koch's fascinatingspeculativc FrenchPost-structuralists'
etymologyof the 'mass': O.f<oi.u.'rHegelseminarranfromlgSstolgSgandwasadecisiveinflu-
'Mass'possibly on a whole generationof Frenchintellectuals,including
stemsfrom the Hebrew,mazzalas in ,matzoh'or un_ ",,".
Bataille,NlauriceMerleau-Ponty, facques Lacan' and Jean-Paul Sartre'
leavenedbread,and enteredGreek and Latin as the word denotins French ciitical philosophers - broldly speaking'
ihe next generation of
breaddoughor lumpsof dough.Theseoriginsare stiil to be sensedin the post_Jtructuralists - revoltedagainstthis teleologicalHegelianism
the theologicaldebate<lnthe materialnatureofthe breadusedin ritual but remainedlargelytied to Koieve'sreadingof the
308 I William Mazzarella Affect:what is it Goodforz tiog

Populat Mind'
Le Bon, Gustave.2002[1395].The Crowd:A Studyof the
7. rn a way, the effect is analogous to the manner
in which the anxi.rr.
discourse on the turbulent crowcr served to lend the Mineola, NY: Dover'
embattred figurt,r,r
London: Sage'
the calm, critical subject of public reason a coherence
that it othe^r.i,, [1988].TheTime of the Iribes'
Maffesoli,Michel. 1996 'Parables
might not have enjoyed. Brian. 2002. For the Virtual: Mouement' Affect'
8 Such, for instance, has been the tenor of many critiques
of Habernrrrs Sensation.Durham, NC: Duke University Press'
notion of the pubric sphere - namery,that in its radical Mazzare||a,William'2004..Culture,Mediation,Globalization,,Annual
abstraction (whiclr
is then equated with the naturalized habitus of middre
classwhite me r Reuiezrs of Anthropologt, 33 : 345-67'
it violates the embodied integrity of other lifeworrds (cathoun 'lnternet i-Ray: E-Governance,Transparency'and the
r99l 2006.
Robbins 1993). Politics of Immediation in India,,Public Cttlture 18(2):
Kluge' lgg3l]g72l The Public Sphereand
Negt, Oska. and Alexander
"-Eiwrii"re: proletarian
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