Public Feelings: an Introduction to Affect Theory
Affects make and unmake us. In a classic definition, affect is “the capacity to affect and to be affected.” In contrast to emotion, which is often conceived of as a property of an individual body, affect describes feelings not produced exclusively at the site of any given person. Rather, it is generated through specific material conditions and sensed in dynamically relational ways. Influenced by psychoanalytic, Marxian, feminist, queer, and cultural theory, affect theory aims, in various ways, to understand our attachments to people, social experiences, historical events, and political possibilities. How can we understand affect, and why does it matter?
In this course, we will explore the meaning and significance of affect theory, reading works by Sara Ahmed, Lauren Berlant, Brian Massumi, Ann Cvetkovich, Eve Sedgwick, David Eng, Jose Muñoz, Jasbir Puar, and others. As we read from the affect theory canon, we will track alliances and disagreements around this concept; we will also get more granular. We will examine the ways that depression is as much a cultural and social phenomenon as an individual experience. We’ll inquire into how the conjunction of race and psychoanalysis allows for a reconsideration of melancholia. We’ll consider the critique of some theorists that question the adequacy of affect theory to conceptualize Black affective responses. We’ll consider ways we form attachments, or desires, that prevent us from flourishing. And we will attend to the ways that the boundaries of the body become permeable, affected, through accounts of toxicity and media technologies. In addressing our overarching questions, we will ask: In what ways does affect theory influence how we think about the body—its boundaries and its porosity? How does affect theory help us understand the public organization of feeling? What is the importance for affect theory in relation to politics? What are the links between affect and power? Against notions that feelings are private or personal, we will ask how affect connects and disconnects us to material realities such that we might re-imagine the social and political conditions that structure affective experiences.
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
May 12 — June 02, 2022
Please email us to be placed on the waiting list.