Monday, September 12, 2005

Thoughts on Affect, or, feelings in the form of a thought

I’m way late in getting back to this, but Jordan was kind of enough to respond to my request for a little explication of his ideas about affect, or perhaps in keeping with his spirit, his feelings on affect. Here’s what he says, if you didn’t catch it in the comment box:
     Basically? affect spreads. All art transmits affect; the language arts get affect over      with very little interference.      Narrative is a masking agent, an affect-delivery retarder - it can extend the affect      buzz, and it definitely makes it easier for the affect to be transmitted from one      recipient to the next, but it also degrades the feeling, makes it so less feeling comes      through.     I understand why it's so difficult for socialized individuals to communicate feelings.      Feelings sell. And I'd hate to be any part of fomenting a dogma. I'm no dogma      fomenter.      But as Paul Valery said, poetry isn't made of ideas (or feelings), it's made of words.

I’m willing to admit I’ve been too often getting on the wrong bus—the one marked Whatever, Man—and lo!, thinking that the ultimate goal all along was the production of IDEAS, or thoughts or even pretty pictures, when ideas are, in fact, overrated, and well, pay shit, and are less productive and useful than feelings, which people can employ in manners various and sundry with little claim to my responsibility thereto, even if this is, touché, also an idea. I see now that boredom is my enemy and yours as much as or more than stupidity or bad faith. Boredom can lead to an experience of others’ misery as entertainment. I see this so very clearly, and I haven’t been bored, really, in months. This increases my capacity for outrage. But those feeling almost always come attached, in the language arts, to some kind of semantics, to grammars of me and you and then and now and no and yes, and so I feel the need to pay attention to that, too. I’m not saying that Jordan doesn’t do this; he’s one of my favorite reviewers, and I really appreciate the way he reads. (Aside: I’m very, very sad that I missed his show in Ithaca—with devastatingly brilliant Ange Mlinko— and that I’ll have to wait until it comes to CA or finds a home on TV or the web).

My confusion? I’m not sure I understand how the term “affect” really describes the device or reading experience that thwarts the omnipresent boredom and emptiness and sterility of life. Affect seems to me to miss the important intellectual component to the poems I value, poems that allow the reader a space in which she can play, by thinking and feeling her way through a landscape sufficiently various and complicated that one can’t step into the same feeling twice. Feelings sell ideas right? And it’s hard to get those ideas out of the poem; people might even hide their ideas inside of your poem.

Affect, also, seems to suggest something singular, like boo-hoo or ha-ha or yeah, when in fact the poems I enjoy the most create these strange, grainy, chunky affect-scapes of boo-hoo yeah! and ouch ha-ha! and whee oh shit!  My suspicion is that we’re bumping up against Eliot’s claim about the Cartesian splitting of thoughts and feelings after the Metaphysicals. At best, to think is to feel, to feel is to think, and the term for this is something like spirit. There are thoughts behind them feelings, and feelings behind them thoughts, or at least that’s the movie they’re showing on the psychoanalytic ceilings.  Poetry? Some kind of feelingthought--which Jordan may of may not mean by the term affect—which outpaces our ability to describe it, and perhaps invents the conditions and feelings necessary for its experience.

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1 comment:

jane said...

Eliot's thoughts on the Cartesian split are extended into the category of social relations by the rather elegant aphorism of Adorno from Minima Moralia to the effect that the division of thought and feeling in aesthetics is merely a replication of the logic of the division of labor.

But I think the slogan you are looking for is, perhaps, "Boredom is counter-revolutionary!" Baudelaire knew it, but I think the Sits said it.