Friday 4 November 2011

On 'Affect' and 'Emotion' in Film and Media Studies

Image from Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992), a film explored by Tim Groves in 'Cinema/Affect/Writing'
Emotion is a phenomenon that, according to [Sergei] Eisenstein, "is completely identical with the primary phenomenon of cinema. [In cinema] movement is created out of two motionless cells. Here, a movement of the soul, i.e. emotion (from the Latin root motio = movement), is created out of the performance of a series of incidents." ([Towards a Theory of Montage] 145, emphasis in original). Properly structured as a series of uncompleted incidents, montage calls on us to finish the actions mentally, and for Eisenstein this internal movement of filling in the gaps is emotion, a movement of the soul. [Greg M. Smith, Moving Explosions: Metaphors of Emotion in Sergei Eisenstein's Writings', Quarterly Review of Film and Video 21.4 (October-November 2004) 303-315 citing Eisenstein, Towards a Theory of Montage. Trans. Michael Glenny. Ed. Michael Glenny and Richard Taylor. London: BFI Publishing, 1991; hyperlinks added]
[H]ow to write about specific, personal affective experiences of the cinema? [...]

It is difficult for me to articulate, but I was affected [in Unforgiven] by the conjunction of lighting, costuming, and the melancholy, homicidal figure of [Clint] Eastwood in the final shootout in Greely’s. The mise en scène of this confrontation repeats that of the night of Will’s beating at the hands of Sheriff Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman). The lack of contrast in lighting and the orange and brown colours of both the characters’ costumes and saloon setting cause the characters to merge into their surroundings. It is literally difficult to see what is happening. While William Munny and the Eastwood persona are constructed as unforgiven in this scene, somewhere in the gloom I found a metaphor for the ambivalence of their forgiveness across the entire film. As a result, I declined to judge this “notoriously vicious and intemperate” figure, as he is labelled in [the film]. Instead I forgave him. I saw his thinning hair and the wounds engraved on his face, and reached out to tend to them. Forgiveness was the punctum which I found in Unforgiven and which is already there in the text, if ambiguously. [...]

But I cannot write your cinema/sadness . . . [Tim Groves, 'Cinema/Affect/Writing', Senses of Cinema, February 2003 hyperlinks added]
Film Structure and the Emotion System is concerned with this emotion system's structure, rather than with particular emotions themselves. This is not a book about sadness or joy; instead it deals with the foundational structures that make such emotions possible. Culturally nuanced work on particular emotions certainly needs to be done, but we should make sure that we first understand the basic principles of how the emotion system is constructed. [Greg M. Smith, 'An Invitation to Feel', Film Structure and the Emotion System (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) hyperlinks added]
The elicitation of affect in the audience stands firmly at the core of the film-going experience, figuring into the poetics, aesthetics, rhetoric, and ideology of film viewing. If our goal is to understand how mainstream viewers experience films, if we want to explore the cultural role of movies, if we wish to expand our conception of the poetics of the cinema, then we cannot ignore the place of emotion elicitation and affective experience within film viewing. [Carl Plantinga, 'Disgusted at the Movies', Film Studies, Volume 8, Summer 2006 hyperlinks added]
In their work, [Torben] Grodal, [Greg M.] Smith, and [Carl] Plantinga all rely on a “downstream flow” of perception, cognition, emotional processing in narrative film. It is a uni-directional flow; the viewers see, they comprehend, they experience emotion. However, underlying all of their work are Silvan Tomkins’s foundational studies of affect from the 1960s. Tomkins’s analyses make possible a more complicated multi-directional understanding of affect [...]. Tomkins explored affect as located in the voice, skin, autonomic nervous system, hand, body, and most extensively, the face. Rather than perceive affect and emotion as developing outward from the inner organs as Henri Bergson, William James, or Carl Lange had suggested, Tomkins and his colleagues Carrol Izard and Paul Ekman focused mostly on the face as “an organ for the maximal transmission of information, to the self and to others” and concluded that “the information it transmits is largely concerned with affects.” This is the point on which narrative film studies has focused. [Randall Halle, 'Toward a Phenomenology of Emotion in Film: Michael Brynntrup and The Face of Gay Shame', MLN, Vol. 124, No. 3, April 2009 (German Issue), pp. 683-707; hyperlinks added]
AFFECT/AFFECTION. Neither word denotes a personal feeling (sentiment in Deleuze and Guattari). L’affect (Spinoza’s affectus) is an ability to affect and be affected. It is a prepersonal intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation or diminution in that body’s capacity to act. L’affection (Spinoza’s affection) is each such state considered as an encounter between the affected body and a second, affecting, body …  [Brian Massumi, 'Introduction' to Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus, xvi, cited by Eric Shouse, 'Feeling, Emotion, Affect', M/C Journal, 8.6, 2005]
Films and music videos, like other media works, are machines for generating affect, and for capitalising upon, or extracting value from, this affect. As such, they are not ideological superstructures, as an older sort of Marxist criticism would have it. Rather, they lie at the very heart of social production, circulation and distribution. They generate subjectivity and they play a crucial role in the valorisation of capital. Just as the old Hollywood continuity editing system was an integral part of the Fordist mode of production, so the editing methods and formal devices of digital video and film belong directly to the computing-and-information-technology infrastructure of contemporary neoliberal finance. [...]
     What does it mean to describe such processes in terms of affect? Here I follow Brian Massumi ([Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham: Duke University Press] 2002, 23-45) in differentiating between affect and emotion. For Massumi, affect is primary, non-conscious, asubjective or presubjective, asignifying, unqualified and intensive; while emotion is derivative, conscious, qualified and meaningful, a ‘content’ that can be attributed to an already-constituted subject. Emotion is affect captured by a subject, or tamed and reduced to the extent that it becomes commensurate with that subject. Subjects are overwhelmed and traversed by affect, but they have or possess their own emotions. [
Steven Shaviro, 'Post-Cinematic Affect: On Grace Jones, Boarding Gate and Southland Tales', Film-Philosophy, 14.1, 2010]
There is not one ‘affect’, nor even one economy, ecosystem or ecology of affect(s); just as there is not one reading of one text. Post-cinematic effects, yes; Shaviro makes an important observation. But affects? I’m not so sure why or how they would be different from everything that postmodern theorists have long been saying about postmodernity. The ultimate question, to me, is whether approaching the world in terms of affect offers anything specific for cultural theory and the understanding of culture and politics. [Paul Bowman, 'Post-Cinematic Effects', In Media Res Theme Week on Steven Shaviro's Post-Cinematic Affect (August 29 - Sept. 2, 2011)]
It is almost too easy to speak of affect—as if, by using this term, one had cleansed all the embarrassment and messiness from the experience. To use “affect” in the sense defined by Deleuze and Guattari, that is, as non-conscious and non-linguistic experience of intensity, appears not to be useful if one wants to explore the overlap of rationality and emotionality, as well as insist on the textual and self-reflexive—that is, self-augmenting and self-attenuating—character of emotionality. [Katrin Pahl, 'Emotionality: A Brief Introduction', Modern Language Notes, Volume 124, Number 3, April 2009 (German Issue)]
Today, Film Studies For Free makes one of its regular, little, curatorial contributions to a particular Film Studies theoretical debate. This time, it's the turn of an exploration of some much-fought-over keywords pertaining to film and media theories of feelings and related bodily and psychological experiences and behaviours - most notably, the terms 'Affect' and 'Emotion'.

The 'Affective Turn' is a rich, if at times rather complex or befuddling, vein of film studies thinking, with an array of approaches ranging from the historical-political (e.g. von Moltke's article), to the cognitivist (for example, see Carl Plantinga and Greg M. Smith) through the psychoanalytic (for example, see Groves' essay) and the (post-)Deleuzo-Guattarian (for a good, clear introduction, read Anna Powell's article).

As always, in the below list of links to openly accessible online studies, the ever pluralist FSFF doesn't come down on any one theoretical side. But this collection does go out especially to all those who have been curious about, or confused and dumbfounded by, the undoubted buzzword quality, particularly, of 'affect' in Film and Media Studies in the last ten to fifteen years.
        [Contents: Anu Koivunen, Preface: The Affective Turn?; Sara Ahmed, Communities that feel: Intensity, Difference and Attachment; Ana Paula Baltazar, Architecture as Interface: Forming and Informing Spaces and Subjects; Jennifer Lyon Bell, Character and Cognition in Modern Pornography; Rosemary Betterton, Spaces of Memory: Photographic Practices of Home and Exile; Joanna Bouldin, The Body, Animation and The Real: Race, Reality and the Rotoscope in Betty Boop; Hannu Eerikäinen, Love Your Prosthesis Like Yourself: ‘Sex’, Text and the Body in Cyber Discourse; Taru Elfving, The Girl in Space-time Encounters with and within Eija-liisa Ahtila’s Video Installations; Amy Herzog, Affectivity, Becoming, and the Cinematic Event: Gilles Deleuze and the Futures of Feminist Film Theory; Katarina Jungar and Elina Oinas, Inventing “African Solutions”, HIV Prevention and Medical Media; Sanna Karkulehto, Effects and Affects of Queer as Folk; Martta Kaukonen, ”I Must Reveal a Shocking Secret” Transvestites in American Talk Shows; Jane Kilby, Tracking Shock: Some Thoughts on TV, Trauma, Testimony; Emmy Kurjenpuu, Women’s Magazines Meet Feminist Philosophy; Minna Lahti, “I Thought I Would Become a Millionaire” – Desire and Disillusionment in Silicon Valley, California; Mari-Elina Laukkanen, Ladies for Sale. The Finnish Press as a Profiteer; Ilmari Leppihalme, Do Muscles Have a Gender? A Female Subject Building her Body in the Film Pumping Iron II: The Women; Justine Lloyd and Lesley Johnson, The Three Faces of Eve:the Post-war Housewife, Melodrama and Home; Tapio Mäkelä, Re-reading Digitality through Scientific Discourses of Cybernetics: Fantasies of Disembodied Users and Embodied Computers; Norie Neumark, E/motional Machines: Esprit de Corps; Kaarina Nikunen, Dangerous Emotions? Finnish Television Fans and Sensibilities of Fandom; Sanna Ojajärvi, Visual Acts - Choreography of Touches, Glances and Movements between Hosts and Assistants on Television; Susanna Paasonen, Best Wives are Artefacts? Popular Cybernetics and Robot Women in the 1970s; Megan D. Pincus, Must They Be Famous Vaginas? The Effect and Affect of Celebrity on The Vagina Monologues and V-Day 2001; Liina Puustinen, Gender for Sale, Advertising Design as Technologies of Gender; Leena-Maija Rossi, Why Do I Love and Hate the Sugarfolks in Syruptown? Studying the Visual Production of Heteronormativity in Television Commercials; Christine Ross, Depression and Video Art at the Turn of the Millennium: The Work Of Diana Thater; Janne Rovio, The Vintage Van Damme Look; Moira Sullivan, Lesbographic Pornography; Rebecca Sullivan, Biotechnological Embodiment: Gender and Scientific Anxiety in Horror Films; Heidi Tikka, Missing the Point - Situated User Experience and the Materiality of Interaction; Julia Turnock, A Cataclysm of Carnage, Nausea, and Death: Saving Private Ryan and Bodily Engagement; Pasi Väliaho, An Audiovisual Brain: Towards a Digital Image of Thought in Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma; Hans Wessels, The Positioning of Lou Reed from a Profeminist Perspective; Jennifer Willet, Imagining the Self]

                          1 comment:

                          ilovethatfilm said...

                          Was just reading 'Passionate Views' in the library yesterday. Very useful book for my PhD thesis.