Rage. Fear. Shame. Disgust. Love. Anxiety. Depression. Joy.
Why affect, why now? Fredric Jameson has claimed that we live in a time of “waning affect,” yet a growing number of scholars working within and across various disciplines have challenged this view. Especially since 9/11 and the ensuing “war on terror,” affect has emerged as a key site of political mobilization and critical concern. Scholars such as Sianne Ngai (Ugly Feelings) in literary/cultural studies and Antonio Damasio (The Feeling of What Happens) in neuroscience are convinced that affect has anything but waned in our time and are now producing a formidable body of knowledge on a subject that was once considered too nebulous for serious study.
This Unit seminar approaches “affect theory” as an open and exciting interdisciplinary field—one that traverses both the humanities and the sciences. We will examine several questions related to affect theory and its rise. First and foremost, what is affect? How is it different from emotion, feeling, or passion? How does affect work across disciplines? Can we study affect historically? How are certain affects racialized or gendered? How do affects and affect-laden signs flow among bodies, human and non-human? How might one theorize a politics of terror and other affects? How do affects lend force to ideas and ideologies, to causes such as the anti-globalization movement or the recent surge of nationalist sentiment in the U.S. and other countries? Finally, what does affect bring to the study of theory and criticism?
In conjunction with a Unit colloquium panel on “Affect Across the Disciplines” and a Unit-sponsored graduate student conference “Thinking Affect: Memory, Cognition, Language” (September 28-29), this seminar aims to create a space for dialogue among a wide range of disciplines, to address methodological concerns raised by affect theory, and to explore the political implications of affect.
Texts will be chosen from authors such as Sara Ahmed, Lauren Berlant, Teresa Brennan, Antonio Damasio, Lawrence Grossberg, Brian Massumi, Sianne Ngai, Phoebe Sengers, Eve Sedgwick, Ann Laura Stoler, and Silvan Tomkins. Other texts will be added depending on the interests of the group.
All meetings will take place on Monday evenings from 8:00 – 10:00 pm at the IPRH Building, 805 W. Pennsylvania, Urbana unless otherwise noted.
September 10: Introducing Affect Theory
Grossberg, Lawrence. "Ch. 2: Mapping popular culture." We gotta get ou of this place: popular conservatism and postmodern culture. 1992. 69-87.
Brian Massumi, “The Autonomy of Affect,” Parables for the Virtual (23-45, plus notes)
Ngai, Sianne. "Introduction." Ugly feelings. 2005. 1-37.
Tuesday, September 18, 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm, Place TBA: Special Session with Lauren Berlant ( University of Chicago)
Berlant, Lauren. "Cruel optimism." Differences: a journal of feminist cultural studies 17.3 (2006).
Berlant, Lauren. "Love, a queer feeling." Homosexuality psychoanalysis. Dean, Tim; Lane, Christopher (eds). U of Chicago Press, 2001. 432-451.
September 24: Affect and Cognition
Boehner, Kirsten, [et.al.]. "Affect: from information to interaction." Proceedings of the 4th decennial conference on Critical computing: between sense and sensibility. ACM Press, 2005. 59-68.
Antonio Damassio,“Introduction” and “Emotions and Feelings,” Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (xi-xix, 127-64, 269-70, 282-5)
Dror, Otniel E.. "Counting the affects: discoursing in numbers." Social Research 68.2 (Summer 2001): 357-378.
Teresa Brennan, “The New Paradigm,” The Transmission of Affect (74-96, 182-88)
Blakeslee, Sandra. "Scientists Induce Out-of-Body Sensation." New York Times . (August 23, 2007): online.
Thinking Affect: Memory, Language, and Cognition (Graduate Student Conference)
October 15: Shame, Fear, and the Politics of Affect
Ahmed, Sarah. "Ch. 5: Shame Before Others." The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Routledge, 2004. 101-121.
Limon, John. "The Shame of Abu Ghraib." Critical Inquiry 33.3 (2007): 543-572.
Sedgewick, Eve. "Ch. 3: Shame in the Cybernetic Fold: Reading Silvan Tomkins." Touching Feelings.Duke University Press, 2003. 94-121.
Leys, Ruth. "Ch. 4: Shame Now." From Guilt to Shame: Auschwitz and After. Princeton University Press, 2007. 123-155.
Tomkins, Silvan. "Ch. 1: What Are Affects?." Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tompkins Reader.Sedgewick, Eve and Adam Frank (eds.). Duke University Press, 1995. 33-74. .
November 12: Historicizing Affect
Thrailkill, Jane F.. "Introduction." Affecting Fictions: Mind, body, and Emotion in American Literary Realism. Harvard University Press, 2007. 1-9.
Thrailkill, Jane F.. "Ch. 1: The Zest, the Tingle, the Excitement of Reality." Affecting Fictions: Mind, body, and Emotion in American Literary Realism. Harvard University Press, 2007. 18-53.
Reddy, William. "Sentimentalism and Its Erasure: The Role of Emotions oin the Era of the French Revolution." Journal of Modern History 72.1 (2000: March): 109-152.
Airlie, Stuart. "The History of Emotions and Emotional History." Early Medieval Europe 10. (2001): 243-250.
Garrison, Mary. "The Study of Emotions in Early Eedieval History: Some Starting Points." Early Medieval Europe 10. (2001): 243-250.
Rowenwein, Barbara H.. "Worrying about Emotions in History." American Historical Review 107.3 (2002: June): 821-845.
Coviello, Peter. "Agonizing Affection: Affect and Nation in Early America." Early American Literature37.3 (2002): 439-468.
Coviello, Peter. "Intimacy and Affliction: DuBois, Race, and Psychoanalysis." MLQ: Modern Language Quarterly 64.1 (March 2003): 1-32.
December 3: Affect Across the Disciplines: A Panel Discussion
8:00 pm, Levis Faculty Center
Samantha Frost, Political Science and Gender and Women's Studies
Justine Murison, English
Gabriel Solis, Music
Yasemin Yildiz, German
Why affect, why now? Fredric Jameson has claimed that we live in a time of “waning affect,” yet a growing number of scholars working within and across various disciplines have challenged this view. Especially since 9/11 and the ensuing “war on terror,” affect, emotion, and feeling have emerged as key sites of critical concern and political mobilization. In this panel discussion, an interdisciplinary group of scholars will initiate a debate about the theory and politics of affect. Drawing on their own projects and disciplinary formations, the speakers will address such questions as: What is affect? How is it different from emotion, feeling, or passion? What role does affect play in individual research projects? How does affect work in and across disciplines? Can we study affect historically? What are the politics of affect? How are certain affects racialized or gendered? How do affects lend force to ideas and ideologies, to causes such as the anti-globalization movement or the recent surge of nationalist sentiment in the U.S. and other countries? What does affect bring to the study of theory and criticism?
A large collection of critical readings on affect can be found on e-reserves under Unit 2007. As background for this panel, we recommend especially the short, helpful essay by Eric Shouse, “Feeling, Emotion, Affect.” This essay is available on e-reserves and online at: