Beginning the research process

Very briefly, and a bit later than I’d like: this is just a reminder that all students should post very brief (like between one and three sentences) of statements of interest for final research projects. The point is not for the idea to be good (yet), but for it to exist, in a small and tentative way, in writing. Please do so not later than 11:59pm on Friday.

Considering courses next semester

Registration next semester is fast upon us, and the Associate Chair of the department, Lisa Maruca, has asked me to recommend to you ENG5830: Introduction to Technical and Professional Communication, which is part of our technical communication curriculum. In fact, I do encourage all English majors in literary and media studies to take at least one of these courses, as a way of working on (or at least beginning the thought of) skills transfer between the namby-pamby world of humanistic thinking (about feelings, no less!), and writing in a professional world. I don’t know what Jared has in store next semester (although he’s great!), but I do know that when Donnie Sackay teaches the course, one of the assignments involves writing instructions on how to tie a bow tie. Which is both awesome, really difficult, and an amazing exercise in honing the clarity and precision of your prose.

I also encourage students to consider taking Chera Kee’s ENG5070: Asian Cinema course. And those of you fascinated by affect, I don’t know what he’s planning as a subtopic, but Jonathan Flatley is teaching under the ENG5450: Modern American Literature number; affect theorist he sometimes is, his class will likely resonate with what we have been studying this semester.

Finally, I will be teaching a graduate-level course under ENG7006: Media Theory, titled Media Theory/Media Practice. If any of you think you might want continue working with me, while getting a solid foundation in media theory while learning the basics of computer programming in a humanistic setting, talk to me about it. I’m happy to entertain the idea of waiving you into the course. The description is here.


Check your emails! I just sent an email about O’Reilly’s Mountain (that Hodge talks about) to y’all via MailChimp. It includes information on how to see the thing. I highly recommend that you do.

Because the answer is always *more reading*…

If you’re looking for some clarification on the Berlant piece we read for last time, here’s a piece by the rather more accessible Rebecca Solnit that reprises many of the themes Berlant writes about in “Starved.”

Solnit: “Society’s recipes for fulfillment cause a great deal of unhappiness, both in those who are stigmatized for being unable or unwilling to carry them out and in those who obey but don’t find happiness. Of course there are people with very standard-issue lives who are very happy. I know some of them, just as I know very happy childless and celibate monks, priests, and abbesses, gay divorcees, and everything in between.”

Affect Theory Lecture Notes

These are, more or less, the notes from which I lectured yesterday. They may not be hugely helpful if you weren’t there, perhaps, since we talked about some things that aren’t indicated here. But they might give some structure and insight into the affect theory swamp we’re wading through. I’ve tried to indicate where what actually happened in the classroom diverges from what I’ve put here.

—Flatley: Nobody agrees on these things; we just know we want to talk about feelings. Affective Mapping, p. 12: “Where emotion suggests something that happens inside and tends toward outward expression, affect indicates something relational and transformative.” (Also, you asked if I might provide a PDF of the glossary from Affective Mapping. The internet has one here. This includes both the brief introduction and the glossary treating affect, emotion, mood, and structure of feeling. You may or may not wish to skip the intro.)

—Weak theory v. strong theory: Sedwick on “strong theory” from “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading,” pp. 133–26. (Esp. weak theory must be effective to remain weak; strong theory can take over the world by being ineffective.)

—Sedgwick herself is a champion of weak theory. I describe Massumi as a strong theorist. Both are dissatisfied with structural accounts.

—This dissatisfaction with structure is an animating, perhaps the animating, concern of “affect theory.” I offered a long excursus on [post]structuralism that I had not quite planned. In a nutshell, and from this perspective, structuralism and poststructuralism name the posture and conviction that an analysis of x (whatever x may be) will eventually get you to the real story, whether this be Marxism’s class antagonism or psychoanalysis’s Oedipus complex. Structuralism is the conviction that everything is determined by the operation of a structure which is hidden from ordinary, phenomenal perception.

—Affect theory notices that the actual texture of life must be abstracted away to arrive at an account which discovers structure at work everywhere. Affect is, at an abstract level, simply that which cannot be accounted for by structure, what must be discarded on the way to a structural account. It is the feeling of living, the texture of the ordinary.

—For Massumi, “the stakes are the new”: if everything that mattered arose as the operation of structure, nothing new would ever happen. Thus, affect is where the new arises. This is politically important for Massumi because otherwise, there’s no resource of novelty available to challenge the operation of structure. Affect is potential, potential to become otherwise—at both an individual and collective level.

—For Sedgwick, the stakes are related, but for her the problem is also that you’ll miss the life you’re living, the ways people have of living through things, and you’ll also end up missing or foreclosing the actual ways people do live that’s in excess of structural determinations.

[Here, I ended up talking about our methods in the class, inspired by affect theory. But in the lecture, I planned this material for the end; I’ll leave it at the end here.]

—Some schematic notes about what affect means for Massumi:

• Affect is prepersonal.
• It does not belong to you.
• You cannot experience it.
• It circulates between and among bodies.
• Emotions are the “capture” of affect by the personal.
• Aesthetic texts, though, are (in Gilles Deleuze’s parlance) “blocs of affect,” which can then, stemming from an aesthetic encounter, circulate through the bodies with which it comes into contact. They are affects without persons.
• Networks act as intensifiers and circulators and amplifiers and modulators and controllers of affect.

—Example: p. 115 of Grusin’s “Affective Life of Media” on cellphones. I was going to talk about Grusin’s description of the cellphone conversation, but we ended up comparing Franzen’s terrible strong/paranoid account of cellphone use—there’s a single reason people are attached to phones, and that’s fear—to Tomkins’s amazing practices of description from “Shame in the Cybernetic Fold,” the block quotes on pp. 499–500.

—What does this mean for how we move forward, now that we’re turning away from the abstract theorizing that helps us orient our questions, and actually bringing our questions to some aesthetic texts? How are we to read a novel like Super Sad True Love Story?

—Effectively, affect theory of the weak kind that Sedgwick presents explains something in a way that is “little better than mere description”—but, nevertheless, a little better. It means sitting with the specificity and detail of something, how it feels, how it operates. In Sedgwick’s version, this is emphatically about our ordinary: the demand is to develop modes of attention and practices of thinking that work on our ordinary, which, in our work together here, means an ordinary that is saturated by, and attuned with, network technology and network form.

—One version of this a-little-better-than-description is actually the novelistic or memoiristic description of things—feelings, networks—that we find in our aesthetic texts.

—As  far as our networks + feelings agenda goes, here are some items that should orient your reading as we move into the novel-reading phase of the course:

• Attention to the details of the technology it imagines and figures.
• Attention to how affect circulates in the book: between whom? by what means? with what effects?
• Attention to what interferes with the transmission of affect across networks. When do things break? What breaks them? When does affect become intense?
• And, of course, we are always paying attention to form and its limits: What exceeds representation in the novels? How does the novel’s form deal with or respond to that limit of form? How are networks figured? How are feelings? How do they exceed our grasp?

Some programming notes

Today’s announcements post comes to you in four parts—please read to the end:

First, apologies on failing with the affect theory post. I will deliver it as a lecture today.

Second, it has come to my attention that there are two blogs that didn’t make it onto the list of feeds for the class, when we got Tiny Tiny RSS up and running. So, at your earliest convenience, please add the following two feeds into your Tiny Tiny RSS:

(To add only two feeds, the fastest way to do it is probably to open the Actions menu in the top right, and click “Subscribe to feed…” That will bring up a dialog box where you can copy and paste each of the feeds into it. Below where you can paste the URLs in, there’s a “Add to category” dropdown; you may wish to add them to whatever category you have set up for the class. Or you could use the batch subscribe process.)

Third, I’m just letting you know that, since we’re at the end of week 5, you can expect to receive grades cumulative to today either tomorrow or Monday. I’ll send you each an email.

Fourth, and finally, I have noticed that some of you have a lot of built up comments that may need approving. Next time you log into, please take some time to approve any pending comments from classmates. Thanks!