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From Affect to Mutuality, Openness to Rational Co-expression: Massumi to Spinoza

Massumi writes,

Affects are virtual synesthetic perspectives anchored in (functionally limited by) the actually existing, particular things the embody them. The autonomy of affect is its participation in the virtual. Its autonomy is its openness. Affect is autonomous to the degree to which it escapes confinement in the particular body whose vitality, or potential for interaction, it is. Formed, qualified, situated perceptions and cognitions fullfilling functions of actual connection or blockage are the capture and closure of affect.

Parables for the Virtual, 35

I’m entirely with him up until the final sentence. In fact, this is a very strong expression of both Spinoza’s position and my own. But there is slippage in the last contrast with functionality, or “actual connection” because Massumi wants to set up his dichotomous concretization, one in which symbolic or semiotic functional forms are actualized, and to some degree impoverished expressions of the virtual. Affects are a kind of subterranean vivacity which liquidly pours beneath the surface of actualized and incrusted reifications. Well…the part that is missing is that affection is part of the very functionality of the “actual connection”. This is brought out in Spinoza’s prized “imitation of the affects” contribution, which expresses the wholly imaginary resources of mutuality which help anchor rationality itself (and, I would argue, are indispensible for the creations of an objectivity in the first place). This is to say that the trans-personal (or as Massumi would have it, “trans-functional”, “trans-actual connection”) powers of affects, make up the very dimensionality of functionality itself. It is they that express the edge-of-chaos modulations which are both aesthetic and functionally distributed. Another way of saying this is that the “openness” of affects (which communicates its mutuality to other forms), is itself functional and actualizing of connection. There is no disjunction here. You can see how this operates in Spinoza’s theory of the social, which has both a rational path (a collusion of self-interest and liberation which subverts the “self” itself), and an affective/imaginary path, which circuits with speed and directness a mutuality of world and sympathetic coexistence. These two fundamentally resonate (to use Massumi’s terms), though they may be contingently at odds. Because they are not disjunct, it is not that the rational (functional) feeds back into the affective so much as that the affective is always embodying, across bodies, the possibilities for the rational.

I do believe that there are semiotic reasons why functionality is limited, something I expressed under the term Conjoined Semiosis (the way in which functionalities necessarily cut across our cognitive boundaries, and tug with tidal force, both inside and outside), but it is precisely where Massumi loses the functional, semiotic force of affective re-bodying, the way that “mind” is operant through affect, and also where a degree-of-being conception of power is shrugged off, that his solution grows somewhat confused, or I should say, imposed. Perhaps he corrects this sense of mine in later parts or essays, but that is at least where I stand right now.

The Sewn Stitch of Logical Stoppage: Massumi on Terminus

The difference between actual stopping that occurs when a continuity exhausts itself and reaches a terminus and the logical stopping that goes over what then appears its path, in order to cut it into segments separated by plottable points, is not at great as it might seem at first. The retrospective ordering enables precise operations to be inserted along the way, in anticipation of a repetition of the movement – the possibility that it will come again. If the movement does not reoccur, it can be captured. It comes to a different end.

Parables on the Virtual, 10

Here Massumi is really cool. The passage is in the context where reflexive feedback of positionality (definitionality) loops back into potential, in his story of ontogenesis. I do resist this picture of time and action, but will bracket it and allow it to travel with me. Here though is a compelling homology along the registers of terminus. There is the ending that is actual, for instance we might assume something like “death”, and there is the terminus of logical capture (which he goes onto exemplify by “space”). Both are kinds of endings. The analogy thrusts us forward onto interesting topology, but how far are we to take this (we don’t want to ontologize it into a force, I would want to say, a force of “death” or extensionality)?

If I take a Spinozist reading of these two terminal relations, the actual termination is a break down of a consistent ratio of parts in communication. The parts fall out of orbit, so to speak, they disperse. Spinoza would deny that the continuity “exhausts” itself, rather he reads it as that it has been intercepted by a stronger force (or forces), encountered a dis-ressonance, a dis-ruption. Where it gets interesting is that the definitional capture or “end” that result in the nominalization of possibility, is that any nominal relation MUST be considered as part of the environment of the actualizing ratio that is being described. In a certain sense, the living processes that are being terminated in a description (which for Spinoza are a lasting ratio of parts in communication), are not simply fed back into by those descriptions, but are also participated in, with those descriptions. When we describe, logically, this is not just a sharing of freeze-frame death, but also a lived cross-body communication and mutuality. (This is an enfleshed melding, which can really occur via affect, as much via idea.) It is for this reason that I resist the reflexive loop as essential, the stationed turn that wants to make of logic a sewing stitch.

It of course may be that Massami will move in this direction with his treatment of affect, but as a Spinozist of affect I have to say that when describing, chopping up, framing, etc, these actions themselves must be understood and affirmations of my own ontological status, and thus must be understood not simply and terminus relations in reflection. Part of this involves the radical reconsideration of what terminus is. Indeed species can become extinct, but as well they can be (or will be) re-activated through technological means. The genetic line of my body, its cells, does end in the possibilities, but also advocatable is the continuance (or permanence) of its varying combinations.

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