Frames /sing


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.

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

  1. Mark Crosby December 24, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Thanks for these close readings, Kevin. I don’t have Massumi’s book to follow along, so I’ve been using the excellent set of interviews that Paul B pointed to at the online Oct.2009 INFLEXIONS; eg, “Of Microperception and Politics”.

    My naive sense is that there’s a phenomenological temptation, when initially becoming critical of the stratified web in which we find ourself, to bracket some of the more macro aspects of conjoined semiosis (microfascisms swirling like snowflakes in tune to some Christmas musak) in order to focus on the general characteristics of memory and creativity for individuals-in-themselves. Of course, this only goes so far, and may lead one astray (the NOUGHTIES weren’t nice ; )

    But, reading on to Brian and Erin’s interview with Isabelle Stengers, in the same INFLEXIONS, “History Through the Middle: Between Macro and Mesopolitics” helps bring me back to a ‘proper’ level for conjoined semiosis. Stengers, here, is rather critical of the earlier focus on ‘micropolitics’ and ‘microperception’, in favor of a “Society of Molecules” in the mesosphere, which she discusses in her “last book”, LA SORCELLERIE CAPITALISTE: PRATIQUES DE DESENVOUTEMENT (CAPITALIST SORCERY: COUNTER-SPELLS — and I’m inclined to look, also, at some of Arnold Mindell’s incantations, as recently recommended by Amarilla..)

    Anyway, maybe the Stengers interview would be a helpful holiday for bringing the earlier work of Massumi up to speed. If you recall my earlier comment about an ontology of resistors, capacitors, and conductors, Stengers gives a pretty good account of the semiosis involved (“participation in both these sense is indissociable from the induction of a capacity for resistance” 😉

    For more insight into the electronic ontology I refer to above, check out the July 2009 NEW SCIENTIST article on “Memristor Minds: The Future of Artificial Intelligence”, which I found at

    Best wishes for the new year.. Mark

  2. kvond December 24, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Thanks for the references Mark, I shall have to check them out. I like this:

    “My naive sense is that there’s a phenomenological temptation, when initially becoming critical of the stratified web in which we find ourself, to bracket some of the more macro aspects of conjoined semiosis”

    The trouble I am having with Massumi, and I suspect it will continue, is that he intentional spatializes the philosophical dynamice of transcendence/immanence (my next post quote should bring this out), and as such cuts off a serious path of prescriptive development. I think that this is related to the phenomenological temptation you mention (not to mention the desire to make each person in a social system an epicenter of freedom and “difference”). I see the equation much more diversely, and fancy that human (and all objects, per se) as cut through with tides and currents and transpiercive effects, all of which erode the kind of essentialization Massumi finds to be proficient for his project. In a word, his project is still TOO “optical” (which is another wya of saying “idealist”).

    And happy, happy holidays to you too.

  3. kvond December 24, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    p.s. Mark, these Massumi titles are available on AAAARG.ORG :

    “Chaos in the Total Field of Vision” (ch. 6, Parables for the Virtual)
    Fear (The Spectrum Said)
    Parables For The Virtual (excerpt – The Bleed)
    Shock To Thought: Expression After Deleuze and Guattari
    Stelarc: The Evolutionary Alchemy of Reason
    The Autonomy of Affect

    What I have covered so far is the first essay on the book, “The Autonomy of Affect”. “The Bleed” will be next, and I suspect the title on Chaos theory will have some emphasis.

    AAAARG.ORG is very easy to join, and painless. Much to be found there.

  4. Paul Bains December 25, 2009 at 12:56 am

    Hopefully Capitalist Sorcery: breaking the spell’ will be out next year (trans Andy Goffey).

    Let’s hope we all make it thru with a little joy…

    • Mark Crosby December 25, 2009 at 1:09 pm

      Greetings Paul, I’m muddling around this morning trying to unwrap the distinction between Massumi’s translation, COUNTER-SPELLS, and the one you give, BREAKING THE SPELL.

      My reading of the Stengers interview yesterday, on my commute into the heart of the beast, was interrupted by the loopy bus driver managing to get almost everyone singing along to THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS (I did not sing, but was the only one to clap at the end, which had a nearly miraculous timing to it ; )

      And many thanks for the original pointer to INFLEXIONS.. Mark

      • kvond December 25, 2009 at 1:18 pm

        I love the conceptual rub between “breaking the spell” and “counter-spells”. There is a lot in there.

        And Mark, I love your bus ride.

  5. Paul Bains December 25, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    I noticed that at Inflexions they are translating as ‘counter-spells’. Andy’s current trans is ‘breaking the spell.’
    The French is: ‘pratiques de desenvoutement.’

    Both trans work. Envoutement denotes bewitchment…or enchantment.
    Thus literally ‘practices of debewitchment’ but that is a bit clumsy – so breaking the spell. ‘Counter spells also works because the book is about the fact that we need protective stategies – something that sorcery was v. aware of. Of course as you understand the book is not a list of ‘spells’ but an analysis of capitalism as a paralysing system (like sorcery can be). You are given ‘infernal alternatives’ like ‘if you demand a payrise there will be unemployment and the factory will close.’ So ‘sorcery’ is not a metaphor but a v. good description of the hold cap has on us…

    The book is about counter stragegies following the slogan from Seattle ‘Another world is possible’ – rather than resignation……they do use the term ‘breaking the spell’ – ‘rompre le charme’.

    So there….
    Party pooper – you should have sung along.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: