The Affect of Context

Pssst, hey, you over there, wanna see a trick?

Awesome! Good to hear that you accepted my request. However, I need to first walk you through a little background before getting everything started. This step is crucial, I promise. So please bear with me for the moment!

Around the 1900s, some men tried to build an industrial port near Flushing Creek, but the project was soon called off during World War I, while the filling of land using coal ashes and street sweepings, a major part of the port-building process, somehow continued along the way.

Gradually, small piles of ashes accumulated here and there, which eventually amounted to literally huge mountains of trashes dominating the area. Accompanied these ash giants were the unbearable reek and dust that would easily fill up your nostrils and mouth by gusts of wind. How big were these piles? You may wonder. Well, one of them grew as large as 100 feet—three of that would make a Statue of Liberty! What’s worse, coal ash was but one of the numerous members: barges full of animal manure docked nearby; swarms of flies humming frantically at the sight of such tasty cuisine; colonies of fat grey rats squeaking excitedly for their new home. Together this formed an almost ridiculous kingdom of trash, imposing on its helpless human residents physically suffocating and mentally haunting sensations, which I firmly believe must’ve been ten times worse than being trapped in a portable toilet in a mid-summer afternoon. (Speaking of Thing-Power…) People living in Queens were ruthlessly lived by these dirty, disgusting mishmash of industrial vomits. And this hell-like place called Corona Ash Dumps back then became the Flushing Meadows Corona Park today.


Aerial view of Flushing Bay and its densely packed furnaces





Feeling nauseous yet? Or just bored by my clumsy rendering of a life in 1900s Queens? Either way, I invite you to take a look at some of the photos taken in the Flushing Meadows Park, while keep in mind its notorious history.




Hopefully you felt slightly more stirred by this than you would otherwise without any introduction to its background. If you did, fantastic! My trick worked on you! If not, it’s also fine because I’ll go back and hone my skills. 🙂

The mechanism behind this was inspired by social theorist Brian Massumi in his seminal work The Autonomy of Affect, specifically as he explains the formation of affect and the inseparable role context plays in this process, “The body doesn’t just absorb pulses of discrete stimulations; it infolds contexts, it infolds volitions and cognitions that are nothing if not situated.” (30) Just as I’ve provided the context for you in the beginning, however briefly and simply, I hope that the detailed descriptions of the filthy Corona Ash Dumps would trigger inside you a basic understanding of and an anticipation for the environmental precarity that has long plagued the Flushing Meadows Park ever since the beginning of the last century. And without descriptions for the three photos above, it would be best if you could experience the first-hand, organic affect that impinges directly upon your body.

This is also one of the main sensations I wish my ecology website can get to people, that by browsing through each section, they gain a little more understanding of not only the human impact on our mother Earth, but also of the active vibrancy of trash itself, as well as other matters that are normally deemed “inanimate” and pushed down to the bottom of the hierarchy created and throughly believed by and only by human. “Vital Materiality can never be thrown away, for it continues its activities even as a discarded or unwanted commodity.” (13), as powerfully claimed by Jane Bennett. Now recall back to mind the disgusting Corona dump land, and look at the Meadows park today, doesn’t it seem like a fateful incarnation that is essentially led by human all along?



Works Cited

Bennett, Jane. “Vibrant Matter.” 2009, doi:10.1215/9780822391623.
Boys, Bowery. “The Corona Ash Dump: Brooklyn’s burden on Queens, a vivid literary inspiration and bleak, rat-Filled landscape.” The Bowery Boys: New York City History, 15 Jan. 2015,
Massumi, Brian. “The Autonomy of Affect.” Cultural Critique, no. 31, 1995, p. 83., doi:10.2307/1354446.
“Picture 4 | Seminar 3: Science & Technology in NYC.” Seminar 3 Science Technology in NYC,

~ by Lehan Zhang on February 28, 2018.

3 Responses to “The Affect of Context”

  1. Best overall and frankly, did an amazing job with producing affect!
    The entire time reading the blog post the image of the 1900s Queens stayed in my head, and when closing my eyes I could really picture what it would be like: to see a 100 feet large piles of trash surrounding me, feeling the ashes slowly pile up on my skin. I even got a tingly sense at my nostrils. Great choice of words to paint out the image in the readers head!

  2. Best overall- I like how you use a conversational language to guide us through the polluted area.

  3. Best affect: the way you used narrative and descriptive language and images to convey an affective experience was very evocative

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