Blog post #2: Affects as Origins

“Theoretical moves aimed at ending Man end up making human culture the measure and meaning of all things in a kind of unfettered anthropomorphism precluding” (Massumi 39). When I rambled in Sunset Park, with the objective to approach and investigate my precarity, I found it was almost impossible to sever myself from the automatic process of theorizing perceptions in a symbolic way and understanding them in a culturally constructed discourse. Affects are, as Massumi illustrated, “unqualified. As such, it is not ownable or recognizable and thus resistant to critique” (Massumi 28). While Bennett argues that human and nonhuman are both vibrant in their ways to provoke affects, Massumi emphasizes on a defined, transient instant and also our system to perceive and process it. I was not able to always intentionally disrupt the continuity of my projection of ideologies on what I encountered, however, there were a few moments that the “intensity/effect” (Massumi 25) was recognizable upon reflection as another operating dimension before these moments were actualized.


With a DSLR, people often stared at me on the street in Sunset Park. Residents here are sensitive to cameras with lenses, especially vendors because a lot of them are undocumented immigrants and this automatic actualization is inevitable and even accelerated as a result of ICE raids back in July since agents were using a database of images to target people. As I was walking on 7th Ave, where a large Chinese market locates, people looked at me suspiciously; some of them even passed through and then looked back, trying to figure out my intentions. This affect of “fear” generated by the camera, at the moment when people see it, acknowledge its existence, and finally recognize it as a threat that may compromise their security, is reciprocal, with me always being conscious when receiving such attention in the crowd. Even though I was covering my lens with the camera on the side of my body, a vendor was still able to spot me in the crowd, yelling at me “do not take any photo here,” a materialization then transmitted “from one actualization to another and across them all” (Massumi 42). Compared to the Hispanic community, the Asian community is less targeted as Priest Lv, the Chinese Priest in Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, told me. A lot of Asian immigrants stay here because of religious repression and these people also suffer from gentrification and disenfranchisement happening in Sunset Park. The church, therefore, provides both mental support and also assistance to help them go through the process to acquire legal status. 



When Daniel saw me, the first question he asked me is “who are you taking photos for? FBI?” Daniel has his jewelry stand at 5th Ave and 53rd street. Talking about racial diversity in Sunset Park as a veteran and a licensed vendor, he’s conscious about what was happening on immigrants back in July. “Aliens” is the word he used to describe those undocumented immigrants, with a negative connotation even though his attitude is not entirely hostile. “They do not have documents and you can do nothing about it no matter how long you’ve been living here. It is written in the law and you have to follow the law.” It was the moment that he used the word “aliens” that provoked an instant feeling of pricking, a disruption that shifts me away from the affect established through our conversation about his daily life and the “small garden” he has next to his stand — a square meter he has under a roadside tree where he plants tomatoes and  avocados as his avocation. This process of “induction” (Massumi 42) which triggers a qualification, also alienation, in my consciousness.


People perceive what is happening in this community differently based on their ideologies and discourses: for Daniel, he thinks it is necessary to implement the “law” so ICE has to deport immigrants without legal status; this thought also takes his individual emotion into consideration because he told me that it was unfair because undocumented immigrants do not have to pay tax whereas he has to as a licensed vendor. On the other hand, Dennis Flores, the co-founder of El Grito de Sunset Park, a non-profit organization that aims at resisting disenfranchisement, thinks it is important to build an infrastructure within the community to protect its residents from the ICE force. The organization is able to use the affect generated by devices as a form of resistance to confront ICE and also police harassment in Sunset Park through recording what happened on immigrants and also people from minority groups. As Massumi illustrates, “social constructivism easily leads to a cultural solipsism analogous to subjectivist interpretation of quantum mechanics” (Massumi 39). Although it was hard to grasp the half-second affect when I explore my ecology, this idea helps me establish a way of thinking: to pay attention to my sensations in an environment that constituted by active matters and also to conciliate ideas when confronting difference and biases.



Work Cited

Massumi, Brian. “The Autonomy of Affect.” Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, Duke University Press, 2002, pp. 23–46.

~ by Jingrong Qian on October 6, 2019.

2 Responses to “Blog post #2: Affects as Origins”

  1. I was stuck between most engaging and most informative here but I already used most engaging. That being said this also has beneficial informative aspects such as further contextualizing your ecology with the help of real individuals and contrasting narratives, such as Daniel’s use of the word alien. Really nice.

  2. Most informative: again, I loved the form of this piece and how you use a physical journey through space and the people you meet as a route to guide us through your thoughts/the meanings of the readings as well.

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