The Power of Disruption

by: Justina Avent

Let me start with a story. I took the subway home late one Saturday night. I had just come from treating my childhood best friend to a Broadway show for her birthday, and we were riding the 4 back to my apartment in Crown Heights. It was around midnight, the train was comfortably packed with people exhausted from whatever long day they just had. There had been one older Latino man walking up and down the car abrasively begging riders for spare change. After being rejected by everyone in the car, he became visibly aggravated. Shaking his head and clicking his tongue in disapproval, he stomped towards the exit of the car as the train came to an abrupt stop. The sudden halt sent him stumbling forward, almost falling. After regaining balance he shoots an offended look at a young white teenager in headphones, who had been in his path. The teen takes a hit to his chest. “Ayo man, are you serious? What is your problem? How disrespectful, trying to trip a 60 year old. Who raised you?! Don’t be fooled. This 60 year will whoop your ass!” The teen who had been minding his business the whole train ride, took full responsibility and apologized profusely so as not to escalate the altercation. The verbal abuse occurred for only 30 seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. The whole subway car looked on with concern, at the potential violent outbreak, and amongst one another. We were all paralyzed. Our breaths held in suspension. 

What each individual passenger was feeling in that moment is unknown. Some could have felt fear, others may have been unamused. I can never empirically know what emotions were running everyone because there was no conversation, no talking. Just feeling, just sensation. Me, my friend, and those 20 something fellow riders found ourselves in a shared affective environment. One of shock caused by interruption. A moment that shifted all of our attention, and affected us first unconsciously, then consciously. For that brief 30 second interval, the “perception of one’s own vitality” was felt. The way my heart rate increased, chest tightened, and the hairs on my arms and necks rose, was evidence of the bodily component to what Deleuze and Guatarri refer to as a microperception. Before I could register that incident as an event in my life story, before I could turn to my friend and express what I felt, or decide what I should do next, I was consumed by this instant of shock, a bracing myself of what’s to come. Brian Massumi dives deep into this phenomenon in his philosophical writings on affect. According to Massumi, these microperceptual moments of intensity are incipient, in which a plethora of past actions and expressions (tendencies) are reactivated, but only one is registered consciously and actualized (30). 

Although I’m studying three different two-fare zones, they all share this same affective environment: public transportation. Many of my observations, conversations, and documentation work will be done here. As I continue to immerse myself in this space and interrogate less-fortunate people about their experience, I must brace myself for more image-expression events like this, characterized by disruption and threat. In my case, for many locals, I will be the disruptor. My perhaps invasive presence in their community, and insistent confrontation will come as a microperceptual shock to them. How will my perceived outsider presence be received? Will our interaction take the path of acceptance, understanding, and allyship, or of rejection, patronization, and antagonism, or some other various potential capacity?

In this field of complex inbracings, in which you aren’t sure how an event will play out, one aspect we can use to our advantage is language. My isolated subway incident is now qualified as sociolinguistic content. It is something I can articulate and publish in this blog post. As Massumi notes, language enacts “a redundancy of resonation that plays up or amplifies, and a redundancy of signification that plays out or linearizes” (26). In these states of intensity, saying the right thing can help promote resonance and allyship. For me, that will come in the form of validating the inequality they are facing, and recognizing that while my research project will likely not lead to material change, it is enacting the principle of giving marginalized voices and stories the platform they deserve. Our democracy is built on making noise. Disruption is the key to progress.

Works Cited

Massumi, Brian. “The Autonomy of Affect.” Cultural Critique 31 (1995): 83-109. Web.

~ by jca428 on October 6, 2019.

2 Responses to “The Power of Disruption”

  1. Your post is the one I found most affective. The story strongly demonstrated the process of how you got impinged by the momentary affect in that crowed subway space. It vividly communicated affect as the sensation, the incipient, of those “microperceptual moments”.

  2. A very powerful narration to open this piece. You have a real talent with tone and your story really carried me away while also staying rooted in the meat and meaning of the piece. This was the most affective piece to me.

Comments are closed.