Affect and Intensity

Walking back on the intersection of Woodside Ave. and 58th Street, I noticed something different. It was a Friday afternoon at approximately 3:00PM, when parents are ready to pick up their kids from school or buy groceries. Standing on the intersection, I heard many sounds: cars honking, kids laughing, pedestrians walking, and much more. Unlike the previous time when I went to the Intersection, I can actually sense the affect this time.

Brian Massumi unpacks affect with the term intensity, which he described as the “autonomic reactions most directly manifested in the skin––at the surface of the body, at its interface with things” (25) and qualification, the “depth reactions” (25) even though they “also involve autonomic functions such as heartbeat and breathing” (25). I had arrived the intersection at a busy hour, and there were more cars and buses passing by at the same time than when I last went. The visuals that I saw, as Massumi explained, emphasized the primacy of affect (24). However, I had stood on the intersection and seen many buses and cars passing by this narrow road as the bikers bike along with them during my past visits as well. Therefore, I wonder what it was that made me feel the affect stronger than ever this time, as Massumi stated, “the strength or duration of an image’s effect is not logically connected to the content in any straightforward way” (24).

Common scenario that I have witnessed also in my past visits where bikers, big buses, and cars drove alongside each other

After staying at the crossroad for a few more minutes and finally walking down a few blocks, I noticed what was different about the intersection in comparison to the ones a few blocks down that has a bike lane. It’s the sound. Massumi had described “matter-of-factness dampens intensity” (25), but with “a few phrases that punctuated the narrative line with qualifications of the emotional content” (25), the intensity can increase. In the case of my ecology the busy street with cars rushing through would be the “matter-of-factness” that I see and interpret, yet in combination with the amplified sound of cars honking consistently, I felt my heartbeat fastening, generating fear, an emotion that was not generated (or at least not as intensely) during my past visits. I even saw a driver throwing his water bottle toward the car in front of it because the car wasn’t moving because of the red light and he wanted to make a turn. The mixture of sound of the frantic car honking, water bottle hitting the car, and the driver shouting together alongside with the visuals I see of the cars fighting against each other intensifies the affect that was damp initially.

Cars cramming up, trying to go to different directions all at once
More cars and buses driving on the narrow street

The street with the bike lane, on the other hand, was very quiet. Although there were also many cars, they were not fighting to turn at the same time. I felt more safe walking on this street, although it was a mere two blocks away from the dangerous intersection.

The more peaceful crossroad with a bike lane a few blocks from my site

It took me long to realize this affect, but now that I’ve Massumi’s concept of affect have helped me understand my site more. The fact that I was able to compare and contrast the affect of two intersections a few blocks away from one another and notice such big difference further proves Massumi’s points on intensity and qualifications that are in relation to the level of affect that can be felt.

-Patricia Chen

~ by pc2439 on October 12, 2019.

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