Affective Other Journeys

Dear reader, let me take you on a walk through Northern Harlem. We get off on the 135th Street stop of the 3 train and get up to a street. It is beautiful outside, so we decide to walk a couple of blocks passing by the 19th century blocks, wide streets and a newly-built high school. We enjoy a quiet and tranquil atmosphere of the neighborhood, stop by a big grocery store to grab food and finally reach our destination, a big apartment building on the 147th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. Just before we enter the courtyard, we say hi to a local assemblyman Al Taylor whose office is located inside the building. Before we even know it, “half a second earlier” like Brian Massumi writes in The Autonomy of Affect, we are filled with positive qualified intensity; we do not feel it on an emotional level, but our body is aware of it (Massumi 28, 29).

Another time we are coming back late in the night so we get off at a closer stop, 145th Street which is just a couple of blocks away from our destination. We take a nice stroll past a playground, the Mother Clara Hale bus depot and maybe even stop by the Harlem River. This time, the intensity of an outside environment is impeded by a smell of garbage on the 147th Street and annoyingly shaped pavement we are walking on – so the affect changes and we try to get home as soon as possible.

The other time we intentionally decide to take the 1 train to get on the other side of Manhattan instead, the area of Harlem that is closer to the Hudson River. We get off at the 137th Street City College station and it is absolutely beautiful. We walk through the campus, quickly cross a street full of traffic to reach one of the most tranquil and affect-full places in the area, St. Nicholas Park. It is quiet yet vibrant, and after spending some time there we get out on the other side, just a couple blocks away from where we live. It is the end of a workday on Thursday, so the neighborhood is uncharacteristically full of people rushing places.

Now, reader, let me take you on an entirely different journey. We get off at the 135th Street, but we have to spend an extra 5 minutes in this hot and therefore smelly station because we are waiting for an elevator. The elevator comes but it is hot and smelly too, and no matter how many times we have complained, nobody has cleaned or repaired it so that it comes faster. Why do we get off on the stop that is 12 blocks away from our destination, you might ask? Well, this is the only station in the immediate area where there is an elevator at all, so now be prepared for a treat: 30 minutes of waiting for our bus to come. We get on a bus but we have to confront a driver for not leaning the bus even though he is obliged to do so by law. When we finally reach our stop, we find Al Taylor’s office closed. We get understandably angry because we were hoping to file a complaint with him about bus drivers in the neighborhood. Across the road, we see his political campaign for reelection. We hope to see that happen, actually. Despite all the negative affect we are charged with when we have to move through the neighborhood simply to reach our own home, he is able to get some work in the neighborhood done and creates a positive mindset in the area by being outside of his office all day long talking to the residents and giving instructions to local police officers. With the lack of pre-determined morale, or if you want, ideology, he becomes an affective center of the area (Massumi 44).

By the way, we have just successfully completed the journey with our friend Cynthia who is recovering from a foot injury and is therefore forced to significantly alter her way of life.

Another time we get off at the 145th Street Station and we feel disenchanted right away. We are not supposed to be using the station anyway but we cannot help it because it is too late and buses are not running anymore. We fight our way up the staircase that is too steep and has been deemed completely inaccessible. A beautiful mural on the building of the Mother Clara Hale bus depot gives us “chills” – bodily affect Massumi discusses in his work in detail – but then, when connected to our emotional feedback, it is layered with another level of affect. It is full of remorse at how buses function in the city; for example, a bus in Lower Manhattan did not come so we did not get on the 3 train on time to hop on a local Harlem bus afterwards. But none of this matters now as we have to brave our way through the 147th street that is swarmed with affects that fill our bodies. Every single pavement crack is there to remind us that surrounding ecology is unsafe for us, and we can trip over the second we lose our attention. This road is independent of our perception but it gets transformed with our experience and fear (Massumi 38). Talking about attention – as if the journey was not hard enough for us already, our brain gets infiltrated with the sounds of an NYPD floodlight. Presumably there to scare drug dealers away, it creates a living hell for anyone with the sound sensitivity as this ultrasound is extremely affective.

Not quite as successfully, we have managed to get home with our friend Christina who has been battling her invisible disability for decades.

Do we ever get off at the 137th Street Station? I am not so sure. But let us try since it has some of the best affects out there. City College tries to simplify our task with all the ramps and accessible entrances and exits but we still struggle through its premises as most of them were put there simply to fit the government-provided requirements. Many ramps are closed for repairs and were not really constructed to get us from start to finish. There is literally no way for us to get into a highly-praised St. Nicholas Park as it has at least a 100 of stairs running through it. Not to worry though – we have ordered an Access-A-Ride 2 days beforehand and there is a stop by the College. It comes 40 minutes late so we get to our destination, the Elementary School on the Western side of the neighborhood, late.

However, we still have helped our friend Carlos who has been bound to a wheelchair for 5 years to come to pick his daughter up from school.

 

What I am getting here at is how different all the affects that body does (or does not) go through are. Per Massumi’s theory, intensity is primary to emotion and is asocial (24, 30). Therefore, affects of beautiful nature, vibrancy of human interactions on the street or a positive morale a local assemblyman brings with his direct action as well as charisma do not go anywhere when our journey interacts with various assemblages of immobility scattered around visible and invisible parts of Harlem (Bennett 4). However, just as words or effects can be layered on images of a snowman or a speaking politician, I believe that my example illustrates that it extends to the plain of reality itself (23-24, 44). Consisting of one affect layered on top of the other, it generates positive, negative or complex intensities. I think that the best way to think about this is a physical theory of constructive and destructive interferences of waves – something I want to further explore in my further theory-making process.

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Illustration to the concept of affects Massumi writes about and I illustrate with my examples.

— By Sasha

Works Cited:

  1. Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2010.
  2. Massumi, Brian. “The Autonomy of Affect.” Parables of the Virtual. Duke University Press, 2002.
  3. “Does Interference Take Place Only In Waves Parallel To Each Other?”. Physics Stack Exchange, 2019, https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/107286/does-interference-take-place-only-in-waves-parallel-to-each-other.

~ by Sasha Solovyeva on October 12, 2019.

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