Exploring Affect and Its Resonances

When I attempt to capture images in Sheepshead Bay, I find myself caught between a variety of different narratives I could choose to tell. How do I want to portray this place? Do I want to capture the bustling seafront restaurant, or the vacant corner lot under demolition? Do I capture the charm of the old bungalow, or train my lens only on its hints of rot and decay? The person holding the camera wields the power to build a sort of “truth.” These images speak volumes and it is important to be conscious of the stories they tell. 

In “The Autonomy of Affect,” Brian Massumi writes, “The strength or duration of an image’s effect is not logically connected to the content in any straightforward way,” and that, “this strength or duration of the image’s effect could be called its intensity” (Massumi 24). From this, it initially seems like the intensity of an image means something along the lines of how it makes the viewer feel. But it gets a little more complicated than this.

Mural, October 2019.

Massumi goes on to say that intensity is “associated with nonlinear processes: resonation and feedback that momentarily suspend the linear progress of the narrative present from past to future” (Massumi 26). He equates intensity to affect, writing, “Affect is most often loosely used as a synonym for emotion. But one of the clearest lessons of this first story is that emotion and affect—if affect is intensity—follow different logics and pertain to different orders” (Massumi 27). Rather, affect/intensity does not simply describe the phenomenon of a certain image being “sad,” “upsetting,” or “happy.” The difference is that, while emotion is “intensity owned and recognized,” affect “is not ownable or recognizable” (Massumi 28). Massumi defines affect as the “critical point shadowing every image/expression event” (Massumi 33). Affect is not just the emotions captured in the image, and it is not tied to the image’s content. It is something that exists in the event of the image’s capture, and is found in how the different forces creating the scene and image resonate and reverberate off of each other. 

Mural and a man, October 2019.

Of affect, Massumi writes, “its autonomy is its openness” (Massumi 35). This recalled for me an earlier line in the text that I had marked: “Stimulation turns inward, is folded into the body, except that there is no inside for it to be in, because the body is radically open, absorbing impulses quicker than they can be perceived, and because the entire vibratory event is unconscious, out of mind” (Massumi 29). This idea of openness between different entities is deeply fascinating to me. The idea that every entity has a certain energy, and that these energies are dispersed throughout the environment and reverberate off of each other to build something like affect, feels at once baffling and obvious. 

I found it interesting that Massumi often refers to things traditionally considered to be binaries: “mind and body,” “past and future,” “action and reaction,” “happiness and sadness,” and “passivity and activity” (Massumi 33). When I am thinking about Sheepshead Bay and making media in the space, I find I am often drawn to ideas of binaries. I titled my last blog post “ruin and resilience.” There are development and decay existing next door to each other. There is the comfort of the small neighborhood feel opposed by the danger of climate change. There is the beauty of the sea opposed by the threat of a hurricane. However, Massumi writes that these are not binaries, but “resonating levels.” Therefore, they are not as simple and singular as they seem, and can play off each other to deepen affect. Going forward, I will try to perceive my space less through binaries and more through resonance and reverberations of affect that pervade the space. 

Front doors, October 2019.

–Taylor Stout

Works Cited:

Massumi, Brian. “The Autonomy of Affect.” Parables of the Virtual. Duke University Press, 2002. 

~ by taylorstoutmcc on October 12, 2019.