Qualified Intensity

“Paradox” is probably one of the best words to explain humanity, nature, and life in general. Our universe and planet appear thanks to the Big Bang, which was totally chaotic in its nature, but gave rise to well-structured organisms whose processes always seek to reach a perfect balance. Our cities are filled with thousands of different people, cultures, and customs, but we do everything to constrain them with organized infrastructure and social norms. We are surrounded by hundreds of unique objects and phenomena, and constantly try to structuralize our experience with language and words. All these actions can be explained by, but at the same time are a part of something that is called an “affect”.

In his article “The Autonomy of Affect” Brian Massumi refers to this power as an “intensity”. He claims that it exists in the “gap between content and effect”, and rather exists in virtual reality (24). In his opinion, it is always a paradox, which connects things that are usually perceived to be totally separate into a whole, and thus the reception of it is often very contradictory to what is believed to be normal.

Sunset Park itself seems to be the embodiment of this idea of constant contradiction, and you can feel these intensities on totally different levels: from overall impression to peculiar particularities. During this visit I had a clear plan – I decided to go to Maimonides Medical Center to see what options people have when they need to leave this facility. I walked around, noticed some bus stops, even access a ride one, and was about to leave this place, when I noticed a sofa standing next to a garbage tank and a car parked next to them, and suddenly felt sorrow. Many may not understand why I experienced this, but this only proves that intensity is not bound to content. Seeing all these objects together, at that particular moment of time made me experience this feeling, even though their connotations in real world have nothing to do with it. But that particular effect could be equated to sorrow. This was just my “qualified intensity” that occurred in me when I encountered these bodies (28).

The “hows” and “whys” of experience are not universal. This particularity made me think about the differences between those who can get into the car any minute and leave, and those who can only patiently wait. This paradox produced it in me. However, it does not mean that this intensity is experienced by everyone in the same way. Affects act on almost an infinite amount of levels such as volition and cognition, expectation and suspense, past and future, and ,hence, have an ability to produce totally different “activities of the mind” in different people (32). For instance, there was a large group of people standing just across the road to me. I saw some of them turning around and looking at the sofa and car long enough for this almost instantaneous autonomous intensity to reach them. I expected them to be preoccupied, worried, just how as I thought they would feel when remembering about the absence of accessible subway. However, I didn’t see any change on their faces, it was like they didn’t notice anything. Maybe due to the fact that they were speaking, that their attention was concentrated on each other, or because they did not have the same view on this “composition” as I did, but the same intensity that affected me so deeply did not seem to have any affect on any levels for them. They did not see Sunset Park through the same prism as I did that day, and there is no way I could find out what they felt.

However, intensities do not limit to particularities, but rather have an ability to affect global flows such as economics, politics, and infrastructure. New paradoxes exert their energies, producing new effects within these bodies. In the same way, affects created in Sunset Park have changed its destiny. As Massumi discusses, no matter how weird it may sound, “power is in interruption” (40). When you travel through the neighborhood, very often calm residential streets with parked prams and wheelchairs alternate with very vibrant, full of families with small children, which flow into peaceful roads again. This contrast creates almost physical, but still imaginary “vibrations” – a product of intensity, which makes it so unique. This energy is so powerful, that I believe it can influence processes that happen around it. And even though the voices of the residents demanding accessible transportation might not always be heard, maybe the affect this neighborhood exerts will serve as the best advocate.

Works cited:


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

~ by vorontsovas on October 12, 2019.