The Autonomy of Affect at Newtown Creek – The Virtual and its Intensity

The sharpness of the clear blue sky reflecting off the water conceals the toxicity below the surface of the water, in the form of decades of flagrant pollution. The site of millions of gallons of petroleum spilled, slowly recovering via water treatment thanks to its classification as a superfund site, and access to federal funding. The most damaging incident of oil spillage, referencing Exxon-Mobil’s spill of millions of gallons into the waterway has mostly been recovered in the processing of water treatment in the creek. However, that’s overlooking the intensity of the effects that sort of environmental disruption produced, how quickly it occurred, and neglecting all other incidents of contributing to the toxicity that is the state of Newtown Creek. 

In The Autonomy of Affect, Massumi unpacks the concept of the virtual, describing it as something that happens too quickly to have happened actually. Despite the precious mention of a grotesque spill in the waterway, adequate measures have been taken to remove petroleum from the creek and groundwater. Much of the reported volume of the spill have been recovered from the site in a relatively short amount of time, causing this progress to seem almost virtual to me. The site has been receiving federal funding since it’s designation as a superfund site in 2010, so how effective is 9 years of recovery on a waterway heavily used as a petroleum industry passageway dating to the late 19th century? 

Intensity, as described by Massumi, “is embodied in purely autonomic reactions most directly manifested in the skin–at the surface of the body, at its interface with things.”(Massumi, 25). Historically, the contents of the creek has been the cause of fog around the area, in addition to terrible odor. These byproducts of toxicity qualify as transmission modes of affect, impacting individuals nearby negatively. Experiencing the intensity of an assemblage, if its byproduct is toxicity, can evoke negative affect among individuals, as well as negative health effects as a result. This relationship is still a concern at a time when the recovery of the waterway is still ongoing, yet industrial activity still persists to less of a degree. The recovery of the waterway is incomplete and virtual. Its intensity waits to permeate my senses, like many others it has before. How does it affect individuals today, in its current state? Maybe if there were more obvious indicators that the water isn’t safe, more people would take notice.
– Edwin Hansler

Works Cited

Massumi, Brian. “The Autonomy of Affect.” Cultural Critique, no. 31, 1995, p. 83., doi:10.2307/1354446.

~ by edwinhansler on October 12, 2019.