The Autonomy of ALL Affects in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

Every week since I started my ecology project, I have been determined to explore the non-gentrified areas of Bedford-Stuyvesant and gain more insight on the linkage between the gentrification within the area and precarious issue of food insecurity. Every time I walk out of the Ralph Avenue subway station, sadness is elicited from me as my eyes navigate my surroundings. When I see homeless individuals beg each passerby for food or money, impoverished people lining up with battered shopping carts in front of the BedStuy Campaign Against Hunger, or wasteful scraps of food being thrown on the ground, those images instill negative emotions within me. However, this week, I decided to also explore the gentified regions of Bed-Stuy in order to analyze how my emotions would operate in a different setting within the region. As I walked throughout the area and passed “hip” restaurants and people posing with loud, coordinated outfits, all the positive energy that surrounded me surprisingly made me depressed. I certainly expected to elicit positive affects due to being around an exuberant environment and its people, but it was the exact opposite for me. I expected the connection to positive affects = positive environment + positive people after deeply analyzing and understanding Teresa Brennan’s concept of affects, but I didn’t feel this connection. What caused me to feel depressed when I was met with positive affects all around me?

A “hip” brunch restaurant situated in between various delis, markets, and bodegas

When I was reading “The Autonomy of Affects” by Brian Massumi, I realized that an important mistake that I made in my approach to analyzing the different areas of Bed-Stuy was equating my emotions with affects. Massumi first cites the physiological experiment involving the snowman film in order to distinguish emotions from affects. In relation to image reception, he connects the content and effect by stating, “the content of the image is its indexing to conventional meanings in an intersubjective context, its sociolinguistic qualification” (Massumi 24). In other words, when we view the content of an image, we contribute a certain kind of qualification by examining the qualities of an image in order to understand its intended meaning. However, Massumi defines a phenomenon known as the “primacy of affective,” where we are hit with an unexpected intensity that causes a reaction to our stimuli before we evaluate and analyze an image (Massumi 24). Instead of assigning emotions and meaning towards an image once we view it, we are immediately struck with the intensity of affects that depends on the situation. 

Mural commemorating the life of a young adult plastered on the wall of a neighborhood market

By equalizing affects with emotions, we are unable to absorb the intensity of image that we are faced with. Massumi mentions that it is incorrect to categorize emotions on the same level with affects by saying, “Affect is most often used loosely as a synonym for emotion” where “an emotion is qualified intensity” and affect is pure intensity (Massumi 28-29). If we attempt to index the meaning of what we see, we are struck with qualified, or calculated, intensity. We are only able to absorb unconventional and true intensity if we don’t attempt to analyze the meaning of what we see beforehand. Massumi strongly emphasizes that emotion “is intensity owned and recognized” while the affects are “not ownable or recognizable” (Massumi 28). Emotions and affects are not tied together. Rather, affects are dispersed throughout individuals and their environment and in order to truly understand them, we have to ignore preconceived ideas with regards to what we see. 

“The autonomy of affect is to participate in the virtual. Its autonomy is its openness. Affect is autonomous to the degree to which it escapes confinement in the particular body whose vitality, or potential for interaction, it is.” (Massumi 33)

I came into this project attempting to showcase Brennan’s principles of affects that are transmitted throughout Bed-Stuy. However, I only focused my attention towards the negative affects elicited from individuals and their environment instead of capturing ALL affects that are true and authentic. In Massumi’s language, I must accept that affects are autonomous within an environment rather than attempt to capture affects that have certain context and meaning that enthralls me. Every entity possess a certain kind of emotional energy or affect, and as I walk through Bed-Stuy, it’s quintessential to absorb all the affects in order to better my research. I must not develop ideas beforehand of what I want to capture, but rather be willing to allow ideas from the environment and its people to come to me. 

Works Cited

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

~ by oga217 on October 12, 2019.

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