Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Affect and Atmosphere

Crucial to Thrift's argument is the simultaneous spatialization and extension beyond the human body of affect. The notion of affective atmospheres which are themselves moving and ameboid shape shifting entities speaks to the fundamentally relational nature of affect. In fact, such an understanding of affect allows for us to being thinking about affective relationships between non-human entities. A prime example of such a relationship might be the blur building by Diller and Scofidio.

The form of the building is produced through the relationship between the lake upon which it is built and draws water from, and both large, global, and microlocal weather patterns such as wind eddies. The shifting of form of the affective atmosphere (the cloud) is due to the shifting relationship of the two bodies responsible for its creation, the lake and the wind.

Much like the building, affects that we experience on an everyday basis are developed out of our changing relationships with other relational objects (atmospheres). When we say that we can "feel the tension"in a room, we acknowledge the relational nature of the atmosphere and the affect we experience, whether it be fear, sadness, etc., is a result of our shifting relationship to that atmosphere. Are we one of the actors who gave rise to the tension and are thus invested in maintaining it or are we bystanders who stand by shocked? This brings up the question of whether affect is a second order means of comprehending the world. How are affects and bodies constituted by the impression of atmospheres on us in a similar manner to how pain works for Ahmed?  In fact Thrift himself seems to pose this question when he states, "Thus, as I hope is clear, I will be following a broadly posthumanist agenda. am not on the whole, interested in individuals but rather in how particular hybrid compositions attain and keep coherence, become bodies of influence, so to speak."

A broader question is what this might do to Thrift's concept of affective mapping and a politics of imitation as represented by MoveOn and other similar websites. Instead of aggregating and mobilizing passions or affects, it might be that they function by creating atmospheres or urgency or crisis which allow if not impel affects to circulate.

This then also refigures how we might think about Anonymous. While they it does seem that there is an intention to mobilize passions of group members around particular ops, what is more important is Anonymous' creation of an atmosphere of safety and security (though it is one built on destroying that atmosphere for others) that allows those passions the space to circulate in the first place. Further this space is one that has the potential to opened up by extensions of the atmosphere and participants in Anonymous' activities by "zombies."

The new political question, one which the recent election made abundantly clear through the unending focus on unemployment, is not how do we channel affect, but instead, how do we construct an atmosphere in which the affects we wish to channel are best able to circulate.

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