Can both of these claims be true? Are we experiencing a waning of affect or is affect on the rise? Of course when Jameson says affect he really means emotion. He means feeling in the traditional sense. He means the modern individual, the romantic subject. The enlightenment ego. I like the way that Franco evokes the romantic sentiment. On the other hand when Deleuzians say affect they mean it in different way.
They mean it as a postmodern replacement for modern sentiment. So modern subjects might have feelings or sentiments, while postmodern subjects have affects and mannerisms. So maybe the waning of affect and the turn to affect are really the same phenomenon described in different ways.
I like to think that that modern romantic sentimental subject might have succeeded too well even in the course of its own disappearance or obliteration, because now we have feeling everywhere. It's built in to the algorithms that run Facebook. So we have a pure computer simulation of feeling now. So this is the scenario today. And you have had a chance to look at that emotion tracking software from the Bank of New Zealand website. So we are living in a universe of affect? I've mentioned some of the patron saints of this universe; Spinoza, Deleuze and others.
But what are the virtues? Well certainly expression is one of the great virtues of contemporary life; Production: individuals are meant to be productive and expressive.
There's also a kind of law of transparency, a law of visibility, a revealing almost like a universal phenomenological law. Everything must be revealed.
Another thing I want to talk about is the social situation that we are in today is one that, I mean it's a truism to say today that we are living in a networked society, but I've started to also talk about that society as a promiscuous society. In other words we live in a society where everything can touch everything else so there's no prohibitions on what can link to other things.
In fact this is a kind of blow back effect of the ubiquitous Deleuzianism that we live in today. So I think that cybernetics is something that we can talk about and I think that cybernetics is at the heart of this historical transformation.
Cybernetics as I'm sure some of you know describes network or systems of actors. Famously this is posited as entirely agnostic as to whether these actors are living or non-living, natural or synthetic, organic or synthetic machines. These actors are able to express themselves and likewise they are meant to receive and respond to the expressions of others.
Cyberneticians call this message sending and control and its very similar to what we're talking about here. It's very much about expression and affectation.
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So I think that cybernetics and this kind of affective turn really go hand in hand. We can talk more about that. Now I'll say from the outset that in many ways this is good thing. One very good example is the historical alliance that was struck between cybernetics and feminism, particularly in the Italian context and I know that Franco could say a lot more about and from the novelist Ursula LeGuin to the VnS Matrix to theorists like Donna Haraway and Sadie Plant.
So why is that? Well I talked about these deep psychic structures earlier. So if patriarchy is one of these deep psychic structures that leverages a deep model of feeling and then proliferates injustice through certain uses of difference and hierarchy. Well then shouldn't a kind of shallow model of feeling help us solve that problem? I think this why a shallow model of affect is a useful ally concept for those kinds of movements.
Or if the essentialism of concepts like nature or natural feeling are harmful to certain groups then, hey! And maybe this anti-essentialist notion of feeling could provide some way of escaping from the limitations of let's say the Fraudian psyche or the modern cartesian subject. So I think cybernetics is most interesting when combatting these kind of deeply entrenched structures of injustice.
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But at the same time, and perhaps this is more what we want to talk about today, cybernetics has ushered in a new era of what we can call legibility, informatic legibility; monitoring, informatics monitoring as a form of writing and so perhaps today we're not simply ruled by the symbolic father, the Big Other.
But maybe we're also ruled by the network protocol, the data packet, the information point, as a kind of unit of legible meaning. So maybe the question for us today is how are we to survive in a world that is driven by this rule of information. It kind of a semiotocracy if you want to think of it in those terms. So you saw that emotion tracking software from the Bank of New Zealand and this is a small harbinger of this new world that in fact people like Franco have been describing for years already.
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I am student of Micheal Hart and am greatly influenced by his work on immaterial labour and affective labour and the so called affective turn that they describe. In a nutshell this refers to the way in which affects and emotion, which if you read Marx was marginal to capitalisation in the 19 century has become a key site of monetisation and exploitation today. So emotion quite literally has a price today, it's at the heart of monitisation, not at the periphery. This reveals many contradictions that we don't have time to go into today. My favourite one is that if Google thinks that information has value then why don't they pay me for it?
Why don't they pay me for it when they take it? So we have a kind of a nefarious communism where we do have a little of the abolition of private property, where your emotions and your actions are no longer your own. We can talk more about that later, maybe. So, I love the video we had earlier [Dawn of the Truth Wizards part 1. But I'm a materialist generally, but I think that there's nothing wrong with spiritual practices like meditation.
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I don't have any beef with buddhist practice or the concept of mindfulness. I'm all for corporate responsibility to the extent that that is not a contradict in terms. I don't think there's anything wrong with affect in fact there's anything inherently wrong with computers, or cybernetics, or social networks and I'm completely in agreement with Franco that we shouldn't become Luddites. That's stupid. The problem is the main problem it's always been which is injustice, exploitation, and inequality. I think we can't loose sight of the main issue.
If anything what we're experiencing today is really just a new configuration in which some of these things we've been talking about cybernetics, social networks, affects are being reconfigured and perhaps leveraged for new form of exploitation that maybe we didn't have in the past. So to the extent that I'm critical of some aspects of contemporary life I want to be clear that my skepticism comes from a desire to deal with injustice and exploitation not 'let's throw out the computers' or something. The question remains then, can we do anything about this?
Thinking about buddhism and spiritual practices that deal with 'nothingness' or something, Franco said just now that withdrawal is stupid. But what if there's a kind of withdrawal, or a use of 'nothingness' that doesn't hurt us or in fact works to our advantage? I'm thinking of the artist Zac Blas has started to make some work recently that is a series of masks one of them is very similar to the aesthetics of facial recognition software that you was on the [Bank of New Zealand] website where faces are scanned and then converted into graphs.
It's the same technology that runs Facebook right? You have points and you have edges and there are certain mathematics that have been - You know that mathematicians have made those algorithms extremely efficient and they work on the face and its also works on the social graph behind the scenes at Faceboook. But Zac Blas has been working on ways to obfuscate the face and I'm not sure of everyone agrees with me here, but I'm quite interested in obfuscation, opacity encryption, compression. I'll just say another thing about the face. Those of you who know Deleuze and Guatarri's work, you know the terms territorialisation and de-territorialisation and there's a great moment where they say 'what is the most de-territorialised part of the human body.
Is it the heart which is coursing with blood, is it the sexual organs which are the sites of physical exchange and promiscuity? And they say no 'it's the face', The face is the most deterritorialised part of the human body because it has the most holes. It has the most sockets. It has the mouth, two nostrils, eyes and ears. So it's a site that is in flux This is there way to overturn the classical sense of human individuality, that the face is the thing that is most you, it is your visual signature. It is the site of your ability to express the thing that is uniquely you.
So they invert that and say 'No' The face is actually the most nomadic part of the body. So this is a kind of pyrrhic victory perhaps, because the emotion tracking software on the Bank of New Zealand site is really using that power of de-territorialisation. It's a kind of judo move if you will, because it's an attempt to invert the force of de-territorialisation and it essentially recuperates the potential of the human form in order to render it knowable and trackable.
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You can see this many places. Think of the demands of the social movements of the s; taking back the streets, new access to speech, giving new subject positions legitimate roles in society and so on. But what does Google say, well they say 'ok, you can speak, but we will monetise your speech' Or think of the Bank of New Zealand website, 'You can have feelings but we will use your feelings as a way to enrich our marketing and customer service. That's something that we should acknowledge.
The very weapons, the so-called weapons of the weak, that used to be all we had sometimes, even those weapons of the weak have been inverted and co-opted. Just to say one last thing and then we can have more of a conversation here. I might deviate from what Franco said a little bit because, I acknowledge the value and utility of the affective revolution.
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May '68 in France as the Revolution of Desire. I totally get it. But I think that in I think we have a different world that we have to confront and I think that we should maybe consider an alternative set of political concepts and social aspirations. So I'm turning perhaps a little bit away from the affective universe towards what theorists like Alain Badiou and Francois Laruelle have called a generic universe, or a generic subject.
In fact I see a lot of connections back into the Italian Marxist work from the 70s all the way up to today. So in distinction to the Deleuzian notion of machinic expression perhaps we should think about compression. Compression as the deletion of data, quite simply. Perhaps we should move away from a politics of performativity or mandated visibility and take a different set of concepts very seriously. Things like anonymity and cryptography - encryption.