Must We Mean What We Do? Further Thoughts on Affect Theory

The second of two pieces I have written in appreciation, shall we say, of Ruth Leys’ book The Ascent of Affect, is now available online at the History of Human Sciences site, along with commentaries by Carolyn Pedwell, Rob Boddice, and Elizabeth Wilson, plus a response by Ruth. Thanks to Chris Millard and Felicity Callard for putting together the whole set, and inviting me to take part.

My piece in this review forum is entitled Must we mean what we do? and riffs on a theme in Ruth’s work, not just in the book but elsewhere too, about the importance of understanding ideas about pretending in making sense of intentionality, action, and related themes in philosophy, social theory, and cultural studies. It is, then, distinct from the piece in the nonsite review forum, in which I begin, at least, to elaborate on the theme of logical geographies of action – the ways in which arguments about agency, intention, behaviour, action, and so on are shaped by various spatial grammars of insides and outsides, relays, environments, and the like. There’s a connection between the themes in the two pieces, no doubt, and one day I might get enough time and space, and energy and enthusiasm, to write out in neat quite what it is. And whatever it is, it might also have something to do with the overlapping set of issues raised by Linda Zerilli in her engagement with criticisms of affect theory, including those of Leys, and specifically with different interpretations of the concept of intentionality.

Logical Geographies of Action: nonsite.org review forum on Ruth Leys’ The Ascent of Affect

The latest issue of nonsite.org includes a review forum on Ruth Leys’ The Ascent of Affect, with contributions from myself, Felicity Callard, Phil Hutchinson and James Russel, as well as a response from Ruth herself. My piece uses Leys’ genealogy of scientific research on emotions to propose an analysis of ‘logical geographies of action‘ in recent debates in cultural theory and philosophy of mind; it overlaps (but not too much) with my thoughts on Linda Zerilli’s book on democratic judgment, not least in addressing different understandings of the meaning, shall we say, of uses of the word ‘intentionality‘. I have another distinct piece entitled ‘Must we mean what we do’, forthcoming sometime soon in another review forum on Leys’ book in History of the Human Sciences.

Books I Didn’t Finish in 2019

1). Denise Riley, Time Lived, Without Its Flow. A slow read, because every line is worth pausing over.

2). Marjorie Perloff,  Edge of Irony: Modernism in the Shadow of the Habsburg Empire. Only just bought this.

3). Stephen Toulmin, The Uses of Argument. It’s difficult to read hardbacks in the bath.

4). Deyan Sudjic, B is for Bauhaus: An A-Z of the Modern World. Pool reading.

5). Tom Williams, Raymond Chandler: A Mysterious Something in the Light. Reading the life having finished the novels. 

6). Helmuth Plessner, Political Anthropology. Yet another take on ‘the political’.

7). Robert Musil, The Posthumous Papers of a Living Author. I’ve not finished this before, in fact, different edition, even though it’s full of wonderful observations. But then again, he didn’t finish things either.

8). Jeanine Basinger, A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960. Thanks to Karina Longworth.

9). Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays. I’m not sure you’re supposed to ever finish these.

10). Frank Lloyd Wright, The Natural House. “I’ve always hated fixtures – radiators especially”.

 

Intentionality and objectivity: Todd Cronan on Zerilli (and me)

I mentioned yesterday that my contribution to the Syndicate review forum on Linda Zerilli’s book touched upon the similarities and differences between her critique of affect theory and that developed by scholars associated with the ‘nonsite school’ of cultural criticism. In the spirit of dialogue encouraged by the Syndicate platform, Todd Cronan, one of the editors of nonsite.org, has posted a comment engaging with my own comments and Linda’s response, addressing ideas of intentionality, objectivity, interpretation and truth. Zerilli’s book elaborates on a political sense of objectivity indebted to Hannah Arendt, revolving around the theme of the conditions of sharing in a common world with others; Todd’s comment specifies some differences and clearly states the position associated with the nonsite school. The comment is a little hidden, so here it is in full:

“There is much to say here but there is one thing in particular–the question of objectivity–that makes what many of us at nonsite say unrecognizable. So there are several problems with the idea that “intentionality is closely associated with claims to objective truth.” The first is that, for us, intentionality is much more than closely associated with truth, it’s incomprehensible without it, and the second is that although Zerilli may think there’s some connection between truth and objectivity, we don’t; objectivity is not only not closely associated with truth, it’s not associated with truth at all. So on the one hand, there’s no meaning without intentionality and no meaning without truth, which is just to say that both meaning something and understanding something are normative–all interpretations must be either true or false (or some combination of the two). But on the other hand, no interpretations are objectively true or false.”

There’s much more to say around these issues, no doubt, not least, I suspect, some important disciplinary differences across fields of political theory and aesthetic theory. Some of these issues might well be further aired in a forthcoming ‘Tank’ in nonsite considering the significance of Ruth Leys’ recent book The Ascent of Affect. More on that when it appears.

 

Putting affect into perspective: further thoughts on Linda Zerilli’s A Democratic Theory of Judgment

Further to my previous post on the Syndicate review forum on Linda Zerilli’s A Democratic Theory of Judgment (also available here), my own comments are now live, as well as a generous response from Linda herself. My own thoughts focus on Zerilli’s critical engagement with the ontological turn to theories of affect in some strands of political theory, and how her own treatment of these issues overlaps with but also differs from the approach articulated by thinkers associated with nonsite.org including Walter Benn Michaels, Todd Cronan, and Ruth Leys.

Promises of the Political: Review Symposium on Erik Swyngedouw’s new book

I’ve mentioned that I have recently been writing lots of commentaries on books (other people’s and my own), and the latest of these to find its way out into public is part of a review symposium in Urban Geography on Erik Swyngedouw’s Promises of the Political, put together by Joe Penny. If you don’t have access to the journal, Erik has also posted the symposium on his page at ResearchGate. My own thoughts on Erik’s book appear under the title ‘Mourning politics Final‘.

Review Symposium: Linda Zerilli’s A Democratic Theory of Judgment

I seem to have spent a lot of time in the past year writing pieces for book review forums – pieces about other people’s books, and pieces about things people have written about my book, The Priority of Injustice. The first of these forums to go public, a series of commentaries on Linda Zerilli’s wonderful A Democratic Theory of Judgment, is perhaps the most interesting (and easily accessible), in so far as it takes the dialogic form that book review forums seek to perform in print/text, and extends it through an online medium. Syndicate is described as a ‘living network of scholarship in the humanities’, and their symposium on Zerilli’s book is now live, through to mid-September – the format involves one commentary being published a week, with a response from Linda, and further comments added as and when. My commentary is due to be published next week (it focusses on Zerilli’s contribution to a series of critical debates about ‘affect theory‘).