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13 May 2020 19:00 pm

Affect theory, or affect studies, intersects with diverse disciplines, travelling between art, the humanities and the sciences. In his book Non-Representational Theory Nigel Thrift, who offers x disciplinary definitions of affect, insists that it is a kind of intelligence about the world, and even a form of thinking, but one that is immediate and non-reflective, that is to say, where thinking takes up the whole body, rather than being lodged in the head. Across many accounts of affect (Deleuze 1978, Massumi 1995, Shouse 2005, Thrift 2008, Gregg and Seigworth 2010), a distinction is made between affect, and feelings and emotions. Eric Shouse explains that affect is not a personal feeling, it is pre-personal, and informs our processes of becoming-subjects in a world at a pre-conscious level. Feelings are what we register in terms of our personal biographies: I feel happy, I feel sad. We know how to identify and name these feelings as we have suffered and enjoyed them before. Emotions then designate the societal context in which feelings unfurl, determining how, as a collective, we agree (or have always already agreed) upon what is happy and sad, and how to appropriately situate what we feel so as to share it with others. Affects then play the most slippery part, their movements are non-linear and indeterminate, which is to say, it’s hard to tell how an affect will resolve itself into a personal feeling, and how it might end up being calibrated in relation to a social and cultural setting. It is also crucial to disentangle affect from architectural phenomenology, which depends very much on a self-same and secure human subject who believes they know and are in control of what they think and feel.

An oft-cited formula when it comes to affect, which draws on the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and his reading of the 17th C Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza, is the reciprocal if uneven relay: to affect, and to be affected. From one moment to the next, I, you, anyone, near anything – a tick, a spider, a dog, a body of water, a field – affects and is affected in turn. Here affect does not so much settle in a sentient body, or belong to you or me, as passes between us, subsequently informing the tenour of our relationship. This means affect is very much about encounters, even the ordinary encounters we have on a city street, and example Deleuze lingers on in his seminars on Spinoza (1978).

What has affect to do with architecture and urban environments? Doug Spencer draws attention to the dangerous and uncritical uses of affect in architecture (2016). Affect, Spencer argues, is too readily uses by architects as an excuse to avoid difficult political questions beneath the atmospheric effects aroused by the circulation of architectural affects. Nigel Thrift has long argued that we underestimate the role that affect plays in cities. Affect, it seems, while slippery may nonetheless lend itself to control, at worst enabling the means of producing a docile body politic.

This seminar will discuss the relationship between architecture and affect with an emphasis on infrastructure understood as distributed spatial support system. By reframing architecture as ‘organisation space’, to borrow a term from Keller Easterling, an account of the circulation of affect will lead the way to an understanding of architecture as always more than discrete, self-isolated and autonomous form, toward an apprehension of the complex entanglements architecture inevitably participates in, for better and worse.

Architectural theorist and philosopher, writer and critic, Hélène Frichot is Professor of Architecture and Philosophy, and Director of the Bachelor of Design, Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, University of Melbourne, Australia. She is Guest Professor and the former Director of Critical Studies in Architecture, as well as Professor of Critical Studies and Gender Theory, in the School of Architecture, KTH (Royal Institute of Technology) Stockholm, Sweden, where she was based between 2012-2019. She is the author of several books and many essays that focuses on her theoretical interests, often in the context of Deleuzian theory, and her forthcoming book on Bloomsbury is titled, Creative Ecologies.