Transmission of Affect Presentation Notes

March 30th, 2017

Transmission of affect has been recorded in premodern European history. In the writing of Montaigne,  he describes this exchange of energy in between old man and a young man. After 17th century the idea of transmission disappeared from the philosophical canon. And subsequently with the growing interest in animal magnetism in 18th century, it contributed to the decline in the notion of  transmission of affect. The point Brennan is making is that the notion of transmission of affect fades as we proceed in western history.

What is affect? Brennan uses affect interchangeably with emotion. In Brennan’s words “by an affect, I mean the physiological shift accompanying a judgment” (5). She makes a distinction between affect and feelings. Feelings are sensations that have “found the right match in words”(5). In other words feelings are thoughtful, while affects are thoughtless. Affect has to do with judgment while feeling has to do with discernment. The main point is that affects can be transmitted and are experienced in social situation.

Understanding Transmission of Affect:

Transmission of affect is the idea that our surroundings influence our physiological responses. So transmission of affect is social/psychological in origin, but biological and physical in effect. Affects have an energetic dimension. Transmission of affect means “that we are not self-contained in terms of our energies. There is no secure distinction between the ‘individual’ and the ’environment’ (6). Brennan however is not arguing that their is no difference between individuals. She states, “The point is that, even if I am picking up on your affect, the linguistic and visual content, meaning the thoughts I attach to that affect, remain my own: they remain the product of the particular historical conjunction of words and experiences I represent.” (7). The thoughts that we attach to our affects come from our personal history.  She stresses this point, throughout the first chapter, that she is not arguing that there is no distinction between the individual and the environment.

The Need for a Theory on Transmission of Affect:

Even though we accept social theorist like Marx, Foucault, and Mannheim who have shown that the thoughts of a subject are dependent upon the culture, and socio-economic conditions of the subject, we still resist the idea that “our emotions are not altogether our own” (2). This is a residue of Eurocentric thinking, that we are emotionally contained subject. This denial of transmission of affect leads to inconsistencies in many theories.

Two forms of transmission of affect: one where people become alike whereby “one person’s or one group’s nervous and hormonal systems are brought into alignment with another’s.” (9). (The neurological term for the process is called “entrainment”)And then there is transmission in which people take opposite positions (the angry and the depressed etc). Entrainment is achieved primarily, according to Brennan, through “unconscious olfaction.” One of her point is that affect is transmitted through pheromones. She asserts, “smell emerges as critical in communicating responses ranging from the aggressive to the soothing; it is also a vehicle for effective changes in another’s hormonal composition” (10).

Foundational Fantasy:

Brennan critiques Freud’s views  that “individual psyche is the origin of the drives and affects” (12). Brennan coins this term “Foundational fantasy” to explain how we (by we I mean western modernity) has seen the mother figure as “the natural origin rather than the repository of unwanted affects.” The infant projects onto the mother all the bad qualities like envy, anger, while the infant is the good and the powerful. Brennan says this fantasy is the foundation of this self-containment myth.

Brennan explains the foundational fantasy as “the belief that “we” the passive infant, are the true fountain of energy and life, and the mother is a hapless, witless receptacle. Situating the mother as the passive repository for the child’s unwanted raging affects is , perhaps, the first powerful instance of the transmission of affect” (13). The foundational fantasy explains why we think of ourselves as self contained and also why we judge others, why we project negative affect onto the other.

Unlike Freud’s work, Brennan’s theory situates the origin of affect outside of the individual. Brennan states “These affects come from the other, but we deny them. Or they come from us, but we pretend that they come from the other. Envy, anger, aggressive behavior-these are problems of the other. Overtolerance, overgenerosity-these are our problems .”(13)

A Note on Brennan’s use of fantasy: it is used in purely negative terms. Fantasy is a tool for self deception. However, in psychoanalysis, fantasy can be generative and productive while also have negative effects.

Main Points:

  • Affects are material and have energetic dimension
  • Transmission of affect happens through smell as well as sight.
  • Foundational fantasy, by denying the mother agency, fosters this illusion of self-containment of the psyche.  But the foundational fantasy doesn’t account for maternal agency in utero.
  • A paradigm based on transmission of affect answers these question and inconsistencies in other theories.

To understand how you can use this theory for the exam, go directly to Chani’s blog where she explores how transmission of affect can be applied to “The Yellow Wallpaper” “The Mark on the Wall”, God of Small Things and a couple of other texts.

Plan for the Exam

March 14th, 2017

Here are my notes on how to use some of the text for the exam:

In Fun Home, Alison Bechdel goes through melancholic mourning. Upon learning about her father’s closeted gay identity, Bechdel is left with ambiguous emotions towards her father, which she has to reconcile before she can loosen her libido from her father. I will be reading Bechdel’s novel through Freud’s theory on mourning and melancholia. Freud believed, that the melancholic self-criticism was in fact directed towards a lost object and thus pathological, and Alison Bechdel in Fun Home, argue that melancholia is generative and allows the mourner to their new identity in the absence of the loved one. Along with Freud, I will also incorporate Judith Butler and her theory about how our gendered behavior is a performance and thus a learned behavior. In the graphic novel there are a lot of instances where we see that.

Fun Home can also be considered an elegy. Bechdel subverts some of the conventions of elegy. Fun Home is anti-elegiac. Bechdel doesn’t try to console herself for her father’s loss. Instead she attacks his identity. In a traditional elegy, the mourned person is often apotheosized by the end. That doesn’t happen in Bechdel’s case. Similary, I will also be using Virginia Woolf’s “Mark on the Wall” as a text that works with the conventions of the elegy.

I am going to use Emily Dickinson’s poems and show how they conform/diverge from Professor Chu’s definition of a lyric i.e musicality of the poem, exploration of heightened sense of consciousness etc. Professor Chu’s definition of lyricism is mirrored in Dickinson’s poem. (I am not sure if that will go under theory or genre but I am hoping it will cover one of those categories)

I am also planning on using De Bois theory of double consciousness and how Gwendolyn Brook’s poems explore that in variety of different ways. The speaker in Brook’s poem often look at themselves through the eyes of others. There sense of self is unstable and that ties directly to double consciousness.  I think that will also fall under understanding a text through a use of theory.

In The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde offers a commentary on the constraint that were imposed on individuals by Victorian morality. Wildee satirizes this whole idea of what society deems respectable and absurd, right and wrong. (I don’t know what secondary text I will using to explore this text, but I hope I can find some articles that addresses Victorian culture and how it is reflected in the text)

Johnathan Swifts’ “A Modest Proposal” is a satirical response to the harsh economic condition under which the Irish peasant were living during the 1730s. In her essay Louis A. Landa compiles a number of prominent papers that explained the economic policies of the time. Landa writes that “A Modest Proposal” is a protest against the economic maxim of the time that “people are the riches of the nation.” Landa writes that Swifts “purpose was to demonstrate that however these maxims applied to other countries, they had no application to Ireland” (Landa 161).

At this point I feel relatively comfortable in showing how different theories can be used to understand certain texts that I am going to be using. I need to work on how the text also reflect and engage with the different historical conditions under which they were produced.



  • About

    This is an area on your website where you can add text. This will serve as an informative location on your website, where you can talk about your site.

  • Blogroll
  • Admin