Saturday, June 03, 2006

Introduction to Affect Theory

What we did in Mark Pedrosa's tutorials, and then some.

Part I - The Basics

- Developed by Silvan Tomkins
- Chronicled in his major work, Affect Imagery Consciousness (1963)
- From work with children, Tomkins posited that our emotional lives can be traced back to nine organ-like structures in our brain. He called these structures "affects.”

Positive: joy, interest
Neutral: surprise
Negative: fear, disgust, dissmell, anger, distress, shame

ALL experience is FILTERED through these 9 AFFECTS, or physical areas of the brain. There are no other options. If we are aware of something, we are aware of it in relation to one of these areas. A feeling is what we only become conscious of AFTER AN AFFECT (that biological part of our brain) HAS BEEN TRIGGERED.

Part II - Contagious Feelings: The Epidemiology of Affect (excerpts from Gibbs)

Tomkins distinguishes nine discrete innate affects, each of which acts to amplify the gradient and intensity of a neural firing, producing a positive feedback loop in which more of the same affect will be evoked in both the person experiencing the affect and in the observer (a phenomenon known as 'affective resonance').The face, according to Tomkins, is the primary site of affective communication and plays a crucial part, along with the voice, in the phenomena of feedback, resonance and contagion, because any one component of affective response will trigger the other neurological and physiological components of the entire pattern of response.

The subject's response to her own affective experience, which draws on memory (socially and familialy produced or learned sequences of affects, as well as defenses against particular affects, and specific meanings attached to them) but which also includes future-oriented projections, will be of cardinal importance in determining how or whether new experiences will be able to be integrated into the existing self-formation. Affects exist in complex interaction: in the therapeutic situation, some affects can be used to modulate or amplify other affects: here as elsewhere familiar sequences of affects (of which the subject is unaware) will often be triggered. Prolonged unrelieved distress is an innate activator of anger, though for social reasons it may also trigger shame, which may in turn produce contempt towards the self or others – and all this may happen internally and automatically, outside awareness.

Attitudes tend to carry with them certain very general ideas about the way the world works. Because of this, the affects that comprise attitudes may be thought of as media for such ideas. Further, because particular affects are innate activators of other affects, or can activate learned affective sequences, if one of these affects is 'caught' it may trigger the sequence of other affects which reactivate a characterisitic attitude (or possibly produce an available, culturally familiar, attitude as a posture).

Part III - Further Reading, interest permitting

A. Tomkins and Affect - A thorough and accessible overview of Affect Theory
B. An Affect Theory of Social Exchange - Edward Lawler claims that emotions are a central feature of social exchange, which is in turn responsible for the production of positive or negative global feelings. This is a dense but rewarding read; of particular interest are the five theoretical assumptions, outlined on page 327. Accessing this article requires that you be connected to the University's proxy server.

Final Thought:
The important "thing" to notice is what happens when we experience a text (in writing, in theatrical performance, cinema, television, music, and so on). Consider the unique properties and limitations of each -- how is the architect manipulating his or her medium to elicit certain responses from the audience? A play in its raw written form will inevitably differ from its adaptation on stage and on screen but, as viewers, we expect the core, central "essence" of the work to be present in each adaptation. The question, then, is how effective (or affective) is each adaptation in embodying the essence of a given work? And further, how is reception of each new adaptation related to its temporal and social /cultural context? (Hint: think of what Dr. Ogden was saying in class about Olivier's WWII-era version of Henry V).

1 comment:

Dr. S.A. Ogden said...

Wow! That is *serious* scholarship: thank-you for posting it up for all of us (& all of them out in the blogosphere) to see & appreciate.
The intellectual diversity which the SFU system of lecture/small tutorial group and high-level instructors affords is magnificent.