Tagged: Affect

2. Reading: Children and the Afterlife of State Violence

Children and the Afterlife of State Violence. Memories of Dictatorship (Palgrave Macmillian, 2016) is based on the doctiral thesis of Daniela Jara. It treats transgenerational transmissions of memory in affective terms in the Chilean context. Through individual and group interviews, Jara opens up the discussions about the transmission of historical trauma in family contexts. She does, however, not understand the family as a necessary unit for investigation, but rather, an ideal case for the observation of affective transmission. The book is full of amazing stories and interpretations about growing up during the dictatorship (1973-1990), and what consequences a culture of fear can have on the communicative patterns among family members and with outsiders. The book is especially concerned with descendants of the disappeared and political prisoners.

When and where did I read it?

During a very intense week, in which I read two more works on transgenerational transmission of memories, watched several documentaries of the so-called post-generations of different Latin American countries, and mixed these with a soap opera about a family in the German Democratic Republic.

How did I come across the book?

I was searching for books to review for a special issue of a journal edited by some of the MemoriAL people. I wanted to connect different books on the topic of transgenerational memories, and was lucky enough to find several (upcomming!).

19. Reading: The Transmission of Affect

Teresa Brennan’s Transmission of Affect (Cornell University Press, 2004) has been bashed prominently as selectively appropriating neuroscientific research findings, but nevertheless remains a classic on many a reading list on affective transmission. There might be two reasons for this: first, her argument that the idea of boundaries (in relation to human bodies/personal identity) is a culturally specific idea, and second, her absorbing prose. Proposing bodily boundaries as a culturally specific, and therefore non-universal, conception might not sound like a radically new way of seeing things, but considering the time it took until affect and emotions became central research interests in disciplines other than psychoanalysis, it still is a much needed contribution to broadening the scope of what we consider possible and acceptable things of imagining affective transmission. Also, the argument opens up new possibilities in (anthropological) research because it focuses on the relations between peopleand their affects, rather than their interpretations of affects and emotions.

Characterized as “a soul of the nineteenth century” by colleagues, Brennan powerfully and poetically argues for connections between hormones and emotions and what influences both have on each other (because to her, the relation here is more likely of dialectical nature). Up until chapter 4 (The New Paradigm), the book is very rich, focusing on the transmission of affect in a clinical setting as well as in groups, to then elaborate her argument that the social environment is perfectly capable of influencing our biological “hardware” and how social interactions can shape it. From chapter five onwards, Brennan becomes a little more repetetive, but the lasts chapters are also the ones she was not able to revise by herself anymore. She died in an accident, leaving her former assitant and trusted researcher to finish the editing process, which apart from the repetitiveness turned out to be very convincing.

How did I come across the book?

Actually, I don’t remember that anymore.

When and where did I read it?

On a weekend, on the sofa. It is definitely a monograph where this is possible.


18. Reading: Doing Sensory Ethnography

In my search for methodological entries to researching affect, I came across Sarah Pink’s Doing Sensory Ethnography (2009, SAGE Publications) as one of the core texts on sensory ethnographic approaches. And even though the connection of affects and senses is not as obvious as it may look, given that a five-sense-sensorium is a cultural construct, and considering the debate of whether affects are or are not pre-social, the volume does offer a very broad overview about the research done in relation to these five senses (and place-making). In general, it is easy to read, not too theory-ladden, and full of good examples. I really enjoyed the scope of research (and art, architecture and everyday-practice inputs), which allow for a very nice entry into the world of sensory ethnography.

The book centers on three mayor steps in the sensory research process, which are the theoretical baselines and ethic considerations for research on and with the senses, the practices in the field, and the interpretation and representation of (sensory) findings. The last part could have been a lot more experimental for my taste, especially considering the author’s argument for ways of writing that appeal to the senses, and overall the text became somewhat repetitive toward the end. But in genera, it is a good starting point to explore anthropological perspectives on the senses and how to research them.

How did I come across the book?

I think I first heard about Sarah Pink when I was still writing my M.A. thesis. I spend a few days at the Grimm Zentrum with two colleagues, who were both working on papers related to alternative (read: feminist, decolonial) research methodologies. Over lunch, I listened attentively to their talk and made a ‘head-note’ on reading Pink someday.

When and where did I read it?

It’s been in my office for quite a while, and it’s really not a big book. However, it took me a bit to get started, and towards the end I actually fell asleep on several occassions. But I think I made it in less than a week, reading a chapter every once in a while.


Docende discimus.

“To be a good teacher, you have to be part stand-up comic, part door-to-door salesman, part expert, part counselor.” – Bob Solomon

Halfway through the semester, it’s evaluation time again! And just because I like my seminar, that doesn’t mean my students do, too, especially considering that lately I forced them through tough theoretical readings and noticed an increasing disatisfaction on their parts. But, and that might be worse, I also noted an increasing disatisfaction on my part, because discussions would become slow and time and again they tried to force me to give them some ready-made answers to questions where “it depends”. Plus, many times I just feel they prefer to stick with their preconceptual ideas of affect, when for 8 weeks now we’re actually reading different approaches they could chose from to have a fruitful discussion. However, I also see evaluation as an opportunity to reassess my expectations and impressions of my performance, because in the end the important thing is that we all learn something from this.

So yesterday I handed out the evaluation sheets, and shockingly got the results back this morning already. I was hoping for some time to digest, especially since yesterday’s session wasn’t what I would call a complete success. Now the reason I got the sheets back so early is because they’re computer-based and converted into statistics, and my report is now full of colorful lines and circles which I feel I would need an introductory seminar to statistics to actually fully grasp. But then again, there’s the comment sections, and these do time and again offer clues on what the lines and circles might mean. First of all, let’s say it worked out fine, I’m mostly above average, which I think is great considering the international (50% are exchange students!) and interdisciplinary backgrounds (there is even a sport science student!) of my students and the demanding readings, and especially that this is the first seminar I invented all by myself.

What I learn from this, is that I have to continue thinking about how to make my learning philosophy much clearer, because my students want “clear” and “exact” answers, when I want them to learn that precisely those do not exist in many of the texts we’re reading and the problems we’re working on. In a similar vein, this goes for me chairing the discussions. I do not like to interupt people in class, and of course I do not have something to say about every comment they make. But for them, this might often look like I don’t care, or don’t moderate strictly enough. So I’ll have a look at the university’s advanced vocational trainings on these issues. Overall, the survey left me quite motivated, however, and I will try my best to make some concepts a little clearer in the next sessions. Also, there was this one comment that really gave me the feels: “This is one of the best seminars I have ever had. (…) You’re a wonderful and inspiring instructor. This is university as it should be.” How would I not want to make the most if this class now?

1. Reading: Ordinary Affects

Ordinary Affects by Kathleen Stewart (2007, Duke University Press) is the first book I completed this year. It actually took me one and a half days only, so it’s a pretty fast read. Nevertheless, it had quite an impact on me, because my dreams the night after were full of cut off fingers. (There’s actually only two mentions of incidents were fingers are cut off accidentally, or willingly, within the vignettes. The book is about so much more, mostly shockingly ordinary incidents and observations from everyday life in the US.) The book is organized in a short introduction, followed by ethnographic vignettes connected in a stream-of-consciousness-like manner, and ends with an equally short afterword, which – so much for that – is called “Beginnings”. Interesting fact: Instead of writing from the first person, Stewart uses a third-person-narrative to describe her observations, thereby creating a perspective of her own views that comes from the inside and from outside of the scene at the same time.

How did I come across the book?

I guess it’s called literature review. I’m trying to get into affect theory, and it had blurbs from Lauren Berlant, Donna Haraway, and my all-time-hero Michael Taussig.

When and where did I read it?

Early January in an unused meeting room at ETH Zurich.

A passage I found especially noteworthy:

People are always saying to me, “I could write a book.” What they mean is that they couldn’t and they wouldn’t want to. Wouldn’t know where to start or how to stop. The phrase is a gesture toward a beginning dense with potential. They have stories, substories, tangles of association, accrued layers of impact and reaction. The passing, gestural claim of “I could write a book” points to the inchoate but very real sense of the sensibilities, socialities, and ways of attending to things that give events their significance. It gestures not toward the clarity of answers  but toward the texture of knowing. (p. 129)

So instead of writing a book, I started this blog.