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.