Affect: The non-linear relationship between body and mind.
The role of ‘affect’ on human sensibilities is often explored as a way of understanding the specific correspondence that occurs between the mind (reason) and body (sensation). Thus, ‘affect’ involves equally the intellectualisation and non-conscious bodily experience and reaction to the world around us. Critically, it is important to understand that affect and bodily experience are not exactly synonymous with emotion and feelings. While the two phenomena are related, they are autonomous experiences often acting in parallel or tandem with one another. As Shouse helps us understand ‘affect is not a personal feeling’ but rather ‘pre-personal’ (Shouse, 2005, para. 2). He goes on to explain the connected yet distinguishable difference between the occurrence of feelings, emotions and affect, and the non-linear intersections between them.
To illustrate a complex relationship between body and mind, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s ‘Misogyny speech’ can be examined. In October 2012 during Parliament question time, Gillard labelled then opposition leader Tony Abbott a misogynist and a sexist, and in doing so, attempted to cut through an array of experiences she and her government had undergone, largely in response to the perceived prejudice, hypocrisy and aversion to ‘personal responsibility’ demonstrated by actions of both Tony Abbott and members of his ministerial cabinet (Hansard transcript, Sydney Morning Herarld, 2012).
Gillard’s own words that ‘the speech was a crack point… after everything I had experienced’ (The Guardian, 2013) point directly to what rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza called L’affection (Spinoza’s affection). This is defined by Shouse as ‘the process whereby affect is transmitted between bodies’ and that these transmissions demonstrate that we are not self-contained units of energy, more so, energy can be readily transferred rapidly, with little to no control from the sender and in particular, the receiver (Shouse, 2005, para. 12). As articulated by Gillard several times in her speech, she was ‘personally offended by the vile things said about [her] family’ and that her father ‘did not die of shame’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 2012). These comments refer to some of the series of multi-modal actions and remarks made publicly by Abbott during her prime ministership. It would seem, based on the genuinely angry nature of the speech that his actions had an accumulative, degrading affect and effect upon Gillard personally, the perceived legitimacy of her leadership and subsequently the government itself.
Before any sort of conclusion can be drawn with confidence about Abbott’s affect, it is necessary to explore feelings and emotion. A feeling is ‘a sensation that has been checked against previous experiences and labelled’ (Shouse, 2005, para. 3), thus it is easy to see how Gillard’s experiences were non-linear, indeed iterative in their nature, meaning that Gillard had time to engage in varying processes of reflection, interpretation and to assimilate her body and mind reactions into her personal biography. Interestingly, the way affect, feeling and emotion manifested for Gillard in the moments before the speech demonstrate the lack of clear ‘distinction between the individual and the the environment’ (Shouse, 2005, para. 12). This is important, because as Shouse explains, the significance of affect lies upon the fact that often, the conscious receiving of the message carries little salience to the receiver compared to his or her ‘non-conscious affective resonance with the source of the message.’ (Shouse, 2005, para. 12). For Gillard, the hypocrisy at the heart of a decision by Abbott to move a motion of no confidence against what he called the ‘utterly indefensible’ sexist comments of the then speaker of the house Peter Slipper, only in order to suit his own political purpose sparked a ‘murderous rage’ that served as an emotional catalyst to the speech. Indeed, Gillard spoke of how the speech was largely unscripted and of the charged energy she felt moments before entering parliament to deliver this speech (The Guardian, 2013).
Gender politics aside, Abbott undeniably used speech, visual aid, moving image and bodily and situational associations over a length of time to affect Gillard’s personhood at its core. A woman known for composure, pragmatism and at times enigma, dissolved into a bodily experience that saw her passions and intellect fired up in symbioses to deliver a speech that embodied a political ontology while not rare, is not commonly witnessed with such displays of vitriol, fervour and personal attack. This is the power of affect.
1. The Sydney Morning Herald was used as evidence of Gillard’s speech transcript, because no formal transcripts appeared to be uploaded to offical government websites, thus could not be found.
The Guardian 2013, Julia Gillard explains ‘misogyny speech’, viewed 30 August 2016, < https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/30/julia-gillard-explains-misogyny-speech>.
The Sydney Morning Herald 2012, ‘Transcript of Julia Gillard’s speech’, viewed 30 August 2016, <http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/transcript-of-julia-gillards-speech-20121009-27c36.html>.
Shouse, E. 2005, ‘Feeling, Emotion, Affect’, A Journal of Media and Culture, vol. 8, no. 6, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.