For me, listening and receptivity were major currents at #affectWTF. In her plenary with Kathleen Stewart, Lauren Berlant claimed that the world would be so much richer if we were to pay attention to things outside of our everyday lives. In their collaborative, creative, and utterly amusing piece, “The Hundreds”, Berlant and Stewart invited us to eavesdrop, to lean back, extend our legs, cross our arms and observe the ordinary aspects of everyday life. Berlant and Stewart call for a valued sense of attentiveness. Whether we talk to people, listen to people, or secretly observe them, we begin to take note of repetitions. It is in these repetitions that we see things coalesce and form into something. These somethings matter to people. They affect our lives, and our lives affect them. The willingness to be receptive and attentive to ordinary life allow us to see what matters to people and ultimately, hopefully, change things. Transform things.
The affective dimensions of everyday life exist within the structural framings of whichever structure we exist within in this historical moment; you might call it neoliberalism, late liberalism, capitalism, or something else like post-racial America. When I think about affect and how I might want to employ it in my work, work that is still so messy and in disarray, I find myself feeling very concerned that a dichotomy exists between structures and the ordinary/everyday. But really, I’m troubled that binaries exist in the first place. My own intellectual questions find refuge in certain strands of queer studies, critical mixed-race studies, and women’s studies because these fields embrace a devoted critique to binary thought.
On the drive back to DC, my friend and colleague, Sara, and I discussed these concerns at length. Traversing queer studies, multiraciality, Sufi thought, mysticism, and polyamory, our conversations on the car ride back home offered necessary reflections over the provocative weekend we spent in Lancaster. With our mutual interests in non-binary thought, in-between spaces, and liminality, Sara and I considered what affect studies can offer us. Going back to Berlant and Stewart’s plenary, receptivity is central to studies of affect studies. You come to the world receiving the world. When we’re told to pick a career or to pick a spouse, there exists a radical resistance when we allow for a raw openness.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite books on my comprehensive exam reading list, Transformation Now!: Toward a Post-Oppositional Politics of Change. AnaLouise Keating invites educators to engage in radical listening; “listening with raw openness demands intellectual humility … the willingness to acknowledge our epistemological limitations; embrace uncertainty, contradiction, and the possibility of error; and engage in intense self-reflection”. She goes on to say, “when we listen with raw openness, we remain receptive to learning more, to acknowledging the possibility of limitations in our views … openness to change is one of the primary ways that new knowledge is created”.
Listening, receptivity, and a deep critique of binary thought are what #affectWTF leave me musing on. I’m feeling a raw openness to studies of affect, and to my work in general. What does it mean to affect, to be affective, and to be attentive to what is affecting me? Affect, affective, affecting; each comes with its own orientation to emotions and the sensitive charges that latch onto feeling. How are these intimate experiences of emotion inextricably linked to the outside world? As these thoughts continue to simmer, I will intentionally approach affect with raw openness in mind.