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Jan Verwoert 7: Affect: in Effect. Being Touched by The Face -29.4.2009

In search of concepts of art practice that could offer an alternative to stale theories of strategical intentionality the previous talk approached a particular form of material logic: the journey of the thing (the 'objet petite a', in Lacanican terms), a concatination of objects that, in the selected film examples by Antonioni or Visconti (L'Eclisse, Il Gattopardo), consistently structures the unfolding of the movie and makes the moving image move without ever really fully making sense, propelling the action without ever really fully entering into the narrative, defining the trajectory of the movie on a level of intuitive material association that exceeds, defies and punctuates the economical rationality of intentionally constructed plotlines and references.

Symptomatically, in the context of the story of material ambition and desire for social status—the story of the arriviste—told by these movies, the journey of the thing reflects this hunger for the object of desire as much as it eventually suspends it: as the thing returns to its point of departure, a sphere of sheer material nonsensicality, the symbolic sphere of status and prestige momentarily disintegrates, and the material logic of mindless creaturely jouissance, of sex, death, joy and pain prevails.

This talk will continue that train of thought, firstly by describing how Deleuze, in his cinema theory, reformulates the Lacanian notion of the journey of the thing in terms of his (rigorously anti-psychoanalytical) philosophy of material intensities–specifically in relation to his notion of the face: It is in the succession of shifting states of intensity in someone's facial play that Deleuze traces a similar material logic of matters unfolding without necessarily making sense in any intentional way. It is a material logic of affect that, as a mode of address, brings the cinematic image to life and, while being structured and structuring, always also touches on the mindlessly creaturely, the force of being touched by affect.

To understand affect as a form of touch means to radically break with the psychological paradigm of emotional causality—i.e. of emotions residing in, being caused by and thus expressing 'inner causes'—and instead think towards a material logic of affect in terms of intersubjective relationality—i.e. of emotions, in effect, existing as a mode of address between people out here in the world, as Wittgenstein too suggested in his Philosophical Investigations.

Taking its departure from Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928) the visual exploration of what happens in faces—and how faces make things happen as a medium of address—will touch on Bas Jan Ader's Too Sad Too Tell You (1970-71) to, via this rereading of the emotional stakes of conceptualism, then return to painting as a medium that like few others, can activate the affective potentials of the face as a medium of address by, in the wake of portrait painting, addressing, touching, that is: facing you like a face.

Jan Verwoert

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