Political Affects in Public Space II

I said I’d return to make a few comments on the Barnett (2008) paper I read yesterday (direct link to that post here). He understands the Thriftian notion of affect in two registers and calls up a number of problems:

1. under the critical vision of the politics of affect.

Are all affectual outcomes bad? Because that’s what Barnett thinks Thrift gets at for a large part. If affect matters politically it’s because ‘it opens up new surfaces for the exercise of manipulation’ (198). But Barnett says that excitement, joy, fear, compulsion, shame etc. ‘have no a priori political valence at all’ (198) and as such can’t be deemed bad per se. It’s a process of interpreting the outcomes from these affects that have the political dimension. Thrift needs to consider this in order to qualify this dimension.

and

2. under the affirmative vision of the politics of affect.

The spaces of affect can be progressively appropriated in order to realise new ‘configurations of feelings’ (198). But why is Thrift making these somewhat covert attempts to open up political regimes of affect? Surely their value only comes from the kinds of political projects that are ongoing and are directed to anyway (’emotional liberty’, ‘ethos of engagement’ 198)? Thrift needs to engage with these political dimensions outright if he wants to make a project of the spaces of affect. Although something tells me that’s not what he wants to do. But Barnett says if that is what Thrift intends, then he has to clarify the implications of it for democratic principles (liberty, free-speech etc.), and for the people who should be participating in this process of commanding the spaces of affect (i.e. every single citizen).

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