Immaterial Bodies: Affect, Embodiment, Mediation


Lisa Blackman

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    Theory, Culture & Society caters for the resurgence of interest in culture within contemporary social science and the humanities. Building on the heritage of classical social theory, the book series examines ways in which this tradition has been reshaped by a new generation of theorists. It also publishes theoretically informed analyses of everyday life, popular culture, and new intellectual movements.

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    About the Author

    Lisa Blackman is a Reader in the Department of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. She works at the intersection of body studies and media and cultural studies. She is the editor of the journal Body & Society and a co-editor of Subjectivity. Her previous books include: Mass Hysteria: Critical Psychology and Media Studies (Palgrave, 2001, with Valerie Walkerdine); Hearing Voices: Embodiment and Experience (Free Association Books, 2001); The Body: The Key Concepts (Berg, 2008). Immaterial Bodies: Affect, Embodiment, Mediation is her fourth book. She teaches courses which span critical media psychology, affect studies, embodiment and body studies, and experimentation in the context of art/science. She is particularly interested in phenomena which have puzzled scientists, artists, literary writers and the popular imagination for centuries, including automatic writing, voice hearing, suggestion, telepathy and automatism.


    The idea for this book started to take form in 2005 when I began reading the work of two key sociological figures of the twentieth century, Edward Ross and William McDougall, both considered foundational to the shaping of the discipline of social psychology. What preoccupied them and was part of the discursive field which circulated across the fields of psychology, sociology, philosophy, law, economics and literature was a focus on hypnotic suggestion and the potentialities and corresponding fears that accompanied this. This starting point reflects the exchanges that have been central to this book and without which it would never have been conceived. The inter-disciplinarity that was characteristic of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is one that I carry through today such that my own disciplinary location is far from settled. However, I have found an intellectual home at Goldsmiths, University of London in the Department of Media and Communications since 1994 and I thank all of my friends and colleagues at Goldsmiths for accepting my quirkiness and allowing me to pursue my interest in phenomena such as voice hearing, suggestion, affect, embodiment and subjectivity. I particularly want to thank Sara Ahmed, Sarah Kember, Joanna Zylinska and Julian Henriques for sharing ideas. To Julian I might add that you are a great support, have a remarkable generosity of spirit and are one of the very best interlocutors I could possibly ask for. I would like to thank all of my colleagues in the Department for making academic life more bearable especially Natalie Fenton, Angela McRobbie, Pasi Valiaho, Damian Owen-Board, Jacob Love and Rachel Moore. A big thanks to all those on the Q Corridor that were left behind when the Department relocated to NAB, including Gavin Butt, Nicole Wolf, Lyn Turner and Irit Roggof. I also want to thank Janet Harbord, a former Goldsmiths colleague for stimulating conversations in the early part of the book and friendship thereafter. My conversations and on-going collaborations with Couze Venn and Mike Featherstone have enriched my intellectual life. Thank you for inviting me into the fold and for trusting me with the editing of Body & Society. Thanks also to all those in the academy I have met and been extended by along the way, including Patricia Clough, Beverley Skeggs, Lynette Goddard, Anna Gibbs, Monica Greco, Vikki Bell, and all those feminist academics past and present who allow one to breathe a bit. Thanks to all my students who have allowed me to make my preoccupations relevant to their worlds and to Celia Jameson and Louise Chambers for camaraderie whilst teaching some of this material. A big thanks to Valerie Walkerdine for the conversations we had in Lanzarote one hot sunny August in 2006 where I started to first write two of the chapters of the book gazing out of an Artist's studio onto a view of an awe inspiring volcano. Sadly such scenes of wonder have not accompanied the writing of the latter chapters but since that time I have been lucky to meet the most wonderful partner, Isabel Waidner and it is to her that my biggest thanks go. She has been my best and most enthusiastic reader and the work and my whole being is all the better for it. This book is dedicated to her.


    Body and Affect Studies

    Speed, movement, mobility, immateriality, fluidity, multiplicity and flows are all concepts that are profoundly reorganizing how the ontology of both subjectivity and corporeality are examined, understood and analysed within contemporary cultural theory. The solidity of the subject has dissolved into a concern with those processes, practices, sensations and affects that move through bodies in ways that are difficult to see, understand and investigate. The emphasis on immateriality over ideological and discursive processes is a call by some for an emancipatory politics of change. For others, this call for a paradigm shift across the humanities is undermining the capacity for ideological critique important for challenging inequities and oppressions. Cultural theory seems caught at a crossroads that is mirrored by the demands of advanced capitalism for rational subjects who are not swayed by social influences, at the same time as a suggestive realm is mobilized, created and orchestrated.

    This set of circumstances is profoundly different from the concerns which inaugurated the ‘sociology of the body’ which took form during the 1980s and 1990s. The sociology of the body was characterized by a call for bodily matters to take up a central place within sociological theorizing. Since this ‘turn to corporeality’, there have been many revisions across the humanities of what the important elements of this orientation might be; this includes the foregrounding of difference, discipline, performativity, embodiment, movement, desire, kinaesthesia, the senses, and, increasingly within contemporary formulations, the posthuman, process, multiplicity, enactment, affect, life and immateriality. The latter concepts have played an important part in radically refiguring the body such that the idea that the body can be considered singular, natural or even distinctly human has been questioned in different ways. As I have argued in previous work, bodies are seen to always extend and connect to other bodies, human and non-human, to practices, techniques, technologies and objects which produce different kinds of bodies and different ways, arguably, of enacting what it means to be human (see Blackman, 2008a).

    The body is not therefore a ‘thing’ to retreat to, a material basis to explain how social processes take hold. The body has been extended to include species bodies, psychic bodies, machinic bodies, vitalist bodies and other-worldly bodies. These bodies do not conform to our expectations of clearly defined boundaries between the psychological, social, biological, ideological, economic, and technical, for example. If there is one guiding principle towards which work on the body and embodiment has moved, it is the assumption that what defines bodies is their capacity to affect and be affected. The focus upon the affective capacities of bodies, human and non-human, is extending the terrain of body studies in new and exciting directions. Although it is arguable whether such a focus will achieve the paradigm shift associated with the turn to discourse and the subsequent turn to the body within the humanities, some are proclaiming the ‘turn to affect’ as extending some of the trends that we find within body studies, directly and indirectly, in innovative ways (see Blackman, 2008a, for further discussion).

    The field of body studies has proliferated since the 1980s and 1990s, now existing as a transdisciplinary locus of inquiry. Nondichotomous concepts for theorizing the body and embodiment have become central to theories and practices of art, architecture, science and technology, performance, medicine and so forth. Work on the body and embodiment has been recognized as increasingly important for the study of areas and practices which now recognize that sense-making cannot be confined to meaning, cognition or signification. Screen studies is an area where the analysis of embodied perception and sense-making is seen to be crucial to understanding how films ‘work’ (see Stacey and Suchman, 2012). Increasingly within television studies, the body's potential for mediation is foregrounded as an important aspect of understanding televisual consumption. This can be situated alongside the importance of embodiment for understanding our relationship to architecture, technology, performance, art and dance. When we add to this the importance of understanding issues perhaps seen as being more closely connected to corporeality, including our experience of medical technologies and practices such as transplantation or cosmetic surgery, and issues such as obesity and eating disorders which disclose the mediated nature of processes such as eating, studies of the body and embodiment provide an important link and focus across art, cultural and science studies.

    The ‘turn to affect’ has become a focus for these debates to take form, particularly as they intersect with the question of how to understand the role of the body and embodiment within processes of subjectification. One focus of these debates, as many scholars have argued, is the limits of reason and rationality in understanding how power and ideological processes work. The view for some that power works ‘autonomically’, bypassing reason and criticality and seizing the body at the level of neural circuits, the nervous system, the endocrine system or other systems assumed to work independently of cognition, is an assumption that is already subject to critique. As I write this preface the historian of science Ruth Leys (2011a) has written a cogent account of some of the problems within affect studies and particularly with the view that affect is non-intentional. Affect relates to all those processes that are separate from meaning, belief or cognition and that occur at the level of autonomic, pre-conscious bodily reactions, responses and resonances. This separation is one that she argues produces a ‘materialist theory’ of the body and emotions and ignores the crucial question of how to theorize the body and embodiment in ways that do not set up a ‘false dichotomy between mind and matter’ (p. 457). This question is of course not new. The intersections and productive tensions that affect introduces to body studies and that already existing theories of the body and embodiment introduce to affect studies is one key focus of this book and will be examined in Chapter 1.

    Leys (2011a) argues that what is needed to avoid the materialism of much of contemporary affect theory is what she terms a genealogy of anti-intentionalism. As we will see in Chapter 1, scholars within affect studies often link the emergence of humanities scholars’ interest in affect to the publication of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank's (1995) collection on the work of the American psychologist Silvan Tomkins. Tomkins was writing mainly in the 1960s, in the context of debates within psychology on the nature of emotions and whether emotions should be considered cognitive or primarily physiological in nature. Tomkins argued against cognitive appraisal theory, found in the work of the American psychologists Schacter and Singer for example, and argued that emotions were primarily inbuilt, hard-wired neurological responses that were separate and prior to cognition. Leys writes that the success of the anti-intentionalist paradigm within psychology at the time, represented by the work of Tomkins and later by the evolutionary psychologist, Paul Ekman, has become one of the accepted views of emotion that has become imported into affect studies. Leys (2011a) focuses particularly on the seminal work of Brian Massumi (2002a), and argues that Tomkins and Massumi share a commitment, implicitly or explicitly to what she terms the ‘Basic Emotions paradigm’ (p. 439). Leys laments the lack of attention paid by affect scholars to the conditions of possibility which led this paradigm to become authorized within psychology, and is one which she argues has been taken up within affect studies uncritically as a model for thinking affective processes. She argues that the importance of genealogy to understanding affect is important as the success of the anti-intentionalist paradigm is one that is both subject to critique and also has a relatively recent history, within and outside the psychological sciences.

    A Genealogy of Anti-Intentionalism

    This book will intervene within these debates by taking seriously this genealogical call to respond to the supposed anti-intentionalism of affect. As Leys (2011a) argues, affect theorists have turned to the work of contemporary psychologists and neuroscientists to validate this view, as well as to a different archive of psychologists and philosophers writing at the turn of the last century, including William James, Henri Bergson and Gabriel Tarde, for example. The genealogy of anti-intentionalism that this book will write will be located within this archive, one that I primarily characterize as a ‘subliminal archive’. It is shaped by a diverse set of scientific and literary preoccupations with invisible animating forces. From the writings of James, Bergson and Tarde, the experiments in divided attention which took place at James's psychological laboratory at Harvard between a psychologist and the avant-garde literary writer Gertrude Stein, through to an interest in a seminal book written by the subliminal psychologist Frederic Myers (1903), Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, there is a fascination with the concept of prosopopoeia; that is, how the inanimate can be animated, and how, rather than talk about singular entities, the human, for example, we might instead talk about aggregates of human and non-human actors and agencies.

    The book will return to these nineteenth- and early twentieth-century debates which primarily concerned the nature of perception, selfhood and embodiment. These debates, which involved the emergent disciplines of psychology, sociology and physiology, as well as debates within the medical sciences and those made by lawyers and economists, often focused and centred upon experiences such as voice hearing, hypnotic suggestion, telepathy and related experiences. These phenomena were all seen to breach the boundaries between the self and other, inside and outside, material and immaterial, human and non-human, and even dead and alive. These phenomena in the present are often viewed as irrational perceptions, or, in the case of hypnotic suggestion, as evidence that the person has lost their will and succumbed to the will of another. What all these experiences were seen to share was an ontology where the borders and boundaries between bodies, human and non-human, were considered porous and permeable, although this belief was often overlaid by a set of cultural fears and fantasies about being governed and controlled by imperceptible forces and agencies, which distribute agency between the self and other in asymmetrical ways (see Andriopoulos, 2008, for a discussion of this in relation to hypnotic suggestion).

    Another interesting factor of the debates was their transdisciplinarity, with concepts, ideas and exchanges circulating across art, literature, medicine and science. One example of such exchange is found in the writings of the American psychologist and pragmatist philosopher, William James. The brother of the novelist Henry James, and son of Henry James Senior, William James originally trained as a medical doctor, before developing his interests in philosophy whilst being employed as a psychologist at Harvard University. James's interest in the humanities and sciences was not unusual; indeed, as we will see throughout the book, most influential scholars of the nineteenth century wrote on a range of eclectic subjects.

    To take two examples pertinent to the book, Gabriel Tarde (1902, 1962), the French sociologist/psychologist, and Gustave Le Bon, the French loyalist and crowd psychologist, both wrote about a diverse range of subjects. This included treatises on areas as diverse as ‘tobacco, Arabian civilization, photography, socialism, education, and military psychology…, geography, archaeology, futurology and poetry’ (see Apfelbaum and McGuires, 1986: 33). This was partly because disciplinary boundaries were still very much in their infancy, but also, as I will argue throughout the book, because medical scientists, philosophers, novelists, physiologists, economists, artists and so on were all united in their interest in matters spiritual, psychic and psychopathological. That is, their understandings of embodiment, corporeality, perception, sensation, criminal responsibility, and allopathic medicine, to name some of the interests, were developed through terms and concepts that connected up studies of hypnotic trance, psychotic delusions and hallucinations with studies of mediumship, telepathy and related psychic phenomena. One of the key paradoxes of these debates that William James focused his attention on was what he termed ‘the problem of personality’. I will spend some time in the next section outlining this problem as it will form a central genealogical focus of Immaterial Bodies.

    The Problem of Personality

    William James is probably better known to contemporary readers for his poetic descriptions of consciousness as being akin to a stream – a flow of ideas, images, sensations and affects which are characterized primarily by movement. Hence the metaphor of the stream captures the fluidity and permeability of consciousness, which ripples, flows and ebbs rather than being housed by a singular unified bounded subject. The topology of subjectivity that James presents is one which views the human subject as being akin to a channel or conductor of thought, open and permeable to the other, invoking a sense of a shared collective consciousness, rather than one closed and located within atomized subjects. The ‘problem of personality’ in the nineteenth century was articulated as a particular problem of suggestive or affective communication. Interests in affective or suggestive communication were framed through a concern with how ideas, affects, beliefs, traditions and emotion could spread throughout populations with a rapidity that seemed to defy the action of logic or rationality. Philosophers such as Henri Bergson, the sociologist Gabriel Tarde, and William James all attempted to provide answers to this problem by arguing in different ways that what defined human sociality and subjectivity was the capacity of ‘ordinary suggestion’. The human subject was not self-contained, individualized, clearly bounded and separate from others, but rather the borders and boundaries between self and other were considered porous and permeable.

    The invocation of a version of ‘immateriality’ to understand human subjectivity was primarily drawn from the aforementioned scholars’ interest in matters spiritual, psychic and psychopathological. They were all members of the Institute for Psychical Research and framed their understandings through terms and concepts that connected up studies of hypnotic trance, psychotic delusions and hallucinations with studies of mediumship, telepathy and related psychic phenomena. This trinity of scholars have also been resurrected by many contemporary cultural theorists who have refigured bodies as processes, defined by their capacity to affect and be affected (Despret, Massumi, Latour). As we have seen, the ‘turn to affect’ has been framed as a response to the problems of cultural inscription and discourse determinism which have been argued to show up the limits of work on text, language and discourse across the humanities. Discursive approaches are seen to have sidelined the body, emotion, affect and sensation in understanding communication processes. However, one key argument of Immaterial Bodies is that the paradox of personality that James identified is not resolved simply by moving to affect, unless we also engage with the parameters of the debates which concerned nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholars. James, like many of his contemporaries, was also influenced by debates concerning the nature of will – how one could theorize and understand agency and self-determinism in the context of permeability and porousness between self and other. This paradox, which was captured by James's ‘problem of personality’, was far from resolved and entered into his musings on the nature of various concepts, such as habit and personality, and is one that I will argue resurfaces in an unacknowledged way in contemporary debates on affect and embodiment.

    One way in which this paradox returns is in the thorny question of how to theorize the nature of the subject, or the complex ontologies of subjectivity that are being suggested by the renewed engagement across the humanities and social and natural sciences with affect, the non-representational and the immaterial. All of these concepts have been offered as terms which refer to registers of experience which are primarily trans-subjective (that is, they are not contained by bounded singularly human subjects), which introduce the noncognitive into our theorizing of perception, knowing and sense-making, and which demand collaborations across disciplinary boundaries in order to reinvent new ways of being human, and develop new concepts for exploring embodiment and experience. The concept of embodiment is one central to body studies which is, as we have seen, a transdisciplinary area of study which grew from the sociology of the body, and now involves work across a diverse range of arts, humanities and science-based disciplines (see Chapter 1).

    Art, Science and Humanities Research

    The potential links and collaborations across cultural and science studies have of course not had an entirely amicable relationship. Once the subject of the infamous ‘science wars’ (Sokal and Bricmont, 1998), it is often forgotten that transdisciplinary collaborations are more common than such divisions might imagine or suggest. In a recent book written by the Australian psychologist Philip Bell (2010), which harks back to these wars, body studies and cultural studies become the subject of vehement attack. That a psychologist might be threatened by scholars from the humanities offering a revision of psychological concepts such as perception, habit and affect is perhaps understandable, given the investment by psychology in retaining a truth value for the theories it produces. However, what is more surprising is the lack of attention given to the histories of transdisciplinary engagement across the humanities and sciences, which have become part of psychology's forgotten history of emergence. Indeed, this attack on the humanities becomes even more insidious in the context of the UK coalition government's attacks on and devaluation of arts and humanities research as having little economic impact or value. Indeed, the decision to remove or reduce funding for arts, humanities and social science research and teaching within the university sector assumes that there have always been clear divisions between the humanities and sciences. That through an act of ‘cleansing’ one can remove humanities research, reduced at best to the ‘social aspects’ of science, technology and medicine, and retain a purified notion of science as one that does not need the arts and humanities for its own development, innovation, creativity and success.

    As many have argued, this rigid demarcation and division is one ideologically driven by marketization and privatization and shows an ignorance of how science and humanities research are informed and influence each other. Innovation and creativity do not come from the demands of the market; rather histories of scientific progress and creativity come as much from ‘paradigm shifts’ identified by Thomas Kuhn in the 1960s as the impact of cultural beliefs, ideas and concepts on the framing of scientific concerns and experimentation. One example of this in the context of the exchange between the psychological sciences and media cultures has been identified by Anna McCarthy (2009) in her examination of the exchanges which took place between the famous American experimental social psychologist, Stanley Milgram, and Allen Funt, the creator and producer of Candid Camera, one of the first reality TV programmes in the 1970s. Candid Camera employed hidden cameras and used simulation and deception in the form of ‘staged pranks’ for comedic value. The deception enacted on the unwitting participant would be revealed at the end of the prank by the invitation to ‘Smile, you're on Candid Camera’. McCarthy shows how Stanley Milgram turned to Funt's work as a model for his own forms of social psychological experimentation into the nature of conformity and obedience.

    What is important to signal in this preface is that histories of exchange and collaboration are integral to scientific forms of experimentality, not simply an adjunct that can be removed and isolated without damaging the very innovation, creativity and critical thinking that enable scientific thinking to develop. The subject of transdisciplinary exchange is one that is at the heart of this book, and I hope will act as a cautionary reminder to those who might think and act otherwise. Indeed, as Michel Foucault cogently taught us, histories of progress are never simply histories of the unfolding of some purist notion of scientific truth. Histories of the present are histories of how what we might be tempted to isolate as the ‘internal’ and external’ conditions which allow understanding to emerge can never be demarcated in this way. There is no ‘internal’ that can be isolated from the ‘external’ and in that respect the distribution and circulation of concepts, ideas, beliefs, understandings and forms of action within and across science, art and culture are integral to the emergence of knowledge practices such as science, medicine and those that might be more easily dismissed by some as of lesser value, namely culture and the arts. An understanding of past collaborations across such demarcations is crucial to understanding where and how we might invent new concepts for understanding who and what we are and, indeed, might be allowed to become.

    One context of transdisciplinary engagement important for this book is one that coalesced around the ‘problem of affective transfer’ and the importance of spiritualist and psychic research for understanding problems common to emerging humanities-based and scientific disciplines during the late nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries. That is, from discussions of media technologies, such as early cinema, the radio and the printing press, through to discussions of crime, perception, hypnotic suggestion, psychopathology, instinct, habit, electricity, and communication systems such as the wireless and telegraphy, what was shared across knowledge practices, such as philosophy, science and medicine, was an understanding that sense-making, whether conducted by animals, spirits, machines or humans, occurred in registers which extended across time and space. This sense-making was considered difficult to see and articulate, and as thoroughly collapsing the boundaries between self and other, animate and inanimate, inside and outside, and human and non-human.

    This observation is of course not new; many arguments have already been made regarding the importance of nineteenth-century spiritualist research for understandings of cinema as a hypnotic medium (Andriopoulos, 2008; Crary, 1990), or television as an ‘occult domestic phenomenon’ (Andriopoulos, 2005: 622; Sconce, 2000). Possibly less well known are the centrality of spiritualist arguments for understandings of habit, instinct and perception as they were shaped and formed as concepts during the emergence of the psychological sciences at the turn of the last century. Charles Bingham Newland, a biologist by training who exerted a profound influence on Edward McDougall, considered one of the founding figures of American social psychology, published a book in 1916, What is Instinct? Some Thoughts on Telepathy and Subconsciousness in Animals (Bingham Newland, 1916). He used the analogy of the Marconi wireless system to understand the basis of instinctual behaviour amongst non-human species. The Marconi wireless system was ‘a material apparatus tuned to transmit and receive the intangible through space’ (p. 1). The focus on immaterial processes of communication, which he argued had been reduced to instinctual forces within physiology (located within different species nervous systems), obscured the way that the ‘seen and unseen are closely connected’ (p. 6).

    The unseen or immaterial equated for Bingham Newland to an instinctive subconscious mind which was shared by a group and provided the conditions for the rapid, automatic, group behaviour which could be observed in nesting, migration, herding activity, stampedes, homing instincts, swarming and so forth. Thus, the kinds of foresight and sensing that might be found amongst insects, moths, flies, birds and fish (all the subject of Bingham Newland's book) were all evidence of the basis of instinctual behaviour within telepathic processes such as teleaesthesia. Teleaesthesia was defined as ‘perception at a distance or power of vision transcending time and space’ (Bingham Newland, 1916: 189). In other words, instincts were not simply hard-wired biological drives, to be understood by physiology, but represented complex systems of communication or affective transfer, which were shared, transmitted and co-constituted between members of species. Thus, the idea of telepathic rapport, or action at a distance, was a common way to understand communication processes, whether the discussion was focused on machines, animals, insects, humans or technologies. The idea of telepathic transfer largely became discredited, overtaken by an increasing focus on what were billed as more rational communication processes. These were represented in the psychological sciences by concepts such as the attitude (see Rose, 1985). However, arguably the cultural fantasies conveyed by telepathic transfer have refused to go away.


    Within the contemporary context of cultural theory, the ‘turn to affect’ is one arena within which such fantasies have arguably resurfaced. The primacy of affect as an important yet under-researched process and mechanism of subject formation is one that has provided the kind of common ontology linking the human with the natural sciences, that links affect back to both spiritualist research in the nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries, and to cybernetics research from the 1940s through to the 1970s (see Blackman, 2010a). Both spiritualist research and cybernetics provided occasions for the kind of inter-disciplinarity that is forming around the subject of affect within the present. The Macy conferences held between 1946 and 1953 brought together physicists, mathematicians, electrical engineers, physiologists, neurologists, experimental psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists and anthropologists to discuss a range of topics which were made intelligible through the development of the concept of information enshrined within information theory (Weiner, 1989).

    Some hundred years previously, the subject of spiritualist research had also provided opportunities for cross-pollination and transdisciplinary collaboration in relation to the ‘problem of communication’. This context brought together scientists, engineers, anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, medical doctors, physicists, spiritualists and psychiatrists to discuss telepathy and its relevance for understanding communication processes. The problem of communication as it was presented by studies of telepathy was articulated through a concern with forms of communication that crossed borders and boundaries between the human and the non-human, the material and the ephemeral, the self and the not-self, and the living and the dead. The concept of telepathic rapport travelled across emergent disciplines, and also appeared within medical, legal and literary contexts which invoked communication as a largely intangible, immaterial process. These three contexts (spiritualism, cybernetics and contemporary media cultures) all provide important surfaces of emergence for examining corporeality in the present. Attending to this will extend our understandings of the subject of affect and embodiment, common to both contemporary research in the neurosciences and the humanities. This must do justice to what Stefan Andriopoulos (2005: 637) has termed the ‘half-hidden borrowings’ from spiritualist and psychic research that have largely been forgotten.


    Avery Gordon (2008) has invoked the concept of haunting as of important methodological significance for sociological theorizing. In the foreword to Gordon's book, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination, Janice Radway concurs with Gordon's calls for a renewed attention in humanities research to how certain things, entities, processes or ideas have become ‘marginalised, excluded or repressed’ (Gordon, 2008: 4). Gordon shifts the focus on the ‘visible and the concrete’ characteristic of empiricist methodologies to those aspects of our ‘complex personhood’ (p. viii) that have been lost. In a reconfiguration of genealogical research shared by other feminist sociologists such as Vikki Bell (2007), Gordon makes an argument that disrupts the usual focus in Foucauldian genealogical study on historical discontinuities, arguing that what is missed in such methodological framings are those aspects of historical continuity that are passed and transmitted through silences, gaps, omissions, echoes and murmurs.

    Vikki Bell uses the concept of lineage or intergenerationality to point towards what tends to be left out by genealogical analysis. She suggests that although we might uncover historical discontinuities between different epistemes, this approach wilfully denies, through its historical method, the way in which affects, trauma, forms of shame and so forth are communicated intergenerationally. Turning to critical race studies and Gilroy's illuminating work on diaspora, she re-establishes the importance in this context of exploring how this background of felt dispositions is commemorated and routed (Gilroy, 1993). She describes these as ‘those relations that are neither simply of identification nor of alterity, that is, those of genealogical connection’ (Bell, 2007: 33). This is about ‘generational carnal connection’ (Bell, 2007: 37), relationships and dispositions which are transmitted by mediums and practices other than the speaking subject: this might include film, television, photographs, fiction and less inscribed, more embodied practices of remembering (Connerton, 1989).

    This focus on ‘hauntings’ and the concept of intergenerational transmission is important in two ways for this book. In a focus on the hauntings which pervade the shaping and emergence of the psychological sciences, I am interested in how specific concepts and phenomena such as habit, suggestion, voice hearing, instinct, will and affect became shaped and formed in specific ways. This shaping, as we will see throughout the book, took place in a context where spiritualist and psychic research was prominent, and although psychology was largely to reject such immaterial matters, it is haunted by the disavowals and refusals that have characterized its project. The genealogy at the heart of this book then shares with other genealogies of subjects that attempt to revise and offer what we might term a post-psychological reinvention of what psychology claims as its subject matter. This includes the important genealogical work of the Belgian anthropologist Vincianne Despret (2004a, 2004b) on affect and emotion, and of Ruth Leys (2000, 2007, 2010a, 2011a), the historian of science who has taken psychological matters such as trauma and, in a more contemporary context, affect and emotion as her focus.

    This work is set alongside genealogical studies and cultural histories that take perception (Crary, 1990), will and inhibition (Smith, 1992), distraction (Swanson, 2007), autonomy (Rose, 1999), the double brain (Harrington, 1987), the bicameral mind (Jaynes, 1976; McGilchrist, 2009), habit (Camic, 1986), and suggestion (Chertok and Stengers, 1992; Orr, 2006) as their focus. This transdisciplinary work, coming from disciplines as diverse as art history, anthropology, sociology, the neurosciences, philosophy and cultural studies, has also offered humanities scholars productive and inventive ways of theorizing and analysing embodiment. This work has contributed to an exchange and circulation of ideas that I hope my own work can extend, specifically in the context of contemporary debates in relation to affect and embodiment.


    In previous work, I undertook a genealogy of voice hearing (Blackman, 2001, 2007a), taking a phenomenon that has largely been specified, understood and acted upon within the psychological and psychiatric disciplines and approached largely as a sign of irrational perception. My own work in this area, in collaboration with the Hearing Voices Network, has helped problematize the view that voice hearing is merely a meaningless epiphenomenon of a disease process. The Hearing Voices Network, in conjunction with service users, professionals who are willing to listen, as well as scientists willing to concede that there is more to voice hearing than mapping the brain through imaging technologies and brain scans, have impacted upon the practice of psychiatry itself. It is now more common to find voice-hearing groups as part of outpatient psychiatric services, encouraging voice hearers to focus on their voices, listen to them and share them with other group members.

    When I started my research on the phenomenon of voice hearing in the early 1990s in the UK, the view held by psychiatric professionals, which seemed absolutely intractable at the time, was that voices were simply signs of disease and that if you talk to the voice hearer about their voices you will simply be reinforcing their diseased and troubled reality (see Blackman, 2001, 2007a). I am glad to say that this view is no longer the predominant view of many psychiatric professionals, some of whom, led by the pioneering work of the Dutch psychiatrists Marius Romme and Sandra Escher, are now more open to exploring voices as communications. This has been consolidated in a co-edited book, Living with Voices: 50 Stories of Recovery (Romme et al., 2009), which brings together the views and practice of Romme and Escher with the accounts of service users, including Jacqui Dillon (the current Chair of the Hearing Voices Network), and other psychological practitioners willing to listen to voice hearers. The arguments made in the book will be the subject of Chapter 6 – set alongside contemporary neuropsychological work, and that coming from more marginal areas of the psychological sciences. These are areas which are all challenging some of the dominant paradigms of brain research, which still approach voice hearing as a brain deficit to be mapped by brain-imaging techniques and scans (see Chapter 7).

    The work I will explore reconfigures voice hearing as a different way of knowing; a form of communication that perhaps connects the voice hearer to alterity. This presumption has been inspirational for projects such as Grace Cho's (2008) beautiful and aptly haunting account of her own experience of the intergenerational transmission of memory. This project was undertaken within the discipline of cultural studies, and is situated within contemporary debates on affect that are taking form across the neurosciences and humanities. Cho takes the concept of voice hearing as a modality of knowing that cannot be reduced to irrationality or disease. Rather, such a modality of communication, she suggests, discloses our fundamental connectedness to each other; to our pasts, and even to past histories that cannot be known. These might be histories that are never or barely articulated, but importantly are communicated, albeit non-representationally, through silence and secrecy.

    Cho's study is a way of linking up what Davoine and Guadilliere (2004) term histories beyond trauma. That is, connecting up those histories that have never be told, authorized or documented within official histories, such as the forgotten Korean War, with micro-histories of trauma and shame. Davoine and Guadilliere are analysts who have worked for over three decades with psychosis. Many analysts are reluctant to work with hallucinatory phenomena, preferring instead to work within the confines of language and ideation. Davoine and Guadilliere have pioneered work within studies of the intergenerational transmission of trauma, particularly approaching psychosis as an attempt to bring into existence a social trauma that has been foreclosed. This is an attempt to explore precisely those carnal generational connections that exist genealogically but which cannot be articulated. For Davoine and Guadilliere the subject is always a subject of history, even though those histories may have been cut out of what they call ‘the sanctioned social narrative’ (p. xii).

    Cho's study will also form one of the bases of Chapter 6, and is an example of the second way in which the concept of ‘haunting’ is integral to the approach developed within this book. Haunting is both a methodological and analytic tool, as evidenced in the preceding discussion, but also refers in this book more explicitly to the phenomena which will form the subject of the book: suggestion, voice hearing and telepathy, as well as other experiences, such as the bicameral mind (Jaynes, 1976) which suggest some kind of transport, under particular conditions, between the self and other, inside and outside, and material and immaterial. The self is literally haunted by another; indeed, if the phenomena I examine are examples of haunting, this may be the normative ontology of the subject. These phenomena and the scientific and humanities-based research I will examine suggest a very different paradigm for understanding some of the ontologies of subjectivity being introduced by affect studies; this might include Karan Barad's relational ontology and Patricia Clough's quantum ontology, for example.

    The Double

    In the afterword to the relaunch special issue of the journal Body & Society on affect, Clough (2010a) says that relational ontologies are problematic, and argues instead that quantum ontologies are more useful for imagining affective processes. Quantum ontologies are seen to ‘enact intra-actions that are not in the world, but are of the world’ (Parisi, 2004). This statement by Parisi is intended to show the focus of quantum ontologies on novelty based on singular events that can never be repeated again. What we have here is a reification of movement as the defining feature of becoming, whereas relational ontologies are seen to be too fixated on individuation – on the one rather than the many. This is akin to William James's focus on consciousness as a stream; what Parisi terms the ‘specious present’ acknowledging James's work. However, as I have argued throughout this preface, this focus on one aspect of James's theorizing obscures his simultaneous focus on the ‘problem of personality’; on how individuals live singularity in the face of multiplicity, or what I am also going to term, throughout the book, the problem of being ‘one yet many’ (see also Blackman, 2008b). This question has been framed in the present as the question of how we can be ‘more than one and less than many’, or how we can ‘hang together’ in light of the multiple possibilities of becoming that exist. The paradoxes and puzzles that this creates in offering a relational and processual account of corporeality and subjectivity are one of the focuses of this book.

    This problem moves critique in a different direction to that which has perhaps become instantiated by Deleuzian perspectives – that is, particularly as they have been taken up by corporeal feminists such as Elizabeth Grosz and Rosi Braidotti in their calls for developing non-dualistic language and thought. The paradigm that will form the subject of this book is one that is very influenced by neuroscientific work on the double brain and bicameral mind. These are concepts linking work on the phenomena of suggestion, voice hearing and telepathy in the present (see Chapter 7). This work suggests that rather than reify either movement or individuation, we need to attend to that fact that we can be both one yet many, depending upon the different milieux that produce the possibility of experience. This more ecological approach to subjectivity recognizes the brain's capacity for both individuation and multiplicity, and is starting to challenge many of the assumptions that are entrenched across psychology, biology and the neurosciences. Work on the double brain has not been given much attention by humanities scholars, despite calls for more collaboration across the humanities and neurosciences.

    This book will explore the importance of the paradigm of the double, rather than neuroscientific work on the double brain per se, for extending contemporary understandings of embodiment and affect. The paradigm of the double will take as its focus a number of key sites and surfaces of emergence for discussion. These are sites which are all marked by a transport or traffic between the self and other, material and immaterial, science and culture, and inside and outside. These sites include the crowd (Chapter 2), the séance and telepathy, particularly in the context of debates about emerging media technologies (Chapter 3), the clinical and therapeutic encounter (Chapters 4 and 5) and live performance and theatre (Chapter 5). What is important, the book will argue, is a re-engagement with what has been obscured, silenced and occluded in conceptions of immateriality that reduce the psychic to the body through understandings that privilege the brain or neurobiological body (see Cromby et al., 2011). This is a developing orthodoxy across cultural theory where the neurosciences and biological sciences have become authorized knowledge practices for validating the shift to affective bodies. The problems with this will be engaged through a genealogical analysis that will take this shift to affect as the subject of its inquiry (see Chapter 1).

    There are many articles and a growing number of books engaging with this shift. These include a focus on the emancipatory potential and possible limits of affect, and calls for transdisciplinary work that creates a dialogue or conversation between the humanities and the sciences (particularly the life, neurological and psychological sciences). This is the subject of Immaterial Bodies that it is hoped will offer a different way through these debates. I will ask what is being forgotten, silenced, erased and occluded in the contemporary turn to affect. It has become fairly commonplace for humanities scholars to draw on particular psychological concepts to theorize communication and cultural transmission, including perception, habit, memory, the senses and so forth. This book will explore what attending to experiences which always already open the subject to the other – suggestion, voice hearing and telepathy – might offer in the way of theorizing the thorny question of how we might understand the body's potential for mediation. This is set within the context of increasing evidence that suggests that bodies cannot be reduced to materiality and that the body's potential for psychic or psychological attunement – what I am terming ‘immateriality’ – is one that the turn to affect must adequately theorize.

    Excerpt Credits

    Excerpt from Laing, R.D. (1970) Knots, p83, reprinted with kind permission of the publishers Random House, United States and Routledge Taylor & Francis, United Kingdom.

    Excerpt from BORN BAD (copyright © 2003 debbie tucker green) reprinted with permission of the publisher, Nick Hern Books:

  • Epilogue

    As I finish this book, work on affect is further intensifying, characterized by a volume of critique and counter-critique exploring the status of affect in the biocultural organization of perception (see Connolly, 2011a, 2011b; Leys, 2011c; Wetherell, 2012). My own contributions are largely to be qualified by what emerges from these debates. I hope that the genealogy written in this book can open the ambivalent duality that affect affords to further genealogical and critical inquiry. One direction is suggested by a recent commentary on the significance of the writings of the nineteenth-century sociologist Gabriel Tarde (see Candea, 2010). Andrew Barry extends Tarde's interest in hypnosis by refocusing attention on the importance of mediation in his writing. As we have seen throughout this book, Tarde, along with his contemporaries, such as James and Bergson, was interested in hypnotic suggestion as a possible ontology of the social. However, as Barry (2010) argues, Tarde's interest in hypnosis was also methodological. As well as using a model of hypnosis to understand processes of subjectification, he also saw in hypnosis a set of experimental procedures and practices for producing suggestion. As well as a possible ontology of the social, his interest in hypnosis was also technical. As Barry (2010: 182) argues: ‘Hypnosis did not merely record a process of suggestion and imitation; it produced the forms of inter-psychological relationship which Tarde wished to observe’.

    This echoes the approach I have been developing throughout the book to what I have termed ‘threshold phenomena’. That is, our understanding of what comes to matter cannot be separated from the fundamental technicity of affectivity. Although one definition of bodies to come out of affect studies is the capacity of bodies to affect and be affected (see Chapter 1), the invocation of concepts such as flow to understand such processes is problematic. Flow implies some kind of continuous passage or movement which in some perspectives is equated to the realm of the virtual – that which is seen to exceed and exist as a pre-autonomic intensive remainder (see Chapters 1 and 3). Although this breaks down distinctions between the human and the non-human, there are problems with the status of subjectivity within these accounts. It is assumed that affect does not require a subject, whilst at the same time minimal theories of subjectivity are assumed, implicitly and explicitly, which require examination. One of these is the distinction made between affect and cognition, where affect is aligned to non-intentionality (see also Leys, 2011a).

    As we saw in Chapter 1, there is a tension in accounts which wish to displace the centrality of the human, but rely on often unexamined assumptions about the place of the brain, nervous system and endocrine system, in the production and conduction of affective processes. The non-intentionality of affect is therefore seen to bypass cognition, and is located within forms of bodily affectivity, requiring rather materialist conceptions of affectivity in order to displace the subject; this might include mirror neurons and so forth (Thrift, 2010). Neuroscience becomes a privileged knowledge practice within such accounts in order to explain such processes. These unexamined assumptions point towards the importance of reinventing our concept of experimentation and not simply deploying positivist experiments from the neurosciences or the cognitive or psychological sciences in order to authorize affect (see also Callard and Papoulias, 2010). These problems will be examined in the next section where I want to engage with recent debates within critical neuroscience in order to frame my own engagement with brainhood. This will situate my discussion of the double brain and the concept of bicameral consciousness and my reasons for resurrecting this neglected archive. My focus will be on what questions, issues and research programmes a re-engagement with this archive opens up for the sciences and humanities.


    With the rise in the popularity and standing of neuroscience, reflected by the increase in public engagement and funding, the interest in the brain and brainhood among scholars from the arts, social sciences and humanities is also increasing. The status of the neurosciences as having a unique purchase on the question of what it means to be human is also accompanied by the development of critique, particularly in the form of what has come to be known as ‘critical neuroscience’ (Choudhury et al., 2009). The prefix ‘critical’ in front of a scientific knowledge practice has a long history. One form of engagement is reflected by those within and sometimes outside the discipline of psychology, who align themselves with the project of ‘critical psychology’ (see Blackman et al., 2008). Critical psychology and neuroscience share a focus on developing critique of the methodologies used within both experimental psychology and the neurosciences for examining brainhood. I am using the term ‘brainhood’ following Fernando Vidal (2009), who draws parallels with the genealogical work on the psychological sciences carried out by the British sociologist Nikolas Rose. Rose (1999) developed the concept of the ‘autonomous self’ as a way of examining the normative image of personhood that became embedded and produced within psychology, which became central to strategies of governance and regulation such as neoliberalism (see also Henriques et al., 1984). Rose (2007) has more recently extended his genealogical analyses to the neurosciences, with his figurations of neurochemical and somatic selfhood. Similarly, Vidal uses the concept of the ‘cerebral self’ as an ‘anthropological figure’ (2009: 5) to emphasize the historical formation of the concepts and explanatory structures which are enacted within knowledge practices such as the neurosciences.

    The impact of the ‘psychology’ of neoliberalism is one that has equally shaped the formation of the neurosciences. As Vidal (2009: 7) argues:

    The individualism characteristic of western and westernized societies, the supreme value given to the individual as autonomous agent of choice and initiative, and the corresponding emphasis on interiority at the expense of social bonds and contexts, are sustained by the brain-hood ideology and reproduced by neurocultural discourses.

    He argues that practices such as brain imaging which have become integral to most neuroscientific practice, evidence and experimentation, enact such an anthropological figure. What is important, he argues, is to challenge how neuroscience has taken form in the present. This requires a focus on the historical conditions of possibility which have led to the brain being considered an entity which can be mapped, isolated, measured and observed. That is, as a substance that can be separated from mind, body and world and primarily explained through neuronal or physicochemical processes. Despite the attachment of brain-imaging studies to mapping areas of the brain in terms of location and function, one of the emergent concepts of the brain to challenge such a rigid topography of the brain-as-entity has come from studies of brain imaging itself. As Vidal (2009: 19) cogently argues:

    At the same time, these techniques confirm the anatomical, functional and developmental evidence that the brain is neither a mosaic of punctuate sites, nor a hard-wired collection of neuronal circuits, but an array of interconnected and parallel networks, highly plastic and capable of repairing itself.

    The concept of brain plasticity is one that has taken form from the recognition of the influence of context on brain imaging. As Catherine Malabou (2008) has argued, localization of brain function, which has driven brain-imaging studies, is no longer considered a ‘rigid topography’ (see also Chapter 7). This has led to a delocalization of function with the acknowledgement that brain imaging also maps temporarily activated networks of neuronal connections. However, one of the problems with the confrontation of neuroscience by the plasticity of the brain itself is precisely how to incorporate this insight into experimental design and interpretation of findings. I will argue that this work foregrounds mind – matter relations, although the ‘neuronal’ is largely figured as a system separate from the ‘mental’, and to that extent reproduces many of the problems with the split between intentionality and non-intentionality that has characerized contemporary neuroscience (see also Leys, 2011b). The brain has largely been refigured as malleable potential rather than fixed entity, although the implications of this for brain – body – world relations have not yet been realized. Although brain plasticity is increasingly becoming one of the dominant concepts of the neurosciences, Malabou argues that this in itself has led to something of an impasse when considering just how to enact, understand and extend such a concept. In the next section I want to consider some of Malabou's arguments in more detail, particularly as they connect with some of the questions, issues and problems my own engagement with the double brain and bicameral consciousness has brought to the foreground.

    Another Plasticity

    Catherine Malabou is primarily a philosopher, influenced by Derrida, Deleuze, Heidegger and also contemporary neuroscience. Her more recent work has engaged with the significance of the concept of brain plasticity for contemporary politics (2008, 2010). Her book, What Should We Do With Our Brain?, repeats a refrain that, she argues, carries the ambivalence at the heart of contemporary neuroscientific engagement with brain plasticity. The refrain, ‘the brain is a work, and we do not know it’ is returned to throughout the book. The repetition of this phrase, she argues, captures the failure of current neuroscientific conceptions of brain plasticity to animate the potential of this concept. She argues that this is because the neuroscientific community is tied to what she terms a specific ‘neuronal ideology’ (2008: 11). This ideology is one which she associates with neoliberal forms of capitalism which align plasticity to flexibility. Neuroplasticity challenges the understanding that the brain should be equated to a machine in terms of function and processing. The notion that the brain is a kind of command control centre is displaced by a number of concepts, including the concepts of network and flow, which refigure the brain as more adaptable and mobile, refigured as flexible process. However, Malabou argues that the concept of flexibility is governed by a number of presuppositions that need examining if plasticity is to do justice to the historicity of brainhood itself. She invites the reader to consider the question ‘What should we do so that consciousness of the brain does not purely and simply coincide with the spirit of capitalism?’ (2008: 12). It is this question that I would like to comment on in light of arguments made throughout my book. I want to argue that the continuities between the subliminal archive of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the rearticulation of similar problems, issues and questions within debates on the double brain and bicameral consciousness explored in the previous chapter, are important to displace the centrality of a particular version of plasticity-as-flexibility. This archive is part of neurology's forgotten history and enacts changing conceptions of brainhood which cannot be contained by the translation of plasticity into flexibility.

    The ‘economy of flexibility’ (Malabou, 2008: 46) that governs neuroscientific discourse is one that circulates and appears across a range of sites and practices. Malabou specifically ties this to a discourse of management, aligning the model of the brain enacted within neuroscience to the ‘entrepreneur of flexible labour’ (p. 49). The shift in organizational development and management is captured by practices such as ‘change management’, which position the manager as a facilitator, enhancing or more commonly coaching employees to develop their capacities for adaptability and flexibility. The flexible employee is required to be lean, agile, constantly on the move and able to respond anew to changing organizational conditions. This is mimicked by a flatter organizational structure characterized as supple rather than as a fixed, centralized, hierarchical system. Malabou argues that the brain is modelled on such a formulation, equating plasticity to flexible adaptation naturalizing a logic which has become a neurological hegemony. In previous work I have explored how the logic underpinning the concept of brain plasticity is one also produced through the explanatory structures of computational neuroscience (see Blackman, 2005; see also Chapters 4 and 5). This includes the computational modelling and simulation of a variety of cognitive processes, including thinking and remembering by computer networks. These networks have been considered self-emergent and autonomous such that a concept of flexibility is an a priori structure built into the systems. These systems are seen to mimic brain activity reconceived as non-linear and polysemic. The brain is seen to be characterized by ‘dialogicity’ and enacts new forms of exclusion reproducing what Malabou (2008: 53) terms ‘an extremely normalizing vision of democracy’.

    The Dialogical Self

    Malabou (2008) explores the forms of social exclusion which are enacted in relation to the imparting of dialogicity to the brain. Following Manuel Castel's (2002) book, From Manual Workers to Wage Laborers: Transformation of the Social Question, she explores how particular social groups, such as the long-term unemployed, are aligned to immobility, seen as lacking the (dialogical) skills to enact their own flexible adaptation. As many cultural theorists have shown, habit or avoidance of fixation has become the shadowy ‘other’ to the injunction of flexibility within neoliberal forms of governmentality (Bauman, 2000; Sennett and Cobb, 1988). The inability to enact the capacity to be ‘one yet many’ becomes a problem of information processing or dialogicity aligned to the mind viewed as an expression of brain. Malabou asks what ontology of selfhood underpins this conception of brain plasticity-as-flexibility. She argues that despite synaptic plasticity, what is integral to many neuroscientific theories which work with plasticity is the invocation of some kind of proto-self which is seen to orchestrate coherence. Thus approaches such as those of Damasio (see Chapter 4) impute a non-conscious self which permits ‘a synthesis of all the plastic processes at work in the brain’ (Malabou, 2008: 58). Thus mentalist and cognitivist conceptions of selfhood are at play in addressing the problem of personality, of how one can achieve coherence or unity in the face of multiplicity, for example. Malabou rightly argues that the mentalist conceptions of selfhood which lie in the background orchestrating unity are based on interpretations and analyses which are insufficiently developed. She equates them, such as in the work of Damasio, to psychological forms of Darwinism (Malabou, 2008: 65). As we can see, flexibility is not without limits, but ultimately these limits are based on ascribing psychological capacities and characteristics to a singularly bounded individual. The problem of the psychic or psychological lies in the background, haunting analyses which for many affect theorists have been offered as a possible model for explaining affective communication (see Chapters 1 and 4).

    The Future of Affect Studies

    As I finish this book I do not want to argue that we should simply replace one ontology with another – relational with quantum, or neuronal with subliminal, for example (see Chapter 1). Georgie Born (2010), in her recent commentary on my engagement with Tarde (Blackman, 2007b), has rightly argued that we should be cautious in importing ontologies of personhood or life that claim to ‘know’ in some way who and what we are. She equates this to a form of ‘ontological projection’ (Born, 2010: 233), and argues for the importance of ethnographies which can access the ‘cosmologies of others’ (p. 232). I am not arguing that we replace rationality with suggestion, or anti-mimesis with mimesis. I want to be more circumspect in relation to the view that affect can be simply aligned with the non-cognitive. This split between affect and cognition has its own genealogies, to which I hope this book has partially contributed. I do, however, think that the challenges of concepts of the double brain and bicameral consciousness have not been fully realized within either the neurosciences or the humanities’ engagement with brainhood. I want to return to one of Mike Featherstone's (2010) questions explored in Chapter 1 about the distinction between mirror vision and movement vision. What is important to adequately theorize is how precisely subjects move between these different registers. This requires a different conception of embodiment which is neither fully open nor closed. One of the implications of the genealogy constituted within this book is the importance of refiguring bodily potentialities as thresholds which require mattering processes to take form. Thresholds introduce leaps, gaps, tensions, ruptures and conflicts to conceptions of change and transformation, avoiding the dangers of aligning plasticity to flexibility (see also Malabou, 2008). Thresholds also direct our attention to mediation, but, as I have argued throughout this book, mediation requires extension by the development of more creative and inventive approaches to experimentation. This is in contrast to simply authorizing approaches to the brain, mind, body and world which originate within positivist forms of experimentation characteristic of the psychological and neurosciences.

    This is more than simply saying that any collaborative inquiry between the neurosciences and the humanities will be hampered by the problem of method (Cromby, 2007). Choudhury et al. (2009) have argued for the importance of reflexivity with a call to neuroscientists to critically examine their own scientific practices, forms of experimental design and the social contexts within which they work. They argue for the importance of historical contextualization in order to reflect on the paradigms, concepts and explanatory structures which have become imported into neuroscientific practice. As well as recognizing the importance of developing creative and critical forms of experimentation what becomes central to such research programmes and projects is collaboration across the sciences, arts and humanities. As these areas are separated out due to the funding of teaching and research across the university sector in the UK and elsewhere, the need for distributed forms of alliance which can model affect, embodiment and mediation in innovative ways is all the more urgent. As we have seen throughout this epilogue, the modelling of plasticity within the neurosciences and its import as a concept into affect studies is often tied to neoliberal conceptions of personhood (see also Blackman, 2010a). As many such as Claire Hemmings (2005) have argued, the current interest in affect is one which promises to emancipate the subject from social constraint, and thus to sideline theories and (paranoid) theorists who might wish to explore affect as an enduring mechanism of social reproduction. This oscillation between affect as openness and affect as regulation is reproduced in the ambivalent duality which characterizes what I have termed ‘threshold phenomena’.

    As we have seen throughout this book, suggestion, voice hearing and other phenomena that might be characterized in this way enact both a subject's openness to the other, and a set of cultural fears and fantasies about possession or being governed by another's gaze. Andriopoulos (2008) has made a cogent argument as to why possession must be inserted into cultural histories of modernity. This is particularly so if we are to fully realize the importance of phenomena such as suggestion to modelling possible ontologies of the self and social. One interesting historical trajectory that work on the double has taken is in the work of Du Bois (1903), writing in the same context as William James and his contemporaries (see Chapter 6). As Paul Gilroy (1993) has argued, Du Bois developed the concepts of double consciousness to theorize the condition of being a colonial subject within modernity. As Gilroy (1993: 120) argues, black music became a ‘cipher for the ineffable, sublime, pre-discursive and anti-discursive elements in black expressive culture’. Thus black expressive culture was seen to transmit those elements which were produced out of the ambivalence and conflicts surrounding the colonial stereotype (see Bhabha, 2004). These include the ties and connections that bind intergenerationally and point towards the continuities that circulate across space and time. These are attachments that might not necessarily be spoken or easily articulated and yet are embodied in complex ways. Gilroy's (1993) illuminating work on diaspora re-establishes in this context the importance of exploring how this background of felt dispositions is commemorated and routed. As Vikki Bell (2007: 32) has argued, these are ‘those relations that are neither simply of identification nor of alterity, that is, those of genealogical connection’ (see also Blackman, 2011a, in relation to theorizing affect and performance).

    As an alternative model of plasticity, concepts of the double brain and bicameral consciousness reintroduce ‘dialectical tension’ (Malabou, 2008: 82) into the politics of affect, and recognize the ambivalences at the heart of modernity. Rather than affect not needing a subject, my conclusion is that the turn to affect invites us to develop models of the psychic, psychological and subjectivity which extend our conceptions of mind, brain, body and world across space and time. This model must adequately deal with the enduring problem of how to theorize the relationships between mind and matter. The problem of personality is not over, neither has it been fully resolved in the current turn to affect. There is much work in body studies, on situated cognition (Suchman, 2007), the extended mind (Clark and Chalmers, 2008), and related perspectives, which have done much to distribute cognition across space. Cognition within such approaches is distributed between human and non-human agencies and actors and therefore taken out of a singularly bounded psychological subject. One question which might be asked of this work is how to think about affective relations which might be transmitted across time, and which are not so easy to map or model (see Manzotti, 2011). This for me is one of the important legacies of the subliminal archive that forms the central focus of this genealogy. The problem of ‘the one and the many’ and how to think this ambivalent duality is central to thinking about processes of subjectification within contemporary neoliberal forms of governmentality. This is the subject that affect requires. It is one of the unacknowledged conditions of possibility for some of the current work on affect and embodiment that promises to transform our conceptions of life, the body, the human and politics. This genealogy as yet cannot be written.


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