Affect + Cognition = Affecognitive (Gail Hamner)

Gail Affect

Affect and cognition would seem to be an oxymoron. Colleague and friend Gail Hamner thinks otherwise, coining the term affecogitive to get at the imbrication of these two phenomena, namely the imbrication of affect into cognition and cognition into affect. For Hamner, affect is always a “disturbance” in thought and of thought.

The neologism has gotten attention and it is deserving of more. Citing Hamner, the term figures prominently in the introduction by John Corrigan to the edited volume Feeling Religion, an important contribution to the study of religion by way of affect theory, and in Hamner’s reading there of three films, Trembling Before God, For the Bible, and Jesus Camp. The relation of affect and (rational) cognition is also explored in the essays there by Diana Fritz Cates and Mark Wynn on Aquinas and St. John of the Cross, respectively, but without the moniker.

Hamner’s primary concern with affect is in the intersection between hegemony, commonsense, and ideology in the public sphere. In her contribution to Thinking Religion, affects are triggered in response to “unexpected disturbance” in expected norms (p.111, cf. 102). Hamner identifies three distinct moments in the operation of affect: [1] There is the affective register operative in relation to particular public cultures. (Hamner captures keenly the “sensorial presentation of the warm communal aesthetic of Jewish family life in Trembling Before God {p.106}), [2] displays of emotional impropriety that break with the general norm, and [3] the way an enacted disturbance elucidates primary operative norms while sustaining the potential to alter the very form of public culture (p.95).

I was unable, however, to find a succinct and more technical definition of the term, although I was sure I had seen one somewhere. Hamner suggested that it was somewhere in this essay in Feeling Religion or perhaps in her blog Affecognitive: religion, film, affect, academia (see the link below).  But it didn’t seem to be there. Eventually she found her mention of the term in an as-yet unpublished paper, which she then posted at her blog, and which I want to copy here.

This is what Hamner means by the affecognitive:

Put succinctly, affecognitive posits that all cognition embeds affect. As C. S. Peirce would say, all Thirdness includes Firstness, that is, all concept, generality, or law embeds quality, intensity, and possibility—and all affect arises out of a streambed of existing and sedimented thoughts and feelings.* The term is phenomenological and critical; it does not enter cognitive science debates about the origins and causes of cognition (thoughts) and feelings (named affects).

[…]

In considering familiar twentieth-century analyses of hegemony, commonsense, and ideology, it is clear that the success of these cultural and economic critiques lay in part in their agile attention to the powers of the ordinary and the everyday to thread together the habits of thought and feeling within communities, societies, and nations. Hegemony, common sense, and ideologies are particular social fabrics that constitute the comfortable vestments of quotidian social interaction, and critiques of them are critiques of those patterns of comfort and those vestments of power.

[…]

My contribution to this line of thinking is the term affecognitive, by which I intend to encompass the social nexus of sensation and understanding, like Rancière and Foucault, but in ways that stress the biological channeling of this nexus through the impulses and intensities of affect (e.g., chemicals, electricity, pheromones, subconscious awareness). Rancière and Foucault emphasize the social distribution of human sensation and practical reason, but my term inverts the lens and emphasize the biological condensation and flashpoint of the social. Affecognitive is about bodies; it refers to the ways in which the social circulation of affect (re)settles in a body and weaves into that body’s extant physical and psychological makeup. In referring to the biological, I do not claim it as a dimension of life cleanly separable from the social (epigenetics newly clarifies this imbrication), but neither is the biological simply reducible to the social. My premise is this: If in today’s world of intensifying social media and media prosthetics, the social comes to biological bodies predominantly through visual and sound images, the fabric of social life—biological, technological, institutional, and temporal—requires the actions and reactions of affecognitive circuits to generate, sustain, and (also) interrupt social consensus.

For the genealogy of this term in her thinking, see here the complete blogpost. Affect saturates her reading of film in Imaging Religion in Film as well as in her two essays on the Coen Brothers in Elijah Siegler (ed.), Coen: Framing Religion in Amoral Order.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish though and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
This entry was posted in uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Affect + Cognition = Affecognitive (Gail Hamner)

  1. Jon Awbrey says:

    Actually, Aristotle had already recognized that cognition is derivative on affect. See the relationship between signs and pathemata as discussed in the following paper.

    https://www.academia.edu/1266493/Interpretation_as_Action_The_Risk_of_Inquiry

  2. dmf says:

    “In considering familiar twentieth-century analyses of hegemony, commonsense, and ideology, it is clear that the success of these cultural and economic critiques lay in part in their agile attention to the powers of the ordinary and the everyday to thread together the habits of thought and feeling within communities, societies, and nations. Hegemony, common sense, and ideologies are particular social fabrics that constitute the comfortable vestments of quotidian social interaction” another reminder that we have never been post-structuralist,
    to borrow from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Park_Turner
    “In The Social Theory of Practices as well as in other writings Turner argues against collective concepts like culture: what we call culture (and similar concepts), he argues, needs to be understood in terms of the means of its transmission. There is no collective server by which it is simply downloaded and “shared”. What we take as “collective” is really produced through experiences of interaction which are different and produce different results for different individuals but which also produce a rough uniformity through mechanisms of feedback rather than “sharing”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s