Conceptual Composition 15: Affect

by sepidehkarami


I look at this woman. Who is she?

In last scene of Godfather trilogy, Francis Ford Coppola creates an affective scene, an unforgettable expression of loss, pain, love, violence and revenge. From the moment when Mary Corleone is shot to the end of that very scene, several delays are applied as a technique in expressing intense emotion that strongly affects spectacles. Coppola through choreographing gestures and bodily movements and voices creates two very influential moments in this scene. One is a suspension between death and life when Mary walks in shock toward her father, Michael Corleone, a suspension when the father realizes his daughter is shot and forgets his own injury; like he is not shot himself at all. The repeated shifts of camera from Michael to Marry, by focusing on their shifts of emotion are expressed in facial and body gestures. This repeated shift delays the transmission of emotions from the actors to the spectacles and this delay increase the strength of affection. But second part and even the more affective moment starts when Michael screams to the sky, and Coppola cuts the sound of the scream for some seconds. This cut of the sound together with the facial and body gestures, and the slow motion of the scene intensify the emotion that is transmitted to the spectacle, and then the moment when the sound of screams reveals and the motion returns to its normal pace, one is flown away by the exploded intensity of emotion. Here delays are the most influential technique to generate affect. This delay shows all the tiny incidents, the micro-changes and shifts that creates the whole process; a process that we usually conceive as a whole. All these tiny gestures in between or all the tiny gestures that creates this totality that we call it sorrow, cry, scream have their own importance in creating an affect.

This is what Bill Viola also does in his videos. In his work “The Quintet of the Astonished”, which is a display of different emotional expression of a group of people, shown in an extraordinarily slow pace, makes the spectacle being confronted with a slow process of affect instead of arriving too fast to the result in the natural pace we are experiencing things in everyday life. As Nigel Thrift states in “Spatialities of Feeling”, Viola by ‘slowing things down, shows how each element of the body takes its part in a show of emotion, which has its own contested cultural history’.

The process of affect could be understood by decomposition of emotions, to recognize all the pauses, gestures, sounds, gazes etc. that creates an intense behavior, what is not anymore controllable, what escapes from the confinement of the body, or better to say becomes extension of the body in connection to others and in encounter to the others. Affect is a process consists of all voids and plentitudes of gestures. Understanding and analyzing the mechanism of affect helps us to understand how body is dispersed over time and space through emotion; how it is related to other bodies and how emotions play an important role that is usually denied. Affect is this connection. In my post on Capsular society I argued how gaze, look and voice help to create permeability in capsules. Affect is the intense accumulation of all these plus other gestures that are not controlled, and it is what exactly makes capsules permeable.

Eric Shouse in his paper “Feeling, Emotion, Affect”, defines affect as “a non-conscious experience of intensity; it is a moment of unformed and unstructured potential”. What is interesting is also to see the collective role of affects. The experience of being part of unrest, rebellion or any similar forms of spontaneous collective action, shows how affect could join people, without every individual being able to reflect or explain why-ness or how-ness of their action. The affective ties are created through thousands of encounters or in Spinoza’s description of l’affect, it goes from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation in the following body to act.

Usually the image of revolution in general or any other similar sorts of collective intense action is represented through masses; and the mass does not represent personal feeling and affects in details but it expresses a collective affect or the outcome of thousands or millions of individual emotion; in other words it represents a totality. But if we understand the mass as a body consists of thousands or millions of parts, then every individual has a role in creating the affect or representing the emotion; like what we see in Viola’s “The Quintet of the Astonished”, each person represent the emotion by several gestures. What this can bring us? Lets reverse the discussion. I would like to finish this short reflective text by another movie. “Into Thin Air”, a short movie by Mohammadreza Farzad, shows a scene of a unrest from around fifty years ago in Tehran. Farzad focuses on one body among the mass. As he slows down and rewinds a footage from that incidents, says:

I rewind the video and look again. But I can’t make out any of the faces.

What it is I was looking for in this scene?

I look at this woman.

She puts one hand on the ground, gets up and exit from the corner of the frame.

Who is she?

By this narration Farzad focuses on one body among hundreds in the mass. He points to the importance of one story among thousand. These micro stories are what create the bigger stories. Revolution that we perceive as a macro event and an affective mass movement consists of all these personal and micro stories. It is a sea of faces, a forest of hands, and oceans of gestures and stories.