An Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory - Andrew Bennett and Nicholas Royle 2016


In Pete Docter’s brilliant and neuro-scientifically informed visualization of the emotions that govern humans and other animals, Pixar Animation’s Inside Out (2015), the affective life — and therefore the life — of Riley, the eleven-year-old protagonist, is dominated by five key emotions: joy, sadness, fear, disgust and anger. In Docter’s conception, it is the interactions between these five primary emotions in the punningly-named ’headquarters’ (effectively Riley’s consciousness) that produce the almost limitless variety of feelings that go to make up the young girl’s memories and personality as well as controlling her actions. It is like the interactions between the three primary colours that go to make up all the other colours in the world — indeed, in Inside Out, the five anthropomorphized emotions have their own colours and Riley’s vast memory-bank is made up of an endless series of multiply-coloured spheres. The trauma of moving from Minnesota to San Francisco causes Joy and Sadness to get lost and for a seriously dangerous emotional imbalance to take over: Fear, Disgust and Anger are left in sole charge. The central idea of this remarkable movie is that each of your feelings — even the lonely, insecure and rather pathetic Sadness — is necessary for a viable emotional life.

Literature does feelings in its own inimitable way. In poems, novels, stories and plays, feelings, emotions or affects are evoked, displayed and generated simply through language, through an exact arrangement of words. Rather than just five, the variety of feelings is seemingly unlimited: grief, shame, joy, fear, curiosity, desire, frustration, happiness, sadness, anger, relief, delight, envy, disgust, contempt, disappointment, excitement, indifference, embarrassment, desire, empathy, mortification, anguish, pity, enthralment, boredom, surprise, pride, spite, dejection, gratitude, remorse, rapture, hatred, humiliation, loathing, love. And what a ’stormy chaos of “feelings”’ this can be, as that most emotionally acute of writers D.H. Lawrence puts it in ’The Novel and the Feelings’ (1925):

Some of them roar like lions, some twist like snakes, some bleat like snow-white lambs, some warble like linnets, some are absolutely dumb, but swift as slippery fishes, some are oysters that open on occasion … (Lawrence 1985, 202)

Feelings — literature does them all, and does them often in odd combinations of what we call ’mixed emotions’: the rapture of pure loathing, for example, the surprise of joy, the shame of love. You might say that literature does little else, indeed: what would a poem, novel or play be, what force or effect could it possibly have, if it didn’t represent and work on people’s feelings?

So when in Shakespeare’s King John (c.1596), Arthur, the young pretender to the English crown, is taken prisoner, his mother, Constance, believing that he cannot survive, is inconsolable. Both the Pope’s emissary, Cardinal Pandolf, and Philip, King of France, are scathing in their judgment of her grief: ’You hold too heinous a respect of grief’, Pandolf comments; ’You are as fond of grief as of your child’, Philip continues (4.1.90, 92). Rather than being shamed or consoled, Constance takes up the anthropomorphic trope and turns it around:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,

Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,

Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,

Remembers me of all his gracious parts,

Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;

Then have I reason to be fond of grief. (4.1.93—8)

Other arts — music, dance, painting for example — have their own ways of communicating and transmitting emotion. But they cannot really match the complexity of insight by which these lines confront us with the paradox of loss and grief, with the torn, tormented sense that grief — that which hurts, wounds, undoes Constance — is all she has left, all that she has, now, of the son who has gone, the son who she believes (rightly) will die but whom she cannot let go. Constance helps us to understand why grief can be so hard to shake off: we can’t shake it off because we don’t want to; we cannot abandon it because to let go of our grief is finally to let go of the object of our love. Our grief is all we have left, but like love and hatred, grief is often a mixed, complicated emotion. Constance’s speech also points to something else that is striking about feelings: in anthropomorphizing grief, Constance makes it other to herself, a person or even a thing in itself. It is just because her grief is an entity, a person or thing separate from herself, that it has such a hold on Constance: it lies in her son’s bed, walks up and down, ’puts on’ the way he looks, repeats things he says, remembers or reminds her of him. Hard to shake off, the emotion of grief, like her lost son, is no part of Constance but is outside of her, something still to be fond of.

In Shakespeare’s time, to be ’fond’ of something often implied excess, being over-fond of it — not just liking or cherishing something, but being foolish in one’s affections, infatuated, idiotic, mad (see OED ’fond’, adj. and n.1, A2, 3, 5, 6). And a slightly earlier speech in this scene is also striking for the way that it links emotion to unreason. Constance replies to Pandolf’s accusation that she is expressing ’madness, and not sorrow’ by saying that she wishes he was right — ’I am not mad; I would to God I were’, she declares:

For then, ’tis like I should forget myself.

O, if I could, what grief should I forget!

Preach some philosophy to make me mad,

And thou shalt be canonized, Cardinal.

For, being not mad, but sensible of grief,

My reasonable part produces reason

How I may be delivered of these woes,

And teaches me to kill or hang myself.

If I were mad I should forget my son,

Or madly think a babe of clouts were he.

I am not mad; too well, too well I feel

The different plague of each calamity. (4.1.48—60)

Madness, the condition of being ’fond’, being without or outside of reason, would relieve Constance of her grief for the loss of her son because it would relieve her of having to be herself: she wants more emotion because if she was truly mad, she would ’forget [her]self’ and thereby forget her grief. Great emotion deprives one of reason. But emotion is not simply the opposite of reason, as Constance’s predicament suggests: she is not mad, or not mad enough, because she is ’sensible of grief’ — sensitive to it because sensible or reasonable about it. And it is logic, after all, that tells Constance that the only reasonable response to her loss, the only sensible response to her passion, is to end her own life.

In affect theory, various distinctions are made between emotion, feeling and affect. While noting that there is little agreement on these distinctions and suggesting that we should not be too dogmatic about their usage, Derek Attridge makes the useful point that ’feelings’ can be both mental and physical (’sensory and somatic’), that ’emotion’ has a more narrow focus and is often more negative, and that ’affect’ is more scientific-sounding but is more limited in how it can be used (since you cannot say, for example, ’I affect love’) (Attridge 2011, 330). In this chapter we want to talk about feelings: ’emotions’ seem to us too emotional, while ’affects’ sound too psychiatric. The crucial difference with ’feeling’ is that, as Attridge points out, it captures the palpable, embodied nature of emotion and affect.

So in this chapter, we want to ask about the feelings that literary texts portray and explore, and about the feelings they evoke. And we also want to ask what texts say about feelings and how what they say makes literature different from other discourses. In literature, emotion, feeling or affect is presented in three ways:

· 1. there is the representation of feelings — usually those belonging to narrator, character, poet or author-figure — within the text or on the stage;

· 2. there is the way that the text generates particular feelings in readers or audiences (for example through characters’ actions, emotions, or predicaments);

· 3. there is what we will refer to as the performance or enactment of feelings as a textual event, the multitudinous rhetorical and tropological effects through which feelings are figured.

Debates about emotion or affect in literary texts have tended to concern one or other of the first two categories, and often the two together. But they also implicitly, and perhaps more interestingly, relate to the textual performance of affect. In the Poetics (c.335 BC), for example, Aristotle briefly but influentially makes the point that watching a tragedy involves a process that he terms ’catharsis’, whereby the viewer lives vicariously through the passions enacted on stage and is subsequently cleansed or purged emotionally by the experience. For Aristotle, tragedy is ’a representation of an action’ that ’through pity and fear bring[s] about the catharsis of such emotions’ (Aristotle 2000, 64; see Chapter 14, below). About 250 years later, in another foundational text of literary criticism, an author usually referred to as ’Longinus’ wrote a remarkable study entitled On the Sublime that emphasized the emotional effects on readers of representations of the sublime. ’For the effect of elevated language is not to persuade the hearers, but to amaze them’, Longinus argues: a sublime passage in a text exerts ’an irresistible force and mastery’ and ’scatters everything before it like a thunderbolt’ (Longinus 2000, 114). In these respects, affective criticism is as ancient as Western literary criticism itself. And it is therefore perhaps no surprise to find William Wordsworth defining poetry in 1800 as ’emotion recollected in tranquillity’ in his ground-breaking Preface to Lyrical Ballads (a key manifesto of the Romantic Movement), nor indeed to find that in ’Tintern Abbey’ (1798) he dwells on the ’sensations sweet’ that he has ’Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart’, on ’feelings too / Of unremembered pleasure’, and on ’the serene and blessed mood / In which the affections gently lead us on…’ (lines 28, 231—2, 42—3).

And yet twentieth-century literary criticism largely overlooked or bracketed off the question of affect. Two critical essays in particular were highly influential in establishing and reinforcing this perhaps rather odd scenario. In ’The Affective Fallacy’, first published in 1949 (soon after their essay on ’The Intentional Fallacy’), W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley argued against confusing ’the poem and its results’ — against conflating what goes on in the literary text with how it is understood or read (Wimsatt and Beardsley 1954, 21). In fact, despite the reputation of the essay, which seems effectively to have banished consideration of affect from literary criticism for the next 50 years or so, Wimsatt and Beardsley acknowledge that literature is fundamentally bound up with emotion: poetry is ’characteristically a discourse about both emotions and objects’, they argue, ’or about the emotive quality of objects … contemplated as a pattern of knowledge’ (38). It is just that, for Wimsatt and Beardsley, the ’emotive’ is a textual phenomenon, and has nothing to do with the reader’s own particular or subjective feelings. In another influential essay, published 30 years earlier, T.S. Eliot also seemed to banish emotion from literary criticism. ’Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1919) is famous, not least, for its resounding declaration that ’[p]oetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion’ (Eliot 1975, 43). But saying that poetry is an ’escape from emotion’ is not the same as saying that it has nothing to do with emotion, and despite its reputation, Eliot’s essay is in fact largely concerned with emotion in poetry, even while he insists that it is, or should be, ’impersonal’: for Eliot, ’the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates’ because the writer’s mind will ’digest and transmute the passions which are its material’ (41). Eliot is certainly arguing against the idea that the text is a direct expression of the author’s emotion, but his essay is explicitly concerned with the ’passions’ that go to make up poetry.

So like Aristotle, Longinus, Wordsworth and other Romantic writers, Eliot and Wimsatt and Beardsley argue for rather than against the importance of affect in literature. Indeed, when Eliot argues that the task of the poet is ’not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all’ (43), his perspective resonates with an essay published 70 years later that is often seen as inaugurating the ’affective turn’ in literary studies, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s ’Percept, Affect, and Concept’ (from their book What is Philosophy (1991)). Deleuze and Guattari argue that the ’great’ writer ’invents unknown or unrecognized affects and brings them to light’ as the ’becoming of his characters’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 174). Among their examples is the ’violent affect’ that occurs between Heathcliff and Catherine in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights: what is commonly thought of as love is, for Deleuze and Guattari, ’like a kinship between two wolves, which above all should not be taken for love’ (175). Deleuze and Guattari are profoundly Lawrentian thinkers. So it is not surprising that we should find Lawrence, in his wonderful essay ’The Novel and the Feelings’, saying that love is ’like a woolly lamb, or like a decorative decadent panther in Paris clothes’ (depending on the degree of sexuality involved), hate is like ’a dog chained to a kennel’, fear is a ’shivering monkey’, anger is a bull, greed is a pig, and so on (Lawrence 1985, 202). Deleuze and Guattari themselves place great emphasis on what they call ’becoming animal’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1991, 169). They see such becoming as a thoroughly good thing, especially when it comes to what they call the ’pack animal’ (wolf, of course, dog, bee, ant, fish, bison, etc) — animals that they see as lacking individuality, autonomy, or any sense of self. Like Buddhist monks or Sufi mystics, Deleuze and Guattari see attachment to the idea of the self as the start of all our problems in being human. In fact, Deleuze and Guattari even celebrate what they call ’becoming molecular’: affects are significant as the ’nonhuman becomings of man … Becoming animal, plant, molecular, becoming zero’; the affect is ’man’s nonhuman becoming’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1991, 169, 173; see also 2013, 317—34). For these writers, affects in art and literature ’go beyond’ the individual who experiences them; they are ’beings whose validity lies in themselves … The work of art is a being of sensation and nothing else: it exists in itself’ (164). The point is powerfully illustrated in an uncollected story by David Foster Wallace, ’Order and Flux in Northampton’ (1991). The story is about a man who falls in love and whose love is described as a kind of ’being’ in itself, ’a small homunculoid presence’ inside him, ’a doll-sized self all its own with the power of silent speech and undisguised ambitions to independent action’: his love is itself a ’salamanderial zygote of a robust, animate thing, a life’ (Wallace 1991, para. 5). Correspondingly, in an illuminating essay on ’Literature and Affect’, Jean-Michel Rabaté writes of Othello’s ’invention’ of jealousy as ’the green-eyed monster which doth mock / The meat it feeds on’ in Othello (3.3.170—1). He argues that the ’affect of jealousy’ in Othello is a specific effect of the ’power of language’ and that it ’acquires power beyond the control of any subject’ (Rabaté 2015, 240). It is words that you, and Othello, should guard against and fear: like the ’salamanderial zygote’ of love, the green-eyed monster of jealousy is something dreamed up in words.

In the remaining pages of this chapter, we want to explore in greater depth the idea of grief that we introduced in our discussion of King John. We want to elaborate on the power of the feeling of grief while also suggesting how the feeling always involves other emotions and affects. When it comes to feelings, few things in life are more terrible than the death of a child. Before the late twentieth century, such deaths were not uncommon: in 1911, 130 children per 1,000 live births died before their first birthday in England and Wales (more than one in ten), a figure that seems to have been fairly consistent since at least the sixteenth century; by 2011, the figure had decreased to about 4 in 1,000 — a 30-fold decrease in child mortality over the century (ONS 2013). It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that literary history is shot through with moving, even unbearable instances of such deaths — from the stunning late fourteenth-century poem ’Pearl’ (about the speaker’s loss of his beloved little daughter, his ’precious perle wythouten spot’ (l.48)) to Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel Beloved (which we discuss in Chapter 20), from Ben Jonson’s ’On My First Sonne’ (1603) to Jon Silkin’s ’Death of a Son (who died in a mental hospital aged one)’ (1954). Jonson, for example, wrote a movingly constrained poem, ’On My First Sonne’, after his son’s death at the age of seven. Jonson’s grief is articulated not least through linguistic play: the poem poignantly exploits the Greek etymology of poetry as poiein, ’to make’, referring to his son as his ’first piece of poetry’ (l.10), and dwells on the name he shared with his son by translating the original Hebrew sense of Binyamin into English ’right hand’. The poem opens: ’Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy: / My sinne was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy’ (ll.1—2). Two centuries later, William Wordsworth lost his daughter Catherine at the age of four in 1812. His remarkable sonnet ’Surprized by Joy’ (c.1813), which records the way that a brief forgetting of her death, even months later, means that he has to re-live the agonizing moment of loss all over again:

That thought’s return

Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,

Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,

Knowing my heart’s best treasure was no more… (ll.9—12)

There is a proliferation of feelings within the return of this thought, and in particular a ’pang’ that sorrow is said to ’bear’, along with the similarly anthropomorphized thought of the heart having lost a ’treasure’ that it goes on losing. Twenty-five years later, Charles Dickens made his name, in part, by the sheer sentiment — the sentimental force — with which he recounts the death of Little Nell at the end of his first novel, The Old Curiosity Shop (1837). The death of a child haunts James Joyce’s modernist Everyman, Leopold Bloom, in Ulysses (1922): as he performs his pedestrian odyssey around early twentieth-century Dublin, recurrent pangs of grief at the thought of his son’s death eleven years earlier punctuate the day. By contrast with the epic dimensions of Ulysses, on the other hand, there is the celebrated six-word micro-fiction sometimes attributed to Ernest Hemingway (’For sale: baby shoes, never worn’). And more recent decades have provided many further examples — from J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) (about the death of Holden’s little brother Allie) to Philip Roth’s Nemesis (2010) (about children in Newark, New Jersey in 1944 being wiped out in a polio epidemic), from Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter (1986) (about the death of the son of the protagonist, the roaming and emotionally troubled Frank Bascombe) to Hélène Cixous’s The Day I Wasn’t There (2006) (a searing account of the death of a baby with Down’s Syndrome). And one of Raymond Carver’s most famous, and most moving, short stories, ’A Small, Good Thing’ (from Cathedral (1983)) concerns a couple’s reaction to the death of their son in hospital after he is knocked down by a car.

Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of affect as something that stands, like an object, a thing, an animal or indeed a person outside of the individual who feels it, is strikingly illustrated in a short story by the contemporary American writer Lorrie Moore. Her acclaimed, if awkwardly titled, ’People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk’ (1997) offers a counter to Raymond Carver’s ultimately uplifting tale of parental loss and spiritual redemption by powerfully contesting the possibility of a redemptive teleology in illness narratives. Moore’s story concerns an un-named ’Mother’, a writer, whose baby develops cancer, and focuses on the Mother’s response to the baby’s treatment in the pediatric oncology ward of the local hospital. On first hearing of the diagnosis, for example, the mother begins to cry:

After this there is no more life. There is something else, something stumbling and unlivable, something mechanical, something for robots, but not life. Life has been taken and broken, quickly, like a stick. (Moore 2008, 242)

The world is transformed so that even lullabies become ’the songs of hard, hard grief’ (244), and the prospect of the child’s death leads to a kind of chant from the mother: ’We are nothing without you. Without you, we are a heap of rocks. We are gravel and mold. Without you, we are two stumps, with nothing any longer in our hearts’ (245). The anthropomorphized thing (both humanized and inhuman) that is affect, in other words, makes of the subject who experiences it herself a thing.

The story’s subtitle emphasizes the question of language, both in the ugly-sounding and seemingly nonsensical phrase ’Peed Onk’ — a shortening of ’Pediatric Oncology’ — and in ’canonical babbling’, a phrase that developmental psychologists use to refer to the babbling stage in baby-talk (Moore 2008, 243). In its apparent semantic obscurity and its references both to nonsense and to baby-talk, the story’s babbling subtitle points to the limits of communication. Within the story itself there are also frequent references to the fragility and even undoing of linguistic sense in the context of infant illness and potential death: ’What words can be uttered?’ the narrator asks at one point (245); ’How can it be described?’ she says later of the experience of fearing for the child’s life and seeing it suffer (260); as a writer and teacher, the Mother worries about where to place the apostrophe in ’Wilms’ tumour’ and is shocked by the fact that the doctor uses the word tumour ’as if it were the most normal thing in the world’ (241); she thinks that the words ’baby’ and ’chemo’ ’should never even appear in the same sentence together’ (242), and she frets about the infantilized ’vocabulary of motherhood’ (243); on hearing the news of the child’s condition, her husband speaks ’all the words out loud — surgery, metastasis, dialysis, transplant — then collaps[es] in a chair in tears’ (the words make him cry), and the Mother worries about the way he begins regularly starting sentences with ’What if … ?’ (245); ’what words can be uttered?’, she asks of the possibility of the child’s death (245), and she detests vacuous, bland but ’useful and true’ clichés that parents tell each other (’one day at a time’, ’at least we have our health’) (250).

In addition to its particular attention to ways in which grief begins to undo language itself, Moore’s story is concerned with the undoing of stories — with how stories are told, with their phrasing and rhetoric, with their narrative trajectories, and with how stories engage or alienate us, play on and play with our sympathies and emotions. Moore’s text challenges our expectations about narratives by asking how such a story can even begin to be told. She emphasizes the sheer contingency, the arbitrary and ultimately meaningless nature, of ill-health, especially in an infant, drawing attention to the fact that there is simply no answer — whether theological, cultural, ethical, even medical, in the end — to the question of why a child, any child, but your child in particular, should contract cancer. While stories can help people to make sense of their lives, Moore’s ’People Like That’ suggests that stories about sickness fail to add up, have no proper teleology or logic or causality, and thus resist a spiritually redemptive reading. In this respect, Moore’s story corresponds with Jahan Ramazani’s account of modern elegy with its characteristic refusal of redemption (Ramazani 1994).

The story begins with stories: ’A beginning, an end: there seems to be neither’ (239). The Mother comes across a red mark — blood — in the baby’s diaper, a signifier, she immediately suspects, of something being deeply wrong: ’What is the story? Who put this here?’, she asks (239). The Husband urges the Mother to ’take notes’ so that she can work the experience up into a story because they are ’going to need the money’ for the child’s medical treatment (245). But she finds the task impossible, outside the realm of her art: crude, brutal life cannot be made into a coherent narrative. ’This is a nightmare of narrative slop’, she declares. ’This cannot be designed. This cannot even be noted in preparation for a design’ (248). The couple argue about the nature of the kind of narrative that they are living through, but in the end the first-person narrator (the Mother) exploits the conventional metaphor of life-as-a-journey to comment that there is a fundamental distance between the ’trip and the story of the trip’, between the ’traveller’ that experiences the trip and the narrator, who ’stays at home’ (even while they are one and the same person). The narrator’s job is to ’mimic’ the incessant babble that the mouth of the traveller speaks, to tidy it up: ’The narrator comes and makes a slow, fake song of the mouth’s eager devastation’, the narrator comments lyrically (260). The traveller herself — the one who lives through the experience — is returned to the level of the baby and its canonical babble.

Moore’s ’People Like That’ negotiates and contests conventional assumptions — most prominently, perhaps, in its consideration of the question of suicide. When the narrator says to the baby, ’We are nothing without you’, and declares that she and her husband will be ’stumps’ without him and, ’Wherever this takes you, we are following … We are going too’ (245), she is engaging, as Shakespeare’s Constance does, with the taboo of suicide, saying or imagining that if the child dies the parents will do away with themselves. The idea is reinforced later in a telephone conversation with a friend who urges her to have a second child as a kind of insurance policy, so that she will have what the friend calls, in callous rhyme, ’An heir and a spare’: ’We had another child to ensure we wouldn’t off ourselves if we lost our first’, the friend explains with brutal and unnerving frankness. Referring to the rope that she would have used to hang herself if her only child had died, the friend tells the Mother that before the second child came along she had ’had it all planned’ (266). Moore’s story in fact ends positively, although with no sense of redemption, when the baby goes into potentially permanent remission. But as the parents leave the hospital, the Mother thinks again of the idea of watching one’s child die: ’Rope! Bring on the rope’, she says to herself (270—1). ’People Like That’ is transgressive — not just in its subject matter (the taboo of suicide), but above all in tone (the lightness of rhyming ’heir’ with ’spare’; the caustically but casually flippant call for more rope, and so on).

Finally, Moore’s story might be thought about as performing a kind of affect effect. It challenges conventional cultural and ideological assumptions in presenting the Mother as someone who shockingly refuses to empathize and identify with other parents. She takes a belligerent, often sarcastic and even contemptuous view of their suffering which results from her desperate wish that she will not be like them, that she will not be someone who has to live through a child’s sickness and death. This is the terrifying assumption implicit in title, ’People Like That Are the Only People Here’. Being ’people like that’, being bereaved parents, is precisely what the Mother refuses. In this sense, the story undoes its own title. It ends with a reference back to the Husband’s demand that the Mother take notes on the terrible drama of sickness as it unfolds:

There are the notes.

Now where is the money? (271)

The generally generous, accepting, non-judgemental, empathetic underlying assumptions that are demanded by what is in effect the compulsory humanism of our culture come up against the difficult idea that this story has been told to us not in order to generate sympathy or solidarity with the author-narrator figure, but in order that we pay her for the complex affective pleasure of reading it. (In interview, Moore has confirmed that the story is based on her own experience (de Bertodano 2009).) ’How exiling and estranging are everybody’s Sympathetic Expressions!’ (265), the Mother exclaims at one point, because in the end ’you suffer alone’ (249). Moore’s story at once maps affect onto and pits it against the cultural assumptions of late twentieth-century America. By contrast with stories that offer salvation and redemption through empathy and identification, emotion and catharsis, the affect effect of ’People Like That’ generates an extraordinary complication of feelings. It radically unsettles how we read and make emotional and cognitive sense of narrative.

Further reading

Jean-Michel Rabaté’s discussion of ’Literature and Affect’ (2015) is a helpful critical exposition in the context of Deleuze and Guattari and psychoanalysis. In addition to Deleuze and Guattari’s ’Percept, Affect, and Concept’ (1991), for the idea of ’becoming animal’, see also Deleuze and Guattari (2013), chs. 2 and 10. In a special issue on affect in the journal Textual Practice, Derek Attridge (2011) provides a helpful account of some of the questions raised in literary studies by the ’turn to affect’, and Adam Piette (2011) also offers a useful framing of the field by way of an introduction to a reading of Samuel Beckett’s Ill Seen Ill Said (1982). Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s Touching Feeling (2003) presents a series of wide-ranging and richly argued meditations on affect and literary and cultural practices that emphasizes the important work on affect by the psychologist Silvan Tomkins (1911—91). Also recommended is Sianne Ngai’s Ugly Feelings (2005), on the ultimately political implications of ’sentiments of disenchantment’ (or ugly feelings) such as envy, paranoia, irritation, and boredom. For two intriguing books on specific kinds of affect, see David Punter, The Literature of Pity (2014) and Gérard Pommier, Erotic Anger (2001). One of the best books on elegy is Jahan Ramazani’s Poetry of Mourning: The Modern Elegy from Hardy to Heaney (1994); John B. Vickery’s The Modern Elegiac Temper (2006) and The Prose Elegy: An Exploration of Modern American and British Fiction (2009) are also recommended. Gregg and Seigworth, eds. (2010) is an important collection of essays on affect theory, and Brennan (2004) investigates the cultural significance of the contagion or ’transmission’ of affect from person to person, which has important implications for literary studies. Charles Altieri’s The Particulars of Rapture (2003) is an intellectually bracing examination of feelings, moods, emotions and passions (see p.2 for these distinctions) in literary and philosophical discourses; Judith Butler’s Senses of the Subject (2015) is equally astute and challenging on the ways in which a range of philosophers (Descartes, Spinoza, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Merleau-Ponty and others) conceive of the subject or self in relation to desire, love, despair, rage, grief and other affects. Like Deleuze and Guattari, Brian Massumi’s influential work takes affect to be independent of the subject or indeed of the body to which it occurs (see ’The Autonomy of Affect’ (1995)). Also influential is the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, whose The Feeling of What Happens (2000) helpfully translates and summarizes work in the ’hard’ sciences on the interactions of bodies, brains and emotions.