I’ve been rereading Brian Massumi’s fascinating book, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, which beautifully crystalizes the ethical importance of distinguishing between emotion and affect. Suddenly this morning, it occurred to me that this distinction is, in fact, highly relevant to my own reaction to living here for the past two weeks. So without further ado, I bring you:
Emotion vs. Affect (in New Delhi)*
*Photos shamelessly stolen from google images. I promise to post some of mine soon.
1. The near-miss in the autorickshaw
Emotion: Conscious feeling. (The rickshaw passes the truck on the right, squeezing between its mammoth steely bulk and the highway divider. I’m pretty sure either the rickshaw driver, or the truck driver, or both are drunk. Terror).
Affect: Pre-conscious feeling. (Choking. Breathlessness).
2. The comfort of myth
Emotion: Heightened by linguistic meaning and codification. (At the national gallery, there is a poster that explains the significance of the hand gestures of each deity. I understand what all eight of Durga’s arms are telling me. Satisfaction. Joy).
Affect: Dampened and controlled by linguistic meaning and codification. (Steadiness. Ease).
3. The ubiquitous double standard
Emotion: Attached to a narrative series and thus dependent upon the fulfillment or thwarting of expectation. (I walk into a store. Nothing. Ted walks into a store. “How can I help you, sir?” Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Frustration).
Affect: Heightened by the disruption of narrative expectation. (Heat. Blood surge).
4. The endless crowds
Emotion: Leads to judgment in relation to expectations, norms. (In the train station, I step over person after person while bracing myself against more people on all sides pushing me in every direction. 110 degrees. Panic. Anger).
Affect: Leads to judgment in relation only to the immediate condition of the body and the bodies that surround it. (Heart pounding. Motion. Sweat. Immersion).
A few days ago, I had to learn how to reconcile my general dislike of much of what I encounter in this city with my expectations of it and of myself. Being used to having fairly unambivalent feelings about travel, I had to learn to admit that I spend a lot of time feeling furious, frustrated, hectored, shocked, and that those feelings have reasonable sources.
But from that moment forward, I began to very slowly, almost imperceptibly, become conscious of a physical sensation that I honestly cannot describe. The closest word for it might be love, but a love that has nothing to do with anything as noble as appreciation, nor anything as easy as pleasure. Perhaps it’s a stretch, but I can’t help but think that the availability of that feeling has something to do with letting go of expectation and allowing for what exceeds that expectation to absorb, “bringing a tinge of the unexpected, the lateral, the unmotivated, to lines of action and reaction. A change in the rules” (Massumi 27).