Brian Massumi (1956–) is a contemporary political theorist of communication, critical and cultural studies, philosophy, political theory, science, and aesthetics. One of the foremost thinkers of “radical empiricism,” he is responsible for enabling the widespread use of Deleuzean philosophy in communication and inaugurating the so-called “affective turn” in the theoretical humanities. Massumi is Professor of Communication at the Université de Montréal and a collaborator with the experimental art and activism lab SenseLab, founded by Erin Manning. His most well-known translation is Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus (1987), and he is the author of ten books, including the widely influential Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (2002). Massumi’s radical empiricist approaches concern the aesthetics of communication and power in the context of global capitalism. He opens the field of communication to the study of relationality, what he calls “being-in-becoming,” which he describes in terms of Gilles Deleuze’s “the actual” and “the virtual.” His critical embrace of becoming reframes the concept of “the event” as a processual unfolding of forces of expression, or experience. Instead of remaining wedded to communication models that limit language to designation, manifestation, and signification, Massumi’s focus on becoming calls for accounts of the extra-linguistic. Three key concepts include expression, affect, and perception. Through creative and experimental dispositions, Massumi position the fields of communication, critical and cultural studies, philosophy, political theory, science, and aesthetics toward vibrant scenes of relations-already-underway, or how feeling, thinking, and being begin, again, in the middle of something already underway—a “happening doing.”
Salah El Moncef
As they developed their theory of minor literature in the mid-1970s, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari created more than a concept of literary criticism. Articulating minor thought as a theoretical mode of engagement that impels the minor author to evolve into an agent of transformative experimentation and collective awareness, Deleuze and Guattari’s Kafka theorizes this radically reassessed function of the writer in terms of marginal subjectivity—the subject position of an “immigrant” whose task is to craft an innovative “minor language” on the margin of the “major language” of mainstream society, along with projecting new visions of diverse collectivities within the traditional nation-state that challenge and transform its identitarian definitions of gender, class, ethnic, cultural, and linguistic “standards.” It is around this paradigmatic conception of the minor subject as perpetual immigrant and “nomadic” other that Gloria Anzaldúa and Kathy Acker develop their own variations on the Deleuze–Guattarian minor mode: narrative presentations of the deterritorialized subjects that inhabit the pluralistic Borderlands (Borderlands/La Frontera) and the transnational Empire (Empire of the Senseless). Seeking to renew standard English in order to develop within it innovative esthetic, social, and global visions, the two authors confront their readers with the experiences of minority existence, endeavoring to develop, through the prototypical narrative agents at the center of their works, emergent modalities of hybrid transnational subjectivity—a new post-statist subject, in sum. By depicting their central narrative agents as transnational nomads confronted with the limitations and potentialities of their minority status, Acker and Anzaldúa engage in highly complex social and ontological explorations of the plural inflections of the minor subject as they are expressed in the hybrid idioms he or she adopts and the sociocultural choices they make. In presenting the reader with narrative agents who dwell on the margin of the general social norm, both authors posit the minor subject as the embodiment of a “borderline” existence in which the Borderlands and the Empire are not conceived as geopolitical spaces but rather as conceptual sites of social experimentation; collective realms governed by a universal desire to supersede all borders, imaginary or geopolitical. A central conclusion emerges from Acker’s and Anzaldúa’s visions of the transnational, hybrid subject and collectivity: the deterritorialized movements of groups and individuals envisioned by both authors are at the heart of the postmodern nomad’s aspirations—an inherently transnational quest for self-fulfillment through which she or he seeks unfamiliar horizons as she or he experiments with various elements of hybridity, allowing him/herself to apprehend the existential conditions of his/her exile as affirmative instruments toward asserting the global in relation to the local and the transnational in relation to the national.
Brian L. Ott
Affect has historically been conceptualized in one of two dominant ways. The first perspective, which has its roots in psychology and neuroscience, tends to view affect as an elemental state. This tradition is reflected in Silvan S. Tomkins’s theory of primary affects and Antonio Damasio’s theory of basic emotions. Recent extensions of this tradition include the work of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Lisa Cartwright, and Teresa Brennan. The second perspective, which is typically associated with developments in philosophy and the humanities, treats affect as an intensive force. This tradition, whose most famous proponent is Gilles Deleuze, is evident in Brian Massumi’s theory of autonomous affect and Nigel Thrift’s non-representational theory. Recent extensions of this tradition tend to emphasize the importance of materiality, or what Jane Bennett has called “thing-power.” A number of scholars working in communication and cultural studies have created a third, hybrid tradition that attempts to bridge or mediate the two dominant historical accounts. This third perspective includes Lawrence Grossberg’s notion of affective investments, Christian Lundberg’s Lacanian-inspired view of affect, Sara Ahmed’s work on the sociality of emotion, and Gernot Böhme’s theory of atmospheres.