My thoughts on the “affective contagion” of revolutionary events such as those in Tehran a year and a half ago, or those currently happening in Cairo, have always been somewhat undertheorized. Posthegemony‘s Jon Beasley-Murray points to an exhilarating piece written by his UBC colleague Gastón Gordillo on Resonance and the Egyptian Revolution that is helpful for thinking these things through.

Gordillo begins:

“What has coalesced as a powerful, unstoppable force on the streets of Egypt is resonance: the assertive collective empathy created by multitudes fighting for the control of space. Resonance is an intensely bodily, spatial, political affair, materialized in the masses of bodies coming together in the streets of Egyptian cities in the past thirteen days, clashing with the police, temporarily dispersed by teargas and bullets, and regrouping again like an relentless swarm to reclaim the streets, push the police back, and saturate space with a collective effervescence. Resonance is what gives life to this human rhizome and the source of its power.

“This is why the Mubarak regime has desperately tried to shatter it. The state attempts to disrupt the internet, cell phones, Al Jazeera, and the international media are all attempts to disable the technologies through which resonance propagates and expands. When these moves failed, the regime sent armed thugs to attack the main source of resonance: the bodies of the multitude in Liberation Square in Cairo.”

Gordillo actually tries to pin down a theoretically defensible definition of this kind of affective “resonance,” which is more than most of those who use the term do. The entire piece is well worth reading, and his Space and Politics blog well worth following.

There are still things that require further thought here — such as the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ resonances:

“Whereas anti-hierarchical resonances by the multitude are spatially expansive, inclusive, and guided by an affirmative negativity (a critique of the status quo that strives for something new) the resonances manipulated by conservative states are often inward looking, reactive, and exclusionary. This is what Spinoza called “sad passions,” bodily affects defined by unawareness of their causes, and that later on Nietzsche would criticize as resentment or slave mentality. These reactive resonances, which Beasley-Murray sees as dissonant but I think still contain affective resonant elements, naturalize the positivity of the real, that which merely is, and are hostile to negativity as critique (the conservative type of affirmation rejected not only by Adorno but also by Deleuze).”

[. . .]

“An important point is that the affective resonance that currently animates armed insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, or Pakistan is also of a reactive, nativist, exclusionary nature, based on an anti-imperial agenda yet hostile to universal forms of emancipation (for instance, women and sexual, ethnic, and religious minorities).”

On the other hand,

“The resonance produced on the streets by multitudes challenging state power and committed to unarmed protests follows, in this regard, different patterns of vibration: inclusive, open-ended, horizontal, and expansive.”

At what point, however, does one turn into another? There have certainly been examples of revolutions that began as hopeful, optimistic, and utopian currents, but which eventually crashed on the hard breakers of the “sadder passions.” I’m not sure if sadness, resentment, et al., are so neatly sequestrable from the optimistic passions that animate the Spinozan Left (Deleuze & Guattari, Hardt & Negri, et al.) — though I do think that D & G’s Capitalism & Schizophrenia was probably the best single contribution (in two volumes) toward figuring these things out in the last half century. I think some of Bill Connolly’s recent work has been helping with thinking this through as well.

The other question in my mind is the relationship between the (new) politics of affective resonance (which is not so new in practice, after all) and the (old) politics of representation, ideology critique, hegemony formation/contestation, etc. Beasley-Murray (whose book I’ve yet to read) has had some interesting exchanges about this on his blog, which I highly recommend.

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Related posts:

  1. Revolution as clash of velocities
  2. affective contagion & the events in Tehran
  3. Lakoff’s environmental frames vs. Connolly’s resonance machines
  4. More thoughts on Egypt
  5. Egypt & everywhere
  6. Spreading revolution