The Transmission of Affect

The Transmission of Affect

Teresa Brennan
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Transmission of Affect
    Book Description:

    The idea that one can soak up someone else's depression or anxiety or sense the tension in a room is familiar. Indeed, phrases that capture this notion abound in the popular vernacular: "negative energy," "dumping," "you could cut the tension with a knife." The Transmission of Affect deals with the belief that the emotions and energies of one person or group can be absorbed by or can enter directly into another.

    The ability to borrow or share states of mind, once historically and culturally assumed, is now pathologized, as Teresa Brennan shows in relation to affective transfer in psychiatric clinics and the prevalence of psychogenic illness in contemporary life. To neglect the mechanism by which affect is transmitted, the author claims, has serious consequences for science and medical research.

    Brennan's theory of affect is based on constant communication between individuals and their physical and social environments. Her important book details the relationships among affect, energy, and "new maladies of the soul," including attention deficit disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, codependency, and fibromyalgia.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7137-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    Teresa Brennan and Woden Teachout

    I first encountered the inimitable Teresa Brennan ten years ago when I was a just-minted undergraduate, gone to England to seek my fortune, and wandering the vaulted halls of Cambridge University in search of gainful employment. On a bulletin board, which was evenly divided between job and housing notices, I spotted a small slip of paper with handwriting in blue ink. “Wanted,” it read, “Amanuensis to help write a book.” There was a telephone number, which I wrote down with a sense of rising good fortune. Next to it was another slip of paper with the same handwriting and the...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-23)

    Is there anyone who has not, at least once, walked into a room and “felt the atmosphere”? But if many have paused to wonder how they received this impression, and why it seemed both objective and certain, there is no record of their curiosity in the copious literature on group and crowd psychology, or in the psychological and psychoanalytic writing that claims that one person can feel another’s feelings (and there is writing that does this, as we shall see). This is not especially surprising, as any inquiry intohowone feels the others’ affects, or the “atmosphere,” has to...

  5. CHAPTER TWO The Transmission of Affect in the Clinic
    (pp. 24-50)

    In theories of psychiatry and psychoanalysis, the healthy person is a self-contained person. This healthy being has established “boundaries” in early childhood, having successfully negotiated the relationship to the mother. From a state of narcissism, if not omnipotence, he or she played with “transitional objects,” such as teddy bears, which helped him or her to realize that the mother was a separate person, and eventually passed the transitional point. This being now realizes where he or she ends and the other begins. He or she has boundaries. Yet most non-Western and nonmodern theories of mental illness posit the transmission of...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Transmission in Groups
    (pp. 51-73)

    A group, in sociology and social psychology, is two or more people. The theory of the transmission of affect is always and already, given this definition, a theory of the group. But it is also a theory of the group based on what is produced by the “group,” as well as the individuals within it: the emotions of two are not the same as the emotions of one plus one. If I emit one emotion and you emit another, we may both of us take onboard the effects of this new composite. This should yield the basis for a contribution...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR The New Paradigm
    (pp. 74-96)

    What is at stake with the notion of the transmission of affect is precisely the opposite of the sociobiological claim that the biologicaldeterminesthe social. What is at stake is rather the means by which social interaction shapes biology. My affect, if it comes across to you, alters your anatomical makeup for good or ill. This idea, perhaps more than any other, stands neo-Darwinism on its head. It is directly at odds with the premise on which neo-Darwinian biology is based. In neo-Darwinian biology especially, the individual organism is born with the urges and affects that will determine its...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Sealing of the Heart
    (pp. 97-115)

    The notion that free-flowing guilt or free-floating anxiety are in the air, and more prone to descend on the anxious, has been expressed in the vocabulary of demons of doubt and guilt and despair. The earliest Western records of the transmission of affect (excluding the Homeric record, which makes them monitions or energies from the gods) make them demons or deadly sins.¹ Insofar as we understand these demons and sins as affective states operating according to their own lazy laws, rather than as maliciously independent entities, their burden on the psyche is less onerous. But that light burden cannot be...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Education of the Senses
    (pp. 116-138)

    Paradoxically, feelings are sensory states produced by thought, while interruptive thoughts are produced by affects. Feelings are thoughtful, and affects are thoughtless. Feelings are meant to be information about whether a state is pleasurable or painful, whether one is attracted to something or averse to it. This is the classic and only basis for distinguishing feelings and affects. Feelings are meant to say, “I like it, it feels good to me,” or “I don’t like it” and to lead to action on this basis. But if feelings are tracing a logic in the flesh simultaneously with a logic in history,...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Interpreting the Flesh
    (pp. 139-164)

    Freedom from the affects means freedom for the feelings to be known to consciousness. Feelings can be sifted from affects, and better known to consciousness, through the deployment of living attention or love. But such attention encounters a formidable opposing force. Affects (via hormones and other means of projection and reception) are carried in the blood, and with them is carried the presence of the other and the social in the system. (To find an utterly pure soul within, something untouched by human error, one would have to sustain living attention through a process of complete exsanguination.) As a rule,...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 165-202)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 203-216)
  13. Index
    (pp. 217-228)