The affective life of semiotics
- Department of Geosciences, Bayreuth University, Bayreuth, Germany
Abstract. The paper challenges writings on affect that locate affective dynamism in autonomic bodily responses while positing discourse and language as "capturing" affect. To move beyond such "verticalism", the paper seeks to further an understanding of language, and semiotics more broadly, as itself affective. Drawing on participatory research conducted in Rio de Janeiro, it uses poetic expression as a paradigmatic case of the affective life of semiotics. Conceptually, it builds on Guattari's discussion of affect in connection to Hjelmslev's semiotic approach and Bakhtin's account of the process of enunciation. It is argued that semiotics play a crucial role in conjuring affective intensities, whereby expressions themselves become affective, as they modify sensory and material registers including prosody and the voice. The argument thus leads to a new understanding of the expression of affect as well as the affectivity of expressions. As expressions become affective, they draw subjects into ongoing processes of affecting and being affected. Such a view moves away from conceptions of semiotics "capturing" or even "translating" or "constructing" affect. It also displaces prevalent conceptions of "affective transmission" in terms of the circulation of physical substances body to body. Moreover, it furthers discursive and semiotic methodologies while also inviting a reconsideration of affective ontologies.