Flat Affect and/as Deconstruction: Berlant, Derrida & the Cinematic Life of the Body – Josh Mcloughlin

 Josh Mcloughlin is co-founder and editor at Sonder.

Flat Affect and/as Deconstruction: Berlant, Derrida & the Cinematic Life of the Body

In this essay, I use Derridean deconstructive and Butlerian post-structuralist perspectives to critique certain recent trends within affect criticism as a neo-phenomenological return to essentialist body politics. I read Lauren Berlant, combining her ideas of flat bodily affect, Derrida’s critique of Edmund Husserl and Judith Butler’s post-structuralist critique of essentialism to reject any idea of the truth (presence) of a gendered body through experience/affect. I will consider Tilda Swinton, who gives a sophisticated performance of what Berlant calls the ‘recessive aesthetic’[1] in two films, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Teknolust, demonstrating how Swinton’s corporeally illegible performance is supplemented by cinematic language in ways which can be read as a radical challenge to notions of ontologically fixed and present bodies prior to difference – a notion central to affect criticism.[2][3] I accept that ‘affect criticism’ implies a reductive description of a diverse field of inquiry, and so I begin by examining examples of affect criticism in terms of phenomenology, in order to articulate the intellectual assumptions which inform those reading practices.

I: Theories

Affect Criticism, Phenomenology and the Gendered Body

Affect criticism can be said to be a turn away from language, a way of considering how atmospheric and emotional registers and bodily intensities resonate extra-verbally.[4] If affective reading is a critical space in which process of signification and difference are ‘bracketed’ off – in the Husserlian sense of that word – in order to access a purely experiential relation of bodies and affects, then reading practices which privilege affect are phenomenological.[5] Husserl insisted phenomenological inquiry could:

consider conscious experiences in the concrete fullness and entirety with which they figure in their concrete context […] It then becomes evident that every experience in the stream which our reflexion can lay hold on has its own essence open to intuition, a ‘content’ which can be considered in its singularity in and for itself.[6]

Husserl is concerned with full presence and ‘concrete’ ontology: the knowledge of things ‘in and for’ themselves based on the physical proximity of subjects to ideas apparently present in pure, phenomenological experience. Affect criticism reiterates this assumption of presence because of the way in which affects are said to fully locate bodies in time and space: the proximity of bodies to affects is said to ground the ontology or presence of those bodies. Teresa Brennan asserts the ‘physiological’ nature of affects.[7] Sedgwick notes the ‘obvious’ connection between ‘touch and affect’.[8] Gregory J. Seigworth and Melissa Gregg argue that affects ‘stick to bodies’.[9] In his introduction to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guttari’s A Thousand Plateaus, Brian Massumi describes affect as an ‘experiential state of the body’.[10] In all cases, affect criticism seeks to employ affects as intensities which locate the presence of the body through physical experience. To adapt Husserl’s model, affective reading, like phenomenology, seeks to place the experiential/affective body ‘in the stream of […] reflexion’ and use notions of its proximity to its affects in order to assert a body ‘which can be considered in its singularity in and for itself’.

At work in definitions which, like those above, use affect to situate the body as ontologically self-present is what Jacques Derrida calls ‘the determination of Being as presence’.[11] This notion describes how western metaphysics privileges (and makes synonymous) presence, truth, identity, being and speech over distance untruth, alterity, and writing. Derrida’s reading of Husserl’s phenomenology as being reliant on the ‘presence of […] lived experience’ informs this broader critique.[12] The hierarchical relation speech/writing or presence/distance is recapitulated within affect criticism in the form affect/signification or body/language. In the same way speech is considered closer to truth than the ‘dangerous supplement’ of writing, so too does affect criticism privilege the physicality of affective processes for their proximity to the body, apparently accounting for its full presence.[13] However, if the very possibility of truth and presence in Husserl’s phenomenology, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s thesis of writing-as-supplement and Georg Hegel’s Fichtean dialectics are, as Derrida notes, ‘tied to the possibility of spoken language,’ affect criticism also partakes of that same relation of speech/writing which claims proximity for speech in contrast to the apparently distancing and differing effects of signification external to the privileged body. Just as Rousseau, ‘straining toward the reconstruction of presence […] disqualifies writing […] as destruction of presence and disease of speech’, affect criticism disavows signification in order to present the relation body-affect – or as Sedgwick calls it, the ‘epithet “touchy-feely”- as the site of a fully present ontological fact.[14][15] In this sense, affect criticism partakes of what Derrida calls the ‘determination of Being as presence’ in attempting to achieve a bodily ‘plenitude’, pursuing ontological presence by mobilising a phenomenological understanding of the possibilities of truth in (or as) experience.[16]

Derrida’s project is driven by his assertion that the ‘determination of Being as presence’ is the matrix of all ideas of truth and knowledge. He takes aim at phenomenology because, writes Stephen Boos, ‘phenomenology was conceived as theory of knowledge’.[17] In calling for a return to things in themselves, Husserl reiterated the Platonic underpinnings of western metaphysics. Platonism and phenomenology are the same for Derrida, both subscribing to the determination of presence. Knowledge of a ‘Form’ would, argued Plato, constitute knowledge of something ‘itself by itself with itself’.[18] Affect criticism seeks to reform that claim into the knowledge of ‘bodies by bodies with affects’, meaning the possibility of a pure knowledge of a body through that body’s relation to its affects, in what Husserl called the ‘concrete fullness’ of experience.[19] The relation between body and affect is actually elided: affect criticism obliterates spatial and temporal difference such that affects are said to locate or ‘stick to’ the body. Affects and the body apparently occupy the same space, free of difference. However, this attempt to neutralize the difference between elements such that affect becomes body and body affect; that is, if the presence of body-affect or body-as-affect (‘by itself’) is asserted, then we return to a Platonic conception of Ideal Forms, and so back to Derrida’s critique of western metaphysics via his readings of Hegel, Rousseau and Husserl. It is the recapitulation of these multiple assumptions – the bodily privilege of the speech/writing hierarchy, the determination of presence, the fullness of experience, corporeal unity – which define affect criticism as a neo-phenomenological return to the western metaphysical tradition.

Not only is neo-phenomenological affect criticism vulnerable to the post-structuralist critque, but from within affect theory itself Lauren Berlant presents the destabilising notion of ‘flat affect’, which describes a performative mode of ‘self-dispossession’ and ‘[a] body that’s unforthcoming.’[20] Berlant also says that ‘the recessive style always ports with it the potential for denial, disavowal, and foreclosed experience,’ thus denying the primacy of the affective experience in neo-phenomenological affect criticism.[21] In the cinema, this ‘recessive aesthetic’ obscures the legibility of the affective body’s surface. [22] The ‘event diffusion’ which sees the lack in affect elaborated externally in the film-text can be seen as a Derridean supplement which marks an irrevocable difference between bodies and affects. The body as always-already supplemented links Derrida to Judith Butler. Butler says ‘the appearance of substance is […] a performative accomplishment’.[23] The illusion of presence is sustained because modes of performativity have become naturalised: the connection between performative act and ontological fact becomes blurred so that the latter is mistaken for the former. In the case of affect criticism, the apparent proximity of bodies and affects and the experiential nature of that encounter allows for the phenomenological proposition of a ‘concrete’ body based on affective experience. However, as Berlant’s ‘body that’s unforthcoming’ suggests, in the same way Butler disavows the ‘ body prior to […] cultural inscription’ of gender, so too is the affective body always-already written or supplemented in terms which extend outside of its relation to its affects. In the cinema, this means bodily presence is endlessly deferred as a result of the way in which cinematic language supplements a lack in bodily intensity which, as we will see, is demonstrated by Swinton’s ‘recessive aesthetic’.[24]


Derrida calls this distance and deferral from ‘itself’ différance. We can ‘trace’ the equivocating movement of différance in declarations of the ‘determination of Being as presence’ within affect criticism. [25][26] For Deleuze, ‘a body affects other bodies, or is affected by other bodies; it is this capacity for affecting and being affected that also defines a body in its individuality’.[27] The plenitude of the body, its ‘individuality’ – and Deleuze echoes Husserl’s phrase ‘singularity in and for itself’ – relies fundamentally on a supplement: another body to affect or by which to be affected. Despite Deleuze’s intended meaning, his language belies how the body cannot ever be ‘individual’ in the sense of possessing full (affective) presence. Jackie Stacey registers an ambiguity in the relation of bodies and affects, as she says affect ‘renders the body immediate.’ [28] Her language leaves open the possibility of difference, as ‘render[ing]’ is a form of expressing or reproducing, implying that undifferentiated proximity of body to affect is impossible. Later, we will see that Stacey confirms the supplementary relation of bodies and affects in her reading of Teknolust. If the body is always-already subject to signification and différance, this refutes the notion of the body as the unwritten, natural foundation upon which gender ‘happens’. In this sense, then, affect criticism subscribes to an essentialist body politics vulnerable to poststructuralist and deconstructivist critique.

This has profound implications for reading affects in the cinema. Affect criticism which represses différance and asserts affect as being capable of affirming the body-as-present (the body-in-itself) ignores how the affective domain in cinema is always-already deferred from the body. Definitions of affect which situate the body as self-present cannot be sustained in light of the supplementarity required to communicate affective intensity in cinema. Analysing what is physically lacking in performance and what is elaborated elsewhere in cinematic language, I will again utilise Lauren Berlant’s concept of ‘flat affect’ to demonstrate how Tilda Swinton’s bodily under intensity is supplemented by non-verbal elements. Before discussing Kevin, I want to outline how cinematic melodrama causes the evacuation of affective intensities from the body. This will provide a specific generic framework with which to understand how the relationship between body and affect, subject and intensity, self and other, is always one of supplementarity, and never of full presence. Kevin partakes of the melodramatic genre in its focus on the mother figure and emotional intensity, therefore the topography of melodrama will allow us to link that film-text to Berlant’s idea that flat affect relates directly to ‘[a] recession from melodramatic norms.’[29] I want, then, to briefly survey those melodramatic techniques which supplement bodily intensity with cinematic language.

Melodrama, like affect and affect criticism, attempts to force presence and meaning from, and despite, the inadequacies of language but, unlike affect criticism, makes explicit the ways in which the elaboration of meaning and affective intensity in visual culture is dependent on external supplements. Christine Gledhill traces the origins of cinematic melodrama in the ‘illegitimate theatre […] of the eighteenth-century’ which responded to a ban on dialogue by utilising music and spectacular forms of entertainment.[30] The result, Gledhill notes, is a ‘sophisticated, theatrical mise-en-scene’ in which the intensity of the performance is elaborated through non-verbal means in order to supplement the lack in meaning and presence at the level of the actor – whose body lacks Husserl’s ‘concrete fullness’.[31] Kevin, which is itself indebted to melodramatic convention, exemplifies Derridean supplementarity: the presence of bodily affect is manifested elsewhere in the same way Gledhill describes the distinctive practices of melodramatic theatre and film-making. The difference is that Gledhill traces an emergence of those forms of non-verbal elaboration whereas, for Berlant, flat affect points to a ‘recession from melodramatic norms [my emphasis]’ at the level of performance. [32] Nevertheless, Gledhill’s model of how melodrama supplements affective intensity through external forms of spectacle is present in Kevin, registering the deferred presence of the affective body through cinematic language.

II: Readings: Tilda Swinton’s Flat Affect and Essentialist Gender Politics

We Need to Talk About Kevin

In Kevin, the supplementing of Swinton’s subjective underintensity by cinematic language is not incidental but necessary in producing affective resonances: Swinton’s flat affect is ‘diffus[ed]’ in the cinema’s own non-verbal language. [33] This supplement is necessary for the presence of the affective intensity of Eva’s maternal body – her shame and guilt at Kevin’s murders – because of her ‘recessive’ performance.[34] The affect of the scene is maternal shame-guilt: the meeting with Wanda, a bereaved mother, deliberately links Eva’s affective encounter with her own status as a mother following Kevin’s massacre.

Swinton Trenchcoat

Tilda Swinton as Eva in We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Eva goes shopping in the supermarket but, spotting Wanda, abandons her trolley and hides. At the till, the clerk discovers that Eva’s eggs have been smashed. When the clerk offers to replace them, Eva insists ‘I’ll take them as they are’ and leaves the store. In this scene, cinematic language supplements the lack in intensity at the level of Swinton’s body generated by her ‘recessive style’.[35] Eva wears an oversize trenchcoat, immediately closing down the body as legibly affective (fig.1). Seeing Wanda, Eva hides behind a shelf piled high with Campbell’s soup, her face still fixed and illegible:


The affect of shame-guilt in the scene points to Eva, as she is the focus of the camera movement throughout. Affect theorist Michael Basch writes, ‘the shame-humiliation response […] indicat[es] social isolation and signal[s] the need for relief from that condition’.[36] Eva’s affect confirms this: she is socially outcast, seeking refuge from her affective encounter. However, her body is the not the site of intensity; contrary to what Basch writes, Swinton makes no affective ‘signal’. The maternal shame-guilt in this scene marks Eva’s phenomenological experience – yet the body this ‘experiential state’ apparently grounds is firmly unaffective.[37] Eva makes no gesture upon abandoning her trolley, her face expressionless throughout. Affect still, as Berlant notes, ‘registers’ and ‘resonates’ – but it requires a cinematic supplement to do so.

The tension which is not marked on Swinton‘s body is supplemented through the diegetic supermarket music (‘Greensleeves’). The juxtaposition of the cheery arrangement of the repetitive melody and the affective atmosphere shame-guilt creates an eerie, horrific tension, echoing Gledhill’s assertion of the importance of music to melodramatic intensity.[38] The affect points to Swinton – a close-up shot indicates her as the subject of this affective milieu – but Swinton’s makes no affective ‘signal’. The music supplements this underintensity and generates the affect of maternal shame-guilt through its incongruity with the circumstance: the discontinuity jars and creates a sonic tension to supplement a physical lack in Swinton’s body. As Swinton hides, the melody is marcato: not reaching a crescendo, but emphasised.[39] This sonic intensity renders audibly Eva’s own rising, yet invisible, fear as the camera moves in for a close-up of her expressionless face. At the same time, the difference between the cheery tone of diegetic and affective circumstances models the difference between body and affects demonstrated by Swinton’s ‘recessive’ performance[40]. Eva’s maternal body cannot constitute the site of an ontological fact: the affective maternal shame-guilt which is imbricated in her position as mother to Kevin in this encounter is unmoored from her body, which ‘signal[s]’ nothing.[41] The ontological fact of Eva’s maternal gender claimed by the proximity of Eva’s body to its affect of shame-guilt is actually a process of, as Butler says, ‘inscription.’[42] This ‘inscription’ describes the supplementary process of physical becoming, a process rerouted and deferred through cinematic language because of the underintensity of Swinton’s performance.[43] Thus, the presence of the maternal body to its affects is disavowed. The scene demonstrates both a saturation of intense feeling for Eva and Swinton’s performance of ‘self-dispossession’, rejecting essentialist gender politics and a body prior to external significations.[44]



Like Kevin, Teknolust demonstrates the impossibility of bodily presence: Swinton as four different characters challenges idea of affect as a tool for locating the body and grounding its presence. In Teknolust the body is deferred, dispersed over four corporeal locations, repudiating it as fixed and ontologically self-present . More, the film collapses notions of ontologically present gendered bodies, literally articulating the différance inhabiting the male/female binary: a male biological supplement is the necessary condition for the sisters’ presence. Like Kevin, affect here cannot sustain notions of proximity, individual self-hood or self-presence for the self-replicating automatons (SRAs). Insofar as her four roles amount to an ‘aesthetic self-dispossession,’ Swinton, as in Kevin, again demonstrates flat affect. If the concern here is less with atmospheric intensity, Teknolust nevertheless demonstrates supplementarity: the film relies for its own resonance and meaning on the citation and referencing of other cultural texts, and uses the specific techniques of cinema to literalise the theoretically always-already deferred body. If the formal properties of cinema account for the elaboration of affective resonance and meaning Kevin, then this concern with form is extended in Teknolust to indicate how cinema relies on supplementarity for its own affective presence. As in Kevin, Teknolust demonstrates cinemaas the site of an irrepressible différance – even in the very sexed body itself, ultimately shattering the paradigmatic gender binary male/female.

As Jackie Stacey notes, supplements define Ruby, as her long black hair, snow-white complexion and red lipstick ‘exaggerat[e] the clichéd iconography of female desirability’ in order to constitute Ruby’s presence.[45] Images drawn from romantic cultural texts are also projected onto Ruby’s sleeping body. In the film Ruby represents the affective body which possesses, as Deleuze states, the ‘capacity for affecting and being affected’ through her sexual interactions with random men.[46] Ruby’s ‘capacity for affecting’ is not complete, however, requiring both the physical supplements noted by Stacey and the cultural supplement of films such as Man With the Golden Arm to stage the affective encounters and procure the semen which sustains the SRAs. In highlighting how every affective encounter is structured by différance, supplemented with what Butler calls ‘cultural inscription’, Ruby demonstrates how Deleuze’s conception of what constitutes an affective body cannot sustain bodily presence. [47]

This supplementarity of bodily presence is demonstrated throughout the film. The SRAs require continual supplementation with semen in order to stay alive, their bodies never things-in-themselves but given presence from without:


As the relation male/female can be mapped onto the relation self/other, the supplementarity which constitutes the sisters’ bodily presence exemplifies what Catherine Belsey calls ‘the inevitable invasion of the Other into the self-same’.[48] This ‘invasion’, the irrepressible opposite inherent in presence, is différance. Thus, the gendered affective body in Teknolust, in articulating différance, radically announces the impossibility of the male/female binary. The female RSAs and the seminal supplement which makes their presence possible (and thus their full-presence impossible) represent the post-structuralist notion of binaries as mutually imbricated. As Stacey notes, the film ‘speak[s] back to the normative figurations of gender [and] sexuality’.[49] The gendered and/or sexed body is always-already written and so the essentialist dichotomy male/female – Stacey’s ‘normative figuration’ – cannot be sustained, each term requiring the supplement of the ‘Other’. The SRAs represent the impossibility of the ‘concrete fullness’ which Husserl says characterises experience or, for Massumi, the ‘experiential state of the body,’ because they rely on supplementarity for their presence.

Teknolust also demonstrates always-already deferred presence through a matrix of citation which marks the text’s own formal presence with difference. Stacey notes that ‘Teknolust is a witty pastiche of motifs from film noir and science fiction’ and that ‘the mise-en-scene throughout the film is governed by a preoccupation with imitative repertoires’.[50][51] These techniques of citation demonstrate how the very form of cinema relies on a cultural reservoir of supplements for its own presence as an affective medium; that is, for there to be meaning, affective resonance and presence in the text, difference and supplementarity are needed. Here, form mirrors content: the ‘body’ of the film requires continual cultural supplements in the form of what Stacey calls ‘motifs’ and ‘imitative repertoires’, just as Swinton’s SRAs require supplements to maintain their bodily presences. This use of cinematic form goes further: split-screen techniques enable the presentation of Swinton on screen as all three RSAs at once, literalising the body as subject to différance: 


Cinematic language defers Swinton’s body over four corporeal locations and represents Berlant’s notion of flat affect as ‘self-dispossession’ by visually dividing Swinton’s physical body on screen. [52]

III: Conclusion

Demonstrating its phenomenological underpinnings, I argue that affect criticism reiterates the assumptions of western metaphysics as critiqued by Derrida’s post-structuralism. For affect criticism, Husserlian ‘experience’ is rendered as affective intensity, and both ground the presence of the body. Utilising Derrida’s critique of the ‘determination of Being as presence,’ I have traced the philosophical assumptions of these claims to Platonic and phenomenological assertions of the possibility of ‘concrete fullness’ or things-in-themselves.[53] From within affect criticism Berlant’s concept of flat affect demonstrates the impossibility of affective bodily experience outside of supplementarity. Demonstrating the distance of subject from experience, body from affect, I disavow the neo-phenomenological assumptions of affect criticism. If experience is always structured by difference, then what Massumi terms the ‘experiential state of the [affective] body’ can never be used to posit bodily ‘plenitude’.[54][55]

Swinton’s performance of flat affect – both her subjective underintensity in Kevin and the ‘self-dispossession’ in Teknolust – reiterates Butler’s always-already inscribed gendered body. For Butler, the body cannot be read as existing anterior to the discourses which produce it as an object of knowledge. Any attempt to distinguish between the written and essential/natural body ‘presupposes a generalization of ‘the body’ that preexists the acquisition of its sexed significance.’[56] Just as Butler accuses essentialist feminisms of taking the presence of the body for granted, affect criticism employs the same model of the ‘concrete fullness’ of bodily presence unmarked by difference. In Kevin, Swinton’s under-intense bodily performance unmoors maternal affects from the site of the female body, disavowing the maternal gender as an ontological fact grounded in the physically affective body. In Teknolust, Swinton’s performance demonstrates the endlessly deferred presence of the gendered and sexed body: the RSAs rely on supplements for both their affective and ontological presences. This radically critiques the male/female binary through a literalisation of the différance inhabiting that dichotomy, demonstrating the necessity of supplementarity to presence. Swinton as Ruby disrupts Deleuze’s paradigmatic notion of the individual affective body through a demonstration of the always-already supplemented affective encounter. In the cinema, Swinton’s gendered bodily ‘plenitude’ is endlessly deferred, highlighting the essentialist, neo-phenomenological assumptions which underpin affect criticism. Just as Butler disavows the ‘body prior to [a] […] cultural inscription’ of gender, I critique the affective body as always-already written or supplemented in terms which extend outside of its relation to its affects, and insist that the body is always-already elaborated elsewhere.

[1] Lauren Berlant, ‘Structures of Unfeeling: Mysterious Skin’, p.6

[2] We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsey, 2011) [hereafter Kevin].

[3] Teknolust (Lynn Hershman-Leeson, 2002).

[4] For a brief account of the ‘affective turn’ away from language, see: Patricia T. Clough, ‘The Affective Turn: Political Economy, Biomedia and Bodies’, in Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth ed. The Affect Theory Reader (Duke: Duke University Press, 2010), pp.206-229.

[5] Husserl uses the term ‘epoch’ (from the Greek epoche) to describe a ‘bracketing’ or putting out of play all non-experiential elements in phenomenological analysis. See Edmund Husserl, ‘Ideas: General Introduction to a Pure Phenomenology’, in Julie Rivkin and Micheal Ryan ed. Literary Theory: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), pp.137-141

[6] Husserl, p.141.

[7] Teresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004), p.5.

[8] Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Touching, Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2003), p.17

[9] Gregory J. Seigworth and Melissa Gregg, ‘An Inventory of Shimmers’, in Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth ed. The Affect Theory Reader (Duke: Duke University Press, 2010), pp.1-29, p.1.

[10] Brian Massumi, ‘Translator’s Foreword: Pleasures of Philosophy’ in Brian Massumi trans & ed. Gilles Deleuze and Feliz Guttari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p.ix.

[11] Jacques Derrida, ‘Structure, Sign and Play’ in Writing and Difference, trans. Gayatri Spivak (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), p.279

[12] Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomena, trans. David B. Allision (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1979), p.40.

[13] Jacques Derrida, ‘That Dangerous Supplement’, in Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Spivak (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1997), pp.186-200.

[14] Derrida, Of Grammatology, pp.141-142

[15] Sedgwick, p.12.

[16] Jacques Derrida, ‘Structure Sign and Play’ in Writing and Difference trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), pp.278-294, p.279.

[17] Stephen Boos, ‘In the Blink of an Eye’: Derrida’s Deconstruction of Husserlian Phenomenology’, Dalhousie French Studies, 82 (2008), pp. 5-16, p.6.

[18] Plato, Symposium, Seth Bernardete trans. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), p.41 (211b)

[19] Husserl, p.141.

[20] Berlant, p.11;14.

[21] Berlant, p.6

[22] Berlant, p.6.

[23] Judith Butler, ‘Bodily Inscriptions, Performative Subversions’ in Gender Trouble (London: Routledge, 1999), pp.163-181.

[24] Berlant, p.6

[25] Jacques Derrida, ‘Différance’, in Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan ed. Literary Theory: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), pp.278-299.

[26] Derrida, ‘Structure, Sign and Play’, p.279.

[27] Gilles Deleuze, ‘Ethology: Spinoza and Us’, Incorporations, ed. Jonathan Crary and Sandford Kwinter (New York: Zone Books, 1992), pp.625-633, p.625.

[28] Jackie Stacey, ‘Swinton’s Affect, Reading Her Interiority’ (Lecture: 2014).

[29] Berlant, p.4

[30] Christine Gledhill, Home is Where the Heart is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film (London: BFI, 1987), p.17.

[31] Gledhill, p.18

[32] Berlant, p.4

[33] Berlant, p.12

[34] Berlant, p.4

[35] Berlant, p.3.

[36] Michael Basch, ‘The Concept of Affect: A Re-Examination’, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 24 (1976), pp.759-777, p.765.

[37] Massumi, p.ix

[38] Gledhill, p.18

[39] OED, ‘maracato’ (adj.) ‘each note played in a distinct and emphasised manner’.

[40] Berlant, p.15

[41] Basch, p.765

[42] Butler, p.166.

[43] Butler, p.166

[44] Berlant, pp.11-12.

[45] Jackie Stacey, ‘Leading across the in-Between: Transductive Cinema in Teknolust‘, in The Cinematic Life of the Gene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010), pp. 195-224, p.196.

[46] Deleuze, p.625.

[47] Butler, p.166.

[48] Catherine Belsey, Post-Structuralism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p.32.

[49] Stacey, p.198

[50] Stacey, p.197.

[51] Stacey, p.198

[52] Berlant, p.11.

[53] Derrida, ‘Structure, Sign and Play’, p.279.

[54] Massumi, p.ix

[55] Sedgwick, Touching, Feeling, p.21.

[56] Butler, p.164.


3 thoughts on “Flat Affect and/as Deconstruction: Berlant, Derrida & the Cinematic Life of the Body – Josh Mcloughlin

  1. Ahh! You wrote this for only whom you consider to be elite minds. Maybe write for readers who know a lot…but who don’t know every nitch interest (or secret big words) you happen to have graced yourself with. I can easily write a paragraph on crap I’m sure I only know the sum of…but you’d lose interest without a back-and-forth search engine rescue (like I did). Gosh, this sounded mean (upon reading). I don’t mean to be mean. Sorry. Just think on it.

    1. Spencer,

      Thanks for the comment.

      This piece was originally written to a tight word count. Using a specialised vocabulary in which terms have meanings that sometimes differ from everyday speech lets a writer communicate more precisely with fewer words.

      I don’t agree that just because you don’t understand something on the first read, it’s for ‘elite minds’. I don’t know how to wire a plug, and I certainly don’t understand any of the vocabulary associated with electrical maintenance. Should I accuse electricians of being elitist?

      Nevertheless, I’m sorry you had difficulty with the piece. I’d be happy to clarify anything for you.


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