If we had not been able to come closer to an understanding of affect at the reading club meeting, it came to me again in a recent text by another Brian (“The half-life of disaster“), where somehow the descriptive traversing of scales felt familiar, and of course it can hit us with as much impact as watching a slow-motion montage of the year in review, or Olympic triumphs, or yes, the touching moments and heroes of disaster. We should be immune already perhaps, cynical viewers whose forms of belief have decayed parallel to these half-lives, and yet even at standstill, reduced to its barest linguistic denominators, it could still be possible to induce a notion of affective scales on a billboard covering an urban construction site: “Grandpa lazing in the sun. Boys dancing hip-hop. Businessman checking e-mail. Woman carrying shopping bag.” She was kind of pissed off about this, about all that it left out or pinned down too characteristically in succinct world view, but it seemed also something more than ‘trace’ in a collective reading on media. This is an affect of the kind that Michael mentions, “understood as the embodiment of certain codes, to be read and embodied by a particular community”. Such embodiment is a continuous training, like watching these disasters in constant cycle, like urbanity itself. We learn to traverse the levels, moving from horror and shock at grand scale to human warmth and its accompaniments in the everyday heroes and miniature miracles that soothe a constant, half-toned fear.
Taking distance can occur in both directions, towards macro-scale world views or into the safety of the small moments in a day to day. What Massumi claims as a ‘trace-form anticipation’ singularly and collectively describes this back and forth motion; it is a kind of subjective being-in-motion that typifies our here and now condition. To make a hero of our friend A W W abroad stresses the silence nearby, it casts scales of individual activism helplessly against nameless foreboding forces at the state realm, naïvely paralleled by his name being coded “Love the future”. Larger and stronger pursuits of activism in the last years (in education, in the art world, the Middle East, the mid-West…) echo, or are symptomatic of such “affective conversion circuits”, but there remains to be seen what “alter-” could possibly step out of it. Should affect move out of affect? What lies outside of scale itself? The movements seem to encompass everything already, like fantastic ideas kept to oneself, like capitalism’s neverending ever in sight, like half-lives in decay.