Monday, 24 October 2016

EMO-Quest: Investigating the Affective Turn

“Why are so many scholars today in the humanities and social sciences
fascinated by the idea of affect?” (Ruth Leys 435)

“No one has yet determined what the body can do.” (Spinoza)

“first encounters with theories of affect might feel like a momentary (sometimes permanent) methodological and conceptual free fall.” (Gregg and Seigworth, 4)

1. Key Terms

Affect should not be confused with a personal sentiment or feeling. Affects are encounters between bodies, material objects, and mental or ideal bodies. Moreover, the study of affect crosses over into perceptions of the environment, which is composed of sensory information. Yet affect often appears to be unconscious and non-ideological, which represents a challenge to intellectual and rationalist approaches to phenomena.
The interest in affect could be understood as an appeal to a new materialism that explores embodiment of sensations.
Ruth Leys (434) has argued that a common distinction between affect and emotion cannot be sustained.

2. Scope

As with feminism(s), there are many schools of affect theory, ranging across a wide variety of disciplines and multiple zones and fields of research.
The study of affect is trans-disciplinary. Major journals and influential monographs have addressed the notion of affect and the affective turn, especially in the humanities and the social sciences. (See 6. Further Reading).
Also, we need to consider affect theory as trans-subjective. It is not bounded or limited to a single, unified, human subject.
However, we should be cautious about claiming a comfortable or uncritical collaboration between disciplines that are highly suspicious of each other’s methods and assumptions about truth-claims, evidence and verifiability. Rumours of a wide-reaching rapprochement between the humanities and social sciences have been exaggerated.
Indeed, the historical co-operation and porousness of disciplinary boundaries in the past is often repressed in the rigour and precision of contemporary disciplines. Stepping outside the familiar zone might be perceived as an act of heresy and  lead to professional suicide in academe.

3. History of Affect

Following the writings of Spinoza (1632-1677) in his posthumously published book Ethics, three kinds of affect can be understood. First, pleasure or joy (laetitia). Second, pain or sorrow (tristitia). These are movements, respectively, towards greater and lesser levels of perfection. Third, desire (cupiditas) or appetite, is explained as ‘the very essence of man insofar as his essence is conceived as determined to any action from any given affection of itself.’
Notably, Spinoza did not believe that reason could defeat emotion. Emotions are displaced only by stronger emotions. He stressed the significance of intuitive knowledge. He was also a determinist, arguing against the notion of free-will.
Spinoza’s work was admired by Hegel, Nietzsche and Marx. The emphasis on the body is also evident in twentieth-century thought, in the writings of Henri Bergson, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.


4. Anti-Affect

The affective turn can also be understood as a reaction to the influential philosophical ideas of Plato, Descartes and Kant.
Plato: corporeality obstructs the path to virtue and the immaterial (spirit)
Descartes: the essential core of humanity (being) is its thought (cogito)
Kant: the universality of ethics excludes the particularity of the individual body

5. Twenty questions and points to think about

        i.          There has been a shift from the sociology of the body to modes of corporeality. Increasingly the focus is on flows, speed, and movement. Does the shift to various types of immateriality and virtual worlds/bodies (in late capitalism and postmodernism) undermine the subject as a rational, potentially enlightened self?
      ii.            How do these ideas relate to modernism (William James’s account of personality as a ‘stream of consciousness’; fragmentation, alienation) and to postmodern pre-occupations that embrace the technologized body?
    iii.            Given the multiplication of what we mean by the body, it is less certain that it can become a stable foundation upon which to construct, or to study, difference.
     iv.            On the other hand, is a new account of power possible on the basis of a keener understanding or processes of consumption and production of embodied perception (in the media, for example)?
       v.            Is affect prior to thought, or ideology?
     vi.            Does affect have a ‘truth’ that precedes language or intention?
   vii.            Are the emotions pre-cognitive and automatic?
 viii.            Does the previous question help to explain the anti-intentionalism that has been generated within psychological investigation?
     ix.            In the affective turn, what are we turning towards and from what are we turning away ?
       x.            The affective turn challenges dualism and potentially also interrogates the absoluteness of the opposition.
     xi.            In a philosophical role-reversal, is there a tendency to celebrate the body and matter and condemn mind and spirit? (This reveals that we are locked in a dualism that has merely been turned against the dominant Western tradition; turned upside down)
   xii.            Is it possible to have a mediation within the dualism, or must one simply choose from the opposed sides?
 xiii.            The ‘turn’ needs to be challenged as it underestimates how far earlier philosophical and critical systems were already engaged in methodologies and categories that reveal an affective element. For example, it is a parody of the enlightened philosophy that it was a pure reason. Yet ultra-rationalism is often taken as the benchmark of counter-affectivity.
 xiv.            Similarly, the absolute dualism of mind/body can be challenged. While they are deemed to be ontologically different, their functions might be intertwined in reality.
   xv.            We should be cautious also in rooting the emotions or passions in the body; there is a risk in embodiment that involves ruling out the role of reason altogether: the tyranny of embodiment.
 xvi.            Reason sometimes achieves and often asserts a critical distance from the emotions. Reason employs a dialogue with the emotions. Does this muddy the waters between the binary opposition?
xvii.            It is evident that there a tension between a method based in epistemology and phenomenology on the one hand, and hermeneutics and existentialism, on the other. In other words, this division simply replays an opposition between the philosophy  of knowledge and the philosophy of life. 
xviii.            While theories of representation are grounded in semiotics (signs) and the techniques of  rhetoric, affect theory examines other kinds of encounter and interaction. Research has also increasingly investigated the kinds of topic traditionally neglected in academic study: movement and sensation.
 xix.            How does the affective turn impact on cognitive approaches in the social sciences?
   xx.            How should the new materialism and new media technologies be studied?

6. Further Reading

Blackman, Lisa. Immaterial bodies: Affect, embodiment, mediation. Sage, 2012. 

Clough, Patricia Ticineto. "The new empiricism affect and sociological method." European Journal of Social Theory 12.1 (2009): 43-61.

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia [1980]. Trans. and foreword by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Gregg, M. and G. Seigworth. The Affect Theory Reader. North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2010.

Hemmings, Clare. "Invoking affect: Cultural theory and the ontological turn." Cultural studies 19.5 (2005): 548-567.

Hemmings, Clare. "Affective solidarity: Feminist reflexivity and political transformation." Feminist Theory 13.2 (2012): 147-161.

Kim, Hosu, and Jamie Bianco. The affective turn: Theorizing the social. Eds. Patricia Ticineto Clough and Jean Halley. Duke University Press, 2007.

Leys, Ruth. "The turn to affect: A critique." Critical Inquiry 37.3 (2011): 434-472.

Massumi, Brian. "The autonomy of affect." Cultural Critique 31 (1995): 83-109.

Massumi, Brian. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2002.

Papoulias, Constantina, and Felicity Callard. "Biology’s gift: Interrogating the turn to affect." Body & Society 16.1 (2010): 29-56.

Reddy, William. The Navigation of Feeling: Framework for the History of Emotions. Cambridge, 2001.

Robinson, Emily. "Touching the void: Affective history and the impossible." Rethinking History 14.4 (2010): 503-520.

Rosenwein, Barbara H., “Worrying about Emotions in History,” American Historical Review
107 (June 2002): 821–45.

Thrift, Nigel J. Non-representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect. London: Routledge, 2007.

Thrift, Nigel. "Understanding the affective spaces of political performance." Emotion, place and culture (2009): 79-96.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Working in Pairs: Correlative Conjunctions

Fourteen Examples of  Correlative Conjunctions

1.       as . . . as
2.       just as . . . so
3.       both . . . and
4.       hardly . . . when
5.       scarcely . . . when
6.       either . . . or
7.       neither . . . nor
8.       if . . . then
9.       not . . . but
10.   what with . . . and
11.   whether . . . or
12.   not only . . . but also
13.   no sooner . . . than
14.   rather . . . than

Wiki Examples:

You either do your work or prepare for a trip to the office. (Either do, or prepare)
He is not only handsome, but also brilliant. (Not only A, but also B)
Not only is he handsome, but also he is brilliant. (Not only is he A, but also he is B)
Neither the basketball team nor the football team is doing well.
Both the cross country team and the swimming team are doing well.
You must decide whether you stay or you go.
Just as many Americans love basketball, so many Canadians love ice hockey.
The more you practice dribbling, the better you will be at it.
Football is as fast as hockey (is (fast)).
Football is as much an addiction as it is a sport.
No sooner did she learn to ski, than the snow began to thaw.
I would rather swim than surf.
A handy guide for beginners is Manik Joshi's Examples of English Correlatives: Correlative Words and Sentences.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Exam Performance - diagnostic and tips

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." --- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Have you recently received your exam results? Are you preparing for an exam?

I have made a short list of some of the best tips that will help you to improve your exam results in the future. How many of these strategies DID you follow (or not) in your recent work?
  1. Employ short blocks of time for work.
  2. Develop a balanced workload between all subjects means variety.
  3. Select days off work for leisure.
  4. Write down a list of reasons to be motivated.
  5. Reward yourself for doing the hours planned.
  6. Starting to revise too late in the process.
  7. Don't just rely on your revision sessions run by your school or college.
  8. Summarize your notes.
  9. Create Mindmaps or other visualizations to aid recall.
  10. Devise your own mnemonics or memory games.
  11. Read and study past exam papers.
  12. Ensure that you know what the examiners are looking for.
  13. Practise timed answers and exercises.
  14. Draft model opening and closing paragraphs for essays.
  15. Learn 50 impressive new words to use in discussions and topics.
  16. Work with your teachers to explain what's not clear.
  17. Collaborate with friends by working in pairs or teams.
  18. Revise throughout the year, not just at the end! 
  19. Reduce stress by planning well-ahead.
  20. Good luck! Stay positive!
Further Information

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(2013) Also available on Kindle, or to download.

He has recently published 11+ English (Primary to Secondary English Skills)

More advanced Students: The PhD Roadmap: A Guide to Successful Submission of your Dissertation / Thesis.

Dr Ian McCormick's other recent publications include chapters on Romanticism and Gothic Literature in The English Literature Companion, edited by Julian Wolfreys  (London and New York: Palgrave Student Companions 2011).

His chapter on 'Teaching and Learning Strategies' was published as an Appendix to The Eighteenth-Century Literature Handbook, edited by Gary Day and Bridget Keegan (London and New York: Continuum, 2009). It is is available for free online (download the pdf) -- you will need to complete a very straightforward and short registration.

"Someone with 4As at A-level from Eton may look good on paper and come across as very smooth, but push a bit more, and often you get the impression they have learned to pass exams rather than think for themselves." Cherie Blair

Saturday, 30 July 2016

For and Against Memorizing Poetry

This petition was submitted during the 2010–2015 Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition government; the deadline 30 March 2015. At the time is attracted only 366 signatures, despite being widely circulated as a link on social media.


End of GCSE English Literature for All, 2017

GCSE English Literature from 2017 will require students to remember between 15 and 18 (depending on exam board) poems in an exam in order to 'closely analyse' them. Signatories ask government to consult with the English teaching community as to whether this is the fairest and most meaningful way of assessing students' understanding and appreciation of poetry. There has been no such consultation on this matter to date.

Meanwhile the learning of poetry for public recitation is increasingly popular. Moving beyond the controversial rote-learning for exams issue, this blog explores some of the advantages and disadvantages of learning poetry for public recitation.


  1. Typically, the student who successfully memorizes a poem will be offered a reward or a prize (often also a bribe). This motivates those who are successful to embark on greater challenges.

  1. Successfully memorizing a poem provides a sense of student competence, achievement and proficiency. An insurmountable obstacle has been overcome.

  1. Accordingly, learning a poem is a form of proficiency that is easy to mark and assess, with clear winners and losers.

  1. This is an opportunity to practise memory techniques, props and systems.

  1. The task involves a high degree of focus, repetition and concentration. These skills are undervalued in contemporary pedagogy.

  1. Rather than simply reading the poem from memory, this exercise affords an opportunity for performance and recitation skills. These express the life of the poem filtered through the idiosyncratic voice of the reciter.

  1. The public speaking is an opportunity to inhabit and express the rhythms and cadences of the poem, using soft and loud voices, and other techniques. This means feeling a poem, rather than just skimming over it on the page. As a result, the reciter gains a deep familiarity with the secrets of a poem, with the hints and undertones that are often missed on the page.

  1. This process affords an insight into the unity between reading and reciting, and between speaking and listening, demonstrating the fundamental inter-connectedness of the message and its delivery as effective communication.

  1. Wit and humour can be introduced by using tongue-twisters as poetic exercises. Or use short comic poems such as limericks or nonsense verse.

  1. Recitations can be collaborative: in this case, each student in a class learns just one line!

  1. Learn how poets provide memory clues by using repetition, assonance, rhythm and rhyme.

  1. This is a useful and deepening insight into the sonic and oral dimension of poetry.

  1. If a poem has been learned then it can be called back into being as you wait for a bus or walk through the countryside.

  1. A learned poem may stay with you for the rest of your life. Its value deepens and glows more brightly as time passes. For adults, there is a glorious joy in the poems that you learned in childhood and youth.

  1. Memorized poems provide touchstones in the mind. Favourite lines that linger in our consciousness become an aesthetic criterion and foundation for critical judgements.

  1. Classical rhetoric afforded a respected place to the arts of memory.

  1. This exercise will support essential speaking, debating and speech-making skills. These skills are essential for effective team-work and leadership roles.

  1. If you want to be a stage actor the arts of memory and recitation and will provide essential training.

  1. The learned memory skills will help you in your career as a singer or performance artist. This will appeal to young people who often express a preference for following the career choices of their idols.


  1. A high proportion of poems have a textual and on-the-page quality. Since the invention of writing and print, the experience has been one of reading, not reciting. Poets write to be read.

  1. The emphasis on the orality of poetry has an old-fashioned, nostalgic quality. It is Homer rather than Virgil.Our world is essentially prosaic. Would anyone attempt to recite Henry James's Golden Bowl  from memory? (But without doubt it is fascinating to read Walter J. Ong on Orality and Literacy.)

  1. Rote-learning is an exercise based on the nineteenth-century classroom; it values memory and parrot-like repetition over creativity and critical discussion. It is a discipline for obedient and servile citizenship, rather than self-standing, self-aware individuals.

  1. Memorization is arduous and alienating; for the majority of students the outcome of this exercise will be a sense of failure to achieve. The experience of failure will be a scar, and lead to a perpetual resentment against poetry.

  1. Memory skills are over-rated in a world where anything can be looked up and located on the internet in a couple of clicks.

  1. Memorization is like doing all your math calculations by hand, rather than using a calculator.

  1. Exams already offer plenty of opportunity for students to demonstrate their capacity to use their memory. Why add to the anguish? And don't higher level exams value understanding over total recall?

  1. Modern speech making is less literary than that of the classical/humanist past; improvisation is to be preferred to rote learning that will appear forced, artificial and awkward.

  1. Is this really the most effective use of student work time?

     10. Total recall is a kind of slavery. Leave it to robots and to Hollywood fantasy.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences

(Quibble Academic, 2013)

Further Reading

"Many people in Great Britain and the United States can recall elderly relatives who remembered long stretches of verse learned at school decades earlier, yet most of us were never required to recite in class. Heart Beats is the first book to examine how poetry recitation came to assume a central place in past curricular programs, and to investigate when and why the once-mandatory exercise declined. Telling the story of a lost pedagogical practice and its wide-ranging effects on two sides of the Atlantic, Catherine Robson explores how recitation altered the ordinary people who committed poems to heart, and changed the worlds in which they lived. Heart Beats begins by investigating recitation's progress within British and American public educational systems over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and weighs the factors that influenced which poems were most frequently assigned. Robson then scrutinizes the recitational fortunes of three short works that were once classroom classics: Felicia Hemans's "Casabianca," Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," and Charles Wolfe's "Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna." To conclude, the book considers W. E. Henley's "Invictus" and Rudyard Kipling's "If--," asking why the idea of the memorized poem arouses such different responses in the United States and Great Britain today. Focusing on vital connections between poems, individuals, and their communities, Heart Beats is an important study of the history and power of memorized poetry." See Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem by Catherine Robson (Princeton University Press 2012)

"What has happened to the lost art of memorising poetry? Why do we no longer feel that it is necessary to know the most enduring, beautiful poems in the English language 'by heart'? In his introduction Ted Hughes explains how we can overcome the problem by using a memory system that becomes easier the more frequently it is practised. The collected 101 poems are both personal favourites and particularly well-suited to the method Hughes demonstrates. Spanning four centuries, ranging from Shakespeare and Keats through to Auden and Heaney, By Heart offers the reader a 'mental gymnasium' in which the memory can be exercised and trained in the most pleasurable way. Some poems will be more of a challenge than others, but all will be treasured once they have become part of the memory bank." By Heart, By Ted Hughes (Faber 2012)

"The ancient Greeks, to whom a trained memory was of vital importance - as it was to everyone before the invention of printing - created an elaborate memory system, based on a technique of impressing 'places' and 'images' on the mind. Inherited and recorded by the Romans, this art of memory passed into the European tradition, to be revived, in occult form, at the Renaissance, and particularly by the strange and remarkable genius, Giordano Bruno. Such is the main theme of Frances Yates's unique and brilliant book, in the course of which she sheds light on such diverse subjects as Dante's Divine Comedy, the form of the Shakespearian theatre and the history of ancient architecture. Aside from its intrinsic fascination, The Art of Memory is an invaluable contribution to aesthetics and psychology, and to the history of philosophy, of science and of literature." The Art Of Memory, by Frances A Yates (Pimlico, 1992)

"Mary Carruthers's classic study of the training and uses of memory for a variety of purposes in European cultures during the Middle Ages has fundamentally changed the way scholars understand medieval culture. This fully revised and updated second edition considers afresh all the material and conclusions of the first. While responding to new directions in research inspired by the original, this new edition devotes much more attention to the role of trained memory in composition, whether of literature, music, architecture, or manuscript books. The new edition will reignite the debate on memory in medieval studies and, like the first, will be essential reading for scholars of history, music, the arts and literature, as well as those interested in issues of orality and literacy (anthropology), in the working and design of memory (both neuropsychology and artificial memory), and in the disciplines of meditation (religion)."  The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature) by Mary Carruthers 

Thursday, 28 July 2016

World's worst writing and cliche speech

“So, with all due respect, at the end of the day, I personally, I'm fairly unique, whatever? So I’m, well, so absolutely annoyed by English language clichés. It’s a nightmare. At this moment in time I shouldn’t of  mentioned it, but it irritates me 24/7. So try to be a bit more original, going forward: it's not rocket science!”

Further Reading:

It's so annoying (The Spectator)

Did the SO controversy start in 2011?  BBC

(Daily Telegraph) Most annoying phrases in the English language; Top Ten ; Worst business jargon.