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Malabou (Self) – afecção - autoafecção


quinta-feira 29 de junho de 2023, por Cardoso de Castro

Por afeto [affectum] entendo as afecções [affectiones] do Corpo pelas quais a potência de agir do próprio Corpo é aumentada ou diminuída, favorecida ou coibida, e simultaneamente as ideias destas afecções. [Espinosa  , Ética Parte III, Definições III]

Let’s borrow the definition   of the term affect from Deleuze   who, in one of his lectures from 1978 on Spinoza  ’s Ethics (January 24, 1978), declares: Deleuze (Espinosa) – affectio e affectus

Deleuze refers here explicitly to book 3 of the Ethics, which is entirely devoted to the problem of affects. It is true that the English translators of Spinoza make use of “emotions” instead of “affects,” as in the title of book 3 (“Concerning the Origin and Nature of the Emotions” [De Origine et Natura Affectuum]) or in definition 3 of that book: “By emotion [affectus] I understand the affections of the body by which the body’s power of activity is increased or diminished, assisted or checked, together with the ideas of these affections.” [1]

Generally speaking, an affect is a modification. Being affected means to be modified—that is, altered, changed—by the impact of an encounter, be it with another subject or an object. But, what, exactly, is modified by this encounter, and why does this modification create an emotional, and not   immediately cognitive, phenomenon? This is because the encounter does not trigger any faculty or sense or logical structure; it touches—and thus reveals—the very feeling of existence. Deleuze goes on: “I would say that for Spinoza there is a continuous variation—and this is what it means to exist—of the force of existing or of the power of acting.… Affectus in Spinoza is variation (he is speaking through my mouth; he didn’t say it this way because he died too young …), continuous variation of the force of existing, insofar as this variation is determined by the ideas one has.” [2] The force of existing is constant, but it differs from itself all the time, varies in its continuous power. Affects circumscribe precisely this paradoxical transformability of duration and persistence. An affect is thus always related to the feeling of existence itself through the changing of objects. We may call affect every kind of modification produced by the feeling of a difference.

Let’s now move to the word autoaffection. Apparently, this term is very distant from the Spinozan context to the extent that it was coined by Heidegger in Kant   and the Problem of Metaphysics. Heidegger makes use of it when he comments on section 24 of Critique of Pure Reason. Here, Kant states that the subject is both a transcendental   logical form—the form of the “I think” (or transcendental apperception), with no sensuous content—and the empirical form of the subject’s intuition, the way in which the subject “sees,” “feels,” or “intuits” herself. The subject is two in one. [3] The only mode of communication between the “two” subjects is a kind of affect. First, the subject can only represents itself as it appears empirically to itself. [4] Second, the “I think” itself, or the apperception, as soon as it takes itself as an object, loses its formal   transcendental determination to become an intuited object (i.e., an object of the inner sense that affects it). The subject can only represent itself as affected—altered—by itself. The self has access to itself through its own otherness or alterity. The self-representation of the subject is thus always an autoaffection.

The process of autoaffection is for Kant time itself. The subject receives its own forms, it perceives its own logical structure, through the way in which it apprehends itself empirically as remaining the same through change and succession. Autoaffection is thus the temporal   difference between the self and itself. Heidegger declares: “Time, that is pure autoaffection, constitutes the essential structure of subjectivity.” [5] This structure—autoaffection as temporality—is, according to Heidegger, the origin of all other kinds of affects: passions, emotions, and feelings. Autoaffection appears to be the basis, the condition of possibility, of the primary and primordial form of every particular affect. Feelings like love, hatred, envy, and the like are only possible because the very core of our self is primarily autoaffected. The relationship between subjectivity and itself is prior to the relationship between subjectivity and its objects.

It is easy to discover that the motif of autoaffection is closely linked with Spinoza’s definition of affects as modifications of the power of existing, or conatus  . Autoaffection designates the very feeling of existence; the “I” who feels itself is the dominant structure of all affective modification. The very structure of subjectivity, within the metaphysical tradition  , was one and the same with the structure of autoaffection, that is, as this kind of self-touching through which the subject is feeling its singular presence. If it is true that, according to traditional philosophers, there cannot be any affects without a primary autoaffection, then all affects might be defined as particular touches, as variations of an originary self-touching, the introduction of time within identity. If an affect is a modification produced by the feeling of a difference, the primordial form of emotional modification is produced by the feeling of the subject’s own difference from itself. Hence the precise definition of the passions of the soul: in section 27, Descartes   declares: “We may define them generally as those perceptions, sensations or emotions of the soul which we refer particularly to it.” [6]

How are we then to understand our initial issue? Can we think of affects outside autoaffection, affects without subjects, affects that do not affect “me”? The contemporary authors that we will study all envisage a response to this question. They do so in playing Descartes and Spinoza against each other, in showing that the two philosophers both, each in his manner, already brings out this problem. In the first case (Derrida   and Damasio), Descartes is the pure thinker of autoaffection, while Spinoza anticipates the vision of a subjectivity that does not preexist its affects but is, on the contrary, constituted by them. Damasio, for his part, affirms that Spinoza is the first and only philosopher of the tradition to have elaborated a materialist definition of affects that relates them to a primary activity of cerebral cartography and not to the substantial presence of a subject to itself. The Descartes-Spinoza conflict prefigures the contemporary conflict between metaphysics and neurobiology about the definition of the mind and the psyche. For Damasio, if Descartes is the great metaphysician of presence, Spinoza appears, on the other hand  , as a “protoneurologist.” As for Deleuze, it’s a different case, with his recognizing in Descartes a power of surpassing the closure of the subject in on itself. Both Descartes and Spinoza bring to light a certain dimension of affects by which they exceed the pure reflexivity of the “I.”

In following the thread of these readings, we will try to situate the locus of a possible dialogue between two conflictual positions, that of philosophy and that of neurobiology. How is it possible to effectively deconstruct autoaffection? Is it by positing the existence of what Derrida identifies as originary “heteroaffection,” where the subject is primarily and profoundly alien to itself? Or, is it by affirming, as Damasio does, that a subject is constantly exposed to the potential deprivation of all affects because of brain damage? According to neurobiologists, the possibility of being detached from one’s own affects is not a pure and purely external contingency that may happen to a healthy autoaffected subject; it is virtually already inscribed in some way within the process of autoaffection itself.

Damasio, by elaborating the theory of “somatic markers,” stresses the central importance of emotions in neural regulation. Elementary mechanisms of thought or of reasoning are deeply linked with emotional processes. The principle of decision making, for example, is emotional. In the introduction to Descartes’ Error, Damasio writes: “I began writing this book to propose that reason may not be as pure as most of us think it is or wish it were, that emotions and feelings may not be intruders in the bastion of reason at all: they may be enmeshed in its networks, for worse and for better. The strategies of human reason probably did not develop, in either evolution or any single individual, without the guiding force of the mechanisms of biological regulation, of which emotion and feeling are notable expressions.” [7]

Paradoxically enough, it is the impairment of emotional processes—occurring after a brain lesion, for example—that reveals their importance: “the absence of emotion and feeling is no less damaging, no less capable of compromising the rationality that makes us distinctively human and allows us to decide in consonance with a sense of personal future, social convention, and moral   principle.” [8]

I would like to advance here that the notion of an absence of emotions, which does not come from a kind of disavowal or any type of psychic strategies, marks the novelty of the current neurobiological point of view on affects. Paradoxically, it is not so much the insistence on the major role of emotion in reasoning or in cognitive processes in general that signals the revolutionary position of some cutting-edge neurobiologists today, but rather the possibility for emotional procedures to disappear after brain damage. Again, this disappearance is a kind of affect (it affects the affective subject) or alteration that challenges the notion of “heteroaffection.” The patient is less heteroaffected than not affected at all. He has become an other, a new person  , a nonsubject.

Is the affected subject, then, someone else, the presence of an other subject within itself? Or, is it just nobody, the absence of a substantial first person?

Ver online : AFFECTIO

[1In the French translation of the Ethics, “affects” appears as “emotions.”

[2Deleuze, Lectures on Spinoza at Vincennes, January 24, 1978; Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992), bk. 3, def. 3.

[3Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. by J.M.D. Meiklejohn (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 1990), 106.

[4Ibid., 108.

[5Martin Heidegger, Kant and the Problems of Metaphysics, trans. Richard Taft, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), §34, “Time as Pure Self-Affection and the Temporal Character of the Self,” p. 132.

[6René Descartes, The Passions of the Soul, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, trans. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothof, and Dugald Murdoch, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), §27, pp. 338–339.

[7Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotions, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: HarperCollins, 1995), xvi.