Soler, Colette. Lacanian Affects: The Function of Affect in Lacan’s Work. Translated by Bruce Fink. New York, NY: Routledge, 2016.
Strangely enough, psychoanalysis has had little to say regarding the recent emergence of critical affect studies (though such silence, the lack of saying, might profitably become the beginning of an answer). The accusation has typically been that the Freudo-Lacanian tradition relegates affect to the register of Imaginary deceit—though, as Soler contends in her uncommon intervention, that which is untrue still has much to teach us; and while affects might fall into the Imaginary, there is also something Real about them. A far cry, then, from the now more familiar Deleuzian accounts, Soler means by affect something closer to Ann Cvetkovich’s “intentionally imprecise” feelings than, say, Massumi’s intensity prior to symbolic capture in language as emotions. Rather than defining (presymbolic, bodily) affect and (Imaginary, narrativized) emotion as separate, Soler suggests that clinical practice reveals a relationship between corporeal the corporeal and the linguistic, arguing that “for both Freud and Lacan, affect is an effect” (3), which is to say that “signifiers affect us and affect is determined solely by signifiers” (5). This does not mean, however, that all affect is knowable or transmissible as a matter of signification; some affects, particularly anguish or anxiety, instead punch a hole in “the monopoly of the signifier as far as knowledge is concerned,” allowing analysts to “get a handle on reality (réel) via affect” (20f.).
“We cannot have any knowledge, strictly speaking, that is not linguistically structured,” Coler explains, “but that which goes beyond linguistic structure is rendered present to me by affects: by anguish when it is object a or the real lying outside of the symbolic that is at work, and by enigmatic affects when it is lalangue that is at work” (106). Such an enigmatic affect creates “a lived experience of imminence, a sort of epiphany experienced by an object-like being that is in abeyance” of comprehension (28), resisting epistemic closure as it is embodied in symptoms. Lacan’s hypothesis regarding affect is thus that “the signifier affects something other than itself: it affects the bodily individual that is thereby made into a subject…The first affecting party is thus language, and the affected party is not simply the imaginary body…but its capacity to enjoy,” real-ized via the symptom (53). Thus language operates as “the ‘apparatus’ of its jouissance, as we see in symptoms, in which the verbal elements of the unconscious and the enjoying substance of the body come together” in “a coalescence of the word and jouissance” that Coler calls moteriality (56). For Lacan, then, material intensity is not a priori to its linguistic capture—”Lacan stressed that there is no such thing as a preverbal stage, but there is a pre-discursive stage since lalangue is not language” (110)—but rather “it is always the body as affected by language that has repercussions that take the form of subjective affects,” at the same time transubjectively historical and radically individual (101).
This post is one entry in an ongoing annotated bibliography of my bookshelf. If it’s useful to any person other than myself, all the better.