#4 'The Alien' - 14/11/17

For our fourth session, we will be discussing Sara Ahmed's concept of 'the alien' through a reading of her essay 'Happy Objects,' collected in Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth's The Affect Theory Reader (2010) and republished under the same title in Ahmed's book, The Promise of Happiness (2009). A PDF is available via Google Drive here.

(Secondary reading: Ahmed's post, 'Smile!' which appeared on her blog feministkilljoys in February 2017 - accessible here).

In 'Happy Objects,' Ahmed conceptualises affects as "sticky" insofar as 'affect is what sticks, or what sustains or preserves the connection between ideas, values and objects' (29). She considers how, in the process of being affected, different affects are transferred onto particular objects and make such objects the arbiters of particular feelings. This is to say, an object that makes one feels good affectively is affectively transformed into a good/happy object. Thus she develops a framework that views affects ('happiness' is her primary concern) 'as intentional in the phenomenological sense (directed toward [some] objects), as well as being affective (contact with objects)' (32). The intentionality aspect of happiness is important. Happiness is not an innate characteristic of (some objects) but, rather, happiness generates happy objects.

From this nuanced understanding of affect and especially happiness, Ahmed considers how those who fail to identify, seek out, or gain happiness from habituated 'happy objects' are alienated. She provides examples of the way in which the 'feminist killjoy,' the 'angry black woman,' and the 'queer child' reject socially constructed forms of happiness and, in their perceived affect perversion, find themselves as sources of unhappiness. They become 'affect aliens' (37).

Ahmed's blog post 'Smile!' explores the idea of happiness as 'a bubble' that forecloses possible affects and affective responses. She asks what smiles conceal whilst also attending to the alienation experienced by those unwilling or unable to smile on request.

We're interested in exploring further Ahmed's conceptualisation of affect, the politics of happiness, her notion of 'affect aliens,' as well as how her sense of 'affect aliens' might link to last week's figure of 'the wilful subject.'

All welcome!

Details: Tuesday 14th November, 5pm-6:30pm, LHRI, Room 1.


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