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Affective Convention
Francis Raven

October 30th, 2009

I think he said that the moment of philosophy was the moment of thought feeling itself think

(I was being supportive and went to hear his paper at a recent conference 1, the annual meeting of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy, the main continental philosophy (a marginalized school; as opposed to analytic philosophy) symposium (I always enjoyed meetings out of my field more than those in it, so this one was perfect for a couple of hours))

and, of course, this is all from memory, since I don't have the paper, so it's sort of like the feeling of remembering here if I can give into it

and one of the questions was "what does it feel like?"

There is a pulling from within and you lose it.

Is it the feeling of being lost in music or the organizational completeness of talking to yourself in a silent room?

The title of his talk was something like "Lyotard's Sublime and the Onto-Aesthetics of Auto-Affective Thinking" but I misheard and thought it was auto-effective thinking…

That is, I thought it was about really effective thoughts, really efficient ones (talk about having a bias towards the economic).

Afterwards, I had to draw this little concrete poem:

A U T O     E F F E C T I V E

But I wasn't sure what it meant, except that I misheard an emotional state for an economic one.

Anyway, this auto-affective state was prior, perhaps not in time, but phenomenologically, and perhaps logically,

to philosophy,
but I also remember that logic was not necessarily one of the types of thoughts that had a feeling associated, which brought to mind the question:

Do different thoughts feel different inside the head?

Maybe we think too much about thinking and feel too little about it?

However, all of this reminded me of something Hegel had written about Novalis (but what was it that had reminded me?), "The extravagances of subjectivity constantly pass into madness; if they remain in thought they are whirled round and round in the vortex of reflecting understanding, which is ever negative in reference to itself."

And I just couldn't figure out what this auto-affective thinking was supposed to hang onto. That is, I couldn't deduce a normative structure from the feeling of thinking my own thoughts,

but it
supposed to be
rigorous thought
which placed it in the category of "thin slicing"
popularized in Malcolm Gladwell's Blink
"which says that as human beings we are capable of
making sense of situations
based on the thinnest slice of experience."

But this in itself wasn't science, wasn't philosophy,

this auto-affective thinking was propaedeutic, which I had always thought of as the vestibule where my sister cracked her head before the water from the tub rushed down;

an entryway before the tide. 2


1 They read their papers word for word, as did I when I was a wannabe philosopher (I had recently given up on my PhD program and sometimes felt strange about the decision) but I was proud of my friend; that was the feeling in my head (of course, this was mixed with the feeling of having to pee and the feeling of listening too long). It was the perfect level of a talk: I was impressed (for it showed great mastery and originality), but not jealous. Like if, for instance, he had been giving the keynote speech, my emotions might have been mixed between admiration and jealousy, but they weren't; it's a nice thing to know about yourself, that you're not an asshole. This is the feeling of what I was thinking, part of it.

We wish our friends the best, but only within certain parameters. I assume that this is why I at least think of the people I know as being at around the same level of success/performance. But it's something I'm working on; I'd like to feel differently, but am not quite sure how I go about this.

There's this other problem, which is that we don't really know how successful our friends are. We don't have access to the criteria, like I'm a poet and I have a book come out every year from some small publisher or another, does that mean I'm successful? There's no way to know from the outside. In some fields publishing one paper means you're a rockstar; in others, that's what you'd better be doing or you're not even really in that field. Of course, it shouldn't matter; what should matter is to help our friends with their own struggles where they are, but I often find myself being petty, or just plain interested.

2 And speaking of the tide, the last time we were with these particular friends we were coming back from a weekend at the Jersey shore when they put on a CD of this comedian, Mitch Hedberg, and I didn't know what to do. I wanted to laugh. I knew I was supposed to laugh. It was even really funny. I saw myself laughing, but I wasn't laughing. I just couldn't laugh in front of these other people when I was basically having a private experience. It just wasn't going to happen. Somehow self-consciousness put out the fire of laughter. I was blocked and embarrassed by this awful fact. This was the feeling of my thoughts: I stalled.

Contributor's Note

Francis Raven's books include Provisions (Interbirth, 2009), 5-Haifun: Of Being Divisible (Blue Lion Books, 2008), Shifting the Question More Complicated (Otoliths, 2007), Taste: Gastronomic Poems (Blazevox 2005) and the novel Inverted Curvatures (Spuyten Duyvil, 2005). Francis lives in Washington DC; you can check out more of his work at his website:

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