ABSTRACT

Museum objects both affect and are themselves affected, often in ways that are unexpected and even strange. In this chapter I shift from specific object encounters to affect theory. First, through the tradition known as the sublime, and then through Romantic ideas of affecting experience that are often sidelined by analytical approaches. Related to this neglect is that affect is often equated with emotion rather than with embodied change. I distinguish between emotion and what I call serendipitous or delirious affect. This affect relates to the autopoiesis or object agency explored in Chapter 2. Desire is an important aspect of the discussion, as my interest is to escape or outcast the usual way that desire in cinema is fixed to Oedipal repression, lack or loss. Making a distinction between the autonomy of affect and affect as a condition of the psyche is important to delineate as this determines how viewing pleasure and the impact of cinematic images is critiqued. In the next chapter I take this distinction to the movies and consider what happens when cinema and the transmission of affect in museums is determined through Freud and Lacan.

‘In broad terms, whenever experience slips out of conventional understanding, whenever the power of an object or event is such that words fail and points of comparison disappear, then we resort to the feeling of the sublime’.1 This definition of the sublime by Philip Shaw suggests that the sublime is an affect. However, rather than this, the sublime is created by naming the inexplicable and unnameable force of an object or event. The sublime performs the role of explaining the heightened sense of something, and frames this as an inexplicable lack. In doing so it represents that lack, that is, the lack exists because it is discursive. The sublime is therefore distinct from an affecting experience that is not a lack, abyss, absence or a void (all traditional expressions of the sublime). This other type of experience, that is not lack or repression, manifests as a delirious affect or embodied intelligence.