Phrasing Affects in the Age of Impossible Mourning

Piotr Schollenberger
(University of Warsaw)

Current discussion concerning the role of affects in constitution (or dissolution) of subjectivity, their impact on language and the affective dimension of art, astonishingly omits the name of Jean-François Lyotard and his theory of „affect phrases” which follows from his The Differend. Lyotard’s „phrase-affect” is by no means a „sentence” (there is no presumed syntagmatic or paradigmatic order of affects, neither they are subsumed to symbolic order). „Phrase-affect” is rather the very occurring of utterance, it is an „expression” in which something „arrives”, „happens”, makes itself present. Lyotard shows that affect slips away from representation and symbolic exchange. It is an unarticulated background of articulated speech. Just like meaningful silence can affect speaking subject with various qualitative tones1. According to such view, the affect is a pure presence which cannot be re-presented, that is: it cannot find unreservedly its reflection within the linguistic order. The remnants of the affect summon us to constantly „work through” (durcharbeiten) what has been felt within what is to be said. As we can easily see, this task is similar to the work of mourning. Jean Laplanche suggestively remarks: mourning is a Penelope’s work of unweaving so that the new fabric can be woven. Mourning, as much as the sense of loss, accentuates the struggle to begin anew. Lyotard used to say: „It’s simple: mourning says ‘The other has left me. Long live me’. Melancholia says ‘The other has left me. I’m poor wretch’”. Preparing the exhibition „Les Immateriaux” in 1984, Lyotard was one of the first philosophers who recognized the impact of digital media on art and sensuous experience. Writing a response to the text proposed for the exhibition by Jacques Derrida, Lyotard announced that in the future, governed by immaterializing technologies „There will be no mourning” („Il n’y aura pas de deuil”). The work of mourning is stated to be impossible because in the world where everything is digitally preserved there is no sense of loss, hence, the mourning becomes impossible. Or maybe the opposite is true: everything is already lost and we are living through our internalized loss in digital melancholy? „But can a sentiment be simulated for itself, and not in its sign?”, asks Derrida.  I will focus on the relationship between the affect and the mourning, the importance of loss and of (impossible) carrying on with reference to Lyotard, Derrida and their discussion, as well as to Jean Laplanche, Andre Green and Sarah Kofman.

Piotr Schollenberger holds a PhD in philosophy and works at the Department of Aesthetics, Institute of Philosophy, University of Warsaw. His research interests include phenomenology, phenomenological aesthetics, philosophy of art, and modern art theory. He recently published the monograph: Jednostkowość i wydarzenie. Studia z estetyki Lyotarda (Singularity and Event. Studies in Lyotard’s Aesthetics, Wydawnictwo Naukowe Semper, Warszawa 2019) and is the author of Granice poznania doświadczenia estetycznego (The Limits of Cognition of the Aesthetics Experience, Wydawnictwo Naukowe Semper, Warszawa 2014), he also co-edited a collection of essays on contemporary French phenomenological aesthetics: Fenomen i przedstawienie. Francuska estetyka fenomenologiczna. Założenia/zastosowania/konteksty (Phenomenon and Representation. French Phenomenological Aesthetics. Assumptions/Applications/Contexts, IFiS PAN, Warszawa 2012), and the book on Kant’s aesthetics: Aktulaność estetyki Kanta (Actuality of Kant’s Aesthetics, Wydawnictwo Naukowe UMK, Toruń, 2016). He also translated (with Monika Murawska) Jean-François Lyotard’s Que peindre? Adami, Arakwa, Buren (Co malować? Adami, Arakwa, Buren, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Warszawa 2015).