The fact that Teresa Brennan’s The Transmission of Affect is “not a history of the affects”(22) inhibits some of its ability to draw its conclusions out beyond the clinic. While Brennan is willing to agree “that what defines the significant affects varies, especially across time or through history as well as cultures” (22), she also argues, “that there are constant potentials at work, and they are universal-for now-in that they are potentially present in all human psyches as we know them” (22). Her paradox between the proliferation of boundaries and the denial of affect seems reductive in a few ways. Is it true that “boundaries may matter now because there is too much affective stuff to dispose of, too much that is directed away from the self with no place to go” (15)? Isn’t the opposite just as likely, that there are now too many places where the self can invest its affective energies, in negativity toward terrorists, immigrants, homosexuals and so on or against neoconservatives of any religious flavor? Doesn’t knowledge of the increasing complexity of a globalized economy and its subsequent production of new threats and risks of catastrophe give birth to a whole new series of anxieties for the modern subject to deal with? How can one choose between investing themselves in preventing ecological catastrophe or nuclear proliferation? Are we truly “in a period where the transmission of affect is denied” (15)? Or is it the case that everything from cyber fandom to the electronic displays of the national security threat level at the airport calls for our affective energies?
On the one hand, it seems that Brennan’s anxiety that emotion has been turned away from in recent times is misplaced since so much attention has been paid to it, at least recently in the academy. On the other hand, within public discourses the fantasy of individuality still rules supreme in many contexts, especially political ones. Brennan’s examples of some of these new ‘maladies of the soul’ point to the contradictory nature of our contemporary condition. There are problems on both ends of the spectrum, psychoses both of hyperactivity and depression. The interpretation of this dynamic could lend itself to a couple paths; it could either follow Brennan in searching for the universal aspects of affect which exist or it could reject the clinical interpretation as a fictional analytic that should not be applied trans-historically. But then again perhaps this is a false choice.. What is hard to reconcile however, is that if these forms of affective investment oscillate throughout history, what exactly is remaining universal? And how can people develop the capacity to receive or transmit more affect? Is there a certain reserve of affect people have always had and they simply materially evolve to develop more? It can’t be purely cognitive though either so what drives this change?