Michael Richardson on Reading, Writing and the Affective Turn

Criticism Beyond Judgment: Reading, Writing and the Affective Turn

Michael Richardson
Abstract: Since the exhaustion of the linguistic turn, the landscape of humanities theory has been fragmented and fractious. With the pendulum swinging from textualism to materialism, affect theory gained sufficient influence to be described as a 'turn' itself—and to be the object of trenchant critique (Leys 2011). Slower to come around than cultural, film and media studies, literary criticism is now increasingly infiltrated by talk of affect. Even Frederic Jameson (2013), doyen of postmodernist Marxism, argues in his latest book that affectivity twins with narrative impulse as the antonymic forces driving realist fiction. Part of affect's appeal is its affordance of criticism beyond what Sharon Marcus and Stephen Best (2009) have called "symptomatic reading"—reading for what is hidden in texts, appearing on the surface only as symptoms of deeper meaning. Unlike deconstruction or psychoanalysis, affect introduces  messy, experiential and highly situated dimensions to reading. To read critically and affectively, the embodied self needs to be understood not solely in terms of its relations with the text, but its multitude of contingent and always-changing relation to texts, media, spaces, knowledges, histories, geographies. In short, that judgment of a text be suspended in favour of its generative possibilities (Abel 2007). Affect offers one possibility of fulfilling Foucault's dream of "a kind of criticism that would try not to judge but to bring an oeuvre, a book, a sentence, an idea to life" (1997, p. 323). Yet what might this criticism beyond judgment entail? Woven into this question is the mode of critical writing called for by affect, how such critique might take objects as they are (Muecke 2012), and how both reading and writing are enfolded by the critiquing, embodied self.

Bio: Dr Michael Richardson teaches writing, media and cultural studies at Western Sydney University and UNSW. His research on literary and cultural representations of torture, secrecy and power has been published in a range of journals and anthologies. He co-edited the collection Traumatic Affect (2013) and his first book, Gestures of Testimony: Torture, Affect and Literature, will be published by Bloomsbury in 2016. He also reviews books, writes commentary, and was awarded a 2014 Varuna Publisher Introduction Program Fellowship for his first novel. Once, he was the only Australian speechwriter in Canadian politics. He tweets at @richardson_m_a.

Audio: Listen to Michael's paper (right click and "save link as" to download).

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