This essay explores two approaches to affect in literary theory. The first of these approaches locates affect in discrete bodies and persons. The second views affect as a phenomenon anterior to the distinction of persons: a flow of energy among bodies as well as between bodies and the world. The essay argues that the first tends to function in recent theory as a stand-in for the other. Drawing a parallel with the operations of metaphor in William Wordsworth's poetics, the essay elaborates a late-eighteenth-century context for the emergence of what I argue is the similarly metaphorical relation between the two dominant conceptions of affect in theory: the development of systems of transport that seemed to threaten the autonomy of persons and feelings by putting into circulation feelings and persons from abroad; and the emergence of philosophical ideas about sympathy (Adam Smith) and aesthetic pleasure (Immanuel Kant) that reassuringly asserted, and gave priority, to the essential autonomy of the feeling self. Arguing for an understanding of metaphor as a formal enactment of displacement, for displacement as constitutive of anxiety, and thus for metaphor and displacement as the media through which late-eighteenth-century anxieties about the mobility of affect were displaced, I trace the philosophical genealogy through which this figural mode is inherited by recent theory, even in the absence of the unease that originally impelled the turn to metaphor. This essay demonstrates how narrative form may offer a conceptual alternative to figuration in affect theory, and how a model for rethinking affect may go beyond the bounded body.
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Miranda Burgess; On Being Moved: Sympathy, Mobility, and Narrative Form. Poetics Today 1 June 2011; 32 (2): 289–321. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-1261235
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