Affect at the Interface: Silvan Tomkins

Affect from conference websiteI just slept in a bit, recovering from a long weekend at a conference, Affect at the Interface, at the University of New South Wales. Although I sometimes felt out of my element (pretty typical for conferences), it was a great discussion, even if over-stimulating at times. Thanks to Prof. Anna Gibbs and Dr. Jennifer Biddle for all the hard work organizing it — and also to the staff and other folks who put together a great, stimulating weekend (including the brilliant caterer!).

A host of folks presented diverse papers. I’m reluctant to list any because I’ll inevitably end up slighting someone I don’t intend to, but in addition to Prof. Gibbs and Dr. Biddle, a number of folks were very active guests over the two days: Robyn Ferrell, Anand Pandian, Melissa Hardie, Jim Wilce, and Adam Frank (sorry — couldn’t find a good link quickly to info about him) stand out, not just because of their presentations, but because of their comments on other people’s work. However, I have to admit, pretty much every reference to Gilles Deleuze went over my head (alright, I suffered so much with trying to get into Anti-Oedipus that I never attempted A Thousand Plateaus).

I presented second-to-last and made the mistake of entirely rewriting my paper the night before because in an ill-advised attempt to engage with what had happened on the first day. I’m going to post something like the presentation I aspired to give but failed to because of overly-quick turn-around, lack of sleep, and generally not being clever enough on my feet.

The discussion of affect revived my long dormant interest in the work of Silvan Tomkins, the psychologist and cybernetic theorist. Although I had consulted his work briefly when I was writing my dissertation and first book, especially because of his discussion of shame and my interest in the bodily-nervous effects of inhibition in dance, I hadn’t really taken him seriously enough. Although there weren’t a lot of biologically-inclined individuals at the conference (probably Jennifer Biddle and I were among the most enthusiastic about this line of thinking), it was great to reconsider his work with Prof. Adam Frank there, as he, together with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, were instrumental in encouraging a revival of interest in Tomkins’ work, outside the narrower group familiar with Tomkins in psychology (like the Silvan S. Tomkins Institute).

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