the body: an examination
By Brianna Clarke-Arias
This poem comes from a page of “The Power to be Affected,” a philosophy essay by Michael Hardt. It is a work that first resonated with me at age 14. Its main purpose is to understand the composition of the body as a network of complex relationships formed throughout life. I wanted to play with the implications of Hardt’s conclusions for love (of the self and others) and how bodies hold the tension between the internal and external worlds. I wanted to honor the body’s ability to create and hold meaning within itself.
Then, take this one step further: compassion is love insofar as it affects someone who is happy at another’s good fortune, and envy is hatred insofar as it affects someone who is happy at another’s ill fortune. The precise correspondence between Spinoza’s definitions and our everyday use of these terms is less important, in my view, than the way his catalogue reveals power and cause at the center of the field of affects. One might reasonably assume, when reading through these definitions of the affects, that we should seek what brings us joy and avoid sadness, and that is indeed a worthy goal, but it is not easily accomplished posed simply in those terms. Indeed with regard to many of the affects, the path to joy is difficult to discern. The power to be affected as we really are (not as some people wish us to be) is filled with affects that are complex and contradictory. The field of the affects often looks like a briar patch, impassable, and sometimes a minefield. By focusing on the causes of the affects, however, Spinoza points toward a practical project. All affects can be either active (that is, caused internally) or passive (caused externally). Indeed one advantage of using “affect” instead of the more colloquial “emotion” or “feeling” to translate Spinoza’s Latin term “affectus” is that it highlights the causes and effects of actions by and upon us. Once the causes are revealed, the project becomes to shift from passive to active affections, from external to internal causes. The reason to prefer active over passive does not reside in the experience of the affect, which does not change depending on cause or source. A passive affection, Deleuze explains, “does not express its cause, that is to say, the nature or essence of the external body: rather, it indicates the present constitution of our own body, and so the way in which our power to be affected is filled at that moment” (1992, pp. 219–220, translation modified). Just like passive affections, active affections too indicate the present constitution of our body. The crucial difference is really a temporal one and regards duration and repetition. We need the ability to select, as Nietzsche would say, in order to extend and repeat those encounters and affects that are beneficial and prevent those that are detrimental. The repetition of passive affections is completely out of our control. Some random encounters, of course, do bring us joy, but that passes quickly if we cannot make them last or repeat them. And most random encounters, unfortunately, result in sadness. If we leave this to hazard, we will stay stuck with no way forward. “As long as you don’t know what is the power to be affected of a body, as long as you understand it like that, in chance encounters, you will not have a wise life, you will not have wisdom” (1978 “L’affect et l’idée”). The great advantage of the active over the passive affection is that it is no longer dependent on the vagaries of external forces. Since the body causes itself to be affected, chance is removed and it is able to control the duration and repetition of encounters. The issue, then, is not only understanding and expanding your power to be affected but also augmenting proportion of that power that is filled with active rather than passive affections. This notion of active affection could appear obscure or, worse, moralistic if not linked to Spinoza’s definition of bodies
I feel easily overwhelmed by the mass of words I am responsible for when beginning a poetic process defined by redefinition. Every choice feels more specific than when I have full reign over the words; I am bending and weaving through the phrases and creating new truths. First, I go through the work and feel the image presented by the author. Each time I reread, I connect phrases that resonate with each other. My understanding of blackout poetry is that the words I choose are enriched by those I don’t; there is meaning that still exists behind mine.
Meet the Pair
MENTEE BRIANNA CLARKE-ARIAS & MENTOR RACHEL SHOPE
Brianna’s Anecdote: Rachel has played no small part in my writing evolution. She has been my mentor for almost three years, and throughout my shifts in style and my confusing thoughts about the world, she supports my voice. She helps me realize my strengths in my writing when I’m blind to them, and it makes me feel like her comments about what I share with her come from a place of real understanding. I can’t share with someone who I don’t believe understands my words, but Rachel makes that her priority first and the emotional content of my work is handled carefully.
Rachel’s Anecdote: Brianna and I have worked together for three years now and it has truly been an honor to watch her grow. She is brilliant, talented, and so much wiser than her sixteen years. Her writing is so unique and smart—I feel so privileged every time I get to read a new piece that she’s written. I believe in Brianna and her voice, and I believe in this program. I’m so thrilled to be a part of it.
Brianna Clarke-Arias is a poet and essayist who primarily explores history as a legacy of power through her writing. Most of her works act as personal genealogies of imperialism as a Dominican-American. As an adult, she wants to build national labor unions to protect Black rights, women’s rights, and immigrant rights. Brianna has gotten five bee stings in her left hand and does not want you to feel guilty for your anger but to listen to it.
Speaking on Brushing Up on Your Comedy (Literally)by Tracy Morin
Speaking on Being ‘Virus Overachievers’by Kathryn Destin
A MONTH IN REVIEW: ABROAD IN COPENHAGENby Joanna Tan