Affect Theory and Memory: Sara Ahmed’s “Happy Objects”

Sara Ahmed has laid out an interesting framework of Affect Theory related to the notion of happiness and its affective values. In The Affect Theory Reader, edited by Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth (2010),  she has considered the notion “happiness as happening, as involving”, therefore sustaining that “to be happy is to be affected by something” (29). The connection she has made between affect and happiness is furthured by the notion of “contingency” between bodies and objects, when “happiness puts us into intimate contact with things” (31). In addition to this intimacy, Sara Ahmed argues for the evaluation of things, a sort of affective value that is sometimes attached to things, “to be affected by something is to evaluate that thing” she says. When reading her article, I felt like in sort of labyrithintic journey since her arguments and theoritical framework are too philosophical and thus, kept my mind blowing. But in an nutchell, Sara Ahmed describes happiness as “intentional in the phenomenological sense (directed toward objects),  as well as affective (contact with objects)” (32, original emphasis). An “ended-oriented intentionality” is then important in her philosophical analysis of happiness and its affective value.

I am not interested in the philosophical dimension of the text. Instead, what I found interesting for me is her analysis of the film Bend It Like Beckham (2002) wich features the experiences of migrancy of a Sirkh family in Houndslow, London. The film is about a father and his daughter who wants to be somebody else rather than the already given social status of gender identity in traditional Sikh values, that is to get married and be boxed in in household. This generational conflict is quite interesting in that it tells more about the father’s insistence on not letting her daughter be female soccer player in the national game. The father’s position is not a vacuum, instead it is further complicated by the memory of racism he is, until now, unable to evacuate. Since he suffered from racism and the British people’s mocking of his turban, he wants her daughter to be happy by not encountering the same racism in the football game. My point in here is that the game triggers memory of pain and humiliation in the father’s psyche. Even though he lets her dauhgter go to the football game, the actual standpoint of the father is very interesting for me in trying to link Affect and memory/past.

This generational conflict in this story is appealing to me in that  the argument, for me, is trying to draw a connection between Affect and the politcs of multiculturalism and ethnic and/or racial identity. On what Omi and Winant have called the “micropolitics” or the every-day-life of racial interactions, there is always a great impact of the memory of the past which negatively impacts on people’s ability to engage in multiculture. I am not saying that white supremacist ideologies have been totally wiped out from institutions or what have you, but I mean that multiculture is being consider a utopia because of people’s over-insistence on the past, thus being “abandoned at birth”. As Paul Gilroy has pointed out, if “victimage” is always insisted upon in multiracial societies (UK, US mainly), little can be made to effectively fight racism, on both sides. In his Postcolonial Melancholia, he argues that former colonial empires are melancholic, due to the loss of former control and outright domination of the postcolonies. On the other hand, he maintains that Blacks sometimes overuse their “victimage” in relation to white people. My question is: how can we (contemporary people) get rid of the traumas of the past in order to be mutually and positively affected by other bodies and values, out of anxiety and fear?

About Babacar

I am a graduate student at the Bowling Green State University (Ohio) in American Culture Studies program for a two year Master degree. Am studying the theories of race, multiculturalism and feminism and their intersectionality in the formation of Identity in the racial and postracial America.
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