Touch and Go

The Politics of Hapticity, Affect, and Embodiment

in Screen Bodies
Author:
Andrew J. Ball
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This issue of Screen Bodies features articles that contribute to a group of closely related critical concerns, namely, the existential and political significance of tacticity, feeling, and the representation of embodied experience. In her article, “Feeling Like Death,” Caitlin Wilson examines the aesthetic strategies Agnes Varda employs in two early films, La Pointe Courte (1955) and Le Bonheur (1965), that emphasize “textures and tactility” in the portrayal of mortality, death, and mourning. Wilson shows how Varda uses haptic imagery and calculated cinematic techniques to convey an experience of grief that is “palpable as well as visible.” Wilson persuasively argues that Varda depicts the embodied feeling of mortality to create a heightened sense of intimacy between the films’ characters. Similarly, in her timely article, “Gut Feelings,” Jennifer Jasmine White argues that Sheena Patel challenges the trend towards emotional indifference or “flatness” in the emerging genre of “internet novels.” In contrast to the affectless, numb, and apathetic heroine characteristic of novels like Lauren Oyler's Fake Accounts (2021) and Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018), Patel's I'm a Fan (2022) features a more realistically emotional protagonist. White argues that the novel functions as an intervention that opposes affective indifference and the political apathy it inspires. She writes that most examples of the so-called internet novel, that is, literature that focuses on social media, influencer culture, and characters who are chronically online, suggest highly mediated social experience leads to emotional and political malaise. Patel rejects this trend and instead centers “the feeling body,” the embodied experience of life online, and the political agency it fosters.

This issue of Screen Bodies features articles that contribute to a group of closely related critical concerns, namely, the existential and political significance of tacticity, feeling, and the representation of embodied experience. In her article, “Feeling Like Death,” Caitlin Wilson examines the aesthetic strategies Agnes Varda employs in two early films, La Pointe Courte (1955) and Le Bonheur (1965), that emphasize “textures and tactility” in the portrayal of mortality, death, and mourning. Wilson shows how Varda uses haptic imagery and calculated cinematic techniques to convey an experience of grief that is “palpable as well as visible.” Wilson persuasively argues that Varda depicts the embodied feeling of mortality to create a heightened sense of intimacy between the films’ characters. Similarly, in her timely article, “Gut Feelings,” Jennifer Jasmine White argues that Sheena Patel challenges the trend towards emotional indifference or “flatness” in the emerging genre of “internet novels.” In contrast to the affectless, numb, and apathetic heroine characteristic of novels like Lauren Oyler's Fake Accounts (2021) and Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018), Patel's I'm a Fan (2022) features a more realistically emotional protagonist. White argues that the novel functions as an intervention that opposes affective indifference and the political apathy it inspires. She writes that most examples of the so-called internet novel, that is, literature that focuses on social media, influencer culture, and characters who are chronically online, suggest highly mediated social experience leads to emotional and political malaise. Patel rejects this trend and instead centers “the feeling body,” the embodied experience of life online, and the political agency it fosters.

Wilson and White focus on the way haptic aesthetics and the depiction of feeling bodies can both represent and create social bonds. Similarly, in his article, “Emoji: A Baroque Body in the Theatricality of Online Interactions,” Amin Heidari examines the strategies people use to adapt to the disembodiment of digital communication and strengthen social connection. To apply White's terminology, disembodied online interactions can create a sense of flatness, disconnection, or detachment. People cannot rely on facial expressions and body language to convey emotion when communicating digitally, so emojis function as surrogate screen bodies that counteract this flatness. “Bodily emojis” help to communicate feelings and allow for more tactile social exchanges, establishing greater understanding and solidarity. In her article, “Trans* Joy as Resistance: Possessor, Tangerine, and Affective Trans* Embodiment Under Capitalism,” Saturn Sigourney Rage considers the role of feeling in antagonistic social relations. Rage examines the politics of feeling, focusing in particular on the affect of inconvenience. She explains that the power relations between dominant and subordinate social groups can be understood through the affects exerted by each group on the other. That is, the conflict between the capitalist system and transgender people is mediated by affects. Rage examines how this economy of feeling is represented in the films Possessor (2020) and Tangerine (2015) and describes how capitalist oppression shapes trans embodiment.

The final three articles in the issue focus on queer theory, biopolitics, and the concept of fluidity. In their articles, Corina Wieser-Cox and Candice D. Roberts present queer theoretical readings of two television series, American Horror Story: Apocalypse and Adventure Time, respectfully. Wieser-Cox considers how the cinematic monster-as-queer trope, best examined by Harry Benshoff, is changing in the 21st century. No longer the embodiment of heteronormative paranoia, the monster has been “transcoded” and mobilized as a means of critiquing mainstream American culture. Roberts also traces the evolving representation of queer characters on the small screen, analyzing the fluidity of queer embodiment and the visual language of identity in Adventure Time. We conclude this issue with multimedia artist and theorist Melody Ling's meditation on the ways fluid identity can function as a means of resistance to technologies of biopower. In her article, “Biometrics, Dualities, and Fluid Identities,” Ling presents a design intervention that is intended to make identity and the body malleable in order to combat “biometric systems of normalization” like facial recognition technology. Though the articles in this issue of Screen Bodies are on a wide array of media, including cinema, television, the internet, literature, and surveillance technology, they all evince a shared focus on the relationship of haptics, affect, embodiment, and the social dynamics of power.

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