Affect vs Passion vs Emotion

01Jul12

In preparation for my comps I am marching slowly through the history of western thought and I am currently reading Spinoza’s Ethics. While I’ve read bits and pieces here and there I have never gone through the whole text which I’ve been meaning to do for some time given his discussion of nature and his importance to both German Idealism and Deleuze and Guattari. The Oxford edition I have edited by GHR Parkinson (I don’t know if this is the standard translation, respected etc) had a rather starting statement in the introduction. Parkinson writes that there is no real reason to separate emotion from affect in Spinoza’s text. He writes:

“Since Spinoza regards desire and its forms as affectus, and since desires are commonly distinguished from emotions, how is one to translate the word affectus? Some translators use the word ‘affect’ but this has the disadvantage that it is a technical term that itself stands in need of explanation. I follow those translators who have rendered affectus as ‘emotion’; for there is no reasonable doubt that when Spinoza uses the word affectus he is trying to fit into his system what are commonly regarded as emotions” (41).

This seems to run the opposite of what I’ve always heard about affect particularly in Deleuzeian scholarship. Parkinson then goes on to state that confused emotions (or emotions inadequate to an idea) are passions which index a lack of power in those having them (41).

While I have some before I get to part III in which Spinoza discusses the various forms of affect, it seems odd that this confusion is not brought out in the open (as far as I know) in most discussion of affect. If affect is some outside force which either hampers or excites the powers of the body yet is also described as various kinds of emotion, it becomes difficult to sort out what is affecting what in Spinoza’s account or Deleuzian accounts of affect. DeLanda defines affect as a body’s capacity to affect and be affected but, given the fact that the source of Spinoza’s affect (in terms of the mind) is the power of God this creates a problem of how to adjudicate between affects once god is removed. Furthermore, if affects are good or bad to the extent that they manifest the will of god, it becomes difficult to uphold the joy = creation attitude in Deleuze without god. Assigning these kinds of values to kinds of affect (or emotion or passion however they are all parsed out) seems completely arbitrary.

Here is a discussion of affectus’ as a term and how it relates to media.

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2 Responses to “Affect vs Passion vs Emotion”

  1. Apparently Spinoza uses two different words: affectus and affectio. What I know of the two, not being a Spinoza kind of guy, is from Megan Watkins’ “Desiring Recognition, Accumulating Affect” in The Affect Theory Reader. This might be incredibly unhelpful for you, I don’t know.

    • 2 Ben Woodard

      THanks very much for that, I will take a look!


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