Michael Klein

Musical Affect as Vital Bodily Force in the Work of Deleuze and Guatarri

This paper develops a theory of musical affect from the standpoint of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Following Spinoza (Ethics, III), for whom affect was a vital force felt in the body and resulting from increases or decreases in intensities, Deleuze and Guattari separate affect from emotion: “affect is not a personal feeling, nor is it a characteristic; it is the effectuation of a power of the pack that throws the self into upheaval and makes it reel” (ATP, 265). Brian Massumi (‘The Autonomy of Affect’) confirms this separation of emotion and affect: the body responds to intensities, forces, and sudden shifts autonomously from cognitions, which are responsible for emotions. Affect is pre-lingual, forming one possible route toward freedom from the Symbolic Order (language), in as much as affective responses do not depend on cognition. In order to illustrate how affect works musically, the paper turns to those examples that Deleuze and Guattari offer in their work.
One such example is Ravel’s Bolero, which Deleuze and Guattari understand as a prolonged and growing intensity whose final moments strike the body with a sonic force. Such an analysis of the music may be content to explore only the affective (bodily) impact of the music, or it may combine the affective with the emotional (cognitive) to show how the two mutually reinforce or contradict one another. The paper concludes with a discussion of passages of music drawn from the double trill in Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie, the sudden low attacks in the opening of Bartók’s Piano Sonata, and the climactic texture near the end of
Lutosławski’s Symphony No. 4. In each of these cases, the affective moments interrupt the musical narrative and open the body to an excess that awakens the feeling (not emotion) of life as a vital force.