Because affective states operated beyond individual boundaries, their origins do not spring from particular objects or persons. An affective state, joy for example, can be produced by myriad of beings or objects. Moreover, if one is experiencing joy, one may find a particular object or person joyful at the time because already inhabiting that affective state. In other words, affect does not depend on the qualities of objects. In affect theory, then, the objects in which affect is invested are often considered substitutable.

Silvan Tomkins describes the implications of this process: “by virtue of the flexibility of this system man is enabled to oscillate between fickleness of purpose or affect finickiness and obsessive possession by the objects of his affective investments” (52). The process of attaching affectively to an object or person often involves repetition, thereby creating what affect theorists call a feedback system or circuit. An individual may repeatedly experience an affect in relation to someone/something until a habit is created. When such a link between affect and object forms, substitutability decreases. For example, if a person continually consumes chocolate when anxious and then feels better, relaxation will increasingly be seen as inhering in the object. When that person later becomes anxious, they will be more likely to find relaxation in chocolate than other things. If this continues long enough, they may even feel it is impossible to feel the affect of “relaxation” without the chocolate. One may become attached to a loved one in a similar manner when object and affective reward are interwoven. Such affective investments may be formed amongst highly varying groups of objects, persons, or even affects themselves.

It is worth noting that such attachment patterns are not merely individual or psychological. Socialization often determines the forms of affective attachment. If a person learns culturally that chocolate is soothing, they are more likely to invest in the model of chocolate relaxation. At the same time, such a socially-validated route of affective attachment has clear gender bases as society educates women, much more than men, that chocolate is the antidote to their sadness. Socialization based on gender, as well as other group characteristics such as race or class, thereby shapes the objects in which one invests.

 Tara Rayers

Works Cited:

Tomkins, Silvan. “What are affects?” Shame and Its Sisters: A Silvan Tomkins Reader. Ed. Eve
Kosofsky Sedgwick and Adam Frank. Durham: Duke UP, 1995. 33-74.