How to do Things with Affect?

Workshop at Spui25 organized by Ernst van Alphen | Speakers: Maria Boletsi, Eugenie Brinkema, Tomas Jirsa and Ernst van Alphen | 29 May 2019, 3-6 pm.

In the last ten years affect has become an indispensable concept for cultural analysis. But this has also had its repercussions. Taking part in a roundtable discussion on the interaction between art and architecture in October 2012, American art historian Hal Foster made the following devastating remark: “When I hear the word affect I reach for my Taser. An unfair reflex, I know, but affect seems to me a prime medium of ideology today—an implanted emotionality that is worse—because more effective—than false consciousness” (Rose 208). His assessment draws attention not only to the so-called ‘affective turn’ that has taken place, but also more importantly to the overuse and exhaustion of the term that has emerged in its wake. For when concepts become fashionable, they usually lose their meaning, impact and operationality. And although they may be used as buzzwords to promote the right discourse, from a conceptual point of view they lose their power. Instead of accepting this depletion of the term, in this workshop we prefer to critically assess the concept of affect in its many uses and give it back its critical edge. To do that, we must return to the originators and disseminators of the concept and see what motivated them to propose it. We will also propose a model that  enables us to understand what distinguishes various theories from each other, since they focus on different phases in the affective process or emphasize the other results or objects that affects trigger. The workshop will end with the bookpresentation of the Edited Volume How to do Things with Affect? Affective Triggers in Aesthetic Forms and Cultural Practices.


• Brian Massumi, The Autonomy of Affect. Deleuze: Critical Reader. Ed. Paul Patton. Blackwell Publishers 1996.
• Eugenie Brinkema, The Forms of the Affects. Preface. Ten points to begin.
• Ernst van Alphen, Affective Operations of Art and Literature. RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics, No. 53/54 (Spring – Autumn, 2008), pp. 20-30.


Registration: at the Spui25 website; RMA students who want to earn 1 EC should register as well at


Maria Boletsi, Eugenie Brinkema, Tomas Jirsa and Ernst van Alphen

Ernst van Alphen has been a Professor of Literary Studies at Leiden University since 2000. In his research as well as in his teaching, he is particularly interested in issues that are central in modern and post-modern literature and in the relation between literature and the visual arts. The literary texts and art works on which he focuses are usually part of the movements of the historical avant-gardes, modernism, or postmodernism. For a number of years, he has had a particular interest in literature and art representing the Holocaust, and has published several books on this topic. Theoretically, he is still interested in problems related to trauma and memory and their role in literary and artistic representation, but no longer only in the context of the Holocaust. A perspective that is usually part of my research is that of gender studies, especially in relation to masculinity. Before he came to Leiden University, he worked at Utrecht University and the University of Nijmegen; at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam heheld the post of Director of Communication and Education. Ernst has also been appointed as Queen Beatrix Professor of Dutch Studies, as well as Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Califormia, Berkeley.

Maria Boletsi is Endowed Professor (bijzonder hoogleraar) at the University of Amsterdam, where she holds the Marilena Laskaridis Chair of Modern Greek Studies. She also works as assistant professor at the Film and Literary Studies department of Leiden University.
Her work is situated in the fields of comparative literature, literary and cultural theory, conceptual history, Modern Greek literature and culture, English, Dutch, and postcolonial literature. She has published on various topics, including the conceptual history of barbarism, post-9/11 literature and political rhetoric, Modern Greek, English, and Dutch literature, and alternative narratives and subjectivities in the context of the Greek debt crisis. Much of her work is concerned with the intersection of literature, art, and politics.
She has been a Stanley Seeger Research Fellow at Princeton University (2016), a visiting scholar at Columbia University (2008-09) and the University of Geneva (2016) and a participant in the Cornell School of Criticism and Theory (2006). She is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Modern Greek Studies and in the editorial team of the Brill book series Thamyris/Intersecting. Maria has cum laude degrees in Classics and Modern Greek Literature (BA, Aristoteles University of Thessaloniki), Comparative Literature (BA, University of Amsterdam) and Cultural Analysis (research MA, University of Amsterdam).  In 2010 she received her Ph.D. with honors from Leiden University (Barbarism Otherwise: Studies in Literature, Art, and Theory).

Eugenie Brinkema is Associate Professor of Contemporary Literature and Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and currently a fellow in Media Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Her research in film and media studies focuses on violence, affect, sexuality, aesthetics, and ethics in texts ranging from the horror film to gonzo pornography, from structuralist film to the visual and temporal forms of terrorism. Her articles have appeared in the journals Angelaki, Camera Obscura, Criticism, differences, Discourse, film-philosophy, The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, qui parle, and World Picture. Recent work includes articles on irrumation and the interrogatory in violent pornography and the formal affectivity of no longer being loved in Blue is the Warmest Color. Her first book, The Forms of the Affects, was published with Duke University Press in 2014.

Tomáš Jirsa (*1983) is a postdoctoral researcher in comparative literature and cultural theory at Palacký University, Olomouc, Czech Republic. His work traces the relations between modern literature and visual arts; affect studies, media theory, and contemporary music video. After pursuing his doctoral studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Paris-Sorbonne University, he received his Ph.D. in 2012 from Charles University. In 2015 and 2017, he was awarded a junior fellowship from The International Research Institute for Cultural Techniques and Media Philosophy (IKKM) at Bauhaus University, Weimar. He is the author of two books in Czech, Physiognomy of Writing: In the Folds of Literary Ornament (2012) and Facing the Formless: Affective and Visual Figures in Modern Literature (2016); and most recently, he co-edited (with Ernst van Alphen) the book How to Do Things with Affects: Affective Triggers in Aesthetic Forms and Cultural Practices (Brill, 2019). Currently, he is preparing a special issue of the journal Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (with Mathias Bonde Korsgaard), entitled “The Music Video in Transformation,” and co-editing a special issue of the journal World Literature Studies, “(Inter)Faces: Thinking the Face in Literature and the Visual Arts ” (with Rebecca Rosenberg). In spring 2019, he is Visiting Scholar at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis.