Thursday, 12 July 2012

The death of affect

"I believe in the death of the emotions and the triumph of the imagination." J. G. Ballard

For a lot of people, an easy way to 'access' a film or book is through its level of emotional involvement. 19th century romances and soap-operas are successful chiefly for that very reason - people can connect to it.

I'm not saying I don't like emotional involvement - I do. What I find most fascinating, though, are fantastic worlds wherein emotion is non-existent. Worlds where concepts such as love have no place in the waking world and there is a great level of disconnection.

So, what responses do these works provoke? It'd be odd to say that it's exhilarating - that is, in effect, an emotional reaction. In many cases, ironically, it provokes just that... But most of the time it is intrigue and fascination.

Writers like Don DeLillo and J. G. Ballard, and film directors like David Cronenberg and David Lynch, I find do this marvelously. A criticism often leveled at these artists is that their dialogue is not realistic - "people don't talk like that in real life."

In these books or films, people talk articulately, artificially and stiltedly. I often wish people talked like this in real life. Instead of talking with emotional superlatives, enthusiastically or banally, I'd find it far more satisfying if people talked in a forensic, detached manner in addition to being cold and distant.

The idea that art and creative practices are for emotional liberation is highly contestable. It can consist of that, yes. But that isn't its principal function. Why should music, for example, exclusively be a release of emotion? Often it's just mechanically organised patterns. And why should a writer be a romantic tormented soul? Can't his duty be that of a psychoanalyst or scientist, analysing the world and making observations?

Someone once directly criticised Ballard about his dialogue, saying "No-one talks like that." Ballard replied "I do."

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