Lecture: Ruth Leys on “The Turn to Affect” (Duke University, Jan. 25)

We’re delighted to announce that Ruth Leys (Humanities Center, Johns Hopkins University) will be giving a talk — entitled “The Turn to Affect: A Critique” — at Duke University later this month. Below is the official announcement. For more information about this — and other exciting events associated with Duke’s Center for Philosophy, Arts, and Literature — please click here.

For those of you who cannot attend this event, look for the essay version of Prof. Leys’ lecture in Critical Inquiry later this year (we’ll let you know when it appears in print). It’s an important argument, which deserves a wide hearing.

The Turn to Affect: A Critique

a lecture by Ruth Leys, Henry Wiesenfeld Professor of Humanities, Johns Hopkins University

Tuesday, January 25, 20115:30pm
Franklin Humanities Institute Garage
C105, Bay 4, Smith Warehouse

Presented by Expression/Performance/Behavior, the 2010-11 Franklin Humanities Institute Annual Seminar & the Center for Philosophy, Arts, and Literature.

Ruth Leys is Henry Wiesenfeld Professor of Humanities at Johns Hopkins University, with a joint appointment in the Department of History. Throughout her career she has been interested in different aspects of the history of the life sciences, especially the neurosciences, psychoanalysis, and psychiatry. She has analyzed the early history of the reflex concept, a defining concept for the modern neurosciences (From Sympathy to Reflex: Marshall and His Critics). She has edited what is arguably the most important correspondence between the two leading figures in twentieth-century American psychiatry and psychology, Adolf Meyer and Edward Bradford Titchener (Defining American Psychology: The Correspondence Between Adolf Meyer and Edward Bradford Titchener). She has critically examined the history of the modern concept of psychic trauma from its origins in the work of Freud to recent discussions by Shoshana Felman, Cathy Caruth, and others (Trauma: A Genealogy). She has explored the post-World War II vicissitudes of the concept of “survivor guilt” and its recent displacement by notions of shame, focusing on the recent contributions to shame theory by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick,, Giorgio Agamben, and others (From Guilt to Shame: Auschwitz and After). She is presently working on a book on the post-war history of experimental and theoretical approaches to the study of the emotions, with a special emphasis on the philosophical issues at stake in the competing cognitivist and neo-Darwinian paradigms of the emotions.

In this talk, Professor Leys will argue that the recent turn to affect in the humanities and social sciences is marred by untenable assumptions about the absence of intention, signification and meaning in affect. She will also suggest that, in denying the role of intention and meaning in affect, the new Deleuze-inspired affect theorists make common cause with today’s affective neurosciences, which likewise mistakenly tend to separate emotion or affect from cognition and meaning. In the course of her paper, Leys will work through some of the neuroscientific experiments that play a strategic role in recent writings on affect and will reflect on the general theoretical, political and other implications of the recent turn to affect. Her talk will be of interest to scholars and students in the humanities, social sciences, and neurosciences, including philosophers, literary critics, historians, cultural theorists, anthropologists, and others.

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