Monday, September 22, 2008

Premediation and Structure of Feeling

Raymond Williams coined the concept "structure of feeling," as my friend and colleague Jonathan Flatley reminds us, not only because "structure of feeling" "enables us to talk about the sociality of affect, but because it enables us to describe those structures that mediate between the social and the personal that are more ephemeral and transitory than set ideologies or institutions." "Premediation" in one sense functions as such an ephemeral and transitory structure, mediating between individual and collective affect, and in another sense could be seen to describe one of the strategies or frameworks such structures of feeling employ in mediating "between the social and the personal." In either sense, it is clear that at the present moment changes in structures of feeling invariably manifest themselves through our print, televisual, and networked media.

Seemingly overnight, the current structure of feeling has turned dramatically economic. The relation between individual and collective affect in our media environment has begun to focus almost obsessively on the current "economic crisis." Small talk--at Caribou or Starbucks, at PTA meetings or the high school cafeteria, in the workplace or over the dinner table, at CVS or Home Depot, in the library or the doctor's office--almost immediately turns to the crisis in the economy and the proposed bailout. People want to know: what is going to happen to the economy in the future, tomorrow, next week, after the election, and beyond?

This economic chatter is even more extreme on local, national, and global news media. In the US, CNN, Fox, CNBC, and MSNBC are populated with new faces and new charts and visuals, discussing the details of the mortgage and liquidity crisis, explaining the potential features of the proposed bailout, and most interestingly premediating what economic and social disasters would occur if we did not bail out Wall Street. Non-US media outlets like BBC, CBC, or Al Jazeera are similarly participating in this proliferation of economic scenarios.

Of course, all of these media formations are part of what I characterize as "premediation," as they concern themselves with furnishing the content of our media environment and modulating affective structures of feeling as we move into and through any number of potential futures. These structures of feeling, I would argue, which Williams describes as "emergent or pre-emergent," are not fixed and institutionally defined, but like premediation function as something like what, following Deleuze, I would call virtual structures, as potential individual and collective affective qualities and intensities from which actual personal and social structures emerge.

This discursive proliferation of media talking heads, historical narratives, and graphic formats concerned with the economy and the market crisis works to provide competing potential, not-fully-defined premediations of possible futures into which US and global citizens, corporations, collectivities, and nation-states find themselves thrown and among which they will have to navigate. Such structures of feeling operate ordinarily as part of our media everyday, but in periods of crisis and rapid affective change like this one their operations become much more intense and thus much more visible than at moments of relative quiescence or stability.

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