Katrin Pahl


On her book Tropes of Transport: Hegel and Emotion

Cover Interview of March 05, 2012


I hope that Tropes of Transport encourages readers to develop the speculative tools, the attitude, and the awareness required to respond to the awkward, confusing, and equivocal demands of emotionality. I show that Hegelian dialectic serves as an important resource in this endeavor because it is precisely not a regulated process of calm resolution through the mediation of stable terms. Rather, it is a messy dynamic where each pole is folded into its opposite so that both continually and internally modify one another, and where knowledge or awareness doesn’t follow with necessity but “bursts forth” as if by accident.

Through the concepts of transport and emotionality, Tropes of Transport generates accounts of affective life that are attentive to both its materiality (foregrounded by affect theory) and its self-reflexivity or subjectivity (usually associated with emotion). The book, thus, treats the concepts of emotion and affect not so much as oppositional terms than as part of a series of terms that modulates questions of subjectivity, materiality, movement, relationality, and becoming.

While I insist on subjectivity, I am not trying to resurrect the notion of the subject that has been successfully deconstructed. Far from conjuring up the unified subject, I develop an account of emotional subjectivity as plural and torn. Less interested in the subject as person or autonomous agent, I turn my attention to impersonal forms of subjectivity—where subjectivity simply means self-reflexivity and self-reflexivity need not be conscious.

Transports transform and they create a multiplicity of selves along the way. The emotional subject is never an individual—it is divided or multiplied within by the history of its previous figurations that are aufgehoben or folded into the story of its future unfoldings.

Every seemingly independent individual that forms emotional relations to others is itself already mediated, that is to say, it is the result of a history of emotional self-transformations that, each time, involve the identification with others and that also, each time, deposit a remainder of otherness within the self.

Hegel finds subjectivity on both sides of the conscious human individual: in the self-reflexivity of plants, for example, as well as in the worlds generated by spirit. In Tropes of Transport, I attend, in particular, to text and textuality as forms of impersonal self-relations.

If all goes well, the account of emotion proposed in this book encourages hearts to stop laboring at dramatizing passion and to embrace lightheartedness instead.