Affect and Aesthetics - PhD seminar

Graduate School, Arts at Aarhus University

In the series of ’turns’ that regularly seize academia, the affective turn, declared around 2000, has had a remarkable trans-disciplinary impact, bridging human sciences with fields such as sociology, geography and neurobiology. As defined by its first theoretician Spinoza in the 17th century, affect is a change in the state of the body that emerges in the meeting with another body and that furthermore implies an improved or diminished ability to act. In the influential Spinoza reception in Deleuze and Guattari it is emphasized that this change of body state is not to be identified merely with feeling, a phenomenon allegedly bound to personal subjectivity, but that affect constitutes a pre-personal intensity defined by its relation to other bodies. Affect is thus a background phenomenon dissolving the notion of the autonomous body and, in the end, mediating between the living and the not-living.

In this seminar, we will explore how affect theory touches upon and transforms the domains of aesthetics and the arts, including literature, theatre, visual art and music. Aesthetics could be construed to have an ambivalent relation to affect: on the one hand affect concerns those ‘confuse ideas’ that were fundamental to Baumgarten’s definition of the aesthetical field in the mid-18th century; on the other hand affect is so much bound up with the body and its potential for action that the dis-interested character of aesthetics, as defined a little later by Kant, is challenged.

In the seminar we will be concerned with questions such as: Does it make sense to separate feeling from affect, and if yes, where is the border to be located? How are affect and feeling to be theorized in relation to the arts and culture more generally? Does affect have a special relevance to recent art forms such as performance, installation, Bio Art and Digital Art, or does it possess a transhistorical significance?

If affect transcends the notion of representation, how is meaning to be understood in relation to affect?


Confirmed keynote speakers:
Clare Hemmings, Professor of Feminist Theory, London School of Economics,
Daniel Lord Smail, Professor of History, Harvard University,
Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam, Associate Professor of Art History, Aarhus University,
Frederik Tygstrup, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, Copenhagen University

The seminar runs from Monday noon through Friday noon.

There is no participation fee. However, participants will have to pay for accommodation and meals at Sandbjerg (DKK 5,608). Travel expenses are not covered.

ECTS-credits: 5,5 (with paper presentation. Otherwise 4)


1) Please register before March 15 via:

2)  . . and send title and abstract for a 20 min. presentation - remember to include your name and affiliation + project title - to Marianne Hoffmeister, e-mail:

For further questions, please contact the organisers:
Jacob Wamberg, e-mail
Frederik Tygstrup, e-mail

The seminar is offered by the Art, Literature and Cultural Studies programme under the Graduate School, Arts, AU