Afterthoughts and Postscripts, 54.1: Claudia Breger
Configuring Affect: Complex Worldmaking in Fatih Akın’s Auf der anderen Seite (The Edge of Heaven)
Claudia Breger, Indiana University, Bloomington
“Is there any remaining doubt that we are now fully within the Episteme of the Affect?” I first read these opening lines of Eugenie Brinkema’s The Forms of the Affects with a mixture of excitement and nervousness. (It hadn’t been easy to acquire a copy: when I first tried at SCMS, the Duke UP editor had told me that all the ones they had brought along to Seattle were sold early in the conference—this was a very popular book.) Brinkema’s forcefully argued, beautifully polemic preface dovetails with a key component of the theoretical intervention I map in “Configuring Affect.” Characteristically deployed in the singular, Brinkema suggests, affect “is said to: disrupt, interrupt, ... insist on, remind of, agitate for: the body, sensation, movement ...” and thereby supports “a fantasy of something that predates the linguistic turn and that evades the slow, hard tussle of reading texts closely.” In countering these dominant uses of affect, Brinkema challenges us to initiate new conversations about film form, displacing the repetitive insistence on affect’s “abstract agitations” with detailed investigations that allow “the particularities of any individual text to disrupt those terms known in advance.”
I couldn’t agree more. As I continued to turn the pages, however, my own pleasure in polemics (that I dutifully strive to tame most of the time) also attached itself to some discontent with Brinkema’s approach. In going “a step further” even than Deleuzian affect scholars and discarding not only “the subject” with its presumably stable emotions, but also “bodies” and “spectatorship,” doesn’t Brinkema’s “radical formalism” advocate a new purism entangled in a web of theoretical tensions and unsuited to actually developing newly complex readings of film? With spectatorship removed from the equation, who is doing the reading that is of such central importance to Brinkema’s new formalism? And with all “narrative or thematic expression” stripped away also, do The Forms of the Affects not return film scholarship to a poststructuralist celebration of absence and “negation,” as indicated by Brinkema’s guiding concept of “mise-n’en-scène”?
Polemical pleasures aside, I am highlighting Brinkema’s provocation at the outset of this postscript because I am still delighted about its forceful contribution to the theoretical dialogue my own piece hopes to feed, while simultaneously, Brinkema’s approach is different enough from mine to invite a response elaborating on the stakes of my own suggestion for “Configuring Affect.” (Or “affects,” as I would have worded myself, had I not shied away from the awkwardness of this plural in my title.) In foregrounding a notion of “configuration” rather than “form,” I advocate for a reconsideration of narrative from the angle and for the reading of affect. Importantly, however, my concept of narrative does not (like Brinkema’s use of the notion) align it with ‘thematics’—or, for that matter, simply designate ‘plot’ or the implications of ideology and closure that have been attached to narrative in critical film studies. Drawing on contemporary narrative theories, “Configuring Affect” instead conceptualizes narrative as “a realm of affective encounters”: “a world-making ‘assemblage’ of affects, associations, images, sounds, and words.” Thus, I propose a more inclusive, multilayered notion that transcends (unsustainable) form-vs.-content oppositions and connects a broad range of compositional elements—from screenplay and dialogue via mise-en-scène to editing and music—to the audience responses (re)configuring these elements into a reading of the film.
Explicitly foregoing any categorical exclusions, this notion of narrative aims to acknowledge the range of diegetic, performing, producing and perceiving bodies that move through the rhetorical loop of film composition and spectatorship along with, as marked by, and contributing to socio-cultural processes of signification. I use the Deleuzian vocabulary of “assemblage” in quotation marks in order to indicate my divergence from some of the concept’s (anti-ideology, anti-signification) implications, while drawing on its connotations of complex, multiple connection and process orientation, or, its emphasis on “interwoven forces” rather than “separable analytics.” This conceptual syncretism allows me to clear a path in-between the legacy of anti-narrativity, which has shaped Deleuzian scholarship along with much critical film studies work on spectatorship in the tradition of Metz, Mulvey & Co. on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the return to dominantly classical forms of narrative in cognitive poetics. Against the latter’s orientation toward norms of coherence and continuity, my concept of narrative allows me to underline the values of fluidity and instability, which have been foregrounded in affect studies, without locating them in an unintelligible realm of the beyond or a complete dissolution of (narrative) form.
A question that I have begun to explore in more depth since I finalized the “Configuring Affect” manuscript is that of the contours of the complexity brought into conceptual play here. As developed through my reading of Fatih Akın’s The Edge of Heaven, complexity is both a characteristic of filmic narrative in general and the marker of a specific poetics, or (as I prefer) aesthetics, of a number of contemporary films which unfold and perhaps multiply this narrative complexity through their particular forms. Since then, the question of the interplay between these two dimensions has been foregrounded in my mind by the curious insistence with which critics have described—and in part bashed—Akın’s new film, The Cut, in terms of and for its ‘simplicity.’ Thematically focused on the Armenian genocide and its aftermath, The Cut had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival this fall (2014) and has since opened in cinemas in Germany, but not yet in the U.S. Akın himself has linked the film to The Edge of Heaven as the (long-delayed) third part of the ‘Love, Death, and the Devil’ trilogy that The Edge of Heaven formed the centerpiece of.
While I have not yet had the chance to see The Cut, I am intrigued by the idea of developing a follow-up piece (or chapter in the book manuscript to be assembled during my upcoming sabbatical) which explores the tension between the apparently starkly diverging aesthetic affinities of the two films thus linked. As I envision it, this comparison may aid me in disentangling, and fleshing out more systematically, individual layers of the notion of complexity at the center of my intervention. As I underline in “Configuring Affect,” the aesthetics of complexity in The Edge of Heaven is certainly not just about the plurality of intersecting plotlines and protagonists foregrounded in recent cognitive work on narrative complexity. In line with my emphasis on a more inclusive notion of worldmaking, I locate the narrative complexity of The Edge of Heaven also in the richness of its fictional world, as it is carefully arranged through the film’s techniques of foregrounded narration. This complexity includes the quasi-documentary specificity unfolded through the meticulous mise-en-scène, for example, of the contrasting images of the Bremen vs. Istanbul May 1st marches or the film’s different prison environments, along with the more playful relishing of detail as the camera frames the various props of Yeter’s life as a sex worker (with a sort of mocking discretion) while she has sex with Ali. More seriously again, the film’s complexity is also in the wealth of its historical allusions to events ranging from the 1978 massacre in Maraş to the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe.
As indicated by its initial critical reception, The Cut actually seems to share this insistence on historical detail, meticulously researched mise-en-scène and historical context—including, for example, the rarely discussed question of quasi-colonial German involvement in the genocide that has been haunting Turkish society. As another project of deliberately constructed narration, Akın’s full-fledged turn to genre (specifically the Western) also seems to make for a feast of cinematic intertextuality: a wealth of potential associations and virtually self-referential connections engage the history of cinema—which is, by way of character speech, provocatively identified as the “devil” promised by the trilogy title.
If these emphases on both historical specificity and intertextual connection suggest that there may be significant elements of complexity in The Cut after all, a major difference from The Edge of Heaven seems to be in the film’s divergent treatment of perspective. As outlined in “Configuring Affect,” the narrative complexity of The Edge of Heaven is also unfolded through the ways in which the film invites its audiences to negotiate complicated partial alignments with a range of contrasting positions and overdetermined affective states, and thereby cautiously traces social controversies by following the divergent worldmaking processes of non-sovereign actors. The Cut apparently sacrifices such a tracing of controversies to a more straightforward political intervention: a ‘cut,’ if you will, also into the complexity of plural non-sovereign worldmaking processes for the sake of a more full-fledged affective audience alignment with the film’s Armenian protagonists, whose perspectives had previously remained virtually foreclosed for mainstream Turkish audiences by way of the state’s politics of historical amnesia. While I have to reserve judgment for the moment as to whether this project ultimately came together as a convincing cinematic intervention, I hope that the methodological close-up at affective configuration in complex filmic narrative suggested here will turn out to be productive for developing rich and layered, but nonetheless discerning readings also of the intricate worldmaking contributions of this, along with Akın’s (and many other directors’) future films.
 Eugenie Brinkema, The Forms of the Affects (Durham: Duke UP, 2014), xi.
 Ibid., 25, 36, 37 (Brinkema’s emphasis).
 See the article itself for a fuller contextualization of this and the following within film studies debates on narrative and narration.
 The quotes are from Jasbir Puar, “Queer Times, Queer Assemblages,” Social Text no. 84-5 (2005): 121-139, here 127-128. See Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 4-8. Recent Deleuze scholarship has emphasized that the original French notion is ‘agencement’ rather than ‘assemblage.’ That is, the emphasis is on relationality, and the process of ‘arrangement’ (or ‘configuration’) more than the assembled content. See Puar, “‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess’: Becoming-Intersectional in Assemblage Theory,” philosophia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 2 no. 1 (2012): 49-66, here 57, with reference to John Phillips, “Agencement/assemblage,” Theory, Culture and Society 23, no. 2–3 (2006): 108–109.
 See the dossier on “Complexity-Simplicity” that Benjamin Robinson and I are co-editing for MLN (130 no. 3; forthcoming spring 2015), specifically the co-authored introduction and my own contribution, “Simple Truths, Complex Framings, and Crucial Specifications: Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre.” See also my “Cruel Attachments, Tender Counterpoints: Configuring the Collective in Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon,” forthcoming in Discourse: Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture (expected fall 2015).
 See, e.g. Daniel Kothenschulte, “Der Tod fährt manchmal mit der deutschen Bahn, Die Welt 31 August 2014; Peter Bradshaw, “The Cut review: Fatih Akin's Armenian genocide epic draws blood,” The Guardian 31 August 2014
 See, e.g., Dietmar Dath, “Fatih Akin in Venedig: Dem Kranich folgen,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 31 August 2014. The contemporary context for this turn to genre is, of course, not only to be located in Turkish cinema’s new interests in the Western (Dath specifically mentions Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s 2011 Once upon a time in Anatolia), but also in recent (Berlin School-inflected) German cinema, including Christian Petzold’s explorations of the historical ‘period’ piece in Barbara (2012) and Phoenix (2014), and Thomas Arslan’s turn to the Western with Gold (2013).
 These notions are borrowed from Lauren Berlant and, in particular, Bruno Latour, whose methodology of a narrative tracing of controversies I bring into dialogue with film and film theory in the forthcoming “Cruel Attachments.”
 Negatively on this ‘undercomplex’ distribution of audience empathy in the film, see Suchsland, “The Cut;” programmatically on the project of enabling new identifications Akın, as interviewed by Hanns-Georg Rodek and Peter Prasch, in “Mit Leibwächtern würde ich mich besser fühlen,” Die Welt 13 October 2014.