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Mood and Trope

The Rhetoric and Poetics of Affect

Mood and Trope

The Rhetoric and Poetics of Affect

In Mood and Trope, John Brenkman introduces two provocative propositions to affect theory: that human emotion is intimately connected to persuasion and figurative language; and that literature, especially poetry, lends precision to studying affect because it resides there not in speaking about feelings, but in the way of speaking itself.
Engaging a quartet of modern philosophers—Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Deleuze—Brenkman explores how they all approach the question of affect primarily through literature and art. He draws on the differences and dialogues among them, arguing that the vocation of criticism is incapable of systematicity and instead must be attuned to the singularity and plurality of literary and artistic creations. In addition, he confronts these four philosophers and their essential concepts with a wide array of authors and artists, including Pinter and Poe, Baudelaire, Jorie Graham and Li-Young Lee, Shakespeare, Tino Sehgal, and Francis Bacon. Filled with surprising insights, Mood and Trope provides a rich archive for rethinking the nature of affect and its aesthetic and rhetorical stakes.

304 pages | 4 figures | 6 x 9 | © 2020

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature, General Criticism and Critical Theory, Romance Languages

Philosophy: Aesthetics


“This unusual, potent contribution to affect studies ranges widely over philosophy and literature to explore the centrality of trope and rhetoric to the inescapable triad of mood (affect), understanding (thought), and speech (discourse). Reconnecting affect studies with major issues in literary studies, philosophy, and aesthetics, Brenkman makes a fundamental contribution to this emergent field.”

Jonathan Culler, Cornell University

“Brenkman’s Mood and Trope is a major contribution to contemporary literary studies, bringing a renewed conception of affect to bear upon poetics. Combining philosophical inquiry with brilliant interpretive readings, Brenkman not only draws out the distinctive imbrications of mood and trope across a range of modern poetic projects but also revitalizes the concept of criticism itself through a stunning reframing of Kantian aesthetic judgment in pragmatic, communicative terms.”

Amanda Anderson, Brown University

“In an earlier dark time, Kenneth Burke famously called literature 'equipment for living.' In our own moment, John Brenkman's Mood and Trope serves as a closely-reasoned and useful guide to the history of  philosophies of affect and the passions. Reading texts from the Renaissance to the present with his usual clarity and precision, Brenkman shows us how literature has extended and deepened the possibilities of feeling and knowledge of feeling alike. In the end he argues that practices of poiesis and learning have played, and can continue to play, a vital role not only in the preservation of democracy, but also, as we enter an era shadowed by the prospect of extinction, in human flourishing itself.”

Susan Stewart, Princeton University

"[Mood and Trope] is eminently readable and profits from Brenkman's talent in drawing together disparate threads within literature, philosophy, and aesthetics."


Table of Contents

Naming by Misnaming
From Heidegger to Aristotle
A Philosophical Quartet

Part 1 The Poetics of Affect

1 Affect, Self-Affection, Attunement
Betrayal, or, Involuted Rage
Poe’s Raven and Freud’s Jokes
The Ontic Jolt

2 Mood and Trope in the Lyric
Passions of the Signifier
Baudelaire’s Spleen
Pathos and Form
Li-Young Lee’s Fury
I, Not I

3 Sensation and Being
Deleuze’s Rat
The Artwork between Heidegger and Deleuze
Three Theses on Art
Shakespearean Aside
Language, Art, Truth

Part 2 Feeling and the Vocation of Criticism

4 This is beautiful, or, The Urge to Persuade
Kant despite Nietzsche
Feeling for Others
Aesthetic “Regimes” and Artistic “Paradigms”
Tino Sehgal, or, Criticism’s Outer Edge
Rineke Djikstra, or, Criticism’s Inner Edge
Nietzschean Creativity

5 Angst/Rausch/Riss
Nietzsche after Heidegger
“Hymn to Intellectual Beauty”
Jorie Graham, or, The Thing Called Form
Anecdote of the Jug

6 The Fate of Beauty
Mont Blanc
Kant’s Affects
Form and Formlessness


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