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This article brings together two ideas that authors in theoretical humanities tend to consider in isolation—of affect and of sentiment—and investigates what conceptions or imaginaries of the subject these ideas have historically relied on and reproduced. When viewed from the lens of the theory of subjectivation, the contemporary notions of affect and the modern sentiment tradition not only reveal significant conceptual, epistemic and ideational overlaps, but they are both kinds of critique of the liberal individualistic subject. Engaging the methodology of juxtaposition, I bring together the affective porous subject (drawing on the work of Teresa Brennan) with the modern sentiment idea of the sensible body, focusing in particular on the 17th- and 18th-century neurological discourses of sensibility in the work of Albrecht von Haller, Georg Ernst Stahl and others. I argue that the modern sentiment tradition forms part of the genealogy of affect in that its ideas of sensibility and sympathy foreground one of the tenets of affective subjectivity: namely, that the subject emerges through (rather than predates) ecological exposure, membranous permeability and nervous responsiveness. In this sense, both the sentimental and affective notions of the subject operate as forms of critique of the idea of Cartesian self and of the disavowal of relational and/or dialogical subject in Western philosophy.


Institute for Social Justice

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Open Access Journal Article

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Open Access


© 2016 by the author; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license (