Put A Spell on You: Affect, Language and the Non-Linguistic

— Anna Gibbs

‘…lately it’s been a really great time to study/the political art song format’, mused Laurie Anderson in her ‘Empty Places’ performances of 1989-1990, anticipating by almost a decade the early work of affect theory centred on political figures (Ronald Reagan, Pauline Hanson, George W Bush, Tony Blair, John Howard, Angela Merkel). Political songs are no longer (if they ever were) complete compositions: they come to us in snatches and bursts, catchy hooks and binding rhythms. A refrain or ritornello attunes to an affective state, resonates with it and amplifies it, renders it contagious and re-performs it until it becomes habit. As writers and performers (and anthropologists like Catherine Clément) have long understood, not only political or literary but all language works in the mode of the spell: it aims to transform rather than to represent a state of affairs; to seduce rather than to persuade. It is about action, not truth. Here, the work of language in the US election of 2016 where Donald Trump, campaigned on rhetoric rather than record represents an extreme but not an exception. Moreover the animating powers of language are not absolute nor even determining, but relative to the media that transport it, including especially the increasing powers of the digital world, which exceed those of the human. Starting not from the outrageous figure of Trump himself, but from within the milieu and at the advent of the assemblage, this paper examines the affective powers of language as it interfaces with human the nonhuman agencies of viral media, the algorithm and the image.