Transmission of Affect in the Narrative of Teresa Brennan's “Bear”

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Michael Dykes Harrell
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Abstract. The goal of this essay is to provide an understanding of Teresa Brennan's theories in The Transmission of Affect by interweaving its concept of the self with the narrative of Marian Engel's novel Bear. Queer theory, as posited by Timothy Morton, points out that “heterosexist gender performance produces a metaphysical manifold that separates 'inside' from 'outside'.” Brennan's book offers a concept of the self that challenges many heteronormative binaries that dichotomize the individual as possessing stable inner/outer, subjective/objective, internal/external sides. The transmission of energy and affects – i.e., physical information (pheromones and hormones, for example) received from another's body or lingering airborne in the environment – blur the conventional boundaries between subjects and prove that our “individual” agencies are actually linked together, in fact, inseparable, Brennan argues.
The Transmission of Affect has been criticized by the fact that there are few examples of “any material or data describing the processes that were trying to be theorized . . ./clinical, anecdotal, literary, anthropological, medical or other . . .” (Jacobs). This essay is a notch in the project of materializing Brennan's work, via literary example: Marian Engel's novel Bear (1976), a narrative of a self-contained librarian whose affectionate interactions with a “pet” bear liberate her from deeply engrained heterosexist traditions. By presenting the predominantly affective encounters between the protagonist and the bear (such as olfactory, rhythmic, and tactile interactions), I argue that Engel's narrative exemplifies a transformation from the heterosexist perception of the self to the queer.

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