Special Section: Pleasure in Mind: Silvan Tomkins and Affect in Aesthetics, Personality Theory and Culture

Doris McIlwain*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    After a brief introduction to Silvan Tomkins, the man and his work, the interdisciplinary reach of Tomkins’ theory of affect is demonstrated here in a collection of articles illustrating how affective engagement intertwines inner and outer reality. Susan Best rescues the ‘pleasure in looking’ from renunciation, consolation or a voyeuristic, suspect visual pleasure, and revitalizes aesthetics using Tomkins’ conceptualization of affects, interest and joy. These affects suspend the viewer between objectification and identification, as interest leaves the art as object, while joy renders it a source of communion. Adam Frank demonstrates how lingering unspoken affective memory—bodily memory—uncannily shapes our negotiations with the environment, via skills or taboos: skills which remain as phantom ‘nervy guesses’ as to where a lost limb might have been; or taboos on looking limiting our visual pleasure. Doris McIlwain rezones pleasure, renews the promise of drive theory and maps how even transient affective states (or gaps in affective experience) become enduring personality dispositions promoting cascading developmental constraints regarding what we can feel about, and do to, ourselves and others.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)499-504
    Number of pages6
    JournalTheory & Psychology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


    • aesthetics
    • affects
    • drives
    • interest
    • joy
    • personality
    • phantom limbs
    • Tomkins
    • uncanny
    • visual pleasure


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