Impersonal Passion

Language as Affect

Impersonal Passion

Book Pages: 152 Illustrations: Published: April 2005

Author: Denise Riley

Literature and Literary Studies, Politics > Political Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

Denise Riley is renowned as a feminist theorist and a poet and for her remarkable refiguring of familiar but intransigent problems of identity, expression, language, and politics. In Impersonal Passion, she turns to everyday complex emotional and philosophical problems of speaking and listening. Her provocative meditations suggest that while the emotional power of language is impersonal, this impersonality paradoxically constitutes the personal.

In nine linked essays, Riley deftly unravels the rhetoric of life’s absurdities and urgencies, its comforts and embarrassments, to insist on the forcible affect of language itself. She teases out the emotional complexities of such quotidian matters as what she ironically terms the right to be lonely in the face of the imperative to be social or the guilt associated with feeling as if you’re lying when you aren’t. Impersonal Passion reinvents questions from linguistics, the philosophy of language, and cultural theory in an illuminating new idiom: the compelling emotion of the language of the everyday.


“[B]rilliant. . . . long recognized as one of the truly original voices of contemporary feminist theory, Riley has skills as a poet and wordsmith that make the weighty philosophical and psychological concerns that subtend this volume immediately accessible.” — Lynne Pearce, Feminist Theory

“[T]he spirit of this dialectic . . . bravely wanders the between-places of the private/public and personal/political, pointing out the fallacy that such demarcations are easily sustained.” — Kim Lasky, Textual Practice

“[T]heorist Denise Riley skillfully summarizes the most important dimension of affect in the title to her short collection, Impersonal Passion: Language as Affect.” — Jenny Edbauer Rice, Quarterly Journal of Speech

“Denise Riley is a wonderful poet. It turns out that she's also a wonderful essayist as these nine essays, on essentially existentialist topics, attest. Her work is fueled by a variety of engagements, with feminism, with linguistic theory, with philosophical and psychoanalytical sources but she's also a writer who seems to be in love with the act of writing itself, as involved with the euphony and sound aspect of her words as with a clearly investigative and exploratory approach to 'received wisdoms.' Her writing is simply a pleasure to read even when she's dealing with concepts which are difficult and take some thinking about. . . . These essays combine the powers of a sharp analytical mind with the lyrical sensuousness of a poet.” — Steve Spence, Terrible Work

“Denise Riley’s Impersonal Passion: Language as Affect is a collection of provocative essays on a wide variety of language-related topics. with colorful, but sometimes challenging, prose, Riley tackles such subjects as the functioning of hateful speech and how one ought to deal with it; the peculiar sensation of feeling like a liar even when one knows that one is telling the truth; the potentially paradoxical fact that language is both impersonal and general and yet partially constructs who we are; the curious fact that we somehow manage to use language effectively even though so much of it is beyond our control; what is problematic about our collective quest for social inclusiveness; how awkward and even paradoxical it is to think about one’s past beauty; and the coercive and phenomenological aspects of language use.” — Mary Kate McGowan, Hypatia

“Riley’s book . . . artfully reveals the hidden affect in many mundane language games.” — Matthew J. Moore, Political Theory

"Riley examines the emotionality of language . . . and captures brilliantly the excess of language. This is partly through the styles of writing through which Riley thinks—her essays are poetic and exploratory, critical and sharp—and partly through the rooting of difficult theory in concrete, and often humorous, examples. This makes Impersonal Passion enthralling to read and impossible to sum up." — Beckie Coleman, Social Semiotics

“Denise Riley writes a poet’s prose, and her theoretical originality more than matches the engaging quality of her writing. She breathes life into the claim that the ‘I’ is an effect of language and draws her reader in both for the sake of her brilliant unpacking of existential idioms and for her renewal of the theoretical questions of where and how language locates us and how and with what effect we can relocate ourselves.” — Ellen Rooney, Brown University

“Denise Riley’s splendor as a writer is unclassifiable: she is language philosopher, phenomenologist, poet, feminist theorist, and cultural critic all bound into one. In addition to the gorgeous thinking and language, Impersonal Passion offers singular takes on common conundrums that most of us don’t think deeply about let alone get to the bottom of. This book is a rarity: a work of philosophy that one can’t put down.” — Wendy Brown, University of California, Berkeley


Availability: In stock
Price: $23.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Denise Riley is a professor in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of East Anglia. Her books include The Words of Selves: Identification, Solidarity, Irony; “Am I That Name?” Feminism and the Category of “Women” in History; and War in the Nursery: Theories of the Child and Mother, as well as many collections of poetry.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1. Malediction 9

2. "What I Want Back Is What I Was": Consolation's Retrospect 29

3. The Right to be Lonely 49

4. Why WHYs and why mes 59

5. Linguistic Inhibition as a Cause of Pregnancy 71

6. "Lying" When You Aren't 85

7. All Mouth and No Trousers: Linguistic Embarrassments 97

8. "But Then I Wouldn't Be Here" 105

9. Your Name Which Isn't Yours 115

Notes 129
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3512-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3500-9
Publicity material