A wide range of mechanisms is available for achieving rapid optical responsivity in material components. Amongst them, some of the most promising for potential device applications are those associated with an ultrafast response and a short cycle time. These twin criteria for photoresponsive action substantially favor optical, over most other, forms of response such as those fundamentally associated with photothermal, photochemical or optomechanical processes. The engagement of nonlinear mechanisms to actively control the characteristics of optical materials is not new. Indeed, it has been known for over fifty years that polarization effects of this nature occur in the optical Kerr effect – although in fluid media the involvement of a molecular reorientation mechanism leads to a significant response time. It has more recently emerged that there are other, less familiar forms of optical nonlinearity that can provide a means for one beam of light to instantly influence another. In particular, major material properties such as absorptivity or emissivity can be subjected to instant and highly localized control by the transmission of light with an off-resonant wavelength. This presentation introduces and compares the key electrodynamic mechanisms, discussing the features that suggest the most attractive possibilities for exploitation. The most significant of such mechanistic features include the off-resonant activation of optical emission, the control of excited-state lifetimes, the access of dark states, the inhibition or re-direction of exciton migration, and a coupling of stimulated emission with coherent scattering. It is shown that these offer a variety of new possibilities for ultrafast optical switching and transistor action, ultimately providing all-optical control with nanoscale precision.