The Energonomics of Sensation

12 January 2008 at 12:19 pm Leave a comment

Last night I watched the movie Love is the Devil, about (20th century artist) Francis Bacon’s relationship with George Dyer.  The movie was incredibly powerful and impressed me (literally–pressed upon me, like I was a lump of metal being pressed into a coin) with its images.  The movie used images of blood and meat, pervasive in the paintings of Bacon, in combination with  eery music and strange camera effects, to express the pain of Dyer’s obsessive love for Bacon.

So I pulled out my Deleuze books this morning, for Deleuze devoted a whole book to Francis Bacon in developing his concept of the “logic of sensation.”   I settled on Jennifer Daryl Slack’s essay “The Logic of Sensation” in Gilles Deleuze:  Key Concepts (edited by Charles Stivale).  According to Slack, Sensation is “that which exceeds intellectual control and works directly on and through the nervous system” (135).  It is “force made visible, audible, and/or palpable, and is thus embodied.  For Bacon the challenge is to paint the sensation that makes invisible forces visible:  to paint pressure, contraction, elongation, a scream and so on” (135).  To experience Sensation in this sense, we must “‘enter’ the event, live the sensation in the body, become the sensation” (136).  Later, she speaks of entering the event of watching The Matrix and uses this as an example to try to show how the logic of sensation works rather than explaining it, rather than imposing a story upon it.  Here is what she writes about it:

I invite you to encounter The Matrix from within the space of these sensations: within what adolescence feels like. The film is not about adolescence, but for reasons I could only begin to guess at, the film transmits sensations of adolescence directly onto the nervous system.  They are enfleshed sensations that render visible the otherwise invisible forces that work in adolescence. . . (137-38)

This made me think of my concept of energonomics, the part of it that tries to explain the materiality of memetic transfer.  That is, the material process of how an idea can be conveyed (literally) from one person’s mindbrain to another’s.  While Deleuze is not here directly speaking of ideas or concepts but of sensations (what he would call “percepts” in What is Philosophy?), the mechanism of transfer is the same. The brain is part of the nervous system, so that is not too far from this transmission of sensations “directly onto the nervous system.”  It occurs to me that thought can be considered a sensation from this point of view–pure sensation, but of another sort than mere touching, tasting, feeling, hearing, or seeing.  Perhaps a condensation of sensual sensation, or a twining, or the memory of sensation, its storage for future recall–a result of evolutionary survivalism, but since we’ve created societies where survival is relatively assured, our memory is freed up.  Forgive me as I allow this thread of thought to ramble forth:

So how do we remember the things we remember?   I am thinking of two or three memorable moments that I would describe as “sensations.”  One was experiencing the finale to the Blue Man Group, with loud dance music, strobe lights, and flowing white toilet paper billowing throughout the theatre.  This is nothing that can be explained to somebody; it has to be directly experienced.  Another similar moment was the ordination of Karen Tse as a Unitarian Universalist minister, during which she had a Chinese Dragon dance accompanied by loud and persistent drumming.  Both involved heavy drum beats and intense spectacles.

I’ll have to think more about all of this, but I wanted to capture the connection between the logic of sensation as presented by Slack and the concept of energonomics as understood by Robert Aunger’s sense of the “electric meme.”


Entry filed under: art, Deleuze, energonomics, memes, mnemology, philosophy.

Ideas as Lightning Rods Embodied Cognition

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