dangerous emotions

Emotions color the line drawings with which cognition represents reality. The philosophical distinction between the cognitive sense and private feelings can be traced back to Aristotle; it continues to our day in the concept of objective scientific knowledge. We take emotions to be distinctively human phenomena. Outside the crystal ball of the human psyche, there are only grass that does not wince when we tread on it, trees that are impassive as the chain-saw slashes them, water that does not shiver with pleasure when we stroke it, atoms drifting through the void without anxiety and colliding without pleasure or pain. If these things move us, it is because we are moved by the colors we project onto them. All colors, according to John Locke and seventeenth-century epistemology, including the “color” of emotion, are subjective effects within the pscyhe of the viewer.

For Nietzsche, man’s glory is to be not the contemplative mirror in which nature is represented but the Dionysian artist who in giving style to his movements makes an artwork out of the most precious clay and oil, his own flesh and blood — and the Apollonian dreamer who gives from to the waters above and the waters below, to the stars and the dry land, to the creeping and crawling things about him. Nietzsche praised as old masters the dancer and dreamer in us whose emotions are a pot of colors. (pg 15)

Emotions are also forces. The grand colors come from strong surges of prodigal energies within a life. For Nietzsche emotions are excess energies the organism produces that overflow those operations with which the organism adjusts to its environment. Strong surges of energies in the environment itself, disintegrating the placid order of settled things, are not part of the explanation for emotional forces. After all, Nietzsche would point, a weak, contented or resentful, human and one of exalted, frenzied vitality view the same spectacle – a thunderstorm over the mountains or the ocean waves breaking against the cliffs – differently, and a scientist can view a flood in Bangladesh or on the Mississippi plain with dispassionate composure.

The modern philosophy of mind took emotions to be inner states, experiences with only one witness. one infers, on the basis of perceived behaviors, that there are feeling states in other analogous to those one knows within oneself. No dentist feels his patient’s toothache; everyone can agree on the size and shape of the Mona Lisa’s smile but there is no agreement about whether that smile is mellifluous or irritatingly priggish.

Yet what is more evidence than the pain of an accident victim, than the agony of the mother of that victim? At ten days, a newborn infant recognizes with a smile the smile of his mother. What is more visible than the glee of an infant playing with a kitten, and if that infant toddles off into the woods, can there be any doubt about the joy of the mother he is found?

The hilarity, the fear, the rage, the relief, the agony, the desperation, the supplication are what are most visible about those we look at. At a glance we see that the cop or the office manager is incensed, even though we [17] find we cannot say later what color his eyes are and had not noticed that she had dyed her hair.

Indeed, the mirth and despondency, the irritability and the enthusiasm, the rapture and the rage are the very visibility of a body. A body’s shape and contours are the way that it is held in a space that excludes other bodies and us; a body’s colors are opaque expanded behind which the life=processes are hidden. it is through its feelings, drawing our eyes into their fields of force, that a body emerges out of its self-contained closure and becomes visible. Through the windshield the hitch-hiker see the distrust of the driver of the car. As we walk by trees and figures in the park, it is the pleasure radiating out of the smiling face and the exposed arms and fingers of an old woman feeding pigeons that make us see her. Walking through crowds in the street, we see mortification or heartbreak outlining in relief a middle-aged woman clad in a sensible and ordinary coat.

People poke at mountain goats and reptiles in the zoo; they throw stones at lions. The irritation, the fear, or the anger of the animal are not behind its opaque skin or in its skull; the molester feels the irritation or the anger against his eyes, against the mean smirk on his face. THe passerby who see the irritation, fear, or anger that make the python, fox, or tiger visible — when that emotion is directed against the zookeeper or against another animal — at once feels himself caught up in the range of that passion.

The elations, gaieties, lusts, rancors, miseries, apathies, and despairs of living organisms catch the eyes and hold the attention of passerby. They intrude into the perceptual fields and practical concerns of others. Our emotions reorient others, disturb their trains of [18] thought, seep into the blueprints of their project, contest them, and afflict them with misgivings and self-doubt. Power among humans is not simply the physical force with which one material body may move another; it is the force to distract, detour, maneuver, and command. Every pleasure we indulge in and every pain we suffer exerts power over others.

We do do feel that people who live in flat lands tend to have flat minds and flat feelings, that people who live in cubicles in public housing developments tend to have narrow, constricted feelings. We feel that the objects and landscapes upon which emotions are released can limit the range of emotions that run up against them and eventually cause those feelings to aim at only nearby things.

Not only do emotions discharge their forces on the outside environment; they have their source in it. Was it not the mists and the driving sleet, the blossoming prairies, and the swallows rhapsodic in the tides of summer that opened our hearts to ever more vast expanses of reality, beyond all that is made to content and satisfy us? Rage does not come from nowhere, nor does it come only from the overheating of the organism itself. Love is not a passion felt in human being alone, nor does it deprive from inner needs and wants. Strength and superabundance energies are not generated simply by an inner psychic will that is a will to power. Emotions get their forces from the outside, from the swirling winds over the rotating planet, the troubled ocean currents, the clouds hovering over depths of empty outer space, the continental plates shifting and creaking, the volcanos rising from the oceanic abyss, and the nonsensical compositions of mockingbirds, the whimsical flutters of butterflies in the racket of a wallow of elephant seals. Their [19] free mobility and energies surge through us; their disquietudes, torments, and outbursts channel through us as emotions.

People who shut themselves off from the universe shut themselves up not in themselves but within the walls of their private property. They do not feel volcanic, oceanic, hyperborean, and celestial feelings, but only the torpor closed behind the doors of their apartment or suburban ranch house, the hysteria of the traffic, and the agitations of the currency on the stretch of turf they find for themselves on the twentieth floor of some multinational corporation buidling.

If one person regards a thunderstorm over the mountains or the ocean waves breaking against the cliffs as dangerous and another as sublime, the reason is not, as Immanuel Kant wrote, that the first clings to feeling the vulnerability of his small body, while the second initially verifies that his vantage point is safe and then forms the intellectual concept of infinity, which concept exalts his mind. And it is not simply, as Nietzsche wrote, that the first cramps his weak emotional energies back upon himself, resenting what threatens his security, while the second has a vitality whose excessive energies have to be released outside. It is that the first draws his emotional energies from the forces that hold walls together and closed. A scientists, paid enough to have a mansion in the suburbs, views the storm from the confines of a laboratory in an earthquake-proof building where the fluorescent lights never go off during a thunderstorm. And the second sails the open seas and the winds, driven by some volcanic eruption in his Marquesas homeland.

[Alphonso Lingis, Dangerous Emotions, 15-19]

—the problem here, according to D&G, is the Hegelian presupposition that things ‘beyond’ human understanding have no meaning. confronted most clearly in what is philosophy, D&G argue that the infinite chaos that constitutes the world writ large is not lacking determines, but is chocked full of them — so full, in fact, that our limited perception is only able to capture a small slice of it. to confuse our limited perception with a world without meaning is to fail prey to the same anthropocentrism lingis’s approach is trying to overcome. his attempt appears to be a half-measure to ‘open the human’ to the outside without fully embracing the reality that the cosmos gives birth to the human and not the other way around. “mediation or nihilism” is the false choice posed by ¬†phenomenology that carries political implications — is the world passive without human intervention (lingis here says placid)? is it order-less unless imposed from above (denying the self-organizing capacities that go to the sub-atomic level)? Simondon here is critical.

One thought on “dangerous emotions

  1. I dont especially disagree with the idea that feelings and meaning possibly come from the world outside our bodies and perceptions to influence us, not the other way around, but it always makes me think about the kind of door that opens to self responsibility…like “I killed a man because the sun was beating down on me too hot”…and a scientist in their lab is not divorced from the world, they are engaging with it in a concerted manner, its not like a vacuum of space or perception in there…but maybe, fairly as you wrote, from an energy that relies on walls….making me think of a kind of introverted vs extroverted disposition toward “energy” and meaning. walls form distinctions of place and how energy moves in that space. I don’t think it means its being shut out. it can’t be shut out, its just being maneuvered around in a different manner.

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