S.C. Hickman (earth_wizard) wrote,
S.C. Hickman

Alphonso Lingis: The Sensual Carnality of Objects

"To actually name an object is to suppress three-quarters of the sense of
enjoyment of a poem, which consists in the delight of guessing one stage
at a time: to suggest the object, that is the poet’s dream… There must always
be a sense of the enigmatic in poetry, and that is the aim of literature."
     - Stephen Mallarme

The buried shrine shows at its sewer-mouth’s
Sepulchral slobber of mud and rubies
Some abominable statue of Anubis,
The muzzle lit like a ferocious snout...
     - Mallarme at the Tomb of Baudelaire

"Let the cold flow with its silence of scythes,
I’ll not ululate here in a ‘no’ that’s empty..."
    - Mallarme, My Books

Mallarme tells us that "to suggest the object, that is the poet's dream", and, one might add - the philosopher's too. Could there be a carnal aesthetics of objects, and if so - What would would be its guiding principles? Theories of art and theories of aesthetics have their own convoluted histories, but what about the carnality of objects as art? What would a theory of the deanthropomorphizing of art theory and aesthetics look like? How could such a thing affectively shape itself within our current discourse? Shifting the center of art appreciation from the human self beyond the self-world gap and into the world of objects would entail turning the human consciousness inside out, exteriorizing its force into the carnality of existence. And rather than sitting back in passive delight of some beautiful sublime artifact to be contemplated in a private, withdrawn state, one would need to move outward into the world of objects, participate in their very emergence and creation. But is such a thing possible? Can we think the impossible - think the outside, discover the face of faces that exist not for us, but in their own carnality, in their own sensuous realm of allure?

                                                            *   *   *

"We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with."
     - Sherry Turkle

"A face faces to express meanings. A face faces to express subjective feelings. More than "express" - there are no meanings without a blank wall on which signs are inscribed and effaced; there is no self-conscious consciousness without black holes where its states of pleasure and displeasure turn."
    - Alphonso Lingis, Dangerous Emotions

Even the simplest objects suggest a metaphysical carnality of cosmic proportions to Alphonso Lingis. Take a face for instance:

"A face is a field that accepts some expressions and connections and neutralizes others. It is a screen and a framework. To be confronted with a face is to envision a certain range of things that could be expressed on it and to have available a certain range of things one address to it. One sees what one might say, what one should not have said." [1]

Between the multitude and the despot we discover the carnal parade of stars and the emergence of the objects that have shaped life into a series of adventures. The despot gives birth to linear progression and organization: in "his words, one meaning, one direction, is fixed. The words the despot utters are directives, imperatives." (ibid.) On the other hand the multitude laughs, weeps, blesses, and curses, and what manifests itself in these strange affects is "fields of force and radiation, not inner states of self-consciousness." (ibid.) Only on the "blank wall of the face of the despot, there are black holes dark as night in which his eyes and his ears are suspended." This is the black power of self-consciousness, the disease of one who would rule a multitude. Within the hollow pits of these black holes a "spiral of subjectivity turns... a movement turning on itself and existing for itself. There the sound and fury of the multitude are directed to a pleasure and  displeasure that turns on itself and sanctions and blames." (ibid.) This is power, this is god made flesh: the "authority of the despot is the black holes in his face." (ibid.) To face such a face is to be judged.  By arbitrary dictates he "operates by binary oppositions, dichotomies and bipolarities: No. Yes." (ibid.) He is the first computer: the artificial progenitor of death-in-Life.

The despot imposes history on his subjects, forces them to account for their actions and be judged by the memory of their past actions. No longer merged with the rhythms of existence, no longer swallowed up in the patterns of the natural they suddenly discover the "blank surfaces of faces." And they "are these blank walls for signs - nothing but subjects of discourse, coding, ordering their animal bodies." (ibid.) Bound within the unbounded gaze of the despots circle of surveillance, they too begin to "exercise surveillance over their movements." (ibid.) Now they will give an account to the temporal movements of their animal bodies, judged before the council of the "black holes of their own looks, where these movements are subjected to judgment, to yes and to no." (ibid.)  

Then the faces appear on screens of electronic signals shifting, flickering, under the digital dreamscapes of modern technology. The multitude vanishes before this strange oscillating world: one "does not see, divine, or touch the nervous circuitry, the thin strands of muscles, and the inner rivers coursing billions of enzymes, bacteria, and macrophages in a depth behind this black wall; the face is all surface, a signboard on which succession of words will appear. ... The blank wall of the face is perforated with black holes; in them the eyes turn, sanctioning or censuring, yes, no." (ibid.)

Signposts are everywhere. The multitude is bombarded with signs that guide its every move. No longer the signs of natural things guiding it in the fields of force of planetary life, instead the "citizens do not lean against, entwine, fondle, and smell one another's bodies, feeling the streams and cascades and backwaters pulsing within; they deal with the blank walls of faces..." (ibid.)

 Now the multitude has to face each other on the blank walls and question on another: a "question is not a supplication, an entreaty, nor a velleity for knowledge just put out in the air; it is already an order, a command." (ibid.) "Facing one another, we require responsibility." (ibid.) Suddenly the "I" of the utterance must be responsible to its past utterances, and we must now have a motive for changing our minds. "To find our identiy in facing others is to exist and act under accusation." (ibid.) The animal must be hidden, clothed. The talking head becomes the despot of the body's skin "from its pulsations, flexions, and exudations and makes it a surface for the display of meaning." (ibid.) 

Yet, in the depths below the body's skin "there emerges an exposed and susceptible carnality. From behind the carapace of clothing, all the animals within migrate to the face, sole surface of exposure, to connect with the animals outside. The lips crave contact with the lips of the dolphin, the nose brushes the whiskers nose of the Siamese cat, the cheeks seek the caresses of ferns in the forest night." (ibid.) In such a face as this our eyes cross over "instead of seeing ourselves in them", and we "see the mane of the centaur-woman billowing across the windy prairie, sunlight dancing across the wrinkles of the old woman feeding pigeons..." (ibid.) And on the cheeks and lips of a woman "sand dunes... gelatinous crystals of the eyes in which we see the effulgence of stars that burned out millions of light-years ago..." (ibid.)

Under the surface of the face we scour for signs we find the carnality and vulnerability of the body's skin. "And is there not always joy in the face before us, even joy in suffering?"  And as he affirms in a final aphoristic surge: "In the midst of grief and torment there is an upsurge of force that affirms the importance and truth of what one is tormented by, of what one grieves over.This upsurge of force that affirms itself unrestrictedly is joy - joy at having known what is now lost, and joy in finding us." (ibid.)


1. Alphonso Lingis. Dangerous Emotions ( University of California Press 2000) 

Tags: aesthetics, alphonso lingis, aphorisms
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