29 June 2013

The logic of sensuality: An Arithmetic Logic

In my current writing, I am struggling to organise my thoughts about material culture, especially the sensuality or sensual quality of ‘material’ culture.  (We need to rethink  or rebrand the field of ‘material culture; but that for another day!)

It is clear that there is something that we might call a ‘logic’ of the material that is based in part on the qualities of the material out of which something is made, and in another way, based in the logic(s) of the process by which it is made.  Ultimately, these things--whatever they are--are traded, exchanged, given, taken, stored, displayed, or put to use in some way.  These are the utilitarian and the economic uses of material, the cultural and economic contexts and processes that shape it, and thus, the ‘material culture’ that we study.

But what of the sensuous aspects?  What are these and how do they work. There has been some good literature recently on the sensuality of food, and on what has been called the ‘sensorium’.  Also, there is increasing interest in what Appadurai, Cziksentmihalyi, and others have called the ‘social life’ of things, that is, the cultural and social processes by which material comes into culture and acquires its meanings through social circulations and exchanges, memory, place or position, and its role in daily lived reality.

But I want to propose that there is a logic of the sensuous quality of things that is perhaps other than, or not fully ‘social’, and ‘economic’.  We can call this sensuous.  This is the qualities of touch, feel, smell, sometimes sound, colour, slimy-ness or shiny-ness,  and many other such qualities. But when we approach the notion of ‘logic’ we run into difficulties because the logics of the philosophers are purely (not surprisingly) philosophical, that is, cognitive, or properties of thought, rather than properties of the sensuous and of feel.  Overwhelmingly, the contemporary idea of emotions is behavioural, functional (eg. for the evolutionists), and cognitive.  So far as I am aware, there is not clear philosophy or strong central position in any of this.

Clearly the ‘feel’--the qualities of sensuous experience--are not merely ‘experienced’ but are also emotional. Emotion is the big blank area of philosophical investigations, especially in the Twentieth century, although they are important in some earleir philosophy, especially (Plato [Symposium], Aristotle, St. Augustine [Confessions], Descartesm Hume,  ... Schopenhauer, Nietzsche,; but NOT Hegel, Kant, Marx, Durkheim, Wittgenstein ).  But sensuous experience is NOT emotions, although these are involved, since sensuous qualities evoke emotions.  But their evocative qualities, and abilities to arouse are not identical to the senses involved, the ’touch and feel.  
(‘Emotion’. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, first published Mon Feb 3, 2003; substantive revision Mon Jan 21, 2013; The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/emotion/ )

To the extent that the sensuous experience of material culture has a logic--or to the extent that we can define a type of logic to characterise it--I don’t think that logic can be a propositional logic, a Bayesian logic, a ‘grammar’, or a Boolean logic.

My view is that the logic has to be something like arithmetical logic: The sensuous experience ADDS and SUBTRACTS, or MULTIPLIES the qualities of other types of logics and perhaps leads to feelings of pleasure, motivation, or to intentional social action.  But, above all, the logic of the senses is an arithmetical logic since the ‘senses’ add to each other and accumulate qualities of expereince.  In so doing they add to the quality of life, to the emotional fulfilment of the person, to the sense of self, and thus to the construction of the person.  The material culture of dress, ornament, body modifications (hair cutting and style, deoderant, perfumes, piercing, make-up and painting, etc.) and so on is a addition to the body and therefore to the person. The person is actually, material, and physically CONSTRUCTED through the objects that are put on and which accumulate around the person.

Western philosophy, along many other philosophies, have long considered the person to be constituted by something like the ’soul’, and something like the body.  However, this has never actually been the case since dress and the full material and sensuous additions to the person have been taken to be, perhaps, merely ‘functional’.  Dress is to keep warm; beads are to 'look pretty’, and so on.

In fact, the human person is never merely naked, although this constitutes the philosophical imagination of the ‘true’ person, the ‘natural’ state of being.  It is not natural since, so far as we have any knowledge or record at all, humans have dressed themselves.  They have made tools, houses, and all the other accoutrements of life.

I think it may be a mistake to believe that there is a natural state of ‘humanity’ that somehow lacks all of the sensuous equipment that made us--in an evolutionary sense-- and continues to make us human.  All of this essentially adds to the person, creating and augmenting the ‘personhood’ of each human being.

So called ‘material culture’ then is not simply ‘material’, nor wholly ‘cultural’, and not simply items in economic circulation of things with a social life’. They are constitutive of the person per se, and they do this by adding, subtracting, and multiplying qualities of the category of the person.