How Does It Feel? Affect, Apathy, and Historical Transition

By Hengehold, Laura | Philosophy Today, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

How Does It Feel? Affect, Apathy, and Historical Transition


Hengehold, Laura, Philosophy Today


Not only the five senses but also the so-called mental senses-the practical senses (will, love, etc.)-in a word, human sense-the human nature of the senses-comes to be by virtue of its object, by virtue of humanized nature. The forming of the five senses is a labor of the entire history of the world down to the present.

Marx, "Private Property and Communism," 1964, 141

Learning to see-accustoming the eye to calmness, to patience, to letting things come up to it; postponing judgment, learning to go around and grasp each individual case from all sides. That is the first preliminary for spirituality: not to react at once to a stimulus, but to gain control of all the inhibiting, excluding instincts. Learning to see, as I understand it, is almost what, unphilosophically speaking, is called a strong will; the essential feature is precisely not to "will"-to be able to suspend decision. . . . One will let strange, new, things of every kind come up to oneself, inspecting them with hostile calm and withdrawing one's hand.

Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, 1982, 511-12

In Cinema 2, Gilles Deleuze suggests that postwar cinema ceased to engage or cultivate the viewer's sensibility by presenting images of movement, each subtending a certain time and integrating movement into a single temporal flow through the conventions of narrative and montage. Rather, because Italian, French, and Japanese auteurs found that the sensorimotor habits previously engaged by images of movement had lost their historical, cultural, and geographical self-evidence, they began to invent pure images that would enable viewers to represent the feeling of history passing to themselves and to explore new or hitherto unremarked durations straddling past and present (see Preface to the English Edition, xii). For example, according to Deleuze:

Ozu's still lifes endure, have a duration, over ten seconds of the vase; this duration of the vase is precisely the representation of that which endures, through the succession of changing states. A bicycle may also endure; that is, represent the unchanging form of that which moves, so long as it is at rest, motionless, stood against the wall. . . . The bicycle, the vase, and the still lifes are the pure and direct images of time. Each is time, on each occasion, under various conditions of that which changes in time. Time is the full, that is, the unalterable form filled by change. (1989, 17)

My goal in the following pages is to argue that the time-image is Deleuze's attempt to provide a sensible basis for ethical interaction between sexes and generations replacing, in Hannah Arendt's words, the "banisters" of premodern ethics (Arendt 1979, 314). Although it may not be customary to place Deleuze and Arendt in the same conversation, both are arguably concerned with overcoming the moral calcification of late modern consciousness through "clichés." Arendt's critique of thinking in "clichés" arises most prominently in her examination of Adolf Eichmann's inability to "think from the standpoint of others," which allowed him to justify transporting millions of Jews to their death through a terrifyingly banal understanding of duty (1992, 47-55, 135-38), while Deleuze's begins with an examination of the relationship between stupidity and the dogmatic image of thought in Difference and Repetition (1994, 150-53) and attains moral significance in his consideration of cinema as a modern, potentially popular form of philosophy capable of restoring "faith" or bodily engagement with the world (1987, 170-72, 182; Marrati 2003, 104-12). For both thinkers, stupidity is a moral problem as well as a cognitive problem, and calls inherited understandings of the relationship between mental "faculties" into question. Arendt's interest in judgment, the ability to discriminate in the absence of rules or to find a rule of conduct for an unexpected situation, leads her to reconsider the political import of Kant's aesthetics. …

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