04 December 2006

Thought and feelings

Concerning Ryan's post on thought and feelings, thought has always had an unclear relation to speech and therefore the logical aspects of language. Feelings tend to be psychosomatic reactions; they tend not to have the more advanced relation to belief-systems that emotions do. In Sartre, emotions are intentional, while feelings are not. Reading Robbe-Grillet’s essays on prose last month, I found them animated by a profound fear of belief and, in turn, of emotion.

Love, or as noted, the heart, would seem to be one such feeling, not considered intentional. Commonly called ‘blind,’ or reflected in Hume’s Treatise "Nothing more powerful animates any affection than to conceal some part of its object by throwing it into a kind of shade, which, at the same time that it shows enough to prepossess us in favour of the object, leaves still some work for the imagination."

Sartre’s Being and Nothingness would seem to have none of love as a feeling, though: "If Tristan and Isolde fall madly in love because of a love potion, they are less interesting." Rather love is a product of the beliefs that comprise a person’s motives and claims to identity. Sartre’s take on emotions proceeded from Heidegger’s innovation that emotions are rooted in being in the world and situations, not isolated from reason, belief, reflection or calculation, and took the position that emotions are a conscious, transforming choice. In BN Sartre commented that lovers tended to be shamed by subjectivity, using phrases like ‘soulmates’ and ‘we were born for each other’ to cloud the chance aspect of their coming together, and the relation between organized religion and love reflects this.

Sartre’s beliefs in emotions as being transformative came right before the second half of Zukofsky’s "A"-9, which treats the question of love and motive/identity:

Eyeing its object joined to its cause,

joins motive to sense:

An eye to action sees love bear the semblance
Of things,

joins body to thought:

A body ready as love’s steady token
Fed thought unbroken as pleasure increases –
True to thoughts wearies never its ideal
That loves love, head, every eddy.

Zukofsky was reading Spinoza’s Ethics, which takes an early interest in emotions but never gets into emotions’ being-in-time because of his belief in Divine predestination.


Ryan W. said...

Words like 'feelings' and 'emotions' are defined in use -- usually in a kind of accidental drift, but sometimes intentionally. Sometimes in an attempt to establish a preferred definition, one repeatedly uses a word with that definition in mind, hoping that a particular understanding of the word will naturally congeal around the word. I don't see any way to talk about 'emotions' and 'feelings' as if the distinction is commonly understood to the point where those things can be effectively contrasted with one another. Though I guess contrasts are a way to define. I guess references to texts wherein attempts are made to establish those distinctions is possibly a means of establishing a particular understanding of what those distinctions are. But in way, I guess I don't care. I mean, I so take for granted that such words are going to be defined in use, in very local and very recent usage (not sure what I mean by recent) that the history of how those distinctions have been understood doesn't have any bearing. Words are hijacked every time they're used. I hijack 'feelings' for use as a category in my blog partly in an attempt to mostly de-ironize the word -- I don't expect or need to completely de-ironize it -- but also because it seems like a benign enough word that I can easily define it in use and then continue using it according to my preferred definition. I take for granted that the word will never mean exactly the same thing outside my blog as it does inside it -- that's pretty local. I also take for granted that it will be hard not to gradually lose control of my intended understanding of the word even in such a controlled, deliberative environment.

Ian Keenan said...

Sartre is really the only major philosopher I know of who tried to separate emotions and feelings, and did so with inherent contradictions. My references are a sort of locale of their own with perhaps its own way of alienating someone from their feelings. De-ironizing is as such a noble cause, but for some of us we’ve given up on it at this point. Plus, irony could have the inverse function of restoring to the terminology its force in light of its manipulation and commodification in the language.

Ryan W. said...

I tend to think that if I ignore the problem, it will go away. Not sure if that's true tho.