Philosopher Gilles Deleuze describes sensation as an autonomous, bodily response to visual art: “Colour is in the body, sensation is in the body, and not in the air. Sensation is what is painted” (2003 [1981]:35). The idea of sensation is reminiscent of the paperAutonomy of Affect by social theorist Brian Massumi’swhich I wrote about this in a previous post See? Massumi describes autonomous reactions of a group of children to the stimulus of a film. Different versions of a film were viewed by the children – one with a narration, one with emotional words spoken at key moments and one which was just the film with no sound.

The film that relied on image rather than words to communicate engendered the most autonomous reaction, which Massumi links with emotion. (Massumi, 1995:83-109). This is taken from my previous post:

Pleasure was understood to be what moves a person emotionally, whether these are happy or sad emotions. “The most pleasant was the original word- less version, which was rated just slightly above the emotional [one with emotional keywords dubbed]. And it was the emotional version that was best remembered” (Massumi, 1995).

Seeing sends signals to our bodies as well as our brains – we are unaware of bodily reaction but that’s what moves us, emotionally and deeply, and remains with us strongly in memory.

Ernst Bloch in The Principle of Hope (1986 [1954]) says: “the daydream [is]… an anticipation of the future… ‘not-yet’ conscious… Art, philosophy, and religion are the cultural result of the struggle to express these needs and potentialities, hence they provide clues as to what they can become.” (Roderick, 1986:865-866). Perhaps this suggests that our minds are good at retaining pattern and externalising it in order to reflect on it. As humans, we look for pattern in everything, so it wouldn’t be too much of a leap to see the not-yet conscious as a way of processing the patterns of phenomena we encounter. Sci-fi and fantasy is a good example of this phenomena. In the recent Adam Curtis documentary Hypernormalisation the book Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky is cited as revealing the underlying truth of the crumbling soviet union – it was obvious it was failing but citizens pretended everything was OK. The citizens of the Soviet Union were suppressed but also felt safe with a familiar, simple narrative; change is uncertain (Curtis, 2016).

Last week, at the Illustration Research conference called Shaping the View, Anne Howeson spoke about the predictive aspect of drawing. Many of her drawings are from memory – some sight that left an impression Howeson was compelled to record. To my mind, Howeson’s compulsion to make paintings correlate with the ideas of Bloch on daydreaming, becoming and the not-yet conscious.

“The postmodern mind is reconciled to the idea that the messiness of the human predicament is here to stay. This is, in the broadest of outlines, what can be called postmodern wisdom” (Slattery and Morris, 1999:35).

Jardins dans Tuileries by Anne Howeson, a drawing from memory.


Brian Massumi (1995) The Autonomy of Affect in Cultural Critique No. 31, The Politics of Systems and Environments, Part II (Autumn, 1995), pp. 83-109

Curtis, Adam (2016) Hypernormalisation [online] and BBC iplayer (accessed 13/11/2016)

Howeson, Anne (2016) Drawing and the Remembered City in 7th International Illustration Research Symposium, Shaping the View: Understanding the Landscape Through Illustration
Edinburgh College of Art , November 10th and 11th 2016
(accessed 13/11/2016)

Howeson, Anne Jardins dans Tuileries
(accessed 15/11/2016)

Slattery and Morris (1999) Simone de Beauvoir’s Ethics and Postmodern Ambiguity: The Assertion of Freedom in the Face of the Absurd in Educational Theory, Vol.49(1), p.21-36 [Peer Reviewed Journal]


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