July 03, 2007

Selfdistinguishing action of each new entity

Pulses of Emotion: Whitehead’s “Critique of Pure Feeling”
Actual entities, then, are not primordially located in space and ordered by time. Rather, spatial location and temporal sequence are themselves generated through the becoming of these actual entities. That is to say, an entity composes or creates itself by feeling the other entities that have influenced and informed it; and it feels them as being spatially and temporally distinct from itself. This selfdistinguishing action of each new entity, and the consequent differentiation of time and space, is a necessary concomitant of the very process of feeling.
Every “pulse of emotion” (163) is both a fresh creation of spacetime, and an immediate perishing, or “objectification.” The “emotional continuity of past with present. . . is a basic element from which springs the self-creation of each temporal occasion. . . How the past perishes is how the future becomes” (1933/1967, 238). It is only when an actual entity perishes – when it is no longer actively engaged in the process of feeling – that it is fully “ ‘spatialized,’ to use Bergson’s term” (1929/1978, 220; cf. 209). It is thereby fully temporalized as well, since “the atomization of the extensive continuum is also its temporalization” (72).15 Only when a process of feeling has completed itself and perished, can it be circumscribed as a datum to be felt, “a definite fact with a date” (230).16
Under these conditions, every feeling is a “ ‘vector feeling,’ that is to say, feeling from a beyond which is determinate and pointing to a beyond which is to be determined” (163). In the material world, as it is described by modern (relativistic and quantum) physics, “all fundamental physical quantities are vector and not scalar” (177); “scalar quantities are constructs derivative from vector quantities” (212). The precedence of vectors over scalars, or of relational terms over atomistic ones, means that no point of spacetime can be isolated from the overall “physical electromagnetic field” (98), with its interplay of forces and its quantum interactions. This immanent connectedness, rather than any imposition from above of the Categories of the understanding, is the real basis for physical causality.
In Whitehead’s theory of feelings, correspondingly, “the crude aboriginal character of direct perception is inheritance. What is inherited is feeling-tone with evidence of its origin: in other words, vector feeling-tone” (119). Whitehead uses the language of vectors to speak about feelings, because he makes no essential distinction between physical causality (the way that one entity transmits energy or movement to another entity) on the one hand, and perception (the way that one entity feels, and responds to, another entity) on the other. Steven Shaviro shaviro@shaviro.com The Pinocchio Theory
14 For this account of time as “transition,” I draw heavily upon the discussion by Keith Robinson (2006, 74-77). As for the idea that repetition produces newness, or difference, I am of course drawing it from Gilles Deleuze; repetition as difference is a central motif of his thought. However, Deleuze’ssense of repetition as the affirmation of difference is developed mostly through his analysis of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return, and seems to owe very little to Whitehead.
15 This latter development is something that Bergson would not accept, since he insists on time as the form of inner intuition, and on the absolute priority of such time over mere space. Whitehead’s parallel between temporalization and spatialization follows from his endeavor to come to terms, as Bergson did not, with Einsteinian relativity, and the consequent conceptual unity of spacetime. Though Whitehead says that his own idea of feeling “has. . . some kinship” with Bergson’s “use of the term ‘intuition’ ” (41), he also objects that Bergson’s notion of intuition is incomplete, since it “seems to abstract from the subjective form of emotion and purpose” (33).
16This is also the point at which, in Massumi’s (2002) terms, impersonal “affect” has been captured and contained as a personal, psychological “emotion.” The whole question of Whitehead’s theory of space and time requires a far lengthier, and more careful, exposition than I am able to give it here. In the present context, I only wish to emphasize how Whitehead, like Bergson, is the heir of what Deleuze (1984) calls Kant’s revolutionary “reversal of the movement-time relationship,” so that, instead of time being “subordinate to movement. . .it is now movement which is subordinate to time” (vii).

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  1. AnonymousJuly 07, 2007

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