Feelings have not been given the credit they deserve as motives, monitors, and negotiators of human cultural endeavours.
The idea, in essence, is that cultural activity began and remains deeply embedded in feeling.
— Damasio (2018)
How is it that the act of writing feels? That is, what is it that the ‘affect’ of writing is on the writer, this writer, you, the writer? There is a body-mind feedback loop, a phenomenological quality and an organic sensibility, to the kinaesthetic lived experience of somehow creating words on page or screen where, once, a short moment before, there were none. It is a magic transformation in multiple ways.
John Banville writes, in review of Antonio Damasio’s new book, The Strange Order of Things (Pantheon, 2018):
For [Damasio], as for Nietzsche, what the body feels is every bit as significant as what the mind thinks, and further, both functions are inextricably intertwined.
— Banville (2018)
On a cold winter day, with the hint of lightest rain in the air, I take a notebook out to cover within it the intermittent pencil markings of my observations: en plein air, in media res. It is the way to capture not just the words that may form but also the feel that shapes the words. There is a shiver in the pencil markings, I see, back in the warm. The shape and weight and thick- or thin-ness of the notebook affects: how it needs to be balanced if it’s portrait-aligned, if it does or doesn’t fit neatly in the palm — words pressed therein are directly connected to such factors and more: weight of page, colour, texture, the way the weather plays with all of these, and so forth.
When we write we consciously choose our media of expression. The pencil will have its fragility, its potential for mortality, its scrape or its smear. There are sensory extensions to these choices that we make. The pen will either scratch or roll, stick in the grease or flow through our consequent disregard for cursive connectedness of individual and collective letters. Our conscious cerebral selves, or our semi-thinking selves, will affect our near-future affected, body-feeling selves. There is a feedback loop at play.
When we touch our fingertips to the keyboard, lightly rest our fingerprints in the barely perceptible but entirely intuited dips at the centres of the individual little squares, press down, make a perfect sound, repeat, repeat, pick up speed, we feel the spring back, the push on and on, and words vibrate. On the magic of the flat screen, somewhere ineffably deeper, pixels that might as well be the size of bacteria form themselves into meaning. We see it all take shape and what is it that we feel?
How we feel isn’t about merely what we touch, or its extensions: it is what touches us, abstractly, distantly. This is how art works. At the National Gallery in London there is a painting by Paul Delaroche (The Execution of Lady Jane Grey, 1833). It is a huge work and on-screen versions don’t do it the proper justice. Standing beneath the depiction of the eponymous character, faltering as she does, being guided as she is, towards the block, floods me with a sense of awe, not so far removed — I suspect — from the anti-rationalist awe of the Romantics’ views and sweeps on nature.
The creation of art, the process and the standing back from what transpires, has this potential for abstract touch. How is it that we are, when we stand back and look on ourselves, into ourselves, when we have created? We may engage in the intellectual exercise, this is true, but there is mind and body at play on such occasions: how might we walk, see, sense, hold ourselves, stop and pause, feel in our nerves and weight of our limbs, after the writing is good and done? If we don’t write, if we haven’t written, we won’t know: you won’t know.
Ultimately, our body — in all its multifarious manner of messages — will connect to our consciousness, to our minds of electrical analysis and chemical fluidity, and we should pay attention: affect begets words begets affect begets words . . .
How is it that the affect of writing is? Writing is more than merely just the product of an art.
Banville, J. (2018), The strange order of things by Antonio Damasio review — why feelings are the unstoppable force. The Guardian [Online]. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/02/strange-order-of-things-antonio-damasio-review (Accessed Feb 4, 2018)
Damasio, A. (2018), The strange order of things. New York: Pantheon.