Tag Archives: sensation

Denise Gigante – Taste (2005)

Miscellaneous Notes:

The middle-class discourse of taste, associated with the attendant ideologies of sympathy and sensibility, comes into being against the oppressive monarchial rule. Work this out in relation to contrasting interpretations of La Méduse. On the one hand, a conservative opportunity to decry an angry, voracious mob; on the other, a republican opportunity to delineate the “extreme resources” necessary for mere survival under monarchial rule. Taste becomes double-edged: “merely savages caught in the trap of their own indolence, unable to enter into the spirit of the symbolic economy of taste” (122). MALTHUS – calls cannibalism “the dreadful extremity.”

The term cannibal comes from colonial discourse, in which the word “Carib” (meaning savage) was converted into the word “Canib” and then to Cannibal.

Byron serves as hinge from discourse of cannibalism to discourse of vampirism—in which the latter becomes explicitly homosexual and ethereal.

MILTON: makes room for the gustatory in aesthetic experience [Eve paves the ways for the aesthetically discriminating man of taste], before taste begins to be sublimated, repressed and/or internally fractured in the 18th century. Milton describes and embodied mode of taste.

The man of taste gets converted into a consumer. And Gourmands in the fin-de-siècle become gastronomes and gastronomy emerges as a literary genre in his own right. Taste becomes constructed as the ability to discrimante amongst an onslaught of commodities.


Karl Marx – Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844)

Marx takes issue with liberal political economists that naturalize the relationship between the worker and capitalist and the system of private property as incontrovertible facts of human economy. Liberal political economists, like theologians, “assume as a fact in the form of history what it should explain” (323). Through an analysis of the objectification of labor and the self-estrangement of man, Marx historicizes these phenomena.

The worker becomes more and more uniformly dependent on labor, and on a particular, very one-sided and machine-like type of labor…from being a man becomes and abstract activity and a stomach. (285)

Alienated man’s stomach becomes detached from his larger living apparatus, since it becomes the mere means for sustaining the production of more labor.

The worker actually receives the smallest part of the product, the absolute minimum necessary; just enough for him to exist not as a human being but as a worker and for him to propagate not humanity but the salve class of workers. (287)

In return, the reciprocity of labor is perverted, the absolute minimum of man’s productive capacity is returned to the worker. This results in the reproduction of laborers, of humans, but no individuals. Interesting connection to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, where the individual and species are divided along similar lines.

Capital is stored-up labor. (295)

Capital is unused reserve, which accrues power precisely to the degree that it is not actualized in material expression. In capital, having supersedes being.

 The object that labor produces, its product, stands opposed to it as something alien, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labor is labor embodied and made material in an object, it is the objectification of labor. (324)

This is a bad objectification, because the process of externalization has been divorced from man’s objectification of himself into the sensuous external reality with which labor interacts. The worker can create nothing without external sensuous nature, but the paradox of labor under capitalism is that as the worker works (appropriating external nature to “his” ends) nature becomes less and less a means of life in a double sense: it no longer belongs to labor, and it is no longer a means of life in the immediate sense of physical nourishment and subsistence. The end of this is that only as a worker can one sustain oneself as a physical subject, rather than the reverse (325). This reduces man to an animal state:

The animal is immediately one with his life activity. It is not distinct from that activity; it is that activity. Man makes his life activity itself an object of his will and consciousness. He has conscious life activity. It is not a determination with which he directly emerges. Conscious life activity directly distinguishes man from animal life activity. Only because of that is he a species-being. Or rather, he is a conscious being, i.e. his own life is an object for him, only because he is a species-being. Only because of that is his activity free activity. Estranged labor reverses the relationship so that man, just because he is a conscious being, makes his life activity, his being [Wesen], a mere means for his existence. (328)

Put otherwise, it reduces spontaneous and free activity to the means for mere existence. The spontaneous freedom is transformed into surplus-value appropriated by an alien man, the capitalist, a property owner:

 Private property is produced through the objectification of labor and the process of self-estrangement. (331)

This is the historical re-writing of the political economist that naturalizes private property. Marx then begins to describe the “solution” to these problems. In short, he maps out a new relationship between subject and object:

It is only when man’s object becomes a human object or objective man that man does not lose himself in that object. This is only possible when it becomes a social object, for him and when he himself becomes social being for himself, just as society becomes a being for him in this object. (352)

This is distinguished from the bad objectification of labor, because man himself can in fact see himself in the work that is made concrete through his labor. This “primacy of the object” become integral to the formation of subjective capcities, sensual existence:

Only through the objectively unfolded wealth of human nature can the wealth of subjective human sensitivity…be either cultivated or created…. The cultivation of the five senses is the work of all previous history.

The narrative of Marxist history as laid out in Cpaital, vol. 3 (the wresting of the sphere of freedom from sphere of necessity, the abolition of capitalism, emergence of communism, and the beginning of history, i.e. end of pre-history) is here given articulation within the confines of the individual human body. Marxist theory in general will lose a robust concept of the subject, but here Marx is imagining a sensory being that is product of history–where the ability to enjoy external nature is a part of the emergence of freedom:

Sense which is a prisoner of crude practical need has only a restricted sense. For a man who is starving the human form of food does not exist, only its abstract form exists; it could just as well be present in it crudest form, and it would be hard to say how this way of eating differs from that of the animals. (353)

Along with music, Marx uses the example of food take make his point. Hunger, conceived in a completely practical sense, does not merely reduce food to a source of nourishment, it also abstracts it, idealizes it. Crucially, want we might call “mere” sense is in fact a defective sense, that has not repaed the benefits of historical cultivation. The truly sensual, which depends on man’s capacity to interact with and transform the sensual object, is an educated, cultivated sense that always goes beyond the demands of the merely nutritive. [This needs to be read in relation to Hegel’s description of the animals that go out into nature and eat appearances, thus teaching philosophers a lesson. ]

Before moving on to an extended critique of Hegelian forms of abstraction (much praise for Feuerbach), Marx makes clear the division between being and having:

The less you are, the less you give expression to your life, the more you have, the greater is your alientated life and the more you store up of your estranged life. (361)

Tennyson – Shorter Poetry

General: Tennyson graduates form sensibility in Poems, Chiefly Lyrical to critique of sensibility (realism) in Poems (1832) to something like national poet in In Memoriam (writing to an audience) and finally to something like an Arthurian  bard in  Idylls of the King.

“Supposed Confessions” (1830) – Iambic tetrameter with heavy caesura. Expresses poet’s anxiety over the weight of natural decay and death. Tracks the emergence of “This excellence and solid form / of constant beauty.” Ends with a  romantic outburst: “O weary life! O weary death!” What makes it different is the way in which it is a “vacillating state,” not one easily defined according to  chronological status…Life is not measurable in terms of a single life. Relate both to definition of Victorian age (in term of the life of Queen Victorian), and the objectification of life in both EB Browning and Dickens.

“The Kraken” (1830) – A sonnet with fifteen lines. Rhyme scheme is sorta Petrarchan, but with variations. The sestet is extended into seven lines and is therefore able to squeeze in a couplet. It returns to the sounds and images of the opening quatrains in such a away that it forestalls development, confirming the elusiveness of the sea-beast that is less visible than the various polypi that crowd the vision. The image of coming to the surface only to die (“In roaring he shall rise and on the surface die“)  connects with the larger trope of belatedness that runs throughout Victorian poetry, but here in 1830, it is particularly poignant–Tennyson has somehow missed the Romantic movement (Byron dead, etc.). The surface/depth image also marks out a mode of representation AND interpretation that distrusts surface and appearance. Connect with Carlyle’s belief that all surface is (a very important) deception.

“The Lady of Shallot” (1832/1842) – The 1842 collection is obsessed with the excluded middle between sensation and reflection. Whereas Wordsworth claims primary sensation inheres in rocks, stones and trees, Hallam (and later Tennyson) will claim that by unlocking the Real (something deeper, psychological) we can then be granted access to these sensations “primary sensations”…but they are always mediated by a reflective process.

Crazy rhyme scheme: AAAABCCCB. The narrative is: Lady of Shallot is in her room,weaving, while looking at her mirror  which reflects the outside world. But when she hears Camelot sing “Tirra Lirra” she turns from her mirror, looks down to Camelot:

Out flee the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried
The lady of Shalott

Here Lady Shalott’s “I am half sick of shadows” leads her to forgo the modes of representation that bind her to a detached mimesis–the cracked looking glass therefore looks forward to both Wilde and to Joyce. In the fourth part, her name gets converted into the graphic symbol on the side of the boat (she is not longer the maker of textiles, but is herself textualized), on which she is passing to Camelot. Indeed, we can imagine this journey from Shallot to Camelot as as running against the grain of the rhyme: “Camelot” and “Shallot” are the ‘B’ rhymes for the rest of the poem. What it takes to get from B to B is the formal mechanical rhyming, almost mind numbing…the expectation of “lot” at the end each stanza has become engrained. Yet this mechanical propulsion forward (rhyme) is contradicted by the action being described (journey down river)..from Camelot to Shalott.  The inadequacy of the form to the content is mirrored by the inadequacy of Arthurian romance itself, when Lancelot casually dismisses the death of the Lady with “She has a lovely face.”

“The Two Voices” (1842) – a long poem (460 lines or so) comprised of tercets of all rhyming endings. Think of as response to Pope’s Essay on Man, but one that is so mechanical that it undercuts itself. The question: What will happen if Tennyson keeps writing like 1830 while in in 1842—along the way, begins to critique sensibility.

“The Palace of Art” (1832-53) – A compartmentalization of aesthetic history. Tennyson wrote: “It is the most difficult of all things to devise a statue in verse.” And “When I first conceived the plan of the poem, I intended to have introduced both sculptures and painting into it.” There is an accretion of images that forces a rather strained comparability between everything and everything else, thereby threatening identity. The logic of the “Or” is introduced, a sort of bad seriality, interchangeable. After romping through the many wonders of the aesthetic, the nameless “She” that stands in for art itself undergoes a slef-imposed diminution, seeking redemption by casting off the opulence of the palace in favor a rustic cottage “Where I will mourn and pray.” But the last stanza asks that the palace not be torn down: “Perhaps I may return with others there / When I have purged my guilt.” The aesthetic can remain despite the withdraw of the subject…..

Ulysses (1842) – Written soon after Arthur Hallam’s death, expressing Tennyson’s desire to move forward despite the death of his friend. Offers a curious pairing with Lotos-Eaters as a portrait of Life. It is imaged in terms of consumption “I will drink life to the lees” (a technical terms that literally means drinking those parts of wine that are usually refined out of the end product). Ulysses refuses to rest, discontent with “Life piled on life,” the redundancy of mere breathing. The final line, however (“To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”) with the perfect meter (mono syllables make the stresses incredibly clear, the words lock into the metter) seems to call attention to the very conventions that Ulysses is going forward to fulfill. So ending could be an attempt to synthesize epic adequation, but the potential dissonance introduced into the epic is that Ithaca has itself become conventional, much like the final line is conventional.

The Lotos-Eaters (1832, 1842) – Starts our with a lazy rhyme : land = land. Much of the poem explores the potentially deadening effects of poetic practice:

                                        and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices form the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make.

This is the frightening mirror image of Mill’s definition of poetry: overhearing a conversation with oneself. This produces a “mild-eyed melancholy” that is content to have too successfully internalized and then expunged the object of desire. Eating of the Lotos therefore makes good on the promise of the aesthetic as imaged by Adorno in Dialectic of Enlightenment: the promise of happiness before or beyond the demands of self-preservation and reproduction (this is why some Europeans eat candied violets, he says). Can connect this also with Empson on Shakespeare and Pastoral:

The flower ripens in its place
Ripens and fades, and falls, and hath no toil,
Fast-rooted in the fruited soil.

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94 describes the flower’s power as inhering in its very vulnerability. Yet here, the imposition of a toil-less existence is explicitly aligned with aesthetic deception and danger. The final section, number 8, bursts into lines with eight feet in order to describe the carnage of a world that the mariners have decided to forget. There is also an excess of three line rhymes (connect to “Two Voices”), which seems to in some ways bridge the deathless repetition of the mild-eye melancholics with the cycles of destruction that characterize life on earth.

This poem raises the question of what sort of work poetry does. Is poetry the absence of work? Connects with something like Lady of Shallot, where the mere rhyming propels us a forward. I Poetry working when it means the most or the least? When we say things without knowing why (the rhyme, etc.)

Wilkie Collins – The Moonstone (1868)

A “family paper” opens the novel, describing the theft of a precious yellow diamond during a siege of India in late 18th C. Three Indians are committed to restoring diamond at costs.

Gabriel Betteridge opens narration, having been requested by Franklin Blake to write out his perspective on events. His daughter Penelope is a servant to Rachel Verinder, daughter of the august Lady Verinder. Rahcel’s suitor Franklin Blake is told to give her the diamond for her birthday. He does, but diamond is stolen. Sergeant Cuff investigates and suspects Rachel to be in cahoots with a servant Rosanna Spearman, who commits suicide in the Shivering Sands (supposedly has a crush on Franklin Blake). Cuff resigns job after suspecting Rachel. Franklin leaves for Africa or something. Godfrey Abelwhite, another suritor, becomes engaged to Rachel. Franklin returns, intent on clearing his name from his involvement with the Moonstone, but finds out that he in fact stole the diamond. Ezra Jennings proposes an experiment with opium, b/c his master Dr. Candy had drugged Frankling the night of the birthday and he had stolen the diamond under the influence of opium. Cuff, Jennings, and lawyer Bruff meet to watcht he experiment, which works. Rachel is there, too, and is convinced of his innocence even before it goes off. Menawhile, the diamond is taken out of the bank by Mr. Luker and folks try to track various people, and eventually find Godfrey Abelwhite dead in his hotel room in disguise. Novel finishes with a travelers tale in India, the Moonstone has been replaced and there’s a huge ceremony. Rachel and Franklin get married.

A lot of the same narrative issues as Woman in White; same troubles finishing. Why the opium experiments after they discovered Godfrey Abelwhite? Goes deep into questions of sensation and impression. Can be read as a “Humean” experiment…

Structure: two periods and an epilogue. The first period is comprised of one narrative completely given by Gabriel Betteridge, the second contains eight different narratives, and the epilogue contains the authoritative official account of Cuff and two reports from abroad, recounting the diamond’s restoration. Interesting arch of fragmentation and restoration.

Many scenes of reading Robinson Crusoe dramatizes the act of fitting facts to pre-determined interpretations—the book has supposedly foretold everything to Gabriel.

SHIPS: cf. Dracula and Sign of Four. Travel by sea becomes unsteady.

Convergence of inconveniences: people out of town, sick, lost memory, etc., all right before narrative comes to close.