The Sensory Image

The term “sensory image” comes from the German Sinn-Bild, literally “Sense Picture,” and can be translated as symbol, simile or allegory. In his essay “The Origin of the Work of Art” Martin Heidegger says an allegory “makes public something other than itself; it manifests something other.” (145) Its meaning does not lie in what it is an image of, to which we then apply our conceptual understanding; rather meaning is presented through the image to our senses and as such is understood in the immediacy of perception.

Heidegger provides the following definition of the sensory image in the “preliminary considerations” section of The Essence of Truth.

The sensory image “provides a hint or a clue. The image is never intended to stand for itself alone, but indicates that something is to be understood, providing a clue to what this is. The image provides a hint – it leads into the intelligible, into a region of intelligibility (the dimension within which something is understood), into a sense (hence sensory image). However, it is important to bear in mind: what is to be understood is not a sense, but rather an occurence. ‘Sense’ [Sinn] says only: it is a matter of something intelligible. What is understood is never itself sense; we do not understand something as sense, but always ‘in the sense of’. Sense is never the topic of understanding.
   The presentation of an allegory, of a sensory image, is therefore nothing else than a clue for seeing (a provision of a clue through which something is presented sensuously). Such a clue leads us to what simple description, be it ever so accurate and rigorous, can never grasp.” (13)

The Aesthetic of the Singular

Gilles Deleuze, in his quest to release the simulacrum from the chains of Platonism, seeks to develops an aesthetic appropriate to it. One in which the structure of the relationship between the subject and its object escapes the sameness and repetition of conceptuality, emphasising instead the “disparity” and “difference” of the singular. 

In order to do this, what he calls the current “agonizing dualism” of aesthetics needs to be resolved. This dualism has developed in the evolution of the term, from Kant’s First Critique, The Critique of Pure Reason, to the Third, The Critique of Judgment. The former privileges cognition, conceptual understanding, while the latter privileges the affect that something has on us, i.e. how it makes us feel. In order to bring about a resolution between the two, Deleuze looks for a place where they communicate. He finds it in our a priori sense of time and space, “the inner and outer forms of intuition.”

In the transcendental aesthetic of the First Critique the relationship between us and our sensibility of what is before us, is theorised as an object-concept relationship. In which the matter of the object is waiting to be made into something by the active agency of the conceptual category that is imposed on it. Deleuze likens this to a “process of molding.” Here the sense of time and space are the intuitions necessary for our development of this cognitive understanding. They are the medium through which we have the object, prior to the development of conceptual understanding.

In the Third Critique, which discusses the aesthetic of the beautiful and the sublime, the thing is there in its appearance in a way that does not allow conceptual understanding to regulate it, it affects us prior to cognition. The feelings of the beautiful and the sublime are conveyed and expressed through the mediums of time and space, which establish affective relationships between objects, the object and ourselves and within the viewing subject, in the connection between the active I and the passive Self. 

We can go further and say that the affect of beauty is found to be beyond all conceptualisations, we cannot account for it conceptually, yet we demand its universal agreement. Similarly the “attribution of time and space to phenomena” (S, 11*) of the First Critique is beyond the cognitive, as it comes before it . Thus both the “Transcendental Aesthetic” of the First Critique and the “Analytic of the Beautiful” in the Third, are united in that they both  “give an account of non-cognitive, or pre-cognitive, sensible experience.” (ibid)

The outcome of this is that all acts of sensible intuition have a pre-cognitive stage, which is neither arbitrary nor conceptual. In acknowledging feelings as the basis of experience there is what Steven Shaviro calls a “creative construction,” immanent to the subject, in which experience is ordered and organised. Experience of the world, and of the artwork, is therefore understood as singular, i.e. not subject to a preordained structure. Therefore “the conditions of real experience and the structures of the work of art are reunited” (TLS, 261)

*Steven Shaviro: “The “Wrenching Duality” of Aesthetics: Kant, Deleuze, and the “Theory of the Sensible.” November 10, 2007

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The Domain of Images

Gilles Deleuze, in his essay “Plato and the Simulacrum,” describes how Plato divides the “domain of images” into two. On the one hand there are iconic copies, which are the true likenesses of the original, and then there are phantasmic simulacra, which have a relationship of semblance to the original. The icons are endowed with resemblance, this is not a correspondence between two external things, but between a thing and an idea. “A copy truly resembles something only to the extent that it resembles the Idea of the thing.” The copy to be recognised as such will be seen as being endowed with the quality of the original. In short, it is the superior identity of the Idea that grounds the claims of the copies, grounding them on an internal or derived resemblance.

The claim of the simulacrum  is “made from below without passing through the Idea.” Thus it is an image of the original, but without resemblance, it is without the quality of the original. It is there as an aesthetic image, i.e. it is perceived and as such gives an effect of the original. It is constructed not on resemblance but on “disparity” and “difference.” The simulacral image avoids “the equivalent, the limit, the Same, or the Like.”

Making the simulacrum appear like what it is an image of, represses it, confines it “within a cave in the bottom of the ocean.”

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Plato’s Failure

Post #24 of my commentary on Heidegger’s analysis of Plato’s Theaetetus, written in the lead up to my exhibition: The Aviary

Heidegger concludes his account of the Theaetetus by outlining what he calls Plato’s failure in interpreting the phenomenon of the pseudes doxa in terms of speaking rather than seeing. This is because dianoia, inner reflection, is understood as a speaking to ourselves about what is before us, and as such founded on logos (speech).

The mis-taking of pseudes doxa is therefore a failure of the intended predicate, i.e. what is said about the object before us. This leads Plato to grasp the essence of pseudos, un-truth, as the un-correctness of the proposition. Accordingly truth must also have its seat in the logos, rather than unhiddenness it becomes understood as the correctness of the proposition. This leads to our present understanding of truth as the “correspondence, grounded in correctness, between the proposition and the thing.” (2)

This goes hand in hand with the conception of doxa as proposition, which means its original dual character as look and view recedes. Rather than being there in the uncertain duality of seeming, the truth and un-truth of what is seen now “simply stand alongside each other, indeed they have opposing directions, they even exclude one another.” (227)

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Doxa and Pseudos

Post #23 of my commentary on Heidegger’s analysis of Plato’s Theaetetus, written in the lead up to my exhibition: The Aviary

The similes of the wax mass and the aviary connect our inner and outer perceptions (dianoia and aisthesis) to memory. The effect of this is to broaden the domain of beings beyond those which we have in immediate presence to include those which are bodily absent but which we retain. Furthermore the retained can also be both absent and present, i.e. it can be made present or we have the awareness of the possibility of making it present. It is this “essential twofold possibility, pertaining to every accessible being” (i.e. whether present or absent) that leads to the clarification of the essence of doxa.

As we have seen Doxa is ambiguous, it means both the look that something or someone offers and what the viewer makes of it in terms of opinion. What shows itself gives off an appearance, awakens an impression in the viewer, which is intrinsically unreliable. Doxa therefore can be either true or false. Thus the word doxa obtains its meaning from two opposed directions, from the object and from the stance we take towards it. Both are present in one word, they are not juxtaposed but have one meaning, one which “involves attending to the other.”

Both similes taken together demonstrate that a being can be perceived both in immediate bodily presence and through the activity of memory making-present that which is absent. Making-present lets something not present be represented in advance, prior to it again coming into bodily presence. This is reflected in Plato’s definition of doxa as “a combination of what is encountered in immediate having-present with what is made-present in advance.” (221)

Heidegger tests this definition by applying it to an instance of doxic seeing, in this case a true view, i.e. one that is not mistaken: “Theodorus takes somebody approaching from a distance, who is in fact Theaetetus, to be Theaetetus.” (220) Heidegger analyses:

[the distant figure] “presents a view, a look, indeed the look of Theaetetus: accordingly, on the basis of this look, we take him for Theaetetus. Another possibility: we know Theaetetus, we know in advance that at this time of day he usually comes along this road, we can already visualise him doing this, we can hold ourselves to him as this being who is not yet bodily present. And now a man appears in the distance, presenting a view to us, without our being able to see with sufficient clarity that it is Theaetetus: but we opine it must be him: we now take the approaching person to be Theaetetus, not because of the look (having-present) but because of prior making-present.” (221)

Thus we have two objects towards which doxic seeing is directed, both of which are at the same time known and unknown. There is the unidentified “somebody approaching” who is concretely present but not known, we do not yet know who it is. We also have Theaetetus who we make present in advance of his concrete presence, so we know him in memory but do not know him in bodily presence.

These are not two separate ways of seeing but one. Heidegger reflects Plato’s definition when he says that the seeing of doxa, “is a comportment that is unitarily directed both to what is bodily present and to what making-present re-presents in advance.” (222) This leads him to characterise doxa as “two-pronged or forked,” one prong aimed at what is present before us, the other towards that which we anticipate – both seen together. This clarifies the nature of the true doxa as a fork, which means it must also be important for understanding the pseudes doxa and therefore of pseudos.

The understanding of pseudos is now approached through an example of a false view: “someone takes the distant Theaetetus for Socrates.” The distant person seems, looks like both Theaetetus and Socrates. For this to happen we must know both Theaetetus and Socrates and they must be bodily absent but yet made-present. This means the seeing of the false view can only happen in mnemonic making-present, i.e. what is brought to mind in memory. The action of looking, that Heidegger ascribes to the false view, is one of looking past what is seen, which is; towards what is seen, which is not. “What is passed by is precisely there, is as such present.”

The seeing of the pseudes doxa mis-takes the seeing of something as something, one thing determines the look of the other by hiding it. Yet it is not completely hidden it shows itself to our doxa as seeming. One thing can seem like… and like … Heidegger defines seeming as a mode of unhiddenness (i.e truth) which is essentially hiddenness (i.e. untruth). This brings us back to the beginning of Heidegger’s account of his engagement with Plato, truth as aletheia is what is not hidden, therefore untruth is what is hidden.

Derek Hampson

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The Motivation of Platonism

In his project to release the power of the false, Deleuze follows Nietzsche in identifying Platonism as the force, within Western thinking, that seeks to elevate the true at the expense of the false. Characterised as the theory of Ideas, Platonism understands that the essence of a thing resides in its Idea, its essential nature, which exists beyond the physical. Things that we see are, in varying degrees, images or copies of their otherworldly original. At the beginning of his essay “Plato and the Simulacrum,” Gilles Deleuze quotes Nietzsche’s claim that the task of future philosophy will be nothing less than the “overthrow of Platonism.”

Yet, rather than subverting this Platonic “world of essence and appearance,” Deleuze maintains that Nietzsche’s call is aimed at tracking down its motivation. This, he finds, is in its “will to select, to sort out,” by distinguishing between the “thing itself” and its images. In this sense the theory of Ideas is a process of division, through which the claim of images to truthfulness are ranked in order, from the true copy to the false image, the simulacrum

The Platonic Idea enables a judgement of the degree to which an image possesses the quality of the original. Distinguishing between the rightful claimant to truthfulness, the model or copy, and that which has only the semblance of truthfulness, the simulacrum. The truthful image will resemble the idea, while the simulacrum will have a semblance “ever corrupted by dissemblance.”

Thus the motive of Platonism is to ensure the triumph of the true copies and and to repress the simulacra, false images, “keeping them chained in the depths” (48).

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Art as Gift Introduction

Art as Gift was an Art and Theory Reading Group project that ran from January to May 2017, the aim of which was to examine the idea that we experience works of art in terms of presence – as something given, i.e. as gifts. Two principle theorisations of the gift informed discussions:

  1. The gift as part of a process of exchange, as set out by the anthropologist Marcel Mauss in: The Gift (1950).
  2. The impossibility of the gift, as set out by Jacques Derrida in his book: Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money (1991).

Project Organisation
Derrida’s text was the main focus of the group’s discussions, meetings were organised around discussing each of the four chapters of “Given Time” in turn. To support these I wrote a series of detailed blogposts on each chapter. The project culminated in a public presentation, informed by the thinking developed within the group.

Reading Group 1 – January 26
Introductory presentation by Derek Hampson, then discussion
Text: ‘The Time of the King’ in Given Time (1).

Reading Group 2 – February 23
This meeting will focus on reading and discussing chapter 2 of Given Time: The Madness of Economic Reason: A Gift without Present (34-70). Suggested themes for discussion will be posted on this website.

Reading Group 3 – March 30
This meeting will focus on reading and discussing chapter 3 of Given Time: “Counterfeit Money’ 1: Poetics of Tobacco” (71-107). Suggested themes for discussion will be posted on this website.

Reading Group 4 – April 27
Final meeting, dedicated to reading chapter 4 of Given Time: “Counterfeit Money” II:Gift and Countergift, Excuse and Forgiveness (108-172). Suggested themes for discussion will be posted on this website.

Art as Gift Symposium – May 13
11:00am at the Lace Market Gallery, Stoney Street, Nottingham. The artist and critic Peter Suchin (Art Monthly) will address the question: “What is Given in Marcel Duchamp’s Given?”

Click on image below to download “Given Time” as a pdf