shock and awe, a dissertation by Roderick Munday, cover image - the Expulsion from Eden, artist unknown

 

 

 


 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

I want to thank the Film, Television and Media departments at UWA Aberystwyth, particularly Martin Barker, Janet Jones and Tom O’Malley for helping me in ways that they may have been unaware of (but it was helpful nevertheless), and Daniel Chandler for his expertise, belief, encouragement and always insightful criticism. Finally profound thanks to Rachel for reading this with a better understanding of what I was trying to say than I had myself at times. R.M.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Dedication

To the people of Baghdad,
who were not defeated
by 'Shock & Awe',
but who suffered from it
in ways I can only imagine.

 

 

 


 

 

  CONTENTS
Abstract ....

 

.....................................................................

 

Page   5

 

Chapter 1

 

- Introduction ................................................

 

Page   6

 

Chapter 2

 

- Edmund Burke, Enquiry............................

 

Page 12

 

Chapter 3

 

- Kant, Critique of Judgement .....................

 

Page 15

 

Chapter 4

 

- Zizek, Sublime Object of Ideology ............

 

Page 20

 

Chapter 5

 

- Sublime Feeling ........................................

 

Page 26

 

Chapter 6

 

- The Philosophy of Feeling .........................

 

Page 34

 

Chapter 7

 

- 9/11 and Shock & Awe ............................

 

Page 44

 

Chapter 8

 

- Conclusion .................................................

 

Page 59

 

images ......

 

......................................................................

 

Page 62

 

References

 

......................................................................

 

Page 65

 

Appendix

 

- End Notes....................................................

 

Page 68

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

ABSTRACT

The sublime can be regarded as a transformative discourse of the subject — literally, a life-changing experience. As such, it held a particular fascination for intellectuals in the eighteenth-century, itself an age of transformation and uncertainty. It has been argued that discourses on the sublime helped to shape the emphasis on the subject as the author of meaning, which manifested in the Enlightenment (Ashfield & de Bolla 1996, 1). Today, we live in an equally uncertain age, and are arguably also equally fascinated by the sublime. Its presence is found everywhere: from special effects blockbusters, to the special ‘effects-based operations’ of modern warfare. Is this coincidence? Or is there something more symptomatic connecting the sublime and transformation? This dissertation examines some landmark texts on the sublime, as well as outlining my own ideas, in a synthesis I call the 'philosophy of feeling'. Two case studies are included that demonstrate how these ideas may be applied in practice. The first is 9/11, and the second is ‘Shock & Awe:’ the title given to the U.S. bombing campaign of Baghdad in March 2003.

 

 

 


 

 

 

chapter 1 - introduction

In 1941, Isaac Asimov wrote a short science fiction story called Nightfall. It told of the last hours of civilisation on the planet of ‘Lagash’. Lagash was an unusual place, because it was surrounded by six suns, which meant it was always daytime there. However, all the suns were about to set for the first time in ten thousand years. Nightfall was a worrying prospect, since archaeologists had uncovered evidence linking the rise and fall of civilisation to the length of the planet’s day. There had been at least nine previous civilisations, whose technology was equal to the present one, but all had ended in a single night of fire and madness.

Some Lagashians, living on the outskirts of the capital, ‘Saro City’, were trying to make sense of these events. What, they wondered, could have be so terrifying about darkness, to have driven civilisation back into the stone age? Obviously, in a society that had always known daylight, there was an understandable cultural phobia about darkness (no one was brave enough to step inside a cave for instance). But was this phobia sufficient to cause a madness that would wipe out civilisation? The protagonists reasoned not. But at the fall of night, they realised the terrible truth, it wasn’t the darkness, it was the stars!

Not Earth's feeble thirty-six hundred stars visible to the eye; Lagash was in the centre of a giant cluster. Thirty thousand mighty suns shone down in a soul-searing splendour that was more frighteningly cold in its awful indifference than the bitter wind that shivered across the cold, horribly bleak world… On the horizon outside the window, in the direction of Saro City, a crimson glow began growing, strengthening in brightness, that was not the glow of a sun. The long night had come again (Asimov 1999).

The feeling that this story attempts to evoke is an example of the sublime. Today the term is often misunderstood, taken to mean an almost languid enjoyment. However, the sublime in aesthetic theory describes something almost too terrifying to behold. Susan Sontag captures this feeling, when she writes about her first exposure to photographs of the Nazi death camps:

One’s first encounter with the photographic inventory of ultimate horror is a kind of revelation, the prototypically modern revelation : a negative epiphany… Nothing I have seen–in photographs or in real life–ever cut me as sharply, deeply, instantaneously. Indeed it seems plausible to me to divide my life into two parts, before I saw those photographs (I was twelve) and after, though it was several years before I understood fully what they were about. What good was served by seeing them? They were only photographs–of an event I had scarcely heard of and could do nothing to affect…When I looked at those photographs something broke. Some limit had been reached, and not only that of horror, I felt irrevocably grieved, wounded but a part of my feelings started to tighten, something went dead, something is still crying (Sontag 1979, 19 - 20).

I think Sontag’s term negative epiphany, is particularly apt, as it captures the excessive and totalising sense of horror–a sort of mental vertigo–that is especially characteristic of the sublime.

However, the meaning of the sublime is not restricted to describing traumatic events. It can also take the form of a positive epiphany. David Abrams writes about an incident in the mountains of Nepal. Abrams saw two condors gliding between the snow covered peaks of the Himalayas. After a few minutes, he took a silver coin from his pocket and began rolling it back and forth over his knuckles. One of the condors swerved away from its partner and came towards him. Fascinated by this site, Abrams stopped playing with the coin and the condor flew away again. Disappointed, he resumed the game, and as he did so, the condor came towards him once more:

I watched its shape grow larger. As the great size of the bird became apparent. I felt my skin begin to crawl and come alive, like a swarm of bees all in motion, and a humming grew loud in my ears. The coin continued rolling along my fingers. The creature loomed larger, and larger still, until suddenly, it was there–an immense silhouette hovering just above my head, huge wing feathers rustling ever so slightly as it mastered the breeze. My fingers were frozen, unable to move; the coin dropped out of my hand. And then I felt myself stripped naked by an alien gaze infinitely more lucid and precise than my own. I do no know how long I was transfixed, only that I felt the air streaming past naked knees and heard the wind whispering in my feathers long after the visitor had parted (Abrams 1996, 23 - 24).

The element that distinguishes these two accounts of sublime experience, is not the sense of being unable to assimilate the images, or the feelings inspired by the events. It is the way in which the authors position themselves in respect to both. Sontag cannot accommodate her ‘negative epiphany’ into her ‘sense of self’, her Weltanschauung as the German’s call it. This non-acceptance creates strong feelings of alienation. Sontag’s trauma does not take the form of a simple denial, for she can neither accept the pedagogical meaning of the photographs (that she lives in a world of hitherto unimaginable horror), nor can she hide from the fact either. Consequently, she is unable to transcend her feelings of trauma, precisely because the trauma itself cannot be assimilated, either by denying or accepting the ‘message’ of those photographs.

On the other hand Abrams’s ‘positive epiphany’ is characterised by feelings of profound ‘communion’ with the event he witnessed. Like Sontag, his Weltanschauung had been overturned. But his feeling is one of wonder accompanied by a positive sense of elevation. So Abrams’s experience is transcendent, because he rose above a hitherto limited conception of himself.

The sense of elevation in Abrams’s description is typical of many examples of writings on the sublime, especially in the Romantic discourses of the eighteenth-century. As Helen Maria Williams put it in 1798, "[the sublime calls] the musing mind from all its little cares and vanities to higher destinies and regions" (Ashfield & de Bolla: 1996, 304).

The central question asked of aesthetics — ‘What is it that moves me?’–is also a question primarily directed to human nature (ibid., 2). Freed from the sanction of religious prohibition, the eighteenth-century preoccupation with the sublime, arguably led to the subject-centred philosophy of the Enlightenment, which in turn inspired the formation of what Foucault termed the human sciences. These he defined as ‘discourses that take man as the object of their enquiry’ (Foucault 2004, 375), for example: sociology, psychology, economics, etc. The sublime can be seen historically to have acted as a symbolic rupture in meaning, that fissured through old certainties like hairline cracks, weakening their grip on the human imagination.

We can detect many examples of the sublime, as a symbolic rupture of meaning, in contemporary culture also. In the sense of a positive epiphany, it is found in the wonder of space travel, the fascination with ‘limit-experiences’ (drugs, mysticism, extreme sports) and even in the three-minute perfection of a pop song. As a negative epiphany, it can be found in images of horror (Hiroshima, the Holocaust, Vietnam, Iraq) and in the scenes of televised terror that came out of New York on September 11 2001.

This dissertation will explore how the concept of the sublime has been thought about historically, by examining three key texts. An Enquiry by the eighteenth-century political theorist Edmund Burke. The Critique of Judgement by the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant, and the Sublime Object of Ideology by the contemporary philosopher Slavoj Zizek. This is in order to bring those readers who are unfamiliar with the concept to become more familiar with it. This is because the sublime forms the basis of my own analysis of some of the characteristics of feelings, and how they combine with thoughts to to form the epistemological basis of representation.

 

 

 


 

 

 

chapter 2 - Edmund Burke

It is claimed that the British eighteenth-century sublime movement was the most important in the history of aesthetics (Ashfield 1996, 1). Today Edmund Burke is considered its major theorist (ibid., 12). His Enquiry was published in 1755.

The sublime
Burke defines the sublime as whatever excites ideas of pain and danger in the mind. It produces the strongest emotion the mind is capable of feeling. When danger or pain press too close, they are simply terrible and therefore incapable of giving delight. However, at certain distances it may be observed that such things are delightful. (Burke 1998, 37 - 38)

The primary passion evoked by the sublime is astonishment, a state in which all the soul’s motions are frozen in horror and the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot reason (ibid., 41). The power of the sublime is therefore not subordinate to the power of either volition, or reason, but hurries the mind on by an irresistible force. In this respect, no passion robs the mind as much as fear, because fear operates in a way that resembles actual pain (ibid., 53).

Most ideas which are capable of making a powerful impression on the mind can be reduced to self-preservation, or society (ibid., 36). For instance, beauty charms because we see in it a quality that causes us to love it (ibid., 114). However, human nature is concerned above all with self-preservation, which causes us to fear pain and danger most of all. Therefore the sublime inheres in whatever is terrible to look upon and abhors anything mediocre (ibid., 74). Beauty and the sublime operate on a binary axis of opposition: the beautiful is small, the sublime is vast; beauty is smooth, the sublime is ragged etc.

There are four sources of sublimity:

  1. Obscurity: since to see an object distinctly, is also to perceive its bounds (ibid., 58).

  2. Power: the sublime is always some modification of power.

  3. Infinity: because while vast objects may be finite, the comprehension of them creates an impression of infinity (ibid., 67).

  4. Magnificence:
    such as a multitude of stars (ibid., 71).

Criticisms
The reach of Burke's Enquiry is encyclopaedic, ranging from a definition of love (ibid., 135) to a refutation that proportion is the cause of beauty in vegetables! (ibid., 84) It is susceptible to the condescension of modern criticism, because he attributes intrinsic meaning to things we would regard today as being purely conventional. Some of his scientific observations also suffer from a certain amount of naiveté. For example we are told that massive objects are sublime because comprehending them produces a painful vibration on the retina (ibid., 125). I remark on this, not because I want to ridicule Burke’s rudimentary understanding of the physiognomy of sight, but because he invokes that authority as the sole justification for his argument. Finally, despite calling itself a philosophical investigation, Burke's analysis turns more on psychology than philosophy. He is primarily concerned with how the sublime is felt rather than how it is thought, and in this respect he makes for an interesting comparison with Kant.

 

 

 


 

 

 

Prolegomena to Kant's philosophy
I need to make a few preliminary remarks about Kant's philosophy before I discuss the Critique of Judgement.

First, it is predicated on the assumption (more metaphorical that neurological), that thinking emerges out of specialised areas of the mind called faculties; thus there is a faculty of perception; of understanding; of cognition, etc.

Second, ideas are taken to mean all that is abstract, general and cognisised through the necessary propositions of logic (Kant 1993, 31); whereas the actual world is empirical, particular and understood through the lessons of experience (Kant 1993, 48).

Third, when Kant talks about 'form,' in the sense of an object’s formal qualities, he does so always in an idealistic sense. Kant argues that 'form' is not discoverable in the world: for although we can point to many examples of particular forms; we cannot point to ‘form’ itself because it is an idea.

Analytic of the sublime
Kant begins his treatment of the sublime by comparing it with the beautiful. Like Burke, he sees them operating on a binary axis of opposition. The most important distinction he makes is that beauty creates our conception of nature itself, while the sublime reveals nature in its chaos: "its wildest and most irregular disorder and desolation." Hence the sublime cannot lead to the formulation of objective principles, because if we cannot properly assimilate the object, how can we make such judgements? Sublimity therefore is only discoverable in the mind and concerns ideas of reason (Kant: 1987, 99 - 100).

The Mathematical Sublime
The sublime is what is absolutely large. But we cannot judge something as absolutely large numerically, because the power of numbers extends to infinity (ibid., 104). In order to think about the notion of infinity aesthetically, we need to represent it to ourselves as something more concrete (ibid., 108). Trying to comprehend infinity strains the imagination which is what creates the mental agitation characteristic of the sublime (ibid.). For instance, a tree can be massive when judged by the height of a very tall man, but shrinks when compared to a mountain, but a mountain is small when compared to the earth and the earth becomes infinitely small when we compare if to the size of the galaxy and so on... (ibid., 111). The feeling of the mathematical sublime is therefore a feeling of displeasure, arising from the astonishment of the inadequacy of the imagination to represent ideas of reason, But also a simultaneous pleasure in the power of reason: that we can formulate concepts such as infinity, which cannot be represented (ibid., 114).

The dynamical sublime
Kant argues that aesthetic judgements of the sublime in nature must be estimated according to the greatness of its resistance. Kant conceives of the dynamical sublime as might; that is a power superior even to the greatest resistance (ibid., 119). The irresistibility of nature's might, forces us to regard as insignificant the things we would normally be solicitous of, like loved ones, worldly goods, health. (ibid., 121). But this is precisely why it becomes a point of principle to defend these things against the "vulgar might" of nature. Thus nature is sublime, because it forces us to consider our highest principles and raise the soul above the vulgar commonplace (ibid.).

The sublime as a source of moral principles
It is impossible to take delight in actual terror, however we can look upon an object as fearful, and not be afraid of it. In this instance, our estimate takes the form of a mediation: we simply picture ourselves wishing to offer some resistance, but recognise that it would be quite futile to do so (ibid., 120). It therefore requires a high degree of culture to appreciate the sublime, because the man who in a state of fear does not have the requisite temperament of calm reflection. This is what, argues Kant, intrinsically distinguishes religion from superstition (ibid., 123). However the fact that culture is requisite for the judgement upon the sublime does not mean that it is a product of culture, because the foundations are already laid in human nature as basis for the necessary agreement between other people's judgements and our own (ibid., 124).

A possible objection to this, is that a morality based on such hypotheticals is too abstract. But this is precisely Kant's point for it is only when morality is unspecified that the "unmistakable idea of morality" truly emerges. The sublime is always determined by thought, and as such it can never be anything more than a negative presentation, but it is one that nevertheless expands the soul (ibid., 135). This is why Kant says that there is no more sublime passage in Jewish Law than the commandment: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image..."(ibid.). For if our ideas were dependent solely on images, we could never rise above them to contemplate moral absolutes. The idea of freedom for Kant is inscrutable and precludes all positive presentation. The moral law, on the other hand is a sufficiently solid determination existing within us, so that it does not need to cast around for a basis external to itself.

Criticism
Kant's treatment of the sublime is unusual, because he purges everything psychological from his analysis and so his, is an aesthetic without passion. Kant was not motivated to study aesthetics purely as an end in itself, but in order to bridge the 'chasm' that separated his two earlier critiques: The Critique of Pure Reason and The Critique of Practical Reason.

In his first critique Kant demonstrated convincingly that reason was not self-validating without reference to empirical phenomena, but in the second he wanted to prove the opposite: namely that something must be universally true in order that we may have moral laws. Thus he posited the existence of a supersensible realm, defined in the second critique as the laws which govern the perception of empirical reality (Kant 2004).

The problem for Kant was proving the existence of the supersensible realm. Since he could not justify this with logic, he turned to aesthetics. For although the sense impressions of beautiful or sublime experiences are particular, it could be argued that aesthetic judgements about them were universal. This is because when we call something beautiful or sublime, this judgement seems to demand the assent of everyone else.

Kant reasoned that such universality could not be accounted for in terms of feeling, since feelings were subjective (Kant 1993, 47). So he concluded that there must be something else that tells us what to feel a priori - not surprisingly the supersensible. Now we may accept Kant’s argument or reject it, but whatever our position we take, I think it is indisputable that Kant’s motivation for studying aesthetics ‘anaesthetically’ was political and not genuinely philosophical. On this point I wonder if Kant would have been quite so confident in the superiority of reason if he had lived through some of the negative epiphanies of modern horror, phenomena like the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki which seemed to exceeded reason’s capacity to contemplate or contain them and which shook the confidence of philosophers in the Enlightenment tradition such as Horkheimer and Adorno (2002), Arendt (1951) and Bauman (1989).

 

 

 


 

 

 

chapter 4 - Zizek, the sublime object of ideology 

Slavoj Zizek’s treatise on the sublime is the only text in my selection that does not try to define it. Zizek is more interested in exploring how the sublime functions, especially in relation to Lacanian and Marxist ideology. But I think his definition would be like Burke’s ‘something akin to terror’ (Burke 1998, 38).

Zizek’s thesis is that reality (in the naïve realist sense of the term) does not exist. Reality is rather a fantasy construction, a symbolic network whose function is to mask the fact of its own non existence (Zizek 1989, 45).

However, there is something which lurks behind this mask, which Zizek ironically calls The Real, (a term borrowed from Lacan). This ‘Real’ is actually just another fantasy - a ‘dream-Real’, but one whose function is to anchor the symbolic network and give it meaning (ibid., 47). The Real is defined as the reality of humanity’s darkest desires, or Jouissance. Jouissance mean negative enjoyment (ibid., 202), it can be likened to the feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff and thinking what if I jump? Zizek argues that when a person is asleep and dreaming, it is in this spirit of daring (jouissance) that causes the dreamer to entertain the most perverse and destructive fantasies imaginable. Thus the dreamer awakens, but not into real/reality of course, but into the stable and comforting symbolic network of fantasy/reality. In fact, the reason we have a symbolic network, is to protects us from the terrifying visions of the Real (ibid., 45).

In this way it can be thought of as functioning in exactly the same way as ideology. The paradox of ideology, is that it is not merely the false consciousness of the social being, it is the social being itself, so far as it is supported by false consciousness (ibid., 21).

Reality is therefore an illusion, but the illusion becomes real in its performance (ibid., 33). This can be illustrated in the way we behave towards the immateriality of money. For example the other day my eight year old son asked me how it was that five pounds was worth more than five pence, since one was made of metal and the other was made of paper? I explained that money was not really valuable in itself, rather it was a symbol of the value it stood for. My son looked incredulous. I think for him it was a bit of an ‘emperors new clothes’ situation. And he was right of course. Zizek says of money that the exchange abstraction is "not thought but it has the form of thought" (ibid, 18). This perfomative sense of ideological abstraction is what Zizek argues creates the space where philosophical reflection can thrive. Thus, action opens up a territory for abstraction. In this sense Zizek likens ideology, not to the performance itself, but to the stage in which the form of truth is acted out before we can even take cognisance of it (ibid., 19).

Now because the conditions for future thought are set in the present, is it not therefore possible to predict the future? Zizek’s answer is an emphatic no. For the simple reason that events only become significant in the future when they have been cognised as thoughts. However, because of the existence of jouissance, what happens all the time is that people fantasise about destroying the symbolic network. Hence the existence of films like Deep Impact (1998), Armageddon (1998) and Independence Day (1996), that realise in special effects the dream-fantasy of spectacular destruction. Zizek, who wrote The Sublime Object of Ideology in 1989, illustrated this point by using the Titanic disaster of 1912 (ibid., 70), but the same principle can be applied to 9/11.

Look at these images (Figs, 1 & 2)

fig. 1 party music album cover by the coup

fig. 2, precision eye care advertisement

Fig. 1

Fig.2

If images like Figures 1 and 2 appeared today they would be considered tasteless in the extreme. But they are actually from a time just prior to 9/11, when the idea of flying planes into building could still be joked about (1). These images appear uncannily prophetic, precisely because our jouissance was realised in the terrible events of that day. But the point is that, if 9/11 hadn’t happened, they would not be significant. And Zizek would argue that 9/11 was an event so symbolically overdetermined anyway, that it was bound to create such images in advance. In fact the very reason that al-Qaeda chose the World Trade Centre as a target, was because symbolised global capitalism.

 

This stumbling block for ideology is always a sublime rupture of meaning. As witnessed on 11 September 2001. Here the ability of the symbolic network to contain the Real broke down spectacularly, and the it burst out from behind its mask in a terrifying display of jouissance (Zizek 2002, 12). In this sense the ‘Real’ of 9/11 can today be symbolised in the form of the missing two towers of the World Trade Center. This is the sublime object of ideology, or as Zizek terms it the object petit. And this explains why we may experience a frission of unease every time we see those towers in old films or television shows. They have become an object petit for us, a symbol of the Real.

fig. 3, in the shadow of no towers by art speigelman

Fig. 3

The sublime object of ideology
The Real is something that cannot be negated, because it is the embodiment of a pure negative emptiness - a certain void (Zizek 1989, 170). It always resists symbolisation but it is precisely through this failure that we can locate its empty (traumatic) place (ibid., 172).

Kant and the Supersensible
In order to prove this point, Zizek criticises the Kantian supersensible by citing Hegel's criticism of Kant, namely that by positing something beyond representation, he remains a prisoner of representation. For, logically speaking, to determine the supersensible as unrepresentable, must be done on the basis of representation (ibid., 204 - 205).

Criticism
Zizek is fond (perhaps over-fond) of paradoxes. Paradoxes are like mental arm wrestling, with yourself as an opponent. They are satisfying, because the sum of mental energy you put into justifying one side of the argument, is pitted against you when considering the contradictory proposition. The advantage of paradoxes is that they are fascinating in a sublime way — in that they ‘call the musing mind from all its little cares and vanities to higher destinies and regions’(Ashfield & de Bolla: 1996, 304). However, although these ‘higher regions’ are heralded by the paradox, it can never be a bridge to them, since the way is always blocked by the contradictory nature of the paradox itself, which means that the enquiry goes round and round in a state that Hegel called 'bad infinity' (Zizek 1989, 164). Paradoxes therefore cannot be posited as an end in themselves, they must be transcended, or simply abandoned (in the latter case, see Gödel's incompleteness theorems for example). This is something not always apparent reading Zizek.

If we apply Hegel's criticism of the supersensible to Zizek's use of the Lacanian object petit, it too seems to stand as something outside of representation — a 'certain void' as Zizek called it (ibid., 170). However it is inconsistent for Zizek to fault Kantian philosophy for the very thing he extols in the context of Lacanian psychoanalysis. The logical principle of contradiction asserts if something is false it cannot also be true (Copi & Cohen, 1994, 365). Which means that either, the logic of representation is valid, and there is nothing beyond representation, or that the logic of representation is invalid.

Arguing for both leads the conclusion that the object petit is something akin to a supernatural force, which is unacceptable. However there is an additional postulate which would resolve the contradiction. I will discuss this in the next chapter.

 

 

 


 

 

 

chapter 5 - sublime feeling

The solution to the problem posed at the end of the last chapter is to consider the sublime as a phenomenon of feeling. This requires that feelings be considered somewhat differently to the way they have been thought about in the past, i.e., not as just subjective but in more general terms as a coherent system of internal communication. But this system must itself be thought of as being different from the normal internal communication system (i.e. thinking). This chapter is devoted to making a case for this assertion.

However, a case cannot be made for feelings if they are considered as a form of mediation. For then the problem of the logic of representation and the ‘unrepresentational’ sublime would remain unsolved. What needs to be assumed therefore is that feelings are immediate, for the simple reason that if it were otherwise they would not be able to operate outside of the logic of representation. Now of course feelings are not actually immediate, there must be some kind of causality governing perceiving a stimulis and any kind of response we have to that stimulus. Therefore feelings must occur through some sort of mediation. But I still argue that feelings are immediate to the exent that they come at the very beginning of the thought process. For feelings are what initially instigates the internal dialogue we have with ourselves in order that we may generate thoughts about things. In this sense a feeling is our first reaction to a given stimulus, and also what draws us to that stimuls in the first place - separating it from what Kant called 'the manifold.' What I am suggesting, in the context of the sublime, is that the disparity between feeling and thinking is what causes the sublime experience. While the normal process of thinking begins with a feeling and ends in a thought, in the case of sublime experiences, the feelings are so intense that they cannot be adequately represented. This then is what causes the feelings of agitation so characteristic of the sublime.

It has been traditionally argued that the sublime produces an abyss of meaning: this much is certain from the historical accounts summarised thus far. But this conclusion also implies that the sublime must be cognisable up to the point of breakdown as a representation, for otherwise it would be unlikely that the mind could form any idea about it at all. What I am suggesting is that at the point of breakdown a person continues to 'make sense' of the sublime through the immediacy of her feelings, which the mind later articulates back to the person as the 'sublime something'.

The ordinary workings of feeling
However this assumption cannot be restricted in its application to the sublime only. I would suggest on the contrary that the peculiarity of the sublime experience, reveals something of the ordinary workings of feelings and their part in the thinking process. But that would imply that feelings produce representations, and therefore that feelings (and not objects) are the true object of thought. In other words objects would not exist for us either in language or in reality before they were intimated by feelings. And this is of course exactly what I am implying.

Now, there are two objections to this.

Firstly, it may be argued that feelings must have some stimulus or other, and therefore it is a mere semantic distinction to claim feelings and not objects are the object of thought. And while it is entirely reasonable to suppose this, as a retrospective judgement of reason, I assert that it simply does not describe the process of thinking in actuality. Objects cannot meaningfully exist for us before they are intimated by feelings. To suggest this is to endow objects with intentions, which is in effect the naïve realist position.

Secondly, it may be objected that words and not feelings create ideas of objects. This position assumes that language, or more properly language structures, create feelings in the form of values (Saussure 1983, 114). Now it is true of course that we have feelings about words. And we also have to articulate feelings into words. But if this is so, how can words create feelings in the first place? The answer given it that the illusive word which is assumed to have created the feeling is embedded in a language system, which the user has not yet acquired the competence to access. In other words the user sees the language system as a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing. But if this is so, why is this inadequacy expressed in the form of a feeling, and not in words? If feelings were not immediate and language not mediate then there might be a case for suggesting that feelings could be formed by words. However, if my claim of the immediacy of feelings is accepted as true, it follows that it is no longer possible even to debate which came first.

In the process of thinking, the question always before the mind is, 'what are my feelings telling me about this?' In the sublime experience, the mind struggles to articulate these 'unrepresentable' feelings in conceptual terms. In effect the mind is unable to articulate what feelings are ‘telling’ it at that moment. What this implies–and I want to emphasis this point–is that feelings are saying something significant, for if this were not so it would be unlikely that the mind could call any experience sublime: it would simply be an incomprehensible experience.

This is not to imply that the sublime can never be 'named' in conceptual terms. Sublime experiences are as contingent as any other experience. Consequently, it is quite possible that some hitherto sublime experience, becomes in time ordinary one and therefore no longer holds any peculiar fascination for the person (the sublime here can be thought of as the opposite of cynicism, because while the latter can be said to place a glass ceiling on one's thoughts the former smashes it to pieces). I would also argue that this domestication of the sublime through experience and education is not unusual, but rather describes the normal arc of every person's journey from childhood into adulthood.

What are feelings?
The above argument is predicated on a more precise conception of 'feeling' than the usual definition implies. A good analogy would be the concept of 'qualia', which Gerald Endelman defines as, "the collection of personal or subjective experiences, feelings, and sensations that accompany [conscious] awareness" (Endelman 1992, 114). However, my conception is specifically based on the ideas of the American semiotician Charles Sanders Peirce. Peirce defined feeling as:

an instance of that kind of consciousness which involves no analysis, comparison or any process whatsoever, nor consists in whole or in part of any act by which one stretch of consciousness is distinguished from another... any feeling must be identical with any exact duplicate of it, which is as much as to say that the feeling is simply a quality of immediate consciousness (CP 1.306 - 307)
(2)

Peirce's view of feelings is bound up in his conception of semiotics, so much so that one cannot be undestood without the other. Semiotics, according to Peirce, is about thinking. That which we call reality cannot tell us anything about itself. Reality is just there and as such it is something which is always in need of interpretation. This is what human beings do, they make sense of reality in thinking. This prompts the question what is thinking. For Peirce thinking is quite simply semiosis. We can begin to understand what semiosis is by observing that thoughts come in associative chains, in the sense that one thought prompts another, and then another, and then another. This proces is what Peirce calls semiosis. He states that thoughts are themselves made up three 'elements of thought' (Peirce 1931-35, 1.284). These are the representamen, object and interpretant, which interact with one another in an associative way to produce what Pierce calls the sign.

An imaginary story
The semiotic function of a sign can be explained by this story. There are two friends A and B who have a special relationship based on mutual dependency. A has lost the use of all her senses except touch, and so relies on B to be her eyes and ears etc. B on the other hand, can see and hear and has rudimentary understanding of language, but he is mute, so has to rely on A to speak for him. B communicates with A through a series of taps on her arm. One tap for ‘yes,’ two taps for ‘no’ and three taps for ‘don’t know.’

One day A and B are walking down a street when B hears a growl coming from behind a hedge. Immediately he grabs hold of A to get her to stop. "What is it?" A asks B, and he taps three times on her arm for "don't know." A tells B to go and take a look. B does this and sees it is a dog; obviously not a dangerous one, since it runs away as soon as it catches sight of B. B goes back to A to tell her what he has seen. But of course he cannot say it was a dog. So A has to deduce the answer by asking B a series of questions and working it out from the taps on her arm.

The Peircean Sign
This story describes how the elements of thought function in semiosis. The growling noise that B hears is the representamen. This is the first perceived element of the sign, and as such, is the part that signifies. The second element is the dog, which is the object of the sign, however it is present by not being present. The third element is represented in the story by both A and B. This is what Peirce calls the interpretant, which both perceives and deduces the relationship between a given representamen and a given object. Hence, Peirce’s definition of a sign is: "something that stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity" (Peirce 1931 — 35, 2.228).

The important thing to remember here is that the actual object of a sign--what Peirce calls the dynamic object (CP 4.536)--is always hidden, for the simple reason, that if the object were visible, there would be no need of a sign to represent it. For example, we might see written down somewhere the letters H O U S E (representamen); and recognise that they spell the word "HOUSE" (interpretant): and immediately realise what those letters mean (object), but this realisation of the object comes about through the actions of the interpretant.

The interpretant’s seemingly dual semiotic function, can be likened to the ability of human beings, both to sense something and to articulate to themselves in language what that something is. This can be explained a little better by referring to Peirce’s three categories of thought: Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness (ibid., 1.300). Each category governs a particular domain. Firstness governs qualities, secondness governs existential forces, and thirdness governs mediation. Therefore the duality of the interpretant exists between the immediacy of firstness and secondness and mediation of thirdness. This distinction will become clearer as I explain the function of each category.

Firstness
If it were possible to perceive a quality, in itself, without reference to an object, or idea, that would be pure firstness. Peirce says of firstness, that it does not refer to anything else, nor does it lie behind anything. The first is that which simply is of itself (ibid., 1. 356). An analogy of firstness is the feeling you get when you stare at, say, a red wall for any length of time, a feeling of being infused with redness, so that you do not feel that you are experiencing anything else but red. However this is only an analogy, since to think about firstness is to represent it to yourself (which is in fact thirdness). Firstness describes that impossibly immediate state of consciousness between the past and the future — the absolute present. The absolute present does not exist for us as a representation, because when you stop to think about it, it has already gone (ibid., 1.310).

Secondness
Now imagine being in this rapturous state of firstness and suddenly walking slap-bang into a lamppost. The shock of this experience, as you actually experience it, is secondness. Secondness is brute force, a surprise like a slap in the face, or a sudden noise that you react to without thinking (ibid., 1.332).

Thirdness
Now imagine yourself seeing someone else walk slap bang into a lamppost, you might say, ‘Oh, that must hurt!’ In other words you would be putting yourself in the other person's place and imagining their pain. This is mediation. Mediation deals solely with the representation of things and not with the things themselves. Hence thirdness is also known as the mediating category (ibid., 1.328).

The sometimes difficult marriage of B and A
Firstness and secondness can be likened to the function of B in our imaginary story and thirdness to the function of A. Because of their respective abilities and disabilities, A and B have formed very different views of their world. B can experience the world directly and sees it as a manifold of sensation and qualities which are not differentiated. Whilst A cannot experience the world directly. And for this reason, she finds it difficult to make sense of B’s vague qualities and sensations. She prefers things to be more defined, and to this end, has invented words to name all that B presents her with.

Feeling 'sees' things differently from thought
What this illustrates is the assertion made at the very start of this chapter, that feelings 'see' things differently from thoughts. Qualities precede all synthesis and all differentiation, we cannot speak about them because we are always in the ‘prison house of language’ —
(3) to deploy Frederic Jameson’s famous misquotation of Nietzsche (Jameson 1972). Peirce is helpful in explaining what feeling are in terms of thoughts. But the explanation seems difficult, almost mystical at times. This is not because the world of feelings is mystical, it is very ordinary, everyone experiences it as infants, and leaves it behind when we learn language. As the poet Robert Graves puts it, 'There's a cool web of language winds us in' (Graves 1986, 76). When thoughts try to 'see' the world in terms of feelings, they are unable to comprehend in finite, objective terms its infinite complexity. Feelings on the other hand don't try to comprehend the world, and therefore do not strain to accept it. We are like the Lagashians in Asimov's story, who can accept the darkness, but not the stars. However, in sublime moments, from a window in the prison house of language, we can see them.

 

 

 


 

 

 

chapter 6 - the philosophy of feeling 

Paradoxes which I examined in the context of Zizek are a good way into thinking about the nature of feelings because paradoxes demonstrate the 'sublime' presence of feelings in thought. In wrestling with a paradox, feelings of intense interest compel the mind to keep searching for a solution, while the thoughts just go round and round spiralling into bad infinity. Paradoxes therefore feel more interesting than they actually are, and consequently I define them as: something produced by thoughts, but productive of feelings.

The Philosophy of feeling
The stuff of traditional philosophical enquiry is made up of thoughts and objects. Therefore it is more accurate to call it the logic of representation, since it always exists in thirdness and only deals in representations. For example the question epistemology asks, 'what can I know about the world?' So the enquiry is about a represented object (the world) and represented thoughts (knowledge). On the other hand the stuff of the philosophy of feeling is made up of feelings (immediate thought) and representations (mediated thought) and therefore it exists in firstness, secondness and thirdness. So the question that the epistemology of feeling asks is 'how can I know what my feelings are telling me?' And the enquiry is about feelings (immediate thoughts) and representations (mediate thoughts, or the logic of representation itself).

The philosophy of feeling is predicated on two seemingly contradictory principles:

1/ Feelings are universal.

2/ There is no determinate relationship between feeling and representation.

1/ Feelings are universal
The philosophy of feeling deals with involuntary feelings. This is not to suggest that feelings cannot be produced at will, because they can of course - which is another way of saying that feelings can lie. And this is the reason I will not deal with volitional feelings, since when feelings are volitional they are no longer truly immediate. By which I mean that the feeling responce has been articulated in advance by the thought, and the person who lies has to summon up the approapriate feeling response, just as an actor has to contrive a performance by thinking herself into the part. Therefore the feelings produced by lying can be argued to be the mere representation of feelings. This means that the philosophy of feeling cannot ultimately be trusted and so for that reason it is not the royal road to truth. Humanity needs the legislative capacities of the logic of representation to sort out the lies from the truth.

However the logic of representation is presumptuous to assume on this account that all feelings lie. This would suggest that we could unwittingly wilfully deceive, which is as illogical as it sounds.

Involuntary feelings are immediate and therefore not representational. In this sense they are not experienced first and felt afterwards, they are simply felt. As such, there can be no distinction made between feelings and expressions--in the sense that one is internal and the other is external--for they are in fact the same thing. To prove this, try to smile without feeling happy or, vice versa, try to feel happy without smiling. I assert that this cannot be done, because a genuine smile is always accompanied by a feeling of happiness.

Feelings can be communicated to others without being represented. In the sense that when we see a person smile we may involuntarily smile back. This is not a representational feeling of happiness; it is the same happiness, expressed in one person and evoked in another. This process is not at all unusual, it is called empathy and when we can speak of the communication of feeling we may do so in terms of conveyance metaphors.

fig. 4 happy aboriginal fig. 5 smiling children from the Akha1 tribe fig. 6, crying U.S. soldier, Iraq

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

Fig. 6

fig. 7, smiling African children fig. 8, grieving U.S. infantryman, Korean War fig. 9, grieving Iraqi woman

Fig. 7

Fig. 8

Fig. 9

 

Figures 4 to 9 show a series of images of happy and sad people from different cultures and eras. It would be churlish to ask which is which. I do not have to interrogate the face shown in Fig. 6, for instance, to ascertain that, although the soldier’s mouth is turning upwards, he not smiling. Neither do I need to dwell on the posture of the two soldiers in Fig. 8 to deduce that something more melancholic is being communicated by their embrace than affection.

Therefore I assert that feelings are universal. Not because it is reasonable to do so (the universality of feeling is not a logical proposition), but I assert it nevertheless because it can be demonstrated as being true. And if the evidence of figures 4 to 9 is not sufficient I suggest the reader looks at other photographs until the point is conceded.

Shared repertoire of feeling
Feelings are universal because they are held universally, in the sense that every human being is endowed with the same limited repertoire of feelings. But this ‘subjective universality’ is the converse of what the term usually means in logic of representation. In the latter case 'universal' is a single idea which can be generalised, that is applied mutatis mutandis to an infinite number of objects. Whereas in the former 'universal' is the same simple feeling felt, not generalised by felt particularly in a multitude of subjects. This is the reason that I suggest the two priniciples of the Philosophy of Feeling are seemingly contradictory, because in the Logic of Representation we can expect universals to have a legislative generality. but no such expectation can be derived from the Philosophy of Feeling, because although a feeling can be shared, it is still ar particular feeling.

2/ There is no determinate relationship between feeling and representation
Universal feelings are not recognised as having any validity in the logic of representation. Thus the principle is established that there can be no deterministic relationship between feeling and representation. The logic of representation treats empirical objects (phenomena) as particular things and grants them localised validity, but not universal extension. For example, if I say, "My mother was taken ill yesterday" no one else is concerned about the health of their mother. Therefore it is an absolute principle of the philosophy of feeling, that whenever a feeling is attached to a particular representation (other than a feeling), it loses its subjective universality. Hence there can be no such thing as cultural universality, since different cultures attach different symbols to represent their feelings. So while I can claim that the feeling of grief is a universal emotion, the way it is ritualised in different cultures is subject to almost infinite variation.

Now it may be argued that feelings do not arise spontaneously ex nihilo, and consequently they must always be about something. This argument can be simply illustrated: Person X is grief stricken by the death of her mother. Person Y knows neither person X nor her mother. Consequently person Y is not upset. Therefore it is argued that feelings are subjective. And this arguement is a powerful one, indeed cognitive ecientists are divided over the question of the universality of basic feelings such as happiness and sadness for this very reason (Pons et al. 2004, 128-9).

However, the philosophy of feeling, asserts that grief is a universal emotion. So, for example, if person Y was in the same room as person X, Y would be affected by X’s grief. Note that I say affected not effected, since, although empathy can be seen as a direct transference of emotion, it is not a direct transference of the cause as well, which means that Y only gets a 'feeling' of X’s pain, but without a representation attached to it.

Therefore, as long as the feelings remain unspecified in the analysis, i.e. not linked to any particular representation, feeling can claim to have universal extension — an involuntary smile means happiness, no matter whose face is expressing it. But all this actually means is that the truth of the universal existence of feeling can never be proved, it can only be demonstrated.

Indexical media
This is why the invention of photography is so advantageous to the philosophy of feeling. Peirce called photography indexical, which focuses attention on the fact that the photographic image is mechanically produced in such a way that the light rays emanating from an object are faithfully recorded on the emulsion of the film (Peirce, 2.281). Without photography, it would not have been possible to demonstrate the universality of feelings, and happiness would remain in the logic of representation, merely the psychological effect of a multitude of smiles.

Meaning defined
Thoughts without feelings are quite simply meaningless. A meaningless thought is easy to demonstrate; just think of a word by saying it in your head again and again. If you do this for long enough you will find that the word loses its meaning and becomes just a sound. This is because any repetition has the effect of numbing feeling. If you rub a spot on your leg for long enough it will become numb, hence the repeated word alos become numb and ceases to mean anything. Therefore, the philosophy of feeling states that meaning can be defined simply as the articulation of feeling in thought.

Feeling and Tautology
In the beginning of this chapter I defined paradoxes as something produced by thoughts but productive of feelings. The pattern of inversions I have already uncovered between the logic of representations and the philosophy of feeling would suggest that there ought to be a corresponding proposition, produced by feeling but productive of thought. And this is true. It is a tautology.

A tautology is productive of thought
A tautology in the logic of representation is usually defined as a proposition whose subject and predicate terms are identical. For example it can be expressed in algebraic terms as X = X. Consequently tautologies are regarded by the logic of representation as being so banal that they are almost meaningless. However, in the philosophy of feeling, the subject and predicate of a tautology are not identical for one is a feeling expressed in one individual and the other is the empathic communication of that feeling to another individual. Thus the same particular feeling is shared among a group of people, either immediately, as is the case with face to face communicaton, or across time and space, if the feeling is visually embedded in a photograph, or aurally embedded in a sound recording. Tautologies therefore are meaningful because they express a universal symmetry between the a feeling felt by a human being within the context of a particular experience, and the universality of that feeling when it is communicated among a community of fellow human beings. For as long as the feeling is involuntary, and the representation is unspecified, tautologies are both necessarily and demonstrably true. Hence, ‘sadness is sad’ is a profound statement.

An example
A tautology is productive of thought because I can therefore claim, because it is a tautology that the experiencing of a feeling is the same in everyone. This means that I can look at a photograph and can actually say what it means in terms of feeling, and this supposition will be correct as long as I restict my analysis to talking about only the feelings the photography conveys and do not try to link them to what the photograph represents.

fig. 8, grieving U.S. infantryman, Korean War

Fig, 8

For instance what is it that makes figure 8 a sad picture? The gesture of the two soldiers? The way one buries his face in the other mans chest? Or the position of the man’s hand, partially covering his face? The answer is yes to all of these, but the photograph also says something profound about the experience of war. The man on the left, like me, is a witness to this scene, but he does not even look up from his reading, while the partly obscured expression of the man on the far right, addresses me directly and challenges my right to look.

In analysing this photograph as a series of tautologies, I am are stuck by a series of contradictory feelings within myself. Sadness makes me feel sad, and is therefore a much more powerful emotion than mere interest. Why then is the man on the left more interested in his book than in the grief of the two soldiers? I look at him again and see that his is not even reading the book, and I realise that his 'interest' is in fact masking his discomfort. And then there is the defiant expression of man on the right. Defiance is defiance, which is expressed as hostility: a fortification of the self against the scrutiny of the other. Defiance can be seen as a kind of edifice of guilt; one that pleads ‘understand me’ as much as it pushes the viewer away. The philosophy of feeling cannot say what he feels so defiant about, for that would be linking a feeling to a representation. But the juxtaposition of three feelings: sadness, studied (dis)interest and defiance, alerts us to the extraordinary tensions in this photograph. And that is why I think it reveals something profound about the experience of war.

Tautologies and hindsight
Tautologies are therefore not as banal as the logic of representation would suppose because they describe a universal and necessary relationship between the expression of particular feelings and the way they are felt. This relationship, according to the logic of representation, should not exist since feelings are judged to be ‘just subjective’ in that paradigm.

However, tautologies have no legislative capacity over future events, and no laws can be formulated using them. So in this way feelings are subjective. But just because tautologies cannot be predictive, it does not mean that they have no jurisdiction oven the past. For tautologies in a sense can be seen as the wisdom of hindsight. And this is why the philosophy of feeling is particularly useful for the discipline of media studies. (4)

Every medium adapts its form to the representation of feeling for otherwise it would not mean anything. I will argue in the next section that this is how the grammar of media form actually originates. For instance language has emotive words, and photography expresses the photographer’s feelings in terms of mood, even if the picture's subject is a landscape: in fact especially if it is a landscape (Fig 10).

fig. 10, mountain landscape photograph  by Ansell Adams

Fig. 10

The philosophy of feeling states that it is possible to retrieve and examine the past captured in indexical media. Humans in society create cultural myths about the past, which in some circumstances can be used as a form of social control. In these instances the philosophy of feeling can be used to critique those myths. I will demonstrate this in the next chapter

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Feeling Patterns
I want to look again at Zizek's claim that ideology is "the theatre in which your truth was performed before you took cognisance of it" (Zizek 1989, 19). According to Zizek the ideological form emerges out of the performance of certain actions, which in turn inspires the creation of discourse (ibid.). This can be expressed as:

1/ The performance of the actions

2/ Creates a space for abstract thinking (ideology)

3/ Creates the form of abstract thought

It is important to realise that Zizek is not postulating a direct deterministic relationship between a performance and the creation of abstract thoughts, for that would be naïve realism. However, as long as the concept of ideology is unspecified in the analysis, Zizek reasons that it can act in the same way to create meaning as Saussure's combination of arbitrary sounds and arbitrary names create language (Saussure 1983, 72).

The problem with the concept of ideology is that ideology is already a thought, which begs the question why does a thought need another thought to express it? The answer that is usually given is that ideology is ‘false consciousness’, or an ideal that functions to mask its own failure (LukŠcs 1971, 58). This is fine, as long as there is some person or group directing the ideological deception. However, this does mean that ideology cannot be arbitrary and cannot therefore function in the way that Zizek specifies it should.

Replacing the notion of ‘ideology’ with ‘feelings’, eliminates the problem of having to conceive of reality in terms of a fundamental deception. Feelings always have to be articulated in thoughts, which means that feelings are always unspecified before being articulation in thought and can therefore act as the mediator between performance and thinking that is required by Zizek's analysis. I want to stress that replacing ideology with feelings does not imply that the concept of ideology, as it is normally understood, can be jettisoned altogether. Feelings can lie when subjected to the will of an individual or indeed a ruling class.

Thus we arrive at a theoretical sketching-out of how feelings can act as the basis of discourse. Although only complex feelings are adequate to performing this task, for otherwise the number of discourses would be as limited as the number of simple feelings, i.e. very few. Therefore I have to assume the universality of complex feelings, but this is problematic because it seems obvious that complex feelings have to be determined by representations, and consequently by my reasoning they can have no universal validity. However this assumption is incorrect because it is based on a conception of complex feelings as an aggregate of simple feelings. The cannot be so because it would imply that feelings can occur simultaneously (whereas if you try feeling happy and sad at exactly the same time you find that it cannot be done - in fact you can feel happy and then reflect on something sad, then perhaps feel happy again, but this suggests that a happy-sad feeling is something which occurs in a given period of time and not all at once). Complex feelings can therefore be defined as a patterning of simple feelings over time. And it is these feeling-patterns that are deterministic of discourses, and furthermore, because they are actually a succession of simple feelings they do not have to be attached to specific representations which means that they can operate tautologically, according to the principles of the philosophy of feeling.

Take grief for example, some work has been done, mostly outside of the academy on mapping out the ‘feeling-pattern’ of grief. It is said to have five (or sometimes seven) stages: denial, anger, negotiation, depression and finally acceptance (KŁbler-Ross 1973).

Now what is interesting about this is how closely it corresponds to Aristotle's categorisation of the dramatic form of tragedy. Aristotle mapped the feeling of tragedy into several discreet parts - incentive moment, reversal of fortune and recognition, scene of suffering, dénouement and 'katharsis' (Aristotle 1991, 18-9). So the dramatic form of tragedy can be said to map onto the feeling-pattern of grief. In this sense it can be aruged that complex feelings can be structured like narratives.

 


 

Case study #1 - 9/11

I want to examine the representation of the events of 9/11 utilising of the principles of the philosophy of feeling that I outlined in this and the last section. I begin the analsis with a claim: the trauma of 9/11 (5) was experienced as actual trauma experienced throughout the world. This traume was created because the feeling-pattern of truama was embedded in indexical electronic media, and the traume was structued as a feeling pattern according to the generic conventions of television news. I will now elaborate on the reasoning that I argue will justify this claim.

Media embedding
First I will examine the idea of media embedding. In the 1960s Marshall McLuhan defined media, as being "any technology that ... creates extensions of the human body and senses" (McLuhan 1995, 239). McLuhan also asserts that electronic media, like television, extends the human nervous system to planet wide proportion (McLuhan 1995, 249). While he succeeds in describing the effect of global media; in postulating an analogy with the human nervous system, McLuhan is arguably misleading about the cause. In fact, all media adapt themselves to the representation of feeling, through certain grammatical conventions, that function to approximate the empathic elements of non-verbal, face-to-face communication (gesture, expression, tone of voice, etc.). And it is the indexicality of visual and auditory media that allows for its planet-wide extension.

The ‘genre’ of news
The genre conventions of television news can be understood by the concept of news frames. The idea of News Frames defines television news, not as a factual presentation of important national or internation events, but as a discourse which emphasises similarities between the news genre and traditional storytelling in drama. News is organised like a narrative, with protagonists, antagonists, climaxes and resolutions (Street 2001, 36). Therefore it can be analysied according to the principles set down by Aristotle in his Poetics.

Analysis
According to the philosophy of feeling, the analysis must begin by identifying the tautology or tautologies that define the phenomenon. In this case, the tautology is: ‘trauma is traumatic’. Trauma being a similar feeling-pattern to grief, except that it lacks the traditional resolution in 'katharsis.' The feelings of 9/11 were traumatic because the genre and media convention of television news embedded a feeling-pattern of trauma into the broadcasts. For example, in the
soundtrack, through the use of actuality sound and human speech (especially the latter’s stresses, rhythms and involuntary sounds like screams, which are more important than the words in conveying the feeling of traume). Television visually conveys feelings of truame through showing reaction shots of people to the events unfoling at the scene, especially close ups of faces that tell the telelvision audience watching at home how they should feel about this event.

In 9/11, the grammar of television news continued to function despite the trauma, As Michael Schudson wrote:

September 11 blew the fuses of preconceived ideas about journalism and just about everything else. Journalists ran on instinct, on professionalism and they did their best to get the story (Schudson 2002, 39 - my emphasis)

 

Incentive moment
When the first plane hit the dominant emotion was denial…

9/11 screen grab - smoking north tower wtc

Fig. 11

 

"This just in, you are looking at…a… [sic] obviously a very disturbing live shot there. That is the world trade centre and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center"

CNN Headline News

Reversal of fortune and recognition
Then came the shock of realisation as the second plane hit…

9/11 screen grab - 2nd plane hits south tower

Fig. 12

 

"Screams, Oh god!… Oh my god! More screams" [Reporter] "hold it just a moment, people are running, hold on…" [News Anchor] "hold on just a moment we’ve got an explosion inside" [Reporter] "The building’s exploding right now, you’ve got people running…"

CNN Headline News

 

Scenes of suffering
Then came the scenes of suffering as the towers burned and then collapsed…

grieving witnesses wtc attacks

three people in the wtc dust

wtc victim

Fig. 13

Fig. 14

Fig. 15

 

Editing the narrative
Meaning is the basis of feeling in thought, therefore to communicate the meaning of 9/11, spectacle alone will not suffice.

2nd plane just about to hit south tower

2nd plane hits south tower explosion

WTC tower crumbles

Fig. 16

Fig. 17

Fig. 18

There must also be images of people reacting to the spectacle, that communicate the human cost. The inclusion of such images is what conveys the traumatic meaning of 9/11.

shocked witnesses WTC attacks

people running as tower crumbles

two survivors in the dust

Fig. 19

Fig. 20

Fig. 21

 

 

Combining the images of the attack gives a representation of the feeling-pattern of the 9/11 experience...

 

2nd plane just about to hit south tower

shocked witnesses WTC attacks

2nd plane hits south tower explosion

Fig. 16

Fig. 19

Fig. 17

WTC tower crumbles

people running as tower crumbles

two survivors in the dust

Fig. 18

Fig. 20

Fig. 21

injured man helped by fire services peter jennings, anchor with abc news ground zero

Fig. 33

Fig. 26

Fig. 34

 

 

If this grammar is familiar, it is not because of any symbolic overdetermination of the event itself, this is just the way that visual media represent the feeling-pattern of trauma. As NBC’s Katie Couric remarked "it looks like a movie" (ibid). 9/11 looked like a movie because many films take the same large-scale cataclysmic events as their themes as these images from Independence Day (1996) illustrate (Fig. 35).

 

independence day screen grab

independence day screen grab

independence day screen grab

independence day screen grab

independence day screen grab

independence day screen grab

independence day screen grab

independence day screen grab

independence day screen grab

 

Fig. 35

 

These images carry a powerful sense of authority. This is the sublime aspect of trauma. As Simon During pointed out, such images attempt to evoke an intensity of emotion in audiences so that reason gives way to faith (During: 2002, 28).

 

 

Sublime Discourse Malfunction
However, these conventions alone do not create the extraordinary impact of 9/11, since the nightly news is full of similar traumatic stories of human misery…

east asian tsunami

Rwandan genocide

somalia

Fig. 22

Fig. 23

Fig. 24

 

 

What made 9/11 especially traumatic, was that the very discourses of television news, that are supposed to contain such horror, started to break down…

 

 

Journalists could not make sense of what they were reporting…

screen grab of journalist on abc news

Fig. 25

 

 

"As a journalist, you know, you, you [sic] have to take yourself away from it and I'm not there yet and the more and more I see it and as time [pause] goes by [pause]"

Journalist identified as 'Evan'

 

News anchormen and women, who are famous for their calm demeanour, struggled to maintain their composure …

screen grab of peter jennings, abc news anchor

Fig. 26

 

 

"…modern technology allows us to see horror, just as we are able to see sport in a variety of different, speeds or in a variety of different speeds [sic] [pause] and I think you now have a a [sic] better appreciation than we have had up to now… "

Peter Jennings, ABC News

In newsrooms, the television pundits (experts) whose job is to put a safe contextualising frame around the story, were discarded, in preference to showing repeated shots of the second plane hitting the tower, again and again and again…

2nd plane hitting south tower

2nd plane hitting south tower

2nd plane hitting south tower

Fig. 27

Fig. 28

Fig. 29

2nd plane hitting south tower

2nd plane hitting south tower

2nd plane hitting south tower

Fig. 30

Fig. 31

Fig. 32

This compulsion to revisit the traumatic event, Freud termed it repetition compulsion (Freud, 1914, 150), is typical of the experience of trauma. "The coverage of the second plane hitting the tower was too much for some people, for others it somehow authenticated their experience" (Allen & Zelizer 2002, 4)

Allen and Zelizer documented how the priorities of news organisations were re-evaluated during 9/11. For example four major US networks agreed to pool resources, suspending their normal programme schedules to accommodate continuous coverage (ibid., 4 & 5). Also, cable and satellite stations, normally devoted to specialist entertainment formats, started broadcasting news feeds. And most extraordinarily of all, for two days commercials largely disappeared from the air, resulting in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars of advertising revenue (ibid.).

9/11 therefore presented a feeling-pattern of trauma that was felt by television audiences around the world. This is why images of the disaster had the ability to create such profound disquiet and agitation. Of course this was not the only reason. There was also the shattering of certain ideological assumptions, that such things could not happen in the U.S., and the feeling that America's loss belonged to the world. Perhaps because the mediated images of the twin towers were as familiar to some as landmarks in their own town. The shattering of these illusions had the effect for those people (me certainly) of amplifying the feeling-pattern of trauma into something more tangible. This can be likened to comforting someone who is bereft with grief, only to realise that you also knew the person she is mourning, and had done so for many years.

I want to stress, I am not asserting that the media embedded feeling-pattern of 9/11 was necessarily traumatic, for to do so would violate the second principle of the philosophy of feeling. And if this were true, we would have to judge Independence Day traumatic for the same reason. This underscores why the philosophy of feeling is not rhetoric, because the philosophy of feeling can only talk in general terms about feelings, and only when they are not attached to representations. Here we raise the problem of the ideological power of the indexical nature of a medium like television. For although there is no deterministic reason why an event should be interpreted in a certain way, there was a sense after 9/11 that it was not permissible to see it as anything other than a traumatic experience. For example the composer Karlheinz Sockhausen who called 9/11 "Lucifer's greatest work of art" was vilified in the media, and at least one of his concerts was cancelled as a result (Didcock 2005). People who disagreed with the received interpretation of 9/11, were wise to keep their opinions to themselves.

 


 

Case study 2, Shock & Awe

shock and awe cover

Fig. 36

The 'saga' of Shock & Awe began with this briefing document published by the National Defense University in December 1996. The authors were military strategists Harlan Ullman and James Wade. U.S. defence strategy in the Cold War was one of overwhelming force. But after the fall of communism in 1989 it had to be reassessed for budgetary reasons. The problem for the U.S. was how to maintain their global dominance? Shock & Awe was the answer. Generals had always understood the value of destroying an enemy’s will to fight. Shock and Awe would direct a massive offensive and thus, it was argued, the enemy could be defeated more quickly (and cheaply). As Ullman and Wade observe:

One recalls the comatose and glazed expressions of survivors of the great bombardments of World War I and the attendant horrors and death of trench warfare. These images and expressions of shock transcend race, culture, and history (Ullman & Wade, 1996).

However in March 2003, when the strategy was (allegedly) tried, (6) Shock & Awe was deemed to be a failure. The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments concluded:

Despite the initial ferocity of the coalition’s aerial bombardment, Operation Iraqi Freedom did not produce the prompt collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime. Indeed, in retrospect, if any group could be said to have been shocked and awed by the initial coalition air operations, it would be certain segments of the media (Krepinevich, 2003).

 

Analysis
Shock & Awe cannot be expressed as a single tautology, because its component emotions cannot occur simultaneously. ‘Shock is shocking’, which implies some element of extreme surprise as well as force, in other words the very strategy of Rapid Dominance itself. ‘Awe is awesome’, meaning that it is terrible and mighty. Therefore it is almost synonymous with the sublime, but not quite. For while the sublime is both a noun and an adjective, awe is only an adjective, in other words an effect.

Interestingly in this context, Stuart Ullman is quoted as saying, the phrase Shock & Awe was "not helpful" and that he prefer the British term, "Effects-based Operations" (Correll, 2003). This is ironic, given that these effects based operations were employed to realise the objectives of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’. Cancelling out the redundancy in terms results in ‘Effects-based Iraqi Freedom’, which just goes to show that military double-speak can be its own auto-critique.

If 9/11 is a model for the mediated sublime, then it is easy to see why Shock & Awe failed. There was no feeling-pattern of trauma in the coverage, no shocked and glazed expressions transcending time and history, for the images of the bombing consisted only of footage like this…
shock and awe bombing of baghdad

Fig. 37

Fig. 38

Fig. 39

In a nutshell, Shock and Awe was all empty spectacle and no feeling; consequently no meaning. The problem with Shock & Awe was not a lack of firepower, or resolve, but the fact that the television cameras were stationed on the wrong side of the Tigris River. This meant that television audiences were but distant spectators, as coalition airpower obliterated targets in and around Baghdad. Shock & Awe can be seen therefore as a typically effects-laden Hollywood blockbuster — all explosions and no plot.

If the strategists had really wanted to shock, they should have stationed cameras (remotely operated if necessary) at strategic points around Baghdad, in order to capture the necessary shocking images of Iraqis fleeing in terror, as well as the dead and wounded. Then the combination of spectacle and the human cost would have created the feeling-patterns of shock and awe, and therefore the desired effect.

However, in an age of smart bombs and surgical strikes, where war must be sanitised and casualties kept to a minimum, footage of dead people would have been somewhat ‘off message’. Indeed, General Tommy Franks chastised Al Jazeera for showing them (Tumber and Palmer 2004, 69). Ullman and Wade even voiced these concerns in their report. "The shortcoming.. is clear… This model can easily fall outside the cultural values of the U.S. for it to be useful" (Ullman and Wade 1996).

What this analysis has revealed is a fundamental clash of discourses, there is no precision targeting with shock and awe for it is the bluntest of blunt instruments. And consequently for the operation to have been a military success, it would have been deemed a political failure. Since the sanitised image of war is essential for the public sanctioning of war. The last thing the US administration wants, is images like this haunting our imaginations again.

Kim Phuc burned by naipalm in vietnam

Fig. 40

 

 

 


 

 

 

chapter 8 - conclusion

Summary
The sublime can be defined as an experience that so overwhelms the representational capacities of the mind, that it can only be intimated through feelings. These feelings are subsequently ‘objectified’ by the mind as the ‘sublime something’

This process reveals something of the ordinary working of the human mind: feelings and not objects or language are the true objects of thought, and meaning is the expression of feelings in thoughts. The logic of representation cannot help but conceive of phenomena ex post facto as being ‘objective’, but this itself does not justify the existence of objects outside of the logic of representation.

The philosophy of feeling has two basic principles:

1/ that feelings are universal

2/ there can be no deterministic relationship between feeling and representation.

Analysis of these principles revealed that feelings were structured in a converse way to thoughts. For example in the contemplation of paradoxes, feelings and not thoughts are produced, whilst in the contemplation of tautologies, thoughts and not feelings are produced.

There are also feelings of a more complex kind, called feeling-patterns. Grief, for example, produces a feeling-pattern that contains denial, shock, anger, negotiation and acceptance. All feelings are communicated by empathy, and in the case of feeling patterns, this communication is structured like a narrative.

Every communications medium adapts itself to expressing feelings. This is the media embedding of feeling patterns. The media coverage of 9/11 had the feeling pattern of a trauma, and hence was felt to be traumatic. The media coverage of Shock & Awe lacked the appropriate feeling-pattern, and so failed to meet the objectives stated in its title.

A multi-paradigmatic approach
Ours is no longer an age where we can assume a one paradigm-fits-all solution to the problems of existence — in fact especially if that paradigm is based on feelings and not logic (This is because being dogmatic about one’s own feelings is the root of prejudice).

On the other hand admitting the possibility of the coexistence of different paradigms, is what begins the process of theoretical cohabitation and mutual tolerance of a truly globalised existence — such utopias should at least be theoretically possible. Therefore the philosophy of feeling works for, not against the logic of representation. The philosophy of feeling and the logic of representation, (7) although apparently contradictory in principle, co exist in actuality without cancelling each other out — this is demonstrably true, for otherwise human beings would not endure. To accept this is a bit like contemplating a paradox, but without the attendant feeling of mental agitation. I think that this intimates a wholly new conception of the sublime fit for our age, but right now it is only a feeling.

 

 

 


 

 

 

IMAGES

Cover image: The Expulsion from Eden, Artist unknown, URL = http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/frankenstein/frank_modern_2.html

Fig. 1 Album cover for Party Music (2001) by the Coup, URL = http://www.sujee.net/albums/2001/world_trade_center_attack/tn/flexon_tower.jpg.html

Fig. 2 Flexon Advertisement (2001) by Precision Eye Care, URL = http://www.sujee.net/albums/2001/world_trade_center_attack/tn/pop_cover.jpg.html

Fig. 3 In the Shadow of No Towers (2003) by Art Spiegelman, URL = http://www.graphicnovels.brodart.com/dont_overlook_august_2004.htm

Fig. 4 Happy aboriginal IMG_0401_aussie_aboriginal.jpg, URL = http://www.rugzakreis.com/wereld-gezichten.htm

Fig. 5 Children from the Akha1 tribe - Laoshttp://www.losviajeros.com/elviajero/
fotos2/laos/index.php?fn=akha1

Fig. 6 U.S. soldier, Iraqhttp://www.oldmencrying.com/images/iraq_ussoldier1 2.jpeg

Fig. 7 African children http://www.transom.org/shows/2001/200112.shows.africa.photos.html

Fig. 8 U.S. infantryman, Korean War http://www.voicesinwartime.org/
VoicesInWartime/Film/PressKit/Images/Grief-stricken_American_infantryman.jpg

Fig. 9 Iraqi woman http://www.voicesinwartime.org/VoicesInWartime/Film/
PressKit/Images/crying_iraqi_woman.jpg

Fig. 10 Tetons Snake River, photographer Ansel Adams URL = http://pda.lenta.ru/culture/
2004/10/12/photos/ [accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 11 9/11, CNN Headline News [screen grab 29/4/05]

Fig. 12 9/11, CNN Headline News [screen grab 29/4/05]

Fig. 13 9/11, wtc25.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 14 9/11, wtc55crop.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 15 9/11, wtc20crop.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 16 9/11, Mvc-018s.jpg URL = http://homepage.mac.com/a4x4er/PhotoAlbum1.html

Fig. 17 9/11, TOWER1_IMPACT.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/
[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 18 9/11,colapse2 2.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 19 9/11, B8E17AEBA-D293.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/
[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 20 9/11, 13.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 21 9/11 wtc5.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 22 Asian Tsunami, 1104423420_3963.jpg URL = http://graphics.boston.com
:80/bonzai-fba/AP_Photo/2004/12/30/1104423420_3963.jpg[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 23 genocide.rwanda11.jpg URL = http://www.usafricaonline.com/genocide.rwanda11.jpg

Fig. 24 somalia.gif URL = http://www.treaty.org/ifst_graphics/media/somalia.gif

Fig. 25 ABC news, 11/9/01 screen grab 1 [accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 26 ABC news, 11/9/01 screen grab 2 [accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 27 9/11, CNN, 11/9/01 screen grab 1 URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/
[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 28 9/11, 1041288.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 29 9/11, Fox News, wtc9.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 30 9/11, NBC News, hcwwtv12.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/br>[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 31 ABC news, 11/9/01 screen grab 2 [accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 32 CNN, wtc3.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 33 9/11, wtc12.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 34 9/11, wtc26.jpg URL = http://ftp.die.net/mirror/wtc/images/[accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 35 Independence Day, screen grabs, (1996) Dir. Roland Emmerich, 20th Century Fox
[accessed 27/4/05]

Fig. 36 Shock & Awe, Cover, URL = NDU Press Book, 1996, URL = http://www.ndu.edu/
inss/books/ [accessed 15/11/04]

Fig. 37 Shock & Awe _38992681_hugesmoke300afp.jpg http://www.ic.sunysb.edu/clubs/efa/downloads.htm [accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 38 Shock & Awe, a-day-shock-and-awe.jpeg [accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 39 Shock & Awe, _38992813_203b_compound_afp.jpg http://www.ic.sunysb.edu/clubs/
efa/downloads.htm [accessed 29/4/05]

Fig. 40 Vietnam Kim Phuc.jpg http://www.doublestandards.org/kimphuc.html [accessed 29/4/05]

 

 

 


 

 

 

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APPENDIX END NOTES

1/ two apologies for Jouissance:  
  i. Shortly after the World Trade Center towers collapsed on September 11, the Coup's leader, Boots, was informed by execs at his record company that he'd need to change the cover of his group's fourth album. "In the end, I made the decision," Boots said. "Two hours after the thing happened, we got the call saying, 'OK, you've got to have another album cover. No discussion.' That was it. It was one of the first things that I saw in a series of censorship things." (Source: ="http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/")

 

revised cover for party music by the coup

 

  ii. "Precision Eye Care regrets the unfortunate advertisement that appeared in North Shore Today depicting a tall building and an airplane. Please be assured that this advertisement was part of a marketing plan that was designed months ago and placed in the magazine several weeks prior to the tragedy. It was mailed out several days prior and arrived at most destinations the morning of the tragedy. We deeply regret if this caused anguish to anyone and would like the public to know that we are deeply saddened by the events of the last several days." (Source: "www.breakthechain.org/exclusives/flexon.html"). [back to document]

 

2/ The roles of A and B in my imaginary story correspond roughly with Peirce's Quasi-utterer and a Quasi-interpreter. Quasi here designated Peirce's insistence that these 'minds' did not necessarily have to be human, or even what we would call a mind. For example he says that a kind of semiosis is identifiable in the hives of bees and in crystal formations (CP 4.551). Of the two minds, Peirce states, "[S]igns require at least two Quasi-minds; a Quasi-utterer and a Quasi-interpreter; and although these two are at one (i.e., are one mind) in the sign itself, they must nevertheless be distinct. In the Sign they are, so to say, welded. Accordingly, it is not merely a fact of human Psychology, but a necessity of Logic, that every logical evolution of thought should be dialogic" (CP 4.551).  [back to document]

 

3/ The title from Jameson's (1972) book The Prison House of Language is seemingly pulled from the following epigram attributed to Nietzsche: "We have to cease to think if we refuse to do it in the prison-house of language; for we cannot reach further than the doubt which asks whether the limit we see is really a limit. ..." Lovekin discovered that Jameson's quotation is taken from Erich Heller's (1963) essay "Wittgenstein and Nietzsche" in which Heller provides a quite loose and poetic translation of Nietzscheís actual words from The Will To Power, Aphorism 522 (Lovekin, 1991, 209). [back to document]

 

4/ The philosophy of feeling has great importance in respect to the discipline of media studies. For too long media studies has been content to borrow theories from elsewhere. This means that if the theory is disproved, the attitude of the media scholar is one of a disillusioned acolyte, rather than a disappointed practitioner. These periodic losses of confidence have produced a somewhat fragmentation approach to the subject that I personally believe is detrimental.  [back to document]

 

5/ It should always be called 9/11 and not September 11. As Derrida pointed out, September 11 is just a date (Derrida, www). And written as a tautology 'September 11 = September 11' means just a day in history. Whereas '9/11= 9/11' connotes a sense of emergency, since 911 is the phone number for the emergency services in the United States. Thus, September 11 was an U.S. based emergency and as such not merely a day in history, but because of the U.S.'s domination of military, economic and cultural power, it was also a world changing event.  [back to document]

 

6/ I say allegedly because officials were somewhat coy about admitting that the Baghdad bombing was shock and awe (Correll 2003). This, despite the fact that certain unnamed Washington sources had been hyping the event for months previously (ibid.).  [back to document]

 

7/ I know that some people will object to the philosophy of feeling on the grounds that it feels somewhat slippery. But all the philosophy of feeling can do by way of criticising the logic of representation is to express a feeling about it, which isn't a critique of course, merely the basis for one. In this way if there ever are any practitioners of the philosophy of feelings, they should be like detectives, always listening to their hunches and acting on them but all the time searching for clues, since it is evidence and not hunches that will ultimately prove the case in court.  [back to document]