The Berlin conference
In this presentation I examine the use of layers of emotions and their presence in the work of the artist. The emotions should be understood in this presentation as multidimensional relations that connect different social and cultural relations to each other. This is demonstrated for example by the feelings of togetherness of people belonging to different social groups. It is a matter of the presence of simultaneousness of complex experiences. They can be approached from the point of view of layers by contemplating, how emotions are present, form the basis for creation of meanings in art.
Although the concept I use, archaeology of emotions as the starting point of artistic work refers to Michael Foucalt’s method of archaeology of knowledge, it is deeply connected to the pragmatic view about the continuity of man in the environment. The archaeology of emotions is only indicatively analogical with Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge, but its basic principles can be concluded from the description and recognition of same kind of layers relating to emotions, that Foucault includes in statements and discourses. Foucault’s reflections of knowledge as archaeological layers do not emphasize exploration or drilling as a metaphor, but the grouping of discourse layers. In this presentation I am trying to justify the construction of art on emotional layers.
Emotions and embodiment
Emotions are not private, instead they always require something outside self to connect to. Emotions belong to self, who is worried about the course of events towards something that is either liked or not liked. Flinching out of fear is changed to an emotional fear, when an object is found or assumed, that must be solved or fled from (Dewey 1958, 42).
All experiences have common features, even if the experiences would be however different in contents and details. All experiences are nonetheless an interaction between a living organism and some part of the outside world. All experiences have a regular way of being realized and a structure (Dewey 1980, 43-44).
The scope of meanings connected with experiential emotions cannot necessarily be articulated precisely. Emotions are the consciousness of the body. At the same time they are parts of a system of wider consciousness of the body. The consciousness process: “what has been done and what must be done” forms according to Dewey the final result of an interactive relation, which is an intellectual work. The artist is controlled in the work process by his understanding of what has been done and what should be done next. In this sense the conception that the artist does not think as appropriately and thoroughly as a scientist, is absurd. The painter must consciously go through the effect of every brushstroke or he cannot understand what he is doing and the direction his work is changing to. An artist examines through his experiential emotions the work’s production process (Dewey 1980, 43-44).
A bodily experience can mean an event, where no separation whatsoever is made between the experiencer or man and the environment. In experience man is always both the active and passive party, both an actor and a target. Experience is “a conduit”, through which man is an inseparable part of the world. Experience does not hide or distort the existing world, but reveals it – but not in its totality but exactly with regard to these events, which simultaneously are connected to other experiences in the past and in the continuity of the future (Järvilehto 1991, 47, 89).
The principle of continuity contains the notion, that experience should not be regarded as an isolated and distinct event, but always in relation with the past and future experiences. According to Dewey the principle of continuity is connected with an important concept: habit. Habit means an actor’s more or less fixed course of action, that man acts and reacts to certain events in a given way (Dewey 1980, 45-46).
According to Dewey experiences modify the habits of man and thereby define all subsequent experiences. Every new experience is based on previous experiences and has an effect on the quality of future experiences. “Man lives in the world” means according to Dewey concretely, that man lives in a sequence of situations. A situation consists both of the active and passive factors of experience. Of the experiencer self with his habits, and other people and events, that are present in the respective experience. The internal and external cannot be separated, but they have according to the principle of interaction a dimension of the same value in experience. Thus experience is not private, an event belonging only to the individual self, but it is a combination between the experiencer and the environment. Every genuine experience has an active side, which to some extent changes those objective circumstances, where the experience has been received. Dewey mentions arts, tools like social meanings as effective tracks of experience that have a further influence on our subsequent experiences (Dewey 1980, 178).
Individuality against this background is by nature only a possibility, which is realized in interaction with the surrounding conditions. In its interaction with the environment self is formed and consciousness is developed. No work of art or experience would come into existence, if the actions of man would be self-sufficient, autonomous, and without the dynamics of the complex interaction of the environment (Dewey 1980, 289).
Art and the archaeology of emotions
Art is connected to a wider context of life, which forms the background of its meanings, where the interpretative contents of art can be placed. The position of uninterestedness and autonomy, built around the art with modernism, has gradually lost its significance with postmodern thinking. Instead an art concept emphasizing pluralism and interactivity has been formed. In the same way the thinking models aiming to pluralism in society have taken art’s concept of diversity into use. With the help of art concept one can manifest the possibility of the culture to modify and express its diversity and order of values based on interpretation. Art is metaphorically a pluralistic area of uncertainty.
As mentioned above, Dewey argues that an interactive continuity belongs to the structure of life. Life exists in the environment, not only inside a subject but in interaction with it. No creature lives only inside its skin. The organs beneath the skin of the creature are means and methods of being connected with the challenges outside the bodily framework of the creature. In order to survive and live the creature must adjust itself to the environment through adaptation and defence, but also through conquest. A living creature is at every moment exposed to the dangers of its environment, and every moment it must take something from the environment in order to satisfy its needs (Dewey 1958, 13).
Emotions and knowledge
Emotions affect our functional capacity. They are multi-level phenomena that describe the interactive processes between the environment and the experiencer. The possibilities provided by operational situations or threats associated with them evoke in us emotions that guide our actions and behaviour. Emotions direct our resources in relation with the challenges of the environment in a way that can be to our advantage or disadvantage. Emotions are an integral and inseparable part of the loop of consciousness, through which man is capable to operate in his environment (Järvilehto 1995, 89).
The traditional thinking based on dualism has separated emotions and reason from each other. They have been placed to different sides of the brain, reason on the left and emotions on the right hemisphere. Different facets of emotions have also been positioned in the brains more specifically, like hate to the amygdala and love to the thalamus. In this way of separation it has remained unclear, what and what kind of creatures knowledge and emotions are and what is actually meant by different kinds of emotions.
The separation of knowledge and emotion and their placement on fixed positions in the brain means physiologically that they are autonomous. But what does this physiological autonomy mean? Physiologically it means that emotions and reason can be localized in the brain as part areas of their own and thus in the totality of the interaction between man and environment. (ibid.)
But we can also take another point of view. Emotions and knowledge are parts of the same cognitive process between man and environment. Seen from this perspective one can find in the brain neurons, glial cells, different kinds of liquids, chemicals etc. Knowledge and emotion are not descriptions of the functioning of the neurons and the brain, but they are related to the actor, the person who knows and feels in given operational environments (ibid, 96).
The operational environment is that loop of emotion formation, through which and by which emotions are constructed. In other words knowledge and emotion are not to be found in the brain. Knowledge and emotion are related to the actor; to the totality of man and environment, which always refers to the whole system (ibid.)
Human emotions can be viewed examplewise in those operational situations, where emotions are most visible. Emotions emerge when the relation between man and environment is unbalanced. In a wider sense this means the connection points of the networks of different social relations and their tension that is discharged into the loop (Dewey 1980, 23).
Socially important events evoke in individuals multidimensional emotions. In social events meet connections of background emotions that are constructed in multiple layers. Background emotions arise from superindividual historical processes, through which our humanity as a social being is created. Humans carry with them experiences of past generations through which their own social history has been formed.
Historical processes, social tensions that create the social spatiality of operational environments, have emerged through different interactions. We learn to react to things through emotional responses or experiences that fit the environment. In the background of autobiographical emotional experiences there is a combination of whole cultural background traditions in a same operational environment. These operational environments are always constructs of miscellaneous and often contradictory aggregates.
Constructiveness of emotions
The structure of emotional layers can be divided in the following way:
- Common development history of a life form
- Collective background history of social development
- Shared cognition of contemporary history
- Common habits and customs (which construct the ability of deep emotions to work in the same operational environment)
- Social relations of immediate surroundings
The development of emotions to be shared within a species requires a common evolution. In this development process those general physiological boundary conditions, characteristic to the species, are formed, and they create possibilities to the common activities of the species. The human capability to complex social interactions is one example of the evolutionary development of our species in relation to the versatile capability of emotions to transmit responses to the environmental relation. The emotional capability acts as the instrument of social activity between humans.
The collective background history of social development is created by a common cultural process. Humans are born and they grow within a given realm of cultural domain. As a matter of fact, the cultural evolution does not require a replicator like the gene, but it is quite enough, if the process is hereditary (in the sense that in can pass on from one generation to the next) and contains variation and selection. Cultural processes are well up to these criteria. (Richerson & Boyd, 2006, 46).
The forms of cultural activity create those commonly shared customs, appropriate for the environment, through which the activity of individuals as cultural actors is formed. Culture develops in a similar manner as the organic nature in general: through evolution, small changes and cumulative selections.
Culture is transferred from one individual to others through action. The knowledge of how things are done is transmitted by imitation and by repeating the operation in the same way over and over again in the same operational context together with others. There are two kinds of guided cultural change, permanent and selective. The culture is transferred from one individual to others in the way that they attempt to transmit all their cultural views and knowledge. People select from these and other information from the environment the most appropriate ways of operation that can be commonly shared and understood. In addition there are various random factors, such as inventions made by individuals or the disappearance of management of some skill.
The change is not only a matter of skills but also habits. These cultural solutions or changes then spread like natural selection in the population according to how advantageous or disadvantageous they are to their carriers (ibid 55-58). Culture is in other words a cumulative adaptation in the way that previous cultural features are not replaced by new ones, but new is built on top of them.
The shared cognition of contemporary history is formed from the knowledge of the above social background factors or common cultural meanings. The cultural knowledge of commonly understood meanings is created by integration through interaction. The cultural environment builds the human emotional capability to produce appropriate and consistent emotions to the prevailing contemporary operational environment. People acting in a similar way form a cultural neural network, which reacts as one great organism to the established habits inside the culture and their changes. In other words, the commonly shared forms of cultural activities form a common operation network, shared by everyone.
The practices, homogeneous to all, guarantee that one can take part in common activity by following the rules. By abiding by the rules operational fields enable participation and interaction. At the same time the conventions shape and organize the deep feelings to react according to the conventional needs of the environment. Action guides people to form sort of automatically appropriate emotions to different operational environments. Emotions do not have to be separately thought up to be appropriate for the action, but the body is adapted to operate with proper emotional responses. If this process fails, an imbalance is created and the action is disturbed and contradictions are formed that complicate the operation in the environment.
Power and emotions
There is power everywhere. It is behavioural and assessing routines, established habits of action. From this point of view the established habits of action guide the process of human social organization. Social principles do not “hang in the air”, they are firmly embodied in the social and psychological factors. As social individuals we have a natural need to adjust ourselves to the changing environmental conditions and thereby to try to act socially rationally in a given social environment.
Man and environment are not two separate and independent systems, but they belong together and form only one system, man(creature)–environment system. Understanding of man and environment as parts of the same whole is the starting point, where human action can be understood and explained as part of a larger whole, and not just as an individual making selections (Järvilehto 1993, 23).
The German sociologist Norbert Elias uses the term Civilizing process. Man is a part of some great whole, which shapes the essence of man to correspond to the civilization. It is this point of view where the thinking of Foucault and Elias coincide. Foucault’s critique of the limits of knowledge of the enlightenment’s tradition agrees with Elias’s concept of knowledge producing nature of civilization.
“If the Kantian question was that of knowing the limits knowledge has to renounce transgressing, it seems to me that the critical question today has to be turned back into a positive one: in what is given to us as universal, necessary, obligatory, what place is occupied by whatever is singular, contingent, and the product of arbitrary constraint.”
All current activity is based on earlier activity. Activity, which is based on historically transmitted and here and now actuating present, where reality gets its form as activity. When our relation to the historically transmitted tradition changes, it affects the immediate activity that takes place here and now.
With regard to emotions this means, that the unity of earlier experiences is unwound as a network of experiences. As a network, where the presence of power and social pressure is an integral part of the structure of being realized as a human being. Man is thereby the result of social totality, where the historically actively transmitted configurations and structures of meanings are localized. John Dewey formulated the fact of cultural transmission of experience in 1925 in his work Experience and Nature:
“But this experience is already overlaid and saturated with the products of the reflection of past generations and by-gone ages. It is filled with interpretations, classifications, due to sophisticated thought, which have become incorporated into what seems to be fresh, naïve empirical material. It would take more wisdom than is possessed by the wisest historic scholar to track all of these absorbed borrowings to their original sources.”
So Dewey thinks that the essential task of reflection is to be aware of these cultural layers intertwined in the immediate experience. They can be an obstacle to rational activity, a prejudice that guides activity, and an expression and carrier of past conditions. But when recognized and critically modified they can become means of enrichment of thought and activity. Observing and experiencing the environment takes place with the help of concepts and conventions formed and developed in a given action, context or environment. They guide the perception and with their help is interpreted and generalized what is seen and what is considered important and problematic.
This is a translation of Berliinin konferenssix