Brian Massumi “The Thinking-Feeling of What Happens” 3
1.1 “How is Research-Creation?” (May 2008) www.inflexions.org
something as mundane as decorative motif. The idea that there is such a thing as fixed form isactually as much an assumption about perception as it is an assumption about art. It assumesthat vision is not dynamic – that it is a passive, transparent registering of something that is just there, simply and inertly. If vision is stable, then to make art dynamic you have to addmovement. But if vision is already dynamic, the question changes. It’s not an issue of movement or no movement. The movement is always there in any case. So you have to makedistinctions between kinds of movement, kinds of experiential dynamics, and then ask what difference they
In what way is there movement in vision? Your bringing up decorative motif in this connection makes me think of an author of interest in both of us, the philosopher of art Suzanne Langer. Are you referring to her theories of perceptual movement in art?
: Exactly. Langer reminds us that we see things we don’t
see. We all know it, but we tend to brush it off by calling it an illusion, as if something is happening that isn’t real, anddoesn’t have anything important to say about experience. But isn’t
the very definition of real? The question is: what exactly does the inconvenient reality that we seethings we don’t actually see say about the nature of perception? Well, it changes everything.Langer starts from the simple example of the kind of spiralling, vegetal motifs you see in a lot of traditional decorative arts. She states the obvious: we don’t see spirals, we see spirall
. We see a
the design. That’s what it is to see a motif. The formsaren’t moving, but we can’t not see movement when we look at them. That could be anotherdefinition of real: what we can’t not experience when we’re faced with it. Instead of calling it an illusion – this movement we can’t actually see but can’t not see either – why not just call it abstract? Real and abstract. The reality of this abstraction doesn’t replace what’s actually there. It supplements it. We see it
the actual form. It
from theactual form. The actual form is like a launching pad for it. We wouldn’t see the movement without the actual design being there, but if we only saw an actual design we wouldn’t beseeing what it is we’re seeing – a motif. The actual form and the abstract dynamic are twosides of the same experiential coin. They’re inseparable; they’re fused, like two dimensionsof the same reality. We’re seeing double.