Modulating Appetite

From Mary Wyman’s 1960 book on Whitehead is this example of creativity as part of a general process of concrescence (as becoming):

This actualization of potentiality as an ingredient in something real might be illustrated by the experience of Otto Lilienthal, pioneer inventor of the flying glider. Process here is obviously considered on a scale of some magnitude. The initial stage for him may be his preoccupation with winged creatures and their manner of flight—the inflow of the material world. The potentiality of the past probably includes for him also inherited mechanical and engineering ability. As process continues, we may imagine his concepts of gravity, equilibrium, and control intermingling with his observations on the flying of birds, possibly in part derived from them. The lure, which guides the how of feeling, would seem to be particularly associated with Lilienthal’s novel belief in the superiority of a curved rather than a flat surface for the flight of machines heavier than air. Here also the element of contrast is introduced. A driving urge or purpose, which we ascribe to the persuasive power of the lure is intensified by contrasts, and results in the satisfaction of producing a flying glider covering distances up to 1000 feet. The glider then as a novelty passes into objective immortality; but its value in a material world has been chiefly its lure to further progress in the evolving of the airplane. (23-24)

She later describes the general dimensions of this process using Whitehead’s philosophy terminology:

In expressing a subject’s concern for a selected portion of the universe, the term feeling is synonymous with positive prehension or the appriation of data to serve as components of a subject’s concresence, the growing together of its formative elements in the process of becoming. Important too is a negative prehension that eliminates incompatible elements from feeling. It should already be clear that feelings, in accordance with the idea of physical and mental poles in an occasion, may be physical; arising through the senses from the actual world, or conceptual, involving ideas derived from the actual world. Often a combination of the two types of prehension, and is called by Whitehead hybrid or impure. Examples of conceptual feeling are appetition and valuation: the first, awakening purpose and allied with God’s immanence in the world, he has described as “an urge toward the future based on an appetite in the present.” Valuation is the subjective form or how of feeling, which in its decisions, purposeful or otherwise may increase or diminish intensity. Consciousness comes with intensity of feeling, with a comparison of what may be with what is not, or with a yes or no judgment on a proposition. The union of physical and conceptual prehensions is seen comparative feelings, where the datum to be entertained as a lure for feeling may be a theory or a proposition. Feelings or prehensions of whatever type are subject to the persuasive power of the lure, and are causal links in the successive phases of concresence that should end in satisfaction. Feeling is thus a central factor in the process of becoming. (28)

The relation between Lilienthal’s earth-bound existance and that of flight is the relation between two milieus. Lilienthal’s apprehension of the technical function of the curved bird’s wing is derived through a creative process of discovery; what Michael Polanyi described in the context of  exploration practices as the “daring anticipation of reality”. For Whitehead the curvature of the bird’s wing and its translation into technical knowledge represents the process of concrescence whereby the ‘eternal object’ of the curved wing is potentialised in practice. In Deleuzian philosophy Whitehead’s ‘eternal objects’ are instead termed ‘singularities’. Milieus that are integral to the process of individuation, which in this case is the individuation of the technical object of a glider and the technical knowledge of gliding as a practice of flight, Gilbert Simondon calls “associated milieus”. An aesthetics of the composition of singularities that can be ‘immortalised’ as objective technical knowledge is premised on the intermingling in experience of ‘feelings’ from one milieu to another. I am interested in the way knowledge is developed through the creation of relations between milieus and the function in the contemporary era of media assemblages to facilitate (or constrain) such relations. Compositions of tacit and explicit knowledge commonly circulate in everyday life through various genres of media content.

Whitehead’s “lure of feeling” serves as what Deleuze calls “quasi-cause” for a current action implicated in a future event that is nevertheless already happening, such as the intermingling in experience of the future event of flight. The process of concrescence or individuation proceeds according to a complex virtual architecture of such ‘lures’. I am interested in the polical economy in the niche or subcultural media for the (re)presentation of material dimensions of such events. A great deal of enthusiast practice is mobilised through the presentation of ritualised (and therefore valorised) events that produce a relation between one milieu, for example belonging to the suburban garage, and the event(s) of an associated milieu, such as the event ‘to race’ of the milieu belonging to the racetrack.

The relations between milieus are necessarily transversal in character. There is no direct correspondence between actions belonging to bodies of different events except through a conceptual or theoretical valuation of the ‘feelings’ that belong to each of the milieus. This is a complex ever-shifting exchange of causality between the present and the future (recently dramatised, for example, in Looper). Ultimately, what is at stake is not the recognition of value as per the practices of judgement associated with the sociology of taste developed by Pierre Bourdieu, but the actualisation of value as a creative practice through as aesthetics of technical practice. The condition of possibility for judgement, where judgement is still an essential element in this process of valuation, is appetite. By turning to Whitehead it is possible to finally do away with the notion of disinterested interest (inherited from Kant). Appetition for Whitehead is not a quality of the sensuous or necessarily affective character of bodies, but the joining of a physical state of affairs (hunger, thirst, restlessness of an earth-bound body) with a conceptual prehension (to eat, to drink, to fly). Spinoza is clear on this; from Ethics:

When this striving is related only to the mind, it is called will; but when it is related to the mind and body together, it is called appetite. This appetite, therefore, is nothing but the very essence of man, from whose nature there necessarily follow those things that promote his preservation. And so man is determined to do those things.

Between appetite and desire there is no difference, except desire is generally related to men insofar as they are conscious of the appetite. So desire can be defined as Appetite together with consciousness of the appetite.

From all this, then, it is clear that we neither strive for, nor will, neither want, nor desire anything because we judge it to be good; on the contrary, we judge something to be good because we strive for it, will it, want it, and desire it. (III P9 S)

Specialist media circulate cultural capital not for the pursposes of mobilising judgement, although this is certainly a consquence, but for the commercial advantages of modulating appetite. The shift from print-based media to online web-based and platform-based media has affected the composition of relations between milieus, the character of knowledge that can be circulated, and the capacity to modulate the aspirational ‘active’ affects of enthusiasts mobilised to engage with the purpose of events as they populate a given scene. The Code2012 paper I am currently woking on finishing discusses the impact of the democratisation of practices of valorisation in the mobilisation of enthusiasts.

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