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Ugly Feelings

Started by droqen, November 06, 2022, 02:39:49 AM

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Wow, I'm struggling with this chapter. I've read the first ten pages but my mind is not finding anything to quite grab ahold of - what IS tone? I have to back it up and reread it more carefully. What is Ngai's tone? It's possible it's not something I agree with, but I also don't think I fully grasp the description of it in the first place -- maybe a whole description has not even been given yet. Parsing this chapter reminds me of my time reading through the Nemesis [system] patent (which I did for Tic-Tac-Crow): actual statements are riddled with fragmenting distractions that make it hard to grasp the singular idea which is being put forth.


Quote from: p39[In the case of a body such as the stock market which is sensitive to affective factors,] a panic "contrived by artful alarmists" can generate repercussions identical to those of a genuine panic [..] Such "spurious" emotions and their real effects[.]

Quote from: Webster's 1913Spurious
Not proceeding from the true source, or from the source pretended; not genuine; false[.]


Quote from: p40[Melville's book] The Confidence-Man might be described as an exploration of the new emotional economy produced by the general migration of "trust" from personal relationships to abstract systems, [..which] becomes predominantly preoccupied with how "confidence" and other feelings might be artfully created.
[..F]eeling slips in and out of subjective boundaries, at times becoming transformed into psychic property, but at other times eluding containment.

I think I have a better understanding of why Ngai goes so hard on this book -- but, seriously, I don't think I'm going to read it, even if it is a central facet of her definition of tone. (It's a whole book!) Tone is somewhat about feeling, but understanding tone vs feeling requires some understanding of these "subjective boundaries". A feeling that I have may be psychic property (i.e. the property of one psyche (e.g. mine)), while tone may "elud[e] containment" (i.e. not belong to one psyche but rather some inhuman or superhuman body). The question I hope Ngai answers, and I suspect she will try, is to whom or what does tone belong? If it is not psychic property, then it is what form of property? No-one's? The collective's?


I ought to say that my worry is Ngai will go on to make some claim that tone is an objective property without properly exploring what objectiveness is; but I will carry on supposing that my phenomenal understanding of objectiveness as collective subjectiveness will bear fruit in the end, as it aligns so well with Ngai's phrase repeated in the introduction and on a later page in this chapter, "holistic matrix."


Quote[The] "attitudes" [I. A. Richards, in Practical Criticism,] classifies under "Feeling" apply specifically to "the state of affairs" created by the poem, whereas those classified under "Tone" apply to the relationship between the speaker and the implied listener--as if the latter relation could be neatly separated from the former, which is often not the case.

My interpretation of this passage is that Ngai is presenting the idea that "the state of affairs (mental, emotional)" created by a work are (often) impossible to detangle from "the relationship between the speaker and the implied listener," and that this is relevant to her understanding of Tone. In a later sentence (same page) she criticizes "The tendency to divorce emotion from tone" by "formalists".


There is much more explicit countering and criticism of similar attempts to remove emotion from tone. The point I see Ngai making, interrupted by references which a more well-read tone scholar might be able to appreciate more than I can, is that emotion cannot be removed from tone.

I won't quote any particular examples but it's interesting to have Ngai handing me all these weapons against a common resistance that people seem to have against acknowledging the existence of emotion in tone.


Right, here's where Ngai starts to define tone, to lay it out, in a way that gets objective and starts to lose me... but she avoids using the word "objective" herself (yet?)
Quote from: p43[..] by "tone" I mean [..] the formal aspect of a work that has made it possible for critics of all affiliations [..] to describe a work or class of work as "paranoid", "euphoric", or "melancholic"; and, much more importantly, the formal aspect that enables these affective values to become significant with regard to how each critic understands the work as a totality within an equally holistic matrix of social relations.

This I am down with, but other quotes from other writers are as follows (unattributed, p44-45, i'm lazy)

QuoteThe mood of a landscape appears to us as objectively given [..] the mood belongs to our total impression of the landscape and can only be distinguished as one of its components by a process of abstraction

Hmm. Now that I read this closely I like that the phrasing is not "the mood is objectively given" but that "the mood appears to us as objectively given." It does leave a significant and important amount of room for me to see this quote as not making a statement that an object's mood is objective, but rather noting the common inclination to perceive it as objective. This is more in line with Ngai's earlier discussion of projectile adjectives (see: introduction), where people use adjectives to in some sense hide their own emotions within other objects, as if their emotions belong to those objects rather than themselves.


Really good precise exploration of aesthetic here, I was hooked by these quotes

Quote from: p45-46"[..] in which the factor of significance is not logically discriminated, but is felt as a quality rather than recognized as a function[20]" (FF, 32, Langer)
"Affect is .. a-signifying .. But this does not mean that affect is some ineffable experience or a purely subjective feeling." (OTP, 80, Grossman)

I still need to chew on footnote 20 (page 364) but I understand what is being said and excited to dig in more.
My understanding of the value of a-signifying is that a piece of a work of art is not necessarily signifying something, it is evoking a feeling or part of evoking a feeling, whereas most criticism and analysis seems [obsessed] with noticing SIGNS


This was, is, a useful practice for improving reading comprehension, but I should try reading without writing. See you at the end of tone...

Will not taking notes mean I forget everything?


There are so many thoughts leaping out at me from these pages.

I never quoted that footnote. Let's just do that.

Quote from: p364, footnote 20Langer rejects a privileging of "medium" as the criterion for distinguishing the various arts [..] their specificity resides less in the materials or techniques "used" than in the nature of the "primary illusion" or semblance (Schein) that each art creates: "virtual time" in the case of music, "virtual memory" in the case of narrative fiction, and so on.

My friend who created the soundtrack for HANDMADEDEATHLABYRINTH issue 0 once quoted to me that music "decorates time"... I wonder if this is related. If paintings and other works of art "decorate space" or create virtual images, and music "decorates time" or creates "virtual time"... that is, if these are in some sense the primary illusion (does music create the illusion or semblance of time, or does it decorate it? curious), it raises the question--which I shall here intentionally not even attempt to answer--what is the "primary illusion" of the mediums in which I work? What is the "semblance" which I...

Hmm. Beyond than the materials or techniques with which I am familiar, let me ask- to what end do I use them, to what end do I wish to use them, to what end can I use them? What illusions and semblances can my art create? What virtual things?


It occurred to me last night that I have not read or given much attention to serious art analysis or criticism, and ugly feelings is my window into it. Contrasting with Sicart's Against Procedurality, a work of literature may be analyzed as a relatively standalone object. Sicart discusses how procedurality is focused on the way meaning is (formally) "expressed, communicated to, and understood by a player" by the game, and proposes a more "player-centric approach" which prizes the player's play, and a sense (I argue in the AP thread) erasing the designer.

Ngai's tone appears to presume that a work of art is an object that might contain tone, some sort of pseudosingular tone. I need to keep reading to get to the end of it and develop my own feelings, but taking Sicart's player-centric lens, where lives tone in the player-centric played game? Where live those formal yet human elements?



Quote from: p76tone is a feeling which is perceived rather than felt and whose very nonfeltness is perceived
Quote from: p71Langer: "It takes precision of thought not to confuse an imagined feeling, or a precisely conceived emotion that is formulated in a perceptible symbol, with a feeling or emotion actually experienced in response to real events."

Taken together I am very interested in how this relates to the human ability to empathize, specifically, to model another human's psychic state and comprehend or relate to it. Is the 'confusion' described simply automatic empathy? An 'imagined' feeling which is confused with a feeling or emotion 'actually experienced in response to real events' might in fact both be 'genuine' feelings, and this 'precision of thought' is differentiating the source and cause of a feeling or emotion; they may experientially, chemically, be identical.

Quote from: p75Tomkin: "Scenes are magnified not by repetition, but by repetition with a difference . . . Sheer repetition of experience characteristically evokes adaptation, which attenuates, rather than magnifies, the connected scenes"

This one requires some unspooling and translation which I can't be bothered to do right now, so instead I'll paraphrase my own takeaway: Undifferentiated repetition invokes tolerance whereas repetition with difference eludes tolerance and is therefore more adept at magnifying the effect of what is being repeated. This is an incredibly salient observation.


Quote from: p76what Jean-Christophe Agnew calls the "placeless market," a market which is dependent on a virtual feeling that cannot be felt and whose power to lubricate nonaffective [i.e. material?] exchanges rests precisely on [its unfeltness] [..] that system requires each transaction to "place the [real feeling] farther out of reach."

Ngai cites Agnew's Worlds Apart and makes certain claims on his behalf that I don't entirely understand out of context. What is the justification for the claim of the existence of such a market so dependent on a "virtual feeling"? What is the utility of a feeling which "[resists] being psychically captured as one's own" in the context of the placeless market that "lubricates" nonaffective exchanges, and what constitutes a nonaffective exchange, precisely? Is it an exchange of nonaffective objects, or is it an exchange totally devoid of even collateral affect?


Ngai brings up Kant's "disinterestedness" and calls it the "defining feature of aesthetic experience", then says this later in the page...
Quote from: p86how dangerously close this disinterestedness always comes to sliding into noninterest in a society where art's narrowly delimited agency allows it to be safely ignored.

Art can be "safely ignored," presumes Ngai, but not as part of the definition of art, rather as its role given by society.

I wonder about games and play. I believe many definitions of these things come close to requiring that e.g. a game may be "safely ignored," else it is not a game, but something else - some other kind of activity.



I've been lost in The Nature of Order for the past couple weeks, but have returned to Ugly Feelings now and then. The entire chapter on 'animatedness' is behind me now, hazy. I'm in 'envy'.