Expression: Sensations and Representations

Malebranche offers an interesting take on the signifying limits of words. Consider this explanation from Thomas M. Carr Descartes and the Resilience of Rhetoric.

The ideal use of words, according to Malebranche, is to communicate the pure ideas of the mind. […] Sensations cannot be adequately represented by words. While pure ideas are objective and perceived in a uniform manner by all because they are seen in God, the sensations are subjective and vary from individual to individual. They can only be experienced, not represented or described by an arbitrary sign like a word. […] Since words are inadequate to communicate a message that is primarily sensible, the speaker of strong imagination will have to look elsewhere for a medium. Indeed, according to Malebranche, the rhetoric of imitation depends more on delivery than speech to persuade. Gesture, animation, and tone of voice carry the principal burden.

One is of course capable of making the call to body language without passing through the dichotomy between thought and feeling, between representation and sensation. There can be a body language that supports the work of representation. The key lies in not positioning either sensation or thought as a function of language’s distance from God. The uniform perception can be rooted in a community of practice (and not a higher being). Still it is very tempting to distinguish representation and sensation according to the felicity conditions of their reception. However, one can inhabit a universe where all communication be it of sensations or of representations is to be tested repeatedly to determine if the transmission is at all successful in meeting the quality of uniformity. Apart from the question of uniformity, it is also useful for all communication to have a residue that is perceived in a non-uniform manner. That is, a potential miscommunication accompanies every message and provides opportunities for surprise and creative slippage.

And so for day 534

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