One cannot, therefore, oppose a layer of pure passivity, which would correspond to sensibility, and a properly active layer, which would appear with desire. There is a continuity between perception and desire; both must be conceived as moments of an expression which, beginning with the perceptual level, is already active to the degree that it unfolds dimensions – and which, on the plane of the relationship to the other, is still passive because, in desire itself, the other fails and the self does not know itself in it.
At the heart of carnal contact, there can suddenly be the presentiment of the unity of a transcendental subject, the transparency of a world reconciled with itself. But this harmony is still contentless, bereft of a body which is its own; sense is still carried only by the thickness of fleshes. The promise of fulfillment in desire is finally disappointed; the other makes itself absence again, interposes between itself and me the thickness of its body, and the world regains its transcendence.
There is no meaning that is not incarnated and, in this measure, affection. There is no affection, particularly in the relation of desire, that is not already the advent of a sense, an attempt to carry the world’s opacity to transparency. (Renaud Barbaras, The Being of the Phenomenon, 269, 271, 272)
Barbaras has good cards on desire. I want to elaborate on two aspects – that desire is “finally disappointed,” and that all perception and all meaning are incarnate and involve affection.
Desire is constant. Our erotic entanglements create pleasure, even climactic pleasure, but that moment is already surpassed, already the opening to more desire. What else do we desire in that moment but more of it? And that desire is never finally, never completely fulfilled, because that desire is basic, elemental, primal for flesh. Even as our erotic clutching ends, the “other” recedes into absence, and the world comes back into focus, desire goes on. What I always desire is more commingling of flesh. That’s not to say that I am disappointed; I may feel tremendously happy, exhausted, full. But flesh just is desirous, and I have to confess that I do feel that as well.
In my way, I want to extend that to the basic erotics of sensation in general. What follows a perfect white peach? Another white peach, of course! And when I get full, or when the season ends, the desire remains, for more. Or consider petting a cat or a guitar. Those comminglings call for constancy, but, life being what it is, we can’t pet the cat or the guitar perpetually. (Imagine a German Idealist writing a book called Perpetual Pets.)
Ask me how I’m doing, any time, and the honest answer I’ll never tell you in polite company is: I want.
The endlessness of desire is another way of saying that perception and meaning involve affection. Flesh is endlessly affected by its erotic entanglements, its touch and scent and vibration, invitation and penetration. The affect always underlies the act: to perceive is to perceive according to desire, to accord flesh to its desire. Any perceptual act, even the most mundane. Right now, I’m looking at my computer screen, typing on the slightly curved, warm keys, each keystroke a moment of contact, satisfaction and dissatisfaction of desire for contact, for the pleasure of the smooth, the delight of overcoming the little resistance of each key, the pleasant click-clack of their tap. I don’t usually pay much attention to it, but in fact, typing away busily, concentrating on the task at hand, foregrounding in consciousness a set of concerns, often extremely abstract and (physically) absent and invisible, my fingertips carry on a sordid affair with my keyboard. And don’t even get me started on what they do with the mouse!
Sensation is the undergoing of affect, the meeting up of flesh to the flesh it constantly desires, never coincides with, and always has to part ways with. This takes place for us, passively/actively, pre-reflectively. It is there in every moment.
I’ve been playing around with titles as well. In Montreal I was trying to write down phonetically some differences between typical Californicated US pronunciation and typical Ontariocinated Canadian pronunciation. For instance, the Canadian for “body” is very close to “bawdy.” That led me to re-write one of Merleau-Ponty’s key terms as “the bawdy subject.” Yesterday Barbaras gave me the phrase to complete my title: “Bawdy Subjects and Phenomenal Bodies.”