When Deleuze refers to a “sensibility of the senses”, he is not referring to sensations, but rather to the real conditions for the possibility of sensation. That is, what are the conditions or processes by which this domain of sensibility is generated. I do not encounter the world through sonar, nor can I hear the world like a cat, nor do I smell the world like a dog. All of these fields of sensibility are the result of specific individuations that create their own unique universes of retention and expectation. When Deleuze refers to a passive synthesis as opposed to an active synthesis, he seeks to underline that these syntheses are not actively carried out by the mind or will.
“Although it is constitutive it is not, for all that, active. It is not carried out by the mind, but occurs in the mind…” (71).Sensation or sensibility is not supplemented from above by categories (as in Kant) that would hold for all possible universes, but instead have their own immanent logos or structure of relations pertaining to the field of engagement characterizing the being in question. If we are led to miss this domain of the transcendental aesthetic, then this is because in our engagement with the world, this domain of the transcendental is surpassed in favor of the signs constituted by the pre-individual field out of which sensibility becomes capable of sensing. Deleuze is not, of course, reducing all sensibility to the domain of “vital sensibility” or the biological. As he puts it,
“We must therefore distinguish not only the forms of repetition in relation to passive synthesis but also the levels of passive synthesis and the combinations of these levels with one another” (73).These levels would include the biological (as understood by contemporary evolutionary theory), the life of the individual in its ongoing individuation or unfurling, and in relation to the social, political, and historical milieu in which the individual is individuated or comes to be. For instance, in Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari take great pains to show how the Oedipal structure is always open to a much broader social, political, and historical milieu wherein parents function as conduits or “transistors” in relation to the developing child. There is nothing, for example, that is specifically familial about language. The question of aesthetics thus turns out to be far broader than that of art. Aesthetics has tended to be treated as a marginal or “ghetto” discipline within philosophy, remote from the “big questions” of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and politics. Yet, prior to any inquiry into these fields, the objects of these fields must first be given. Traditionally aesthetics has been understood to refer to the theory of the beautiful and, more recently, questions of what constitutes art.
In the Kant of the first Critique, aesthetics is treated rigorously in terms of its etymology as aisthesis, and refers to the domain of sensibility. For Kant there is thus a “transcendental aesthetic”, or the pure, a priori, forms of sensibility or space and time, and an empirical aesthetic referring to the various sensations that populate sensibility such as the various feels, sounds, tastes, and smells we encounter in space and time. Deleuze proposes to unite these two senses of the aesthetic so as to account for the very production of sensibility in a “distribution of the sensible”:
No wonder… that aesthetics should be divided into two irreducible domains: that of the theory of the sensible which captures only the real’s conformity with possible experience; and that of the theory of the beautiful, which deals with the reality of the real in so far as it is thought. Everything changes once we determine the conditions of real experience, which are not larger than the conditioned and which differ in kind from the categories: the two senses of the aesthetic become one, to the point where the being of the sensible reveals itself in the work of art, while at the same time the work of art appears as experimentation. (68)Sensibility itself becomes a field of artistic creation and experimentation. Following Ranciere, such a thesis invites us to examine the distribution of the sensible in the social field, investigating what is visible and invisible in terms of public discourse, various social identities, and so on. These are all questions of social and political individuation. The question becomes one of how new individuations that depart from the police order might be strategized and produced. In the domain of epistemology and metaphysics, the question is no longer that of the ultimate nature of reality, but rather of the distribution of the sensible within which we find ourselves immersed. In their attention to how scientific objects are produced or generated, the work of Stengers, Latour, Foucault, and Kuhn come to mind. Why is it, for example, that such and such a field of objectivity becomes visible at such and such a time? Here also the work of Kittler and Ong are especially relevant by virtue of their attentiveness to how new writing and communications technologies impact social individuation, allowing new possibilities of thought without determining what is thought. In all of these cases the question is one of the genesis of sensibility with its own immanent logos, not one of mere receptivity. Of special importance here are questions of the space and time of these fields of sensibility, and the forms of embodiment they produce along with their accompanying fields of objectivity. by larvalsubjects