For the last few years I have been thinking about the concept of sensation and how to rework it, give it a more robust definition and render it amenable to realism as well as a certain materialism. Here are six theses about sensation, along with a brief elucidation:
First Thesis: sensations exist objectively; that is, they are real. Sensations originate and therefore belong to bodies that give them to other bodies. A body is constituted as a singular conglomeration or confederation of sensations. This means that sensing entails a kind of invasion or assault.
Second Thesis: sensations are actualized relationally. How a sensation will affect a body depends on the objective sensation and the constitution of the receptive body. Because any body, animate or inanimate, can be affected by the qualities of another body, all bodies are capable of suffering sensations.
Third Thesis: the practical value of sensation is ambivalent. Sensations vary in intensity and involve both pleasure and pain. That a sensation will be pleasurable or painful cannot always be decided in advance. Some sensations can be so intense that they destroy the sensing body; some enliven the body and increase its capacity to exist (Spinoza). Thus, any given sensation is, in itself, ambivalent.
Fourth Thesis: sensations are a source of alimentation. Just as we ‘live from’ (Levinas) food and drink, our sensory environments nourish us (potentially). Because they can also poison, see the thesis immediately above. If you are so inclined, you could call sensation a pharmakon.
Fifth Thesis: sensations are basically anonymous. They reach bodies below the level or consciousness, including perception. If perception is of the present, even an ambiguous and semi-amorphous present as that described by Merleau-Ponty, then sensation is the anonymous background of this present. When a sensation arises to the level of consciousness, it has become a perception. Since inanimate objects are not conscious, their sentience is always anonymous, but the effects of sensations are registered on them materially.
Sixth Thesis: the time of sensation belongs to the past. Sensations accumulate in the body as habits and we slowly become ‘desensitized’ to them (cf. James). This sedimentation is the accumulation of past sensings, sensings that are basically anonymous (see above).