Proposal for a theoretical input

Critique of Wondering Reason

For Aristoteles, wondering was the beginning of philosophical knowledge. 1 For Sara Ahmed, it was the beginning of feminist engagement. 2 For Descartes, it was the first passion, 3 the one feeling we don’t feel we are feeling. 4 For Adorno, wondering was a capability, that we can learn, 5 whereas for Benjamin, those who wonder about the presence of fascism in the wake of the second world war are guilt y of naïveté.6

There is an awakening moment in wondering, and there is an awestrucking.

As an aesthetic category, it is close to the feeling of the sublime, which makes us shudder in the face of something bigger. It evokes a feeling of transcendence, of belonging to something bigger and at the same time reminds us of our smallness. Adorno says, that art is the only residual, where we can experience the feeling of wonder, as all the other parts of society are veiled by a dense categorical net, that made human beings loose their fascination for the other. 7

As an affect-theoretic category, it can be connected to pain, to anger, or to love. It is the feeling as if we see something for the very first time, and therefore moves us to ask: why is it there? What or who did it make come here? This makes Marxist philosophy the philosophy of wonder per se. 8

As a capability, wonder is the precondition for connection. 9 It shows us vulnerable and not knowing, at least for a second. It shows us amazed and appreciating, hence bonding , or shocked and disgusted, and thus a solidarity ex negativo may arise. As Deleuze pointed out, a capability is never a person’s attribute, but emerges out of a constellation, depicts how we are affected by a situation: ‘You do not know beforehand what a body or a mind can do, in a given encounter, a given arrangement, a given combination’ (Deleuze 1992:627, as quoted in Ahmed 183). Therefore, Ahmed concludes: ‘The capacity for wonder is the space of opening up to the surprise of each combination; each body, which turns this way or that, impresses upon others, affecting what they can do. Wonder opens up a collective space, by allowing the surfaces of the world to make an impression, as they become see-able or feel- able as surfaces.’ 10 This resonates with Adorno, where the capability to wonder is the only chance to think outside the given categories. 11

Wonder also bears a new understanding of time, as in the moment of ‘feeling that feeling that you dont feel’, we experience a rupture of time, after that we cannot go on in the same way as before. Benjamin gives the metaphor of a river, into which a dam is built.

‘The congestion of the real flow of life [ Lebensfluß ], he writes, ‘the moment, in which it’s course comes to a halt, is perceivable as a flooding back [ Rückflut ]: wondering is this flooding back.’ 12

In the moment of wondering, we not only interrupt our course, but the quality of this moment is an entirely different one. To stay with the metaphor: Our presence is growing deeper, as there is no way to go into the former future direction and at the same time what we beforehand perceived as our past is now flooding us, our origin becoming source of our fullness.

Graphic design usually is walking a tightrope between readability and irritation. The notion of wonder seems to describe the affecting potential of surfaces. Instead of asking what makes people wonder, I would like to ask: how can we keep wondering about the things that seem unnatural to us, and how can we create political potential out of this.

1 Gess, Nicola. Glossarartikel “Staunen/Verwunderung”. In: Handbuch Literatur & Emotionen. Berlin 2016, pp. 571-572
2 Ahmed, Sara. 2004. The Cultural Politics of Emotion. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. 189
3 Descartes: Über die Leidenschaften der Seele, §73. Was das Staunen ist.
4 Ahmed, ibd.
5 Adorno, Gretel, and Rolf Tiedemann, eds. 1997. Aesthetic Theory. London, New York: continuum.p. 192
6 Benjamin, Walter. 1980. I.2 Über den Begriff der Geschichte. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp
7 Adorno, ibd.
8 Ahmed, 180
9 Ahmed, ibd.
10 Ahmed, 183
11 Adorno, ibd.
12 Benjamin, ibd.