“The fate of all of us here has been to know that we are prisoners of power. No one knows why us in particular, but what a great fortune!”
Carlos Castaneda

Tales of Power

Christopher Alexander on Deep Feeling and Emotional Substance


“… The Word “feeling” has been contaminated. It is confused with emotions – with feelings (in the plural) sch as wonder, sadness, anger – which confuse rather than help because they make us ask ourselves, which kind of feeling should I follow? The feeling I am talking about is unitary. It is feeling in the singular, which comes from the whole …

What I call feeling is the mode of perception and awareness which arises when a person pays attention to the whole … It is an intelligent and practical way forward.

… In any living process, or any process of design or making, the way forward, the next step which is most structure-enhancing, is that step which most intensifies the feeling of the emerging whole.

… During the early part of the 20th century there was a school of thought where a great deal was said about artists expressing their feelings, as if this was supposed somehow to be the purpose and pathway of art. Artists sometimes tried to do this by placing paint to record their emotions, throwing paint at the wall, pouring their emotions into the work. In each case the artist tried to send his feeling into the work, in the name of: “I am expressing my feelings.” In all these cases the idea was that the feeling goes from the artist into the work while the work is being made.

Producing a building which has feeling is something different … What matters is that the building – the room, the canyon, the painting, the ornament, the garden – as they are created, send profound feeling back towards us … The feeling comes from the object back to me after it is made, does not go from me to the object while I am making it.

… before we take an action, we can grasp the latent structure as the emotional substance … a dimly held feeling which describe where we are going, but is not yet concrete, in physical and geometrical terms. This means we can sense, ahead of time, the quality of the completed whole – even when we cannot yet visualize it. We then keep this quality alive in our minds and use it as the basic guiding light, which steers us towards our target. The final target, then, has the feeling which we anticipated much earlier, but often has an unexpected unfamiliar geometry.

The feeling … is not … arbitrarily invented. It is … emotional substance … It is … reasonably accurate, reliable, and stable. We can get it, and then keep coming back to it. It evolves, as the project does, and as our concrete understanding evolves. Thus, as the geometry develops, the feeling is kept intact, but becomes more and more solid

Using our own feeling as a way of grasping the whole, we can put ourselves in a receptive mode in which we grasp, and respond to the existing wholeness – together with its latent structure. This is not an emotional move away from precision. It is, rather, a move towards precision.

Christopher Alexander – The Nature of Order – Book 2: The Process of Creating Life


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