Sensationism: Sensation, Suggestion, Contruction

Embedded in Pessoa’s heteronymic project is the movement of “Sensationism.” In “Letter to an English Editor” (1916), Pessoa describes the attitudes and origins of sensationism.

Sensationism derives from three movements: French symbolism, Portugese transcendental pantheism, futurism, and cubism. From symbolism, sensationism derives its “fundamental attitude of excessive attention to our sensations, our consequent frequent dealing in ennui, apathy, in renouncement before the simplest and sanest things in life.” The sensationists, however, reject the religious attitude of the symbolics. “God” as a word to connote mystery only has aesthetic value.

Portugese transcendental pantheism is a “conception of Nature in which flesh and spirit are entirely mingled in something which transcends both…the way in which spirit and matter are interpenetrated and intertranscended.”

From futurism and cubism, the sensationists have “intellectualized their processes. The decomposition of the model they realize we have carried into what we believe to be the proper sphere of that decomposition — not things, but our sensations of things.”

This is Pessoa’s claim to origin of Sensationism, he follows this claim with the the central attitude of Sensationism:

1. The only reality is sensation. The only reality in art is consciousness of sensation.

2. There is no philosophy, no ethics, and even no aesthetics in art, whatever there may be in life. In art there are only sensations and our consciousness of them. Whatever love, joy, pain, may be in life, in art they are only sensations. God is a sensation of ours (because an idea is only a sensation) and in art is used only in the expression of certain sensations, such as reverence, mystery, etcetera…

3. Art is the harmonic expression of our consciousness of sensations…our sensations must be so expressed that they create an object which will be a sensation to others…it is sensation multiplied by consciousness…

4. The three principles of art are 1) every sensation should by expressed to the full 2) the sensation should be so expressed that it has the possibility of evoking the greatest possible number of other sensations 3) the whole thus produced should have the greatest possible resemblance to an organized being, because that is the condition of vitality. I call these three principles Sensation, Suggestion, and Construction.

Sensationism emerges from the idea that “There is nothing, no reality, but sensation.” Sensationism, is then, an interpreter of reality, or the “irreality.”

“The end of art is simply to increase human self-consciousness […] The more we decompose and analyze into their psychic elements our sensations, the more we increase our self-consciousness. Art has, then, the duty of becoming increasingly conscious.” Pessoa claims that sensationism is the theosophy of aesthetics; that it is the common denominator of all movements and trends. Thus, the sensationist is not to be concerned with politics, religions, morals, etc…is only interested in the various sensations that these ideas might arouse in consciousness at any moment. In reading Pessoa, Ries, Caeiro, and de Campos, we can see how the various levels of lyric value that each occupies is grounded in Sensationism. That the entire heteronymic project is a dramatic decomposition and recomposition of Sensation, in order to increase self consciousness of both “author” and “reader.”

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