FRICTION: aye, there’s the rub

15 November 2014

We say that rubs me the wrong way; what rubs us the right way? Three kinds of rubbing:

  • friction (from Latin frictionem “a rubbing, rubbing down”) :: “a : the rubbing of one body against another; b : the force that resists relative motion between two bodies in contact, or 2: the clashing between two persons or parties of opposed views : disagreement.” Thus, friction has two parts: a rubbing (as frottage) and an emotional response to that rubbing (as frisson).
  • frottage (from Old French froter “to rub, wipe, beat, thrash”) ::a : an art technique for creating a design by rubbing (as with a pencil) over an object placed underneath the paper; b : a composition so made, or 2: the act of obtaining sexual stimulation by rubbing against a person or object.” von Foerster (1973) notes in “On Constructing a Reality”, the body as nerves only registers (quantitatively) how much of a stimulus, not whether it (qualitatively) is pleasurable or not. The frottage of friction then is always bodily positive, as the nerves are simply stimulated.
  • frisson (from French “shiver, thrill” via Latin frigēre “to be cold”) :: “a brief moment of emotional excitement.” A frisson as a shiver of pleasure or of horror or of cold marks an emotional response whether agreeable or not to a rubbing. When disagreeable, the “problem” of this makes itself felt in a mental and bodily dissonance in our lives that requires resolution. When agreeable, the “problem” of this instead disappears into a bodily and mental consonance in our lives that seems already resolved.

So, friction manifests as not only the pleasure of engaging our problems, since the experience of such a bodily friction is necessarily positive in itself, but also the problem of not engaging our pleasures, since the experience of such a psychological friction is itself assumed as positively necessary. From this, we can infer a whole field of problems represented by our pleasures that remains unexplored because we don’t mind the friction of them in the first place.


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