Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Walking, Stumbling, Falling

Jason Bradford asks a very interesting question on my post about the walking class:

I'm curious if you could comment further on this. I'm physically disabled, so statements like these jump out at me. I'm trying to see disability in OOO.

That's a good prompt. Walking meditation annihilates the teleological idea that walking is “for” something such as getting from A to B. It reveals something essential about walking, which is that it's a controlled kind of stumbling. Why? Because an object is always a little bit “in front of” itself.

There is a lot about this in Realist Magic, because theories of motion that regard time and space as atoms (now-points in a row, e.g., or ontically given A separate from ontically given B) are prone to Zeno's paradox takedowns.

However, if you think a thing as displaced from itself, in itself (as I do, and Hegel, and Graham Priest), there is no problem. If A is also not-A, if now is also not-now...

A thing such as a place (A) or a now-point is an appearance of an entity that is withdrawn. What is really the case is that past and future are strangely coinciding, not exactly touching, yet one is bathed in the other. Or they are like two trains moving against one another. So this place, A, contains all kinds of secrets, all kinds of not-A. And this time, now, is really a nowness, a quality that is for-me, or for-this-tree, or this iPhone; this nowness contains hollows of not-now. Walking opens all kinds of futures and traces all kinds of pasts.

There are objects, and space and time flow from them. So to move is not to float through a given time or given space, but rather to translate one's body, the street, the tree, the knee joint. To create new rifts. To paint a new picture on Earth.

Richard Long

There is no such thing as a smooth unified movement “in” time from A to B. What this means is that walking has an intrinsically stumbly quality to it, which Laurie Anderson celebrates in her “Walking and Falling” and David Byrne sings about: “I'm catching up with myself.”

Walking that tries to eliminate this broken, stumbling quality (which I call an essential lameness) turns into marching: rigidity, imposing regularity on something intrinsically inconsistent. To exist at all, an object must “halt” somewhere, be “lame.” I believe ecological awareness forces this lameness on us willy nilly. All entities have a hamartia, a lamness or flaw, that enables them to exist. To exist is to be riven between essence and appearance.

Walking meditation slows down your movement to the point where you see it as falling, constantly giving in to a gigantic object—Earth, and its gravitational field. You let gravity pull your body forwards. The relation of Earth to one's body heightens the gap between what it is and how it appears, making it collapse and fold onto itself. We call this movement.

“Normal” walking is a disabled walking whose vulnerability and inconsistency has been erased and airbrushed.


Jason Bradford said...

Thank you for this post. You actually went in a direction I hadn't expected. I tried to answer my own question. I went down what is probably a rocky road trying to perceive how objects could be disabled. I came up with ideas of functional/dysfunctional. How if an object seems to have no function, it gets cast out, discarded like an empty pop-can. The reality is that no object is completely dysfunctional. Another function is always hidden, waiting to emerge, like a broken laptop becomes a doorstop, or blue plastic spoons become bower bird art. Even if we can imagine a completely dysfunctional object, then dysfunction becomes its next function. So we can never really dismiss anything as dysfunctional. I like what you have to say here because you seem to be saying that dysfunction seems to lie in wait also, that every functioning object has the capability of becoming, or encountering dysfunction. I wonder if we were on the same wavelength. Correct if I'm wrong. I foresee flaws, as function/dysfunction would seem to imply action as opposed to being, unless we utilize the verb aspect of being.

Ruth Solomon said...

There are gaps in the railings that play out when I walk at a certain speed into an eidetic flicker. It’s an on/off patterning of light and dark scanning my body but also affecting my senses. It’s a rhythm which is a constant shimmering across my eyes. A feeling read as a rapid speed increase that is not simply of my own movement, but is something that I am in and of.

How can the organization of railings both make me into a twitching film extra and yet also affect my sense of separation and independent volition so that I am splintered into this thrust and delay between two states? It is as if something that would join two opposing elements was missing.

If I stopped I could then look through the gaps in the railings or stand back and focus on the railings themselves squinting so that the brightness became a background blur.

But I don’t stop I carry on until the gaseous state and solid ground are no longer clearly separated. On passing some people at the base of a bridge, the sudden slowing down makes me trip forward.

Christopher Schaberg said...

This is really interesting, Tim, and definitely an important point to flesh out. Also along these lines, I like the Judith Butler vignette in Astra Taylor's 2008 film "Examined Life" as a reflection on/of how walking & disability studies can effectively overlap.

Ruth Solomon said...

Maybe the on-going interuption or rift in smooth momentum is the forwarding. It's always going to be caught between frames but that doesn't mean there is anything wrong or right about it as a function. It is what it is. But how a body or a thing unfolds through use is a performance that can be endlessly played out. That's when maybe it is a question of an awareness that always leans across different kinds of contact. A more jilted contact or walk gets a chance to notice what's going on- just as walking over frozen snow means slowing into each small change of pressure gradient and almost grinding the step into place even if that means going nowhere.

Unknown said...

For walking, falling, A and not-A, check out the Alexander Technique: instead of giving the word "walk" internally, one can subdivide the parts of the action on a more or less ongoing basis and thereby remove the goal of "walking." Yet it turns out that the parts know what to do! It also turns out that there is a constant to which one can always return that consistently fails to interfere with the parts and, what amounts to the same thing, does not totalize them. Which makes sense. If every action can be attended by one internal direction, there will be no goal for any of them. Works for the disabled, the able, the astronaut, and so on.

Very nice to see you in this territory. More philosophizing on walking, please!

Unknown said...

I would only modulate what you're saying by saying that there is also literally an anti-gravity response in the reflexes that one can"let be". Between marching toward a goal and stumbling towards death, there is a lightness that derives from a reliable ontology for bodies and language. The crucial philosophical point here, for me, is that one can make a friendship with strangeness -- which would seem to bear on dark ecology in general.

Ruth Solomon said...

Think of compression and release- pushing on the sides of a doorway and than letting the arms drift upwards. That seems really strange but it happens all the time like pushing against the ground into the lightness of a step. the lightness doesn't know it's light and doesn't try to aim for that- it is just how the walk unfolds between compression and release.