“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Ecological Touching: Knowing (as) Intimacy

Had a bit of a revelation at The Knowing Uv It exhibition here in Bergen. This exhibition was not about getting to the correct understanding or correct representation of the work of the painter in The Showing Uv It. It was in fact an invagination of the materials and themes implicit in the painter's work (one of which was in the show). Sort of an exploded diagram. A context explosion.

Ecological awareness just is this context explosion. Contextualism often (despite its advertising language) stops somewhere: usually at some kind of human/nonhuman boundary. Hence the rituals of exclusion meted out by some new left fora on me and Dipesh Chakrabarty recently. Class, gender, race—but as long as we remain within a human-scale roughly Hegelian frame in which the silent partner of Kantian correlationism (the nonhuman entity) is only visible as a projection of the human. To protect this guilty secret, mentioning bunny rabbits is denigrated as "a hippie thing" (actual words by actual New Left Review contributor).

Another implicit assumption is that art is a bit evil and has to be disarmed in advance, and that supplying its contexts disarms it.


The more context you have, the more text: that's the simple version of the key Derridean insight il n'y a pas d'hors-texte. The more world you have, the more earth (Heidegger). The more understanding, the more standing-under.

And at some point, your context includes nonhuman beings such as bunny rabbits and geological time. And electrons.

So the context explosion forces you into intimacy with all kinds of nonhumans, rather than elevating you above them.

Knowing does not have to be about rising above. Knowing could be like what sand does to a trilobite. Enveloping and touching, for millions of years. A sand-morphic sand-ograph of a trilobite.

My uncle used to get very worried about how a cd player "knew" that it was an oboe playing at 5:23. But the machine doesn't have to "know" like that any more than a diamond needle has to "know" it's an oboe. The needle just rides the groove. The laser rides the sequence of holes. This absolute proximity is called touching and it tends to be put down in Western philosophy.

When knowing touches itself, for instance, it is called meditation and is denigrated as narcissism.

So then I decided to talk about it in Winnipeg. (In early Feb.)


Anonymous said...

...in Winnipeg, where you will have contact with the minus30- degrees electrons we've been having.
But, I hear Architecture sets up an ice bar. A bar made out of ice. With alcohol.

Perfect for someone asked to give two plenaries, a grad roundtable, and an interview.

Anonymous said...

Yes! I think we make up for all the stuff we fail to touch by talking about all the stuff we "know" about. Intellectuals, that is. Athletes tend to do it a different way: by hitting it really hard, throwing it really far or moving through or over it really fast (this does involve touching, but never for very long). The more visceral types tend to make up for not touching stuff by consuming it in various ways. Meanwhile, the lack of touching isn't actually a lack at all: we just assume we can't have the real thing, so we take the only options we think we do have. Yeah, I think you may be on to something amounting to a directive here.