Grandiose guilt will not do; we need to learn to notice what we were blind to, a humble but difficult art. (…) [L]earning this art also means allowing oneself to be touched and induced to think and imagine by what touches us. Isabelle Stengers, in Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet

Excerpts from "The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a more-than-human world" by David Abram

Caught up in a mass of abstractions, our attention hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves, it is all too easy for us to forget our carnal inherence in a more-than-human matrix of sensations and sensibilities. Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth. Our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.


When my body thus responds to the mute solicitation of another being, that being responds in turn, disclosing to my senses some new aspect or dimension that in turn invites further exploration. By this process my sensing body gradually attunes itself to the style of this other presence-to the way of this stone, or tree, or table-as the other seems to adjust itself to my own style and sensitivity.


Whenever I quiet the persistent chatter of words within my head, I find this silent or wordless dance always already going on this improvised duet between my animal body and the fluid, breathing landscape that it inhabits.


If we listen, first, to the sounds of an oral language—the rhythms, tones, and inflections that play through the speech of an oral culture-we will likely find that these elements are attuned, in multiple and subtle ways, to the contour and scale of the local landscape, to the depth of its valleys or the open stretch of its distances, to the visual rhythms of the local topography. (…) Human language arose not only as a means of attunement between persons, but also between ourselves and the animate landscape. (…) By denying that birds and other animals have their own styles of speech, by insisting that the river has no real voice and that the ground itself is mute, we stifle our direct experience.


As philosophers, our job is to amplify the black noise of objects to make the resonant frequencies of the stuffs inside them hum in credibly satisfying ways. Our job is to write the speculative fictions of their processes, of their unit operations. Our job is to get our hands dirty with grease, juice, gunpowder, and gypsum. Our job is to go where everyone has gone before, but where few have bothered to linger. I call this practice alien phenomenology. Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology

Dust and Shadow Reader Vol. 2. Previous: giving ourselves over. Next: involuntary momentum

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  • by maja