On The Nature of The Nature of Things (thus far)
I’ve been having a struggle with notions of beginning – or perhaps they are more like boundary issues – as the question seems to be more, ‘what is not-beginning’, rather than what beginning itself is… I am having a distinctly (ahem) tricky time navigating where to start articulating my experience/thoughts/feelings/anythings with the project. So, I’ll delegate:
“The difference between the esthetic and the intellectual is thus one of the place where emphasis falls in the constant rhythm that marks the interaction of the live creature with his surroundings. The ultimate matter of both emphases in experience is the same, as is also their general form. The odd notion that an artist does not think and a scientific inquirer does nothing else is the result of converting a difference of tempo and emphasis into a difference in kind.” (Dewey 15)
“Direct experience comes from nature and man interacting with each other. In this interaction, human energy gathers, is released, dammed up, frustrated and victorious. There are rhythmic beats of want and fulfillment, pulses of doing and being withheld from doing.” (Dewey 16)
“But, through the phases of perturbation and conflict, there abides the deep-seated memory of an underlying harmony, the sense of which haunts life like the sense of being founded on a rock.” (Dewey 17)
Two strands – which might not appear directly related to my experience working with Charlotte, but in fact form the ground of my experience, particularly on this project… they contextualize and broadly signal what sort of experience it is and maybe (maybe) allow me to distill some of the magic that is Charlotte-Spencer-art-making.
1st strand – the ‘difference’ between the aesthetic and the intellectual
2nd strand – live beings (human animals), the worlding of the world (this is a Heidegger-ism, which, although poetic in itself, will probably benefit from contextualization, but for now could be likened to ‘environment’) and ‘the deep-seated memory of an underlying harmony’
What is important to me to address is the absolute pleasure of being able to directly deal with, as Dewey puts it, ‘the odd notion that an artist does not think and a scientific inquirer does nothing else.’ To feel the truth of his perception – yes, it is an odd notion, as within this Spencer-world, we work from both rhythms – from the artist that does
not think and the scientific inquirer that does nothing else. There is scope and space (encouragement even) to orient to the ideas through body, to the body through ideas, to work directly with and through what is felt and also through reflection, what is thought/felt of what is felt/thought.
Simultaneously, there is further space (depth) that we unfold or otherwise move into to find that thoughts are body-thoughts are also thoughts of a body-living are also mind-thoughts, are also (more broadly and er, eastern-ly) mind, are also energy and attention, are a somatic and creaturely phenomenon… or if we re-fold the space, we also find that feelings (i.e., bodied sensations) are also minded-feelings are also feelings in and through a pattern-seeking, meaning-making mind are also then a sensuous thinking, are thoughts which are dynamic and flesh out our experience, root us in the world, and this is also attention and energy, creaturely thinking through soma. Praxis and theoria, in this foldable space, collude to create a slippery slope that words merely slide down. In fact, there comes an intuition that such dualism is not really functional, and this is something of the reason why Dewey, as one of the major figures driving the philosophy of pragmatism, is pertinent: “As John Dewey put it, there is no question of theory versus practice but rather of intelligent practice versus uninformed, stupid practice…” (Pragamatism entry, Wikipedia).
Hence the trickiness of starting somewhere – it appears that everywhere is somehow also everywhere else – nowhere stands out as being foundational, of being privileged as x-marks-the-spot-where-it-all-began. The pattern of our making-together is fractal. But – I am reserving this keyword ‘fractal’ for another, later, mini essay.
For something to take hold of in the interim, I want to consider knitting – not just as a charming hobby I am completely addicted to and which drives me to begin making woolly jumpers in March, ready to wear in July (hmmm) – but as a way to weave (yes) these two strands together. There was a definite quickening of energy in the studio one day, sometime in the initial summer research phases, when Charlotte tasked us with a two person pattern that embodied knitting. The quickening – this is a shift in the direction of energy in the space, or the circulation of energy, which can be considered in many different ways, through many different traditions, but I think in art-making (and even more aptly, dance-making) particularly, I love this definition:
|4||a. (of an unborn fetus) to begin to show signs of life|
|b. (of a pregnant woman) to reach the stage of pregnancy at which movements of the fetus can be felt|
… but also it is not dissimilar to running up a hill, that is long and winding, and the moment of seeing that the top of the hill is near.
And I think this is important – because it is a very strong felt signal that there is something – something has triggered it, regardless of whether it is the top, something unexpected by the side of the road or the sun coming out – and from the something, there is a change in internal weather systems, a somatic shift.
To add in a brief note here – recently, chatting with Charlotte, she brought up this moment in the summer. And to paraphrase, after casting about through very loose (open) improvisations for a few days, she felt she needed to see something specific and particular, perhaps even physically repeatable. Further – without having gone through the looseness that was the improvisations, there may not have been the honest desire for a regular, repeatable physical pattern. And further to all of this, several months later, this random moment that was borne of random, although perhaps not arbitrary, improvised choices, it seems that this knitting has come to form the nucleus, stem cell or an axiom of sorts, from which a great deal of the creative material has subsequently issued/derived.
So to return to quickening – this energetic, creaturely phenomenon makes some ripples and points me towards some thinking. And it does so in a way that I am very attracted to, that is in line with a felt sensibility, i.e., a distillation from experience that can lead us back in to experience. And all this from knitting… but it could be anything… but I am feeling (and thinking) it is knitting that is the something because knitting satisfies a primary phenomenological notion (ok, primarily a Heideggerian interpretation of such a notion) that the ontology (or the being, the essence, fundamental nature) of a phenomenon worthy of phenomenological investigation (knitting, in this case – and then the process of embodying knitting and surely we have stitch n’bitch beaten?) is covered over in inverse relationship to how obvious or how close it is to our ontic experience of/with/through/as it – i.e., how much a part of our daily life? As our days brush up against such phenomena, so does our capacity for wonder… our appreciation for the root(s) of any phenomena decrease and we remember less ‘being’ the more something is present to-hand, the more it is simply always already there. A well-plied example is time (Heidegger and co) and perhaps gravity (Ida Rolf/structural integrators and co), breath (everyone)…
Knitting is, ontically, or at an everyday glance, something we do with string of some description, two sticks, two hands, eyes, attention and relative degrees of skill. It is an activity and this activity, considered in the ontic, everyday sphere is a weaving, in rhythmic, deliberate movements to create a tensile, tactile, patterned fabric. But what gets covered over (I’m quite sure that nobody else in the history of Western philosophy has considered the phenomenology of knitting yet – but as I go on here, I’m convinced I’ve, ahem, found a good thread to follow) by this everydayness is the nature, the ontology, of knitting and of the knitted fabric – which is, that each thread supports each other thread (it is actually often only one thread, clever!) and to pull on one is to pull on the whole – so it is web-like. Therefore – knitting is ontologically web-like – a tensional, non-hierarchical structure or system where there is no ‘foundational’ aspect as all the members of the web create the web together… The nature of knitting is concealed by our everyday (or not-so-everyday)experience; that it isn’t ‘given’ to us in or by our everyday experience marks knitting as a phenomenon worthy of phenomenological curiosity. I suppose a great many fabrics might fall into this – but what marks knitting is a depth (over/under-ness with threads that are girthy enough for clumsy human hands, not just mechanical needles), the constitutive role of loops creating the web – more specifically, the elasticity (tension) that such loops give the web. Woven fabrics are generally more linear and thus, less malleable.
Perhaps more importantly: its web nature encapsulates perfectly why I cannot, and in fact, do not need, to find a beginning – the web itself is what is resonant. Not where it began.
What is also curious is the notion of covering/revealing – I believe in the process of bringing these ideas to an ontic, or everyday, workable-in-studio sphere, we must also forget the ontological – in order to grasp The Nature of The Nature of Things, we must also forget it in our immediate experience. For me to find the ideas in my body, I must forget the ontological aspect and simply be present to what the task is – attend to what is felt when I feed the idea in. Give it some space to quicken and follow it when it starts to move. And this circles back, re-folds the space to the notion of where the emphases lie in how we consider work, that the aesthetic and the intellectual are only different slices of time brought to the surface through different media and different modes of being. I must have done something in order to reflect on it – in order to locate my body in the ideas, I really had to have been there. I suppose, to over-simplify – the aesthetic *must* lie in experience and thus – it must also occupy an ontic, everyday sphere. And the intellectual lies in an ontological sphere – but our particular human truth is that the ontological lies in our experience – not our intellectualisation of such experience.
And a more particular truth of Charlotte-work (and in fact, art that I find resonant, rather than art I endure or primarily consume conceptually), is that it brings to the fore and acknowledges that the phenomena we are drawn to through sensation, through body, are phenomena that have an ontological root, that return us to this ‘deep-seated memory of an underlying harmony’… we sense this, even though we often need cortical power to articulate the essential elements that make an experience an experience and not just another bit of fluff on our existential sleeve. We are moved by the beauty of natural rock formations without needing to know anything at all about the ‘patterns’ that formed them, we can have dialogue with big bodies of water without knowing anything whatsoever about the tides and the massive forces at work there. The ontology of such experiences is that we had to be present, in our bodies, in our minds, as creatures of the world, in order to have them. We couldn’t think them through – we had to be there. The ontology is that they are inherently ontological – they must be lived. We sense a depth permeating such experiences that resonates and so… we reflect on it.
As movers – we are lucky in that we can also locate this ‘cortical’ articulation in and through body; we can work with the patterns that we are, fleshed-out-attention, to move an idea through space-time and thus, allow it a particular life in a particular performative format; it lives a little for those watching or attending to our dance in some way. Through this ontic plane, of doing, attending and making space for an idea/phenomenon to create sensation in body, we find a bit of depth, something that resonates with the ontology of the phenomenon… and without really ‘knowing’ it in any positivistic frame of discursiveness. We are busy being extremely discursive in movement – as there is rarely any movement that is happening without reason. And then, we are also being extremely discursive when reflecting on the material being generated. At one end, there is a feeling and felt body-thinking, and at the other end, there is a thinking and thoughtful mind being bodied; both reflecting/reflections on experience itself – and actually, both are just part of the web. Different slices of time.
I think this helps:
Since we are entirely in and of this earthly world, nature can disclose certain aspects of itself to us only by concealing other aspects; we never perceive the whole of any earthly phenomenon all at once. Because we are animals immersed in the world, each thing we directly encounter meets us with its own depth, its visible facets and its invisible facets, its closer aspects open to our gaze and its more distant aspects hidden from view.” David Abram – ‘Depth Ecology’