In Human Machine, Claude writes about her experience of Las Vegas, and shares an insight she had about the absence of balconies. She explains that the justification given pertained to the suicidal tendencies of depressed gamblers. Shockingly yet unstartlingly, it would thus seem that while balconies were removed (or avoided) to prevent or limit such tragic events, the potential causes were left intact. Rather than focusing on the consequences of casinos and gambling, I would like to use this opportunity to share an insight of my own stemming from my unenjoyable visit to Las Vegas this summer, and pertaining to the “sensory atmospherics” (Schüll 2012:46) of casinos. This response thus explores an element that certainly does not help to prevent gambling and its (potentially serious) consequences.

All roads lead to Vegas, but none seems to lead out. In fact, during my visit, I was relieved to find a way out of the Strip (not without effort, patience, and determination),  and finally out of the city, to pursue our trip around the United States. While I consider that I usually have a good sense of direction (another sense to add to that list we developed back in September), Las Vegas really confused me, and I doubt this was unintentional. In Natasha Schüll’s chapter about “sensory atmospherics” (2012:46-51), she quotes the confidences of a gambler about his walk through a casino floor to meet a friend at a buffet. His experience of confusion, his sense of being lost, particularly resonated with my own experience of my sole night on the Strip, before we fled the city. Since our hotel was located in the downtown area (the older and original gambling district), we had decided to park our van on the outskirts of the Strip, and ramble towards the casinos. Walking down Las Vegas boulevard on the sidewalk, however, we unexpectedly reached a dead-end. We could not go straight ahead anymore, and had to follow a path up a set of stairs. Quickly, without really noticing it, we found ourselves literally in what felt like an exitless maze. This path was leading us from one casino to the other, and I did not know where we were going anymore. We simply kept following the masses of people. We got lost multiple times, particularly at the Venetian as we were trying to find a way out, and finally exited through the underground parking. At first, this was not too annoying. Everything was new, and as much as I did not like that environment, I was intrigued by the architecture of the different hotels. After a while, however, blisters began to develop on my feet, and making it back to my hotel room was the only thing I had in mind. This was when the fun began. Unwilling to stand in one of the long taxi lines, we undertook to walk back to our car. What followed, however, was an hour of jaywalking, trek up and down escalators, in and out casinos, and around cars, on what was all but a straight line. Generally-speaking, the only way out of a casino was leading towards another. Few months later, I wonder how addicted gambler, like the anonymous man quoted by Schüll, engage with this environment. It must be extremely hard to resist the urge to play, when slot machines simply cannot be avoided, even on its way out.

In light of Schüll’s argument about “sensory atmospherics” (2012:46), we can conclude that absolutely nothing seems to be left to chance by casinos. And while balconies are left out of the architecture, humongous efforts are unscrupulously put on modulating people’s sensory experiences. Blaming the gamblers for their addictive behaviours, casino operatives can wash their hands of it by adopting such a narrative. But how can they really, considering all the work put in retaining people in those spaces? Although I have no answer to this troubling question, I think that this naturalization of addiction, in addition to precious work like Schüll’s, is a good place to start.

References

Schüll, Natasha
2012     Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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In Human Machine Addiction, Mary articulates her outrage for “blame the victim” types of narrative pervasive in our society. Critiquing the American Gaming Association for their use of the notorious NRA slogan “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, she makes a brilliant use of Bruno Latour’s ideas to problematize such denial of responsibility.

Throughout the term, we have studied several scholars who refused to locate the human in an inanimate, passive, and unchangeable world. Whether it was in Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, Natasha Myers, or others’ work, human beings and non-human things and animals, in their capacity to affect and be affected, were conceptualized relationally. The body itself, rather than being thought of as a static entity, was theorized as “leav[ing] a dynamic trajectory by which we learn to register and become sensitive to what the world is made of” (Latour 2004:206).  Concepts of mutual articulation, dance of encounters, intra-action, and naturalcultural contact zones, all implicit (or explicit) in the arguments of the authors above, informed an understanding of “becoming with” (Haraway 2007:3) rather than simply being in the world. “Partners do not precede the meeting;” Haraway writes, for “species of all kinds, living or not, are consequent on a subject- and object-shaping dance of encounters” (2007:4) that conjoin events spanning across indefinite time and space.

In a sense, the NRA is right to argue that “guns don’t kill people”. Taken literally, it is hard to picture how a gun sitting on the shelves of a store could kill someone by itself (although, I would love to unearth the labour practices that were involved in its design, production, and commercialization, including the extracting/mining of the necessary resources, for example). The same could be said about video games and addiction. Yet, such a narrative is shockingly peculiar and dishonest, since guns and video games are not designed to remain on stores shelves. They are commodities meant to be purchased and used.

Furthermore, to argue that “people kill people”, or that “people are the social cause of addiction”, is extremely reductionist. Such an idea sets the individual as a mere biological fact unchanged by its environment. When it comes to video games, for example, genes are blamed by designers as the cause of the addictive behaviours, as Mary explains. Such an appeal to nature delegitimizes considerations of  the impacts of the game on individuals, because they are portrayed as immutable essences to be revealed. As we have seen, however, beings emerge through processes of becoming with other things. A human being becomes something different in its encounter with a gun or a video game, and so do the latter. Killing and addiction arise from these relations, and cannot be reduced to only one of its constituents. Even if one were to blame the individual alone, this individual emerges from material-semiotic knots, cultures that video games tap into, and that allowed their emergence in the first place.

Although neither video games nor people are the sole cause of addiction, we should not conclude that no one is to blame either. As anthropologists, we can contribute to the issue by focusing on the intra-actions through which such addiction emerges as subjects and objects are changed. We can explore the material-semiotic knots, such as the capitalist economic system that must continually grow (in which game design is so heavily embedded, as Mary argues), and the academic researches on sensory modulation, for example. If my limited knowledge of biochemistry prevents me from denying potential preconditions pertaining to addictive behaviours in particular individuals, I would nevertheless argue that this does not, and should not, relieve game designers from any responsibility, particularly since considerable efforts seem to be made to attract players, and get them “in the zone”. By exploiting some social and biological features to make their games more attractive (and addictive, although they deny this point), they contribute at the very least to the issue of addiction that emerges from the encounter of video games, players, communities, capitalism, and much more.

References
Haraway, Donna
2007     When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Latour, Bruno
2004     How to Talk About the Body? The Normative Dimension of Science Studies. Body & Society 10(2-3):205-229.

My yoga teacher burst out laughing, and many students joined the hilarity of the moment. Seconds before, as smiles were progressively building up on my fellow yogis’ faces, I could feel the affect contagion spreading frantically across the room, as we were noticing the interesting pattern that had developed. While we were all in Ardha Matsyendrasana (Half Spinal Twist Pose), nearly half of the class was facing the other half, as if watching its own reflection in a mirror, despite homogeneous instructions. How we got there will be the topic of this reflection, as Anna Gibbs’ After Affect will inform some connections between mimesis and ways of knowing/learning.

Typically, Ardha Matsyendrasana is taught along the following instruction:

Begin by sitting on the floor with both knees bent and your feet flat on the floor… Your right leg… extend[s] out, toes pointing up, and your left foot… cross[es] over the thigh… On an exhale, twist to the right bringing your left elbow to outside of your right thigh, keeping your hand in a stop sign position. (My Yoga Online 2013)

Different variations might be instructed, but those are the essential lines a teacher will usually utter in class, in the yoga series I practice. For new students, the process of translating those words into movement can be confusing, which is why it is often suggested to them to practice in the back row. With a clear overview of the classroom, they can complement the verbal instructions with other sensory information (e.g.: vision, mirror neurons, motor sympathy, etc) to mimick more experienced fellows. Rachel Girardi’s presentation in class hinted towards this insight when, using a student for her example, she explained her teaching techniques (verbal cues, hands-on adjustments, but also most relevant to this reflection: embodied demonstrations). In both cases, mimesis complements language as a way of learning and knowing.

For Anna Gibbs, mimesis is “the corporeally based forms of imitation, both voluntary and involuntary… [which] involve[s] the visceral level of affect contagion, the “synchrony of facial expressions, vocalizations, postures and movements with those of another person,” producing a tendency for” (2010:86) emotional convergence. According to her, mimicry, as “action on bodies” (2010:193), can be understood as a mode of communication. Delegitimized in the West as belonging to the realms of infancy and fauna, mimesis is in fact much more prevalent in our everyday forms of communication than we usually recognize it (2010:190). In fact, operating at the non-verbal level, mimesis would be the “earliest form of knowledge of both self and other” (2010:196), and is often thought to constitute more than 90% of our daily forms of communication. Far from a “simple mimicry or copying dependent on vision… [it is] a complex communicative process in which other sensory and affective modalities are centrally involved.” (2010:190-191) Despite the pervasive ocularcentrism of our society, vision cannot indeed be isolated from other senses, as we have studied through this course. In this light, Gibbs highlights the “importance of sensory cross-modalization -or synesthesia” (2010:202). Mimesis, although central to subject formations, is asubjective. It transforms bodies, but does not belong to them. It is a “mode of operation… a rendering… a relation between things” (2010:193). Forms emerge as the “sensuous traces” (2010:194) of a trajectory that links them. It “is the immediacy of what passes between bodies… [, it] subtends cognitively mediated representation, which it does not ever entirely replace or supersede.” (2010:193) Building on our earlier discussion of mutual articulations and intra-actions, however, it would be misguided to consider mimesis as an uni-directional. Instead of thinking of mimics and models, Gibbs writes of a “mimicry complex” (2010:194). Although the relation might be asymmetrical, both things are “becoming”, in Deleuze and Guattari’s term (2010:194); in other words, both mimics and models are changed in the process of their encounters.

The notion of mimesis and contagion, particularly, are insightful in light of the event I relate in this reflection. It helps explain how the same instructions yielded different results in practice. In fact, as shown in images 1, 2, and 3, a single yogi diverting from the instructions can engender the visible contagion leaping from body to body. An amused student indeed admitted her “culpability” seconds later. To different extents, such events are relatively frequent in class. Well aware of the mimetic nature of the series of pose (and the relative synchrony that we usually share), a yogi facing me in Ardha Matsyendrasana (twisting in the opposite direction) will almost always engender a doubt in my mind, which will then be relieved by either twisting in the other direction, as seen in the images, or scanning my surroundings for confirmation of the “right” orientation. Mimesis thus act as a complement to the verbal instructions in my performance of the pose. Contagion and mimetic communication were also, in my initial example, at work in the smiles and laughs that arose during the events [note 1]. Since practices are usually silencious (except for the teacher) and somewhat serious (often too much), others’ smiles felt like a nonverbal justification and acceptance of a “different” affect. In a sense, this point was also reflected in class in our “affect contagion” exercise. When a few students began to gather by the wall, I felt drawn to mimick them, while simultaneously feeling like it was inappropriate. Once more people joined us, and a sense of trust and belonging developed, standing by the wall became the main posture/affect, and quickly we were  all in the same position.

Image 1: While the instructions lead to the torso twisting towards the right, the yogi in red twists towards the left.

Image 1: While the instructions lead to the torso twisting towards the right, the yogi in red twists towards the left.

Image 2: Upon visual contact with its fellow, the yogi in green reverse its twist.

Image 2: Upon visual contact with its fellow, the yogi in green reverses its twist.

The yogis in blue follow the tendency, contagion spreads.

Image 3: The yogis in blue follow the tendency, contagion spreads.

In this reflection, I have used Anna Gibbs’ concepts of affect, mimesis, and contagion to make sense of an event that happened during my yoga class. Mimesis has been presented as an alternative and complementary way of learning and knowing the postures and movement of the particular series I practice. If language was nevertheless an important aspect of the teacher’s tools, I have shown that it was not hegemonic. It also explains, I think, how some advanced practices offered at other similar studios throughout the city can be unproblematically taught silently.

Notes
Note 1:  Earlier, an affective state of calmness could also have been said to be mimetic, and contagious between practitionners. I have selected this example, however, because the mimetic processes were made evident through the moving contrast between yogis.

Resources
Gibbs, Anna
2010     After Affect: Sympathy, Synchrony, and Mimetic Communication. In The Affect Theory Reader, Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seighworth, eds. Pp. 186-205. Durham: Duke University Press.

Internet Resources
My Yoga Online – Half Twist Pose: Ardha Matsyendrasana. http://www.myyogaonline.com/poses/twists/half-twist-pose-ardha-matsyendrasana, accessed on March 20th, 2013.

At a younger age, I became passionate about theatre after attending the adaptation of the historical novel Scaramouche. Although acting was not my cup of tea, I loved to watch plays; with time, however, my interest faded away. In this entry, I wish to explore the reasons of my disinterest. The experimental play Sleep No More will then serve as an analogy to introduce Laura Marks’ (2004) concepts of optical and haptic visuality. Finally, I will conclude that a haptic (immersive) theatre has the potential to revive my love for this form of art.

Arguably, Scaramouche set the bar high. The hyperactivity of the main character, its interventions directed at the audience as if it was a character, and the numerous action scenes resulted in two gasping hours spent at the tip of my seat. My following experiences, unfortunately, did not follow this tendency. More often than not, I felt alienated, sensorially detached from the story unfolding before my eyes (my body, to avoid ocularcentrism). With a clear overview of the stage, I was well aware of the distance separating me from the actors, the action, the story. Whatever happened, I was still sitting comfortably and peacefully in my seat. Scaramouche might have been an exception in the dozens of theatrical representations I have seen, after all.

This recollection of one of my first theatrical experience is precisely this, a recollection. I am well aware of its romanticization, but in any case, I want to hold on to this idea of my desire to be, as an audience member, sensorially engaged with the events unfolding before me. I want to feel the sword impale my flesh (maybe not so much), the burning sensation in my ears after the screams of an actor, the frolic movements of ecstatic new lovers. Although her comment pertains to the medium of cinema, Marks writes that early representations instilled “an embodied response, in which distanced identification with the action onscreen gives way to an immediate bodily response” (2004:81). As time went on, however, cinema began to appeal “more to narrative identification than to body identification… became less mimetic, more symbolic” (2004:81), more optical, she adds. Years later, it is hard to apply these questions to my experiences, and I struggle to determine if my identification with Scaramouche was narrative or bodily… or maybe both. Nevertheless, I think that theatre and cinema, for the most part, share this characteristic of the spectators’ bodies that have been reconfigured and de-emphasized at some point in the past. The experimental play Sleep No More, a joint production of theatre companies Emursive and Punchdrunk, does not follow this tendency, however.

Sleep No More

Sleep No More

Sleep No More happens in McKittrick hotel, a fictive 5-storeys abandoned hotel recently restored. Upon entrance in the building, audience members (which I will also refer to as “participants”) are stripped from all their non-clothing belongings, and handed a mask, which has to be wore at all times during the play. They are separated from their relatives, and directed towards elevators, where actors establish the basis ground rules (no talking, no touching of the actors, etc). Participants are then set loose in the space that has more than a hundred rooms to explore. Actors move silently through the space, as the story unfolds. Completely withdrawn from the outside world, participants are immersed in the play. [Note 1] They need to make decisions, as they select their own route through the stories, the realities. As such, a returning participant could experience something different every time. Interviewed for Spark, a CBC Radio show, Michelle Parise describes her sensory and emotional experience in the following words:

I was so excited, but also scared; I didn’t know what was going to happen next, or what I should do… A man came in the room… then he left the room, and I decided to follow him. For the next hour, hours, I followed him around, completely drawn into his story… The street is a set, like everything else, but I had already forgotten that, everything felt so real… As I whipped down those stairs, it was the most exhilarating feeling I have had in a long, long time… And then he ran to a store front… What he did was to open the door, turn around, grab MY hand, and pull me into the store with him. He slammed the door and barricaded it with a heavy piece of wood. He shuttered one window, and I shuttered the other. All I could hear was my heavy, heavy breathing. I was in the play now. No, not the play, whatever was happening was real, and I was in it… I was just looking at it anymore, I was in it. (in Nora Young 2013, my emphasis)

Parise’s words about Sleep No More detail the blurred distinction between the actors and the audience members, the stage and the seating area. The play subverts the usual “theatrical safety” (Nora Young 2013) we normally nestle into. As such, it serves as a great example of Laura Marks’ (2004) concepts of optical and haptic visuality.

Perception through optical visuality relies on a separation between the viewer and the viewed, a distanciation that permits distinctions between subjects and objects. One is withdrawn from the other (Marks 2004:80). Traditional theatre, with its clear distinction between the stage and the seating area, could be thought in this way. Haptic visuality, on the other hand, dissolves the viewer in the viewed, and vice versa. Optical visuality’s dependence on a center is lost, for one is in the midst of it, rendering any overview or distanced focus impossible; a “loss of depth”, Marks writes (2004:80). It is a way of seeing that approximates tactility, proprioception, and kinaesthesia; it allures contact by “inform[ing] an understanding of vision as embodied and material” (Marks 2004:81). Haptic visuality also appeals to Deleuze and Guattari’s “smooth space”, a way of occupying space that involves a deep intimate entanglement with its immediate environment (Marks 2004:80). It allows for the desire, the possibility to affect and be affected (an inevitability, argues Marks, in fact) [note 2], an experience of vulnerability which can be frightening, but which actually has a long tradition in other spheres (Marks 2004:80) [note 3]. In Marks’ words, “looking is [(becomes)] not about power but about yielding.” (2004:81)

Because of the disintegration of this distance between the viewer and the viewed, haptic visuality presents a potential for many political, ethical, environmental, and social consequences. For example, optical visuality facilitates war, for this (emotional, physical, moral) detachment from targets allows for unproblematized bombs, missiles and other mass destruction weapons (Marks 2004:80). As such, a higher degree of accountability and connectivity may detract engagement in such acts, or the design of nuclear bombs, to follow the example discussed in class. For the discipline of anthropology, it also presents the potential for a better understanding of cultures, by bringing the participation back into “participant observation”, and by appealing to mimesis . In a nutshell, the viewer presses into contact with the viewed, becoming “it” (Marks 2004:81) as they are now both in a feedback loop (or mutual articulation) that blurs all distinctions, reminding us of Haraway’s dance of encounters.

It should now be evident that several emerging themes, described here as haptic visuality, share strong connections with, and are reflected in, the play Sleep No More. This deep sensory engagement with the play and the world clashes with traditional theatre in a way that could renew my interest in this form of art. Marks makes it very clear, however, that the rise of these two parallel concepts should not result in a moral scale of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ visuality (Marks 2004:82). As exciting and promising as haptic visuality may be, she warns us against the discard of optical visuality, which would simply replace one hegemony by another. Optical visuality, she writes, is important and necessary  in a myriad of situations, and yields to a different but essential form of (insightful) experience (2004:80-82). Instead, Marks advocates for a fluidity between the two categories, a “lively dialectic or mutual deterritorialization” (2004:82) that does not deny the “vital” disembodiment we require to function in this world . The idea is to bring an enhancement to our capacity to affect and be affected, rather than a mere replacement (Marks 2004:82). It is to build better relations for better worlds, rather than substituting iconoclastically one for another [note 4]. Sleep No More, I think, offers this possibility. With tickets selling at 85US$, however, the application of these ideas to everyday life contexts is costly, and we might thus ponder as to who will have access and benefit from them.

Notes
[Note 1] In Spark (Nora Young 2013), it is suggested that the withholding of cellphones, at the entrance, contributes to the immersive power of  the experience.
[Note 2] Parise’s description makes it clear that not only was she affected by the events, but affected them as well, a radical idea in face of what is normal assumed about theatre.
[Note 3] Remember that for Latour, good science, the endeavour towards better articulation, is risky! (Latour 2004:216)
[Note 4] This is an idea that I think Latour would be fond of (2002)

References
Latour, Bruno
2002 What Is Iconoclash? Or Is There a World Beyond the Image Wars. In ICONOCLASH: Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion and Art. Bruno Latour, Peter Weibel, eds. Pp.15-40. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
2004   How to Talk About the Body: The Normative Dimension of Science Studies. Body & Society 10(2-3):205-229.
Marks, Laura
2004   Haptic Visuality: Touching with the Eyes. Framework, The Finnish Art Review.
Young, Nora
2013   Immersive Theatre. Spark, CBC Radio, January 11, 2013.

Quantum physics meet anthropological theory. In what follows, I attempt a discussion of the relevance of the concept of spooky action for the understanding of Donna Haraway’s argument about the “dance[s] of encounters” (2007:4) of multispecies. It will serve, hopefully, as a “capacity building block” [Note 1], like ‘malettes à odeurs’ (odour kits) used for the training of ‘noses’ (Latour 2004:206-207), to “learn to be affected” (Latour 2004:205) by new distinctions in the world, and develop better articulations of them (Latour 2004:209-213) as a result. For Latour, learning to be affected is the fate of having a body (2004:205). Far from being a static entity, the body “leaves a dynamic trajectory by which we learn to register and become sensitive to what the world is made of” (2004:206), and it must thus be defined relationally. Understanding spooky action will allow us to register new differences we were previously inarticulate about. These new contrasts, in turn, will expand our sensory worlds, as he would argue (2004:211), an idea in line with the ‘dynamic trajectory’ of the ever-learning body. It is this perspective of experiencing a wider world of possibilities that, I think, Haraway is alluding to in her question “Whom and what do I touch when I touch my dog?” (2007:3). But first, let me dwell, for a moment, on the quantum physics concept of spooky action.

‘Spooky action at a distance’ refers to the phenomenon of particles that, despite the magnitude of the distance that might have come to separate them, continue to be mutually influencing. It implies that, in the universe, distance does not equal independence. From this insight emerged the quantum field, in which space is not defined by emptiness or fullness, since it allows non-proximate things to be entangled. These concepts explicitly call for, and invoke, a reconceptualization of space and time. No longer is an event restricted to its immediacy and locality. Instead, it suddenly seems to us that the apparent defined boundaries of bodies and events are blurry, for there are no identifiable beginning or end to a state of affection.

Jim's Dog

Jim’s Dog

Haraway, in “When Species Meet: Introductions” [note 2], introduces her readers to Jim’s dog, which serves as the touchstone for her argument, and her question: “whom and what do I touch when I touch this dog?” (2007:5) Instead of reproducing the example here, I will try to introduce a different personal account, while weaving it with Haraway’s thesis. A few years ago, the Montreal Impact unexpectedly qualified for the quarter-finals of the CONCACAF Champions League. As a second division (Canadian) team at that time, their presence at that stage of the competition among supposedly stronger American, Honduran, and Mexican teams felt, for Montreal’s fans, as an important historical moment. [note 3] In the first leg of the quarter-finals, in Montreal, the Impact won 2-0 in front of 55 571 ecstatic fans (minus a small number of Santos Laguna fans), surprising again media, fans, and pundits. The next day, surfing on a dreamy wave of energy and excitement, I bought flight tickets for Torreón, Mexico to attend the return game. [Although I could write extensively about my week of experiences, friendships, discoveries, and fond memories, I will jump directly to the game, and the climax of my story (my example), for the sake of brevity.] On March 5th 2009, around 9:24pm, Roberto Brown scored the equalization goal that made the return game 1-1, and 3-1 for the Impact on the aggregate. As the ball crossed the goal line, silencing (again) the thousands of Santos Laguna fans, a rush of adrenaline jolted through my body; I shivered. Instinctively, I had jumped on the fence separating us from the field; and while hanging few meters high in the air, I realized that my biggest childhood dream had come to life.

The Fence

The Fence

So, whom and what did I touch when I touched this fence? What made possible these incredible emotions that still tingle in my body almost four years later? The easy answer would be the goal of Roberto Brown, but I know, and I assume Haraway also does, that it misses a large part of the picture. If my chronological description inarticulately centers on the pronoun I, it is but an effect of culture and language that regrettably reflects a “fantasy of human exceptionalism” (Haraway 2007:4), and an understanding of space and time that spooky action proved to be limited.

Haraway has written that “figures are not representations or didactic illustrations, but rather material-semiotic nodes or knots in which diverse bodies and meanings coshape one another” (2007:4). As in the case of Jim’s dog, my encounter with the fence, a “naturalcultural contact zone” (2007:4), was made possible by events that span across indefinite time and space. The political decision to separate the soccer field from the stands with tall fences. The industrial work that forged metal into wires that were then twisted into a regular pattern. The driver that delivered rolls of fences for the employees to install them. Those employees, their sweaty work, and their stories. Speculations like these, in a sense melting possibilities and realities, are endless; and they only tackle the fence, a fraction of what made that experience possible. Nevertheless, they represent this sort of ripple effects that spooky action refers to.

My experience, like Jim’s dog –‘contact zones’ as Haraway (2007:4) call them– was made possible through “intra- and interactions” (2007:4) and entanglements of human and nonhuman things, meanings, and events. Things are not essences waiting to be revealed. As such, “partners do not precede the meeting; species of all kinds, living and not, are consequent on a subject- and object-shaping dance of encounters” ,writes Haraway (2007:4) . This dance blurs the distinctions that usually delineate the human, modern and technological from the nonhuman, traditional, and organic (Haraway 2007:8). Whitehead argued that “an event is the grasping into unity of pattern of aspects. The effectiveness of an event beyond itself arises from the aspects of itself which go to form the prehended unities of the events” (1948:111, in Haraway 2007:305n7), what he termed as a ‘concrescence of prehensions’. By touching the fence, grabbing it firmly, I “inherit[ed] in [my] flesh” (Haraway 2007:7) much more than a mere immediate tactile sensation of metal. The encounters that made this event possible spanned beyond its immediacy and locality, revealing again the concept of spooky action.

We, human and non-human things, are all entangled in this world, as we affect and are affected by each other. To better articulate and grasp this worldliness, however, we must “learn to live intersectionally” (Haraway 2007:18). Understanding spooky action can serve as a tool to help us rethink our assumptions about “patterns of relationality and… intra-actions at many scales of space-time” (Haraway 2007:17), ultimately registering and articulating our dances with the world. We might then well ask, in Haraway’s terms, who “we” will become, but one thing seems to be sure: discarding this fantasy of human exceptionalism, through a better articulated sensory attunement, shows great promises for the multispecies world. [note 4]

Notes
Note 1: To borrow from the language of the course syllabus.
Note 2: This entry is only based on the first 18 pages of Donna Haraway’s When Species Meet. My regret is that the reading of the full book would have most likely resulted in a better understanding of the concepts she teases out in her “introductions”.
Note 3: The quarterfinals were played on two games, on at home and one away. A Puerto Rican team also qualified for this stage of the competition, but was also considered as an underdog team.
Note 4: In Vibrant Matters: A Political Ecology of Things, Jane Bennett explores similarly topics. A must-read.

References
Haraway, Donna
2007     When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Latour, Bruno
2004     How to Talk About the Body? The Normative Dimension of Science Studies. Body & Society 10(2-3):205-229.

The Heart of Non-Attachment

Posted: December 21, 2012 in Uncategorized

“Non-attachment does’nt mean just not being attached to your bicycle, or your apartment, or your bank account. Non-attachment means not clinging to fixed ideas, not clinging to the way you think things should be, but actually opening to the way things really are. So I would translate non-attachment as engagement, non-attachment as a deep intimacy to see the way everything leans into everything else, to wake up to the inherent interconnection of all things, but to do it in a way that is non-attached.” – Michael Stone, Toronto-based Buddhist teacher and yogi

Imagine, for a second, that you were to wake up to find a world experienced without any tactile sensation. You might have already encountered such a reality through local anaesthesia or even a limb that fell asleep, but what if those transient and localized absences of sensation became permanent and thorough? This is the question that I asked myself upon reading Oliver Sacks’ To See and Not See [1995]: what would it mean to lose one of my senses, touch, in this case?

In his ‘paradoxical tale’, Sacks [1995] expands on the story of Virgil, a virtually blind mid-aged man that temporarily regained his sense of vision. Yet, unexpectedly, vision for Virgil might not have been such a “gift”, contrary to what we might tend to assume in our ocularcentric society. (Sacks 1995:139) Rather, vision proved to be a curse, and in the end, his retrieved blindness was a blessing (Sacks 1995:151–152). Throughout this case study, Sacks indeed demonstrates that seeing is not just biological, but also experiential (and social); in other words, seeing is a learning process (1995:114). “We are not given the world,” he writes, we instead “make our world through incessant experience, categorization, memory, reconnection.” (1995:114) This was also true for Virgil, whose world had been constructed through his senses, though without any visual referent for almost his entire life. He had been skillfully and self-sufficiently approaching the world through his sense of touch first, or other senses than sight (Sacks 1995: 133–134,140). Considered in this light [1], it is thus no surprise that vision confused Virgil: he could surely see, but what he saw made no sense, had no signification for him (Sacks 1995: 110–114). In other words, what he saw was meaningless and incoherent, because his perception was not supported by any visual memories, a possibility almost completely ignored by the biomedical team that treated him (Sacks 1995:115). His operation implied the renunciation of his lifeworld for another which he was not familiar and necessarily readily comfortable with (Sacks 1995:139). As a result, Virgil “felt more disabled than he had felt” before (Sacks 1995:121), an idea that contradicts the notion of the “gift of vision”.

Virgil’s story examplifies how central are the senses to people’s life(worlds). It demonstrates that although perception is biological, a world of experience is required to make sense of the information collected. “Perceptual constancy” (Sacks 1995:128) is learned, even if it can appear natural and innate, because it is an activity unconsciously occurring from birth. Anyone losing or retrieving a sense must thus also learn to experience and navigate the world through their new sensibility, a potentially challenging, destabilizing and lengthy necessity, as Sacks describes [1995].

So, imagine [2], for a second, that you were to wake up to find a world experienced without any tactile sensation. The soft linens, the cozy blankets, the comfortable pillow: none of these sensations, potentially synonyms of your everyday mornings, can be felt. You raise your arm, wiggle your fingers, but the feeling is uncanny, something is missing. It feels as if you were floating in space, the world outside your body seems foreign, empty, void. Yet, you can see that you are well and truly lying in your bed, you can hear the alarm clock, smell the fresh coffee perfume emanating from the kitchen, you can feel your body’s movement being restrained in its action by its environment. You try to stand up, but fall painlessly on the floor. It felt as if you had just stepped into the void. All those years, you tacitly benefited  from your sense of touch, took it for granted, never realized its importance in your life and your perception of your world. Like those front line soldiers in their trenches in April 1915 who realized the importance of air from the moment it was replaced by a greenish chemical cloud that lingered over them, you begin to realize the real importance of touch in its absence (Latour 2006:105). You think of all the roles touch play in your life, from body-world to body-body interrelations. You think of everything you enjoyed through the sense of touch (e.g.: your cat’s fur; massages; tickles; the feeling of scratching your beard; your hand scratching a guitar; etc). Panicked, feeling like you are melting with the world [3], your skin shivers and few cold sweats form on your temples, bodily reactions that you cannot perceive now. As life goes on, you think, you will have to learn, like Virgil, to experience (and accept) the world through your new sensory perspective, in which tactility and (tactile) sensuality are mere memories of a soon distant past.

Notes
[1] Or “seen in this light”, if you’ll pardon the pun.
[2] Needless to say, this is a purely speculative mental exercise. Because of my lack of medical knowledge, I have no way to confirm the existence of such a condition, including the specific symptoms I am developing here.
[3] Caroline Potter (2008:456) argues that touch “bring[s] explicit attention to the body’s boundaries”, thus arguably the impairment of touch could result in a perceived fuzziness between the body’s boundaries and the ‘external’ world.

References
Latour, Bruno
2006 Air. In Sensorium: Embodied Experience, Technology, and Contemporary Art. Caroline A. Jones, ed. Pp. 104–107. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Potter, Caroline
2008 Sense of Motion, Senses of Self: Becoming a Dancer.Ethnos 73(4):444–465.
Sacks, Olivier
1995 To See and Not See. In An Anthropologist on Mars. New York: Knopf.