In Chapter Eight of Vibrant Matter, Jane Bennett asks: “Are there more everyday tactics for cultivating an ability to discern the vitality of matter?” and, in response, mentions allowing oneself
to anthropomorphize, to relax into resemblances discerned across ontological divides: you (mis)take the wind outside at night for your father’s wheezy breathing in the next room; you get up too fast and see stars; a plastic topographical map reminds you of the veins on the back of your hand; the rhythm of the cicada’s [sic] reminds you of the wailing of an infant; the falling stone seems to express a conative desire to persevere.
What I like about this is not so much the argument for anthropomorphism (specifically) as the implied and more general argument for ‘morphism’, that is, for allowing one’s imaginative capacities — the capacities to take on and think with images — to build the forms of one’s perceptions and conceptions of the world. We’ve lost this ability somewhat since the decline of the epistemologies of resemblance that characterized the pre-modern and Renaissance imagination (according to Foucault and others). The ability to read the “signatures” of the world is something poets, of course, have not forgotten, but it’s also something that semiotics (of the Peircian variant) holds, or should hold, as central to the ways sense is made of things.
As for anthropomorphism, as John Livingston taught me, there’s nothing unusual about it. Dogs canomorphize, birds avimorphize, humans anthropomorphize. All of these morphic practices can be tested by trial and error for their validity in specific circumstances. The idea that something that looks somewhat like me and acts in some ways like me is like me is a reasonable starting hypothesis for a relational epistemology and ethic.
(See here for more on theorizing imagination.)
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