Plenary #2: Erin Manning, “Another Regard”

Discussion of Nathaniel Stern’s art installation.

Epigraph from Dawn Prince (anthropologist, worked with gorillas, written memoirs on her autistic experience with gorillas)

1st movement: Are you a gorilla?

Dawn Prince’s experience with bonobo Kanzi: ” I fell into the gorilla language I knew, a language of body, mind, spirit…” Then, something uncanny: word-movement series, he was asking me a question; Sue Savage-Rumbaugh realized he was pointed to word gorilla and signing “question” – he was asking me if I was gorilla. But he didn’t know ASL, had only seen Koko using it and thought all gorillas understood ASL, so he thought I must understand it if I was a gorilla.

Whitehead’s “concern”: regard not of subject for object, but of the occasion for its own unfolding; reworks the subject-object dichotomy, placing the object as component in experience of subject, with affective tone… “Concern” allows us to understand the crafting of time in the relation: affective tonalities of an encounter which sets into motion the conditions for an activation of regard/concern that outlives the immediate occasion. Regard does not flow unidirectionally from human to animal; it repositions it in the relational.

The language of the nonhuman already tunes for Dawn with her movement. The welling event. Kanzi & Dawn cuing, aligning, creating a rhythm in counterpoint. Dancing in alignment with a future in the making; moving into the technicity of movement, no standing back. To move with the movement and craft it in the more-than movement moving. Preaccelerate into the relational field. Time folds; one movement moving in difference, counterpoint.

Speciations make dancing bodies; affective attunement. (Von Uexkull’s) Spiders that are fly-like (“flyders” slip), cups that are coffee-like. The dancer’s movement was spiral-like, wall-like, sound-like, gorilla-like.

Positing identity politics as a starting point assumes to know in advance how to frame a question of belonging, territory. Who can know yet what constitutes gorilla in this context of movement-counterpoint?

More-than is the counterpoint event’s motif. The fly serves as the counterpoint for the formation of the web. The “organic whole” is a misnomer; it separates the event of bodying from its activity. Speciations, affective tonalities of the milieu; they are bodyings. The relational field expresses.

2nd movement: At Play

The dynamic form “gorilla-like” is bred in play. Counterpoint is creative, proposes an assemblage, a territorializing platform that is kept moving, active, transductive. Counterpoint is paradoxical: it must remain territorial (for access and return), but what is returned to is to a certain degree different (difference?). It produces the more-than a position, positions outdoing themselves in concert.

The event doesn’t begin in bonobo, gorilla, human; it begins in movement. E.g., gender: posited as a pre-formed category backgrounds the act of the event. Engendering: opens the field to new constellations.

What moves Kanzi & Dawn is not simply behavior pre-existing the event; they are creating play. Gorilla-like is an art. A movement constellation has taken Dawn & Kanzi by surprise. No purpose to play except to create more play. “Are you a gorilla?” is not this play’s mandate, just postscript. Play is the fielding of a relational movement, improvisational field.

3rd movement: On Novelty

Whitehead: “Life means novelty.” Life is an appetition. “Reason” is the force of thought that is immanent to the event, the reason of nature, in nature. For Whitehead, nature thinks. Thought does not enter into nature from the outside, nor is thought mediating; nature creates thought. Nature and speciations are co-combinatory.

The question is “how is gorilla-like?” Nature is its speciations; a relational field through which motifs become active, a field of creativity. ANW’s “self-enjoyment”: not a moral category, not the enjoyment of the subject for life, but the enjoyment in the event of life living. ANW’s physical and mental poles of the event: there would be no creativity if the physical pole were all that was at stake. Life = all that has capacity for transition. Novelty abounds, thinking-feeling, a feltness in the thinking.

“Mentality” is perhaps the wrong word for this intensive process; still sounds like mind, consciousness; it is a thinking-feeling. Perhaps the force of appetition is better than “mentality.” Both are always present in germ, but general categories stunt the thinking process. The thinking-feeling happens in the outdoing of form.

4th movement: An Incompletion

Whitehead: “The community of actual things is an organism… an incompletion.” A structured improvisation. In the field teeming with activity, a question “are you a gorilla?” becomes a motif, a platform for new concepts, speciations.

Whitehead: an animal body is a society involving a vast number of temporal occasions. Kanzi’s story; “gorilla-like” reframes it. He uses lexigrams, understands some spoken language. Dawn Prince’s story; “gorilla-like” speaks to the force of another regard. These are some of the societies that meet on that afternoon to play along the fence.

Autistic perception (a tendency on a continuum within all perception), a style that actively feels the edgings and contourings of fields of relations into instances of shaped experience. “Chunking” (Ann Corwin). Autistic access the direct experience of the relational field’s morphing into subjects and objects. Whitehead’s key contribution: to have created a whole vocabulary for this. Autistics tell us: we (normapaths?) are simply too quick to chunk.

“Maybe I do not have to try very hard to be the wind or a rain cloud.” Autistic perception persistently reminds us not to begin with the pre-chunked. Begin in the middle.

The accusation of anthropomorphism: has become one more way of not attending to the complex counterpoint of creative advance. Jane Bennett: confederations of materialities.

Ecologies of perception. Interactive art. There is no object in itself, just as there is no subject for itself. Subjects and objects edge into experience relationally, in an incipient speciation. Critique of Levi Bryant’s and Graham Harman’s objects: the in-itselfness of the object must be resisted just as much as the in-it-forness of the human.

[ai comment: The object-process debate is finally identified.]

“Are you a gorilla?” speaks in a language of moving, always beyond subject and object.

Q & A:

Q about the Shaviro-Harman debate (division in Whiteheadian camp about relationism and more-than-relationism) and ANW’s “eternal objects” as Platonic forms. A: Process philosophers often work on microscopic details. The decision aspect refers to the subjective form, which I wasn’t talking about except when I spoke of territoriality. Drawing the line is extremely difficult to do in a topological system. No disagreement between Manning and Shaviro. D & G also, like Whitehead, give us limit concepts to allow us to think the process.

Eternal objects are relevant to art and dancing, e.g. colors. D & G’s haecceities. Specific movement practices may lead to specific modes of recognition of, e.g., gorilla-like. By the time you’ve explained how they’re not objects and how they’re not eternal…

Q for clarification of Whitehead; what rankles is the emphasis on “novelty” (as opposed to constraints, etc.). The story doesn’t ring true as novelty. Does he flatten out the physical pole? A: Process can be read in so many different ways. Novelty is not something never seen before; it has to do with a different constellation, how an event comes into itself.  Speciation. The difficulty I (EM) have with ANW and D&G are the limit terms, eg. “mentality” and “the physical”. The rock prehends time in its disintegration. The question is how do the rock and the human form an ecology?

But the term “novelty” is not so important; it’s more important to get out of the narrative in which we already know who Dawn or Kanzi might be.

Q (…) A: We’re seeing a generation of autistics, who have no speech but have learned to write and have begun to publish their own writings. If you surf the autistic blogs, a lot are writing about relations to animals, to people with dementia, to forms of intelligence that are quickly discarded in the neurotypical world.

Q about counterpoint in relation to space and to dance; Pina Bausch’s work and film, “Dance, dance, or all is lost.” A: Bill Forsyth’s definition of counterpoint fleshes out the musical definition: you never choreograph a body. You could choreograph the “landing sites” (A. Ginns?), which work in counterpoint.

Q from Glen Fuller via Twitter @ Heidegger’s “being is mind” and Deleuze’s “event is mind”: what about you? Is there a being of the event?  A: Whitehead and James on mind. “Distributed cognition” is insufficient, or are Heideggerian notions.

We have a reception to go to.

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Related posts:

  1. Process-objects at The Nonhuman Turn