In years past a chunk of this time has been lost to the great vortex of MLA. For once, though, I don't have to attend this Convention of the Bespectacled, a fact both good and bad: good, because -- well, because I don't have to be there; bad, because that means we are not hiring this year, and we are down one early modernist. I have vowed to spend the hiatus as a normal person would: resting, eating, resting from eating, eating to assuage the hunger of resting from eating, resting from eating to assuage ... well, you get it. The best part of this week has been the liberation of my family from the tyranny of its schedule. No ballet classes, Hebrew school, fencing lessons, piano lessons, EcoDefenders meetings, readings, business meetings: almost nothing at all for any of us. This gift of time has given us the chance to halt our constant motion and reacquaint ourselves with each other. Interesting fact: until recently I had forgotten that I have TWO children. How wonderful it is to possess both a son and a daughter.
Today, though, most of the family has vanished to spend some time without The Killjoy (I think they mean our dog Scooby, but they seem to have forgotten that I am in the house as well. Odd.) I've been reading through an excellent book and thought I'd share it with ITM's readership, since it bears so directly on some conversations centering around the "Weight of the Past" project, on MKH's dissertation proposal, on Eileen's enduring interest in capaciously rethinking the human, and on Karl's animal-focused thoughts about boundaries and borders. Liza, a frequent contributor, will see that I have her in mind as well.
Readers may remember that not long ago in the comments to one of MKH's posts I suggested the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty as offering a usefully embodied way of thinking about horizons. Right now I'm working through an e-book heavily indebted to M-P, on the experience of stone and observer, and thought I'd share some of its foundational precepts as useful for other projects. So here is Christopher Tilley, The Materiality of Stone: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology, laying out some guiding principles for his scholarship on neolithic stone structures:
A phenomenological perspective provides an ontological ground for the study ofReference: Tilley, Christopher. The Materiality of Stone: Explorations in Landscape Phenomenology (Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2004) pp 29-30.
things, places and landscapes, a means of approach and a way of thinking through
the body in its participatory relation with the world. I summarize some fundamental principles.
1. A phenomenological approach to landscape and place, as discussed here, using
the framework of Merleau-Ponty's thought and interpretations of this thought
by others, is not a philosophical approach emphasizing the personal and the
subjective. It is an approach emphasizing the intertwining of subject and object,
things and persons, mind and body, places and Being in the world. The rejection
of any possibility of an objective approach does not mean that we pass into a
realm of personal subjectivity, because meaning is grounded in the sensuous
embodied relation between persons and the world, an invariant ontological
ground for all feeling and all knowing taking place through persons with similar
2. Any study begins with lived experience, being there, in the world. It must
necessarily be embodied, centred in a body opening out itself to the world, a
carnal relationship. The exploitation of basic bodily dyads provides one entry
point into the study of place and landscape. A concentric graded sense of place
and landscape provides another basic way in which meaning may be explored.
Both originate in the body and extend outwards.
3. Perceptual meanings of place and landscape are constituted as gestalts, themes
against horizons, to which the human body and the external world both contribute,
a lived structure of experience formed through engagement and interaction
in which the body-subject and the world flow into each other and form part of
each other. The body is concretely engaged in the world from a particular point
of view that is always unfolding and changing in space-time. The mobile
interaction of the body in the world creates a framework for experience which
is produced in this lived interaction. What is experienced is an articulated
sensuous theme, against a horizon, in which perception is a meaningful bodily
organization of the perceptual field. There is a dialectical exchange between the
embodied structures of the engaged perceiver and the structures of that which
4. This involves a dehiscence, an opening of my body to things, a reversible
relationship between touching and being touched, myself and other, the effect
of myself on things and those things on me.
5. In an experiential relationship with things there is always a chiasm, an intertwining between 'outside' and 'inside', which mediate each other but never
totally fuse. So my body is in contact with the world but still separate from it.
My body experiences from the inside but opens itself to the outside. Since, as
an embodied observer, I perceive the world through a set of frameworks which
are habitual and grounded in the body, to a certain extent anonymous, these
frameworks cease to be mine alone and are not therefore 'personal'. They are,
however, both objective and subjective insofar as they simultaneously stem
from my own body. First-person experiences can be used to gain access to the
experiences of other persons because of the incarnate and sensuous opening
out of the 'primal' embodied subject to the world.
6. Our primordial experience is inherently animistic, disclosing a field of phenomena that are all potentially animate and expressive because our perception
involves the reversibility born out of our participation in the world.
7. Direct prereflective perception is inherently synaesthetic, disclosing the things
and elements that surround us not as inert objects but as expressive subjects
of experience, born out of our multidimensional sensorial participation in the
8. There is a fundamental temporal dimension to the body, place and landscape
carried through movement and sedimented into what places and landscapes
are and how we experience them.
9. Persons do not passively receive information and knowledge about the world
but always act in accordance with practical projects, values, needs, desires and
interests. What information and knowledge is indeed received can only be
understood in the context of these needs, desires, etc. It is in the context of a
needful body reaching out to the world that meaning and significance are
found. The manner in which we experience place and landscape is, however,
forever unfinished, uncertain and therefore ambiguous. The ambiguity inherent
to both that which we investigate (place, landscape) and how we perceive
is not a problem for analysis. Instead it provides an inexhaustible field of
affordances for us.
10. The aim of a phenomenological analysis is to produce a fresh understanding
of place and landscape through an evocative thick linguistic redescription
stemming from our carnal experience. This involves attempting to exploit to
the full the tropic nature of our language in such a way as to seek the invisible
in the visible, the intangible in the tangible. The mode of expression must
resonate with that which it seeks to express.
Cf. this summary, p. 31: "What I have been suggesting is that rather than regarding things, placesor landscapes primarily as systems of signs, or as texts or discourses which encode meaning and reflect social identities in various ways, we can regard them as agents which actively produce that identity. In other words we need to think about places and landscapes animistically, in an analogous manner to the way in which we like to think about persons, as entities who can and do make a difference. The move is from considering things as representing the world to us to things as producing that world for us. It is a move from the cognitive sign value of things to the embodiment of things, from the code of the world to the flesh of the world, from symbol to action. Producing human meaning in the world is all about establishing connections between ourselves and the disparate material phenomena with which and through which we live, the plants and animals, landscapes and artefacts that surround us, and this is the work of tropic language, of metaphor and metonymy."