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Deny thy comfort, and refuse thy cozy pauses.

Student 24's picture

A handful of postings ago, I wrote a short one called “Everybody’s Them & Porous Perspectives” and it was about viewing our self and everyone else’s self as a center point; we are all center points. So, if everyone is their own center point, somehow our centrality or individuality cancels out with everyone else’s exact same position, so we are a bunch of me’s. A bunch of points. Points on a grid, evenly spaced out, spaced into infinity. I wonder if it matters that there is a finite amount of me’s currently on our planet. But then to consider and calculate our vastness over time, our growth, our expansion, and our already finished presences — I think if we cannot count and determine an exact number, than it is incalculable, hence, infinite. Effective infinity. There is a certain peace, a certain relief in infinity. A lessening of burden. If we know we cannot comprehend infinity, we can accept that, and then not try and deal with the whole. We can deal with our immediate range of vision, the section of the grid points we can see, and the spaces we can see.

I just found a poem that I wrote last year, senior year of high school. It’s called “Can you find my name.” It didn’t feel like the kind of poem or song lyrics that I usually write, but going back to it, I realise that I was asking questions of porosity. Of course, when I wrote it, I might have been taking it from a romantic angle, asking about the meaning or value of another person in relation to me, and the meaninglessness of everything in general… But rereading it, I’m visualizing the grid of center points where each center point is asking to its neighbours, how are we living in these spaces? Every center point has relationships with its neighbour points, and I believe that relationships create the space to learn about ourselves and our neighbours. A shared learning space.

Can you find my name

Can you find my name if it is anything but mine?
Have you any reason to be naught –
Space between the letters,
Pauses between the sounds?
Are you ready to claim those nothings?
The absence of the letters leaves more of you and me;
And we are more wholesome in the abyss.
Can you, can you find
Our name, if it is
Everything but ours.
Everythings and everything but –
Anyone’s name.
Any name the wind can carry, tangled
With the strands of its hair,
Or gently with its cloudy fingers.
Don’t slip between the fingers. Between
The wispy flesh.
Are you ready to claim the fall?
The descent of all those myths?
Oh! Wherefore art thou nowhere?
Are you ready to deny thy comfort,
And refuse thy cozy pauses?
Let us inhabit; yes, why not?
Let us hide where we may be sought,
But never found.

The grid of center points is illustrated by the forest in Ursula LeGuin’s story, “Vaster than Empires and More Slow.” Kind of like trees planted semi-evenly in a homogenous forest. She writes about “truly alien worlds” and “what goes on inside. Inner space…We all have forests in our minds.” The images created by the terminology and language in this story remind me over and over again how frameworks and structures repeat themselves, making them seem more complex and simpler at the same time. By frameworks and structures, I mean forests, spaces, minds, worlds, ecosystems, etc. These can all be the same, but they also exist within each other. The mind is a forest or a world, but then on the macro level, forests and worlds are made up of those minds. Everything comes together to create a larger body that might effectively be what each individual “single cell” is within itself; within its own existence. The internal forests all come together on the grid of center points that is a forest.

“Glimpse of abysmal solipsism.” I found this to be a curious sounding phrase and did some reading about solipsism to understand what it’s all about. Essentially, the idea is that my mind, my experience, my mentalities are the only thing I know and that I can know. If you stretch it to a more metaphysical level, then it can be that you believe your mind, experiences, mentalities, etc. to be all that exists.

I find this to be a rather useless direction of thought, only because it’s essentially obvious and true, relatively speaking. Obviously we only know what we know, until we learn more, in which case, we come to know it, and yet again, all that we are knowing is all that we are knowing. I want to take this idea and discuss it in application to my grid of center points. You are a center point, and you believe that what you know and what you hold in your mind forest is all that exist. But there are infinite you’s. A bunch of me’s. What does that mean, if every mind believes they are the only mind? How can you even hold a belief that only you exist without admitting in the first place that there are other you’s? To even use language of the other, that asserts that you are central for yourself - which is correct, I feel - but can you claim centrality of nothing else? If there is nothing surrounding you, then of what are you a center? I’m spinning in circles and losing myself a bit in this language, but I think this story establishes that things only exist the connections and shared spaces between cells, points, humans, trees, what have you.

We live in shared spaces. I couldn’t help but smile when I read that Osden is “not able to coexist with nine other neurotic personalities at close quarters…. He was helplessly obedient to the demands of their emotions, reactions, moods…” I thought about our 360 family, sharing classrooms, meals, discussions, vehicles. Not that we are ten neurotic personalities (we’re eleven plus), but we are definitely a handful of characterful personalities, and we are creatively and intellectually engaging with one another. By being a 360 family we’ve created a forest of minds, and as we wander around within our own minds, we have to pull from the positive and negative creative spaces we have. Maybe we’re not neurotic, but we know that we live in conflicted forests and we know that the conflicting and discomforting elements of our personalities are the elements that generate discourse, discussion, and connection among all of us. That is a beauty of this family, not necessarily that we are obedient to our expressed emotions and reactions, but that we depend on them to get anywhere substantial with the material we share.

Ursula LeGuin illustrates these connections and shared spaces over and over again. “muck…I wade through your faeces.” “would you see that the cell is capable of sentience? no, because it isn’t. A single cell is capable for mechanical response to stimulus. No more.” “I know that sentience or intelligence isn’t a thing, you can’t find it in, analyze it out from, the cells of a brain. It’s a function of the connected cells. It is, in a sense, the connection: the connectedness. It doesn’t exist.” “It isn’t thinking. It’s merely a network of processes.” “the scale is wrong. What can a single human brain achieve against something so vast?”

More and more there is the sensation of fear, denial, discomfort. “But I am not a man…there are all of you. And there is myself. I am one.” “there is no being, no huge creature, no person. There could at most be only a function…There is only a fear.” “‘…terrified. But that’s it, the forest, the plants, not my own fear, isn’t it?’ ‘What’s the difference? It’s all you felt.’” “a helpless man in a trap.” This comes to illustrate fear as being the occupant of the space between center points. I wonder - this fear of the the unknown - perhaps that is exactly what this in-between-space is. If it is not a point, it is space of functioning between points, and there is not a point there existing and knowing. There is not a knowing presence, therefore making it truly un-known. To take this back to the idea of solipsism, there can be no functioning if one believes that their mind is the sole producer of thoughts, knowledge, etc. In the story, the characters were “busy with something. There was something queer about their positions…They were all sitting facing the nearby forest…keeping an eye on the enemy.” Their fear is confirmation of their being another body, a receiver, a component that shapes the space for the interconnection and sharing of this emotion. They cannot claim to be the only “sentient beings” and simultaneously create a space of fear.

Should we respect individuality? Is that productive? Useful? Sensible? This conflict of the self versus the entire body of humanity led me to have an issue with what I wrote in my Porosity posting. I wrote: “It’s really difficult to not write this with the ‘we’ pronoun but I think that it's appropriate for the point I’m making to write with ‘I,’ because at the end of the day, all I really know is what I myself have come to know, and I can only make claims for myself.” I’m uncomfortable with having made this statement because I’m confused about claiming knowledge. I guess this all ties in with my previous questioning about claiming stories, voices, etc. I won’t go into the question of what knowledge is, but I am asking about claiming ownership of knowledge. One individual body can know something. The entire body of humanity can also know something. If I frame this in the sense that acquiring knowledge means making progress, then as long as one member of the entire body of humanity has acquired the knowledge, then there is the potential for the rest of the members to learn. Once it exists, it can be shared because there is a shared space. Last semester, one student in our ESem class raised a question of the responsibility that comes with knowledge: “If I find the cure to cancer, do I have to share it?” There are two aspects of this I want to discuss. The first is the process of learning and becoming educated or acquiring knowledge. Knowledge is triggered by external, environmental experiences and lessons. These resources and conditions existed outside of yourself before you came into contact with them, and then learned, or gained knowledge. You discovered the cure to cancer as a result of studying, understanding, learning, and knowing material that has already been constructed by previous people or events. That is not to say that originality does not exist, (though perhaps it doesn’t?) because I suppose the originality is in the individual's creativity in how to arrange and process the materials and resources taken from the shared space around that individual. Essentially, knowledge cannot be monopolized.

The second aspect I want to discuss is the nature of new knowledge and its contribution towards the progress of humanity’s state. Discovering the cure for cancer (side note: the language of “discovery” implies pre-existence. The learning then only means that it is acknowledged) and sharing that knowledge will benefit, from a health perspective, the state of the entire human body. So, effectively, does that mean that an individual’s knowledge is really knowledge that belongs to humanity? Once it exists somewhere, doesn't exist everywhere? At some point this led me to think about the debate between communism and capitalism. Communism, ideally where individuals work collectively, collaboratively, and cooperatively to produce and grow economically for the entire regional human body. In capitalism, the economic system depends on competition and individual success at the expense of the failure of those who cannot succeed simultaneously, simply because in the construction, there is no space for every individual to attain that success. One of the reasons communism failed in Eastern Europe is because of the lack of individual incentive. Individuals didn't feel compelled to apply creativity or innovative energy to their labour because there was no reward system. It was not required of individuals to utilize their personality or character; only their presence and function mattered and had value. So, if as a collective community, there is no knowledge being gained, then the community does not progress. Whereas, in capitalism, an individual has the incentive to be creative and expose their self because they will be rewarded and recognized for it. At the same time, society can benefit from the contribution that was only made possible because the environment is economically conducive of innovation in efficiency, health, etc. Of course, because of the inevitable failure of the many that results from the success of the singular individual, the resulting economic and social inequality are all detrimental to the progress of humanity’s state, broadly speaking.

What about knowledge of the absurd? What progress is that? Is that the ultimate direction towards which all knowledge is heading? I think that a point can only exist when there is a space for relationship with a neighboring point. If all knowledge exists everywhere, then is it nowhere? If we as a collection of responsible individuals hold responsibility for all of this knowledge, does that mean eventually, no one is responsible? There is fear is all of this vastness. Everything becomes so vast, infinite and overwhelming, and if fear leads to paralysis, then it can be rather counterproductive to be thinking in this extreme. Should we be cozy and comfortable in our thoughts?

I don’t want to dismiss this entire body of text, but given the difficulty I had most of the time to articulate anything, I wonder if it is useful to be going about and questioning things like this? It is too broad and general and effectively disregards the complex peculiarity and curious particularity of the beauty that is humanity and its shared spaces on this planet.


sara.gladwin's picture

Wanted to put this in

Wanted to put this in conversation with Jo’s paper a bit… I’ve been doing some Serendip surfing tonight and found that the ideas in both these posts seemed to really complicate the idea of porosity for me.  


Something that really grabbed my attention in contrast to the ideas in Jo’s paper was that we only exist in our connections. Using the Venn Diagram as a visual (which I talk about here) Can we not also exist on the peripheries of these connections, in the spaces in which we don’t necessarily overlap? And is this a choice that we make to not exist within our connections / something that is unavoidable, as we will never fully know ourselves, therefore will never fully know the ways in which our lives intersect with others?


I also wanted to take a moment to share a little bit about what porosity illuminated for me this past semester, and why the word has a special closeness for me.


One of my good friends, lets just call him Pinecone, was visiting me over winter break and we got into one of our usual long conversations about life and being. Pinecone is someone who, in many ways, is extraordinarily different from me- we have different ways of presenting our appearance, inhabit different spaces, and give our energies to different projects. I could go on and on about the ways in which our lives do not overlap, but what I care more about is the particular bond that has emerged in the time that I have known Pinecone. It is difficult to describe exactly the all of the various conditions which have produced and maintain this bond, and it would probably take me hours. But one thing that is standing out in this moment is that the connection goes beyond the more simplistic visualization of a Venn Diagram I laid out earlier. It is more than two people who have a lot of dissimilar ways that share a few interests in common. It is also about the moments which we have created in common, the moments during which our differences, just as much as our similarities, lead us to a mutual understanding and a shared sense of being. Do you know what I mean when I referred above to a conversation about life and being? Where every word seems to carry weight and a meaning that can be felt with and through the entire body- so much so that you feel your chest about to burst with invisible lines of connection that span out far beyond what you can see in front of you. Agatha’s concept of us all carrying our own centerpoint; it’s the rare occurrence of two center points that become one center point. It’s only in these moments that you realize how disjointed our planes of reality actually are; it is mindboggling to think of the daily conversations we have that never come close to an ounce of connection or meaning.


Inevitably, during many of our conversations that could be considered on “life and being,” we shift into a more meta dialogue about our ability to connect through conversation. This instance was no exception, and I was attempting to explain to Pinecone the way in which I felt about these moments of connection was also related to my concept of identity; that identity itself could not be bound to a single body, because as Agatha pointed out, we also exist in the connections we form between others. However, I struggle to find the right words. Ironically, attempting to explain my concept of identity as being outside/through the body was not quite translatable, as I struggled to articulate myself, and it was definitely a moment of disconnection. Porosity gave me the language to articulate what I had been attempting to describe over two months ago. I feel like it is important to mark these realizations, when we can make sense of our feeling about how the world exists and our place in that world…

Anne Dalke's picture


Last month I wrote, in response to your essay on “home management,” that “’To be a body is to live from the world,’ to be sustained by it, transformed by it, ultimately inseparable from it. We are constituted by the world around it—and we constitute it. We are all ‘porous,’ saturated by the world and shaping it, participating in it, whatever (or how little) we might understand about what’s going on.”

This month, it seems to me that you are continuing your examination of what it means to be “porous,” by looking especially @ the spaces “inbetween,” thinking less about inseparability than about what-and-how connects that which is distinct…

The essay wanders all over the place, and I found it very hard to follow—but also not an inappropriate form for a meditation on dense connections. (This commentary on The Hungry Tide, a novel by Amitah Ghosh that is upcoming in our course--“such paratactical sequences make the reader an active participant…releasing the past from the dialectical and linear relationship to which it is constrained by historical narrative”—could be a description of your writing.)

There are a couple moments of real illumination that I want to call out of the web you’ve woven, in order to highlight a very sharp line of thinking, one that identifies both energy and knowledge as happening in the spaces between us:

* things only exist in the connections…We live in shared spaces.

* in our 360 family we’ve created a forest of minds…the conflicting and discomforting elements of our personalities…generate discourse, discussion, and connection among all of us….we depend on [our emotions and reactions] to get anywhere substantial with the material we share.

* perhaps this in-between-space is…fear of the unknown…. A space of functioning between points…not a point of existing and knowing….not a knowing presence …truly un-known….There is fear is all of this vastness.

* originality is in the individual's creativity in how to arrange and process the materials and resources taken from the shared space… knowledge cannot be monopolized.

* communism failed…because of the lack of individual incentive…. capitalism because of the inevitable failure of the many…the resulting economic and social inequality.

You ask in concluding this essay whether—“given the difficulty” you had in articulating “anything”—it was useful to be asking such broad questions, disregarding “the complex peculiarity and curious particularity” of us humans and our shared spaces. In response, I would like to urge you to be more “particular,” more concrete and focused in your next exploration, not ignoring the big questions,  not at all, but as a more “located” way into them….