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Towards Day 5 (Wed, Feb. 5): Porosity

Anne Dalke's picture

Agatha: Is exile when we want 'out'? Or when 'in' doesn't want us?

I. 2:40-3:10
Timothy Morton provoked quite a range of responses from you all-->
he got aphorisnt celebrating Wall*E--"narratives that show us the hole, but then show us a way out”
Jenna celebrating solar panels and wind turbines as "beautiful and natural"
Kelsey arguing back that "we can't forget the effects of our own backyards as we look beyond them,"
that place has everything to do with questions of social justice,
with who experiences the effects of environmental degradation
Sophia asking how we can possibly "subtract nature from life and from consciousness"--

and Jo suggesting that "maybe everyone is right?
As much as I loved bell hooks' way of thinking about home and culture of belonging, it was somewhat comforting to see that people like Morton do not necessarily agree with that view of home/place - and it was also very confusing.…I am conscious of the very legitimate points made by Martin and Mohanty, who (from what I could gather from their complex language and sentence structures) argue that any community of sameness and comfort inherently shuts out others and makes oppression possible….how can I reconcile…these ideas? And how does Morton's fit in, his criticism of "fixation on a place"?

so let's start this afternoon with that confusion:
what sort of narrative are you/we constructing so far?
hooks' on belonging--> Clare on being exiled -->
Martin & Mohanty on home as exclusionary --> Morton on it as "unecological"....?
why is place bad for "ecological thinking"? why does he want to "subtract nature" from it?

II. 3:10-3:20
Today we are FURTHER complicating the binary of “home” and “exile”
--what it means to be in place, or to leave a place--
with Levi R. Bryant’s blog posting about Stacy Alaimo’s
writing about "Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality."

Bryant and Alaimo start to break down the whole notion
that there is any separation between us and our world

(or, in the language that we have been using,
that we can ever be exiled--or @ home!).

They say the human is inseparable from “the environment,”
that there is no “over here” that’s isolated from over there:
all bodies are porous….permeable…more like sponges than marbles…
Even marbles are a sort of sponge…even atoms are mostly composed
of void or space…All entities are characterized by a porosity
that allows the outer world to flow through them…
cities constitute the countryside (flows of energy, water, information)….
We are constituted by the world around us…
“the environment is a world of fleshy beings”--
“with their own needs, claims…unpredictable and unwanted actions”:
“the ecological pertains to the most intimate recesses of my sponge-like being”:
Big Mac = cow flatulence/rising greenhouse gases/clearing of rain forests, shipping, preparation, waste…

There is lots of other thinking, in other disciplines, along this line.

The Human Microbiome project
aims to characterize the microbial communities found at several different sites on the human body, including nasal passages, oral cavities, skin, gastrointestinal tract, and urogenital tract, and to analyze the role of these microbes in human health and disease. This is a fast evolving field over the past 5-7 years. The idea that ...friendly microscopic bugs are us plays against the traditional sense of self--mind-centered, egotistical, and laden with notions of personal identity, separation and integrity (spiritual and physical).

Daniel Palmer, "On the Organism-Environment Distinction in Psychology,”
Behavior and Philosophy
32, 2 (2004): 317-347:

* "the organism and the environment interpenetrate one another
through and through. The distinction between them…
is only a matter of practical convenience."
* "transactional" (rather than "interactional," which assumes separation),
* environment re-described as "medium" (rather than "surround"),
* "skin" as permeable membrane/constructed/unstable boundary.
* "Life is an island here and now in a dying world...
We are but whirlpools in a river of ever-flowing water.
We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves."
* "the universe is in process, and objects may be considered only as
more or less  persistent regions in an onslaught of spatio-temporal change..."

Religious thinkers like Alan Watts,
The Book On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Really Are:

Most of us have the sensation that “I myself” is a separate center of feeling and action, living inside and bounded by the physical body — a center which “confronts” an “external” world of people and things, making contact through the senses with a universe both alien and strange. Everyday figures of speech reflect this illusion. “I came into this world.” “You must face reality.” “The conquest of nature.”

This feeling of being lonely and very temporary visitors in the universe is in flat contradiction to everything known about man (and all other living organisms) in the sciences. We do not “come into” this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean “waves,” the universe “peoples.” Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe. This fact is rarely, if ever, experienced by most individuals. Even those who know it to be true in theory do not sense or feel it, but continue to be aware of themselves as isolated “egos” inside bags of skin....

The antidote lies in recognizing not merely that we belong to and with the rest of universe, but that there is no “rest” in the first place — we are the universe ....Our whole knowledge of the world is, in one sense, self-knowledge. For knowing is a translation of external events into bodily processes, and especially into states of the nervous system and the brain: we know the world in terms of the body, and in accordance with its structure....

Today, scientists are more and more aware that what things are, and what they are doing, depends on where and when they are doing it. If, then, the definition of a thing or event must include definition of its environment, we realize that any given thing goes with a given environment so intimately and inseparably that it is more difficult to draw a clear boundary between the thing and its surroundings....the only real “I” is the whole endless process.....

individual people, nations, animals, insects, and plants do not exist in or by themselves....what we call “things” are no more than glimpses of a unified process....A...cogent example of existence as relationship is the production of a rainbow....Diaphanous as it may be...

The universe implies the organism, and each single organism implies the universe....all happenings are mutually interdependent in a way that seems unbelievably harmonious. Every this goes with every that. Without others there is no self, and without somewhere else there is no here, so that — in this sense — self is other and here is there....the world outside your skin is just as much you as the world inside: they move together inseparably….  

III. 3:20-3:40
get in small writing groups to discuss your essays on home, in light of these new ideas.

I really enjoyed reading these/getting to know you/where you are “from.”
One keynote was about BMC as home, school as home…
other interesting intersections/juxtapositions, such as
Lisa and Kelsey’s both having sisters who were adopted from Asia…

In my responses, I gave you movies of my mind—what you made me think of;
I often juxtaposed your stories w/ those of other authors we are reading—
or others I know, just thinking along w/ you and asking you to think further

Following Timothy Morton, who says we can’t think ecologically if
we start w/ an unexamined, romantic notion of “nature,"
I then asked you to re-read your own essay, and two of your classmates’,
to interrogate our romantic ideas about “home.”
I was nudging you to look for the “crack”—that interesting spot where the essays
don’t quite hold together, where something more intriguing might be going on,
something surprising that doesn’t quite fit the thesis you were pursuing.
Looking for exile @ home….

Simona, Jo and Kelsey talked about how weird this was,
putting words in your classmates’ mouths…
(pause to discuss this: representing/analyzing another….)

Now I want you to re-read these essays a third time:
1) you wrote (and I read) about your belonging @ home
2) you re-read your and others’ stories about “home,” looking for exile
3) now re-read these essays a third time:
what could happen in your stories, if exile is not possible?
if being @ home is not possible--
if it means being porous,
filled with alien substances/microbes?
how would you re-write these tales?

II. 3:40-4
Return to large group:
what emerged in these conversations?

IV. Coursekeeping
By 5 p.m. on Sunday:
post on-line a paragraph on your
evolving reflections about "placelessness" and "porousness.”
What’s it mean to be “in place”? What’s it mean to be “porous”?
What’s the relation between the two? TAG IT AS "ENGLISH."

Let's try to make these postings themselves "porous"--that is, open to others,
rather than "bounded" or "stand-alone."
In other words, let's aim to make our
forms of writing reflect our theories about how the world works.

For class on Monday, we’ll keep with this theme:
Ursula LeGuin's long short story--a science fiction tale,
so a new genre for us!--Vaster than Empires, and More Slow.

It will be a couple of weeks before we get back to book-length readings,
but I did place the three remaining books on reserve.
Also called the Bookshop to complain about poor service...
which isn't going to improve;
so I would recommend your ordering books from Amazon.