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ECOnversations - An assembly of Dialogue, Podcasts, Questions, & Textual References on Representation, Stories, & Patterns

Srucara's picture

I. Movement As and Within Thought - A New Way of Looking at Representation

David Bohm -
“Thought tending to divide things into separate entities...each particle is only an abstraction of a relatively invariant form of movement in the whole field of the universe”

Do you think of a thought as distinct, separate particles or interconnected, flowing waves? How can this apply to representation? Are different representations separate particles or can they be abstract and interconnected?

Click: Movement Within/As Thought Podcast

II. What kind of representations are useful? How many do we need?

E: I wonder whether it is possible to “read” nature without the lens of experience. In other words, can we understand a story of the landscape without an understanding of (many) other stories?

“No representation is ever complete... representation is always partial, else it would not be representation” (Solnit 163)

S: Can we overcome the limitations of experience restricted to the five senses with which we perceive the world through our brains - to see beyond and to see a larger story/image. Does this lay in the realm of the imagination? or is it entirely an unattainable feat? We may be able to “read” nature without the lens of experience if we can substitute information gained from the primary source of our physical senses by different sources that are equally powerful. So with respect to reading nature without experience, perhaps it is possible to imagine nature with a few representations/stories encountered through experience. As John Maxwell Coetzee says in his The Lives of Animals, perhaps it is possible to embody a being through the heart and understand in that way. If it is ever possible that we may imagine powerful enough that the experience feels immensely real - then we may be able to understand a story of the landscape, without experiencing it in the physical sense.

Andrew Goatly - “...resisting the idea that any grammar can “represent the real relationships that exist in the world..I believe that any grammar constitutes a semantic model for the reality “out there”. I do not believe we have any unmediated access to such a reality...”

S. Andrew Goatly states there is no unmediated access to reality and thus grammar is merely a model for representation of this reality which cannot "represent the real relationships that exist." I find this point interesting because if indeed all access to reality is mediated or filtered in some way, then representation of the mediated experience will be further removed from the real experience (if there is one). What then will be the difference between representing a mediated physical experience or representing an imaginative experience - if both will be essentially further removed from the experience itself even if perhaps to different degrees?

What are some of the results of incomplete or partial representations?

IIa. One “result” - Simplification

E: Carson writes, “Nature has introduced great variety into the landscape, but man has displayed a passion for simplifying it” (10). The idea of simplification interests me - in human interactions with the land, man has shown a need to control it’s story, reduce the variety. Jamaica Kincaid further develops the “simplification” concept, when she writes “the character of the English people” - she says, their manner “leads them to obsessively order and shape their landscape to such a degree that it looks like a painting (tamed, framed, captured, kind, decent, good, pretty) while a painting never looks like the English landscape, unless it is a bad painting” (Kincaid 47).

IIb. Another “result” - Single Stories & the Media

E: Related to the problem of simplification or reduction is the “danger of a single story” - link to
Chimamanda Adichie explains that “single stories” are limiting - they prevent us from understanding one another, they narrow the view we have of the world. Solnit elaborates, saying, “ I worry now that many people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know. Advertising, alarmist news, technology, incessant busyness, and the design of public and private spaces conspire to make it so” (7). Because people are only given a “single story” of the world through sources like the news or even spaces, it’s difficult to “go beyond” this story, to get outside of the spaces we’re stuck in.

S. The media plays a tremendous role in the lives of modern citizens. We are constantly overwhelmed with messages (either consciously or unconsciously) of advertisement trying to persuade us and convince us incessantly of our inferiority without x, y, and z. Through intelligently weaving stories that captivate and create awe, the media has great power and influence over the minds of their target consumers. They can cause panic in a society (Swine Flu scare) or they can withhold rather important pieces of information. What has the general/main role of the media been with regards to the environmental movement? What has been its impact? With the recent commercial emphasis on “going green” are we really going green? Are coffee cups made of 10% post-consumer recycled content green enough to be advertised as “green”? Is the media’s emphasis on “green” a sincere movement towards environmental conservation, or just another temporarily popular development to be exploited?

“The answer is always in the entire story, not a piece of it” - Jim Harrison

III. Ambiguity and Emerging Patterns and Stories

Click: Ambiguity and Emerging Patterns Podcast

"Wherever a story comes from, whether it is a familiar myth or a private memory, the retelling exemplifies the making of a connection from one pattern to another: a potential translation in which narrative becomes parable and the once upon a time comes to stand for some renascent truth". - Mary Catherine Bateson

E. There are so many groups telling so many stories - The media is divided; for example, some sources are continuously telling a story that rejects theories of climate change. Repeatedly, the choice to sensationalize an event rules out over examining many lenses of it over time... maybe the constituents are getting bored. Why can’t we digest more than one view? Why don’t we want ambiguity?

IV. Properties of Stories

E: In our EcoLit class, are we listening to one story? many stories? Or are we learning how to write stories/representations?

S: I think its a fascinating question to ask and really, I think its all of the above! We are certainly listening to numerous stories - ranging from those of the authors we have read to those that we share ourselves to those stories that we bring in externally from numerous other sources (like serendip for example). So we have a compilation of stories, each of them like small fragments contributing to a single story at large - perhaps this may be referred to as the story of human experience, the story of Earth, the story of Environmentalism in the 21st century. But I think this is what the heart of representation is - multiple angles, perspectives, and viewpoints that represent a larger, more holistic picture - and I think the closest we can come for now to grasping the holistic picture is in finding patterns - small, simple, yet imminent patterns that connect all of the stories that we have heard so far. Do you think we can identify some of these patterns? Or perhaps it is better to treat the fragments of representation as unique, and inherently distinct from one another?

E: I don’t think fragments of representation are so distinct from one another - after all, there may be many ways of telling a story, but ultimately, it is the same story. Different things are foregrounded at different moments in the tellings, and this may change the meaning.

S: When do stories begin to blur rather than clarify a notion for us, if ever? (When do stories confuse and frustrate us and our understanding - if ever, in relation to stories that uplift and enlighten us - maybe contradictory stories?)

E: These questions make me think of Childrens’ literature & development - when I was younger, I couldn’t process “complicated” books, stories that didn’t resolve themselves... Now, at this point in my life, stories without resolution, stories that change the stereotypes that I didn’t know I’d developed - these are the kind of stories I WANT. I want to keep moving forward, to progress, in some way. Frustration can be a sign of movement, or being challenged to move. But it isn’t always the result - sometimes, a particularly cathartic text will move me to frustration, then beyond that frustration, to something more uplifting...

V. Choice:

We have a choice about the frame(s) we use to tell/approach/listen to stories...

Through the many stories and forms of representation that may exist and be placed forth, patterns may emerge and questions may be invoked, but above all - there is a fundamental aspect of choice present in taking away particular understandings through representation. For example, a painting may show an image of an ocean landscape, but the frame with which we experience the story is up to us. Perhaps we might choose to believe "this image shows a soothing ocean with calm walves" or perhaps we might choose to believe "this image shows a dangerous ocean tens of miles deep filled with strange creatures." Similarly, with respect to framing the many representations we are faced with on a day to day basis, the choice of what to believe is up to us. A more beneficial focal point, then, when engaging wtih representation may be - what choice will best serve our needs in the present moment? What will this representation mean to me?



Anne Dalke's picture

"what choice will best serve our needs in the present moment?"

eetong and srucara--
as I said to srucara in another context, I'm utterly delighted to be the recipient of collaborative projects--and how ecological of you both to craft together this rich assemblage of quotations and musings, images and words, not constructed (or, as you say, eetong, needing to be read) linearly. I'm enchanted by the associative quality of the whole, its non-hierarchical organization, the way in which your voices and images, as well as your writings, are so easily available, in exchange and conversation.

To enter that conversation now myself, I'd ask for eetong to say a little bit more about her question of "whether it is possible to 'read' nature without the lens of experience"--a question that srucara re-phrases as "can we overcome the limitations of experience...?" In The Lives of Animals, Elizabeth Costello says "there is no limit to the extent to which we can think ourselves into the being of another." In her reflection on the text, Barbara Smuts re-phrases the point "so that it has less to do with the poetic imagination and more to do with real-life encounters with other animals." She's calling for experience instead of imagination as our route to understanding .... what do y'all make of that? (especially given your notion that experience is itself a representation, by our senses, of the world....?).

I'm also especially grateful for Chimamanda Adichie's talk about the "danger of a single story," and for your combined suggestion that, rather than telling the "whole" story, we are each of us (and us, collectively) finding "patterns," which foreground "different things at different moments in the tellings." And I like very much your final move, to replace a search for ultimate truth and complete story w/ the pragmatic query of what choice will best serve our needs in the present moment?

et502's picture

new ways of reading?

Just to rephrase again for myself: Costello’s thought is that we should be able to think our way into another’s “being”/perception/worldview/life/emotion; Smut is saying that actual lived experiences that we have with animals allows that empathetic event to happen.

I like metaphors and similes. I like being able to compare experiences succinctly. Rather than saying that the hair on a rabbit’s head feels soft, smooth, young, fluid – I can compare it to another tactile experience. Velvet. So intitally, I want to say that it is not possible to understand something in isolation from previous experiences. As Dewey would say, all experiences lead to other experiences. They are all connected; things build off of each other. And the body remembers - even if, mentally, I cannot remember how to play a piece of music, somehow, my fingers can find the places on the strings. You don’t forget how to walk, how to ride a bike. There are more ways of “reading” than actively thinking.

But when we were on the blind tour on Wednesday, I had a hard time reading the landscape in this new way – primarily through sound and touch. I had to find a new way of “visualizing” (or perhaps, a better term would be conceptualizing) the campus. I think that, WITH PRACTICE, it’s possible to be fully present, as Hira said while we were reflecting. Being fully present – does that always mean taking into account previous experience? I don’t know yet. 

Maybe the important thing is to keep trying new experiences, and new ways of reading them. 

et502's picture


I’m hoping that this collaged/assortment of ideas will show associations rather than linear movements through our concepts of storytelling and representation.
Representing our own thoughts: So this is the meta conversation - were we (Sruthi and I) able to accurately represent our ideas about representation? Probably not; after all, every representation is incomplete. We’re always leaving something out - there is no way for us to display every aspect of our collaboration. First, because it’s hard to capture conversations as they occur naturally. Sruthi and I spent a lot of time just talking about what we’ve learned in this class, our opinions on different writers - some of these conversations made their way into the finished product, but most (probably) did not. Second, we’ve intentionally chosen pieces of our ideas that we want to foreground; these thoughts are recorded in this document. And third, based on the form that we’re using - podcasts interspersed with written scripts/dialogue, some images - we are somewhat limited in what we can say.
So it’s up to you to interpret.

Srucara's picture

When Emily and I decided to

When Emily and I decided to create this piece, we were certain of our desire to focus on representation and stories and use podcasts, images, and text as forms of representations for a fluid, abstract conversation. We did not wish to constrain ourselves to the traditional academic form of substance - distinct, cohesive arguments backed up by succint supportive detail and so instead, we readily adopted a more movement-oriented form of representing our ideas (as Bohm would say!). This collection of ideas, dialogue, images, podcasts, questions, references from our class texts are all assembled in a careful yet fluid order to emphasize specific points on representation, stories, emerging patterns and numerous other topics. The podcasts were created to offer an added dimension of audio/visual as well as a physical conversational dimension to the piece in addition to the abundant textual conversations already in place. Our hope is that this piece invokes thought and curiousity as well as providing an intriguing form of ECOnversations on representation.

et502's picture

looking again

I just noticed this - I don't have to read this in a linear way. The sections are numbered, but more for the sake of individuation; I can jump around, and think about each piece of our conversations in whatever order I want. Awesome.