I wrote the following paper for Mike Shapiroʻs course on Political thought in 2008 – my apologies for the beginning to the prudish among you:
Land as Body:
Extending the Sensate and the Limits of Perception
The Hawaiʻi writer Lois-Ann Yamanaka suggests the notion of land-as-body in her novel Behold the Many: “The valley is a woman lying on her back, legs spread wide, her geography wet by a constant rain. Waterfalls wash the days and nights of winter storms into the river that empties into the froth of the sea. . . . The rain glistens on maiden fern, the wind rustling the laua’e, the palapalai touching her there where it is always wet and steamy.” Yamanaka then subverts this description to reveal the woman as a violently murdered corpse, modernizing her narrative by intimating the devastating effects of western contact on Hawaiian land.
This notion of land-as-body emerges in Hawaiian thought from the narrative of the female deity “Great-Papa-giving-birth-to-islands” (Beckwith, 1951, 124). Malo (1951, 15) [shows] that Hawaiians view the space above and below in layers:
The place beneath where we stand is called lalo; below that is lalo-o-ka-lepo (underground); still below that is lalo-liloa the full form of the expression would be lalo-lilo-loa; the region still further below the one last mentioned was called lalo-ka-papa-ku.
Translator Nathaniel Emerson (in Malo, 1951, 15) notes regarding this last region, that “the general support of tradition is given to the idea that Papa is the same person as Papa-tu-a-nuku (earth standing in space)” — the Polynesian mother of the islands.
An embodied notion of land is also seen in other indigenous cultures. In Vilsoni Hereniko’s (2005) film The Land Has Eyes (Pear ta ma ʻon maf), it is asserted that “the land has teeth, and can bite.” This anthropomorphic notion of land can be seen in Mary Graham’s (1999, 106) Australian aboriginal ontology of land: “The two most important kinds of relationships in life are, firstly, those between land and people and, secondly, those amongst people themselves, the second being contingent upon the first.” Another Australian aboriginal scholar, Aileen Moreton-Robinson (2005, 248) asserts that among Indigenous and non-indigenous “ontological positions to land … each [has] a different sense of belonging in relation to place.”
I have identified five recurring components in the emerging body of Indigenous theory, some of which connect land to embodied sensation; 1) the concept of harmony or balance, which can be seen in the structure of indigenous societies and could be described as dynamic equilibrium or pono, 2) the importance of place and history, 3) experience, practice and process, 4) the holistic and collective nature of indigeneity, and 5) the cyclical and genealogical nature of time (see Perkins, 2007, 64). Intuition relates to varying degrees to all of these components of indigenous theory, but particularly to place and history as embodied aspects of experience. Theory is important here, because the very methods of looking, and frameworks through with one looks at experience, however, influence one’s view of the existence of intuition. The method called genealogy allows the fracture of received narratives that marginalize such perceptions of experience as intuition.
Genealogy provides a method for locating ruptures in narratives of modernity, opening fissures within which the marginal can be reclaimed. In Foucault’s (1977) description of genealogy, he problematizes positivist historical methods:
Historical sense has more in common with medicine than philosophy; and it should not surprise us that Nietszche occasionally employs the phrase ʻhistorically and physiologically,’ since among the philosopher’s idiosyncrasies is a complete denial of the body. This includes, as well, ʻthe absence of historical sense, a hatred for the idea of development, Egyptianism’ the obstinate ʻplacing of conclusions at the beginning,’ of ʻmaking last things first.’ History has a more important task than to be handmaiden to philosophy, to recount the necessary birth of truth and values; it should become a differential knowledge of energies and failings, heights and degenerations, poisons and antidotes. Its task is to become a curative science.
This produces an “effective history, [which] shortens its vision to those things nearest to it—the body, the nervous system, nutrition, digestion, and energies” (Foucault, 1977, 155).
However, a Nietzschean genealogy approaches “self-knowledge” from the opposite direction. Connolly (1988, 151) holds that:
genealogy aims at a kind of self-examination: a rethinking of how one has been formed historically which encourages one to experience the dissonance in the form one has become; a rethinking which encourages the self to endorse, modify or oppose each contingent formation after coming to terms with dirt and dissonances contained within it.
Genealogy is also concerned with the question of origin. In Nietzsche’s terms Ursprung (origin), Entselhung (emergence), and Herkunft (stock or descent), exists a suspicion of “an unbroken continuity that operates beyond the dispersion of forgotten things” (Foucault, 1977, 146). I intend to locate ruptures in the developmental(ist) narrative that privileges the five senses by limiting the conditions of possibility for the existence of additional senses.
THE SENSE OF BEING STARED AT
It is given in modern western societies that there are five senses. Many other cultures, and some in the west, contest this view. In his book The Sense of Being Stared At, Cambridge biologist Rupert Sheldrake (2003) argues not for a sixth sense, but a seventh sense, the sixth – an emitted electrical field – already having been observed in some species of marine animals, such as rays. Called by various names – ESP, psychic powers, clairvoyance, all of which are somewhat problematic – Sheldrake settles on the term sixth sense, and attempts to prove such a sense exists. It could further be argued that through science humans have already extended the senses by the use of devices that allow the viewing of “extra-sensory” regions of the electro-magnetic spectrum. I use the term intuition to describe this sense, and employ various interventions, including a reading of Hawaiian oral and textual sources, to argue for it.
The notion of intuition is not limited, however, to non-western or Indigenous societies. Sheldrake (2003, 133-134) found that 81 percent of women and 74 percent of men surveyed, mainly in Britain, said they “had experienced being looked at from behind and turned around to find someone was in fact looking at them.” In the film A Very Long Engagement, Audrey Tatou’s character, Mathilde, relies on intuition for her quest to find her lover Manech, presumed dead in World War I. Because “each time his wound throbs, Manech feels Mathilde’s heart in his palm,” she is certain that “if Manech were dead, Mathilde would know.” This use of intuition demonstrates the widely held belief in its existence, even in western society. Sheldrake (2003) gathered hundreds of case studies and stories in a database of both people and animals having what appeared to be a sixth sense. These many examples of intuitive senses, such as those who claim to think of someone immediately before they call, are considered by many as “anecdotal.” Sheldrake (2003, 5) points out that the word anecdote comes from the Greek “an” and “ekdotos,” meaning, “ not published.” Thus, publishing becomes the filter that excludes experience as much as it includes or describes the human lifeworld. This exclusionary process is often, in Sheldrakeʻs view, unscientific, rather than scientific.
In Hawaiian thought, intuition is considered to be the more reliable source of truth, whereas the intellect is considered “a deceiver” (Kaʻimikaua, in Minton, 2000). Hōʻailona, or signs in the environment, used for decision-making, are not considered controversial. For example, Kamehameha decided to go to battle if “the feather god Kūkaʻilimoku encouraged him to fight, for its feathers bristled and stood upright” (Kamakau, 1992, 148). Such use of subtle, environmental cues is not a criterion that would be used by modern western leaders, and shows the significance of intuitive experience in Indigenous and Hawaiian thought.
In contrast to such intuitive practices, and to its own professed faith in reason, modern science and theory practices a systematic, and systemic dismissal of non-conforming events as often as skepticism and consideration of evidence. Sheldrake (2003, 3-4) relates a story of one such dismissal in an encounter by villagers in Maine, France with a meteor, a phenomenon not explicable by the prevailing laws of Newtonian physics:
Several villagers heard a noise like a thunderclap, followed by a whistling sound, and saw something falling into a meadow. It turned out to be a stone too hot to touch. A local priest sent part of it to the Academy of Sciences in Paris for identification. The chemist Lavoisier ground it up, did some tests, and claimed he had proved it had not fallen from the sky, but instead was an ordinary stone that had probably been struck by lightning. He told the academy, ʻThere are no stones in the sky. Therefore stones cannot fall from the sky.’
As Ranciere states, in the field of aesthetics, “the idea of modernity is a questionable notion that tries to make clear-cut distinctions in the complex configuration of the aesthetic regime…” Modernity in general, and science in particular, emerge as belief systems as much as rational practices.
Embedded in, and enabling this dismissal is materialism. Held as foundational by left and right alike, materialism became one of the unquestionable operating assumptions of modernity. While the limits of materialism are constantly expanding, limits nonetheless exist. Photons, for example, have no mass. Many recent discoveries in Physics point to such limitations of the materialist view (see, for example, Wilber, 1984). Sheldrake critiques a materialist theory of perception, that all images are perceived in the brain. There is little evidence for this theory, and it contradicts normal experience, in which objects appear outside of the brain, where they are. Sheldrake’s counter-argument is that the mind (as distinguished from the brain) projects outside the head to perceive objects where they are. This explains the “sense of being stared at” – that some mechanism can sense that projection when one is the object of sight. Sheldrake thus problematizes the five-sense limit without entirely transcending the materialist view. He merely extends the materialist view of sensation.
Sheldrake (2003, 1) cites this example of the “sense of being stared at” from a former soldier patrolling in Malaya in 1951:
While we were examining the bits and pieces left lying around, I had an uncanny feeling that someone was watching me. I had this sense of danger. I felt the sensation of something almost gripping me at the back of the neck. I turned around and there, about twenty yards away, was a chap with a red star gazing hard at me. He was bringing his rifle up and I knew one of us was going to be killed. I shot him before he shot me, so I have lived to tell the tale.
Sheldrake adds that the soldier “does not doubt the existence of a sense of being stared at. ʻBut for it, [he] wouldn’t be alive today.’”
The painter Francis Bacon, according to Deleuze (2003, 81), defines painting as “making random marks (lines-traits); scrub, sweep, or wipe the canvas in order to clear out locales or zones (color-patches); throw the paint, from various angles and at various speeds.” He elaborates “this act, or these acts presuppose that there were already figurative givens on the canvas (and in the painter’s head), more or less virtual, more or less actual. It is precisely these givens that will be removed by the act of painting, either by being wiped, brushed, or rubbed, or else crossed over” – the canvas can be said to be deformed by the act of painting. Deleueze (2003, 81) notes that much of this deformation, or at least the awareness of that which is to be deformed, is “invisible and silent, yet extremely intense, and the act of painting itself appears as an afterward.” Similarly, the acts of perception and sensation themselves involve a type of deformation. This deformation of the rules of one’s own field, the bending of self-established rules.
Sheldrake (2003, 8) enumerates the possible explanations for the controversiality of “psychic research,” and finds that:
The only remaining explanation is that the existence of psychic phenomena violates powerful taboos. These phenomena threaten deep-seated beliefs, especially the belief that the mind is nothing but the activity of the brain. For people who identify science and reason with the materialist philosophy, they arouse fear. They seem to threaten reason itself; if they are not kept at bay, science and even modern civilization itself seem to be endangered by a tidal wave of superstition and credulity. Hence they have to be denied outright, or dismissed as unscientific and irrational.
Sheldrake’s research also extends the notion of the body itself, and with it, the
“embodied” aspects of Foucauldian biopolitics: “if the [sixth or] seventh sense is real, it points to a wider view of minds—a literally wider view, in which minds stretch out into the world around bodies.” Thus, in addition to the tissues, rhythms, movements, and behaviors of bodies controlled in Foucault’s (1978, 140) bio-politics through institutions and regulations, is introduced these fields extending out of bodies.
It may be assumed that such “fields” are not subject to such regulation if they are not acknowledged, but many appear to become aware of them in the practice of surveillance. Sheldrake (2003, 130) notes that “Nightclub bouncers, schoolteachers, and college lecturers have told me that they deliberately use the power of the gaze to help maintain order [italics mine].” He emphasizes that this is not when the objects of the gaze are aware of being looked at: “Donohue, who teaches in Connecticut, said, ʻI will look at a person who is doing wrong and they usually ʻfeel’ me looking at them and look up.’” Sheldrake (2003, 141) also notes that “among surveillance personnel, it is generally agreed that when people are being watched or followed, it is important to look directly at them as little as possible” to avoid detection. Every one of the surveillance professionals he interviewed “agreed that some people under surveillance seem to know when they are being watched, and detect the people watching them” (Sheldrake, 2003, 143).
The notion of such extra-sensory or multi-sensory communication raises the prospect that Deleuze (2000, 95) is correct when he states, “the truth is not revealed, it is betrayed; it is not communicated, it is interpreted; it is not willed, it is involuntary.” Truth, when it is conveyed, is conveyed through channels unknown to, or uncontrollable by, the sender: body language, intuition, the sixth (or seventh) sense.
According to Sheldrake (2003, 136-137):
If the sense of being stared at is real, it implies a sensitivity that goes beyond hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell – beyond the known senses. It could be thought of as a sixth sense, or a seventh sense; or as a form of perception beyond the known senses – in other words, ʻextrasensory perception,’ or ESP; or it could be regarded as a ʻpsychic’ ability. It can also be seen as an aspect of the extended mind. But whatever we choose to call it, this ability would imply the need for a larger, more inclusive map of reality. Science as we know it would seem seriously
Sheldrake (2003, 13) maintains that the “taboo against taking this phenomenon
seriously was so effective that until the late 1980s there were almost no scientific investigations.” He found only four studies on the topic in the one hundred years between 1890 and 1990 (Sheldrake, 2003, 137). Sheldrake (2003, 191) notes that “rationalist attitudes have had a deep and enduring influence on the culture of science, and rationalist assumption are usually treated as if they were self-evident scientific truths.”
In traditional societies, including European ones like Greece, the effects (or affects) of vision, perception and intention are seen in beliefs in the ability of the eyes to focus negative (or positive) influences on the perceived – the so-called “evil eye.” Often the evil eye is associated with envy. Sir Francis Bacon wrote in his 1625 essay “On Envy” that “Scripture calleth envy an evil eye … [and] there seemeth to be acknowledged, in the act of envy, an ejaculation, or irradiation of the eye” (Bacon quoted in Sheldrake, 2003, 185).
Sheldrake (2003, 187) describes how people in India and many other places attempt to counteract the effects of envy, including giving the object of perceived envy to the admirer. With children and babies, he notes that “in Turkey, babies are spat on if they are looked at admiringly. ʻAbusive and false epithets are employed by Turkish women under all circumstances worthy of inviting praise or admiration, in order to counteract the supposition of ill-feeling or malice underlying the honeyed words of the speaker.’” Similarly, a well-known tradition in Hawaiian culture regarding infants was meant to “prevent wicked spirits from ever becoming interested in the baby. Thus, the gentle voice of the most doting family senior never voiced admiration of the baby … Grandmother answered foolish and dangerous compliments with, ‘Pupuka!’ (ugly), ʻNūkoki’ (pug-nosed), or ʻNūkeʻe’ (crooked, out-of-shape, or squeezed-up face)” (Pukui, 1972, 35).
DISTRIBUTION OF THE SENSIBLE
The interpretation of sensation is theorized in Ranciere’s “distribution of the sensible.” Ranciere (2004, 12) [states]:
I call the distribution of the sensible the system of self-evident facts of sense perception that simultaneously discloses the existence of something in common and the delimitations that define the respective parts and positions within it. A distribution of the sensible therefore establishes at one and the same time something common that is shared and exclusive parts. This apportionment of parts and positions is based on a distribution of spaces, times, and forms of activity that determines the very manner in which something in common lends itself to participation and in what way various individuals have a part in this distribution.
The distribution of the sensible is thus a political and shared practice, which, as Ranciere emphasizes, simultaneously interprets and forms sensation itself and the relations of shared experience in the act of common perception. Thus, the discursive and sensate process of common and shared perception forms the very objects of perception into those that are aesthetically utilitarian. The obverse of this process is the exclusion of those sensations, or interpretations of sensations, which do not conform to the lens constructed by aesthetic discourse. Ranciere (2004, 19) cautions us, however, that “the arts only ever lend to projects of domination or emancipation what they are able to lend to them, that is to say … what they have in common with them: bodily position and movements, functions of speech, the parceling out of the visible and the invisible.”
The distribution of the sensible is a political act. As Zizek points out in the afterword to Ranciere’s The Politics of Aesthetics (2004, 69-70):
political struggle proper is therefore not a rational debate between multiple interests, but, simultaneously, the struggle for one’s voice to be heard and recognized as the voice of a legitimate partner: when the ʻexcluded’ … protested against the ruling elite … the stakes were not only their explicit demands … but their very right to be heard and recognized as an equal partner in the debate.
This struggle can include modes of sensation and perception, and the worldview that frames the interpretation of what is perceived. This framing itself is contested.
In the contemporary world, the ubiquity and influence of mass media raises the stakes in such struggles, as it is the control of the symbolic – signs – that constitutes influence.
Deleuze (2000, 4) holds that “learning is essentially concerned with signs. Signs are the objects of a temporal apprenticeship, not of an abstract knowledge. To learn is first of all to consider a substance, an object, a being [or one’s perception thereof] as if it emitted signs to be deciphered, interpreted.” Interpretation, then, rather than “reality” as given to the (five) senses is the foundation of learning about, and experiencing the world. As frameworks for interpretation are constructed, anomalies appear that contest these frameworks.
In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn showed how anomalies create crises in scientific understandings, which undermine and ultimately transcend established rules in science. According to Kuhn (1961, 82), “an anomaly comes to seem more than just another puzzle of normal science, [and with it] the transition to crisis and to extraordinary science has begun.”
THE MYTH OF THE GIVEN
Sellars (1956) provides an extended critique of the notion of the Given.
Knowledge, for him, is part of the “logical space of reasons,” which arranges knowledge in ways similar to those in which Deleuze’s distribution of the sensible arranges the sensate: in spatial patterns of interpretation. Sellars gives an alternative account of “looks talk,” and of such claims as “that looks red to me,” claims that traditionally have been seen as infallible and as foundations for perceptual knowledge. Sellars (1956, p. 76) holds that “the essential part is that in characterising an episode or a state as that of knowing, we are placing it in the logical space of reasons, of justifying and being able to justify what one says.” Similarly, Bertrand Russell, in The Problems of Philosophy, states that “what we directly see and feel is mere ʻappearance,’ which we believe to be a sign of some reality behind.” One’s interpretation, though it may be shared, is not given a posteriori as true.
Henri Bergson had more to say about the limits of perception than most twentieth-century philosophers. Bergson (1948, 128 – 129) asks:
What is this intuition? If the philosopher has not been able to give the formula for it, we are certainly not able to do so. But what we shall manage to recapture and hold is a certain intermediary image between the simplicity of the concrete intuition and the complexity of the abstractions which translate it, a receding and vanishing image, which haunts, unperceived perhaps, the mind of the philosopher, which follows him like his shadow through the ins and outs of his thought and which, if it is not the intuition itself, approaches it much more closely than the conceptual expression, of necessity symbolical, to which the intuition must have recourse in order to furnish ʻexplanation’… What [the shadow] first of all characterizes this image is the power of negation it possesses.
Bergson (1948, 141) suggests that intuition may serve to conceive of that which is inconceivable in the rational mind’s apparatus:
Is it possible for us to recapture this intuition itself? We have just two means of expression, concept and image. It is in concepts that the system develops; it is into an image that it contracts when it is driven back to the intuition from which it comes: so that, if one wishes to go beyond the image by rising above it, one necessarily falls back on concepts, and on concepts more vague, even more general than those from which one started in search of the image and the intuition. Reduced to this form, bottles as it were the moment it comes from the spring, the original intuition will then become superlatively insipid and uninteresting: it will be banal in the extreme.
Bergson (1948, 146 – 147) explores the relationship between philosophy and
Science, showing that the differences emerge because experience is given to each “under two different aspects:” one in “external” facts, and the other in “internal” concepts – intuition. The process of converting the latter to communicable ideas distorts, and ultimately renders unrecognizable, the original idea, or intuition. He claims that “in order to reach intuition it is not necessary to transport ourselves outside the domain of the senses and of consciousness. Kant’s error was to believe it was.” Bergson refers here to Kant’s contention that the subject must provide a temporal order to the nebulous content in the apprehension of intuition, presumably because he believed that the mind could apprehend only one object at a time, and that, like all Newtonian objects, the faculties were separate.
Deleuze (2003, 31) supports Bergson’s view of the unity of the body (and sensation itself) as both subject and object:
sensation has one face turned toward the subject … and one face turned toward the object (the ʻfact,’ the place, the event). Or rather, it has no faces at all, it is both things indissolubly, it is Being-in-the-world, as the phenomenologists say: at one and the same time I become in the sensation and something happens through the sensation, one through the other, one in the other. And …it is the same body that, being both subject and object, gives and receives sensation.
As Widder (2008, 91) notes of Bergson’s dismissal of Kant’s temporal ordering, “this transcendence of the past suggests that Bergson does not so much overturn a linear, chronological time as simply complicate it … the stock Bergson puts in intuition to provide absolute as opposed to relative knowledge, and the respect he accords science’s grasp of the material world, should not be overlooked.” Bergson can respect both science and (non-scientific) intuition because of his separation of the external and the internal, which may serve to replace Kant’s separation of subject and object.
Smith (in Deleuze, 2003, xv) summarizes Kant’s view:
Kant argues that perception requires a synthesis of what appears in space and time
… Kant identifies three operations that make up a synthesis: apprehension, reproduction, and recognition. Since everything is a multiplicity and has a multiplicity of parts, perception begins when I synthesize these parts successively in an act of apprehension. I must also reproduce or “contract” the preceding parts when the following ones occur if a synthesis is to take place. These two aspects of spatiotemporal synthesis – the apprehension and reproduction of parts – are activities of the productive imagination and no longer sensibility.
Kant’s division between the object of perception and its interpretation relies on a
Newtonian and Cartesian view, with its concomitant mechanisticity and separation of object of perception (body/matter) from perceiving subject (mind). While this view is obsolete in the natural sciences, political theory, particularly Marxist theory, often retains this privileging of a materialist perspective. A “quantum” political theory that recognizes connectedness of objects and phenomena, rather than their disparate nature, has yet to be fully developed. Shroedinger (in Wilber, 1984), a founder of quantum physics, intimates at such a theory, stating that “the pulling down of the frontier between observer and observed, which many consider [a] momentous revolution of thought, to my mind seems a much overrated provisional aspect without profound significance.” It is this raising of the “frontier between observer and observed,” between subject and object, that opens space for a reconsideration of sensation, and the existence of additional, or extra-sensory phenomena.
As Piʻilani (2001, 13) states in The True Story of Kaluaikoolau:
The pinching of the spreading dawn – I know it.
The cold of the mountain dew that numbs the skin – I know it.
The chill of the rapid flowing waters of Waikoloa – I know it.
The other kind of chill – emotional disturbance – I know it.
Her “knowing” is of an intuitive nature, one that links bodily sensation with emotion. This knowledge of land-as-body can be reclaimed by the collapsing of materialist boundaries, and the extension of the sensate.
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