I labelled this weeknote Part I of Isabelle-Stengers-gushing because I’m afraid I’m going to be coming back to this again and again. I apologize in advance, guys, but really, she is rocking my world, okay?
This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about shifts in meaning.
Of how it could be possible to navigate different systems of meaning or set up “different” sorts of ontologies and non-quantitative methodologies and how this could be done in research-creation. Reading Isabelle Stengers’s article “Reclaiming Animism” (2012) has been key to how I’ve been thinking this over lately. In it, she writes:
Magic undercuts any such version of the epic. And this is precisely why neo-pagan witches call their own craft “magic”: naming it so, they say, is itself an act of magic, since the discomfort it creates helps us notice the smoke in our nostrils. . . . If we said to them, “But your Goddess is only a fiction,” they would doubtless smile and ask us whether we are among those who believe that fiction is powerless.
As you guys know, this semester I’m focusing on the athamé as the instrument I do a weekly meditation on in the Sterne class, and this research has led me to different pieces involving knives and that’s where I came upon IN AN OLD HOME, A KNIFE IS PRESSED INTO A LIT CANDLE AND LEFT TO SLICE THROUGH IT by Benjamin Zellmer Bellas (2011, 45:30). This video is a comment on time, it’s a comment on meaning, on collocation, and on affect. All that happens is a still-life, or a near still-life, for about 44 minutes: a knife that is pressed into a candle slowly (slowly, slowly) pushes through it to the other side. But when it finally does, in the last minute of the video, the result is jarring. The flame leaps higher at the violence of the knife passing through the wax, as if in relief or in pain. The meditative state is broken and we’re woken up. It’s a very simple set-up, and the minimalism of this piece is its power (its “magic”?). To me, this is a work that brings together different elements that point toward a methodology that exists outside of linearity and poses a question whose answer is not readily available. There is a mystery in the work, there is a lot to the narrative that is unexplained, and as such it is also a generous piece.
I’m going to start reading Stengers’s Capitalist Sorcery (basically now); here’s a link to the PDF of the book in full if you’re interested. I just found it, so it will have to be part of a different weeknote.
These ideas are pretty nascent, but I’m thinking the reason I feel so excited about Stengers’s work is that she comes from a background of science, a field that I was entrenched in at the sleep lab, and yet reaches toward what some might see as the flipside of science (as evidenced by the quote above). It’s a hugely ballsy move within academia, I think. Also, she calls a lot on James, whose work I adore, and Whitehead, whose work I’d like to become more familiar with, as well as David Abrams and “the old lady with the cat,” as she writes in her animism article. Oh what the old lady with the cat has to tell us! And what the knife, passing through the wax, has to tell us, too: an undercutting of any version of the epic.
From “Reclaiming Animism”:
. . . the answers that follow from such achievements should never separate us from anything, because they always coincide with the creation of new questions, not with new authoritative answers to questions that already mattered for us.