Prof. Tim Ingold
Kraków, Instytut Socjologii UJ, 2.12.13
To Human is a Verb
We tend to think of the human beings as subjects, possessed of agency and intentionality, of which their manifest actions are the effects. Drawing on the thinking of the medieval mystic Ramon Llull, on what the Kelabit people of Borneo have to say about human life, and on the thinking of the twentieth century Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, I argue to the contrary that the grammatical form of the human is the verb. ‘To human’ is not just to live life but to lead it. And to lead life, I contend, is to undergo an education. Following the American theologian Henry Nelson Wieman, I distinguish undergoing from doing, as the modality a life that – in the power of the imagination – is continually running ahead of itself. I go on to characterise education as a ‘leading out’ into the world that, driven by attention rather than intention, exposes the practitioner to existential risk. Yet in the practice of particular skills, humans are the masters of what they do. A life that is led, or that undergoes an education, is held in tension between the vulnerability of undergoing and the mastery of doing: where the first leads, the second follows. We are both ahead of and behind ourselves, both not-yet and already. In the iterative process of becoming who we were, and of having been whom we become, there is no point at which we can uncover some basic nature that was there before it all began. For in truth, we are what we undergo.
Warszawa, Uniwersytet Warszawski, 3.12.2013
Anthropology Beyond Humanity
This article begins with a dispute between myself and anthropologist Robert Paine about Saami reindeer herding. Do reindeer transact with humans, as humans are alleged to do with one another? Or is a transactional approach no more appropriate for humans than it is for reindeer? Just at the point when transactionalism was on the wane in anthropology, it was on the rise in psychology and the study of animal behaviour. Studies of non-human primates, in particular, likened them to Machiavellian strategists. Picking up on this idea, philosophers Michel Serres and Bruno Latour have argued that human relations are stabilised, by comparison with the animals’, through the enrolment of ever more ‘non-humans’. By ‘non-humans’, however, they mean material-semiotic mediators rather than Machiavellian transactors. In the latter capacity, as smart performers, non-humans are supposed to interact only with other individuals of their species, not with humans. The idea that social relations should be confined to intraspecific relations, however, is shown to be a reflex of the assumption that humans are fundamentally different, in their mode of being, from all other living kinds. Rejecting this assumption, I argue for an anthropology beyond the human that would turn its back both on the species concept and on the project of ethnography, and join with non-humans understood neither as material mediators nor as smart performers, but as sentient beings engaged in the tasks of carrying on their own lives.
Poznan, Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewicza, 4.12.13
Lines and the Weather
According to the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, one can only be sentient in a sentient world. We see with eyes that already know moonlight and sunlight, hear with ears already accustomed to the sonorities of wind and weather, feel with hands that are already familiar with the roughness and smoothness of wood, stone, clay and other materials. Neither sun and moon, nor wind and weather, nor wood, stone and clay, are themselves sentient. But immersed in sentience – by invading the awareness of sentient bodies – they can double over and see, hear and touch themselves. This is possible, Merleau-Ponty contended, because they are of the same ‘flesh’ as the bodies that we are. Both we and they are irrevocably stitched into the fabric of the world. Yet the way we launch ourselves into the world, in perception and action, is not the precise reverse of the way we gather the world into ourselves. We could liken the difference to that between exhalation and inhalation. In breathing out, we issue forth along lines of growth and movement. These lines, taken together, weave a dense tangle comparable to the tangle of root systems underground or of vegetation above it. I call this tangle the meshwork. In breathing in, by contrast, the world surrounds us and invades us as an atmosphere of light, sound and feeling. Is the flesh of the world, then, meshwork or atmosphere? Are we stitched into the meshwork or bathed in the atmosphere? I argue that we are alternately both, and that each is prerequisite for the other, just as breathing in is prerequisite for breathing out. Indeed their rhythmic alternation is fundamental for animate life. Herein, I contend, lies the relation between the meshwork and the atmosphere, or, more simply, between lines and the weather.