Currently, I am researching the breath. It wasn’t intentional, not really! I didn’t get the funding I needed, so, in an effort to keep things simple, I took everything back to the basics. ’Breath Wind into Me, Chapter 1′ (Walker, 2019), is an exploration of Luce Irigaray’s and Leonard Skof’s notion that we are living in the ‘Age of Breath’ (Ch:14, 2013). Beginning with Merleau Ponty’s concept of an ‘immense exterior lung’ (1992: 167), my intention is to find an alternative approach to rethink the past and confront uncomfortable truths using mixed-media to expand on Laura Mark’s use of the word haptic to describe images that you can touch or be touched by (2014).
The concept of the haptic breath emerges out of a Deleuzian inspired model of intensities where affect is a disruptive energy that escapes the restrictions of mind, reason, and cognition. Brian Massumi’s most recent formulation of immanence describes correlated waves of affect within collective or ‘depersonalised’ systems. Here, the notion of a gap opens up between cognition and affect, existing as an in-between state of either potential or foreclosure. It is the in-between space where breath can be held, contained or released, the place of hope or despair. It is also the place of intention. To grasp it though requires listening, a shared listening.
Bachelard writes the “breath…is…the premier phenomenon of the silence of being,” that is, there is “the silence that breathes” (p.193). In the silence, we attend to ourselves, to each other and to the inside and outside of the self. In our attentiveness, we receive ourselves and each other. Self-affection is based on our inchoate receptivity to the needs of oneself and thereafter the other, it is a critical engagement with the idea of an ethical becoming. Our affective capacity defines the body in action. Deleuze suggests it is impossible to know ahead of time “the affects one is capable of” (Deleuze, 1988b, p. 125), but if we are practised and alert to our breath, our patterns of breathing, and the breath of the other, we can start to forge a knowing, a practical wisdom and a sense of a different kind of future.
Catherine Malabou, in her essay Post-Trauma, Towards a New Definition? (2012: 227-239), deconstructs Žižek’s critique of Freudian and Lacanian ontologies of trauma. Through the concept of ‘plasticity’ as an active embodiment, she bridges neuroscience and psychoanalysis to reframe an understanding of trauma. For Malabou, ‘becoming’ is a radical metamorphosis, the fabrication of a new form, person or a way of being in the world. She reformulates the Freudian notion of plasticity as ‘a new kind of exposure of the nervous system to danger and, consequently, a new definition of what ‘event,’ ‘suffering,’ and ‘wound’ mean” (2013: 28). As she writes: ‘With plasticity, we are not facing a pre-given difference, but a process of metamorphosis’ (2008).
Returning to the idea of ’staying with the trouble’ (2016), Donna Haraway suggests a commitment to ‘living and dying with response-ability in unexpected company of creating a new future based on fiction. Such living and dying have the best chance of cultivating conditions for ongoingness’ (38). Quoting ethnographer Thomas van Dooren, she places mourning as intrinsic to cultivating response-ability. ‘Outside the dubious privileges of human exceptionalism, thinking people must learn to grieve-with’ (ibid) because we are all part of this undoing. ‘Without sustained remembrance, we cannot learn to live with ghosts and so cannot think’ (39).
More recently, in ‘Fiction as Method’ (Ed. Jon K Shaw & Theo Reeves-Evision, 2017) there is the suggestion that fiction can create spaces to let in the future, the ‘abstract-outside,’ where the potential for a new beginning exists, beyond the loop of trauma and the history with which we are so burdened. But it is not to ignore the past, on the contrary, it is to explore new methods to side step the weight, the heaviness of the past staying with the trouble rather than be-coming the trouble. In 2012, artist, Ian Alan Paul set up the ‘Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History,’ a fictional institute that explores the premise of—‘what if’ and ‘as if’—the latter creating a utopian space where change has already occurred. As the artist declares; ‘The point isn’t to trick people, it’s to increase that moment of wonder that hopefully leads to the question of what’s possible.’ Through the work, Paul is also pointing to the place of no sense, where common sense has disappeared and a reapplication of sense is needed to reassert the order of things. A sense-ability (the ability to sense and therefore feel)—important for an alternative future. It is a different way of being in the world. One that requires an embrace of what is real and what is not and the ability to navigate the space between the two. We need to take care, for as Kathleen Stewart eloquently expresses:
A world can whisper from a half-lived sensibility. It can demand collective attunement and a more adequate description of how things make sense. It can fall apart, become something else, leaving its marks, scoring refrains on bodies of all kinds – atmospheres, landscapes, expectations, institutions, states of acclimation or endurance or pleasure or being stuck or moving on. (Stewart, 2010)
Links: Val Plumood’s moving essay on being attacked by a crocodile.