MODES OF BEING

 

 

‘To be’ is to make any kind of difference in the world; everything that exists in the world contributes in some way to what is real. Something either exists or it doesn’t, and if it does exist then it makes an ecological and aesthetic difference in the unfolding of reality. This understanding of being is founded on the premise that everything that exists is potentially real, but that things exist according to many different modes of being.

 

The modes of being situate States and Territories within what is variously referred to as a ‘flat ontology’, a ‘relational ontology’, or an ‘open ontology’ (Delanda, 2002; Harman, 2008; Bryant, 2011; Morton, 2013; Barad, 2003). Rather than privileging one particular ontology or stream of philosophical thought, a flat or open ontology is adopted pragmatically to allow for generative interactions between ontological positions within an ‘ecology of knowledge practices’ (Massumi, 2002; Stengers, 2005). The modes of being underpin an approach that recognises and accounts for this ontological pluralism, such that Indigenous, realist, positivist, empiricist, constructivist, materialist, and relativist orientations (among others) can be engaged in productive dialogues, negotiations and even fruitful collaborations (Latour, 2013).  This approach to ontological pluralism takes up pragmatism as a method of thinking and action, as a tool and an instrument which ‘unstiffens all our theories, limbers them up and sets each one at work’ (James, 1904). Ontological and epistemological differences are thus registered through the impacts they have on practice, on the differences made to practical operations, effects, concrete experiences and the truth-bearing of a collective event’s unfolding (Atkinson, 2012).

 

            As modes of being are fundamental to existing in reality, they also describe the varieties of primary experience that are particular to human existence in the world. Modes of being account for what humans take to be real, enfolding both the conceptual content of their ontologies and the material practices which they enact every day.  In States and Territories, modes of being always involve learning more about what is real, while at the same time acknowledging that the truth of an event will always exceed what can be known.

 

Becoming - Knowing

 

Becoming is the fundamental process of being, of existing in the world, which is always an emergent and collective process of being in relation to others (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, pp. 239-40). Through immersive and affective engagement, learners enter into a sensory becoming in relation to the ecological (relational) and aesthetic (qualitative) dimensions of the learning environment. For Deleuze and Guattari (1987, p. 145), the emergent process of becoming takes form in two interconnected articulations: the form of ecological content, in which the learner becomes part of a ‘machinic assemblage of bodies’; and the form of aesthetic expression, in which the learner becomes part of a ‘collective assemblage of enunciation’. This double articulation of becoming positions the learning environment as fundamentally an ecological and aesthetic assemblage (Massumi, 2011). The core aim of an eco-aesthetic pedagogy is to create spaces for learning to experience both articulations: the aesthetics of the world as a relational work of art, and the ecology of the world as a dynamic (and perhaps ill-fated) entanglement of people, places, things and ideas.

 

Becoming always involves beings entering into a collective assemblage, network, arrangement and composition with other beings. Deleuze and Guattari (1987, p 10) give the example of the wasp-orchid assemblage, wherein the wasp becomes necessary to the life of the orchid, and vice versa. The wasp and the orchid define each other biologically through symbiosis, which produces ‘emergent properties above and beyond the sum of its parts’ (Bonta & Protevi, 2006, p. 59). Each participant in the collective assemblage is changed by the others through their entry into a new symbiotic relationship, as in the relationship between teacher and learner. The teacher-learner assemblage functions as an ecology, or machine, and also has an expressive function that is fundamentally aesthetic. New forms of interaction, communication, movement, engagement and thought are emergent properties of this assemblage. These are ways of knowing the world, and also expressing the experience of that knowing. Becoming, in this sense, enables a new set of affects (what bodies can do) to emerge through collective participation in a network of ecological and aesthetic relationships. States and Territories aims to provide a conceptual topology and material infrastructure for such becomings and ways of knowing to emerge.

 

In the conceptual practice of becoming-knowing, becoming can simply describe the way we come to know the world through our active participation in its unfolding. It is also important to recognise the resonance of this understanding with Indigenous ways of knowing and being with the Earth (Arabena, 2010). For many First Peoples around the world, humanity and nature are intricately entangled in a Universe that is ‘inherently dynamic, constantly changing in a process of renewal, and profoundly interrelated’ (p. 262). 

 

Affect - Feeling          

 

            Affect traditionally describes the emotional state or attitude of the individual in psychology, and is linked to motivation and the capacity to act and engage with the world. More recently, affect theory has emerged as an interdisciplinary field of inquiry that is primarily derived from two streams of theory. Firstly that of Deleuze and Guattari (1987; 1994), which draws on Spinoza’s location of affect in the midst of beings and their relations, in the potential and actualisation of ‘complex assemblages that come to compose bodies and worlds simultaneously’ (Seigworth & Gregg, 2010,  p. 6). Bertelson & Murphie (2010, p. 140) describe three contemporary substantiations of affect theory which are associated with the work of Deleuze and Guattari: affect as the movement of pre-personal forces (of geological or biological origin) which pass through and rearrange bodies; affect as the physical sensation of forces and intensities as they are folded into the nervous system; and affect as the bodily capacity to affect and be affected in relation to other bodies. In all three of these renderings affect is transitive, in the sense that it is a transition between states of actuality and virtuality (p. 145). More specifically, affect is understood as the process by which the enfolded, virtual potentiality of a body is actualised, or unfolded, through expression (Massumi, 2002).

 

Secondly, affect theory is being drawn from work in the areas of psychobiology and neuroscience, which posit affect as the driving evolutionary force that motivates interest, engagement and bodily desire.  This includes psychological and psychoanalytic forms of inquiry in which biologism ‘remains co-creatively open to ongoing impingements and pressures from intersubjective and interobjective systems of social desiring’ (Seigworth & Gregg, 2010, p. 7). The early work of Freud, and the work of Tomkins and Stern are cited as critical examples of this approach. This stream of affect theory is more concerned with the categorical naming and mapping of specific affects, and establishing a contoured topography of affect that is generally centered on human experience.    While these two vectors of affect theory are not necessarily compatible, Seigworth and Gregg argue that the resonations and movements between these two interpretations of affect are providing significant developments across disciplines in the sciences, arts and humanities.

 

In the conceptual practice of ‘affect-feeling’, affect can simply describe what it feels like to be alive in a human body that both affects and is affected by other bodies. Emotions, attitudes, beliefs, concerns and environmental awareness can all be associated with affect, but at a level that is distinct from cognitive realisations. It is important to recognise affect as part of an ecological and aesthetic mode of being, rather than a thinking mode. This is because the experience of sensation associated with affect is both pre-cognitive and pre-linguistic, occurring at a deeper level of empathic consciousness and bodily intuition. In this sense, how we feel affects what we do, and what we do affects how we feel. Affect is thus associated with being physically immersed within an environment, rather than being able to identify and categorise all the different components that make up that ecosystem (see network-ecological thinking below).

 

 

Engagement - Sensing

           

Engagement can be broadly defined as an encounter with something other than the self, whether that be another human, an environment, an animal, a film, an artwork, book, or idea, or anything else for that matter. A state of immersion is implied by the act of engagement, as with affect described above. Indeed, engagement can refer to the broader context or situation in which we can begin to affect and be affected by one another on an empathic level. Yet engagement is as much associated with the attunement of the bodily senses as with feelings and emotions. As such, engagement is often cited as the prerequisite for authentic and transformative learning experiences. This involves what Ingold (2000) refers to as an ‘education of attention’ common to many Indigenous peoples, in which learning takes place through a sensory apprenticeship with one’s environment. Deleuze (1995, p. 165) similarly describes an ‘education of the senses’, in which the process of learning establishes the ‘bond of a profound complicity between nature and mind’. This form of engagement as a deep correspondence between human and environment is qualitatively different from engagement with a technological device or apparatus that simply 'captures' our attention.

 

Berleant (1992; 1997) further develops the concept of engagement as a noncognitive approach to environmental philosophy that emphasises immersive experiences within multi-sensory environments. The engagement approach holds that people can move beyond binary positions such as those of the subject/object, the knower/known and the inside/outside through their immersion in an aesthetically rich environment. When one is immersed within a multi-sensory environment, the distance between the human and the environment can be diminished or even erased. This kind of close encounter with nature provides an intimacy with more-than-human beings and materials through direct sensory engagement, which is a particular way of corresponding with the world (Ingold, 2013). For Berleant (1992, p. 162) this is about ‘perceiving environments from within’, from a vantage point in which we are ‘looking not at it, but being in it.’ In States and Territories, engagement is the immersive sensation of being not on the campus, but in the campus as part of an ecological and aesthetic network of events. Furthermore, an engagement approach to learning environments means that there is no hierarchy of responses, in which one is necessarily more informed, rarefied or valid than another. Rather, as Carlson (2011, p. 6) explains, it is more about learners ‘opening themselves to being immersed, responding as they will, and enjoying what they can.’ This is an important consideration for the States and Territoties project, in which participants of varying ages are openly invited to become immersed in learning environments, engage and respond as they see fit, and enjoy the experience in their own way.

 

In the conceptual practice of engagement-sensing, engagement can simply describe what you see, hear, touch, smell and taste within an immersive environment. It is important to recognise the interconnected nature of the senses through engagement, as well as the ways that different cultures attune their senses to the environment (Pink, 2009). It is also helpful to think about the ways that technology mediates and extends the human sensorium (Jones, 2006). Engagement, in this context, is a profoundly cultural experience that colours the way that humans sense, perceive and understand the world they live in.