Friday, November 02, 2012


Now we believe what the ancient people knew: material things have “agency” (is this part of the "cultural retrieval of animism" William Irwin Thompson talks about?). Using the potter at his potter’s wheel as an example, Malafouris (2008) shows that there is no way that human and material agency can be disentangled. The fingers do not just move the clay; the clay tells the hands how much pressure to apply. “While agency and intentionality may not be property of things, they are not properties of humans either: they are properties of material engagement, that is, of the grey zone where brain, body, and culture conflate” (2008, 22). 

I went to the New Springs Quarry on Thursday with my landscape painting class. I wondered off, found this pipe, followed it. 

 I did a quick painting of the site and mud collecting in sheets along the emerald river. Considering the theory of material agency, did I paint the mud, or did the mud paint itself through me?

Material agency is also explored by Kevin Kelly in his recent book What Technology Wants (2009). For Kelly, technology creates itself, using humans to do its bidding, always according to a certain inevitability that is dictated by the circumstances of the technology that came before, and our normal view of humans creating technology is a kind of romantic fairy tale that ignores the fact that nearly every great invention is invented nearly simultaneously by many people at the same time, all over the world. Darren Lipnicki, a psychologist formerly at the Center for Space Medicine in Berlin, Germany, found a correlation between the bizarreness of his dreams, recorded over eight years, and extremes in local geomagnetic activity.

That things move us, that the shape of my house, for example, determines the possible movements of my body once I enter it, opens up the possibility for including the house into my body and self-sense. My thesis may be that by including the idea of material agency within my worldview, a larger identity with the environment can arise, agency can be decentralized from inside the human head, and we can more efficiently accomplish any task through collaboration. Like Thompson says, this idea is dramatized in The Wizard of Oz, or the Fantastic Four, and legends of famous knights and their swords.  

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