Charles Eisenstein talk: full recording (Taney Roniger)

This afternoon we were honored to be joined by writer and speaker Charles Eisenstein for a provocative discussion about posthumanism, form, the locus of the sacred, and much more. Charles is the author of numerous books, among them The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, Sacred Economics, and Climate: A New Story. Many of you will know him from his many public speaking events, interviews, podcasts, courses, and discussion groups. What strikes me so much about Charles is his wide-ranging mind and his refreshing sincerity. It was a pleasure to have him engage us in discussion.

See the link below for an unedited version of his talk and the lively conversation among the panel that followed. (Alas, the first two minutes of the video were deleted, but it begins with Charles talking about the distinction between transhumanism and posthumanism. Enjoy!)

Link: Thingly Affinities: Charles Eisenstein.

Note: I encourage the panelists to post any questions or comments from yesterday's talk in this thread. Charles may be checking in later today, but either way there remains much to be discussed!

Touching on the Divine (Stephanie Grilli)

 I have become really interested in the ineffable in visual — both as a concept and as the ineffable itself. This is due to my being about to see and experience things in artworks to a such a high degree after studying art for fifty years. Maybe I’m slow, but I do sense that what is revealing itself to me is something I’ve achieved. I had a writing gig once that involved selecting artists sixty-five years of age or older and interviewing them. I asked each of them what they knew that they didn’t know when they started making art, and to a person they responded with some variant of realizing they knew nothing. I think the same thing applies to responding to art — that it’s possible to reside in understanding and break through to something not translatable into words, something transcendent.

We seem to agree that the mind/body dualism has had its day, but in the oneness and continuity of mind and body, that which we ascribe to mind can affect the body. This can be a framing of a physical experience or it can be a physical change in the body. If I sat in a chair once and was pushed over by a bully, I might have a different sensation upon seeing a chair than if I once had hot, mad sex in a chair. Emotion isn't something "raw" but an entanglement and learned. The relation of any individual and the physical world may be governed by universal principles but our experience of that relation is far more complicated. Then what do we do when we live in a society that is reductive, needs docile bodies, offers the “quick fix.” Maybe it’s a matter of recognizing the role that art has in teaching us how to feel, to experience being-in-the-world.

We now have access to a great body of works that we can view without attachment to their belief system or doctrine. As an independent art historian, I no longer am attached to the timeline that is typically taught, and I avail myself of how much art is now available online, delighting in artworks that speak to me as artworks. I can’t help but be taken by the limitless variety of what we have been able to come up with essentially are somewhat limited physical materials. One word that hasn’t come up yet in our discussion is “imagination,” and I would like to make that the power of imagination. If we want to consider art in its spiritual or ethical dimension, we are looking to art as something that allows us to experience something larger or greater than ourselves. How do we go through ourselves to get to something other or at least the not-I (to reference Fichte)? Rather than just the physical presence of artworks, there is a will to create that courses through the history of art that brings us with something touching on the divine. 

Form is a Verb (Sarah Robinson)

In response to Taney's earlier request to elaborate on the idea of form as a verb. 

1. Taney: How does this reconceptualizing change the way we experience art objects and, in your case, architecture? Because although we now know otherwise, our limited sensory apparatus tells us that objects are static -- paintings, chairs, mountains, or whatever: to our bodyminds these things seem utterly unchanging.

This argument is central to my forthcoming book, Architecture is a Verb (Routledge 2/21) which applies a variation of the 4E approach to understanding architectural experience. The work of the 19th century empathy theorists and in cognitive science has shown that all art is performance art. We experience not only the work of art, but the genesis of its making in our own bodies. Vittorio Gallese and David Freedberg showed how we simulate the slash marks on Lucio Fontana's canvases in our own motor repertoire. When we see etched stone, we simulate the movement that went into that act of making in our own bodies. The crucial shift in thinking moves from the all-too tired Cartesian "I think therefore I am," to Husserl's engaged "I can therefore I am." Our earliest knowledge of the world is through bodily movement, something that the biologist/dancer/philosopher Maxine Sheets Johnstone (The Primacy of Movement) has been arguing for decades. When we begin to imagine the world around us in terms of possibilities for action (an enactivist approach), new dimensions of dynamism suddenly open up. In Giorgio Morandi's shy vases, we feel ourselves being touched, we imagine sitting in the chair or the irritating discomfort of its shoddy design, instead of seeing a static mountain, we notice the veins of massive pressure that heaved it from the deep. We do not see the independent objects as much as we see the world according to the actions they might afford and possibilities and latent stories of their becoming. 

2. Taney: I adore this idea of changing nouns into verbs (David Bohm proposed something similar many years ago, using the term the rheomode for this new way of thinking), but I'm having trouble imagining what it would do to our actual experience of the world. 

I have also been inspired by Bohm's rheomode, in his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order he points out that an obstacle to dynamic thinking is the subject-verb-object structure of sentences which implies that action arises in a subject and is exerted on an object. Why do we say, for example, that it is raining, instead of that rain is happening? To whom, exactly, does ‘it’ refer? This is but one example of how our language is unable to speak of ongoing processes. Yet in other languages, movement is taken as a primary notion and apparently static things are treated as relatively invariant states of continuing movement. In ancient Hebrew, for example, the verb was primary. The root of all lost Hebrew words is a verb form, while adverbs, adjectives and nouns were obtained by modifying the verbal form with prefixes and suffixes. Even the English words dwell and dwelling, like the word building, are both nouns, verbs and gerunds—their versatility demonstrates that both terms are implicitly connected to ongoing living processes. Calling attention to the movement initiated by the verb serves to correct this centuries-old deficit. This act of reordering attention forces us to reconsider the realities which the verbs describe and opens new possibilities for thinking in terms of active embodied engagement. Thinking in terms of living processes does not need to split them into bits. Divisions wither in the face of action. This kind of animism speaks to a time when poetry was not a literary genre but a concrete way of experiencing LIFE.