5.01.2011

We Are Things Among Things

In Matter and Memory, Henri Bergson claims that everything — everything! — is an image. That is to say, everything — everything! — is something that is perceived and made sense of. This includes our bodies, our nerves, our brains. Yes, our brains. The brain is not something that is distinct from the world. It is made of the same stuff of the world. It is stuff just as a piece of paper, a flower, a mug are stuff. Ideas, too — and notions, thoughts, dreams, concepts: they are stuff, too, even if invisible. This different stuff enjoys different properties, different ways of going, but they are not, in Bergson’s words, different in kind but in degree of complexity.


It's all just stuff interacting with other stuff. There are all kinds of interactions between all kinds of things — collisions and convergences, merges and synergies, ricochets and meldings.


At our best, we are productive cogs, productive nodes in the ever emergent network of the cosmos. We don’t want to be masters. We don’t claim to be experts. We aim to be amateurs at play in the world, Hunter Thompson spending a year riding with the Angels only to get stomped. We will get dirty. We are dirty, in the best sense of the word.


We often find ourselves nudged this way and that by the flutter and flurry of stuff. We are clumsy, more or less helpless, bouncing, ricocheting, drifting. But then there are those times when we somehow shift our posture while we are still being nudged — while we are still bouncing, ricocheting, drifting — and we are no longer passive. Nor are we truly active. At these moments, when we take on the world, when we take up the world, we are moving with the world, living through the teem and for every nudge we, too, nudge.


Think of it this way. A pool ball can simply be at the mercy of the cue. Or it can actively be moved by the cue, take its hits, live through its momentum.


Making sense of the world is not a matter of standing apart from things. We are things; things are things. Making sense is an encounter between such things. Just as wind rustles leaves and leaves, in turn, inflect the wind; just as concrete and a glass vase enjoy a tense relationship; just as light and lens interact just so to make images; just as coffee makes my body and thinking faster; so we go with the world, things and things together.


The reader, generously, lends the world his body. And the world, in kind, returns the favor. It’s all stuff going with the stuff.

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