Reading about | what animates things

Currently reading Semeurs d’Espoirs, (Actes Sud), in which Algerian agro ecologist and writer Pierre Rabhi touches on the course of his life, his gradual understanding of agro ecology, and the need for an insurrection of consciences (which was also the core message of his political programme in 2002, when he shortly ran for president in France). To Rabhi, we are, ourselves, the only vectors of a possible, positive change towards a less anthropocentric, and more feminine era.

The following fragment from the book is strongly related to the animated work of Icelandic designer Brynjar Sigurðarson, which will be presented in the upcoming issue of Field Essays. In the fragment, Rabhi observes the workings of homeopathy, where a substance typically gains in strength as it gets more diluted, and concludes (freely translated): Ordinarily, we tend to take matter as a point of departure for the spiritual. I have the feeling, that the subtle [the spirited, animated dimension of this world] expresses itself in the matter.

“Moi, c’est justement ce sur quoi je ne peux rien dire qui me semble être l’esprit. Celui-ci ne peut se réduire au langage, on ne peut le piéger par l’histoire, les événements, les haines ou les rancoeurs. Il est omniprésent et il anime toute chose. Il est esprit, c’est tout. Et cet esprit n’est pas circonscrit. J’ai le sentiment qu’une intelligence a voulu et créé ce monde. Je ne crois pas être hors propos en faisant un parallèle avec l’homéopathie. Prenez une substance, diluez-là, diluez, diluez, diluez, et plus vous la diluez, plus vous lui donnez de la force. Pourtant la substance en tant que telle a depuis longtemps disparu. D’ordinaire, on a plutôt l’habitude de partir de la matière pour aller vers le subtil. J’ai, en ce qui me concerne, plutôt le sentiment que le subtil s’exprime dans la matière. Cela convient bien à ma petite intelligence.” – Semeurs d’espoir, Pierre Rabhi, entretien transcript par Olivier Le Naire, Domaines du Possible, Actes Sud, 2014, p.112.

This way of seeing things – understanding that matter is in fact animated – brings to mind a story told to anthropologist Tim Ingold by Brynjar when they met last March, about the importance of elfe stones in Icelandic society up until today. See also this related NY Times article (!).

“Do not pee on a stone that’s an elves stone. You don’t pee on a rock that’s an elves rock. That’s just basic somehow. So if the state is building a road and there’s this big rock that is believed to be an elves rock but the state says no we take the rock it doesn’t make sense to make a loop, and then one bulldozer breaks down, and then a guy gets sick, in the end the whole team is sick, and the bulldozers are not working, then the state says: OK we just make a loop.”

This account, and many more terrific ones like this one, will be part of the upcoming issue of Field Essays… To be continued!