Constellation Week 1: Dust

In this session we studied David Abrams, Hippocrates A.R Wallace and their writings about the earth, wind and dust.

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Abrams states that we have blinded ourselves to the pleas of the earth, and are in dire need of perceptual re-attunement. He thinks of the earth as a person, or at least as capable of having thought, which I found irritating. That’s not to say that what he was saying was bad, nor that I disagree. I agree with him in at least some aspects; he makes a point about ‘chaos’ being the wrong word to describe certain things in scientific contexts, and suggests that ‘wild’ would be a better replacement, as it means that it is simply out of our control. He also suggests that ‘domesticated’ would be a better way to describe suburban and city areas since, despite our best efforts to constrain nature, weeds will still grow with abandon and animals roam free. He suggests that our language is part of the problem with how we understand the world, since it is very human-centric.

Hippocrates’ thoughts on air was interesting: as someone who lived several hundred years ago he had a good grasp on what was going on, although he didn’t have the words and prior knowledge to describe things as we do now. He says that the importance of air is life, and that it is the cause of many things, including the change of seasons (the north wind and south wind). He then continues to outline the basics of airborne diseases.

Wallace’s writing on dust was probably the most interesting and pleasant for me because he seemed curious, and reading his work came across more like a story than academic text. He starts with a seemingly innocuous subject matter- dust- then explains why it is not ordinary. Without dust, we wouldn’t have so many colours, light diffusion and gradients, and we wouldn’t have a sky the way we know it now. We wouldn’t exist as we do, and neither would any other living creature; the whole course of evolution has been affected by the very presence of the floating particles. He writes about the fact that if dust were suddenly to vanish, we would have to radically rethink every aspect of our lives, from architecture to agriculture, and points out that maybe we wouldn’t be walking on land at all if not for the dust.

We learned about the ‘dance of animacy’ which is a three point diagram which lists all the things required for something to be animate. For this we had to understand the term ‘agency’ which is a word used to describe an object or a persons will, whether intentional or not. For example you cannot force a piece of elastic into a stretch and expect it to stay there, it’s agency is in the desire to be the shape it is originally.

The animacy diagram describes that you need three aspects of interaction for something to be considered to have agency. As air is not something closed, not an object on its own with a clear beginning or end, it cannot be considered to have agency. Instead its actions are considered a correspondence with the objects within it, such as a kite.

As a final task, we were made to analyse a painting of a place in cornwall based on all of these theories. The colour of the sky was caused by dust, and the movement in the sails of the boats was caused by wind.

I understand that most people live, myself included, live their daily lives without thinking about these things, but that’s understandable since we are humans. We all have at least some awareness of the rest of the planet and its inhabitants, but in our daily lives these philosophical thoughts aren’t really necessary for our functioning.

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