Tim Ingold (GB) | University of Aberdeen

Manonsand

Meshwork, atmosphere and the rhythms of life

According to the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, one can only be sentient in a sentient world. We see with eyes that already know moonlight and sunlight, hear with ears already accustomed to the sonorities of wind and weather, feel with hands that are already familiar with the roughness and smoothness of wood, stone, clay and other materials. Neither sun and moon, nor wind and weather, nor wood, stone and clay, are themselves sentient. But immersed in sentience – by invading the awareness of sentient bodies – they can, so to speak, double over and see, hear and touch themselves.

This is possible, Merleau-Ponty contended, because they are of the same 'flesh' as the bodies that we are. Both we and they are irrevocably stitched into the fabric of the world. Yet the way we launch ourselves into the world, in perception and action, is not the precise reverse of the way we gather the world into ourselves. We could liken the difference to that between exhalation and inhalation. In breathing out, we issue forth along lines of growth and movement. These lines, taken together, weave a dense tangle comparable to the tangle of root systems underground or of vegetation above it. I call this tangle the meshwork. In breathing in, by contrast, the world surrounds us and invades us as an atmosphere of light, sound and feeling. Is the flesh of the world, then, meshwork or atmosphere? Are we stitched into the meshwork or bathed in the atmosphere? I argue that we are alternately both, and that each is prerequisite for the other, just as breathing in is prerequisite for breathing out and vice versa. Indeed their rhythmic alternation is fundamental for animate life. Herein, I contend, lies the relation between the meshwork and the atmosphere, or, more simply, between lines and the weather.

Tim Ingold (GB)

Tim Ingold is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, and a Fellow of both the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Following 25 years at the University of Manchester, Ingold moved in 1999 to Aberdeen, where he went on to establish the UK's newest Department of Anthropology. Ingold has carried out ethnographic fieldwork among Saami and Finnish people in Lapland, and has written on comparative questions of environment, technology and social organisation in the circumpolar North, as well as on the role of animals in human society, on issues in human ecology, and on evolutionary theory in anthropology, biology and history. More recently, he has been exploring the links between environmental perception and skilled practice, with a view to replacing traditional models of genetic and cultural transmission with a relational approach focusing on the growth of skills of perception and action within socio-environmental contexts of development. These ideas are presented in his book The Perception of the Environment (2000). Ingold's latest research pursues three lines of inquiry that emerged from his earlier work, concerning the dynamics of pedestrian movement, the creativity of practice, and the linearity of writing. These all came together in his book Lines (2007), along with three edited collections: Creativity and Cultural Improvisation (with Elizabeth Hallam, 2007), Ways of Walking (with Jo Lee Vergunst, 2008) and Redrawing Anthropology (2011). Ingold is currently writing and teaching on issues on the interface between anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture. His latest book, Being Alive was published by Routledge in April 2011.