Reply To: Mon 14 Apr: The Perception of the Environment

Author Replies # Posted on April 15, 2014 at 14:34

In my reflection I aim to address two Ingold’s concepts or rather theoretical »toolboxes«, namely the relational model and reduction of things to objects and test how these concepts might be applied to historiography and what kind of consequences Ingold’s theories carry for historiography, if any. Hopefully it will be of interest to the reader.
First, I will focus on the relational model Ingold develops in the chapter Ancestry, generation, substance, memory, land. The relational model that Ingold proposes in opposition to what he calles the genealogical model is supposed to address the tension between the legal definition of »indigenousness« that is based on the genealogical model (based on blood relations, descent) and the ontologies of indigenous peoples, which Ingold claims can be better described within a relational model. Ingold’s relational model, or meshwork as he calls it in his lecture, is derived from Deleuze’s and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome, which is defined thus: »[…] unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature […]« (Deleuze and Guattari: 1987, p.21). The tree model or arborescent structure according to Deleuze and Guattari dominates Western thought in various disciplines (family trees, phylogenetic trees, semantic trees, world trees in mythologies etc.); it is based on points splitting in branches, in other words it is based on binarities and static identities, which presuppose relations due to sameness. This is, I believe, why Ingold speaks about the relationships between lines, not relations between points. Now, applying this relational or rhizomatic model to understanding or shifting the genealogical model that dominates the legal discourse regarding indigenous identities and rights is, I think, a more straightforward process than applying it to historiography. I will leave aside the problematic conclusions of Ingold’s attempts at making common tasks in a shared landscape and situated experience the basis of indigenous identities (such a position is easily usurped by right-wing notions of being bound to a certain land, soil). What intrigues me now is how does one do rhizomatic or in Ingold’s terminology relational historiography! The rhizomatic model can invigorate the dematerialized structuralist paradigm in historiography, because »[w]hat is at question in the rhizome is a relation to sexuality-but also to the animal, the vegetal, the world, politics, the book, things natural and artificial-that is totally different from the arborescent relation: all manner of “becomings” (ibid.). Can we one do rhizomatic history or is history inherently a geneological undertaking? I do not know. Maybe we should focus less on locating origins, patterns and allow for contingencies and ruptures.
Another issue that was thought-provoking to me is how Ingold dealt with the issue of matter/form in his lecture Bringing things to life and put it in the context of Western intellectual history that according to Ingold, imposed the supremacy of a stable and fixed form over matter, life (imposed by an intentional agent). Besides the relevance of his lecture to the history of ideas, I find it even more consequential for ethics and every-day situations when encountering, dealing with things. Ingold’s distinction between things and objects is of course not a novelty, but his mental experiment of imagining bark and insects that dwell on it, as a part of tree, but also as a part of the insect too, made me go outside and watch a bumblebee flying from one bud to another. It made me wonder whether I perceive the bud in that contact between the bud and the bumblebee a part of the bush or is the bud somehow connected to the bumblebee too. It made me doubt whether perceiving things as discrete, limited by the boundaries of bodies is not just a trick of my mind. By extending the notions of life to the earth, houses, rocks that interact with wind, rain, moss, typically inanimate objects become things with life and not just objects of utility (rock for building, house for shelter etc.). We were asked to reflect on Ingold’s writings in the context of our course and what we have read so far. When listening to Ingold’s lecture where he talks about the reduction of things to objects, I thought about how strange it is that this reduction is not historically contextualized and materialized by Ingold, as if thoughts pop up in minds and float somewhere detached of time and place. It made me think whether the reduction of things and objects can be historically contextualized with the rise of capitalist market economy, where things and even relations between people assume the form of relations between things on the market, in other words, they become commodified. Things and relations become objects and their meaning becomes expressed within the terms of market exchange, according to their utility, not their intrinsic value. Further on, the peak of dualistic separation of the thinking subject from the world of unthinking objects which occurred in Descartes’ philosophy (Descartes even questioned the conscious status of other minds, how can we know, whether other people are not automata) coincides with colonial expansionism and the break with the medieval agrarian economy model in the late 17th century.

QUOTED TEXT: Deleuze, Guattari. A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press, 1987