First Meditation on our Ways of Knowing
And my interfering epidermis, so sensitive to the slightest shaking of the ground. This receptivity is comprehensible. For like the atoms of things, the ego radiates with valences. An octopus, equipped with eight tentacles, a starfish, Briareus or Vishnu with a hundred arms, a neuron adapted to a hundred synapses … everything happens as though the ego - echo of a thousand voices - throughout its life was sweeping across the periodic classification of the elements, taking on in passing more and more numerous connections. Carbon and oxygen me, gold, silver and metal me, even rare earth. The value of someone, that is to say his health, is measured by the number and the quality of his valences. Through these pseudopod bunches, at the extremities of which delicate sensibility takes place, he picks up, receives and welcomes others, sometimes thusly equipped. Through these emanating channels, he sometimes becomes others, becomes his male or female neighbor. He caresses her, he offers to penetrate her, she refuses or accepts. I think, therefore I flow into an other.
I think like the wounded man on the road, especially as, Samaritan, I’m passing here through a country that considers me to be a public enemy, the excluded and hated other. Here I am other facing an other whose two egos come together. Not taking himself for a subject, the first doesn’t turn the other into an object, thrown, at a distance, before: sympathetic, he knows his suffering, transports him, anoints him, bandages him, pays for his care, gives him life again; and becomes his fellow man, his neighbor in the superlative, with no more distance, skin to skin in some way, at the least pitying look at the imploring face. The two valences go in concert.
When I caress my girlfriend, my eyes magnify her gaze, my sense of touch clothes and exalts her skin that glorifies mine. The ego lives and has value from creating ego in others who can, then, pay it back tenfold, in life and value. Without this creativity of others, toward them and through them, with them and in them - valences radiate along the paths opened up by prepositions - the ego, sickly, autistic, sick, castrated of its valences, without value, devoid of health … annihilates, breaks, destroys the ego of others. Like the torpedo fish, to which the narcissus owes its name, the egoist strikes the neighbor down with narcotic torpor. The only things that exist around him are objects, well-named since he projects or rejects them. Then, hell is other people. Contrary to this pathetic destruction, I think, therefore I become he or she about whom I am thinking.
Now here today are other neighbors, constituents of the Biogea: the sea, my lover; our mother, the Earth, become our daughter; this beautiful breeze which inspires the spirit, a spiritual mistress; our light friends, the fresh and flowing waters; and our brothers, the living things … are henceforth no longer objects. Scholars or not, we presuppose, almost unbeknownst to us, that puritanical distinction between the subject, me or we, and said objects. We suffer from an ego armored with walls, with turtle shells, incapable of caressing. I prefer the Good Samaritan to this autism with its saurian or serpentine epidermis, the Good Samaritan with his velvety touch, whose access to the wounded man, lying in the ditch, testifies to a simply human sensitivity to the neighbor; his open behavior indicates a talented lover’s skin. Subjects, we pave the world, I mean hell, with objects, named thus by us because thrown before us, rejected, better, disposable: trashcan-Earth, polluted air, dead seas, factory farmed fowl, feet welded into the cement, an unclean world, sewage fields, soiled by us for us to appropriate them. Destroyed by a collective that’s narcissistic in its turn.
That the subject, collective or personal, determines objects in this way defines the reason of an admirable, useful science, to which we owe comfort and lucidity, but henceforth outdated; formerly admirable, its rational triumph hesitates today before unreasonable limits. This exact and precise process of objectivizing things lasted three centuries and amounts to one aspect, one face, a partial work of reason, which today has more and better to do before the certain agony of things and men, an agony due, precisely, to this objectivization, due, in turn, to the definition of a subject deprived of valences. Decision and exclusive division: on one side, this subject, personal or collective, royal; on the other, the passive and submissive objects, reduced to a few dimensions of space, time, mass, energy and power, almost naked, undressed, bloodless. Simplistic and naive, implacable, of an unparalleled cruelty, this way of knowing accompanied fields of knowledge that today we find easy: the sciences said to be hard, objective, whose royal supremacy, until recently uncontestable, is drawing to an end. We are changing paradigm.
In a different way more difficult, subtle and complete, the life and Earth sciences, henceforth put in the center of cognition, take over. They practice a more sharing, open, connected way of knowing, in which he who knows participates in the things he knows, is even reborn from them, tries to speak their language, listens to their voices, respects their habitat, lives the same evolutionary history, is enchanted by their narratives, limits finally, through them or for them, his power and his politics, so oddly named after the city, from which the Biogea is absent. The life and Earth sciences are once again sewing together the tear that was separating the subject and its objects. Dare I say that they become human from it? Yes, I am what I think which is also me; I am who I caress and what I feel. Unburdened of its exclusive prerogatives and having decided to give up a part of them, the knowing subject objectivizes itself, the object cognitivizes itself.
Stripped by highwaymen - my ancestors and contemporaries - you are begging for mercy below the ditch that runs alongside my route; I hear you, subject Biogea, thrown below, oh, my neighbor. I weigh on her who weighs on me, I think like her.
Michel Serres from Biogea (2010 - 2012)