ECOnversations - An assembly of Dialogue, Podcasts, Questions, & Textual References on Representation, Stories, & Patterns
I. Movement As and Within Thought - A New Way of Looking at Representation
David Bohm -
“Thought tending to divide things into separate entities...each particle is only an abstraction of a relatively invariant form of movement in the whole field of the universe”
Do you think of a thought as distinct, separate particles or interconnected, flowing waves? How can this apply to representation? Are different representations separate particles or can they be abstract and interconnected?
II. What kind of representations are useful? How many do we need?
E: I wonder whether it is possible to “read” nature without the lens of experience. In other words, can we understand a story of the landscape without an understanding of (many) other stories?
“No representation is ever complete... representation is always partial, else it would not be representation” (Solnit 163)
S: Can we overcome the limitations of experience restricted to the five senses with which we perceive the world through our brains - to see beyond and to see a larger story/image. Does this lay in the realm of the imagination? or is it entirely an unattainable feat? We may be able to “read” nature without the lens of experience if we can substitute information gained from the primary source of our physical senses by different sources that are equally powerful. So with respect to reading nature without experience, perhaps it is possible to imagine nature with a few representations/stories encountered through experience. As John Maxwell Coetzee says in his The Lives of Animals, perhaps it is possible to embody a being through the heart and understand in that way. If it is ever possible that we may imagine powerful enough that the experience feels immensely real - then we may be able to understand a story of the landscape, without experiencing it in the physical sense.
Andrew Goatly - “...resisting the idea that any grammar can “represent the real relationships that exist in the world..I believe that any grammar constitutes a semantic model for the reality “out there”. I do not believe we have any unmediated access to such a reality...”
S. Andrew Goatly states there is no unmediated access to reality and thus grammar is merely a model for representation of this reality which cannot "represent the real relationships that exist." I find this point interesting because if indeed all access to reality is mediated or filtered in some way, then representation of the mediated experience will be further removed from the real experience (if there is one). What then will be the difference between representing a mediated physical experience or representing an imaginative experience - if both will be essentially further removed from the experience itself even if perhaps to different degrees?
What are some of the results of incomplete or partial representations?
IIa. One “result” - Simplification
E: Carson writes, “Nature has introduced great variety into the landscape, but man has displayed a passion for simplifying it” (10). The idea of simplification interests me - in human interactions with the land, man has shown a need to control it’s story, reduce the variety. Jamaica Kincaid further develops the “simplification” concept, when she writes “the character of the English people” - she says, their manner “leads them to obsessively order and shape their landscape to such a degree that it looks like a painting (tamed, framed, captured, kind, decent, good, pretty) while a painting never looks like the English landscape, unless it is a bad painting” (Kincaid 47).
IIb. Another “result” - Single Stories & the Media
E: Related to the problem of simplification or reduction is the “danger of a single story” - link to http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html.
Chimamanda Adichie explains that “single stories” are limiting - they prevent us from understanding one another, they narrow the view we have of the world. Solnit elaborates, saying, “ I worry now that many people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know. Advertising, alarmist news, technology, incessant busyness, and the design of public and private spaces conspire to make it so” (7). Because people are only given a “single story” of the world through sources like the news or even spaces, it’s difficult to “go beyond” this story, to get outside of the spaces we’re stuck in.
S. The media plays a tremendous role in the lives of modern citizens. We are constantly overwhelmed with messages (either consciously or unconsciously) of advertisement trying to persuade us and convince us incessantly of our inferiority without x, y, and z. Through intelligently weaving stories that captivate and create awe, the media has great power and influence over the minds of their target consumers. They can cause panic in a society (Swine Flu scare) or they can withhold rather important pieces of information. What has the general/main role of the media been with regards to the environmental movement? What has been its impact? With the recent commercial emphasis on “going green” are we really going green? Are coffee cups made of 10% post-consumer recycled content green enough to be advertised as “green”? Is the media’s emphasis on “green” a sincere movement towards environmental conservation, or just another temporarily popular development to be exploited?
“The answer is always in the entire story, not a piece of it” - Jim Harrison
III. Ambiguity and Emerging Patterns and Stories
Click: Ambiguity and Emerging Patterns Podcast
"Wherever a story comes from, whether it is a familiar myth or a private memory, the retelling exemplifies the making of a connection from one pattern to another: a potential translation in which narrative becomes parable and the once upon a time comes to stand for some renascent truth". - Mary Catherine Bateson
E. There are so many groups telling so many stories - The media is divided; for example, some sources are continuously telling a story that rejects theories of climate change. Repeatedly, the choice to sensationalize an event rules out over examining many lenses of it over time... maybe the constituents are getting bored. Why can’t we digest more than one view? Why don’t we want ambiguity?
IV. Properties of Stories
E: In our EcoLit class, are we listening to one story? many stories? Or are we learning how to write stories/representations?
S: I think its a fascinating question to ask and really, I think its all of the above! We are certainly listening to numerous stories - ranging from those of the authors we have read to those that we share ourselves to those stories that we bring in externally from numerous other sources (like serendip for example). So we have a compilation of stories, each of them like small fragments contributing to a single story at large - perhaps this may be referred to as the story of human experience, the story of Earth, the story of Environmentalism in the 21st century. But I think this is what the heart of representation is - multiple angles, perspectives, and viewpoints that represent a larger, more holistic picture - and I think the closest we can come for now to grasping the holistic picture is in finding patterns - small, simple, yet imminent patterns that connect all of the stories that we have heard so far. Do you think we can identify some of these patterns? Or perhaps it is better to treat the fragments of representation as unique, and inherently distinct from one another?
E: I don’t think fragments of representation are so distinct from one another - after all, there may be many ways of telling a story, but ultimately, it is the same story. Different things are foregrounded at different moments in the tellings, and this may change the meaning.
S: When do stories begin to blur rather than clarify a notion for us, if ever? (When do stories confuse and frustrate us and our understanding - if ever, in relation to stories that uplift and enlighten us - maybe contradictory stories?)
E: These questions make me think of Childrens’ literature & development - when I was younger, I couldn’t process “complicated” books, stories that didn’t resolve themselves... Now, at this point in my life, stories without resolution, stories that change the stereotypes that I didn’t know I’d developed - these are the kind of stories I WANT. I want to keep moving forward, to progress, in some way. Frustration can be a sign of movement, or being challenged to move. But it isn’t always the result - sometimes, a particularly cathartic text will move me to frustration, then beyond that frustration, to something more uplifting...
We have a choice about the frame(s) we use to tell/approach/listen to stories...
Through the many stories and forms of representation that may exist and be placed forth, patterns may emerge and questions may be invoked, but above all - there is a fundamental aspect of choice present in taking away particular understandings through representation. For example, a painting may show an image of an ocean landscape, but the frame with which we experience the story is up to us. Perhaps we might choose to believe "this image shows a soothing ocean with calm walves" or perhaps we might choose to believe "this image shows a dangerous ocean tens of miles deep filled with strange creatures." Similarly, with respect to framing the many representations we are faced with on a day to day basis, the choice of what to believe is up to us. A more beneficial focal point, then, when engaging wtih representation may be - what choice will best serve our needs in the present moment? What will this representation mean to me?