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Erin Manning, Brian Massumi: Coming Alive in a World of Texture: For Neurodiversity
Coming Alive in a World of Texture: For Neurodiversity
(p. 73 – 96)

Against Neuroreductionism

Erin Manning, Brian Massumi

Coming Alive in a World of Texture: For Neurodiversity

PDF, 24 pages

This paper suggests a distinction in modes of perception between an immersive "environmental" awareness attuned to variations in the surroundings directly lived as a complex relational field, and a subtractive awareness, attuned to affordances in the field of experience, which extracts discrete objects and positional griddings from its moving complexity. Accounts by "classical" autists (formerly called "low-functioning") of their perceptual experience and its relation to objectification and language are used to develop the concept of environmental awareness. The distinction between environmental awareness and subtractive awareness is deployed not as a dichotomy, but as a polarity governing a continuum of variable intermixing between the modes. Environmental awareness is backgrounded but not lacking in "neurotypical" experience. Each mode of perception along the spectrum is construed as a mode of existence and form of life, differing notably as regards the role accorded to nonhuman elements of experience. This suggests an ethic of neurodiversity as part of a politics that would be ecological in the broadest sense.

The notion of existence involves the notion of an environment 
of existences and of types of existences. Any one instance of 
existence involves other existences, connected with it and yet 
beyond it. This notion of the environment introduces the 
notion of the ‘more and less’, and of multiplicity.1 (Whitehead)

More and Less (Multiplicity)

“There was very little difference in meaning,” says autist Daina Krumins, “between the children next to the lake that I was playing with and the turtle sitting on the log. It seems,” she continues, “that when most people think of something being alive they really mean, human.”2

What is it we really mean, when we say human? According to autism activist Amanda Baggs, we certainly don’t mean “autistic.”3 We mean neurotypical, we mean expressing oneself predominantly in spoken language, and most of all, we mean immediately focused on humans to the detriment of other elements in the environment.4 “Most people attend to human voices above all else.” (Krumins)

“I hear the rocks and the trees.” (MM)5

For autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen, to hear the rocks and the trees on an equal footing with the voices of children is a sign of what he calls mindblindness. He defines mindblindness as an “inability to develop an awareness of what is in the mind of another human.” To have mindblindness, he says, is to lack empathy. It is to be generally unrelational. He says that this is what defines autists.6

Yet from the autist, we hear neither a rejection of the human, nor a turning away from relation. What we hear is an engagement with the more-than-human: “I attend to everything the same way with no discrimination, so that the caw of the crow in the tree is as clear and important as the voice of the person I’m walking with.” (Krumins) And an engagment with a more textured relating: “My world is organized around textures. […] All emotions, perceptions, my whole world […] [has] been influenced by textures.”7 (Krumins)

To experience the texture of the world without discrimination is not indifference. Texture is patterned, full of contrast and movement, gradients and transitions. It is complex and differentiated. To attend to everything the same way is not an inattention to life. It is to pay equal attention to the full range of life’s texturing complexity, with an entranced and unhierarchized commitment to the way in which the organic and the inorganic, colour, sound, smell, and rhythm, perception and emotion, intensely interweave into the aroundness of a textured world, alive with difference.8 It is to experience the fullness of a dance of attention. For all the challenges of autism, this is not without joy.

“Everything [is] somewhat alive to me.” (Krumins)

“Happiness to me was the immediateness of the environment.”9 

A dance of attention is the holding pattern of an immersive, almost unidentifiable set of forces that modulate the event in the immediateness of its coming to expression. Attention not to, but with and toward, in and around. Undecomposably.

“All the time shadows had to borrow the colors of the objects on which they would fall,” writes autist and poet Tito Mukhopadhyay. “And they colored all objects in one universal color. That color is the color of a shadow, which is a darker color on the borrowed color.”10 A coloured shadowing: an intertwining of fields of emergent experience not yet defined as this or that. Not defined as this or that, yet their qualities already interact. The fields, in their immediacy, play off each other, lending their qualities to each other, composing a single field of mutual action, of co-fusion and changing contrast: co-motion. An immediate commotion of qualitative texturing. A generative holding pattern already moving qualitatively toward an experience in the making. Coloured shadow has emerged: a quality belonging to the compositional field. Not to its elements, but to the immediacy of their mutual action.

The emergence continues. “I could now imagine how a shadow could silence the interaction between other colors if those colors happened to fall in the territory of its silence.” A hiatus forms in the commotion, made of the same interacting qualities as the commotion. “I could see the night jasmines wet with morning dew, lit with fresh sunshine, trying to form a story with their jasmine-petal smell. I would see the story spread in the air.”11 A new quality, a fragrance, arrives in the hiatus. A flowering dances to attention as the event of this ingression. Jasmine gathers the play of colour and shadow around itself, transmuted into an interplay of moisture and light. Light and moisture, in co-motion with a smell. The fragrance of jasmine, in its interplay with moisture and light, takes the relay from coloured shadow as the predominant quality of the compositional field as a whole. This relay brings the field to the verge of determinate expression. In the field’s perfusion by smell, a story is trying to form. The field is moving through its perfusion toward a recounting of itself. It is striving to be taken into account.12 The flower has appeared as a function of this striving. It is not a discrete object. The field of immediate experience is not composed of objects. The flower is the relational conduit for a field-wide tendency to expression. It might be called an objectile, rather than a fully bloomed object: a bud of an object. The field composes buds of objects, as a function of its appetition for expression.

The dance of attention evoked here by Mukhopadhyay is the attentiveness in the environment of a prearticulate expressibility tending toward a determinate expression yet to come. Caught in the middling of this event, Mukhopadhyay is not the maker of the scene. He attends to its dance, co-composing with it. “I would see that the moment I put my shadow above the flowers, the story would immediately stop forming.” The moment he overshadows the field, imposing his presence on it, its activity stops. Mukhopadhyay must remain co-present. Flower, shadow, story field-dance to attention, in an indetermination of a coming to be determined, at the very boundary between experiencing and imagining, in the moment, yet untold.

“My boundary between imagining and experiencing something was a very delicate one. Perhaps it still is. So many times I still need to cross-check with Mother, or someone who can understand my voice now, whether an incident really happened around my body or presence.”13 Presence with, in and around a budding field-becoming, in patient attentiveness toward what the field wants. Uncertainty in the aroundness: where does the body begin and end? Where is the relay between imagination and experience? The coming to further expression of the field in conversation, for cross-checking, moves the center of gravity of the experience into another field, that of language. But this is poetic language, not strictly fact-seeking – a language for story, a language that holds onto the tensile oscillation of imagining and experiencing, that composes with the threshold of expressibility that was already active in the field, tuning to expression where there is not yet either a fully bloomed object nor a fully flowered subject – only the intensely experiencing-imagining bud of a qualitative becoming toward making sense in language.

A dance of attention is attentiveness not of the human to the environment, but attentiveness of the environment to its own flowering, at the very limit where experience and imagination, immediacy and cross-checking, overlap.14 The making-felt of a co-compositional force that does not yet seek to distinguish between human and nonhuman, subject and object, emphasizing instead an immediacy of mutual action, an associated milieu of their emergent relation.

This co-compositional engagement with the associated milieu of emergent relation is an environmental mode of awareness. It is a mode of existence integral, for autists, to all aspects of experience. They do not bemoan this modality of awareness as a deficit, but affirm it as a mode of existence intertwined tendentially with other modes of existence, such as those, more human by the neurotypical definition, that are centered on language.15Autism activist Jim Sinclair writes:

Autism isn’t something a person has, or a ‘shell’ that a person is trapped inside. There’s no normal child hidden behind the autism. Autism is a way of being. It is pervasive; it colors every experience, every sensation, perception, thought, emotion, and encounter, every aspect of existence. It is not possible to separate the autism from the person – and if it were possible, the person you’d have left would not be the same person you started with.16

Persons come in many modes. And persons become. Autistic perception dances attention, affirming the interconnectedness of modes of existence, foregrounding the relationality at the heart of perception, emphasizing how experience unfolds through the matrix of qualitative fields of overlap and emphasis already immediately moving toward expression in a dynamic field of becoming alive with co-composition. For autists, language comes late, and it is this that perhaps marks most starkly their difference from neurotypicals. Neurotypical experience tends immediately to align to the beyond of the associated milieu of relation, to an ulterior phase in which the flower stands alone, a solitary object separate from its shadow-stories. The separating out of the object backgrounds the intrinsic relationality of the field’s coming to expression, clearing the stage for an overshadowing human subject to cast his presence in its place, in order to take personal credit for the field’s environmentally emergent accounting for itself.

Fielding and Affordance

“This notion of the environment,” said Whitehead, “introduces the notion of the ‘more and less,’ and of multiplicity.”17 The idea is not simply to turn the tables, and say that neurotypicals suffer from environment-blindness owing to their focus on the human, and on the human-centric use-value that the objectiles active in the environment may be cast for. Neurotypicals also have environmental awareness, more and less: more peripheralized, less often attended to in its own right. Conversely, even most so-called low-functioning autists are not without language, as the quotes in the previous section show, even though many are without spoken language. “Not being able to speak is not the same as not having anything to say,” reads one of the slogans of the Autistic Liberation Front.18 Despite their initial focus on the qualitative relationality of emergent environments, autists are also capable, more and less depending on many factors, of perceiving objectively. By objectively we mean in a mode in which focalized impacts, and their eventual uses and recountings in language, single themselves out as particular affordances from the fielding of the environment. We call this the mode of entrainment.19

Entrainment in relation to Mukhopadhyay’s flower-field would have immediately placed the flowering within an efficient mode such as “picking” or “smelling.” That Mukhopadhyay’s experience is less of the flower itself than of the field of flowering and shadowing and storying, does not suggest that he cannot also smell the flower or eventually differentiate it from other affordances. What it suggests is that there is a tendency within autism to immediately perceive the relational quality of a welling environment that dynamically appears in a jointness of experience. This foregrounding of the immediate field of experience we call entertainment.20 Entertainment is prior to the distinction between active and passive, subject and object. Entertainment is to be captivated in a dance of attention. All experiential fielding includes incipient entrainments and immediate entertainments. It is a question of degree, and of mixture. The call to smell a flower upon seeing it – the welling sense that a flower is for something, for smelling – is a neurotypical response that is already moving toward grasping the flower as an object against the environment as a background, even as the environment is just coming to entertainment. For the neurotypical, the mode of entertainment tends already to be saturated with entrainment. The field of experience is pre-perfused with for-ness. It is already tending toward expression in use-value – rather than entertaining expressibility on its own account. For the autist the flower and environment, entrainment and entertainment, are not immediately separable. Flower and environment are not reciprocally delimited as foreground and background, separable object and surround, but feature jointly in co-activity. They co-feature as tonal differences in a field modulating the whole of ­experience at all levels, composing an overall mode of existence that is in a different key than the neurotypical norm.

“Modes of existence are always plural and relational,” writes Etienne Souriau: “existence can be found not only in beings, but between them.”21 Modes of existence are intermodal. As defined by Souriau and Gilbert Simondon, modes of existence do not reify being by taking it as already-constituted. They involve comings-to-existence through singular events where objects are in the making. The modality of the events’ singular coming-to-be is the existence. There is not an already-constituted being that has the modality. The modality makes the being. Modes of existence are not only intermodal, they are also plural in relation to themselves, each containing the others in germ, to a degree, as an internal difference that is a compositional feature of its own texturing. Each tends to want of the others. Modes of existence have an inbred appetite for each other, and cannot easily sustain themselves separately, try as they might sometimes.

The autism rights movement emphasizes the multiplicity of modes of existence, under the term neurodiversity.22 They are not only signalling the need to attend to the blooming of fields of relation from which neither pre-defined objects nor overshadowing subjects have yet to be singled out, they are alerting us as well to the intricacies of perception across the spectrum. For neurotypicals are in fact neurodiverse, also immediately perceiving relation. The difference is the speed of subtraction of objects from the total field, owing to the field’s pre-perfusion with entrainment. Under certain circumstances, neurotypicals themselves experience a predominance of environmental awareness. It is rarely focused on, though, appearing as an ephemeral interlude between more substantial-feeling affordances. When environmental awareness does resurface, it is without fully-bloomed objects and overshadowing subjects, as autists describe. But there is still a degree of difference between this and other modes of existence on the wider spectrum of neurodiversity. Because entrainment reigns as an immediate tendency in neurotypicals, even when they are immersed in a self-entertaining relational field, affordances already agitate, but are not yet objectified. For the neurotypical standing in a grassy farmer’s field painting a flower, the flowering of experience may immediately present itself for artistic rendering, as it does for autists. But there will likely also be an equally immediate sense of how the flower stands in relation to grass and trees, including a tacit cartography of how to get from road to field to flower and back, and what that trajectory might afford. This efficacious orienting occurs directly as a field-effect, on the level of the objectile, not on the level of constituted objects as such.

Ebb and Flow

You’re late, you’re hurrying from the subway to the office on a crowded rush-hour sidewalk. Bodies all around, thicker and thinner, faster and slower, in a complex ebb and flow. In the ebb and flow, temporary openings come and go. Your perception is focused on the coming and going of the openings, which correspond to no thing in particular. Each opening is a field effect. It is an artifact of the moving configuration of the bodies around you, factoring in their relative speeds, and their rates of acceleration and deceleration as their paths weave around each other and around obstacles. The opening is not simply a hole, a lack of something occupying it. It is a positive expression of how everything in the field, moving and still, integrally relates at that instant. It is the appearance of the field’s relationality, from a particular angle. The particular angle is that of your body getting ahead. The opening is how the field appears as an affordance for your getting-ahead. Your movement has to be present to the opening as it happens. Wait, and the opening closes. Its perception and your moving into it must be one. There is no time to reflect, no time to focus, assess and choose. If you focus on one body over another, you see one body then another – and not the opening in the field of movement they share. You have to soften your focus, letting the field’s changing configuration dilate to fill experience. You have to let what is normally your peripheral vision take over, attending to everything in the same way. The experience is then all movement-texture, complexly patterned, full of change and transition, teemingly differentiated. You’re surfing the crowd even as the crowd is surfing you. Despite the rush, this is not without joy. You revel in the fluidity of your trajectory, without focusing on it as a feeling-tone separate from the movement. You have performed an integral dance of attention, seemingly without thinking.

But you were thinking, with your movement. Your every movement was a performed analysis of the field’s composition from the angle of its affordance for getting-ahead. Entering the dance of attention, your perceiving converged with your moving activity, and your activity was your thinking. You entered a mode of environmental awareness in which to perceive is to enact thought, and thought is directly relational. This actively relational thinking is also an expression of the field, but in a different mode than story-telling, poetic or not, with no immediate need for language, satisfying itself at a level with the body’s movements: integrally embodied expression.

In retrospect, it will likely appear to you that the predominant object singled out by your memory – the sidewalk – had been your affordance from the subway to the office. In the office, cluttered with entraining affordances – the computer for emailing, the phone for message checking, the chair for sitting – objects will be in focus again. But in the mode of environmental awareness that effectively got you to the office on time, it was not the object sidewalk that afforded the last leg of your commute. It was the fleeting openings, now forgotten. The openings are long gone. The sidewalk remains. The stability of the sidewalk, its ability to re-feature in experience from moment to moment, is an enabling condition for the ephemerality of the openings. This is how what we single out as objects figure for environmental awareness in the moment: as fused into a field of movement, their stability entering into that field on equal footing, as one contrast in its complex relational patterning.

Perhaps the difference between the environmental awareness of the autist and that of neurotypicals is that neurotypicals always fuse the entertainment of the environment with an immediate availing themselves of affordances. Whereas the autist becomes the field, integrally co-compositional with it, for the neurotypical, the field comes already saturated with affordances it proposes, with openings or object-buds offering themselves as conduits for the field’s coming expression, already oriented efficaciously. This efficacious tendency in neurotypicals lends the field more “naturally” to the kind of cross-checking that is for fact-finding, rather than for story-making in a poetic sense, as it was in Mukhopadhyay’s case. For both neurotypicals and autists, and all along the spectrum of neurodiversity, it is only beyond the moment, with memory, and with the retellings memory makes possible, that objects will stand out clearly, sagely observing the boundary between experience and imagining. In the moment, they are fused with field effects that are moving and ephemeral and at the threshold.

When the Field Dances

A mode of existence never preexists an event. The sittability of the chair in your office does not preclude the chair becoming an affordance for sleep. The mode of existence has to do with the emergent quality of the experience, not with the factually cross-checked identity of the objects featuring in it. What is startling about the neurotypical is the capacity to background the in-formation of the field, and to pre-substract from the expressive potential of its relational complexity. No cartwheels in the classroom.

But what of the classroom? What of our neurotypical children who cannot sit still as they are told how and what to learn? Where is that joy we remember in their perpetually moving and ephemeral four-year old bodies before the classroom took over? What presuppositions exist in the very notion of the neurotypical? The “epidemic” of attention-deficit disorder rings alarm bells. Might not the diagnoses betray an inattention on the part of adults to an attentiveness of a different order? One mode of existence’s deficit may be another’s fullness.

Take this example of Mukhopadhyay’s. In the context of a classroom much below his intellectual level, he is asked to add 4 + 2. When he is seemingly incapable of following through with the task, the teacher quickly comes to a conclusion regarding his deficient intellect, assuming that because Mukhopadhyay did not come up with the answer she had expected, he was incapable of carrying through even the simplest of mathematical equations. Yet, listen to how Mukhopadhyay relates the story:

I was wondering why the hell that 4 had to interact with the number 2, through a + sign. […] I looked at the number 2, wondering about the coordinate axes of the plane surface and the probable coordinate points that 2 would hold. And as I saw the position of 2 somewhere on the upper side of the page, I mentally assigned it with the coordinate points of 3 and 7. Three as the x coordinate and 7 as the y coordinate. I could see the page divided into graphic grids. I heard my aide saying something like I needed to finish up my work. But I was busy assigning a coordinate value to 4. Finally, I settled with the values of 3 and 9 as x and y coordinates. I gave a quick value to the addition sign also. Then I found a whole story of number characters other than merely 2 and 4, competing, quarreling, and asserting themselves to be written down. Finally, I needed the help of ‘average.’ I took the average on the x side and the average on the y side to bring peace among the numbers.23

Mukhopadhyay is in the thick of a number field of experience. Just as colour, shadow, and smell were in active interplay in the sunlit field, numbers are in a commotion of relational activity, each vying to be written down, to be the conduit of the field’s summing up in a determinate expression. 

The lack of the expected outcome, that 4 + 2 = 6, clearly has less to do with Mukhopadhyay’s capacity for reasoning than with a deficiency in entrainment. This is a “deficiency” only in the sense that the summing up of the field – the subtraction, from the fullness of its complexity, of a particular product that stands out from it – takes more time because the immediate field of experience does not come already oriented for efficacy. The neurotypical approach is to jump as quickly as possible to the most “reasonable” outcome, the one most easily cross-checkable factually. That this rationality is a subtraction from the fielding of an event much richer than it, is rarely acknowledged. The event is too rarely perceived in the more of the less of its sum, in the intensity of its emergent multiplicity.

For Mukhopadhyay, mathematics dances to attention in a way that lends it to the relational force of its associated milieu. All manner of exotic, potential outcomes vie. “What if a 2-dimensional point is added to a 4-dimensional point?” Mukhopdhyay continues, “I saw the fourth time-vector coordinate, leading the plane, in a clockwise motion, coming back every twelve hours, in a 360 degree rotation. My day filled with all the exotic wonders that 2 + 4 could offer. I developed a very powerful 2 + 4 system, which kept my mind and senses entertained for the rest of the day.”24 The equation, it turns out, is much more than two numbers, a plus sign and an outcome – it is the generating of a field that modulates experience, that entertains, that busies the body and absorbs attention, that creates a panoply of sense. Mathematics is intrinsically related to the experience of the day’s unfolding, to how the world girates with potential, to how time itself works. It is not a discrete tool or task. It is a procedure integrally entering into the self-enjoyment – to use a term from Whitehead – of the environmental field.

The Gateway Called Moment

Just as language comes late, speedy equation-solving also comes late. The event, intensified by the field effects of relational potential, entrains as an afterthought. This leaves the commotional complexity of the moment in gyration. “Moments could get out of control,” 
Mukhopadhyay writes,

when they became unpredictable and too large for my senses to accumulate all that they involved within their field. One moment, you may look at a picture, and at the same time you are aware of the pink wall around the picture, you are also aware of Jack’s voice explaining something about the picture. The very next moment you are looking at the reflection through its glass frame, which is competing for attention while you are looking at the picture. You may see a part of the room reflected in the glass, and you may be so absorbed in the reflection that you may not hear anything from Jack’s voice because you suddenly discover that those reflections are conspiring to tell you a story. Jack’s voice may float in that story as big or small bubbles.25

Voice and reflections in a struggle to define the predominate experiential register of the event, voice vying to background reflection, reflection endeavoring to encompass voice as a bubbling parcel of itself. This is the experience of a conversation for Mukhopadhyay. Immersion in the activity of the field, alive with competing tendencies to sort itself out. The focus is less on what might typically be assumed to be the content of the conversation than on its dynamic form: the performative tendencies enacting the event of its self-relating. The playing out of the tendencies is what sorts out the field. “Moments are defined by what your senses are compelled to attend to,” Mukhopadhyay continues. “A moment may include a shadow of Jack’s chair falling on the floor or a pen peeping out from the pile of papers, perhaps wishing to have a voice so that it could say aloud, ‘Here I am! Here I am’.”26 The cry of expression already sounds in the field. The field is already expressing a tendency toward something singling-out. Even now in the immediacy of the moment, something is already calling out for the right to stand out, efficaciously or poetically, it is not yet clear.

Note that in Mukhopadhyay’s recounting the moment is the subject. The subject of the experience is not the human but the fielding of the event itself. The human element alone is not sufficient to account for the field’s activity. Instead of a pre-composed subject standing over and above the event, overshadowing the moment, we have a vying commotion of co-activity. The dynamic form of that co-activity coming toward expression is what Whitehead calls the subjective form of the event. In Mukhopdhyay’s account, the moment’s subjective form is as yet unresolved. It quivers still in the disquiet of the intensely resonant field. The problem of the moment is how the commotion will sort out: which register of field-effect will stand out, having most forcefully expressed itself vis-à-vis the others. Only once this shake-down occurs will the determinate content of the event be defined as predominately a reflecting or a conversing, a shadowing or a penning. This brings to mind William James’s work on the pen in relation to consciousness. He writes:

This pen is …in the first instance, a bald that […] To get classified either as a physical pen or as someone’s percept of a pen, it must assume a function, and that can only happen in a more complicated world. So far as in that world it is a stable feature, holds ink, marks paper and obeys the guidance of the hand, it is a physical pen. […] So far as it is instable …coming and going with the movements of my eyes, altering with what I call my fancy, continuous with subsequent experiences of its ‘having been’ (in the past tense), it is the percept of a pen in my mind. Those peculiarities are what we mean by being ‘conscious’ in a pen.27

In a pen? “Here I am, here I am” screams Mukhopadhyay’s pen. I am in the moment; put the moment in me! Pen the moment!

In James, the moment is the gateway to a conscious experience of a determinate kind: a pen experience in a world complicated by function, a world of definite use-value. One of the reasons this level of worlding is complicated – as opposed to complex – is that the pen double features in it. It alternates between two roles. Grasp it from the angle of entrainment, from the angle of what it can do – “hold ink, mark paper, obey the guidance of the hand” – and it emerges as a stable physical object as opposed to being a percept. Humor it in the ephemerality of its self-entertainment – in the way it “comes and goes,” self-relating, “continuous with subsequent experiences of its having been” – and the pen emerges as a percept. What we call the cognitive relation is in fact a pattern of the pen emerging alternately as physical or as percept, across different moments. The pen can only do this double cognitive duty because “in the first instance,” in the singularity of each and every moment’s come and go, it was an indeterminate field-effect: a “bald that” (not yet a this or that). In this uncertainty of fielding, consciousness is already dawning, but has not blossomed into a fully-formed cognition. The pen, as Whitehead would say, is already cognizable, but not yet finally cognized. It is as yet but a cognizable factor in field experience. When the moment has penned itself into a determinate emergence, consciousness begins to flicker. It is holding pen and its use-value distinctly in the foreground, in a now object-centered entertainment. Now, entertainment is of the object pen, not of the full field. The field is no longer saturated with entrainment, but is heavy with it, locally. The singled-out object pen bears all the weight of it. Field-wide entertainment, its integral relationality, has been backgrounded. But the foreground only stands out because it has a background to stand out from. Background and foreground are in mutual embrace, the backgrounded activity still vying for attention. Consciousness flickers with the tension between backgrounded environmental awareness and foregrounded cognition. Cognition is the impossibility of grasping the field in all of its cognizable effects. This is what it means to be conscious in a pen, as opposed to be cognizant of it. It means to be cognizant in a commotional becoming-penfield.

The difference in Mukhopdhyay’s case is that the pen’s call – “here I am! here I am!” – remains interwoven with Jack’s laughter rather than distinctly taking the fore. “And within the same moment,” ­Mukhopdhyay continues,

there may be a sudden sound of laughter that can dissolve the stories told by the reflections and the sullen silence of the chair’s shadow with its demanding noise, making you wonder which part of the funny story from Jack’s voice you missed listening to while you were watching the giant blades of the fan pushing out every story and sound away from it with air.28

Instead of immediately tuning to what Whitehead calls cognition’s small focal region of clear illumination, the event here gives equal billing to the field of the cognizable, what for the fully formed cognition will remain a “large penumbral region of experience which tells of intense experience in dim apprehension” – flickeringly reminding us that “[t]he simplicity of clear consciousness is no measure of the complexity of complete experience.”29 In the moment, in the pen might just was well have been in the blades, or “in” the laughter. It all depends on how the commotion cognitively shakes down in the end. Even at the cognitive end of the experience, the “large penumbral region” of experience still flickers with what might just as well have been. It is the remaining refuge of experience’s variety. 


Experience’s variety does not preclude the efficacy of use; it includes it differently. Take Mukhopadhyay’s experience of the door. He writes: “The colour comes and then the shape and then the size, the whole thing needs time to get integrated. To be described as a door, there is position, the open or closed.”30 When Mukhopadhyay sees the “door” he does not immediately see a threshold for passage, as a neurotypical person might. He sees qualities in a texture of integral experience. Colour fields first, and from that interplay shape asserts itself. Here I am! Then with shape comes size. This relay of emergence is now ready to be described as a door. Only now does it have position, only now does it afford passage. As it becomes determinate, an object form separates out from the dynamic form, an affordance opens, and the tendency for describing makes itself felt, tuning to language. The field has pressed on toward expressing itself in language. The field of emergence is ready to tell its story. Mukhopadhyay does see the door, and its doorness does allow it to function for crossing through, and this affordance is expressible in language. But it all takes time. It takes time for the field of experience to actively sort itself out toward its coming to determinate expression. 

To a neurotypical, something qualitatively different tends to occur in the same field. Because going through a door is such a habitual experience, the crossing is likely to occur as if automatically, without the interplay of qualities, their relay, the emergence of door and the opening of the affordance, even registering. Doorness disappears. The door figures as always-already passed through. Any description of it will have to be a reconstitution, the event coming toward expression in language from the field of memory rather than the field of immediacy. This is yet another variation, in addition to environmental awareness and cognition and their flicker: that of reflective consciousness. Reflective consciousness is a variation on the neurotypical – underlining the point made earlier that every mode of existence, including the neurotypical, is in fact neurodiverse, intermodal in its internal ­composition. 

“What happens if the position changes, if, say, we close the door?” Portia Iverson asks Mukhopadhyay. “It may disrupt the whole thing, and you may need to start once again” he responds.31 The emergence toward objecthood, affordance, and linguistic expression has to return to the field and start again from the “bald that” of the moment. The key difference between the autist and the neurotypical is that the neurotypical does not explicitly need to start over at every moment. The neurotypical has always at the ready a kind of experiential shorthand with which to abridge the event: habit. The neurotypical has at the ready a procedure for reconstituting something from the phases of experience’s fielding whose immediate entertainment was skipped: the procedure of reflective consiousness. The shortening of experience by habit and its reconstitution by reflection go neurotypically hand in hand with the greatest of fluidity. What falls out between habit and reflection, leaving a gap they work in concert to smooth over with the aide of language coming from the field of memory, is the coming alive of the field of experiential immediacy, in its emergent dance of attention.32


Amanda Baggs quoting Anne Corwin explains how entering a room is different for an autist:

I would probably walk into the room and see ‘check patterns’ before even being able to identify the door as a door and the tablecloth as a tablecloth! […] The process of ‘resolving patterns and shapes and forms into familiar objects’ is actually a semi-conscious one for me. […] I often tend to sit on floors and other surfaces even if furniture is available, because it’s a lot easier to identify ‘flat surface a person can sit on’ than it is to sort the environment into chunks like ‘couch‘, ‘chair‘, ‘floor‘, and ‘coffee table‘. […] There is much more. There is always more.33

It is no doubt easier to habitually cross into a room that itself habitually chunks into chairs and tables, than to begin with the whole-field pattern as yet unresolved into shapes. Rather than chunking, what occurs on the autistic spectrum of neurodiversity is an immediate entertainment of modalities of relation. Pattern, an interplay of contrasts, comes before familiar use and describable chunking.

The neurotypical approach backgrounds this modulation of relational emphases by subtracting from the emergent environment that which is not immediately suited to its use. In the case of a dinner party, upon entering a foreign dining room, the neurotypical will likely align to the entrainments of chair-sittability and table-eatability before they even fully note the checkedness of the field. In another context – painting the kitchen, for instance – the causal efficacy of chairness will shift automatically to laddering, upsetting any notion that entrainment is unvarying. What is unvarying about entrainment is that it is always emphasis-by-subtraction. In yet another context, say creating an art installation in the kitchen, the affordances of entertainment get bac grounded. Entertainment takes over, now with a richly textured relational emphasis co-involving field-effects of colour, light and surface, pattern and contrast, the whole characterized by an overall field quality of airiness or crampiness, convivial freshness or the staleness of familial constriction. The field of immediacy reappears for itself, in its own qualitative-relational terms. It will sort out one way or another, but in the moment there always will have been much more.

The “much more, always more” of Corwin’s entering a room suggests that the challenge for autism lies with the less of subtraction. The room is immediately experienced in its always-more, each chunking an achievement, a new adventure in experience coming alive toward expression. “I taught myself to read at three,” Amanda Baggs relates,

and I had to learn it again at ten, and yet again at seventeen, and at twenty-one, and at twenty-six. The words that it took me twelve years to find have been lost again, and regained, and lost, and still have not come all the way back to where I can be reasonably confident they’ll be there when I need them.  It wasn’t enough to figure out just once how to keep track of my eyes and ears and hands and feet all at the same time; I’ve lost track of them and had to find them over and over again.34

Against Neuroreductionism

The neuro is everywhere in the air today. Neuroarchitecture, neuroaesthetics, neurocriticism. We have advanced the term neurodiversity here in order to problematize the “neuro” no less than the “typical.” Certain of today’s neurocurrents, those informed by embodied cognition and its younger offspring enactive perception, converge in some respects with the account developed here. We are uneasy, however, with the general excitement generated by recent advances in brain imaging technology, which have been met with another wave of the cyclic craze for finding neural correlates of experiential events. The models, admittedly, are vastly more complex than earlier paradigms of localization, nuanced as they are with notions of systemic feedback, distributed networks, and emergent patterning of neural activity. In spite of these very real advances, the problem remains for us that the impulse to identify an experiential event with a brain state tends to take precedence, and is too often given the first and last word. This cerebral reductionism runs counter to other tendencies equally present in today’s neurocurrents. Beginning and ending the conversation with brain states sideline problematics of a kind that might be considered phenomenological – where the field of immediate experience is always-already subjective, or even pre-subjective (in the sense of already imbued with specifically human meaning just waiting to be “disclosed,” or translatable from the status of a “implicit knowledge” into an explicit schema). For us, as for autists, this isn’t the case. We approach the field of experience as “pure,” in William James’s sense of being neither subjective nor objective yet – yet ready to be both or either, more and less, multiplicitously. Whatever human meaning an experience has, whatever schema it exhibits, it has achieved them, as an adventure of integrally renewed self-composition and emergent variation, starting always all over again from the “bald” commotional “that” of the gateway that is moment. This forbids appealing to phenomenology as a corrective to our discomfort with neuroreductionism.

From the perspective developed here, the notion of neural correlates – the idea that experiential events “correspond” to brain states – errs in presupposing the dichotomy between the determinately physical and the fickely perceptual. In our account, following James and Whitehead, this distinction takes form on the highly derived level of reflective consciousness, which is itself predicated on the subtractive emergence of cognition from a richer and more encompassing field of coming experience. The search for neural correlates glosses over the immediacy of the field of experience, its phased becomings and variations, its flickerings, its constant reminders that the simplicity of clear consciousness is no measure of the complexity of complete experience. The search for neural correlates glosses over this intensity and complexity in theory, while in practice it constantly returns to it without acknowledging that move.

The surreptitious appeal by neuroscientists to the total field is a practical necessity because a correlation between an experiential event and a brain-state cannot be established without eliciting an experiential event from which a brain image can be extracted. Subjects are shown particular images, or inducted into certain kinds of activity, or induced into certain affective orientations. A mapping of brain activity is then extracted from the event by the imaging technology. The ­predominant experiential characteristics of the context from which the image has been extracted – a visual perception of a certain type, the execution of a particular category of act, an affective priming of a certain cast – is then set against the brain state. The brain state is construed as the physical/objective/bodily side of the event, and the predetermined experiential characteristics of the context are construed as the perceptual/subjective/phenomenal side. Nonetheless, however the correlation is construed philosophically, it tends to be lopsided. The physical side tends to be treated as explanatory of the perceptual side. This reduces the perceptual/subjective/phenomenal to the status of an epiphenomen. Even interpretations which tie the two sides together with a model of emergence cannot escape the explanatory lopsiding inherent in attributing epiphenomenal status to the phenomenal. The physical/objective/bodily comes out more “real.” Inherent to every “discovery” of a correlation there is a valorizing of the determinately physical pole since the entire setup is designed precisely in order to extract this side of the event.35 The technology used is custom-made precisely for that. The whole exercise is angled toward the emphasis-by-subtraction of the physical from the experimental context.

To put it another way, the laboratory setup always reenters its project of explanatory modeling through the gateway called moment. An event is triggered. However controlled the context, there are always minor elements considered peripheral to the predominant type, category, or cast of the context to which the brain state will be correlated. The contribution of these active ingredients to the total field falls out. It is pre-designed out of the model. This is no small thing, because among the “minor” ingredients are a whole panoply of relational-field effects, which from the point of view of the environmental awareness we have been talking about are absolutely integral to the genesis of the event. The experimental setup systematically subtracts them, in order to emphasize the contribution of the brain, to the extent that it can be reduced to the physical.

We are not saying that this has no value. It has undeniable therapeutic value – to the extent that the neural factors set enabling conditions for the playing out of the event. Our point is that the activity of neurons enter the event on an equal footing with other ingredients to it: from the angle of their ability to co-compose relational field-effects. Alone, they are nothing. Together with other ingredients, which are of every conceivable determinable nature, the neurons vie to have their “voice” heard most loudly in the way in which the event moves toward expression. Take me, take me! The neuroscientist takes them happily – without realizing that when the neuronal as such is most determining of the outcome of the event is when the event is operating at its most automatic.36 The “physical” is in fact a limit-state of the habitual, its extreme. Much goes into making a habit besides electrical impulses and chemical signals. A whole world of relationality enters into it, subtractively. The physical as automatic-habitual is a subtractive limitation of the dance of attention of the field of experience. Extracting it from the field is adding subtraction to subtraction, carrying the emphasis-by-subtraction of habit to a higher power. This is exactly what makes neurocentric modeling so useful therapeutically: it isolates the subtractive limit of the field of experience’s functioning. At the limit of that limit lies the pathological: when the automaticity of the physical takes over to the point of undermining the use-value of habit on other levels of the relational world. The whole setup is contrived as a function of the pathological. That is our point: the neuro is inherently a therapeutic concept contrived with and for the pathological – which is to say that it is guided by an a priori commitment to a presupposed, quantifiable, base-state distinction between the normal and the pathological. No matter what kind of philosophical calisthenics are performed around it, the neuro remains profoundly neurotypical.

There is no doubt that autists’ brains are “wired” differently. There is the possibility that this difference may be “cured.” Our point is that while the neuro has therapeutic value, it only has explanatory value in a context that it explicitly works with and through the nuances of the experiential in its shifting expressions. In the moment, the immediate field of experience is self-explaining in the way it complexly plays out, composing a self-expressive outcome for itself. From moment to moment, experience explains itself more extensively in the variations on its expressive outcomes. Its self-explaining always starts from qualitative field-effects, like coloured shadow. Its outcomes always have an overall qualitative color, or affective tonality. The field of experience is best described as relational-qualitative, not physical or perceptual, or some correlated combination of these. The question of “curing” modes of existence like autism must be situated on this relational-qualitative ground. It is not just a therapeutic question. It is a question of the diversity of modes of existence, and of the modes of thought they enact, and of the varieties of expressive outcomes they compose, and of the differing determinations of experience those outcomes instantiate in the world. The question of curing is in fact an ecological question concerning how diversities co-inhabit the same field of becoming-human, and co-compose.37

DJ Savarese, writing in the crushingly over-medicalized United States, polemically makes this point in terms of “freedom,” playing the conventional political rhetoric of his country of birth against its tendency toward therapeutic overkill.

The great United States of America is breathtakingly not free. Equality is not as sacred because not everyone has access to it. Freedom is not as available as many people think. First, free people treat my people, very smart people who type to communicate, as mindless. Second, they underestimate us as very bad instead of reaching out to us. The creators of everyone’s very important Declaration of Independence wasted their breath.38

What we have endeavored to help draft, co-composing with writers like DJ Savarese, Amanda Baggs and Tito Mukhopadhyay, is a Declaration of Independence from neuroreductionism, for all.


1 Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Free Press, 1938), p. 9

2 Quoted in Jean Kearns Miller, Women From Another Planet (Bloomington: 1st Books, 2003), pp. 23–89. While we focus here on autists who would be classified in the so-called low-functioning spectrum of autism, which is itself a spectrum, we chose to highlight autists such as Krumins (and later Corwin), both of whom would likely fall into the category of “aspergers” or “high-functioning” autism. The point we are trying to emphasize is that all spectrums are neurodiverse – both that of the neuro-typical and that of the autist – and that within the autism spectrum there stands out a particular modality of perception. As others within the autism activist community have pointed out, the labellings that have become commonplace in autism in many cases only serve to re-sedimentize the assumptions of the neurotypical (or able-ist) community. See, for instance, Amanda Baggs’s blog post entitled Aspie Supremacy Can Kill: “I know that to many aspie supremacists it doesn’t feel like that’s what they’re doing. It feels like they are just stating common sense, that aspies have more valuable skills, more logic, less dysfunction, whatever, than other autistics. But that’s because having a bit of relative privilege renders them unaware of the full consequences of their actions. They don’t realize that they have things backwards — the more devalued you are, the more you need equality, the more you need to be considered another important part of human diversity, etc. Not the less. And ‘less’ is what aspie supremacy ends up meaning to those of us who (even when we have some very valued skills in a few areas) are more vulnerable to devaluation and all of it’s effects. Including the lethal ones.” –, Access: 3.7.2010.

3 Amanda Baggs, Blog Entry,, Access: 3.24.2010.

4 These same concerns open Erin Manning’s essay on autism entitled “An Ethics of Language in the Making” in Always More Than One: Individuation’s Dance (Durham: Duke University Press, forthcoming 2013).

5 Quoted in Miller, Women from Another Planet, p. 54.

6 Mindblindness is a term used to describe the inability to be aware of what is in the mind of another human. It is associated to a lack of empathy determined by the perceived inability to put oneself in another’s place. Simon Baron-Cohen was the first person to use the term mindblindness to help understand some of the problems encountered by people with autism and Asperger syndrome. – See Simon Baron-Cohen, Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1997).

7 Quoted in Miller, Women from Another Planet, p. 86 f.

8 See Ralph Savarese on the concept of aroundness in autism, particularly in regard to the poetry of Tito Mukhopadhyay in his forthcoming A Dispute with Nouns, or Adventures in Radical Relationality: Autism, Poetry, and the Sensing Body.

9 Quoted in Portia Iverson, Strange Son: Two Mothers, Two Sons, and the Quest to Unlock the Hidden World of Autism (London: Riverhead Books, 2006), p. 104.

10 Tito Mukhopadhyay, How Can I Talk If My Lips Don’t Move?: Inside My Autistic Mind (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2008), p. 21.

11 Mukhopadyay, How Can I Talk, p. 21 f.

12 The concept of taking account is from Whitehead. It is one of the concepts through which he extends a perceptual mode of operation (prehension) to all things, independent of human perception. The notion of “taking account” indicates that things (of whatever nature – he mentions “mud” and “evil”) “are essentially referent beyond themselves.” By referent he means co-implicated in a process of mutual becoming exemplifying “forms of process,” understood as modes of existence which call upon each other “essentially,” as an expression of their own nature. Each kind of thing must be conceived as a form of process. The “realm of forms,” Whitehead writes, is not an empty realm of pure abstraction, devoid of dirt and passage. It “is the realm of potentiality, and the very notion of ‘potentiality’ has an external meaning. It refers to life and motion. It refers to inclusion and exclusion. […] Phrasing this statement more generally – it refers to appetition. It refers to the development of actuality, which realizes form and is yet more than form … To be real is not to be self-sustaining. […] Modes of reality require each other … [they] express their mutual relevance to each other. […] each type expressing some mode of composition.” – Whitehead, Modes of Thought, p. 94 ff. When we refer to the flower striving to be taken account of (or, later in this essay, the pen “asking” to be chosen from the field), we are referring to Whitehead’s theory of the “essential reference” of each thing to others beyond themselves, as exhibiting an activity of appetition that is in and of things (defined in terms of processual potential). This striving for expression of things as such is in no way meant to be taken as a metaphor. Although this striving is independent of human perception, it is soliciting of human perception wherever human perception is active in the field. What distinguishes this approach from recent object-oriented approaches is it gives primacy to activity and potential, deriving the status of the “object” from a playing out of the “forms of process” through which they tend toward determinate expression. The object, for Whitehead, marks a phase-shift in process. It is understood more as an ontogenetic role than an ontological category. For Whitehead, object refers to a particular role in the coming to determinate expression of potential, occurring at a particular turning-point in its playing out. For prehension as an uncognitive taking account, see A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: Free Press, 1925), p. 69 f.

13 Mukhopadyay, How Can I Talk, p. 21 f. 

14 We develop the notion of cross-checking from William James’s “ambulatory” theory of truth, according to which “truth” is less a self-founding abstraction than an implicit recipe for finding the way back again to a specific “terminus” that can be shared by different bodies, who may seal their sharing of this reaccess potential with a demonstrative pointing-to acknowledged by both. See the development of the example of the walk to Union Hall upon which the argument of “A World of Pure Experience Revolves”, Essays in Radical Empiricism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996). See also the “The Thing and Its Relations” in the same volume, and Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978).

15 It is important to specify that there is no homogeneity of autism. We do not want to suggest that all autists are joined in their perspective on the condition – certainly being autistic is a significant challenge in the multi-sensorial, fast-paced culture we find in most parts of the world today. The point we wish to make is that autism is also a gift – perceptually, experientially, intellectually. The challenge for those all along the spectrum of neurodiversity – especially those toward the neurotypical end of the spectrum – is to meet difference at least halfway.

16 Jim Sinclair, “Don’t Mourn for Us”, Our Voice (Autism Network International Newsletter), vol. 1, no. 3 (1993).

17 Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Free Press, 1968/1938), p. 7

18 Slogan from a t-shirt created by the Autistic Liberation Front, in “It’s Not a Disease, It’s a Way of Life,” Emine Saner,, Access: 8.7.2007.

19 The term “entrainment” is adapted from Albert Michotte, who uses it in his analysis of the direct perception of causal relation. See Georges Thinès, Alan ­Costall, George Butterworth, eds., Experimental Phenomenology of Perception (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1991). We also mean it as a reference to Whitehead’s own concept for the direct perception of causal relation, which he terms “causal efficacy.” Causal efficacy refers to the sense that experience is “heavy with the contact of things gone by [referring to the immediate past, on the order of fractions of a ­second], which lay their grip on our immediate selves.” In its purest form, it is “vague, haunting, unmanageable.” In our reading, this sense of “unseen effective presences in the dark” is a limit case, because causal efficacy as a mode of ­existence is “essentially referent” to other modes (see note 10 above), in particular the mode of “presentational immediacy.” Presentational immediacy is the “vivid enjoyment” of immediate sense experience. By our interpretation of these concepts, causal efficacy and presentational immediacy are in all but extreme cases present in effective mixture (Whitehead calls it “fusion”), or their mutual “taking account” of each other. Their fusion yields a variety of mixed modes, one of which is what we normally think of as object perception. We are asserting here that there is another mode that we are calling environmental. Whitehead himself focuses on the mode of presentational immediacy in its purest form, where it is separated out from causal efficacy to the greatest degree. This occurs when qualities of objects appear as abstractable from them (as “sense-data”). The differences are of emphasis in the moment’s mode of composition, or in Whiteheadian terms, how the moment asserts “importance” as it strives to be taken account of. – The quotes from Whitehead in this note are from Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect (New York: Fordham University Press, 1927), p. 42 ff.

20 Entertainment references Whitehead’s “presentational immediacy,” the “vivid enjoyment” of immediate sense experience, as we interpret this category (note 12 above).

21 Etienne Souriau, Les différents modes d’existence, ed. Isabelle Stengers and Bruno Latour (Paris: PUF, 2009), p. 16.

22 What autists do is emphasize, in their very approach to life, how the world dances to attention as a field experience full of potential blooms, including outcomes deemed neurotypical. It bears repeating that the autists we are thinking-with here – Tito Mukhopadhyay, DJ Savarese, Amanda Baggs, Jim Sinclair, Larry Bissonnette, Sue Rubin, Jamie Burke – are classified as “low-functioning,” which means that they suffer from complex motor problems including the inability to speak and serious issues with the activation or initiation of tasks, anxiety, echolalia, etc. They can rarely live completely without assistance. And yet their writing astounds in its complexity, in its rhythm and tonal qualities, in its political astuteness. As Ralph Savarese, poet and father of DJ Savarese, notes, “While acknowledging the many challenges that accompany the condition, proponents of neurodiversity insist that autism should not be pathologized and ‘corrected’ but, rather, celebrated as a kind of natural, human difference. The condition affords, especially at the so-called ‘low-functioning’ end of the spectrum, with those who have been taught to read and to communicate, a range of gifts. One of these gifts is poetic perception and writing. For decades it has been assumed that Autistics are the victims of an obdurate literality, which leaves them baffled by figurative language. While this may be the case with ‘high-functioning’ Autistics or those with Asperger syndrome, it is not with classical Autistics, who have begun to demonstrate extraordinary competence. […] Only recently have some of these Autistics been exposed to creative writing instruction, and the results have been nothing short of spectacular.” Ralph Savarese, prospectus for A Dispute with Nouns, or Adventures in Radical Relationality: Autism, Poetry, and the Sensing Body (2010). Savarese has written at length about the autistic individuals listed above, focusing on their art and poetry even while exploring in a very nuanced manner the challenges so-called “low-functioning” autists face. See his forthcoming book as well as Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption. On the Meaning of Family and the Politics of Neurological Difference (New York: Other Press, 2008). For work by these autists mentioned above as well as others in the Disability Studies community, see the special issue on autism in Disability Studies Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 1 (2010),

23 Mukhopadhyay, How Can I Talk, p. 154 -155.

24 Mukhopadhyay, How Can I Talk, p. 156.

25 Mukhopadhyay, How Can I Talk, p. 52 – 53.

26 Ibid.

27 William James, Essays in Radical Empiricism, p. 57–58.

28 Mukhopadhyay, How Can I Talk, p. 53.

29 William James, Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth, p. 267.

30 Iverson, Strange Son, p. 237.

31 Iverson, Strange Son, p. 238.

32 The problem of reflective consciousness is directly connected, for autists, to the disconnect between voluntary and automatic movement – a disconnect associated to the difficulty they experience with the activation of a task. Amanda Baggs writes: “I have known for a long time that my relationship to voluntary movement is not the same as my relationship to automatic movements, that there is in fact quite a large difference between the two, and that I process automatic movements as ‘background’ but don’t process voluntary movements that way. And that most movements for me are not automatic, but require finding the body part and making it move around for me in a fairly laborious way.” – Blog Entry,, Access: 5.11.2010.

33 Amanda Baggs, “My Sort of People, Just As Real As Theirs”, Blog Entry,, Access: 5.11.2010; see also, Anne Corwin,

34 Amanda Baggs, “My Sort of People, Just As Real As Theirs”, Access:  5.11.2010.

35 Our use in this section of “physical pole” and “perceptual pole” should not be confused with Whitehead’s distinction between the “physical” and “mental” poles, to which he gives a particular meaning free of the cognitive presuppositions involved in the physical/percept distinction as it functions on the derivative level of reflective consciousness.

36 For Bergson, consciousness arises when automatic action-reaction circuits are interrupted. The mechanism of consciousness is to inhibit or slow down automaticity. The interruptive gap between action and reaction is filled with tendencies (germinal “forms of process,” as in note 10 above) vying for actualization. It is their vying which we experience as “our” thinking. This germinal activity of forms of process striving for expression brinks into consciousness, but in its first stirrings, in the fullness of its activity, it is non-conscious by nature. The emphases of conscious experience are, for Whitehead also, predicated on the “elimination” of not-fully determinate formative activity. Elements of what is eliminated from the central focal region of consciousness persist vaguely in the surrounding “penumbral” region forming the periphery or background from which clear consciousness stands out. The penumbra of consciousness is semi-conscious. This semi-conscious surround of consciousness makes consciousness, however focused, however eliminative, a variegated field phenomenon. It is the fielding of consciousness that comes out for itself, as a mode of experience in its own right, in what we call “environmental awareness.” Environmental awareness is full of entrainment, but also exerts a force of entertainment (in Whiteheadian terms, as we interpret them, it is saturated with causal efficacy, but also has a degree of presentational immediacy in fusion with it). On consciousness and inhibition of activity, Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, transl. Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer (London: Allen and Unwin, 1911), chapter 1. On elimination, see Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: Free Press, 1978), p. 187 f.

37 For a continued exploration of the ecology of diversity, see Erin Manning, “An Ethics of Language in the Making”, Always More Than One: Individuation’s Dance (forthcoming Duke UP).

38 Ralph Savarese,

  • dancing
  • body
  • sociology
  • globalization
  • performativity
  • community
  • theatre studies
  • politics

My language

Selected content

Erin Manning

holds a University Research Chair in Relational Art and Philosophy in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada). She is also the director of the Sense Lab. In her art practice she works between painting, fabric and sculpture. Together with Brian Massumi she founded the journal INFLeXions and co-organizes a  series of events and activities dedicated to the collective exploration of new ways of bringing philosophical and artistic practices into mutually beneficial interaction. Her writing addresses the senses, philosophy and politics, articulating the relation between experience, thought and politics in a transdisciplinary framework moving between dance and new technology, the political and micropolitics of sensation, performance art, and the current convergence of cinema, animation and new media.

Other texts by Erin Manning for DIAPHANES

Brian Massumi

is professor in the Department of Communication Sciences at the University of Montreal (Quebec, Canada) and at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee (Switzerland). Massumi is well-known for his translations of several major texts in French poststructuralist theory, in addition he works with Erin Manning in her research-creation laboratory Sense Lab. His research is two-fold: the experience of movement and the interrelations between the senses, in particular in the context of new media art and technology; and emergent modes of power associated with the globalization of capitalism and the rise of preemptive politics.

Other texts by Brian Massumi for DIAPHANES
Stefan Hölscher (ed.), Gerald Siegmund (ed.): Dance, Politics & Co-Immunity

This volume is dedicated to the question of how dance, both in its historical and in its contemporary manifestations, is intricately linked to conceptualisations of the political. Whereas in this context the term "policy" means the reproduction of hegemonic power relations within already existing institutional structures, politics refers to those practices which question the space of policy as such by inscribing that into its surface which has had no place before. The art of choreography consists in distributing bodies and their relations in space. It is a distribution of parts that within the field of the visible and the sayable allocates positions to specific bodies. Yet in the confrontation between bodies and their relations, a deframing and dislocating of positions may take place. The essays included in this book are aimed at the multiple connections between politics, community, dance, and globalisation from the perspective of e.g. Dance and Theatre Studies, History, Philosophy, and Sociology.