Winter again and thinking as a body of water
I am back in Iceland after what has a been a rich summer immersed in artistic practices, conviviality and bodies of water in multiple landscapes. This is one of my favorite times of the year, the mountains surrounding Reykjavik are covered in a little snow already and as the sun’s orbit flattens, surreal light atmospheres emerge. It’s been over one and a half years that I first arrived to this arctic island and that I started this PhD. It feels like a harvesting period has begun. I read through my very first research notepads and find myself quite shocked that the core ideas of my project are already written on these pages. The process of deeply diving into a topic seems to be organized in concentric circles. Non-linear, always in this uncomfortable learning zone that offers little safety. Therefore the recurrence of winter creates a feeling of familiar release, with the high energy of the long days fading away, we move back into the smaller circles of our homes. I like to imagine being a plant (admittedly due to reading Elvia Wilks Death by Landscape) that vanishes for a while in the soil to replenish my energies – to resist extractive linearity – to be ready to be born again at some point with new creative force. Such a radical pause would be an invitation to not knowing what comes next, to allow some form of death. At least I just paused writing this post by getting lost in browsing through the results of a google picture search of concentric circles. Although I know better it still seems paradoxical to me that an apparently mental process like doing a PhD is hard to grasp with the mind. But that I cannot get hold of the totality of how this research process has changed my thinking and myself is proof of me being embodied. What I do grasp is that it is a process of expansion, the circles dimensions have grown bigger, and I am moving with the changing shapes of the circles. As I am currently reading Astrida Neimanis Bodies of Water I wonder what my research process and in general processes of learning and understanding have to do with us being watery beings. I often digest my intellectual work by sitting in hot water – a specificity of life in Iceland. Neimanis asks:
“How do we grasp the virtual? How do we trace the wateriness of our distant pasts, our unknowable futures, or of our body’s own microscopic internal seascapes? How do we map transcorporeal transits that happen out of view or out of focus, beyond the comfortable proximal relation of our body to its parts – the workings of the cerebral spinal fluid that occupies my subarachnoid space, or the journey of my SSRI-laced urine into estuarine communities downstream, or the dissipation of my perspiration into a humid forest atmosphere, to exchange wet breaths with casuarinas? When we move deeper, or further back, or more extensively out, things get complicated.” (5
For accessing these realms, “for de-sedimenting our human-scale perspective“, Neimanis suggests to work with “proxy stories“ which “are not substitutes for embodied experience; they are its amplifiers and sensitizers. Art, for example, is an amplifier” (55). Feminist posthuman phenomenology thought tries “to explore how science can serve as a different kind of amplifying proxy story” (p.56). I’ll take this thought with me to the hot water: how can my PhD be an amplifier for “attun[ing] ourselves differently to a world in which we are implicated, and to experiment in modes of worlding otherwise…” (64). As a poetic entry point into Astrida Neimanis work I highly recommend this short video essay entitled Water in Common.
Neimanis, A. (2017). Bodies of water: Posthuman feminist phenomenology. Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Open Access (https://www.bloomsburycollections.com/book/bodies-of-water-posthuman-feminist-phenomenology/)