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Reflection 4: Sensing Everything October 19, 2011

Posted by HSDC in Uncategorized.

Once again the western assumption that there are only five distinct senses is challenged in the readings for this week.  However instead of attempting to dispute the number or type of senses the article for this week attempt to describe how the sense can be thought of as a whole. Instead of creating a situation where we interpret each individual sense as a separate input the articles attempt to overcome this barrier by showing how sensing can be thought of as an entirely bodily experience. The entire body is in engaged in a state of extending it one true sense, the sense of tactility or in other words touch.

The Geurts article documents how the Anlo-Ewe people view the sensorium as opposed to western common thought. In their particular culture the sensorium isn’t broken up into different categories but is instead viewed as a whole, described with the word “seselelame” which “represents  a  cultural  meaning  system in which  bodily feeling is attended  to as a source  of vital information” (Geurts 2002: 198) . In their particular context sensing is the embodiment of information, such as the example of Geurts running over a rock, that one act actually provided a wealth of information that she ignored at first due to her western mentality, however she later realized “I experienced  a flood of sensations,  emotions,  and intuitions  that I nonetheless  ignored  since  my  “cognitive  system”  concluded  that  it was  simply a rock” (Geurts 2002:198). It is amazing of this way of interpreting the world brings meaning to even everyday objects, knocking your foot on a table can be interrupted as a inconvenience or in teh Anlo-Ewe context a knowledge that bring new aware to the object including sensations, new presumptions about the object as well of feelings ( most probably ones of anger, if it were me). As Geurts notes “Sidzenu”can be roughly translated to “thing recognized”.

Moreover the Pallasmaa article attempted to validate the holistic approach of sensing through the use of vision. Pallasmaa’s overwhelming argument seems to be that vision is idealised in modern society and that computer, art, architecture work in conjunction to supplement these ideas. However Pallasmaa goes on to state that the vision aspect is just a medium through which we feel, in other words it is simply another form of touching. Becuase although art is visual it’s purpose and bodily response is deeper, “ [art] addresses all the senses simultaneously, and fuses our sense of self with the experience of the world”( Pallasmaa 2005:4). At first I was sceptical of this notion, however after further reading I found this to be a very plausible assumption, moreover it relates directly to the idea of a general sensory body that works as a whole and not in separate parts. For example when I play video games, which is predominately a visual experience, why is it that I find my self jerking my body during aspect of the game that require precision (kinaesthesia), why is it that my heartbeat begins to accelerate when in a difficult scenario. All the elements of the sensorium work in conjunction to “recognize”; to experience as a whole of part not as a division.

When we open ourselves to think of the whole a new way of perceiving the world is made aviable to us as Geurts noted “We  should  not  mistake  this  consciousness  as  simply  about  people  seeing the  child  walking lugulugu and thinking that  he  was  wayward,  but,  rather, informants  were  quite  clear about  the  sensations  the child would experience in the body” (2002: 190). The body is not something that can be broken into important and unimportant parts, instead it has a sort of complete agency in its sensing experience. As Pallasmaa states “All the senses, including vision, are extensions of the tactile sense; the senses are specializations of skin tissue, and all sensory experiences are modes of touching, and thus related with tactility” (2005: 10)

Works Cited:

Pallasmaa, J. (2005) ‘touching the world”, chapter 1 in Architecture of the Senses, pp. 9-73

Geurts, K. L. (2002), “On Rocks, Walks, and Talks In West Africa: Cultural Categories and an Anthropology of the Senses’, Ethos (30), pp. 178-198.



1. gurjiwan - October 20, 2011

Hey Harman, it seems as if both of us had some similar thoughts while doing the readings. Your response to Pallmasmaa’s assertion that all senses are stimulated by art simultaneously is particularly interesting. I too play video games and have had similar reactions to you. I used to think of it as a predominantly visual experience but, now that I think about it, I realize that I too jerk the controller in a certain direction when the game requires precision and lean my body in the direction the car is turning when playing racing games. I now pay more attention to the role the controller plays when it vibrates after my car crashes or when my player gets tackled. These are things I usually ignore and, before this reading, wouldn’t have included them in a description of the way the senses are stimulated while playing videogames. The senses of touch (controller vibrations) and hearing (sounds/music that work to make a game feel more intense, creepy, etc.) are usually ignored by players in favour of vision. Just goes to show that vision does have hegemony in the western world.

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