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Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word or thought to use, or to think about what you are doing. […] The only requirement is that you never stop. Exercise 1: In her Lectures on Philosophy, Simone Weil presents us with an interesting paradox, ‘man (sic) seems sometimes to possess a great power over nature, sometimes to be its plaything’. The swimmer fights to master the waves yet gives herself to be held by the water. Our experience seems to be double, always both active and passive.

Start freewriting with this prompt in mind: We seem sometimes to be at the centre of life, sometimes thrown to the periphery. Consider what gives us power over nature, and what gives nature power over us. How are these things given? How are they taken away?

Exercise 2: Can attention be a kind of passive action? In a notebook entry of 1807 Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote, ‘[T]he eyes quietly and steadfastly dwelling on an object, not as if looking at it or as in any way exerting an act of sight upon it, but as if the whole attention were listening to what the heart was feeling and saying about it.’ In his detailed descriptions of his attempts to attend to the world, Coleridge is an early phenomenologist.

Start freewriting with this prompt in mind: Coleridge believed that careful passive observation of the properties of things could reveal not only their true nature but give sudden deep insights into the nature of the world at large. Is this something we can attempt? Try to do so in your freewriting.

Exercise 3: In How Forests Think, Eduardo Kohn looks for a more-than-human anthropology. Learning from the Runa people of the Upper Amazon and the animistic aspects of their culture, he explores the ways in which the world communicates itself to us. Contemporary anthropology of animism, Kohn reminds us, ‘is quite different from its earlier social evolutionist and sometimes even racist incarnations, and it has provided an important foil for critiquing Western mechanistic representations of nature’.

Kohn considers the ways in which other beings see us, and how that changes us. Jaguars sometimes see us as prey animals, sometimes not. Knowing how and why jaguars represent us can be a matter of life and death. ‘Runa animism’, he notes, ‘is grounded in an ontological fact: there exist other kinds of thinking selves beyond the human’. Such insights from animism ask us to consider whether representing, knowing, and thinking are exclusively human characteristics.

Start freewriting with this prompt in mind: Are humans the only species capable of personhood? Can a river be a person? If forests can think, what about ocean currents? Wolf packs, wildfires, glaciers? How might such questions alter our sense of our selves in relation to the events now transforming every aspect of our lives? Are we capable of giving ourselves to the process of change demanded of us, in order to encounter and communicate this strange new world revealing itself, even as it teeters on the brink of collapse? Reading List

Peter Elbow (1973) Writing Without Teachers (Oxford University Press). Eduardo Kohn (2013) How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (University of California Press). Simone Weil (1978) Lectures on Philosophy (Cambridge University Press).


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