Recently, I altered a quote from Paul Mason’s book Bright Clear Futures, from ‘the radical defence of the human being starts with you‘ to: the radical defence of the human being starts with me. I did this in a bid to think and write autoethnographically as part of my PhD research into effective and affective cultural mediation (art appreciation and interpretation in galleries and museums). At the same time as picking up and running with Paul Mason’s ‘radical defence of the human being’, (2019) I am embroiled in a love affair with the affirmative, post human, new materialist thinking of philosopher Rosi Braidotti (2018). Challenged by/responding to Braidotti’s thinking/writing, I am desperately trying to place myself somewhere ethical in the posthuman cartography that decentres Eurocentrism, paternalism and human exceptionalism and actively seeks to make space for minoritarian voices. Braidotti (2018), says the post human is grounded, materially embedded, embodied and embrained and in order to be an affirmative part of the present, we need to acknowledge and navigate, the ‘we that is ceasing to be’, (the actual) and the ‘we that we are in the process of becoming’ (the virtual).
If a cartography is the record of both what we are ceasing to be and what we are in the process of becoming, then critical thinking is about the creation of new concepts, or navigational tools to help us through the complexities of the present, with special focus on the project of actualizing the virtual. Posthuman theory focuses, through critical and creative cartographies, on the margins of expression of yet unrealized possibilities for overcoming both humanism and anthropocentrism by concentrating on the issue: who is this ‘we’ whose humanity is now at stake? (Braidotti, 2018, n.p.)
My working understanding of Braidotti’s proposition is that; each of us needs to become aware of and able to articulate our situated and embodied positions, in order to know who we are, where we come from and why we think what we think. The imperative for understanding our situatedness is to be able to consider our impact on and in the world from a personally framed, yet outward looking, ethical position. In continuing to actively locate my situated, embodied and embrained self, I am taking up a writing provocation by academic and writer Liz Mackinlay, convenor of the DRAW community. ‘DRAW is a writing group for higher degree research students and others in the academic community who are wanting to write their work in an alternative style.’ https://www.facebook.com/groups/1474298516055816
The provocation, inspired by Mel Green’s thesis work on reading for pleasure, was to share a favourite children’s books and explore how it is impacting on our research and thesis writing and our desire to DRAW (depart radically from academic writing). The idea that: all that we experience and particularly that which resonates with us remains as residue,* inside our bodies, places a high import on children’s books – many of which we actively remember our entire lives. Given this, investigating our reading for pleasure preferences as children, likely holds within it the potential to illuminate some aspect of our adult beliefs, motivations and framings.
As my house and possessions, including my books, are currently ‘packed away’ after a flood incident ten months ago, I journeyed to the local library, on a blistering 40-degree day, to see what I could find. I was drawn to a childhood favourite that happened to feature another extreme weather situation: Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day (Slater, 2009, p.13 -14). This illustrated children’s book is an adaptation to picture book by T. Slater of a storyline in A. A. Milne’s classic children’s book, Winnie the Pooh.
In the middle of the Hundred Acre Wood – Piglet has been blown into the air by a strong gust of wind.
‘Happy Windsday,’ said Pooh as another great gust of wind lifted Piglet right off his little pink feet.
Well, it isn’t very happy for me,’ Piglet said with a gulp.
‘Where are you going?‘ Pooh cried, running after his friend.
‘That’s what I’m asking myself,’ Piglet said. Where …?
‘And what do you think you will answer yourself?’ Pooh asked, grabbing hold of Piglet’s scarf just before he floated out of reach.
‘Oh, Pooh, I’m unravelling! Piglet cried.
Indeed he was. Or rather, his scarf was. Like a pink kite on a long green string, Piglet went sailing off into the sky.
Oh dear: Oh d-d-d-dear, dear he stammered clutching onto the string.
Hang on Piglet cried Pooh from down below …
I don’t remember when Winnie the Pooh came into my life. I do remember the deep bathos his character brings to any situation, often going from the sublime to the ridiculous in an endearing and totally human way (for a bear). Pooh’s delight in the simple things is exemplary and his loyalty to friends of all dispositions, touches me deeply. It also provokes and reminds me how often I, and likely most of us, fall short of the maxim: ‘Do unto others as one would have others do unto you’. I love how all the animals in The Hundred Acre Wood are valued for whom they are, with every storyline built on the nuanced personalities of the characters, with unexpected depths and pitch changes revealing their strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities as the story line unfolds. There is often some kind of ‘bother’ to be gently dealt with that includes a moral entailment which involves accepting people, not in spite of, but because of their flaws. An act that often seems quietly heroic to me and on many days, unachievable.
I particularly love how Winnie the Pooh doesn’t take anything for granted. For example, when Piglet, after being born aloft by the blustery wind, asks himself, where he is going? Pooh, in response, asks Piglet ‘And what do you think you will answer yourself?’ Pooh’s openness to what the question brings forth and his lack of pre-emptive judgement seem to me to be a pretty good approach to life, and an especially good approach for a researcher.
Pooh’s advice to Piglet to ‘Hang on’ whilst Piglet’s tiny body is being buffeted about by the forces of nature – also seems to me to be good advice for a PhD candidate.
As a child I followed the thread of the narrative wherever it took me, accompanied by a deep curiosity about the travails of the literary characters I encountered. I was always slightly more comfortable in the world of literature than in the constantly shifting world of my early, peripatetic life. Reading Winnie the Pooh as an adult I am more aware of the particular vulnerabilities of each of the characters in the Hundred Acre Wood, who are by all accounts a pretty flawed mob.
The rhythm and texture of my early life was shaped by, amongst other things, the landscape of multiple schools, continually making friends and losing them, art, children’s books and music that was slightly out of my reach. Music shaped my life in a very pragmatic way as we travelled across the UK and Europe with my dad’s band. In a diffractive analysis (Barad, 2007) of: Winnie the Pooh I am drawing on my childhood favourite looking for the seeds of the researcher I am becoming. A research journey that is currently seeing me trying on various metaphors to frame the narrative of my research, which for me is entailed and entangled in my biography. So, in a bid to further understand my musician father I am going to add another diffractive element – a musical metaphor. I wonder what would happen if we all situated and understood ourselves as grace notes in each other’s lives?
A grace note is defined in Mirriam Webster’s online dictionary as both
- a musical note added as an ornament especially, appoggiatura – which is an embellishing note or tine preceding an essential melodic note or tine and usually written as a note of smaller size.
- a small addition or embellishment.
From my non musician’s understanding, the aim of the grace note is to elevate or draw attention to the primary note that follows – not the same as the following note, but fleeting and distinct with its own rhythm, and played at the discretion of the musician to enhance and ‘ornament’ the main melody.
Perhaps the role of the researcher is to be a grace note in their participants’ symphonies? Not an echo but a clear and distinct, embodied and situated sound, that ornaments, draws attention to, and emphasises the note that follows. Perhaps to consider ourselves grace notes in each other’s symphonies is an elegant solution to jostling for primacy, recognition or validation in conversations, in relationships, in research partnerships? To say what needs to be said without paraphrase or circumscription, defence or antagonism; it is also entirely possible that the best we can offer is silence. Rather, letting the sound waves carry the un/spoken word as it diffracts off people, initially through their lives and then through the lives and situations of those whom their actions and words touch, including this situated, embodied, embrained and totally and reassuringly flawed researcher. I suspect I could fit quite nicely into the Hundred Acre Wood.
*The reference to residue was made by Mel Green, in the December 2020 DRAW forum
Barad, Karen (2007) Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, Duke University Press.
Braidotti, R. (2018) A Theoretical Framework for the Critical Posthumanities, https://doi.org/10.1177/0263276418771486
Mason, P. (2020). Bright Clear Futures. Penguin imprint.
Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, “Grace note.” https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grace%20note. Accessed 28 Nov. 2020.
Slater, T. (2009). Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. A pictorial adaptation based on ‘Winnie the Pooh’ works, by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard. Parragon.