Posts Tagged ‘senses’

From meaning to sense. Accountability on the hither side of words.

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Things start to become exciting. On the upcoming conference Sensory Powers and Urban Lives I will give an introductory presentation. This will be the first occasion to speak about my current book-in-progress, which runs under the working title From meaning to sense. Social science in motion. I am really looking forward to present my thoughts in a setting that represents the place of origin (if there is one) for the whole argument: the sensory experience of built environments and the many modes in which it interacts with and affects the sociology and the politics of everyday life. Here is the abstract for my presentation:

The establishment of social control through the design of built space is marked by pervasiveness. In contemporary urban life one is always embedded in, crossing through and permeated by atmospheres, paths and boundaries. Rarely is this power encountered “Head On”, such as the concrete wall against which the migrant hero of the breathtaking movie of the same name crashes. Usually urban life is shaped by more subtle interactions, by changes in texture, rhythm, smell, opacity etc. These changes as such are subtle not because they are small or imperceptible. They are subtle because they are not recognized as such, they establish themselves below the skin, below the threshold of attention. This interplay of material effects and corporal affect is difficult to put into words. If one tries to “capture” this interplay, to get analytic hold of it and to interpret its meaning – then it coagulates to words, loses its characteristic fluidity and power.
How to deal with the characteristic subtlety of the sensory powers that permeate urban life? The social sciences deal with meaning. They provide tools to dissect the meaning that is negotiated in discourses. They can measure what kind and possibly even how much meaning people ascribe to the terms and constructs that one asks them about. They are caught up in the web of words that they capture and produce at the same time. A slight change in tone, a shift in words, however, can signal important differences. What if the interpretation shifts from the interpretation of meaning, of that which is put into static words, to the interpretation of sense, to the interpretation of moving sensibilities, of directions instead of places? What happens if the work of the researcher does not stop at words and their meaning, if it follows the sense of direction that is embodied in, that is constantly generated in the field that is studied? What kind of access to the sensory powers of urban life can be gained by following the sensory, productive, mobile powers of urban life? How can these powers be evoked instead of captured? How can one take hold of the constant flow of events and still unfold and display its character – without transposing it into a realm beyond everyday life, without just producing words, mere signifiers of entities that are not there, shadows of reality? How can subtle powers be made accountable on the hither side of words?

I am really looking forward to discussing these questions with the audience and the other presenters over the course of the two-day conference, which is generously hosted by Mónica Degen and Catharina Thörn.

Sociosophy with a beating heart.

Monday, February 6th, 2012

I have ogled Michel Serres’ The Five Senses for a long time already. (I must say I am shocked to see that it has been translated into English only in 2008, 23 years after its original publication and 15 years after the German translation.) The title always seemed neat to me, the German subtitle Eine Philosophie der Gemenge und Gemische did so too, and who does not want to demonstrate academic sovereignty with even more Suhrkamp Verlag publications on his or her bookshelf? But it took a reviewer to finally push my nose into the pages of this book – I am writing about fog in an article on absence, and Serres dedicates one of the subchapters of his book to fog…

So today, after reading all the Derrida that this and another reviewer also condemned me to, I finally opened my Five Senses and started to read, my eyes still blurry from staring their way through contorted Derridean sentences. Even before turning pages for the second time, I suddenly realized that my heart was beating loudly. Not just beat, hammer in excitement and anxiety about the next sentence. This is philosophy? I say! Or rather, my heart says: it might be much more than that.

Usually, I might furrow my brows, sometimes sigh or smirk my way through a book on theory or philosophy. Sometimes I might even smile or find that expression of realization or, even better, of wonder on my face. But a thrilled, beating heart? This definitely is a new experience. If only for that: I must recommend reading this book. I have only finished the first subchapter and started on the second one, but if you might be interested in an example of extraordinary writing in academica, then go out and get this book. And don’t wait too long until you start to read it!

Living the beach. Eyes, Feet and, of course, Hearts.

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

picture of the first slide of my presentation, showing a stormy beachAfter leaving the conference on creative destruction in Leipzig, I had to take a night train to get to the next academic event, the conference ‘Twixt Land and Sea: The Beach in Literature, Film and Cultural Theory, which was hosted by the University of Berne in Switzerland. I was really saddened that I missed the first two days of the conference, but somehow my e-mail address got off the list for the beaches conferences so that I assumed that it would not take place at all and submitted an abstract for the overlapping conference in Leipzig. The confusion created a Lars that felt a bit ruffled when he arrived in Berne the next morning, having only an hour to get himself straightened up – which succeeded only partially, so that the talk that I gave there was really, really flooded with ehms and, even worse, more than a hundred (no joke!) kind ofs. However, since I otherwise think that the content is worth the while, I got myself reacquainted with my video editing software (Final Cut Express) and edited out most of these annoying fillers. I really hope that the audience did not think I am totally stupid/deviant during the presentation… Whatever. Here is the abstract of the presentation.

The encounter with the beach opens up a new, wide horizon. The eyes can roam over dunes, the shore line, the waves and the many or few bodies of others. Should the temperature allow for it, shoes will be tossed and toes can dig into the grainy sand. The physicality of the beach merges with the corporality of the body. Looking and walking around people perceive themselves in concert with their surroundings. This act of perceiving is not a passive observation, to the contrary, it is a sensual and emotional involvement; it is acting towards yourself, towards material things, social ideals and corporeal others.
In this presentation I will use video and audio recordings to analyze and display how the beach is constituted in human interactions. Usually, “living the beach” is cast as holiday experience. However, in times of climate change another layer of complexity is added to the multi-dimensional experience of the beach. The heart is not only moved by sunsets and flirtations, or the scare of drowning in the ocean, it is also faced with the possible submersion of the landscape in which it thrives. If perceiving the changes created by global warming in everyday life is connected with the experience of your own corporeal self, then it is interesting to examine how climate change enters the sensual relation to the world around you – instead of existing only in the media, on maps and scientific reports. I will try to get a grip on this relationship between the bodily self, climate change and everyday experience to open up a new perspective on the effects of global warming and rising sea levels.

You can also check out the conference program (PDF). As usual, I have recorded the presentation so that you can download and watch it yourself (29 minutes):
Ogg Theora movie (46.3 MB, play with VLC) | QuickTime movie (38.9 MB, play with QuickTime).

The smell of sulphur.

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

early morning at the harbor in Reykjavik, IcelandMany people know that Iceland is a volcanic island: the rocks and the beaches are grey-black, there are many geysirs and hot water pools. However, that is only part of the story. Think about other places where you would find black stone and perhaps a small stream of lava here and there. Pretty hot place, said to be somewhat on the uncomfortable side. Dude with horns is bossing people around. Got me? So, what would you expect of the smell in this place? Kinda sulphurous, right? Correct. But what does that mean: kinda sulphurous? Well, a bit like rotten eggs. The funny thing is that here, you inevitably encounter this smell in the place where the smellscape is supposed to be on the opposite side of rotten: the bathroom and the shower. Ugh? Yup. I guess this is because the hot water here is not ground water that is being heated in the house, but instead comes out of the ground being pretty hot already. Heated by your energy-providing friend, the vulcano. Thus the sulphurous smell. Enjoy the island!

Le scaphandre et le papillon – Accessing the world through one eye.

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

The description of this movie sounds scary: the main editor of the French women’s magazine Elle has an ischemic stroke that leaves him completely paralyzed. (Time for a nod to French comic culture:) Completely paralyzed? No, not completely paralyzed. A single place of resistance remains. A single organ high up in the head. He can still actively use a single eye. And the accompanying eyelids. Eye and eyelids. This is the way he relates to the world. Even though his hearing (and smell, I think) remains intact, he can only express himself by opening and closing the eyelids of one eye. Not a very optimistic point of departure for a movie. In particular, for a French movie. However, this time we may be educated about the problems of the bourgeoisie, but we are also told a heart-moving story. The way that the main protagonist regains the world is not only grand in itself. It is also shown in a very compassionate and intimate way that still keeps enough distance to respect the dignity of this particular human being – something that is particularly important because the movie is based on true events, as they say. Great setting, great camera, great script, and (remember, this is a French movie after all) some really beautiful women. One need not fear The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Even if the setting is dire indeed. Do not only watch it if you are interested in problems of perception and communication, as I am. Take a heart and watch it, if the opportunity to do that should arise, regardless of what you think about the actual content of this movie – it is not about content, it is about relating to the things and the people we have around us.
IMDb entry | Trailer

Siegfried Lenz über das Sehen.

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Bei meinem Aufenthalt auf Juist am vergangenen Wochenende habe ich mich nach einigem Stöbern dazu entschlossen, die Deutschstunde von Siegfried Lenz zu kaufen und zu lesen. Ich bin darauf gekommen, weil ich auf dem Videoworkshop, an dem ich vor ein paar Wochen teilgenommen habe, Charles Goodwin bei einem Gespräch über Schiffe von Lenz’ Feuerschiff erzählt habe – eines meiner Lieblingsbücher. Während ich ihm davon erzählte, hat mich die Dramatik der Handlung so sehr gepackt, dass ich eine Gänsehaut bekam. Deshalb also der Griff zum Lenz im Buchladen.
Ein guter Griff, wie sich bald herausstellte. Besonders hat mich die folgende Passage erfasst, denn sie spiegelt ein Verständnis von Wahrnehmung, das nahezu deckungsgleich mit dem ist, das ich in Anlehnung an Merleau-Ponty in meiner Dissertation verwende. Hier das entsprechende Zitat:

[S. 409] Weißt Du was Sehen ist? Vermehren. Sehen ist Durchdringen und Vermehren. Oder auch Erfinden. Um dir zu gleichen, mußt du dich erfinden, immer wieder, mit jedem Blick. Was erfunden wird, ist verwirklicht. Hier, in diesem Blau, in dem nichts schwankt, in dem keine Beunruhigung steckt, ist auch nichts verwirklicht. Nichts ist vermehrt. Wenn du siehst, wirst du gleichzeitig auch selbst gesehen, dein Blick kommt zurück. Sehen, herrjeh: es kann auch investieren bedeuten, oder Warten auf Veränderung. Du hast alles vor dir, die Dinge, den alten Mann, aber sie sind es nicht gewesen, wenn du nicht etwas dazu tust von dir aus. Sehen: das ist doch nicht zu den Akten nehmen. Man muß doch bereit sein zum Widerruf. Du gehst weg und kommst zurück, und etwas hat sich verwandelt. Laß mich in Ruhe mit Protokollen. Die Form muß schwanken, alles muß schwanken, so brav ist das Licht nicht.
Oder hier Witt-Witt, dies Bildchen, warm durchsonnt: Balthasar hält mir auf ausgestreckter Hand eine Mühle hin, und ich beachte ihn nicht. Da siehst du, wo ein anderer ist, wo etwas anderes ist, da muß eine Bewegung zu ihm hinführen. Sehen ist so ein Tausch auf Gegenseitigkeit. Was dabei herausspringt, ist gegenseitige [S. 410] Veränderung. Nimm den Priel, nimm den Horizont, den Wassergraben, den Rittersporn: sobald du sie erfaßt hast, erfassen sie auch dich. Ihr erkennt euch gegenseitig. Sehen heißt auch: einander entgegenkommen, einen Abstand verringern. Oder? Balthasar meint, das alles ist zu wenig. Er besteht darauf, das Sehen auch Bloßstellen ist. Etwas wird so aufgedeckt, daß keiner in der Welt sich ahnungslos geben kann. Ich weiß nicht, ich habe etwas gegen das Enthüllungsspiel. Man kann der Zwiebel alle Häute abziehen, und dann bleibt nichts. Ich werde dir sagen: man beginnt zu sehen, wenn man aufhört, den Betrachter zu spielen, und sich das, was man braucht, erfindet: diesen Baum, diese Welle, diesen Strand.

In: Lenz, Siegfried ([1973] 2006): Deutschstunde. München: dtv.

Sich beblasebalgen.

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Mal wieder ein neues Wort für die Rechtschreibkorrektur. Ein verbreitetes Missverständnis bezieht sich auf den Blasebalg. Man denkt nämlich, der diene bloß dazu, Sand, Staub und andere unliebsame Partikel fort zu pusten. (Und zwar ohne sich darum zu kümmern, wo der kleine Wind die unerwünschten Kleinigkeiten ablegt.) Nach dem Spaziergang entlang des bestürmten Strandes: blas, blas! Fort mit dem Sand von der Kamera. Fort mit der Erinnerung an Salz und flatternde Ärmel. In den Momenten, in denen man sich noch nicht aufraffen kann, weiter zu tippen und einen neuen Gedanken zu fassen: blas, blas! Fort mit den Resten der alten Brötchen, die zwischen den Tasten hervorlugen. Vielleicht schafft das ja Platz für eine feine Idee.
Damit könnte man den Balg dann wieder an seinen Platz befördern. Ab in die Schublade, die Fototasche oder den anderen düsteren Ort, in dem der Balg sein Dasein fristet. Da liegt er dann und wird nicht mehr Verbalgt. Das Ventil geschlossen. Die Düse in stiller Luft. Ein tragisches Schicksal. Ein Schicksal, das die Existenz des Balges links liegen lässt. Ein Schicksal aber auch, das Potentiale schlummern lässt, die in diesem Gegenstand bereit sind. Denn nicht nur Tastatur und Kamera brauchen gelegentlich einen gut gezielten frischen Wind. Nein, auch der werte Autor mag sich manchmal etwas eingestaubt fühlen. Sitzend im eigenen Dunst. Steht aber ein Blasebalg bereit, so kann der träge Schleier vertrieben werden. Einmal links, einmal rechts wird der Balg gedrückt: blas, blas! Fort mit alten Gedanken, die sich niedergelegt haben. Etwas hand- und hausgemachter Wind im Antlitz, schon geht es weiter. So einfach ist das. Und vielleicht erinnert der kleine Wind ja auch an seinen großen Bruder und ist so Anlass, mal wieder vor die Tür zu gehen. Ab mit dem Balg in die Lade! Oder man erfreut sich doch einfach nur an diesem Gegenstand, der nicht nur total haptisch ist – nein! – er trägt auch noch so einen famosen Namen, dass er einfach der Niederschrift bedarf. Aber am besten hält man es mit dem Namen so wie mit dem Ding. Man füllt ihn mit Luft und bläst ihn in die Welt. Und wen es erfreut, der macht den Namen zu einem selbstreflexiven Tuwort.

An innovative approach to visual experience in the city.

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

That is what Lars Meier and I were striving for when working on our new book Encountering Urban Places – Visual and Material Performances in the City, which is going to be published late this year. To our delight, the publisher has now prepared the website for this book on urban places and their relation to life in the city. We are very happy with the contributions we were able to gather for this volume, because the authors all put a real focus on developing the main theme of the volume in their individual chapters: visual performances – that is, the ways in which what we see, what is displayed in our actions and in material artifacts impacts and interacts with social life, producing contests about social control, hierarchy, and representation. If you are interested in the theory, the methodology, and the practices of implementing the visual in social sciences and geography, this book is a must-have.>

Enveloping myself.

Sunday, November 27th, 2005

I like to travel, but there is one major downside to traveling: noise. It is worst in airplanes. Even if the flight is just an hour long, I feel totally knocked out during the flight and probably for the following hours too. The noise inside the plane is just too much for me. In trains the noise is more subdued, depending on where one sits, depending on the train, and on the quality of the tracks. Nonetheless, after more than four hours the noise starts to nag at me, producing a certain feeeling of unrest – a feeling between being tired and being over-sensible.
More than a year ago, I read about a new generation of consumer headphones that have built-in active noise cancellation technology, which was said to reduce noise by neutralizing it with anti-noise (you should know a bit about the nature of waves to guess how this works). Since then, such a noise-canceling headphone has taken one of the highest priorities on my gadget wish-list.
A few weeks ago, after finishing some tiresome work optimizing the HTML code for a friend’s website I decided I’m in for a reward, checked the current offerings for noise canceling headphones, and decided that the Sennheiser’s PXC series is what I am looking for. After doing some price comparisons I decided to place a bid for the 250 model on eBay. I got lucky and bought the thing for 78 € including shipping.
The PXC 250 is a foldable headphone that is designed to be easily transportable. The one thing that differentiates it from other portable headphones is a stick about as thick as my thumb and about twice as long. This stick is home to two AAA batteries and (at least I would guess so) the noise-cancellation electronics. The cable from the headphone jack goes into it and another cable leads from the stick to the headphones. The stick is probably the biggest drawback to the whole thing, because one has to decide where to put it. At least it has a clip that allows attaching the stick to your belt or, as I usually do, to one of the pockets of my pants. The length of both cables is a bit less than a meter. If you’re not taller than 2.10 meters this should work for you. The headphone itself is light and comfortable to wear. It is, however, not as comfortable as my Koss Porta Pro, because the earpads exert a bit more pressure on your outer ear. This is necessary though – the pads will passively filter out the higher frequencies thus they have to fit tightly enough to not let sound pass by unobstructed. Still, after several hours of wear it is a relief to take them off for a while and massage your ears a bit.
On the stick there is a well-designed sliding button that turns on the noise cancellation. Before turning it on in a train you will hear rumbling and other lower frequency noises. After turning it on you will hear … less. The rumbling fades away to a gentler, smoother lower frequency noise. This general reduction of volume along with the smoothing has a soothing effect. The noise is definitely not gone, but it surely is less bothersome. You can use this feature without having the headphone plugged in to another device. This noise reduction is also great if you want to listen to music: you don’t need to turn the volume as high as you would have to without the noise cancellation. This makes listening to music less stressful too. Great stuff. Excellent investment.
If you turn the thing on in a silent environment you will notice a subtle hiss in the speakers. This hissing noise is, at least to me, practically inaudible in a train or a similarly noisy environment. If you want to use the headphones without the noise cancellation turned on you will be disappointed. The bass will be much to low – there seems to be some kind of loudness function associated with the noise filter. Other than that the sound quality of the PXC 250 is very good; I would say it is in the same league as the excellent Porta Pro. All in all I can definitely recommend this device. I am looking forward to test it in an airplane, but I am quite confident that it will make flying a less bothersome experience.
The only real drawback that I am feeling is that this thing will make the envelope that I build around me while traveling even less permeable. Of course I can work better and listen to music in a more relaxed manner when wearing these headphones. Nonetheless, it also lessens my contact to my surroundings. I am less approachable, won’t hear people having a conflict, won’t hear the chatter of others around me, won’t hear nice stories people might tell each other. Some chances will just pass by without being noticed. *sigh* Such is the nature of envelopment.

Wunsch erfüllt: Pfeeeeiiiiff!

Monday, November 21st, 2005

Jippiehjahey! Endlich. Nach immer wieder neu unternommenen Ansätzen, Versuchen und peinlichem Rumgeatme ist es soweit: Ich kann auf den Fingern pfeifen! Ich hätte es kaum noch zu hoffen gewagt. Damit ist die Scharte ausgewetzt, die durch die mangelnde Beherrschung eines Musikinstruments geschlagen wird. Ich kann auf den Fingern pfeifen… Das war für mich seit eh und jeh eine hinreichende Bedingung zum cool und bewundernswert sein. Und jetzt gehöre ich dazu! Ich kann es kaum fassen! (Deshalb auch die vielen Ausrufezeichen.)
Wie kam es nun zu dieser bemerkenswerten Entwicklung, fragen sich vielleicht die werten Lesenden. Olli und ich haben uns darüber unterhalten, dass wir beide Looser sind, weil wir diese nahezu unerlässliche Fertigkeit nicht beherrschen. Anstatt wie sonst beim Denken dieses Gedankens mit gesenktem Haupt da zu sitzen und Trübsal zu blasen, hat mich dieses Mal der Kampfgeist gepackt. Flott griff ich also in die Tasten und googelte “auf den fingern pfeifen”. Unter den Treffern haben mir die beiden folgenden Links ausreichend Variationen des Themas geliefert, damit auch ein Pfeifstümper wie ich unter ordentlichem Gepruste und Gezische irgendwann begreift, worum es geht: Tutorial: Auf den Fingern Pfeifen? und Kurze Frage? Schnelle Antwort!
Nun sitze ich tief beglückt, allerdings mit etwas angespucktem Bildschirm und veritablem Schwindel in der Birne an meinem Schreibtisch. Hört es euch an: