Mathias Poulsen

Play Activist & Researcher @ Designskolen Kolding

A Trembling World

I was visiting a local artist one day, where we talked about the inadequacies of Enlightenment ideals, the myth of the disembodied (yet distinctly male), autonomous individual and all that. She said:

“Those ideals, they will soon die. Everything is trembling, almost falling over. Can’t you feel it?”

Yes, I replied. I feel it, too. In my bones.

It’s a certain vibe, a tone, a flow of energies, an undercurrent, shifts and movements, cracks and openings. It is all these voices, whispering and mumbling, sometimes humming and singing, but always at a volume that requires attentive listening. It’s not the insisting voices of over-confident white men we have grown so accustomed to. These voices are different, less assertive, like they also don’t know exactly what is going on or what they are even saying, but they are somehow fine with the not-knowing, the fabulation and rambling storytelling. There’s a radical curiosity at play, as they talk of many possible worlds, many ways of knowing, many ways of being, pluralities, pluriverses, worlds where we humans finally give up our longstanding claims to exceptionalism, where we embrace a different place in the world, and we become-with everything else that exists. Either that, or we all perish.

Often, when I talk to people about this, or read a text that resonates, or even, on the rarest of occasions in the best of times, when I am writing, I suddenly get goosebumps. Sometimes, tears well up in my eyes. If I am talking, I pause or stutter, stumbling over the words. I immediately know that something is going on, even though I typically can’t tell what it is, not yet. I have had a great many of these experiences, and I treasure each and every one of them. I cherish and hold on to them. They make the journey feel vibrant, deepening the experience. Along the way, I have slowly been learning to trust these affective responses, to stop, to listen, to sense, to follow. Let them guide me. Maybe I have indeed been practicing the “arts of noticing” that Anna Tsing claims is essential for collaborative survival? Is my body, this crude affective registering device, becoming slightly better attuned, marginally more sensitive towards the ephemeral and that which is barely visible?

I’m not sure, I’m never sure, but in any case, this is how I (think I) know that the world is indeed trembling, quivering, like something is about to happen, but I am growing increasingly impatient. When will this mysterious “something” happen, why is it taking so long? Will it ever grow to the big quake we might need, or can we amplify the currents somehow?

I reluctantly accept that the happening is bound to be slow, glacial, scattered and unpredictable. It will require a patience that eludes me. In the meantime, I remain “caught in the powerful tension between what can be known and told and what remains obscure or unspeakable but is nonetheless real”, as Kathleen Stewart writes. The tremors, the changes, are real, but obscured, and I still don’t know exactly what to do with this or how to talk about it. It feels like there is an idea, or many ideas, shapes, weightless, floating just outside my limited mental reach. I do understand, though, that what the voices and the energies are saying, in their own ways, is that “everything needs to change significantly if ‘humanity’ is to confront the civilizational crisis it has wrought upon itself and the Earth”. Arturo Escobar is right here, I think, but everything is a lot, and what does that even mean? Where do we start? Is it like eating an elephant (which, by the way, would be very counterproductive)? It is a lot to take in, everything, too much, really, to contain in a head that is already spinning around like a carousel. I have no answers, yet as I’m writing this short vignette, I imagine for a brief moment that before the thesis is submitted, I will somehow be able to grasp the complexity of these matters. Haha. I know I am deluded. This is all too much for any one mind to comprehend, especially a mind like mine, but maybe that’s the point? Maybe we have already stretched the over-reliance on individual, rational minds too far? Maybe there are ways of making sense and making worlds that are more sensitive, caring, loving and collective? One can hope.

That would be the end of the PhD thesis as we know it, steeped as it is in an enduring mythology of solitariness, I say to myself, as I go back to not knowing what I’m doing, alone.


One response to “A Trembling World”

  1. […] Over the past years, I have become increasingly attentive to my own affective responses to things, all things, every thing. I am in the world, flesh and all, something happens, and I am moved, affected. I don’t know quite how to talk about this (affect theory is still quite puzzling to me), but I try. Like this attempt from one of my recent posts: […]

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