Inscribing the body, exscribing space

Haven’t read it yet, but this article looks relevant to our group.


Inscribing the body, exscribing space 

Ivar Hagendoorn 

# Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Hey David,

Thanks for posting this article (Hagendoorn on space and sensorymotor). Definitely up my alley. Had a chance to look through it and it brings up some quite interesting and relevant things.

A loose summary: 

H. Uses ‘excription’ (borrowed from J-L Nancy) to describe a kind of reciprocal verifying or excribing of the body in space. He makes a distinction between ‘alocentric’ (a kind of ‘other’ space, abstract space, objects in relation to one another) and ‘egocentric’  (space created by movement and configuration of the body). The relation between the two is the reciprocal part, which constitutes full spatial awareness. From neuroscience he notes studies which indicate the existence of ‘place cells’ and ‘grid cells’ serving distinct  spatial awareness functions. Place cells fire in specific relation to location (so related to the egocentric, to memory/knowledge(?)). Grid cells fire regularly during a rat’s encounter with an unknown space and function like a trail marking, bread crumb system; creating trajectories memorized as motor sequences. A side note is that these neurons actually seem to fire on the side of the brain where a desired object is located; they possibly have a topographical arrangement.  H. notes that we can access an experience of this more basic construction of space by doing things like examining an object behind our back—so taking place in a relatively unfamiliar part of the body zone  and (importantly) out of sight. And, he extrapolates, this is similar to how we experience dance (either dancing or as observer). He's careful to stipulate that he means certain specific types of choreography conceived to reveal alocentric vs egocentric movement (but I think its actually true as a more general point)

Makes me think of a few things:

First, neuroscientist Rodolfo Linas’ sea squirt, the little animal with a little brain, which begins life moving around to find a spot to anchor, at which point it promptly digests its brain and lives the rest of its life without. Linas conjecture is that thought, or the function of neurons at its most basic is related to movement and motor-negotiation of space, even you could say ‘thought is movement’, or the rehearsal of movement (well, which of these is it?).

H’s point about how watching/and doing dance are related is undeveloped by him, but super important. When I have tedious discussions with people about ‘virtual space’ created using linear perspective in electronic media, the point I make is that the virtual space is in our heads and its not really virtual at all. Experience of movement or of architectural space is like real space. Our fascination with watching bodies dance, or play sports, or sitting at cafés watching the passers-by or even watching animals is that this is compelling on a very neuro-visceral level, that watching unusual movement is doing in some sense—we are rehearsing space, and in rehearsing it we are making/marking it. So thinking about dance, thinking about movement, thinking about space, thinking about architecture (rooms, gridded space) are all related.

The idea that doing something behind one’s own back as revealing of a primal space-building (up to the point that one familiarizes that space) is similar to our first round of experiments, where we were reaching-for or sounding an unknown space or objects in a void. There are other similar spaces, kinds of unbounded rooms which echo this. I think of the inside of one’s mouth as such a ‘room’. We have very little rational or visual context for what this space is, yet it is deeply familiar. Put an object you have not seen in you mouth—what are you experiencing? Try to imagine the boundaries of this space which is the mouth. You are engulfed by it (you are tiny inside this space) and surround it at the same time. That's pretty fascinating, experientially. I think that a clarification of our idea of what the nascent process of building primal spatial temporal awareness could lead to several potential experiments/experiences/thought exercises which relate back to our room/space/memory exploration.