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Somatics and the Anthropocene

Moving towards survival

Max Voloshin

In the first half of NSOTA’s academic year I wanted my project ideas to form organically. Feeling at once curious about and scared of the unknown, I sought to sincerely react to the New School’s experimental yet thought-through rosta of seminars, to the focus-meetings with my supervisor Isabelle, to my readings, to my furniture-restoration apprenticeship, and to my yoga teacher training course. This interdisciplinary and free-fall approach developed into a research interest in the somatic and embodied forms of knowledge-making. Earlier in the program I have limited myself to the topic of wood-working and craft – but I now realise that this delineation was artificial and unproductive to my research interests. I am interested in how can somatics inform our approach to social and environmental issues. Can our bodies help us feel our way out of this contemporary crisis and what would that look like? Can the knowledge produced by our bodies give us solutions to the problems identified in the Anthropocene discussion?

With the direction of my project turning towards discovering our body’s knowledge-bearing capacity, my next step is to learn how somatics can be applied to environmental studies and what is the process of creating parameters for the scientific aspect of my research. I am thrilled that my entreaty to have this stage of my research supervised Pablo Friedlander has been successful. Pablo’s extraordinary experience in the field of ethnobotany will be invaluable for guiding and shaping my work; I am excited to build on the Tactics and Praxis concept which was introduced to me by my other NSOTA supervisor Isabelle McNeill (who also ideated and launched a series of academic workshops centred around this concept at the University of Cambridge). Equipped with and inspired by Isabelle’s idea that thoughtful physical crafting can be praxis for exploring academic concepts – I want to research how our body’s feelings and sensations can become a praxis for understanding and relating to the Anthropocene debates.

My project is also influenced by my History of Design MA which focused on the work of architect and curator Mariana Pestana, and her practice of creating three-dimensional ‘Fictional World Enactments’ which research alternatives to capitalism through literally a world-making approach. During my MA research I discovered South America’s powerful indigenous social movements of Beun Vivir and the Zapatistas - which are at the forefront of the battle of creating space on Earth for cosmologies which respect the natural world and reject capitalist exploitation. Columbian anthropologist Arturo Escobar’s book “Design for the Pluriverse” has become somewhat of a conceptual scaffolding for my worldview. My interest in somatics stems from my on-going interest in the process of imagining and designing resistance to capitalism’s cruelty. Naturally, I am overjoyed by the privilege to learn from Pablo Friendlander’s research into traditional healing practices and their role in western contemporary science – and learn how to create a scientific methodology for studying the potential role of somatics in finding solutions to our current environmental crisis.

This research proposal is a direct product of my time at NSOTA so far – which has not only greatly enriched my understanding of the Anthropocene subject-matter but also created a safe and nurturing space for me to be brave in my own approach to it. The idea to focus on somatics emerged after Marina Warner’s seminar on sanctuaries because I was excited by finally forming an understanding of how the concept of non-Euclidean geometry can be applied to the realm of social ideologies. Marina briefly mentioned the geometrical term within her discussion on limitless spaces; but it was that click moment for me as I understood why many thinkers in the arts and humanities are interested in the concept. I imagined that a non-Euclidian “social shape” would allow ideologies to continue indefinitely, in parallel to each other, and thus without stopping each other. In other words (of anthropologist Arturo Escobar) – such as a social shape would be “a pluriverse”.

This made me think of my yoga practice, which is the closest I ever come to feeling this oxymoronic sensation of being limitless yet self-contained, profoundly one with the world around me yet also very much within myself. My yoga teacher Adam Husler often reminds us in class that a novice in yoga focuses on making shapes - but an experienced yogi focuses on how the shape feels. My other yoga teacher Aki Omori defines a somatic approach to yoga as “embodying the interconnectedness and oneness of our body. For example, feeling a specific part of the body rather than just thinking about it. Letting the body part inform you. It's about a shift in the information coming in, from body to head rather than head to body”. A key discussion within somatics is recognising the impermanence of feelings and sensations yet still acknowledging and understanding their value for understanding ourselves.

The discussion of somatics in the yoga community made me think a lot about the invitations made by thinkers engaging with the topic of the Anthropocene. This seems very evident to me in Lesley Head’s argument that the Anthropocene concept is productively a moment of convergence between "Earth System natural science and post-Cartesian social science… characterised by: seeing outcomes as contingent, acknowledging the demise of nature as a realm separable from culture, emphasising non-linear changes and uncertainties, and attending to the material basis of interspecies interactions including those within and between humans and others”. Thus, I have become fascinated with what role can the study of somatics have in environmental humanities and environmental sciences. I am really excited to embark on this next stage of research, and I am deeply grateful for the on-going support I am receiving from the NSOTA faculty.


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