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As Laplantine notes in conversation with Joseph J. Cinema-going became a life-long passion, and he continuously references filmmakers and film scenes in his writing the way other scholars cite academic texts. Rather, it is an invitation, an opportunity to think otherwise, which is to say to think sensually. Cinema is the art of showing things in ways that words cannot, whence its appeal to Laplantine, and a growing number of English-speaking anthropologists attuned to the senses, such as Lucien Castaing-Taylor , Anna Grimshaw , David MacDougall and Sarah Pink The experience of fieldwork is an experience of sharing in the sensible [partage du sensible].

We observe, we listen, we speak with others, we partake of their cuisine, we try to feel along with them what they experience p. There is no finer definition of the methodology of sensory ethnography than this, and Laplantine is one its most consummate practitioners.

In , Laplantine went to Brazil at the invitation of some former students. There he continued his exploration of alternative forms of consciousness and healing that had begun in France e.

It is based on a system of precise correspondences between the personality of each [apprentice] and the cosmos, in its various components: food, colours, perfumes and musical sounds. A complete initiation takes many years, and involves periods of complete isolation in a tereiro, which cannot but provoke meditation.

Three things stand out about these observations: the emphasis on the communal, the emphasis on the sensual, and their interconnection.

Laplantine was already attuned to the social due to his anthropological training, and attuned to the sensate due to his love of cinema. The experience of initiation sensitized him to the intricacy of their interrelationship. This nexus would constitute the fulcrum of his thinking going forward and issue, finally, in the extraordinary treatise you have before you.

As such, it is inimical to life and living la vie et le vivant , which are processes of continuous transformation. Life itself is rhythmical, and to model or categorize it which is to say, to fix it is false, for the model eliminates the temporal and processual in the name of the essential.

For instance, is dawn night, or is it day? Categorial thought balks at this question because of its will to impose a binary logic of identity — the logic of this or that with no remainder. Categorial thought is exemplified by a long string of Western thinkers, from Plato to Descartes, and from Kant to Durkheim.

But there is also a countertradition, comprised of the presocratics, Spinoza, Rousseau, and Bergson, among others, who encourage us to focus on duration, modulation, and rhythm instead of essence and identity. Laplantine rescues this counter-tradition from obscurity, and extolls its virtues. Laplantine holds that cinema affords an illuminating experience in this regard. Cinema is inherently temporal compared to painting, for example, which is spatial ; it traffics in images rather than ideas, and in emotions rather than reason.

Cinema can thus serve as a lens for integrating life into thought by attuning us to the continuous flow and modulations of experience. In short, cinema is good to think with, and not only with but through.

In other words, cinema gives only limited access to the sensible. Laplantine credits Mauss the nephew and inconstant disciple of Durkheim with being the first to theorize social existence as modal existence. He deduced that it was cinema that propagated the new kinaesthetic style across the Atlantic. Taking his cue from Mauss, Laplantine dedicates the first chapter of this book to an analysis of ginga.

Ginga refers to a swaying, sinuous way of walking, which is characteristically Brazilian on account of its sensuality. Think of the swinging hips of the girl from Ipanema. It is above all manifest in the comportment of the malandros, who is a loiterer, a good-for-nothing, but at the same time one who is always on the make, and occasionally strikes it rich.

Carnaval is the element of the malandros. Saudade has to do with reviving the past in the present and taking pleasure in the pain of loss. He prepared for this trip by immersing himself in Japanese film, and then translated his lived impressions of Japanese culture generally and the city of Tokyo in particular into Tokyo, ville flottante. The culture oscillates between high tech and tradition, the pragmatic and the frivolous, extravagance and asceticism, extreme flexibility and standing on ceremony, a strong sense of duty and a craving for distraction e.

Japan is a highly disciplined, hypercivilized society with an overwhelming emphasis on security, serenity, harmony and integration which is nevertheless pervaded by a profound consciousness of impermanence e. In what other society do you find aesthetic appreciation of a few unpretentious objects, as in the tea ceremony, and expertise in seasonal representation, as in the art of flower arranging, so bound up with social distinction?

Social distinction is normally about permanence, not fugacity see further Daniels Laplantine evokes a lively sense of the apparent antinomies or rather, alternate modes of Japanese culture and how they nevertheless hang together. He is particularly astute in his observations regarding the discontinuance of tradition by contemporary Japanese youth, and the insights into this phenomenon which various Japanese filmmakers provide. Laplantine and Nouss On further examination, however, the life of the mind — which is to say categorial thinking — misses the whole point of life and is actually hopelessly imprecise when confronted with the oscillations and infinitesimal gradations of life and living la vie et le vivant.

Moreover, categorial thinking kills by a thousand cuts, beginning with the separation between the intelligible and the sensible. But life can never be so cut and dried as categorial thought presents it to be, as Laplantine shows by bringing out the primacy and pervasiveness of sensation, and the ultimate indomitability of the life of the senses.

Whence the title of this book. The sensory turn also gave rise to the domains of inquiry currently known as visual culture Evans and Hall ; Heywood and Sandywell , auditory culture or sound studies Bull and Back ; Pinch and Bijsterveld , taste culture Korsmeyer , smell culture Classen, Howes and Synnott ; Drobnick , and the culture of touch Classen , These various domains may likewise be seen as subdivisions of the burgeoning field of sensory studies.

This quickening of the senses and attention to the senses within and across the various disciplines of the humanities and social sciences has broken up the hegemony which psychology formerly exercised over the study of the senses and perception by underscoring the sociality of sensation and the extent to which the perceptual is political — not private and subjective the way psychology would have it.

The growing recognition that the sensorium is a social formation has led to increasingly widespread questioning of the adequacy of the account of perception that comes out of psychology and the brain sciences generally. Contemporary cognitive neuroscience understands mind and experience as phenomena that emerge from neural networks at a certain level of complexity and organization.

There is increasing recognition that this organization is not confined to the brain but also includes loops through the body and the environment, most crucially, through a social world that is culturally constructed. By shifting the focus of inquiry from the intelligible to the sensible, Laplantine opens the way for reconceptualizing extended mind theory as a theory of the extended sensorium.

The senses, which are always-already socially conditioned, mediate the relationship between mind and body, idea and object, self and environment Bull et al Finally, I am indebted to the editorial staff at Bloomsbury for their encouragement and support of this endeavour. Laplantine went on to obtain a second doctorate, in anthropology, also from the Sorbonne, in , making him a philosopher anthropologist, as it were.

Castaing-Taylor is the Director of the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University, which is dedicated to experimental ethnographic sound and film production. Grimshaw, Pink and McDougall are all prominent theorists and practitioners of visual anthropology. Visual anthropology and sensory anthropology are both offshoots of the sensory turn in the humanities and social sciences on which more below. The incorporation of this extended definition of the sensible into the lexicon of sensory studies going forward will be a spur to further elaboration of this nascent field of inquiry, which is still searching for its own language.

Even writing, which we ordinarily think of as having to do with representation e. Clifford and Marcus , is a physical activity for Laplantine — and a source of pleasure:. I like to write by hand. There is something carnal about the contact between pen and paper … It is an experience of tactile pleasure that I hold dear.

The creation — or the putting in crisis — of meaning [through the activity of writing] unfolds for me in a rhythmic movement which unites the eyes, the hand, cigarettes, pens — never ballpoint pens —and sheets of differently colored paper.

Other targets at which Laplantine takes aim include: the discontinuity of the sign, the ideology of the present and presence, representation, identity, the stabilized subject and totality — all of which constitute so many manifestations of categorial thinking i. Commenting on the opposition between these two modes of knowledge in chapter 9, Laplantine writes refreshingly :.

I believe that in the construction of an anthropology of the sensible what is necessary is more to revitalize the antitheses than to find syntheses, or, worse still, to accept compromises that would do away with the question of the ethical and the political, as well as the negativity that befits the act of thinking p.

One of the objectives of the Sensory Studies series is to expand the forum of sensory studies internationally through translations, such as this one, that multiply the voices in circulation by overcoming language barriers here that of French. It is instructive to compare the genealogy of the different branches of sensory studies — here that of anthropology — in different national traditions. Castaing-Taylor, Lucien ed. Visualizing Theory. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Clark, Andy. Classen, Constance. London:: Routledge. Encyclopedia of European Social History. Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell. London: Routledge. Clifford, James and Marcus, George eds. Grimshaw, Anna. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hesse, Herman, Narcissus and Goldmund, trans. Hertel, Ralf. Howes, David ed. Howes, David. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Apeldoorn, Netherlands: Het Spinhuis. Art and the Senses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Howes, David and Classen, Constance. Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society. Howes, David and Pink, Sarah. Ingold, Tim. Lock, Margaret and Farquhar, Judith eds. McDougall, David. Princeton: Princeton University press.


François Laplantine

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Francois Laplantine



The Extended Sensorium: Introduction to the Sensory and Social Thought of François Laplantine


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