What We Can and Cannot Notice

Nicole Land thinking with Maria Wysocki, Selena Ha, Andrea Thomas, and Alicja Frankowski

I’ve been thinking about what we can notice and what we cannot notice when we think with moving: in the yard, whose movements are acceptable or enjoyable or agreeable and whose movements are not? I am thinking about how our inherited ways of knowing movement call us to pay attention to certain movements. I’d suggest that we are taught to pay attention primarily to human movements and then also to particular sanctioned kinds of human movements (developmental skills, gross motor skills). I am thinking too about all of the movements in the yard that are part of living well together in the yard, but that we don’t often notice or sometimes we work not to notice. Like how we don’t often attune to rat movements or only get to know rat movements in certain ways (like dead rat bodies), but also other movements: tree movements, bark moving, snail moving. It’s harder to notice these movements. Thinking about our intentions to want to create conditions where we have to actually think about moving, I’d suggest that paying attention to these kinds of movements requires more work; we have to change how our own bodies move and shift how and what we notice. I think that this connects to thinking about getting to know moving in a particular place: how does a place (the yard) shape how moving happens? How do the conditions of the yard shape how we can notice moving? And the flip side of that question – how do the ways we notice moving shape how we create conditions for moving in the yard? 

I think that this question of what movements we can notice and what movements we cannot notice links too to our conversations about wanting to unsettle ideas of ownership, property, and commodity as we think about moving well together. If we pay attention primarily to human movements, then questions of ownership make sense: I am walking away from you holding this shovel because this shovel is mine and not yours. This makes me think about Hanne Petersen’s (2019) proposition that we need to think differently about what relations of ‘ownership’ mean in contemporary worlds: “humans are on Earth temporarily. Our debts and possessions are temporary; they come and go. We need new understandings of them in order to live well while we are here”

Maybe things get a little more uncertain if we notice moving differently, refusing the inherited and outdated notions of ownership we are taught through neoliberalism, where individual humans own specific commodities. What if we notice otherwise: sand is falling off this shovel one human body has picked up and the sand is spreading out over the soil as that person walks away from the sand pit. We can’t really ask of this way of noticing questions like “who owns this sand?” or “how is this sand being used?”. This ownership or outcome-oriented logic kind of doesn’t hold up to this kind of noticing. Instead, we can ask different questions, ones that perhaps have less to do with ownership, property, and commodity: “what happens when the sand becomes part of the tree area?” or “how does this sand moving/falling impact how we, and the others who move here, move in the yard?”. 

I think the question of noticing movements connects to the large low tree in the yard. Maria and I were noticing how the tree is literally growing in particular ways because of children climbing within it; the tree is responding to children’s movements through its growth. I think that one status-quo human-centred way to notice this is to think that children’s weight tugs the tree branches toward the ground and causes them to grow outward rather than upward. This would position the tree as a commodity that becomes useful because it supports the children to climb on it, which positions the children as consumers of the tree’s growth. But I think that we can notice what is happening differently. I think there’s something that’s kind of incredible to think about if we shift our noticing away from placing children at the centre of what is happening – children’s hands and feet and shoes and slips are intimately entangled with how bark and tree cellulose and systems of photosynthesis and leaves are growing. There’s a co-shaping, a co-moving. Who owns the tree or how the tree becomes useful becomes a much less interesting question than asking how we move with the tree and noticing how bodies move with and constantly respond to the tree’s bounce, strength, and leaves, while thinking the bounce, strength, and leaves as responses to the movement of bodies. It’s much messier, much more about responding and moving than owning and outcomes. This makes me think about how high-stakes our ways of noticing, of attending to place, are as we think about moving. It matters what moving we notice and which moving we do not.

I want to also trace how our questions and practices of wanting to notice otherwise have a particular history, but one where our questions continue to intersect one another. Maria proposed that we question how we might think hard with moving instead of allowing for a thoughtlessness or taken-for-grantedness of moving; of figuring out how to attend and attune here. How do we pay attention (tune, tend) in the yard to move and live well together? We connected this to wanting to disrupt practices of ownership and human control, proposing that when we notice differently we shift what we attend and attune to in ways different from humanist ideas of control, mastery, ownership, and seeing humans as fully bounded individual beings separate from the world. Then, we talked about noticing what lives in this place (slugs, rats, bug, leaves, trees, potato bugs – picking up on some documentation Selena created) *and* what dies here – what does our human moving kill or destroy? How? How do we pay attention to the presences (the lives) and absences (the deaths) in this place, and to how they shape how we move and live within the yard with the children?

Put differently, I want our noticing differently to remember our questions of ownership and the work of thinking with moving. To pull one question through another: how might we notice differently while thinking with the hard work of figuring out how to move together? How might we notice in ways that complexify inherited relations of ownership?

Peterson, H. (2019). Ownership: Changing concepts and practices. In Theorizing the contemporary: Temporary possession. Society for Cultural Anthropology. Retrieved from https://culanth.org/fieldsights/ownership-changing-concepts-and-practices

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