Archives for posts with tag: sensual experience

I found jotting down 10 things I know about phenomenology a helpful exercise for consolidating and summarizing knowledge of a central approach in embodiment research. Over the last few weeks, I have repeatedly come across the term ‘Somaesthetics’ in relation to embodiment and have done some preliminary reading on the term. In an effort to make sense of the fledgling understanding I’ve gained, I decided to try the ’10 things I know’ approach again. Without looking at books, notes or papers, I scribbled down the following:

1. Somaesthetics is an emerging discipline primarily proposed by Richard Shusterman, who argues for it to sit within Philosophy, and more specifically the philosophical sub-discipline of Aesthetics.

2. Somaesthetics as a discipline foregrounds the role of bodily experience in aesthetic appreciation. Shusterman argues that it will offer a more substantial and systematic framework for research on the body.

3. Somaesthetics comprises three branches: Analytic somaesthetics; Pragmatic somaesthetics; Practical somaesthetics

Somaesthetics Diagram

4. Analytic somaesthetics comprises interpretive studies of bodily practice. These occur on a theoretical level and would include research linking the body and bodily practices with the organization of society and the individual psyche. Shusterman argues that the work of Foucault, Bourdieu and Merleau-Ponty would all constitute analytic somaesthetics.

5. Pragmatic somaesthetics comprises bodies of thought that suggest ways of training or harnessing bodily experience. Practices such as Tai Chi and the Alexander Technique are accompanied by ideas and theories of the body and these would belong to this branch of pragmatic somaesthetics.

6. Practical somaesthetics consists of the practice itself – the Tai Chi, or the yoga, or the Alexander Technique. It is not entirely clear which bodily practices Shusterman chooses to accept within practical somaesthetics. He seems to place less value on athletics or football, and much more on solitary practices that reference bodily understanding more explicitly.

7. In foregrounding the body in aesthetic experience, Shusterman argues that a distinction needs to be drawn between representational foregrounding and experiential foregrounding. In the former, the body is seen and treated as an external object. In the latter, the body is a fundamental part or vehicle of lived experience.

8. Critiques of somaesthetics include the linking of the discipline to normative approaches to the body. Somaesthetics places a value on the physical cultivation of the body and this is reminiscent of doctrines that treat the body as an object to be molded into a form that conforms to the social ideal.

9. Shusterman’s response to this critique rests on the distinction he makes between representational and experiential foregrounding of the body. Thus, he argues that cultivating the body as it is experienced (rather than as it is represented) does not relate to social norms, but rather to the improvement of individual perception and action.

10. Shusterman advocates that there is a role for somaesthetics in education since it enables us to ‘feel better’ in both senses of the phrase. Cultivating bodily practices heightens our sensations and perceptions of the world around us; they also encourage us to be more in control and more caring of the self.

The combination of theoretical and practical approaches to the body certainly makes the discipline of somaesthetics an interesting prospect, but I am left with questions about the possibility and worth of trying to merge these perspectives. Shusterman’s framework makes such a sharp and convincing distinction between analytic, pragmatic and practical somaesthetics, that it isn’t clear how it draws these together at all. How are Foucault’s theories of the body related to the theory or practice of yoga? How can somaesthetics help us to access this relationship? Is this a relationship that should exist given how different the objectives related to each project are? Certainly, I believe that theorists of the body can learn much from bodily practices and practitioners who work with the body, but what is the benefit of binding them together in a single discipline?

Shusterman, R. (2008) Body consciousness: A philosophy of mindfulness and somaesthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shusterman, R. (2006) Thinking through the body, educating for the humanities: A plea for somaesthetics. The journal of aesthetic education, 40(1), 1-21.

By Mona Sakr

An overview Loke and Robertson’s ‘Making Strange’ methodology and a discussion of its relevance to embodiment

In Loke and Robertson’s (2008) ‘making strange’ methodology, the way we perceive and feel the moving body is actively unsettled in order to find new perspectives on the body and bodily interaction. The practice of ‘making strange’ builds on the work of dancer Maxine Sheets-Johnstone who explored the phenomenological consequences when individuals disrupted their familiar or habitual movements. In ‘making strange’, our assumptions and habitual understandings about the body are unsettled through explicit inquiries into movement. Loke and Robertson argue that de-familiarising the movements of the body can open up new spaces in the design of artefacts and technologies. It can help us to invent or devise new types of movement; it enables an investigation into the experience of movement; and it encourages us to find new methods for re-enacting or recording movement.

 So how does ‘making strange’ work? Loke and Robertson suggest a range of techniques that can facilitate innovative thinking about the body and movement:

  • Scoring – a simple score might consist of three movements e.g. walking, standing and crouching, but by improvising in terms of the speed, duration, order, focus, or use of space, these movements can be radically altered.
  • Falling – unorthodox movements, like falling, can help us to re-feel and re-negotiate our relationship with the moving body.
  • Somatics – certain practices, like Qi Gong, can help us to become more aware of our felt sensations and to prioritise these over the external perception of movement.
  • Finding Pathways – what part of the body do you lead with when you move, and what would happen if this were changed? Try walking left shoulder-first, or leading with your elbow when you lift your arm.
  • Imagery – the language we use to talk about the body and movement can help us to enact movements differently. Think of the ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’ game that you may have played when you were younger. Chanting these words as a group while lifting one of your peers changes the experience.

For dancers, these techniques are a way of accessing, inventing and designing new forms of movement. For researchers of the body though, we also need methods for capturing responses to these movement techniques. And as designers, we need to link these responses to, or ‘write’ them into, systems that depend on movement.

Some ideas for recording responses might include:

  • Video to capture the movement
  • Transcriptions of the movement through visual plots e.g. plotting the motion of particular points on the body
  • Photography to capture the moments that define the essential points of the movement e.g. when we raise our hands, the essence of the movement is in the fingers raised towards the sky
  • In situ comments on the phenomenological consequences of the movement
  • Oral or written reflective commentaries

‘Making strange’ is an exciting starting point in the design of embodied interaction. Beyond the techniques it suggests though, we need robust methods for capturing the outcomes of practising these techniques, along with guidelines for implementing them in the design of systems that depend on whole-body interaction. For me, the next step in understanding the ‘making strange’ methodology will be to try the techniques suggested by Loke and Robertson and to capture my responses in the ways I’ve suggested.  Will the outcomes be useful in thinking about and designing for whole-body interaction?

Loke, L. & Robertson, T. (2008) Inventing and devising movement in the design of movement-based interactive systems. OZCHI’08 (81-88).

By Mona Sakr

Exploring the usefulness of the ‘body-thing dialogue’ metaphor for understanding embodied interaction in digital environments

In 2006, Larssen, Robertson & Edwards presented the paper ‘How it feels, not just how it looks: When bodies interact with technology’ at the Australian Computer-Human Interaction conference (OZCHI). In this paper, they suggest that  the embodied nature of interactions with technology can be accessed by thinking about each interaction as a body-thing dialogue. The body-thing dialogue is the bodily interaction that occurs between an individual and an artifact. The body-thing dialogue happens through the mode of movement and makes possible the potential for action that forms the basis of the interaction. Through this metaphor, Larssen et al. hoped to shift the focus towards the bodily nature of interactions with technologies – the extent to which these experiences are physically felt.

I would argue that the body-thing dialogue is a useful metaphor in some ways and a misleading one in other ways.

It is useful because it draws attention to the distinct and temporal nature of each embodied interaction:

  • Every dialogue we engage in is different. Similarly, in human-computer interaction each interaction with technology unfolds in a specific way and in a particular context. Flow diagrams based on a non-existent ‘typical’ user do not help us to access the nature of embodied interaction.
  • Every dialogue unfolds over time and can radically change from moment to moment. Similarly, each embodied interaction takes place over time and is historical – each aspect of the interaction happens in relation to the aspects that have preceded it.

But the metaphor of the body-thing dialogue is also a misleading way to think about embodied interactions in digital environments:

  • Movement is a different mode to speech, with different opportunities and constraints. Is it right to apply the notion of ‘dialogue’ in the context of movement?
  • Can we apply the term ‘dialogue’ to make sense of the way movements unfold between ‘a body’ and ‘a thing’? Certainly, the movements of the body and the movements of an object are not equivalents in the way that the speech of two human participants is.
  • Larssen et al. suggest that the body-thing dialogue is a useful way of looking at ‘how we use our proprioceptive sense and motor skills when incorporating a tool in our bodily space so that it becomes an extension of our bodies’ (p. 2). The notion of dialogue takes us away, however, from the concept of incorporation. In a dialogue, there is self and other – the object responds to us, rather than becoming an extension of us.

So what alternative metaphors or conceptual tools enable us to think about embodied interaction in digital environments? I have yet to come across a theory that helps to frame interactions with artefacts so that the focus is on the body and felt experience, but does not trip into the pitfalls outlined above. We need to conceptualise interactions as physical couplings without using metaphors that draw on other modes of communication.

Larssen, A. T., Robertson, T., & Edwards, J. (2006, November). How it feels, not just how it looks: when bodies interact with technology. In Proceedings of the 18th Australia conference on Computer-Human Interaction: Design: Activities, Artefacts and Environments (pp. 329-332). ACM.

By Mona Sakr

In a study by Bianchi-Berthouze et al. (2007), game-playing through a whole-body interface was compared with control through the hands. When participants in the study controlled the game (Guitar Hero) through their whole bodies, they reported more engagement, as well as displaying increased engagement through game-related body movements that were unnecessary for control (e.g. nodding their heads in time to the music).

Why were users more engaged when control of the game involved their whole bodies? Bianchi-Berthouze et al. suggested that the relationship came about as a result of increased affect.

Body Affect Engagement

By involving the body, the affective dimension of the experience increased, and in turn, this impacted upon engagement. Shouse (2005, p. 5) defines affect as a ‘non-conscious experience of intensity; it is a moment of unformed and unstructured potential’. Why does involving the body to a greater extent increase the affective response? And what are the implications of this relationship for the design of technologies and pedagogy?

Bianchi-Berthouze, N., Kim, W. W., & Patel, D. (2007) Does body movement engage you more in digital game play? And Why? Proceedings of the International Conference of Affective Computing and Intelligent Interaction (102-113) 

By Victoria Grace Walden

I’ve always been a critic of 3-D technology because I feel it distracts from the verisimilitude. However, recent experiences of 3-D films have made me ponder whether they do offer spectators a sensual experience more similar to real world perception than 2-D films.

Those who champion 3-D filmmaking seem to imply this argument. Just before the release of his 3-D spectacular Avatar, James Cameron proclaimed: “We are born seeing in three dimensions… most animals have two eyes, not one. There is a reason.”  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/aug/20/james-cameron-avatar-3d-film)

Interestingly, the free dictionary defines third-dimensional not only as added depth, but added realism too:

“third dimension

n.

1. The quality of depth or thickness in an object or a space.

2. The quality of seeming real or lifelike.”

(http://www.thefreedictionary.com/third-dimensional )

Previously I, like many critics of the technology, could never understand this belief. How could this awkward, often unfocused, image be more “lifelike” than then 2-dimensional cinematic images we were used to?

In December 2012 I was fortunate to receive tickets to the Premiere of Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. I’d heard great things about the film so was naturally excited. However, my experience of the screening (which was in 3-D much to my dismay) was an unpleasant one, but one that emphasised how affect is always an embodied and pre-logical experience. I have problems with my peripheral vision and suffer from astigmatism therefore me and 3-D glasses do not have a happy relationship. While the beautiful, fairly still sequences of the zoo in the opening of the film were spectacular to watch, as soon as Pi was lost at sea I felt an overwhelming sense of nauseous. The experience was so unpleasant I missed the majority of the film, opting instead to stare at the floor or close my eyes in fear I may vomit. I felt physically unwell even after the film had ended and I had left the auditorium.  The motion of the train journey home only emphasised the sickly feeling.

This rather unpleasant cinematic encounter reminded me of the importance of considering affect as a pre-logical attribute of the film (and in fact any) experience.  Eric Shouse (2005) and Brian Massumi (1980) are clear to differentiate between feeling, emotion and affect. As Shouse explains, “a feeling is a sensation that has been checked against previous experience and labelled” therefore infants cannot experience feelings (Shouse, 2005:3). While “an emotion is the projection / display of a feeling” which can be genuine or faked to correlate with social expectations (Shouse, 2005:4). However, “an affect is a non-conscious experience of intensity; it is a moment of unformed and unstructured potential” (Shouse, 2005: 5).

Eisenstein also highlights that sensation differs from cognitive understanding because it returns us to a pre-evolved state: socially, before man formed linguistic structures and individually, that infant state before we learnt social norms of behaviour and language (As Shouse echoes in his paper). While Eisenstein uses the term “emotion” in his writing, his concept of “emotion” is not dissimilar from contemporary notions of “affect”.  The term “affect” only became widely used after Silvan Tomkin’s seminal work Affect Imagery Consciousness (1961-63).

I argue therefore, that 3-D does not make the image appear more “lifelike” but rather 3-D technology submerses the spectator in a lifelike sensual experience. While Ang Lee’s use of 3-D resulted in me being distracted not only from the verisimilitude, but the entire film experience, the technology caused a physical response in me unlike any 2-D film I’d ever seen. I’ve often, momentarily, recoiled or jumped when watching 2-D films, but never felt physically sick and the affect has never continued beyond my leaving the auditorium.

When I first became interested in questions of embodiment I wondered how my body and the bodies I encounter (virtual or real) could affect and be affected. What could the connection between the body and affect be? What I have come to understand is that embodiment is central to affect, affect is my body’s response – my body’s way of thinking.

References

Massumi, B (1980) Introduction in Deleuze, G & Guattari, F A Thousand Plateaus, London, UK & New York, USA: Continuum

Shouse, E (2005) Feeling, Emotion, Affect in M/C Journal: A Journal of Media and Culture Vol 8 Issue 6 Dec 2005 accessed at: http://www. journal.media-culture.org.au/0512/03-shouse.php

Smith, G.M (2004) Moving Explosions: Metaphors of Emotion in Sergei Eisenstein’s Writings in Quartley Review of Film and Video 21.4 (October- November 2004) pp305-315 accessed at: www2.gsu.edu/~jougms/Eisenstein.htm

Also, for an interesting article on 3-D and haptic visuality see:

Ross (2012) The 3-D aesthetic: Avatar and hyperhaptic visuality in Screen 53:4 Winter 2012 pp 381- 397 accessed at: http://screen.oxfordjournals.org/content/53/4/381.full.pdf+html?sid=11bcd8eb-c502-4bd1-bade-5146c161d780