PHENOMENOLOGY (a work in progress #1)

by stronged

Adrian suggested I take a more phenomenological stance in my writing. I have been thinking along the same lines for quite some time, though the term phenomenology has always been quite elusive to me. I feel I know a significant portion of what it means, but have never attempted to articulate it before. Like many terms I have come across in my Honours research thus far, I wonder whether there is a part of phenomenology that defies articulation.

Seamon explains phenomenology simply as ‘the study and description of human experience’ (2166). Human experience can be interpreted as anything consciously encountered. Tuan explains that ‘[e]xperience is compounded of feeling and thought’, an ‘experiential continuum’ of the two prominent ways of human knowing (10). Feeling denotes our sensory input (sight, hearing, taste, etc.) whilst thought characterises the conceptual unpacking of the symbolic function of objects.

In semester one I found it hard to grasp the purely materialist viewpoints of the Object-Orientated-Ontologists when reading Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology with the Media Objects lab. There was something about understanding the world as a collection of material objects (humans included) that I felt was contrary to the fact that all of our human experiences are inherently subjective. This involves ordering our personal experiences of things in a hierarchical way, depending upon our biographical relationship with them.

Our subjective experience of the world is inescapable. Any event, living thing or object we can perceive either through our senses or thought processes is skewed to our own biases and experiences. All of our experiences are intrinsically impressionable. Bogost discusses techniques to distance ourselves from these hierarchical, anthropocentric tendencies we foster when viewing the world. One of which is what he calls “ontography”, the process of listing free associations between things in order to compile an assembly of joined yet disparate objects.

Ontography is designed to step us away from a purely anthropocentric view of the world. An equality is established when we list an array of objects and ideas together in a bundled assemblage. Ontography moves us away from any phenomenological, essentialist ideas we may have of the world that privileges certain things over other things, to a broad perspective that respects all things as holding equal worth.

The approach of ontography is phenomenological, as it involves drawing objects and ideas from the pool of our personal experiences and assigning significant connections between each. As the process of listing involves a sense of intuition and a stream-of-consciousness, the output of information establishes a basis that prevents hierarchical categorisation.

Placing the Bend employs a Phenomenological research approach as it reveals the inhabitants memory traces that rise from the characteristics of the Bend of Islands (BOI). As it will be presented as an online Korsakow Film it will also act as an ontographic machine*, generating lists of things that are present in the Bend of Islands.

The phenomenological approach to Placing the Bend therefore balances an essentialist approach of understanding place with an anti-essentialist value system of ontography. This balance is exceptionally important to achieve when understanding placemaking as both an essentialist view of place, a societal impression, and an anti-essentialist, a biographical impression, form a holistic understanding of place.

The societal construct of place has us believe that a certain place must fulfil the criteria set by our cultural consensus. This approach to placemaking implies a fixed view of place that only changes when our collective cultural understanding of it does. This essentialist view of place has therefore prompted much opposition from post-modernist socio-political movements such as Feminism, as it disregards the differing biographical experiences of place a variety of people have. Therefore Cresswell remarks, ‘In the search for ‘essence’ – ‘difference’ has no place’ (2004, 25).

A biographical, anti-essentialist view of place involves the belief that place is different for whomever experiences it. This falls more in suit with an phenomenological approach to understanding place.

Human experience differs from individual to individual. It is an intimate, personal experience that one has with the environment that surrounds them. This means it is impossible to discredit anyone’s given experience of a place for they are entitled to surmise their own impression of it.

The individuality of our biographical experience is reproduced within the K-film as each subsequent incarnation of Placing the Bend collates the video clips into new assemblages. No two experiences of a K-film are alike as the options generated after each selection varies from any prior produced options. The changeability of a K-film offers a new experience every time that exposes you to how the narrative is structured.