Summary of the meeting on 17 July 2020.
By Jane Bennett
In response to Yvonne’s examination of the posthuman last month in our theme of thinking around ‘What it means to be human’, I introduced Lambros Malafouris’ essay, Mind and Material Engagement, in which he explains the concept of Material Engagement Theory (MET).
Malafouris proposes that the Cartesian mode of thinking has maintained the separation between persons and things (mind/matter) that creates a blind spot around the human engagement with tools, consequently inhibiting the acknowledgement of our reliance upon them. He suggests the human mind is a product of biological evolution as much as an artefact of our own making. MET re-thinks this duality with an approach that considers the co-constitution of people and things, the ‘constitutive intertwining of mind with matter’ (*section 5) and the processes of that engagement. As well as suggesting a way to define art research through practice, MET prompted ideas in our discussion that included ‘between’ space, Paul Klee’s thoughts about the line, poetic thinking, liu bai (Chinese concept of empty space) and what constitutes materiality.
MET presents a more holistic method of examining humanity that, rather than turning human cognition into an abstraction, extends it beyond skin and skull to include the surrounding environment. The value of MET to artist researchers is primarily in the way it brings together phenomenology, cognition, materiality and making through material engagement.
*Malafouris, L. Mind and material engagement. Phenom Cogn Sci 18, 1–17 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11097-018-9606-7