“Do we dance with technology?” – Irene Alcubilla Troughton
New lines of scholarship focused on perception in the last years have become preoccupied not only with the influence of the body in this act but also in its essential position for understanding how perception in itself is constituted. Among those, Alva Noe stands as a prominent thinker. In his renown book Action in Perception (2004), Noe famously stated that perception is something that we do, that we enact, instead of something that happens to us and we, later on, represent to our minds. As he highlighted, “our ability to perceive not only depends on, but is constituted by, our possession of this sort of sensorimotor knowledge” (2004: 2). His relation between sensorimotor knowledge, perception and, later on, thought, allowed for a connection between perception and cognition that brings to the fore how a specific configuration of the senses can influence and modify ways of thinking.
Such a definition of perception, then, requires us to reflect on to what extent there are possibilities for cultural and bodily difference if, as Noe implies, our perception is something that we perform through our sensorimotor system and the affordances around us. In a way, we could say that what we know, what we claim to know, is what we pay attention to, both through our bodily possibilities and through our cultural and social constraints and allowances. What we select to become part of the field of knowledge, is based on those factors, is based on those filters we have grown accustomed to. However, if we agreed on perception and cognition being enacted and embodied, then it becomes possible to think of other ways of perceiving, of understanding. A new window is open to explore diverse modes of experience that are outside the stereotypes we have naturalised: different bodies or different movements would allow us to conceive reality, maybe, under another light. In this sense, literacy, understood as competence, can move away from the realm of the written word and become linked with corporeality.
Corporeal literacy, in the sense of bodily engagement with what surrounds us and the knowledge, the reality created through that, in a way has been always present. Even if writing (and reading – as original understandings of the word “literacy”) is commonly understood just as a manner of storage of the oral word, it did much more than that. Writing configurated a new realm of what knowledge was, of what language was by transposing it from an ephemeral space linked to gesture and hearing to a disembodied spatial field of visuality. This is an example of one way of framing understandings, of focusing our attention to a specific trait of the phenomena we are investigating. Nonetheless, writing always implied a degree of embodiment, of movement, of relation between the body and the word.
In the same manner, there are several types of movements that conform our daily interaction with the media that surround us. We do choreographies all the time with the technology around us but we do not understand them as such or we do not see in those corporeal engagements a potential to shape or change our interaction with media. What would happen if the changed the focus? This is one of the points of what is proposed in theories of embodied cognition and, more specifically, on the concept of corporeal literacy. How can we understand our interaction with the world, our performance of perception through, with and by the body and how does change what we consider to be knowledge, how knowledge is distributed and how is created?
- Noe, Alva. 2004. Action in Perception. Cambridge: The MIT Press.