Animism as epistemological interface


For the longest time, I struggled with having access to an animism, since I do neither have a cultural background nor do I come from a community where animism is practiced. Working with animism on a purely theoretical level is stimulating, but essentially not worth much. I found that reframing animism as a epistemological interface to deal with reality’s complexities is the most fertile approach in my personal case, and maybe for people with a similar profile.

Animisms stemming from indigeneous epistemologies often have rich mythological and aesthetic narratives to give form to the specific animism. The way animisms are organized and institutionalised also differ quite a lot, even from community to community. Animism, as I understand it by now, is to give mental and emotional form to the non-human. Not necessarily by humanizing it, but by shaping it into a narrative, that humans can relate to or understand. For example, when flora talks, they often have their own language and this language can’t be expressed in human language. But they have language nonetheless and that is a human concept.

Rooting animism

Now, they way to deal with animism without having a animistic culture or community as backing is to let it emerge through practice, mind, and empathy – as well as acceptance and entanglement. Animism doesn’t necessarily need a mythological and aesthetic form, although that helps a lot. Animism in it’s essence is the acceptance that there are realities-beyond-human that are of equal value as the one of human’s, and that we need to act accordingly. Fauna, flora, mushrooms, and minerals constitute worlds of being in their own right.

I don’t think that there needs to be a philosophical and ethical base for this. Euro-centric epistemologies tend to complicate things by overthinking and by dragging a long tail of missleading thought with – see the discourse on conciousness for example. Animism, as well as the felt and experienced worth of the human and non-human comes from an experienced and lived reality. This means that being rooted, entangled and in relation are of utmost importance. The value of the pluriverse [(??? |(Escobar, 2018))] is evident if you depend on it in your direct experience.

Resisting capitalism

A good way to arrive there is to actively create connection, for example through practices like [(??? |writing the implosion)]. This needs a two-fold effort on our behalf. We have to at once resist the active deconnective ways of neoliberalism and it’s subsidiaries of marketing and other fomo and fearmongering services. The way todays capitalist society works, is by repackaging what has relation into a relationless but hyped narrative that you as a customer can buy into. This is one aspect of neoliberal alienation. The second effort we have to make is to accept the messy and often uncomfortable truth about reality. I have the feeling, that I’m often surrounded by a lot of convenience. Making life easier is one of the best things we can do during our little time we have on this planet. But we need to make life easier for everybody and everything, not just a few individuals as is the case in a capitalist society, while everything and everybody else is just externalities. A good way to go about that is honesty towards messiness as in [(??? |Alexis Shotwell’s Against Purity)]. Anti-capitalist rant off.

Or in the words of one of my favourite game makers, Avery Alder:

In November, a friend asked me about goblin, and I wrote her saying “being goblin is a way of flagging that you want to include people not in spite of their sloppiness and uneven emotional growth, but because of it – because goblins come as they are, and they grow in community with one another. Being goblin means being intergenerational in an un-precious way. It means that kids are a part of community, that their messes and tantrums and experiments and giggles all take place between our feet. It’s about acknowledging disability and madness and trauma in a way that removes normalcy as our baseline. Every body is a weird body and weird is good. Accommodating one another’s weirdness isn’t just worthwhile and important, and it’s not useful to frame it as noble or anything like that. Accommodating one another’s weirdness is the literal basis of goblin community. It’s how you nest, it’s how you romp, it’s what goblins always and necessarily do.”1

Now we just need to expand that towards the non-human.

Personal approach

My personal approach to do this is three-fold and is quite close to aforementioned [(??? |writing the implosion)].

  1. First, one starts by tracing the history and coming-into-being of the thing in question. Where does it come from? What are it’s origins? What parts do constitute the thing and where do these come from?
  2. From there you move to questions of relationalities. Who was involved in the thing at what stage of it’s becoming? How are those people living, feeling, thinking? How much of their time and energy do they effort into the thing?
  3. Now you can start to realize the sheer size of complexity, entanglement and involvement of even the simplest things.

Out of this realisation emerges (but as in actively created by us) a kind of thing-egregore2 or thing-genius3. Although I do not have a mythological or aesthetical form to give to this thing-spirit, it still has a presence, not unlike a voice assistant device (like the Amazon Echo) has a presence in your home. It’s not materialised, but it has a place and form in your mind. This realisations furthers the understanding that a given thing contains complexities far beyond myself, while still holding a multitude of relationships linking myself to the larger reality.

The more I know, the more I wonder.