choosing porosity

As I responded, time and again, to the inevitable questions about my dissertation, I would wonder what language to speak in. In some instances, I would respond in the language of teacher identity, or sometimes, of poststructuralism. In others, it would be in the language of chi, or quantum energy. On rare occasions, I would use the language of spirit. It all depended on the audience and the entry point.

The word porosity came to me as I began working on my largest collage, meLand, and provided language to describe the intimate interconnectedness, at an energetic level, of all parts of the universe.

The processes of doing spontaneous artwork (Lipsett, 2001) led me to the the word, which I (now) use interchangeably with the phrase spiritual animism, to describe the ontological assumptions (and associated epistemology) from which much of this work was created.

Porosity, as I engage it, assumes humans and non-human Others (including non-human-persons such as rocks, clouds, etc.) do not exist solely as separate, physical entities, but energetic forms which some claim imbued with spirit. The universe, then, is both "psychic-spiritual"and "physical-material" (Berry & Tucker, 2006, p. 57) and speaks to those who are willing to listen. This ontological perspective opens up possibilities for insights to come from listening as much as thinking, and from the body as well as the mind (see Bai, 2009).

Engaging porosity depends on an openness, a quieting of the mind and engagement in ways of coming to know that may be unfamiliar – or in some cases, familiar but not named nor acknowledged in the context of Western epistemologies nor ontologies. Coming to know through porosity often "denies the 'comfort text' that maps easily onto our usual ways of making sense" (Lather, 2001, p. 205), and integrates received knowledge with that acquired through the intellect – all while trying to 'think' beyond the constraints of dominant discourse and thus remain open to the 'unthinkable' (see Britzman, 1995).

Deciding to use the word porosity within this dissertation was both a personal and political choice. Given the cultural baggage associated with such words as animism and shamanism, and the politics associated with engaging what is often referred to as "Aboriginal ways of knowing", I chose it as a somewhat more politically neutral term (if such a thing can exist). It also, for me, was able to indicate the lack of separation between humans and the rest of animate Earth. On a very personal level, it is the word that arrived on my tongue as I was working with meLand; it just 'felt right'.

Later in this process, I decided that I would foreground the phrase animate Earth in order to acknowledge links to animism.


Cixous (1991) writes:

What right did a "Jewwoman" with a German mother(tongue), growing up in Algeria without a father, desire to enter the sacred Garden of French Literature. No right at all, it seemed. But desire, like a breath struggling to get out after you have been held breathless, is precisely what does not ask whether it has a 'right' to exist. The passion to write can even get past triple walls of interdiction, triple walls of different: foreignness, Jewishness, femininity. (pp. ix)

What right did I, as a white middle class Canadian woman have to speak about porosity, animism, or shamanism? To talk of speaking with animals, or Ancestors? Cixous continues:

"'As soon as you let yourself be led beyond codes, your body filled with fear and with joy, the words diverge, you are no longer enclosed in the maps of social constructions, you no longer walk between walls, meanings flow.'" (p. x)

Yet the codes are powerful, and where they are particularly strong, or where I am particularly vulnerable, reinscribe themselves continuously. Creating this work was, in many instances, the result of a desire to get much closer to that part of myself that had been silenced by codes. This meant, in many instances, moving beyond performing appropriate white female academic and writing from a place much closer to my porous self. That is, writing from an ontology of animism.