SHEETS-JOHNSTONE (2014) – Animation: analyses, elaborations, and implications.

SHEETS-JOHNSTONE, Maxine. Animation: analyses, elaborations, and implications. Husserl Sutudies, v.30, n.3, p.247-268, 2014.


  • This article highlights a neglected, if not wholly overlooked, topic in phenomenology, a topic central to Husserl’s writings on animate organism, namely, animation.  P.247
  • The article furthermore highlights Husserl’s pointed recognition of ‘‘the problem of movement,’’ movement being an essential dimension of animation if not definitive of animation itself. p.247
  • What indeed is livingly present in the experience of movement, whether our own movement and the movement of other animate beings, or the movement of leaves, clouds, and so on? What distinguishes kinesthetic from kinetic experiences of movement? How are movement and time related? Just what is the problem of movement and how do we address it? In what way is movement pertinent to receptivity and responsivity?
  • To be animate is to have the capacity to move oneself and to experience the spatiotemporal-energic dynamics of one’s movement. An animate organism is thus not just a living organism but a moving organism, an organism that feels the dynamic flow of its movement: its direction and amplitude, its intensity, its duration and speed. Moreover it feels an affective impulsion to move in the first place, and that affective character informs the flow of its movement throughout—every step, turn, or pause along the way. Animate organisms are moved to move and kinesthetically experience in felt bodily ways the particular qualitative dynamics of their movement: a slow, hobbling walk; a striding, forceful rush forward; a dawdling, circular strolling about; and so on. p.248
  • Primal sensibility, however, is first and foremost not a primal sensibility of the world; it is a primal sensibility of one’s living body, which is to say one’s animate organism. In effect, primal sensibility rests on the ground of primal animation, the foundational reality of being a moving being, and a moving being from fetal development onward, including being an affectively moving being (Johnstone 2012). p.248
  • We are kinesthetically attuned to our own movement, to its inherent qualitative dynamics, which is to say that we are alive, in a felt bodily sense, to the temporal, spatial, and energic qualities that give our movement its overall defining character — its vigorous explosiveness as in kicking, its sustained expansiveness as in stretching, and so on. p.248
  • Animate organisms are thus at bottom gifted not simply with primal sensibility but with primal animation, which is ‘‘simply there,’’ and there from the beginnings of life in utero. One might even say that animate organisms are developmentally and ever after made of movement and endowed with movement, inside and out. p.248
  • An animate body is indeed movement through and through, movement that with respect to some animate organisms is on ehalf of learning their body and learning to move themselves to begin with. Such learning is foundational to their exploring the world and coming to know it, to satisfying hunger, to escaping a predator, to procreation, and so on. p.249
  • In this context too, we can point out that, however neglected, there is no doubt but that Husserl explicitly recognized the foundational significance of movement in his combined epistemological-ontological insight that ‘‘I move’’ precedes ‘‘I do’’ and ‘‘I can’’ (Hua IV, pp. 261/273; see also Hua IV, pp. 259/271). Landgrebe appears to be the single phenomenologist who has taken this insight seriously or at least realized its fundamental, indeed essential significance (Landgrebe 1977, pp. 107–108; 1981, Chaps. 1 and 2). In the context of describing the significance of ‘‘I move,’’ i.e., this ‘‘prelinguistic acquaintance with oneself as the center of a spontaneous ability to move,’’ Landgrebe writes, ‘‘kinaesthetic motions, without which there can be no constitution of time, are the most fundamental dimension of transcendental subjectivity, the genuinely original sphere, so that even the body (Leib), as functioning body, is not just something constituted but is itself constituting as the transcendental condition of the possibility of each higher level of consciousness and of its reflexive character’’ (Landgrebe 1977, p. 108; italics added). As indicated above, movement is the ground floor of learning our bodies and learning to move ourselves effectively and efficiently in the world, in effect of achieving a repertoire of ‘‘I cans’’ in the first place (Sheets-Johnstone 2011a, Chap. 5). It should in fact be noted that any kind of ‘‘action’’ or ‘‘activity’’ involves movement: by its very nature, any sotermed ‘‘action’’ or ‘‘activity’’-–be it kicking a ball, shopping for bread, reading a book, or writing a letter–is not only by nature constituted in and through movement but could not be conceived as a packaged unit of some kind short of movement. Moreover we might point out in this context that kinesthesia, the sense modality that gives us an immediate and direct experience of our own movement, is insuppressible. In the context of examining ‘‘conscious knowledge about one’s actions’’ and experimental research that might address the question of such knowledge, including experimental research dealing with pathologically afflicted individuals, psychologist Marc Jeannerod affirms, ‘‘There are no reliable methods for suppressing kinesthetic information arising during the execution of a movement’’ (Jeannerod 2006, p. 56). ‘‘Information’’ terminology aside, especially in the context not of position or posture but of movement, Jeannerod’s declarative finding speaks reams about the foundational ongoing reality and significance of kinesthesia, reams that should certainly lead phenomenologists to take kinesthesia seriously and the challenge of elucidating its insuppressible living dynamics of signal importance. (2 – Clearly—and particularly in light of the insuppressibility of kinesthesia—we do not have to wait until something untoward occurs that awakens us into awareness and deters us from continuing on our way. On the contrary, precisely because movement is a dynamic happening and because the dynamics of our everyday movement have become habitual and are within our repertoire of what Husserl terms our ‘‘I cans,’’ we can consult them at any time. In short, and as I have elsewhere shown (Sheets-Johnstone 2011a), any time we care to pay attention to our own movement, there it is. Furthermore, we all learned our bodies and learned to move ourselves as infants and young children (ibid.). From this pan-human ontological perspective, the idea of starting with ‘‘action’’ is actually adultist; movement obviously comes first. There would indeed be no action if movement were not present from the first day and before, present and there to be honed and perfected. In learning our bodies and learning to move ourselves by attending to our own movement, we forged an untold number of dynamic patterns that became habitual. Familiar dynamics—tying a knot, brushing one’s teeth, buttering one’s toast, writing one’s name, pulling weeds, sweeping, typing, playing a Bach prelude, and so on—are woven into our bodies and played out along the lines of our bodies. They are kinesthetic/kinetic melodies in both a neurological and experiential sense (Luria 1966, 1973). When we turn attention to these familiar dynamics, to our own coordination dynamics (Kelso 1995; Kelso and Engstrøm 2006), we recognize kinesthetic melodies; they bear the stamp of our own qualitatively felt movement patterns, our own familiar synergies of meaningful movement (Sheets-Johnstone 2009a, b). p.249-50
  • In short, if we ask where the ‘‘skilled-ego,’’ the ‘‘practical subject,’’ and our ‘‘I cans’’ come from, there can be no doubt but that they come from primal animation and its spontaneous experienced existential reality: ‘‘I move.’’ Indeed, ‘‘movement forms the I that moves before the I that moves forms movement’’ (Sheets-Johnstone 2011a, p. 119). p.250
  • ‘‘Nature is a principle of motion and change. […] We must therefore see that we understand what motion is; for if it were unknown, nature too would be unknown’’ (Aristotle, Physics 200b:12–14). p.251
  • On the contrary, they are informed or in the process of being informed by nonlinguistic corporeal concepts from fetal development onward. When lips open and close at eleven weeks, a fetus can feel their movement and hence begin to distinguish open and closed. Such experiences of the felt tactile-kinesthetic body are the bedrock of corporeal concepts and undergird later linguistic formulations. Moreover, postnatally an infant determines how tightly it must clasp a particular block or glass so that it does not drop, and hence develops a concept of weight—the heaviness or lightness of things–and a correlated concept of effort, how it must modulate the tensional quality of its movement to accommodate a particular weight. Furthermore, in nursing or being bottle-fed, an infant feels the softness and pliability of a nipple, and by its tongue movements, feels the hardness of its gums, the moistness of its lips, and so on. At a later age, it discovers the kinesthetically felt temporal and energic difference between pushing a toy away and flinging it or knocking it away, as well as the kinesthetically felt tensional difference between holding a doll and letting it drop and the kinesthetically felt spatial difference between reaching for a toy that is close and one that is further away. Just such discriminating experiences are the generative source of corporeal concepts, concepts that themselves are the foundation of concepts later formulated in language (Sheets-Johnstone 1990). Further still, in such experiences as these, infants and young children not only learn their bodies and learn to move themselves; they discover in exacting ways their capacity to make things happen. Such kinesthetic/kinetic discoveries are the cornerstone of their sense of agency. (3 – ‘‘Agency’’ is actually an adultist term that fails to take Husserl’s insight into the origin of ‘‘I cans’’ into account, namely, that ‘‘I move’’ precedes ‘‘I do,’’ and ‘‘I can.’’ Agency as a repertoire of I cans (and na ever-expanding or possibly expanding repertoire of I cans) is basically a matter of ‘‘making things happen’’: I can pull that toy toward me; I can close my mouth, turn my head, and refuse the spoon filled with food that someone is trying to put in my mouth. Moreover from infancy onward, we experience spontaneous dispositions to move: when something is put into one’s mouth, or when one puts something oneself into one’s mouth, one does not just let it sit there.) p.251
  • In sum, our first relation to a surrounding world is in and through movement. p.252
  • I cannot and do not govern what I do not know and I do not come into the world knowing. I come into the world moving and with a capacity to learn, and my first learning consists in learning my body and learning to move myself, learning in ways that promote moving effectively and efficiently in my surrounding world. What undergirds our foundational learning is indeed primal animation, what dynamic systems theorists—specifically, coordination dynamics researchers—term an intrinsic dynamics (Kelso 1995), the intrinsic dynamics of animate organisms. Just as such animation or dynamics undergird our learning our bodies and learning to move ourselves, so they undergird our correlative build-up of kinesthetic learnings into ‘‘I cans’’ with respect to our surrounding world, a world that includes other animate beings and objects, thus in general terms, both other entities that move and entities that are still, entities that, like tables, chairs, towels, and soap, are still unless I or other animate beings move them. In sum, my first relation to the world is kinesthetic/kinetic: I move toward, I turn away, I suck, I kick, I make inchoate reaching movements, and so on. Moreover I babble and cry and discover myself as a sound-maker. Indeed, though etymology decrees otherwise, infants are not prelinguistic; language is post-kinetic (Sheets-Johnstone 2010a, 2011a, b). p.252
  • The living present is a matter of movement, and self-movement is a matter not of sensations but of dynamics. p.252
  • Habitualities are synergies of meaningful movement that precisely flow forth without our having to monitor them in a focused way (Sheets-Johnstone 2009a, 2010b, 2011a, b, 2012a, b).
  • The background or root soil is clearly animation, a kinesthetically-felt body whose familiar movement dynamics are felt as they run off in all comportments, felt not commonly in focal ways but along a conscious gradient of awareness in everyday life. The familiar felt awareness of our movement as we reach for a glass, jog down a path, sit down, or jump up from a chair, is similarly a dynamic kinesthetically felt experience through and through. In each instance, it is indeed a matter not of localized ‘‘kinesthetic sensations’’ but of a familiar whole body kinesthetically experienced dynamic. Accordingly, our vast repertoire of I cans — dynamic patterns of movement or coordination dynamics that we have learned—is not an amalgam of localized movement sensations, even ‘‘so-called ‘movement sensations’’’(Hua XXXI, pp. 13/50), but a repertoire of familiar kinesthetic flows that constitute a particular qualitative spatio-temporal-energic dynamic that we feel as such, a particular qualitative spatio-temporal-energic dynamic that is itself precisely a qualitative variation on a particular theme—reaching, stooping, sitting, and so on–depending on the particular situation or circumstance in which we find ourselves. p.253
  • Without movement, there would be no befores and afters, or in terms of internal time consciousness, no protentions and retentions. Without movement, the world and all in it would be stilled. Indeed, the end of time and spatial stillness are of a piece. p.254
  • In short, movement is integral to time and time is integral to movement. p.254
  • ‘‘During the perception of motion, there takes place, moment by moment, a ‘comprehension-as-now’; constituted therein is the now actual phase of the motion itself. p.254
  • Time and movement are clearly inherently related, even structurally of a piece, but unlike the qualitative dynamics of our own movement, we do not feel time. (6) We feel only movement, our own animation, or we perceive the animation, the qualitative kinetic dynamics, of other bodies. p.255
  • We might ask, then, why what Husserl describes as the flow and streaming present of inner time-consciousness is not recognized as fundamentally descriptive of movement and in fact of the nature of animate life—the very nature of animate organisms. The question is pointedly and critically entailed in taking seriously the fact that ‘‘consciousness of the world […] is in constant motion’’ and that ‘‘we are constantly active on the basis of our passive having of the world.’’ Moreover the moment we delve into just what constitutes ‘‘active,’’ or ‘‘action’’—that is, the moment we begin to question just what these common terms mean and ask ourselves precisely in what they consist—we come face to face with movement, thus inevitably with our understanding of movement or lack thereof, and thus face to face with the ‘‘problem of movement,’’ ‘‘the enigma of motion.’’ p.255
  • (note 7: Distinguishing between proprioception and kinesthesia is as phenomenologically essential as distinguishing between sensations and dynamics. In short, to say that ‘‘I have a proprioceptive sense of whether I am sitting or standing, stretching or contracting my muscles and to claim that ‘‘these postural and positional senses of where and how the body is … are what phenomenologists call a ‘pre-reflective sense of myself as embodied’’’ (Gallagher and Zahavi 2012, p. 155) are a phenomenological overreach in each instance. p.256
  • In particular, the inherent and originary temporality of movement and its developmental habitualities are not a series of ‘‘befores’’ and ‘‘afters’’ in relation to a ‘‘now’’, but precisely and invariantly a ‘‘streaming present,’’ a ‘‘flow,’’ as in reaching for and picking up a toy or glass, throwing or kicking a ball, walking down the street or down the stairs, sawing a piece of wood, and so on. p.257
  • In effect, we can qualitatively vary temporal aspects of our movement because all such aspects are qualitative to begin with and are experienced as such. We see thus that movement creates its own time. By the same token, it creates its own space and force. In effect, movement does not simply take place in space and in time; it creates a certain temporality, spatiality, and force in the very way it flows forth, in the way it ‘‘runs off.’’ p.258
  • In short, when we listen to our ‘‘internal movement consciousness’’, we find a distinctively felt temporal flow or streaming present that is constituted in the very process of its being created. p.258
  • The distinction between kinesthetic and kinetic experiences is absolutely essential both to understandings of the individual nature of kinesthetic experience, and within that individual experience the difference between a felt qualitative dynamic and a perceived quasi-objectified dynamic, and to understandings of the difference between those kinesthetic experiences and kinetic experiences of the movement of others, whether those others are objects such as an airplane or a leaf, or whether they are other individuals, that is, living beings, forms of animate life, animate organisms.
  • To begin with, what I kinesthetically experience in a felt bodily sense is a firsthand — or first-body — felt qualitative dynamic experience of movement itself. I feel the dynamics of my movement, ‘‘my’’ not in the sense of ownership (cf. Gallagher 2005; Gallagher and Zahavi 2012), but in the sense of ‘‘I move,’’ without the ‘‘I’’ being in any way substantively part of the immediate and direct experience, let alone reflectively constructed or inserted into that experience. p.258-59
  • In fact, the moment I put an ‘‘I’’ or an ‘‘ownership’’ into the experience, I am perceiving the movement, not feeling its dynamics pure and simple. p.259
  • the pure and simple dynamics that run off in kinesthetic experience are commonly familiar dynamics. They undergird our ‘‘elusively flowing life’’ in a way akin to a sub-melodic presence. (11) They are indeed most commonly synergies of meaningful movement, synergies so familiar they run off without direct attention. Yet any time we care to pay attention to them, there they are, which is to say we pre-reflectively feel their unfolding dynamics (Sheets-Johnstone 2011a, 2012c).
  • What I kinesthetically experience in a perceived bodily sense are not uncommonly the spatio-temporal-energic realities of self-movement in terms of their ‘‘out-thereness,’’ realities in space and in time, such as the precise arc through which I am now moving my arm in perfecting my tennis serve and the exact timing of my throwing the ball in the air in relation to that arc, and energetic realities such as the degree of force I am now exerting in executing the serving movement and in throwing the ball in the air. As might be apparent, perceiving one’s movement kinesthetically is common when one is learning a new skill or perfecting its execution. Perceptual awarenesses of one’s movement, however, are evident too in those instances when one decides to change the manner in which one is moving, as, for example, when one decides to slow down or to move more energetically. p.259
  • I am not moving through a form; the form is moving through me. p.260
  • Perceptual awarenesses of movement exist not only in various circumstances pertaining to one’s own movement alone but in the broader context of oneself among others, i.e., oneself in a social and objective surrounding world. These perceptual awarenesses are commonly if not regularly geared toward tempering one’s movement to accord (as Husserl might well say) ‘‘harmoniously’’ with the ‘‘thereness’’ of objects and persons in that world, whether those persons and objects are moving or still. p.260
  • What may indeed be properly described as moving in concert with others in an everyday sense—and in an aesthetic sense as well, as in performing in an orchestral concert, an opera, a dance concert, or a theater play—rests on our pre-reflective awareness of the foundational qualitative dynamics of movement and their variational possibilities, in more precise terms, on the inherent tensional, linear, areal, and projectional qualities of movement, any movement, our own or that of others (see Sheets- Johnstone 1966/1979, 1980, Sheets-Johnstone 1999/2011). Attention to these foundational dynamics and in particular a brief specification of their qualitative nature are requisite prior to exemplifying the phenomenon of moving in concert with others. p.260
  • More than this, any particular movement has a certain spatial and energic quality as well, thus a certain overall kinetic dynamic that can be analyzed phenomenologically in terms of its intensity, directional thrust, amplitude, and the manner in which it unfolds. In other words, any movement can be analyzed in detail in terms of its tensional, linear, areal, and projectional qualities. p.260
  • While we may possibly note the degree to which a person moves to the side of a tight and narrow path as we near each other, for example, we are not so much gauging the person’s movement quantitatively as we are engaged in the dynamic flow of his or her movement, its qualitative dispositions, propensities, inclinations, and transitions that move him or her toward the side. This qualitative form of engagement is present in our interpersonal relations with infants and young children, relations that are fundamentally not just animated but dynamically interanimate in qualitativelyinflected ways. p.262
  • In his descriptions of affect attunement, infant psychiatrist and clinical psychologist Daniel N. Stern has written meticulously of these interanimate dynamics (Stern 1985). His descriptions unequivocally if implicitly validate the fact that movement is our mother tongue, a tongue that allows us from the very beginning to communicate nonlinguistically by way of the qualitative dynamics of movement. We might further note that a qualitative engagement is clearly dominant in personal aesthetic performances in music, dance, and theater where, as mentioned earlier, one is attentive both to the perceived qualitative kinetic dynamics of the music, the dance, or the movement of other actors and to one’s own kinesthetically felt qualitative dynamics. p.262
  • When we focus attention directly on our natural kinetic awareness of movement in our surrounding world—whoever or whatever the moving others in that world — we necessarily experience a dynamic world in which the foundational qualitative dynamics of movement are of singular moment. Their fundamental spatio-temporalenergic nature is indeed at the heart of our experience, both kinesthetically and kinetically. It is because we are gifted with this dual awareness of movement that we are able to move in harmony with others. We have a common language that we commonly speak quite fluently. In effect, because we perceive the kinetic qualitative dynamics of other persons and kinesthetically feel the qualitative dynamics of our own movement, we are able to move in concert with others. p.262
  • Movement is similarly integral to tactility whenever or wherever it is a question of moving in concert, thus not only in lifts in the context of a dance, for example, but in love-making and in riding a horse. In all such tactile instances of moving in concert, one’s own movement and the movement of another being unfold in dynamic harmony with one another, and this because both oneself and the other are mutually attuned to the tactile-kinesthetic and tactile-kinetic dynamics of movement. p.263
  • The import of recognizing the foundational qualitative dynamics of movement, whatever the movement might be and whoever the moving individuals might be, of recognizing the fundamental difference between kinesthetic and kinetic experiences of those dynamics, and of recognizing the sensu communis nature of movement with respect to moving in concert—all are of particular note with respect to terms such as ‘‘interkinesthesia (Behnke 2008),’’ ‘‘enkinesthesia’’ (Stuart 2012), and ‘‘kinesthetic exchanges’’ (Rothfield 2005). Phenomenologically and empirically there are no such phenomena; the terms are misguided neologisms or labels. Although kinesthesia is a pan-human sensory modality and one that in fact cannot be suppressed (Jeannerod 2006), kinesthesia is a wholly individual experiential modality. p.263
  • The basis of these shared experiences warrants specification, which is to say that what makes movement a sensu communis warrants fine-grained phenomenological examination. Such examination shows that moving in concert is not just a natural interpersonal movement phenomenon, but one in which the visually perceived movement of another conjoins with one’s kinesthetically felt movement. p.263
  • Moving in concert with others is thus clearly a phenomenon that is both kinetic and kinesthetic and in which what is kinesthetic may be perceived as well as felt. p.264
  • In sum, both the kinesthetic and kinetic dynamic realities and possibilities of movement are integral to moving in concert with other beings. One might almost be tempted to say that the harmony of the world hangs in the balance. (12 – It might be noted that appeals to tactility in particular on behalf of grounding intersubjectivity in the exteriority of one’s own body overlook completely the phenomenological realities of movement (e.g., Zahavi 1999, p.169). Kinesthetic perceptions are notably three-dimensional, not only as when one is learning to walk and to throw efficiently but as when one is learning to make surgical incisions and to drive. Kinesthetic perception is equally integral to understanding foundational forms of ‘‘bodily awareness’’ that ground ‘‘our ability to encounter an Other with an internal manifestation of alterity’’ (1999, p. 169). It is indeed unnecessary to opine that ‘‘When my left hand touches my right, I am experiencing myself in a manner that anticipates both the way in which an Other would experience me and the way in which I would experience an Other’’ (1999, p. 169). In short, when movement is consistently passed over by tactility and examples of touching (e.g., 1999, p. 105), a kind of functionalism obtains, a functionalism that in the end instrumentalizes the body and conceals its kinesthetic melodies (Luria 1966, 1973), obliterating the qualitative dynamics that undergird, structure, and sustain its movement.) p.264
  • The world one puts together is in conjunction with the body one is—the body one has learned and learned to move. The two go together. In effect, that ‘‘I govern’’ at all is only because I have learned my body and learned to move myself in effective and efficient ways. p.264
  • ‘‘being-in-movement’’ (Bewegtheit) ‘‘cannot be understood in terms of motion as change of place’’ (Husserl 1997, p. 413. p.265
  • Were it not for our being animate organisms, for being bodies (not merely having bodies), we would obviously be inanimate if not stillborn. Bodies are not just little go-carts for minds any more than brains are ready-made oracles at Delphi (the place to go for solutions to any puzzle about humans). All the original putting together from egg and sperm onward eventuates in mindful bodies capable of creating synergies of meaningful movement on their own behalf and on behalf of their progeny. The qualitative dynamics of movement are the basis of their forming synergies of meaningful movement. In the everyday world, these synergies commonly run off without focused attention, but only because they are inscribed in kinesthetic memory and run off on the basis of that memory (Sheets-Johnstone 2003, 2009b, Chap. X, 2012d). In contrast, we are aware when a synergy of meaningful movement ‘‘goes wrong’’ because we have a pre-reflective awareness of its familiar dynamics, familiar dynamics that we once learned and that are no longer present. What these experiential realities show is that consciousness is not a onedimensional faculty but runs along a gradient of awarenesses. Habitualities that run off with pre-reflective attention were originally learned patterns of movement — patterns such as tying a shoelace, buttoning a shirt, and so on—and moreover not simply learned patterns of movement in relation to objects in the world, but learned patterns of movement tout court, such as turning over in one’s crib, reaching and grasping, walking, running, skipping, throwing, and even speaking. Consciousness is indeed ‘‘in constant motion’’ as a whole-body, tactile-kinesthetically-grounded phenomenon linked foundationally and essentially to our ‘‘being-in-movement,’’ which is to say to our being animate organisms. p.266

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