I read some articles today, mostly Ingold. I thought: this man is genius. I was wondered how many of his writings fit with my fieldwork. The discussion of sound, for instance. He said that sound is not the object of perception. Instead the perceiver perceives his environment in it (the sound). Sound is the medium for engagement, alike the light.
If he is right, how can I write about the sound of waves in this island? Before I was confused how to observe, or to ask people about their engagement with the sound of the waves. If I apply Ingold’s idea, then I don’t need to do so. Because, in this island, people are always in the sound of waves. Me, too. Practically, we cannot avoid the sound of waves when being-in-the-world of Mappadegat/Ebay. Before I thought there must be some meaning in the sound of waves. But I realized such view is a very Cartesian one, that sound of waves is a tabula rasa that must be filled with meaning which derived from our human mind.
Besides, to repeat, sound is not an object of perception, or even meaning-making process. Reading this also made me think more about meaning/perception. I started this thesis with the aim to know the meaning of waves. Now, I know I have to shift my thinking, because I think meaning is the product of human mind prior the actual engagement with environment. I should shift to perception. And, perception is derived from environmental engagement. Meaning is the product of interpretation of perception. But, as Ingold says, “sometimes we fail to interpret what we perceive”.
Then, I also read his article on painting/drawing and ethnography/anthropology. The former is a very cool philosophical one. He tried to make sense of life through the act of drawing (pen or pencil) and painting (oil painting tradition). Painting is about the compositionality and totality. Drawing is against both. Ingold recounts that there are two views on life. One is alike to painting, the other is alike to drawing.
Life as painting is about thinking/having/making composition. There is a blank surface which has to be filled. There is a frame as boundary. There is a final end, a product, a totality. On the other hand, life as drawing is against composition and totality. Life is always-in-process. There is no ending, only becoming. There is no boundary. The blank surface in the act of drawing is not meant to be filled with composition, but with any kind of marks. When we draw, we don’t think of the end. We are immersed in the actual act of it. In painting, we always imagine the outcome.
Ingold thinks that life-as-drawing is liberating. Because we are free to make mistake, we never think of the end, and there is no ‘frame’ of our action. This is a sort of carpe diem attitude, that life is always here and now. Always becoming. So, what matters is what happens in the middle, not the (imagination of) end per se.
On ethnography/anthropology. This one liberated me as well. There is too much over-use of ‘ethnographicness’ in anthropology and social sciences (ethnographic encounter, ethnographic fieldwork, etc.) His view on ethnography resonates his ideas of engagement with environment. Basically, fieldworker should be engaging, attending, and being attentive with environment (human and nonhuman) in the fieldwork area. He also criticizes the quest for result/data.
Then, come his discussion on ‘education’, ‘correspondence’, and ‘knowledge co-production/co-generation’. For him, anthropological fieldwork (participant-observation) should be the act of education, which means to ‘lead the learner out into the world’ rather than instilling knowledge in to the mind. By doing so, we will do correspondence. It is not about simple questioning and answering activities. It is about (co-)responding. Like letter writers do, they correspond. They write their feeling and thought and wait for the respond. Fieldwork should be like that, like correspondence, not merely question-answer rhetoric. We respond to whatever we encounter in fieldwork, the others (human, nonhuman, environment, society) will respond back. It keeps going on like that until we leave the field.
In correspondence, waiting is very important matter. Ingold argues that ‘waiting’ is necessary. Fieldworker has to be prepared to wait. “Waiting upon things is precisely what it means to attend to them,” he writes. So, prepare and wait and attend. It’s just like surfing. Then, the notion of correspondence relates to knowledge co-production. The knowledge derived from fieldwork is basically co-constituted not only by the fieldworker, but by engagement with environment (human, nonhuman, societal) in the fieldwork site. Reading this made me realize that this is not my fieldwork, this is our fieldwork. By ‘our’, I mean not only people, activities, conversation, feeling, interaction I attend during the fieldwork, but also theoretical discussion with friends and teachers in academic or non-academic settings.
Post-scriptum: I went through my research field notes once again a week ago. It was a kind of poetic-nostalgic to read it. It’s like going back again to Mentawai. This particular day notes, I think, are worthy to be shared here. Written on December 17th, 2017, in the beautiful Ebay settlement – surrounded by the sound of the waves.