(Dis)embodiment: Being Other and Oneself
In Heidegger’s concept of being-in-the-world, also known as dasein, the distinction between subject/object is also broken down. In his view, there is no ‘being’ without the ‘world’, in other words, our subjecthood or consciousness is forever woven within the lattice of the objects around us: the world of things. The world and its contents needn’t be seen as separate, but rather as extensions, each exerting their gravitational pull to influence one another. This lattice of existence whereby the individual, in its individuality, is never a whole, but merely part of a whole, was then echoed by Jean-Luc Nancy and his concept of ‘being singular plural’.
But what on earth does ‘being singular plural’ even mean? If we look back at the mighty lichen, we might get some answers. The lichen, theoretically two separate organisms, is now a singular organism, it is – in its essence – a being both singular and plural. The lichen embodies Nancy’s idea of being self/other -– where one state does not cancel the other out but rather reaffirms it. By coming together, the previously singular organisms didn’t just explore a new world, they completely forged a new state of being. Nancy’s philosophy encourages us all to open ourselves to events that extend beyond the subject/object axis, inviting us to create connections with seemingly alien or peculiar entities in a fervent symbiotic exchange. It is in this shared betweenness that new meanings can be produced, bringing the strangeness and uncanniness of being to the fore, and with it, experiences of a sublime nature.
Donna Haraway, never one to shy away from liminal experiences, is also a fan of lichens. “We are all lichens now!” she ecstatically proclaims, echoing the words of biologist Scott Gilbert. According to Haraway, we’ve always been part self, part other, an indistinguishable blob of tangled networks made of both natural origins and the artificial – just like a cyborg. One important distinction Haraway makes is the deconstruction of the definition of ‘natural’. If we are part organic, part artificial, and within this amalgamation, we are inextricably bound, then what is artificial can – by de facto – become natural, and vice versa. Again, the algae’s ‘natural’ habitat was the sea. And yet, here it is enmeshed within the body of the fungi, happily coexisting on the ‘unnatural’ land!