Donnerstag, 10. September 2015


The hidden arena of actuality


Maria Reinecke


English translation of  the German lecture: 

"ZWISCHENRÄUME: die verborgenen Schauplätze der Wirklichkeit" 

X. Scenografic-Colloquium DASA in Dortmund 2012

deutscher Originaltext s.u. extra Post

Part I

Interstices: fissures, cracks, openings, gaps, pores. Interstices are everywhere; they are there without actually being anything. They exist between things, on the borders; they connect the solid, the tangible, the visible, the measurable, but they themselves are fleeting, vague, invisible, undefined, empty: empty spaces and nothing more. So is this all about nothing? Is an occupation with interspaces as absurd an undertaking as that of the architect described by Christian Morgenstern in his humorous picket fence poem? Is this endeavor like taking the interstices from between the fence slats and trying to build a house out of them?  
“What really makes a wheel a wheel?” asks the legendary Lao-tse, and he determines: it is the empty spaces between the spokes that essentially constitute the wheel. Without the empty spaces between no wheel. In this perspective, the interstices in the picket fence even gain a certain meaning: the fence as well only becomes what it is through the empty spaces between the slats.

Let us stay with this image: extracting interstices. Modern physicists propose what seems to be a similarly absurd working hypothesis in asking what would happen if we extracted all of the interstices from our planet: only a small, ultra-compact clump of matter would remain, about as big as a golf ball but with the same mass as the entire Earth. We wouldn't do much better; we are composed of 99.9% empty spaces. If one extracted all of the interstices from us, we would dwindle down to mere nanometers. 
These thought experiments refer to the empty spaces in atomic structures. And once again it is a matter of empty spaces, this time between the atomic nucleus and the electron shell, which truly make the atoms what they are. A simple hydrogen atom, for example, 'consists' (not in the sense of mechanical disassembly!) of a nucleus with a positively charged particle, a proton, which constitutes the atom's mass, and a negatively charged particle, the electron, which rushes around the nucleus like a charged cloud. In order to illustrate the dimensions of an atom, let us mentally enlarge the nucleus one billion times to the size of a needle head: the atom would then have the dimensions of a soccer field, and the entire space between the nucleus and the electron shell would be empty. In this example, empty is not nothing: electromagnetic forces as well as the strong and weak interactions of nuclear energies make sure that the atomic fabric does not collapse, that the subatomic particles can be commuted into one another, and that the vacuum between nucleus and electron shell can be maintained, remaining electrically neutral. Without these basic physical forces, which include gravity, the atomic structures of the Earth would actually collapse upon themselves. Only nuclei would remain, pure mass, a clump as big as a golf ball. 

No doubt: the interstices, as well as what happens within and around them, are clearly of fundamental importance, and are a prerequisite for everything that exists. Without them, there would be no activity, no becoming, no growth, no movement, no life. We would not exist, nor would nature, the world or the universe. The universe itself consists of 75% empty space, and here as well empty is not nothing: gravitational fields, electromagnetic fields and waves, energy flows of unceasing activity are coursing through space.

                                           Mollie Hosmer-Dillard 

                    Collecting Burdock and Vetiver or In Process, 2009, Oil on canvas 80 x 100 cm *

The modern interdisciplinary sciences show us a world that is porous through and through, intricately interconnected, in constant motion and flux. They point to a comprehensive causal interdependency, an infinite, reciprocally effective network of relationships in which nothing, no event, is isolated or without effect upon the whole.

Formerly, the “eternal” ice in the Antarctic and the “eternal” mountains were discounted as dead material. Today we know that within seemingly unchangeable material, highly disturbing processes take place, visible and invisible, within and between the smallest cellular structures and down to the molecular and atomic levels, with unpredictable consequences and repercussions for the entire Earth.

The English mathematician, natural scientist and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead  (1861 – 1947), who was drawn to philosophy through his work in the natural sciences, saw the relationships between inorganic, organic and (in the broadest sense) biological structures as interdependent, and interpreted them as a comprehensively dynamic, organismic process of actuality. Whitehead was the first to call the empty spaces in living structures "interstices" and to accord them a fundamental importance by relating them to physical field theory and the interactions of electromagnetic fields in empty spaces.  

In his major work Process and Reality (1), published in 1929, Whitehead wrote the still largely overlooked sentence "Life lurks in the interstices of each living cell, and in the interstices of the brain." And he did not mean this metaphorically, but literally.  
Whitehead saw the individual living cell as a complex physical field occupied by molecules, atoms and electrons. Between the occupied space-time locations there are empty spaces full of virtual energy. “Empty” means only: free of electrons, protons or any form of electrical charge. In order for the virtual energy flows in the physical field of empty space to become actual occurrences, they require the influences of bordering occupied spaces (molecules, atoms, electrons); because physical fields only become comprehensible through the influences that affect them. According to resonances and influences from their surroundings, the virtual energy flows either do or do not undergo a spontaneous concretization process. Life acts as a catalyst; it is a quality of empty space that has the creative function of creating newness, allowing actuality to emerge from potentiality. The actual processes of life take place in the interstices - according to Whitehead. Bold thoughts. 

Boldness is indeed necessary for researching interstices – Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld also point this out in their book The Evolution of Physics. They stress the fact that, due to the perceptions of modern physics, which no longer address the relationship between bodies but what lies between them, a great mental boldness is required to recognize that "the behavior of the field (in the intermediate spaces, M.R.) could be decisive for the organization and understanding of incidents" (2).

There seems to be a lack of boldness in the trends of positivist science. What exactly takes place in the empty interstices of living organisms is still largely unresearched. It is only hesitantly that vacuum structures are even seen to have a fundamental biological importance and are recognized as the actual basis for the interdisciplinary research of biophysics.  

The human being is an interstitial creature; it exists between the macro- and micro-cosmos and forms a kind of interface, a biological data transmission boundary between material and mind/consciousness. Our bodily cells ultimately consist of minute elements of inanimate material; a million trillion atoms bustle in just the tip of a finger; there is constant molecular and cellular exchange taking place in our bodies: ten million cells die and are recreated every second. If we zoom into a human body, through the porous skin, we see our organism as a pulsing, finely interrelated, interdependent system. The organs function in a web-like interplay; the web is composed of cellular interrelationships; the individual cells of organelles that are in turn organized by the cooperation of large and small molecules. If we zoom in further, we discover atoms within the molecules, and in the atoms are atomic nuclei, which in turn volatilize into subatomic entities. The following question is thus of essential importance to us: To what extent and how do microcosmic processes affect us physically, psychically and mentally? This also applies to macrocosmic processes: how are we affected by all of the fluctuations, waves, frequencies, electromagnetic forces, energy and particle flows and rays that constantly "bombard" us from all sides?

A kaleidoscope of "interstitial" questions emerges, such as: What is the nature of weather sensitivity regarding the bodily electromagnetic fields and the biological effects of electromagnetic fields? Do our ulterior thoughts and desires really have (electrical) effects on people and situations? What is the real relationship between the specific wave spectra of individual organs and cells and the emotional chemicals in our organism? Can we really see and feel a person’s aura? Are there forty thousand genuine brain cells in our hearts...? Questions that are being intensively researched by certain disciplines in scientific fringe areas and in esoteric circles. A flood of information is inundating the media market and can be accessed at the click of a mouse. For interested laymen, it is often not easy to clearly distinguish between substantial educational opportunities and (ideologically) misappropriated material, or just pure humbug.

                                                                   Bele Weitzmann  
                                  Begegnung, 1987, Amsterdam, Acryl Painting 180 x 100 cm *

The interstices thus largely remain a mystery and an enigma. The biologist and neuroscientist Gerhard Roth acknowledges that we have a “fairly good understanding of the processes on the cellular and molecular level” of activity in the brain centers, but that “the biggest puzzle is what happens in between.” (3) For the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, the “mystery” of consciousness lies in the interaction of neuronal and chemical signals that pass between the cells and the brain regions. (4) The neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux provocatively states, “We are our synapses,” which is to say “We are interstices", because the synapses are the interstices between brain cells through which these cells communicate: we are still far from knowing what exactly happens in the synapses that allows us to recognize ourselves as ourselves. The puzzle thus remains. (5)   

As a metaphor, interstices have long since caught on in the XXI century; they have become a signature of our times. The hybrid, the interfering element, the intermediary has a place in the most various cultural areas. Interstices stand for the vague, ambiguous, trans-border, transition, border-expanding, as well as for the unfathomable, unknown, uncanny, beguiling, infectious and dangerous - according to Bernhard Dotzler and Henning Schmidgen of Humboldt University, Berlin. (6) Young people use the new digital interstitial worlds as a stimulus for their iridescent, contrastive fashions, styles and life designs in order to present themselves and expand their own “I,” writes Michael Meier in his book Neue Menschen (New People). (7) Interstices are the commonly avowed creative free spaces "for new ideas and meanings in the arts, in architecture, literature, music, film, dance as well as in psychotherapy and spiritual life counseling", according to Dariusz Radtke and Hagen Schulz-Forberg, Forum 46. (8) 
The interstices are also the occasion for our meeting here in Dortmund and serve as a metaphor for change and transition. In an interstitial sense though, the interstices are more than a metaphor; they do not merely stand for change and transition: they are the true space-time in which change and transition are able to take place.

                                                                  Sandra Kühnapfel
                                          Without title or Spaces in-between, Foto 2008, Oslo *

Part II 

Intersticial thinking and living

In 1993, when I first discovered the interstices in Whitehead’s writings as concrete “event spaces” and began trying to implement these thoughts in literature, I still felt somewhat alone with these interstices. No one was interested in the matter. I had no idea then that I was not so alone. Shortly before this time, the Suhrkamp publishing house had published a small book entitled: Aber ich lebe nur von den Zwischenräumen (But I live only from the interstices): a quotation from Peter Handke in conversation with Herbert Gamper. (9)
Handke also sees the interstices as a metaphor and initial situation for creative action; moreover, he suggests a hint of an interstitial reality in these spaces. He speaks of the inspirational initial emptiness, a generative emptiness, and of a vibration in this emptiness that makes it possible to communicate at all. He calls the interstices a kind of value-vacuum, an opening of emptiness even right in the middle of the crowds, f.e. when he was walking across the Markus-Place in Venedig; looking to the ground, he became conscious of the strangely empty spaces there from which the figures of his stories first emerge; and he stresses that there is no greater imaginable moment for sympathy (tenderness/love) than in this emergence of emptiness.  

And us? What do we do with the interstices? We too need to be bold if we are to take the interstices seriously, and if we want to pour ourselves into them. The concept that not things, but the in-between occurrences are important is foreign to us. As we think, so do we live. We are used to thinking "materially", realistically (res, lat. “the thing“, “the matter”); we define reality as something that we find in fixed, definitely localizable, quantifiable bodies, things, entities, and we orient our lives around this concept. The fundamental subject-object structure of our language, which shapes our entire thinking, makes this obvious. The sentence, e.g. "I see the tree" expresses from beginning to end a static, one-sided relationship between me and the tree: I as the active, seeing subject am separate, independent and distanced in relation to the tree as a purely passive object. To me, it is a thing that has nothing more to do with me, something that I can, at most, use for my own purposes. 

Seen from an interstitial point of view, the static subject-object relationship becomes a dynamic, symmetrical causal correlation between me and the tree. The tree does not remain a passive object; instead it actively draws my glance, it shows itself to me in its fullness; it sends out its specific signals, which affect my perceptive apparatus and fundamentally contribute to the fact that I perceive it and how I do so; and this perception leaves traces in my system, changes me. What happens between me and the tree at this place, in this moment, is a piece of reality, enmeshed, integrated and in an infinite network of countless other simultaneous occurrences in the direct vicinity and in the furthest distances: there is perhaps the warm light, the sun, the sum of insects, the scent of the blossoms, the proximity of a forest, highway sounds in the background, approaching clouds, the darkening sky, etc.: vibrations, waves, frequencies, energy flows of every kind enwrap the tree and I, absorb us into an all-embracing causal correlation in which I no longer play the main role as subject.

Actuality contains the word “to act”; actuality acts, is active, occurs in the in-between space, between me and all things, between me and others, between me and the world. Actuality is more and is different than mere reality; it holds another dimension of experience: alongside the quantitative as-much-as-possible experience, actual experience strives for intensity, a special form of quality. Life means experience. We have largely forgotten to perceive occurrences in the in-between space as actuality, and to live in this actuality, to experience it; we merely function, we must function. The realities of life must be conquered, professionally and privately, again and again every day, with uninterrupted deadlines, duties, obligations. The tyranny of an unheeding and mercilessly advancing clock is ever at our backs. The timeslot for freedom becomes ever smaller; if we have free time, it continues along like clockwork; we run from event to event, from the gym to brunch, from date to date, until at some point we can’t do it anymore. The connection gets lost, sometimes the sense as well. We find that we have long lost our feeling of ourselves and of others, that we barely have enough energy to even breathe. Life has suddenly lost its savor, has become stale. Then we want to stop the wheel, to halt the mechanical cycle of things; we want to dive into the moment that is always melting away in front of us, we want to pause, to truly feel and taste life once more as we did when we were children, when we still could.
A child still lives in the immediacy of actuality; she doesn’t yet know of anything to do with the mere sequence of things. She creates her own world, we say, and she plunges in. The child seems to dally; she is immersed in that which moves her most deeply at this moment. 
A German-Polish friend remembers an interstitial experience from his childhood: “As a small boy I sometimes had to walk a couple of kilometers in the dark back home. Often, I stopped on the way and listened… I felt good in the moment when I stood and paused and forgot myself… Everything suddenly became so clear, and it was all there, it was only I that wasn’t there…”
“It was only I that wasn’t there”: interstitial experience has a passive character; the “I” moves to the background, lets go, allows itself to be engaged, becomes sensitive, porous, opens itself to that which is happening inside and around it; it perceives, senses, feels its actual presence in the often-mentioned here and now: not meditatively detached, but grounded and sensuously corporal.
Interstitial experience is the realization of my presence in this place, in this expansive moment with an actual duration. I feel my presence in the actual present. Yes, time is real: not only subjectively felt, but real. This statement may not seem to be original or enlightening, but becoming conscious of it can be important for our lives and our ability to experience. The time problem can only be hinted at here. I think, it is high time that we focus our attention on time and our living experience within it.  
For us, time is naturally and habitually the linear, homogenously progressing kind of time that is dictated to us by clocks. This supposed measured time is, however, pure abstraction and refers to something that doesn’t exist. Mathematical-physical time is at no point actually existent in an apparent present. The bone-crushing, crippling feeling that sometimes overcomes us as the result of the linear, undifferentiated progression of time is a product of a deeply internalized, acquired abstraction, according to Spyridon Koutroufinis. (12)
Sometimes we still sense the actual time, when we step out of the routine daily sequence: on vacation, in the countryside, in nature. Then we suddenly notice that time thickens, the hours are fuller, our experience is more intense... no wonder: we are closer to actuality; more deeply inside of the actual occurrence of nature. We can sense the actual, occurrent time: expansive moments, heterogeneous droplets of time that overlap one another, melt into one another, interfuse... Nature is not within time; time is within nature. Actual time takes place in the actual occurrences, in the interstices...

How we think of the world makes a difference: “material- static", as an uninterrupted, mechanical sequence of realities which we must satisfy, or "interstitial- dynamic", as a living actuality that takes place in the interstices, allows change, is open to the future, and holds new freedoms and possibilities for us. These are two different perceptions that shape our life and living experience; in the end though they do belong together: a harmonious life will depend on the extent to which we can create a balance between both. The child must gradually learn to deal with the conditions and fixed processes of 'reality' and everyday life; we, on the other hand, can learn to once again discover in its fullness the emergent actuality in between the mere processes of it; to let it inspire, touch, move, surprise us; to constantly see, feel, understand, absorb and appreciate our surroundings in new and different ways: the world, humanity, things, interrelationships – and not least ourselves.   

Let's be bold: now and then, let’s step out of the routine course of life; let’s make holes in the mechanical gearwork of reality and plunge into the interstices: into the hidden, adventurous arena of actuality! 

Maria Reinecke, 2012

(translated by Mollie Hosmer-Dillard, Oktober 2012)



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