A flash and a flicker outside my office window caught my eye yesterday. There, on the leaf litter before me, in its sleek form, was a Monitor. It spotted me, froze and slinked off under a grevillia bush. Not long after, a Grey Goshawk landed on the same grevillia. It too had spotted the Monitor and was sizing it up. In the seconds before it flew away, our eyes met and I was filled with a sense of being with this life form. Whilst our meeting was fleeting, I was left with a sense that we had bridged a perceived space; we had encountered one another. It was synchronous then that I was in the middle of reading Freya Mathews’ (2003) descriptions of encountering; people encountering people, non-human life forms and ‘inanimate‘ aspects of country. She writes about encounter as a way of relating to the world, which is potent with the possibility of being with if we invite those ‘things’ that we see as objects to become subjects.
A question that Mathews (2003) raises which caused me to pause and wonder was…
‘But how are we, in our present cultures of disenchantment, to understand encounter with the non-human world? What forms of response might we expect from nonhuman subjects? Is it perhaps not too difficult to imagine the responsiveness of fully sentient beings to our overtures. But the barely sentient, or altogether nonsentient? How might encounter with plants, for instance, be imagined?’ (p. 81).
Is this calling of non-human sentient and nonsentient beings and entities into the subjectival realm really a question of agency? If we assume that everything that is present in and on the land (e.g. trees, animals, rocks, water, spirits, people) has agency, does that make all of these entities subjects?
I am reminded too of the words of Paddy Roe and Frans Hoogland (1999) who write about country as a living entity…
‘… where the land is whole and complete; where the interaction between people and land is alive through law and culture; where the spirit of the land is ‘standing up’, and ‘vibrant” (p. 30).
I feel as though I am being invited to see the whole of country as something to encounter, to be with.
The final thread that I want to weave into this conversation is the Yolngu pronoun ŋayi (ngayi) which is used to refer to he/she/it. Is the between gender and sentient/non-sentient/inanimate a deliberate attempt to shape perception of everything as subject? To all my Yolngu teachers out there please comment!
Mathews, F. (2003). For love of matter: a contemporary panpsychism. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Roe, P., & Hoogland, F. (1999). Black and white, a trail to understanding. In J. Sinatra & P. Murphy (Eds.), Listen to the People, Listen to the Land (pp. 11-30). Carlton: Melbourne University Press.