water through cupped hands

h č-b — “beyond influence”

Octavia E. Butler (1993) Parable of the Sower, p3:
“All that you touch | You Change. All that you Change | Changes you.”

Sara Ahmed (2017) Living a Feminist Life, p17:
“Each of us had different copies, some of them tattered and well read, worn, and, as it were, lived in. You can, I think, live in books: some feminists might even begin their feminist lives living in books. Participating in the group with books made me aware of how feminist community is shaped by passing books around; the sociality of their lives is part of the sociality of ours. There are so many ways that feminist books change hands; in passing between us, they change each of us.”

María Puig de la Bellacasa (2017) Matters of Care, p20:
“In this direction, touch expresses a sense of material-embodied relationality that seemingly eschews abstractions and detachments that have been associated with dominant epistemologies of knowledge-as-vision. Touch becomes a metaphor of transformative knowledge at the same time as it intensifies awareness of the imports of speculative thinking. In other words, the haptic disrupts the prominence of vision as a metaphor for distant knowing as well as the distance of critique, but it also calls for ethical questioning. What is caring touch in this context? Here, somehow paradoxically, thinking touch with care troubles the desires for immanent proximities as susceptible to reproducing the negation of mediations and the nonevidence of ethical reciprocity. The terrain around which I articulate these arguments is the revaluation of the sense of touch, from cultural theory to expanding markets of haptic technologies. Instances of haptic fascination expose not only the potential of thinking with literal and figural meanings of touch but also the temptations of idealizing materiality. Yet engaging speculatively with experience, knowledge, and technology as touch allows us to explore a possible transformation of ethos that could be brought by more careful touching visions and the forms of ethical obligation they entail. In particular, touch’s unique quality of reversibility, that is, the fact of being touched by what we touch, puts the question of reciprocity at the heart of thinking and living with care.”

When we think about how knowledge is made (and “transmitted”), the model we first reach for is “influence.” Maybe we use a symbol: think of knowledge as a river (influence flows, after all). That same river is imagined to have an “origin.” And there we imagine, and delineate, the holy site of originary inspiration. The wellspring.

It’s an epistemological model that is very influential – one that has blossomed, Bloomed. But it has limits, or at least seeds complications. The river itself is not isolated or discrete. The water that forms its body is connected to all water, everywhere; there is only one water on planet earth. But perceptual divisibility has got us into trouble. (In M Archive, Alexis Pauline Gumbs writes: “this is what it takes. the strength of no separation. the bravery of flow. the audacity of never saying this is me, this is not you. this is mine this is not yours. this is now, this was not ever before.”) And then there’s Heraclitus, of course, and his river fragments. “Into the same rivers we step and do not step, we are and are not.”

Three passages quoted above complicate the inevitability of flow; flow which is so slippery that it transforms into inheritance (property), ancestry (blood). María Puig de la Bellacasa emphasizes the reversibility/reciprocity of touch: when we touch, we are touched. This challenges the structure of agency supposed by the activeness of the active voice, the passiveness of the passive. Something moves in both (several/many) directions. Reciprocity might take place in a circle of exchange: books pass between readers, emphasizing the circular shapes of circulation (Ahmed). Beyond that: there are consequences to all exchanges/circulations: all that you touch, you change; all that you change, changes you (Butler).