Recently, I’ve been having some interesting discussions with my eldest son about art. I like these discussions as much as he hates them. The reason is, because, by his own admission, he doesn’t see the point of art. He doesn’t really know what ‘art’ is and I think he finds most of it rather baffling and confusing. This is after many years of being ‘dragged’ around art galleries by me.
Concurrently to our ‘what is art’ talks, we’ve also been debating the difference between ‘animate’ and ‘inanimate’ objects, this being a topic closely related to my art practice. I’ve been writing about this in my thesis. I believe everything is animate and everything has the power to cause change in other things by the relationships between things (things including us).
This subject of animate vs inanimate started a few days ago as we were approaching the Welsh coast and I casually mentioned as we were getting closer that we would ‘soon be able to say hello to the sea’. He jumped in with, with much confidence: ‘No you can’t, the sea is inanimate’.
My eyes lit up at this comment. On many levels, I disagreed. One one level, simply because of pleasure. Just because something, as science currently dictates, doesn’t have consciousness, it doesn’t prevent you from having a one-sided conversation with it. You can say hello to anyone and anything you like. I talk to things all of the time. When I mentioned this, his shoulders sagged as I fear he knew what was coming, and he replied with: ‘Fine, ok, but still, saying ‘hello’ to the sea is pointless. It can’t hear you or respond. It is inanimate’.
Oh, dear son, that is not quite the right way to conduct this argument. Define ‘pointless’? I wanted to say. I didn’t. I kept this particular strand of the argument to myself. My point, had I wanted to make it, would be that if I get pleasure out of saying hello to the sea, irrespective of whether the sea is able to feel my hello and/or respond, then it is not ‘pointless’. I didn’t make this point though. I concentrated instead on the second part of his reply: his firm belief that the sea is inanimate.
‘The sea is clearly animated,’ I told him. ‘You can see it moving from here’. (By this point we were skirting the coast and had passed the point of the initial ‘hello sea!’)
‘Yes,’ he quickly responded with. ‘But it isn’t being moved by organic forces.’
The argument proceeded along the lines of what ‘thing’ or ‘being’ can be ‘animate’ and whether ‘organic’ forces are moving the sea. He firmly believes, as he proceeded to state, that the moon is the only thing moving the sea (I didn’t mention the wind but then it was a still day). And, therefore, as the moon is a solid object, the sea isn’t animate. We didn’t enter into a discussion of whether there is a chance that the moon is organic, never mind the sea, with all its organic forms contained within, whether these organic things within ‘move’ the sea, or whether it mattered whether the sea had been moved by organic forces or not to whether the sea is animate. At this juncture, as I was thinking all of the above, he thought of a counter-point to make to back up his thinking.
‘The sea doesn’t have free will,’ he said with arms folded, a grin forming on his face. He was conceding perhaps that the sea was maybe a little animate in strict terms of the definition of the word, ie ‘moving’, but it wasn’t in a state of flux because it wanted to. We left it there. He’s got a scientific, logical brain. I haven’t. We will never agree. I always keep the possibility in mind that science hasn’t yet found all the answers. He trusts science. So we didn’t delve any further but I haven’t stopped thinking about this topic, as I have been standing this week watching the waves pound the West Wales coast.
Then we saw dolphins. Then the rains came. Then the sea changed from warm and friendly to angry, rough and wild. See, what I’ve done there? I’ve given the sea a sense of how to behave. I’m not saying I may have ‘won’ the argument but I don’t think he has either.
I guess the jury is still out on this one.
So, this morning, back home, as we drove over the M6 I said: ‘Hello M6, you look nice and sunny today’. I was met with a withering look from the passenger seat.