Collective Expression: The Ecology of Thinking in Action


Presentation Title:

  • Collective Expression: The Ecology of Thinking in Action



  • What are the conditions for an interaction to spark a collective movement of expression that is truly ecological in the sense of exceeding both the individual inputs of the agents involved and the sum of those contributory parts? This is the question addressed in electronic art, embodied cognition, network theory, and posthuman philosophy under such rubrics as “distributed agency,” “distributed cognition,” and “nonhuman agency.” Too often, presuppositions about what constitutes agency and cognition are left unchallenged, with the gesture of multiplying and redistributing the existing categories implicitly considered adequate to the task. This talk will attempt to set in place certain conceptual signposts for an integral rethinking of these categories along radically ecological lines. The starting point will be the seemingly least amenable to this project: language interaction. Starting from pragmatically from a particular technique for collective expression practiced at the Montreal-based research-creation laboratory, the SenseLab, the discussion will work out from language to the ecological field within which it takes place. The aim is to resituate language in relation to its outside: the larger field within which it occurs, populated by elements and beings beyond its ken, and beyond the purview of the human subject, whose capacities for thought and action they immanently inform. The path will lead through certain outlier concepts of C.S. Peirce’s theory of signs, revolving in particular around his enigmatic concept of a “Commind,” cast in terms we would call ecological today, as more fundamental to expressive action than the individual utterer or agent.