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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751


ODENDAAL, Bernard. Manifestations of sensory perception in some poems included in two digital Byderhand installations at Worcester, South Africa. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2020, vol.60, n.4-2, pp.1363-1385. ISSN 2224-7912.

In the Western tradition, sight and hearing have come to enjoy cultural primacy as external sensory capabilities (Wilfong 2015; Rowland 1976a), including for appreciating artefacts of art. The accelerated growth of a culture of science during the recent two centuries, has added to this privileged status of especially visual perception as a means of comprehending phenomena (Classen 2007). It comes as no surprise, therefore, that imagery based on visual perception tends also to dominate in poetry; in fact, poetry is currently often deemed to be a primarily visual artistic manifestation (Agamben 1999; Longenbach 2008; Silverman 2011). The majority of the poems written or made available for the "Byderhand" (in English: At Hand) Project of two digital installations in, respectively, the multi-sensory garden of the Pioneer School for the Visually Impaired and the Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens, both at Worcester in South A frica, attests to the said primacy afforded sight and hearing as external senses. Cultural determinations of sensory perception are, furthermore, often expressed in the stereotyping and "thereotyping" of cognition (cf. Rowland 1984), specifically - and usually in negative ways - concerning cognition by the visually impaired. Research has, however, revealed that persons who have to make do without sight, often tend to develop remarkable dexterity in utilising the other external sensory abilities (hearing, touch, smell, taste), while lending varying primacy to these in accordance with situational changes (Rowland 1984). Tactile perception plays an important role in such persons' exploration of objects and spaces, and movement of the body and the limbs tends to characterise their perceptual engagement (Rowland 1984). "Analogies in sense perception" (Keller 1908), or synesthetic compoundings of sensory experience (Kalla & Van Schalkwyk 2009), constitute another strategy employed by the visually impaired in transcending the limitations they have to deal with. More recently, in accordance with a "sensory turn" in scholarship (Pink 2013:261), scientific research has been the source of growing acknowledgement that additional capacities for perception, other than the so-called extero-receptors mentioned above, are available to human beings (Rowland 1976a; Geurts 2003). Attention has increasingly been paid to intero-receptors, such as the vestibulary system (sense of balance), the interior kinaesthetic organs (like the joints and the muscles, in sensing movement) and proprioception (the sensing of position). These findings agree with views (cf. Rowland 1976a; Müller 1994) that human perception and cognition are based on our bodily experienced, or sensorially integrated, interaction with phenomena, and with the (changing) relations among the phenomena in the spaces around us. Such perceptions, and the concepts based upon them, find expression in the language symbols or image schemata (Danesi 1990) we create and employ in naming them. The manner in which the highly symbolising character of modern-day language signification caused us to experience the development of a gap and accompanying tension between sign and signified, has been explored and deliberated upon from various theoretical frameworks. In particular, the post-Freudian psycho-analytical views of Jacques Lacan on the human transition from the Imaginary Order to the Symbolic Order (cf. Grabe 2013) have proven to be of relevance in analysing the manifestation of sense perception in four of the poems included in the said Byderhand installations: "The return" by Diana Ferrus, "Karoo dance" by Pieter Hugo, "The house where I live" by William Rowland (who was blinded at the age of four) and "Semi-desert" by Jacques Coetzee (who was born blind). In addition to a wealth of (varying) sensory manifestations, and the implications thereof for meaningful interaction with phenomena and place, what has transpired as a shared motif in the four poems discussed, is the expression - again: in a variety of ways - of a longing for authentic sensory (re-)experience (and, consequently, renewed comprehension) of natural phenomena. In all four poems, this desire is expressed in terms of a reaching at, or an (imagined) bodily advance towards, the surrounding Karoo landscape and the objects present in it. Following the discussion ofthe poems, it also becomes clear that such interaction concerns the rendered experiences of both the visually impaired and those not characterised by such an impairment. One may conclude that, apparently, a universal human need is voiced in this regard, constituting an effort at countering the effects of "intellectuality and materialistic abstraction" in modern society, namely by means of "immediate, aesthetic experiencing of [...] all the things that have been reasoned away" (Van Wyk Louw 1959). In her study on Culture and the Senses, Geurts (2003) warns that, in considering the cultural determination of our sensorial perception, we should take heed not to underestimate the possibilities and uniqueness of embodied experiences, including those of the impaired. The positioning of the Byderhand installations at Worcester, within the spaces and next to the objects the poets are writing about in their poems (that is: the emplacement ofthe verbal artworks), represents an endeavour to stimulate an aesthetic experience by means of a variety of sensory perceptions. It is the wish of the Byderhand project leaders, who could only make the said poem installations a reality in cooperation with local role players, that reading the poems, or listening to recorded readings of them, will inspire visitors to the installations to undertake their own, unique and embodied experiences of those surroundings and of the phenomena therein. This wish would appear to be shared by the persons whose poems are quoted and discussed in this article.

Palabras clave : Byderhand Project; site-specific digital poetry; sensing; extero-receptors; intero-receptors; cultural determination; visual impairment; Worcester; psycho-analysis; Jacques Lacan; embodied perception; emplacement.

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