Correspondences is the title of one of Charles Baudelaire’s best-known poems and is considered one of the manifestos of Symbolism. This sonnet is part of the initial section of the six making up the first edition of Fleurs du mal (1857), the one without the prologue, without the famous invitation to the reader, which Baudelaire decided to introduce in the second edition of 1861. Fortunately, Tim Ingold, the British anthropologist (how narrow a definition this is!), in his latest work Correspondences (2020) immediately extends the missing invitation, or a letter from the heart as he calls it.
This invitation shakes us from the very first line:
“ Ideas come when we least expect them. If a thought were a visitor our mind expected and it arrived at the appointment knocking, would it really be an idea? To be an idea, a thought must disturb, shake, like a gust of wind ruffling a pile of leaves. We might even have been waiting for it, but when it arrives it’s still a surprise ”.
This letter from the heart may be given a reading, whether it be inorganic or organic; rational or irrational – but dualistic at any rate – by resorting to one’s own personal evaluative functions (reason or feeling) or perceptive functions (intuition or sensation) in a succession of duplications and heading towards an infinite kaleidoscopic maze of mirrors that strengthen or dampen “reflections” upon reflections.
But as you shall discover by the end of this “simple walk” (which according to Ingold is the nature of his book) we find ourselves in a maze rather than a labyrinth. According to Ingold, in fact, moving in the maze means adhering to the axiomatic paradigm of intentions and choices: I know where I want to go, and I decide step by step, on the basis of a predetermined intention, which path to take at each intersection and which, obviously, to avoid. Conversely, staying in the labyrinth means letting oneself be guided by attention, opening up to the amazement for what is happening and following a logic of care, honing oneself and participating.
In the maze (a maze that we have culturally built for ourselves up to now) intentions guide the path we take, i.e., action shapes passion, individual decisions (doing ) determine subjection (undergoing) to the overall flow of life. Conversely, in a labyrinth, within a logic of care, the dialectic between doing and undergoing is turned upside down, for the sake of truth and reality: it is the latter term that determines the former in the binary. What we do lies in the flow of the current by which we are carried.
It is needless to underscore the relevance of this way of thinking for a pandemic situation where some individuals clearly perceive themselves locked up in a maze and others in a labyrinth. Life cannot be subordinated to acting, rather it is acting that is subordinated to life.
Ingold’s philosophy (or anthropology? or psychology? or, why not, poetry?) is a radically “active” critique of the idea of culture in a maze. Here, culture is a determined effect of growth and development, of formation, in short, of the overall process in which we live. But in English there is a term that practically indicates the process of breeding that would be more pertinent to culture in the labyrinth. The term is nurture which immediately brings to mind to nurse, nursery and therefore taking care.
Care precedes and is more important than culture.
If we wish to apply this thinking to our current international predicaments, for example, we might use this poetic metaphor
Chronically poor in history
The hours are nurtured in furrows
A human nursery of glory
The weeding has just finished
From these endless fields doubt
Shall sprout of a lasting peace
What Ingold continues to claim and acclaim in his work as an anthropologist (or better yet, steward) is a return to attention: taking care and paying attention to the world, its processes and its things. It does not mean relegating them to intentionality. (“I do this because I want this outcome”; “I don’t care what happens to what I have produced”). This kind of attitude, participatory observation, is a correspondence practice.
Thinking that is born and configured this way constitutes a real art of caring and care: an art of participation, describing and acting without wanting to control or dominate, within a logic of community and radical sharing in which individual autonomy is always within a more comprehensive flow.
In the economy of lines (yes, that’s right – Ingold is also a surveyor and architect), we must consider production neither from the side of the human species nor from that of nature / environment; instead it is the continuous correspondence of passions (undergoings) of planet earth and actions (doings) of the human species. To produce, therefore, means to correspond with care by participating in the trajectories of non-human lives.
“ Sometimes I wonder where the philosophers have been all these years. Recently, some of them have started to say – as if it were a new, surprising discovery – that in reality the world does not revolve around human beings … “, says Ingold in his Invitation, ” yet at the center of every network, you will find always a human being. Why is that? “. In the spirit of Professor Ingold (how narrow this definition is) I will leave the reader the pleasure of taking a walk to answer this and other questions, I will limit myself only to conclude by starting from the beginning; from the famous poem by Baudelaire which gave the title to Tim Ingold’s work (all of it!).
Nature is a temple in which living pillars
Sometimes give voice to confused words;
Man passes there through forests of symbols
Which look at him with understanding eyes.
Like prolonged echoes mingling in the distance
In a deep and tenebrous unity,
Vast as the dark of night and as the light of day,
Perfumes, sounds, and colors correspond.
There are perfumes as cool as the flesh of children,
Sweet as oboes, green as meadows
— And others are corrupt, and rich, triumphant,
With power to expand into infinity,
Like amber and incense, musk, benzoin,
That sing the ecstasy of the soul and senses.
— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)
Giuseppe Ferrara was born in Naples and grew up and studied in Potenza, southern Italy. He earned his degree in Physics from the University of Salerno and has been living and working for many years in Ferrara, as a physicist at a private Research Center. He has published five collections of poetry: L’Orizzonte degli eventi (Event Horizon, Este Edition, Ferrara 2011); segnicontroversi (controversialsigns, Edizioni Kolibris, Ferrara 2013), Appunti di viaggio di un funambolo muto (Travel Notes of a Mute Tightrope Walker, Tracce, Pescara 2016) and Il Peso e la Grazia (96 rue de-La-Fontaine Edizioni, Follonica 2018). His latest poetry publication is Raccolta differenziata (Separate waste collection, InternoLibri, Latiano 2021). His work is included in several anthologies including I poeti del Duca- Excursus nella poesia contemporanea di Ferrara (The Poets of the Duke – Overview of the contemporary poetry of Ferrara (Kolibris Edizioni, Ferrara 2013); Riflessi , n ° 40 (Pages, Rome 2015); Il mio mandala-Antologia 114 haiku (My mandala-Anthology 114 haiku (Cascina Macondo series, 2015) and Folate di versi ( Gusts of wind, Paolo Laurita Edizioni, Potenza 2019). He writes about poetry and more in his blog Il Post Delle Fragole ( www.thestrawberrypost.blogspot.it), is a member of various cultural associations and contributes to many literary journals.