Experiencing the Two Handed Trim Saw: Intercorporality, Hyperlocality and Migration

Talk of Martin Dornberg and Daniel Fetzner at the 13th ANNUAL CONFERENCE of the Society for Phenomenology and Media (SPM) on "Hyperculturality: Identity and Migration" in Furtwangen and Freiburg University, Germany March 16, 2011

Intercultural Workshop at Furtwangen University, December 14, 2010

1. Bipersonality and intercorporality: The "two-handed trim saw"

In their book "Essence and Forms of Bipersonality", Christian and Haas (1949) describe for the first time the experiments that were performed at the physiological institute of the University of Heidelberg on the cooperation of two people using the two-handed saw. 

To make the model of sawing amenable to research and mechanically assessable, the saw was replaced by a square rod on rollers which the subjects were asked to operate in a harmonious way in the presence of various obstacles. The measured values (sawing performance, effort expended, direction of motion, flow of movement, et al.) were continuously recorded. The cooperation of these two people was examined mainly from two aspects; firstly, that of the experience of the doing, and secondly that of the objectivity of the performance, i.e. the sawing.

 Christian and Haas summed up their results under the following headings:

  1. "Reciprocity": Both partners refrain from simply ceding action to the other's inclination, but act in the expectation of mutuality and reciprocity. The behaviour of the parties to the job of sawing was always shaped such that the conduct of the one partner can be incorporated, reciprocated and supported by the other. This also includes anticipation, overlapping and completion.
  2. "Reciprocal accommodation - absence of autonomy": The participants reciprocally compensated variations in the effort applied in the sawing process without being aware of it or needing to be aware of it.
  3. "Emergence of a new whole and self-concealment of the partners from each other". In performing the joint work a new whole emerged; the individual contribution of each partner to some extent disappeared.  "Neither is able to separate the other player from his own self - each is a member of a working unit, of which he plays the role. " (ibid. 155).Mutuality and reciprocity are " concealed from oneself. Precisely then, when the participants experience their greatest level of independence at the peak of a skilled cooperation, the analysis shows that both are objectively strongly reciprocally joined in the events (ibid.)"
  4. "Connectedness of freedom and determination from the start" It is through their relationship with fixed determinants that the partners realise a maximum freedom: with the other person, the process and the goal. Reciprocal dependence and "reciprocal freedom (ibid.)" condition each other in this. 

In the trim-saw experiment a special form of bodily relatedness appears, that can be called "intercorporality" after Merleau-Ponty (1966). This intercorporality develops in dependence on a wealth of different parameters (cf. Dornberg 2008) that underlie all forms of intercorporality :

The experiments of Christian and Haas show that the developing intercorporality is dependent on:

1. the partners who are interacting at the time,
2. the goals of the interaction applying at the time,
3. the established level of match between the interacting partners and/or their lack of consensus
4. The common intercorporality being established in relation to goals, the partner and the process gives rise to a new whole
5. The new whole has an influence on the interacting partners, the goal, the match level etc. and it develops its own abilities to "perceive" and to "act" (v. Uexküll)
6. The entry into this "emerging" new reality is shared between the partners in terms of body and emotions through specific phenomena of feedback or resonance, e.g. via changes in affect and mood.


The last point is of particular significance: depending on how the matching succeeds, what performance is possible etc.  the process of sawing achieves a specific affective tint (e.g. that the sawing "is fun", "succeeds", "is amusing" or "boring"). Through feedback processes of a mood or medial type both partners are informed about the whole process and its emergent qualities, whether at the conscious or unconscious level.

From the experiments with the two-handed saw Christian and Haas come to the conclusion that in humans physiological, psychological and social relationships can sensibly be understood, and indeed scientifically researched, only by including their origination in environmental relationships and by including all associated references and medial qualities.

Within these superindividual units technical, material, work-related and goal-related actants in addition to human ones play a major role, as do also specific process-related feedback and resonance phenomena of an affective, cognitive or medial type. None of these factors can be separated from the whole process and all help to shape it at its core.


2.     Bipersonality, language and mediality

The specific phenomenality of bipersonality is particularly evident in language. For Christian and Haas it is a prominent paradigm of the bipersonal or trilogical structure brought out in the trim-saw experiments, in which the separateness of each partner to the relationship is overcome.

In the superpersonal process of language varying patterns of speech arise, depending on whether the language is more factually oriented (here the partners disappear behind the subject matter) or more emotional. Here, Christian & Haas offer the example of the "language of love" that, being purely directed at the willingness of a relationship, is not aimed at conveying information but at 'participation'" (ibid.). In the language of love above all, structurally but also in purely objective language, its context-specific medial (Christian & Haas speak of "mediumistic", ibid. 16) character becomes apparent.

Here Christian and Haas distinguish specific medialities and situation-related specific "hermeneutic" styles: the "...language of children, the reassurance of the doctor, the smalltalk of the drawing room, these are all language forms that have their special form of bi-personal living." (ibid.) Christian and Haas stress that the the contextual values and their special resonance phenomena that develop, dependent on the specificity of the superpersonal situation in question, cannot necessarily be planned or called up. The process logic and its special mediality are ordained and endured at the same time.

Referring to a central idea of V.v. Weizsäcker, Christian and Haas here speak of "pathic existence": The arising of the "new", of intercorporal and superpersonal relationships develops its own dynamic that cannot be planned in advance and cannot be "brought out" by one party alone. This new third emergent dynamic develops its own medial, perceptual and affective abilities and powers, "underground", right "through" the mutuality of the relationship.

It "abducts" the participating partners into some sort of a "third space". The partners are converted from autonomously acting parties into migrants. Migrants conducted by the dynamic of a "third body" and a "third space", without which they cannot be imagined and from which they cannot be separated. This space can be understood as a space of hypermediality and hyperlocality.


3.     Embodyment, social cognition and intersubjectivity

The writings of Christian & Haas on bipersonality and on its specific intercorporality can also make a contribution to the current debate on intersubjectivity, social cognition and embodyment.

In their essay “inactive intersubjectivity, participatory sense making and mutual incorporation“ (2009) the authors Thomas Fuchs and Hanne De Jaeger point out that the currently dominant cognition- and representation-oriented theories of social cognition should be freed from an enactive intersubjective and participatory paradigm. They write that current contemporary theories of social cognition are constructed mainly on a representational basis and would understand the phenomena of human interaction and communication only in a reduced and distorted manner. One should rather start with the interaction and coordination of two participating actors or from processes of reciprocal embodyment and intercorporality within which "the lived bodies of both participants extend and form a common intercorporality" (Fuchs & DeJaeger 465).

Fuchs and De Jaeger speak of the merging of the intentions of the interacting participants and their bodies - and their combining in a specific way with their environment and the aims of the other. "Their body schemas and body experiences expand and, in a certain way, incorporate the perceived body of the other.  This creates a dynamical interplay which forms a particular phenomenal basis of social understanding and which we will describe as mutual incorporation" (ibid., 472).

Fuchs and De Jaeger stress that this process of mutual incorporation not only interlocks the bodies and consciousness of the participants but also forms specific greater units with the environment. "Incorporation is not restricted to that which is near the skin, however – the lived body extends to whatever object it is interacting with. (ibid. 473)"

In this sense the blind person with his white stick extends his body into the environment and the stick becomes a relating or sensing organ. Then the blind person no longer knows where his body, hand or the stick ends and the environment begins. And following Fuchs/De Jaeger also the environment is able to negotiate and form organs of perception and action through the stick, the air, the sounds, - and all these phenomena shift in a way into the organism of the blind person.

Similar to the "bipersonal" or "trilogical" entities of Christian and Haas, the "operative intentionality" Fuchs and de Jaeger are describing has the following qualities:

  1. the logic of the interaction process becomes the source of the operative intentionality of both participants
  2. It cannot be ascribed to only one participant, but has to include variables of all participants and of value, of goal and of the specific process itself.
  3. The process achieves specific abilities to "perceive" and "act"
  4. These emergent qualities communicate themselves to the interacting participants and (also thereby) are operatively better available to them.
  5. These emerging qualities contain specific medial or media-related aspects.


4. Embodyment, intercorporality and mediality

Media are, from the culture-history viewpoint, to be understood not only as means of conveying and forwarding meaning, information and messages between senders and receivers, but historically and systematically as that in which perceptions, feelings and thoughts find their characteristic forms and expositions.

As we showed earlier interaction processes such as sawing with the two-handed saw or interaction processes of higher complexity such as language develop their own forms of mediality. They generate superpersonal units of perception, feeling and thought with their own emergent abilities. This includes specific processes of feedback and medial representation and remodelling. These remodeling medial processes have the ability to differentiate  themselves and partly free themselves from all antecedent references. Entirely different in part, they intervene in the "prior" references and not only help to shape them but to some extent entirely transform them.

Understanding "media" is thereby not only a matter of understanding  "communication" and its technical or other means, but of understanding the gaining of otherness, artificiality and mediality. Superpersonal processes and their resulting "third spaces" are specifically permeated by difference. In this context Tholen (2010) stresses the link between mediality and aisthesis (perception): "There is no perception that is sufficiently determined by its natural circumstances ... Perception is always a perception of the medium” (13) and it is always already affected and transformed by it.

In the trim saw experiments too the way in which human perception and human behaviour organizes itself as well as the mediality in which it takes place on the one hand, and which endows it on the other hand, is not only natural but also historical, technical and artificial.

Every bipersonal or multilogical reference system endows its own medialities, its own processes of embodiment and creating  "third bodies" and "third spaces". This leads to the "entanglement" (Böhme) of different spaces and intercorporalities, to the entanglement between

-a mainly intercorporally interactionally embodying pole on one side and
-a more technical artificial emerging and to some extent difference-creating medial pole on the other side. 

The process of entanglement between the intercorporal-interactional space and the space of difference-creating artificiality develops its own dynamics, generates its own abilities of perception and feeling, of "percepts" and "affects" (in the words of Deleuze & Guattari). Media therefore, in the act of transmission, condition that which they transmit and put their stamp on it. "In this sense, media are antecedent and, like language, that which precedes us, or more precisely: that which decentres every anthropological fixed point of an Us or We." (Tholen, op. cit., 17).

This also may teach us the two-handed trim saw experiments.


© Dornberg/Fetzner 2011  |  SLIDES  

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