Cutting through and going along: A comment on knowing by singing

Tim Ingold* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


Seeing and reading are often thought to pull in contrary directions: as text is nonvisual, vision is nontextual. This assumes both seeing and reading are cognitive operations that cut through the surface of inscription to recover meaning from behind. Yet reading handwriting involves an attention that enters into surface texture and goes along with its lines, rather than cutting through. Here, seeing and reading afford equivalent ways of watching-listening. To listen, as to watch, is to follow an unfolding movement. Both are modalities of observation. But where observation submits to movement, objectification stops it up. Attempts to combine observation and objectification founder on their contradiction, as attested in encounters both between deaf communities and mainstream institutions, and between Indigenous peoples and the forces of colonization. Yet the charges leveled against the latter, of ocularcentrism and scriptism, signify not the prioritization of eyesight and writing but a cognitive style that withdraws the eye from the world even as it withdraws words from script. The same style divides song into components of verbal text and embodied practice. A body that is animate, however, sings its way productively into the world. Knowing by singing offers a way to enter into this productive process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)885-890
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Anthropologist
Issue number4
Early online date20 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research on which this article is based was funded, in part, by an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (Knowing from the Inside: Anthropology, Art, Architecture and Design, 323577-KFI, 2013–2018). I am grateful to the council for its support.


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