Who gets to define reality?

In this free webinar, author of Sensuous Knowledge: A Black Feminist Approach For Everyone, Minna Salami, joins advaya to introduce this paradigm-shifting framework.

Minna asserts boldly that the dominant knowledge paradigm—obssesed with quantification, rationalisation, reason and deduction—has led to the crises of separation, and is thus detrimental to our individual, collective, and environmental wellbeing. It is more important than ever to now explore new ways of being in the world.

In this webinar, Minna will introduce sensuous knowledge, a model of knowledge rooted in the dynamic landscape of black feminist thought. It is one that empowers, enlivens, and liberates, through embodied insight. The key here is embodied insight: how does rooting ourselves in the present, in our bodies and in this world, liberate us?

Minna, the host and curator of the upcoming online course with advaya of the same name, Sensuous Knowledge, will take us through the course topics and themes, and through this conversation explore why a collective inquiry into knowledge is so relevant now, and for each of us.

HANNAH CLOSE: My name is Hannah Close. So I'm a curator for advaya, and I'm also the programmes coordinator. And for those of you who don't know, advaya is a transformative learning platform. And we create learning programmes with the leading minds of our time to shift perspectives, transform our relationships, and enable thriving lives in harmony with the natural, living world. And I'm really excited to introduce our upcoming online course with Minna, which I'll just briefly outline, and which we'll be diving into during this webinar.

So the course is curated and hosted by Minna, a feminist author and social critic, and it's called Sensuous Knowledge, a Black feminist course for everyone. The course is a five-week long, interactive journey starting on the 31st of July. And in this course, you will learn about and embody disruptive ways of thinking and knowing, key feminist ideas, emotional literacy, inquiry into crisis, awakening, connectedness, and more. And I'm super happy to be introducing Minna Salami. So Minna is a Nigerian Finnish and Swedish author, currently Programme Chair at THE NEW INSTITUTE. And Minna's research focuses on black feminist theory, contemporary African thought, and the politics of knowledge production. Minna is the author of Can Feminism Be African? which is forthcoming in 2024. And this book explores key themes of African feminism. And she's also the author of Sensuous Knowledge, which this course is named after, and this webinar, and Sensuous Knowledge reimagines universal concepts through a black feminist framework.

Minna posits that the dominant knowledge paradigm—obsessed with quantification and rationalisation, has led to a crisis of separation, and is thus detrimental to our individual, collective and ecological wellbeing. So in this webinar, Minna will introduce sensuous knowledge, a model of knowledge rooted in the dynamic landscape of black feminist thought. And we'll go more deeply into some of the themes in the course. So thank you for being here, Minna. I guess we're just going to jump straight in if that's okay with you.

MINNA SALAMI: That's why I'm here.

HANNAH CLOSE: Cool background, by the way, it's so cool.

MINNA SALAMI: Yeah. Do you recognise it?


MINNA SALAMI: It's a graphic from the course.

HANNAH CLOSE: Okay, so first question. The pairing of the word "sensuous" and the word "knowledge" is an interesting choice. So knowledge, as you say, in Sensuous Knowledge, the book, is something that we associate with the mind and the brain. And the dominant knowledge paradigm is technical, rationalist, and materialist. So the word "sensuous", in a pairing with "knowledge" feels somewhat contradictory. And yet, this is the entire concept and premise of the course, and the book. So I wondered if you could sort of expand on this notion of sensuous knowledge, and why it's so paradigm-shifting.

MINNA SALAMI: Thank you, Hannah. Thanks, everybody who's joined us. I'm really delighted to be here and to be sharing more about sensuous knowledge.

So I want to unpack your question a little bit. Because this idea of the definitions of knowledge, and the idea of whether it is connected to the brain, to the senses, to the mind, is really what lies at the root of so many of the crises that we face, and so much of the confusion that causes the crises. And so it's important specifically when we're dealing with these particular terminologies to be very clear about what we're referencing. And so the first thing to say is that... I mean, yes, absolutely. The way that knowledge is constructed is such that it is, you know... we think of it as something that is tied to the brain, but I want to dispute that we think of it as something that is tied to the mind. Because it is really important to sort of understand, as a foundation of what we'll be talking about tonight, that the brain and the mind are two completely different things.

So the brain is an organ in our bodies that we are able to scientifically and biophysically know quite a lot about. And so we know that the brain is the organ that we use to comprehend, to analyse, to rationalise, to sort of take stock of things, to make sense of things. It's a sense-making organ and tool, if you like. Whereas the mind, on the other hand, is a, it's a concept. It's a notion that is almost spiritual. It's about the mental, it's about something that we can't locate in any specific body, organ, for instance. Yes, people do typically think... tend to associate the mind with the brain. But that is precisely because we live in this technicalist, materialist, rationalist, scientist world. But the mind, you know, really, and truly, is something that we can't specify where it is, and we could locate it almost anywhere in the body. Yeah, we could say that there's a mind of the brain. But we might also say that there's the mind of the gut, or the mind of the bones. And, the mind is just this much broader term.

And so, when you say... when you ask, rather, that the dictionary would define sensuous as being connected to the senses, and to the body, and then that is a contrast to the mind, I wanted to clarify that it actually isn't. And it also isn't, because... so it's, of course, correct, that sensuous can be connected to the senses. There are many different definitions of the word "sensuous". But the way that I'm using it, in my book, and in this philosophy that I'm offering, that is sensuous knowledge, is connected to the origin of the word. And it was coined by John Milton, because he was looking for a word with which he would describe poetry. And he found that "sensual" was too connected to the bodily pleasures in particular, and so he coined "sensuous", to convey poetry as something that affected you mind, body, and spirit.

And you could say that, that is also what I mean by sensuous knowledge: knowledge that affects you wholly: mind, body and spirit. But that said, I do also very gladly emphasise, and even quite intendedly, like that there is an emphasis on the senses, and their very close relative, which is feeling and emotions. Precisely because we live in this world that so much shuns that part of knowledge production, of knowledge, of understanding, of ways of knowing, that I think it is actually really important to sort of centre them, because the brain part of knowledge, the rationalising, and the discerning and all of that, gets so much space anyway. So yeah, it is really important to make room for knowledge that we can receive, and build and gain understanding from, that comes from our embodied selves.

HANNAH CLOSE: It's really interesting, actually, what you just said at the end there, when you said knowledge we can receive and then the way you were talking about the mind, as if it's kind of... the knowledge is almost diffused, and it's something that we can share. And we are in fact porous beings are not sort of vacuum containers for the brain, but instead knowledge is something... at least from what I'm getting from what you're saying that it's much more kind of, dare I say it, promiscuous among people, which is super, super interesting. I don't know if I've understood that correctly. But...

MINNA SALAMI: That's great. I mean, of course knowledge is promiscuous. It wouldn't be any kind of knowledge that one would like to understand, to gain from, to receive, if it were rigid. Because that isn't knowledge... or even monogamous, to a certain idea, you know, like, knowledge is promiscuous, it's polyamorous. It has a completely free spirit.

HANNAH CLOSE: I love that. Yeah, and it so goes against the kind of Western paradigm of education and how we sort of consume knowledge and are then taught to regurgitate these like, bite-sized, rigid aspects of it. It's just the opposite of the reality in so many ways. Yeah, brilliant. So I think we can hop on to the next question, you'll have to forgive me, I've got a list. And so going back to the sort of broader historical context of knowledge, if you could call it that, why is the embodied considered controversial, or shunned and disrespected? And how did we get to a point where these other ways of explaining reality became hidden?

MINNA SALAMI: Okay, let me see if I can condense my response to this question. Because this is... this really is the question... And it's a very big one, and a really, really important one. And it is a question that underlies all of the sessions in the course that I'll be teaching with advaya. And so I'm going to share an image, I think. I think I'll share an image. And then, using that image, I can better respond to the question.

So I want you to imagine that reality is a sandbox. So everything that exists, you, me, our computers, all of the cables and wires that make it possible for us to communicate, the cities we're in, the countries we live in, everything is in this sandbox. And there's a little girl playing in the sandbox. And let's say that she builds three sandcastles, and as she's done that, a little boy walks past and they decide that they're going to play together. And the little girl continues to build a fourth sandcastle. And during that time, the little boy builds 19 sandcastles, let's say. And as he finishes the 19th sandcastle, he looks and sees that the girl has only built her fourth. And so he jumps up and declares himself the winner, and puts little flags in his sandcastles and beats himself on the chest and says, I'm dope. But more importantly, he says, that this is reality. "My sandcastles are reality." That's what we live in right now. Like, literally. Or, not literally. We don't live in sandboxes. But maybe we do. Who knows.

But, he has defined reality as the thing that he could quantify, he could measure, he could apply his sort of a warped logic to. And it's warped because the sandcastles are not the sandbox. There's so much else in the sandbox, there's the fact that these two children are playing, the feeling of playing, the emotions of their relationship, there are the textures, the texture of the sand, what happens to that texture, if you mix it with water, there's sounds, experiences. There's an infinite amount of things that are happening in the sandbox. The sandbox is reality, not the sandcastles. And so what I call Europatriarchal knowledge is a type of knowledge that has sort of decided from its foundations that the sandcastles are reality. And so we're living in this completely delusional idea of reality. And it's no surprise, therefore, that we feel confused all the time, when it comes to like, an understanding of what we know of clarity.

But what is so dangerous is that this is not only about confusion. I mean, that's one of the key drivers for me, in offering the philosophy of sensuous knowledge... is because I believe that it is imperative that we try to understand reality with truth and with clarity. But just as important, is the fact that this is so tied to power. So as we see in the sandbox as well. The reason that that becomes the sandcastles—a little boy defines the sandcastles as reality and immediately that gives him a certain kind of power over the little girl, even if it's a deluded form of power. It's still... this is the pretense of power that we've created.

So in order to go back to your question of why sensuous knowledge, why embodied knowledge is so shunned... it's precisely because this notion of power would be disrupted. The little girl's experience, and we could extrapolate that, as she, of course, does represent, women, black women, black people, people who are being oppressed in the sandbox... Her experience is disruptive to the idea of power. If she is speaking about something that she felt... like, for instance, imagine that the little girl was really enjoying taking her time building the fourth castle, maybe that was her expression of power, that she wasn't in a rush, she wanted to decorate it, she wanted to just be slow. And so to relay, that experience, when it comes to knowledge is a huge disruption to the powerful and dominant notion of knowledge, in which everything should be measurable. But it's so obvious when you think of the sandbox, for instance, but also if you start to think about all the things that cannot be measured. We cannot...

How many cubic metres is justice, or courage? What kinds of wires or cables can build freedom? And what kind of mathematical equation can describe love? I mean, these are things that are real, they exist in the sandbox, but they cannot be measured. So yeah, that's why this Europatriarchal knowledge, seeks to really shun and diminish those experiences. Because they disturb the idea of power.

HANNAH CLOSE: Yeah, that's a brilliant metaphor. And it kind of speaks to this idea, again, of just accruing knowledge. And I've been trapped in this myself where I've... you know, I'm a real bibliophile, but there's a kind of toxic element to that, where I have all of these books, but like, I just need to know. And there's also the enchanting side to it, where it's a human trying to get in touch with the aliveness of others through literature and through others' bodies of knowledge. But then there's also the more, more, more... more books, more YouTube videos, and it just... speaking from experience, is incredibly seductive and addictive, because that is like a currency. But that metaphor is super interesting, because it really pushes back on this idea of accumulation and quantity. And, we should be thinking about the quality of knowledge versus the quantity. And I don't know if that's wisdom, or what, but...

MINNA SALAMI: I think... I do want to just intervene with that. Because, maybe as a writer of books, and a lover of books, and somebody who also acquires books, maybe I'm feeling defensive here, but I don't really think it's necessarily the same thing. It would be if you were buying books because you want to say that you've read more books than somebody else. And that culture definitely exists. The people who read all of the great classics, and then they look down upon people who don't read, or who read other types of literature. But when it's reading because there's a curiosity to understand, and, I know you to some extent, and I imagine, even anybody working on the advaya platform... there's a desire to read, in order to counter the current system. And I think that that's a very different... because that's qualitative. And there's a different question altogether of whether we might be able to understand better if we read more slowly, if we read a few books slowly, rather than gathered lots of books and skim them fast, but I wouldn't say that it is Europatriarchal knowledge just in itself, to have a lot of books.

HANNAH CLOSE: Yeah, no, I agree. I definitely agree. I was thinking of those sort of AI software things where you can read like 1000 words a second or something. And it's sort of skims past, but it's... and we're downloading... we use this metaphor of downloading because it's all in line with this idea of a human being as a mechanistic processing machine that just puts the knowledge in and regurgitates it back out, and yeah, it's really very un-sensuous.

And I'm really curious about the... I don't know how I would phrase it as a question, because it's just popped into my head. But the slicing up... we were talking about embodiment, but the slicing up of what is considered the intellectual and the embodied. And in my life, I've often been very frustrated at this, because I love the intellectual. Or, my version of the intellectual is very poetic, but a lot of the intellectual space and, stereotypes are always harmful, but the stereotype around the intellectual is that it's stinky stuff, and it belongs over there. And the embodiment and sensuous knowledge and Eros, and all of this stuff belongs over there. And they just can't... There's no confluence. And I think that's rubbish. And I think you think that's really rubbish, too. And I'm curious about just your response to that, and where you think we can bridge this kind of arbitrary chasm that we've created between the intellectual and the artistic?

MINNA SALAMI: In some sense, you've responded to the question in that very last sentence. That it's an arbitrary chasm. And so much of what I'm intending with sensuous knowledge is to bring an embodied clarity, about that arbitrariness, because if we know that it's arbitrary—and worse than arbitrary, it's deceptive and delusional. That's exactly what it is. Then why do we continue to question ourselves? Because there isn't that divide between the intellect and the embodied. And of course, I understand, we've all gone through educational systems that have hammered it into our heads, that there is a difference. But that is precisely the primary goal and drive of Europatriarchal knowledge—precisely because it wants to be able to measure the intellect. So therefore, it needs to say that the intellect is something that has to do with how good we were in, like STEM topics, science, technology, engineering, mathematics. And we go through these school systems where those kinds of topics are given a higher ranking in the hierarchies. And we connect those to intelligence, and to the intellect...

Even in the West, but certainly, in very many other parts of the world, there's always been a deep understanding that wisdom is more holistic than that. The person who's a kind of polymath, the person who understands a bit of math, a bit of science, or a lot of it, but also about culture, about the body—and not just the body, again, as a topic, as biology, but the experience of being in a body, and who knows how to carry that experience in a way that integrates all of this knowing—that is what wisdom has always looked like, across time and across history and cultures, even in the West. But there is this opposing agenda that really seeks to make us question that. And it's that questioning that actually creates a lot of confusion for us.

HANNAH CLOSE: Yeah, for sure. And you did it to speak to this a bit, but I'm curious if you could speak more to the... because I've got the phrase, "knowledge is power, wisdom is understanding", floating around in my head, and I wonder what you what you think of that, and if you think that's too simplistic, or what the relationship of wisdom is to knowledge, and vice versa.

MINNA SALAMI: I think that sensuous knowledge is the practice of wisdom. That's how I see it, that's how I write it, that's how I live it. So that sort of, having that intimate relationship with knowledge, as I was just describing, that is knowledge that you experience, even the more technical side of knowledge, that it helps you to, going back to the image of the sandbox, knowledge that helps you to be fully in the sandbox, to perceive the sandbox, to be in it, to feel all of the multifariousness of the sandbox. That is a) what I mean by sensuous knowledge, and [b)] once you are practicing that, once you are aware of that, then what emerges is what we might call wisdom.

HANNAH CLOSE: I love that. It's like, knowledge in context or something like that. Cool. So, next question.

To return to the main conversation, and explore some of the key questions in the course, let's look at some of the topics you'll be teaching in more depth. So one key aspect is that this alternative model of knowledge is rooted in the dynamic landscape of black feminist thought. Could you briefly introduce the wisdom of black feminism and black feminist poetics?

MINNA SALAMI: Sorry, I've done a few zooms today, so I'm starting to lose my voice.

Yes, so black feminist thought is... obviously, first of all, not just one thing. It's a school of thought, which means that there are differences among how black feminists think. But I guess if there is one thing that defines black feminist thought, and without which it would no longer be black feminist thought, it would be something completely different... It is the argument and the perception for interconnection between systems and experiences and structures. Today, this is, of course, famously referred to as intersectionality. But even before that, that term was coined, black feminist thought was already talking about this sort of multiplicity of experience that black women had. And what that brings also into the picture, because...

Intersectionality now, as it has been introduced into the mainstream, at least into sort of mainstream political discourses, again, we are seeing this repetition, where, due to the dominance of Europatriarchal knowledge, we're trying to completely navigate intersectionality into this technicalist, policy world. But actually, intersectionality conveys so much more. And that's where the notion of black feminist poetics comes in. Because if, again, this image is really useful with the sandbox—if there's one group that, just in ourselves, counters the validity of the little boy's declaration that his sandcastles are reality, it is black women. And black feminists have specifically honed in on that. And the reason that it is black women, also, because, of course, women, indigenous people, so many groups counter that, but black feminist thought has really sought to theorise that what it means... if we are the group that were always excluded from whatever hierarchy of power, because these hierarchies were always assessed through quantification, and logic and rationalisation, and black women, more than any other group, have been excluded from these institutions of power.

And so we automatically and in some sense, it's a kind of reverse privilege, even though something like that doesn't really exist—that's a bit of a problematic phrase, but you get what I mean—in some sense, we have actually, in our otherness, been able to access the whole of reality, the whole of the sandbox, even though it has come from so much suffering and so much pain and trauma, in history, we've actually been there all along, looking at the arts, looking at the body, looking at our ecosystems, at the animals, at our plants—as sources of knowledge. And so when black feminist thought becomes a school, a body of work, we instantly went back to those ancestral and traditional legacies. And so you find a lot of black feminist poetics, in the arts, in music, in painting and dancing, in ritual. But you also of course, find the scientists and the technologists in black feminist thought.

So ultimately what it starts to create is this kaleidoscopic... The methodology of sensuous knowledge, I call it the kaleidoscopic method—to contrast with the scientific method. So it's just more. It's more.

HANNAH CLOSE: I love that—kaleidoscopic. And the title of your book and the course is A Black Feminist Course for Everybody. And I wondered if you could, you could speak to the "for everyone" as well.

MINNA SALAMI: Yeah, sure.

If I can reference to the conversation we've been having up until this point, these are topics that in a disillusioned world, especially as the one that we live in, everybody is grappling with now, but these are topics, these questions of power, of how power relates to knowledge, to ancestry, to history, to geography. These are the topics that have been of concern to black feminism for decades and longer, but as a concerted effort as a political and theoretical movement, we've been talking and addressing this for so long, but the rest of the world and particularly the Western world, the world which has for so long been in a myopic bubble because there was so much privilege and awareness of the collapse and destruction of the world wasn't as imminent as it is today. And this isn't about, the competition. This isn't that, Oh, black feminists had the sandcastles. That would just be part of the problem. And that actually helps respond to the question, because hence it is for everyone. It's just that there is a repository of thinking around these themes. And now is the time to disseminate, to share those, in the spirit of love and togetherness, which is what we need.

HANNAH CLOSE: I think that was brilliant. Thank you, Minna. Okey doke. So, next question. One of the modules of the course is called Sensing into Sensuous Knowledge. And I wondered if you could speak to that module in particular, and finding ways into sensuousness, and how this could be liberating.


So there are so many ways that we can find our way into sensuousness. And I like to think of it as starting with the mundane. Starting small, so beginning to really think about the experiences that we have on a daily basis. And by experiences, I'm thinking about the political struggles that we care about, as well as our friendships, our relationships, what kind of work we want to do in the world, what kind of person we want to be. And we continue to address these kinds of existential questions from a Europatriarchal knowledge perspective. So we try to rationalise our way to the right way of being in the world.

And so, with sensuous knowledge, it's almost the opposite. You can just approach your being from the right now, from being present, from being alive. And the way that you bring yourself into that presence is through a more holistic observation of your experiences, of the things that surround you, of your relationship with things that surround you. So it's not just sort of analysing a glass in a holistic way, which you could do. But it's... what is my relationship to this, to this glass, starting to just bring this sort of kaleidoscopic quality into one's life. And one example could actually be books. You mentioned this earlier, because books are so sensuous. Books are objects. They're objects, but they're also phenomenon that affect you holistically. They can change your life. The contents of them can change your life, or at least change your viewpoint on a specific thing, expand your mind. But they are also these textured objects, they have a smell, they have a feeling, when you're holding them, they have a visual image to them. So when we can think of sensuousness in that way with, say, books, and then we start to think of political movements—our relationship to the environment, in this kind of way, there's infinite possibilities for knowledge, for cultivating wisdom, and understanding.

HANNAH CLOSE: I'm thinking of, I can't remember which book it was, written by Thich Nhat Hanh, where he talks about the journey of becoming a book and the rain that had to fall on the tree to nourish it. So, eventually it was cut down and turned into a book, and it continues its life in this way. But I found that so beautiful, because every time I hold a book, now, I think, this was a seed, it was embedded in the soil, it was dependent on all of these nutrients in the soil. And it speaks to what you're saying about sensuous knowledge being inherently relational, and embedded within a relational context and sensing itself—you can't sense into nothingness, right? Like you have to sense into the world. And to do that is to be in relation, right out of the gate, to choose a really awful metaphor.

I wonder if you could speak to that a little bit more, about the kind of... I mean, you have touched on it, but the relational context of sensuous knowledge. Yeah. Does that make sense? It's not a very good question.

MINNA SALAMI: It's not a bad question.

Yeah, because, of course, I mean, there are many dimensions to the relational aspect. I absolutely love this example, that you gave of the rain, seed, and how, even when you're reading a book, which is such a private, individual experience, you are connected, not only to another person's thoughts and expression, but also to Earth, and to life cycles. And, yeah, that's absolutely an example of sensuousness. The same thing happens when we're eating. I mean, for instance, like if you're eating... let's say you're eating pasta, with Europatriarchal knowledge, if you were to describe the act of eating pasta, you would just be able to describe the amount of carbohydrates or proteins, of which there are not very many in pasta. But you would be looking at the calorific intake, or this, that, and the other. It's such a dry, non-relational experience. It's just mechanic, and it doesn't involve anything to do with the body. Because you can't measure those things.

And the relational element would be similar to the example of the book, that you can think about the textures of the pasta, you can think about what's happening around you, as you're eating, are you eating with others? And you can sense into the traditions of pasta—where does it stem from, what is the history of it... This is what I mean by the kaleidoscopic and the multi-dimensional, paradigm-shifting. I mean, we're talking about pasta here. And, there's so many layers that we don't think about, with even such mundane things. Now, imagine this when we start applying it to our societies, to our worldviews. It's so expansive.

HANNAH CLOSE: Yeah, for sure. Thank you for answering my not very good question with brilliant answer. Okay, so I wanted to talk a bit about exousiance, which is a term that you've coined, and about it you write, "What we ultimately can confer from rivers, each river meandering and branching in different ways, is how to embody exousiance – the alchemical and catalytic power of being and becoming together with everything else that is being and becoming." So, could you elaborate on the concept of exousiance and its relationship to individual and collective healing?

MINNA SALAMI: Yes, definitely I can.

So, the first thing I would like to share is that I have been obsessed with the notion of power my entire life. What is power? Who has power? And why do they have it? And this was what my dissertation was about, this was what I was initially... Sensuous Knowledge started out as a book... the original title was Blue is a Feminine Colour in Africa. And it was going to be all about power. So power is really something that fascinates me, because for obvious reasons, in the movements that I'm a part of, it's a really big topic. And so, exousiance is a term that I coined when I was writing Sensuous Knowledge, to describe or to convey power in a different way, to what we understand power today.

And it came to me... I received exousiance. So, in Yoruba cosmology, every person has a... or in Yoruba spirituality, I should say, every person has an orisha, an orisha is a kind of a deity. And you build a relationship with this orisha over the course of your life, through communication with it, and through ritual, and a sort of honouring of that spirit or essence, of the orisha. And my orisha is one that is called Yemoja. And she is the goddess of water, of the seas, rivers, oceans, lakes. And so I have been asked and called upon, to spend a lot of time near water. On a regular basis, but also and especially if I'm going through a challenging time, or I just need an answer to something, then all I need to do is go near... rivers is my preference. And I tend to find some direction. And at the time that I was writing my chapter on power, I was going through a very challenging time, and I was therefore spending a lot of time, near rivers. I was travelling a lot as well. So wherever I went, if there was a river, I would go. And when I couldn't go to a river, I would spend hours watching river videos on YouTube, which I didn't know was a thing until then, but there are like hours and hours of just rivers. It was wonderful.

And, because I was writing this chapter about power, I had been researching the roots of the word power and one of the things I'd come across was the ancient Greek word for power, which was Exousia. And somehow, these two things, in this kaleidoscopic way, fused. The word Exousia and my spending so much time with rivers, and it became exousiance. And, what it was was I really saw something new about power that I hadn't been able to see, because power, like everything else, is something that has to be measured and quantified in our dominant Europatriarchal world, and so we tend to think of power as synonymous with violence or coercion or manipulation, because these are things that we can use weapons or money or material substances to then quantify power with. But the rivers really showed me the falsity of that. I mean, I sort of sensed that already. But with watching the rivers...

Because when a river moves... a river has its destination, it's moving from its source to the mouth of the river. And along the way, there are long stretches when... a river is just one big stream. But then along the way, there's all these streams and tributaries that feed into the river as it moves towards its destination. And so that really spoke to how the sort of individual quest... there's an individual quest, but it's always part of a collective, like a river doesn't kill a tributary, it doesn't wage a war against a stream, because it's trying to head somewhere. It's not in a competition. It's all just this wonderful sort of synthesis. And yet, it is also, moving beyond obstacles, most of which are manmade, whether it's dams, or pollution, or whatever it might be. And so there's a real language. It's not just a metaphor, it didn't feel like it was just... There was a real language that I felt I was in communication with the rivers about power with.

HANNAH CLOSE: I love that. I totally agree. And I completely get that sense, especially around water. I wrote something recently about the ocean being our primary metaphor for Eros, I'm like, is it even metaphorical? You know, it's such an imminent feeling, and it completely, as you say, goes against this idea of power as something inherently bad, and it will corrupt you if you have power, and seeking power is bad. And I see so many people who are trying to do good in the world afraid of power. And I was too, and I was thought, yes, power is bad, we should stop power. [But now it's like] gosh, no, that's not good. Let's not do that. Because it's like an inherent property of the universe. It's the creator of life. And water, using the metaphor of water as well is particularly potent, because water is supposedly the soft and the feminine, and these are all quite like basic, stereotypical descriptions, but it embodies both the gentleness and the firmness, as you say, which is wonderful.

MINNA SALAMI: I'd put anybody who would claim that water is soft in the middle of an ocean somewhere. The experience would be very different.

HANNAH CLOSE: Absolutely. I think we will have time for one or two questions from the chat if that's okay. Let's have a look. One second. If anybody has a question that they want to add to the end, now, please do, otherwise I'm going to sift through...

There's a question here. To live a sensuous life, we need time and a tropical environment. Is it even fit for our urban modern lifestyles? So I guess the question... to live a sensuous life, or how would we live a sensuous life with our modern urban lifestyles, might be the question in there.

MINNA SALAMI: Yeah, I mean, it's perhaps even more important to find ways to live sensuously in modern, or urban environments, which of course not everybody lives in. But yeah, there's always ways. There's always nature around us somewhere, and there's a kind of interconnectedness. There's community, we need to seek these things out. But more than anything... sensuous knowledge is not... it's not about making life pleasurable. This isn't like a self-help theory. Even if that may be one consequence, that the more embodied we become, the more we can be present to life. And so of course, that also can increase pleasure for people. But the point is not that. The point is to bring the wisdom, to bring the critical awareness of reality, to see the sandbox, and not just sandcastles, because that worldview, that paradigm is wrecking havoc with our societies. It is destroying the only planet that we have. It is turning us into robots who kill and maim each other. It has created these dualistic hierarchical systems that are so hateful and biased and narrow-minded.

And so really my ultimate incentive and goal in writing and thinking about sensuous knowledge is to dissent to the paradigm that is dominating the world, rather than to create a sense of epicurean pleasure. And not to diminish that, because I think, to the extent that one can create that, then, of course, by all means, self-care, and all of that. But yeah, this kind of holistic, critical awareness that is dissenting—is the aim. And that is something that you can do, wherever you are, you could be in the most urban of settings. And there is still a possibility to cultivate that mindset. In fact, in some sense, it may be even the better environment, because the feminist struggle... feminism is always about power, about shining a light on where there's an abuse of power. Because the moment you see an abuse of power happening in front of you, in that same moment, it's like the light bulb moment, that's when you start to change it, because you've seen it. You've had the light switch go on. And when you're in an urban environment, and you're deprived of the inherent sensuousness of reality, the light bulb can be switched on, even brighter.

HANNAH CLOSE: I'm really curious about... because you mentioned pleasure. And quite often, if we think of particularly Europatriarchal knowledge, there's this image of the ascetic and the monastic who cuts themselves off from pleasure... the sin of the body, and sensuousness itself... And even, as kids in school, in a Western culture, knowledge is associated with not feeling very good. And like, Oh, I've got my math homework. Like, I don't know if you've heard of maths trauma.

MINNA SALAMI: I've had it. I wish I had that term when I was...

HANNAH CLOSE: And obviously, the word trauma, it gets used in so many different contexts these days, but I can attest that maths trauma is real. So I'm curious, what you think about the relationship between pleasure and knowledge, and pleasure and sensuous knowledge.

MINNA SALAMI: Yeah, I mean, it is kind of what I just said that. I mean, pleasure is political. We've been deprived. Our access to pleasure has been repressed, as women, as black women, as black people, like it's one of the ways in which we've been dehumanised. And so, the reclamation of pleasure is something that I will always support and promote. But at the same time, I would always frame that with the awareness of... we live in surveillance capitalism, mega hyper uber commercialised interests, in combination with technologists, like technoutopians... are the people who have the most power in this world, and that is no small feat at all. These people are really regulating our belief systems, our cultures, our practices. And so the moment we are trying to reclaim pleasure, they're like hooks on those reclaimations and it's very dangerous to then start to repeat a kind of commercialised, capitalist, consumerist idea of pleasure. So yes, I'm all for introducing more pleasure as a political element into our lives, into our resistance, into our knowledge, our forms of knowledge, but this is where that kaleidoscopic and that holistic view so important, because it's only if we have that, that we can make critical assessments, so that we don't end up applying the Europatriarchal approach to pleasure.

HANNAH CLOSE: Definitely. Thank you, Minna. So we're at time, and unless there's anything else you want to add Minna, I think we can wrap up. But thank you for that. That was really interesting. And thank you for sort of going along with my weird questions that weren't quite clear.

MINNA SALAMI: Yeah it was nice. We were really in the moment, like exploring... because I know you had some scripted questions, but for the most part, you went off them.

HANNAH CLOSE: Yeah, that's true. Sorry about that.

MINNA SALAMI: I think that's really good. That's the mark of a good conversation, a present conversation.

HANNAH CLOSE: For sure. And I actually, I reread Sensuous Knowledge. I read it a while back, and I brought it off the bookshelf again. I reread it, I was just going back to it again, and after letting it percolate the first time, I was soaking it up like a sponge, in a different way, which I really, really enjoyed. So thank you.

And just on some practicalities, in terms, of the course. So it starts on the 31st of July and runs for five weeks, with a session each Monday from 6–8pm, UK. And there is a 25% off code, which I will type in the chat now, but it's, all capitals, WEBINAR25. And I'm just going to type it in. And the website is sensuous-knowledge.com, which I will also put in the chat. But aside from that, I think that's all of the practical information. But yeah, thank you so much Minna, and everybody who's joining live and not live and also to Cass who is on the tech.

MINNA SALAMI: Yeah, hope to see you at the course. Those of you who joined. Do come along. It's gonna be really amazing.

HANNAH CLOSE: Okay, see you soon.

MINNA SALAMI: See you! Bye!


Minna Salami

Minna Salami is a Nigerian, Finnish, and Swedish feminist author and social critic currently at The New Institute. Her research focuses on Black feminist theory, contemporary African thought, and the politics of knowledge production

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Hannah Close

Hannah is a writer, photographer, curator and researcher exploring philosophy, ecology, culture and being alive in a world of relations.

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