In Conversation with Minna Salami: Sensuous knowledge as an antidote for our times

Consciousness & Spirituality, Story-Telling & Narrative

In Conversation With Minna Salami: Sensuous Knowledge as an Antidote for Our Times

Article with Minna Salami, Tammy Gan on Wednesday 29th March 2023

How have the methods of rationalisation and quantification shaped our planet and culture? How does Sensuous Knowledge disrupt this with a more holistic, relational, ancestral, embodied approach to knowledge? What does this kind of knowledge feel like, and what pathways does it open up?

Minna Salami

TAMMY (ADVAYA): Welcome everyone to this webinar. Welcome to those who are watching live and to those who are watching in post. This is a webinar with Minna Salami, who I’ll introduce in a bit. But this is ahead of adaya’s upcoming online course, Sensuous Knowledge, A Black Feminist Course For Everyone, which is as a spin on Minna’s book, which we will also inevitably talk about. The course with Minna will start in about two months, on 29th of May. And it will run weekly on Mondays from 6–8pm. And it is a five-week course, so a little bit shorter than our usual courses, but no doubt, very deep, and it will be very meaningful for everyone who joins.

Now, a brief introduction to Minna Salami. For those of you who don’t know, Minna 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. Minna is the author of Can Feminism Be African?, a forthcoming book in 2024, as well as the author of Sensuous Knowledge: A Black Feminist Approach For Everyone, and is the founder of the multi-award-winning blog, MsAfropolitan. And there’s a lot more that I could go into. But I want I do want to give a lot of time to the questions and the answers that we have prepared, and also to the live question and answers.

So for today, during this webinar, we will talk about sensuous knowledge, brief introduction to the concept, and the work that is based off—of course, Minna’s research and Minna’s life experiences, and we will also be talking about the structure and content of the upcoming course, to provide insights to the weekly sessions. And so to kind of start… I’ll dive straight into the first question. Minna, I would love for you to provide some brief context about the kind of central problem to the course, which is to kind of get to the source of knowledge. So we kind of are in a world that is governed, I would say, by rationalisation and quantification methods, that are imposed by the dominant paradigm, and so could you explain how that has shaped our planet and our culture?

MINNA SALAMI: Great, thank you so much, Tammy, for that lovely introduction. And thank you to everybody who’s joined us today. It’s really wonderful to be here. And I’m super excited about the course and you know, having this opportunity and platform to explore and deepen the range of topics that that sensuous knowledge is about.

So, in terms of your question, I guess the first thing I would say is that sensuous knowledge is not so much about getting to the source of knowledge. I mean, it indirectly ends up being about that. But it’s a kind of… it’s a terminology that can help us to understand what is wrong with knowledge production today—how it discriminates, how it limits and diminishes our lived experiences on this planet, as individuals and as communities and societies. But also, it is a terminology through which we can think about what kinds of societies we would prefer to live in, and what kind of knowledge that could really enrich, and be more nourishing and fruitful for us.

But in terms of the ways that you know, knowledge today is centred around rationalisation and quantification… The first thing to say about that, is that… these two things, these two activities, of rationalising and quantifying, are really important qualities and we need them, desperately, in certain activities that we undertake in society. So for instance, when it comes to science, to dealing with health, and with technology, and things like that. We definitely want to be able to formulate and to assess that kind of knowledge, using quantification methods, right? The problem is that we—as a species, because the ability to rationalise and quantify is something that is quite unique to the human species—at some point in our history, we became so… sort of enamoured, with this capacity, that we wanted to apply it to everything.

It’s, a little bit like, a little boy who’s been given like a Superman costume, and then he wants to wear it everywhere, to school, to sleepovers with friends, to have breakfast. We’ve become like that with quantification: we want to wear our superhero quantification cape to do everything. And, this is really immature. It is, to stay with the metaphor of a little child and their superhero cape, it just isn’t applicable to the multifacetedness, and multidimensionality, of collective human and non-human situatedness on this planet. And sometimes we need to wear other costumes. So if you think about just the need to learn about feeling, to learn about what it’s like to have a body, what it’s like to listen, and to be still—these are all capacities that humans also have, in which rationalising and quantifying actually becomes an obstacle.

So for example, we today, in most parts of the world, accept that meditation, for instance, is a form of knowledge. Insofar as… we are encouraged to meditate because we are able to gain self-knowledge and awareness about our world, the more we can like still our minds. And what we do when we meditate, is, in effect, to stop rationalising. There’s many ways we can think about meditation, we can visualise some kind of light beaming through our bodies… and all of these these tools or techniques can work. But one very simple way to meditate, is to stop rationalising. And so already there we have, one form of knowledge that is incredibly important for our times of overstimulation and attention deficits and so on, in which it’s a big problem that we we have been educated so much into the culture of endless rationalising and quantifying, that we can’t bring ourselves to that kind of still space.

TAMMY (ADVAYA): Yeah. I definitely feel the increasing sense of like, there’s just a lot of streams of information, just to kind of build also on the rationalisation and quantification… There’s just bindingly increasing amounts of streams of information provided and enabled by that kind of dominant paradigm of chasing after knowledge, and also within that paradigm is also that kind of endless pursuit of knowing more and more and having more and more, which then leads to extractivism and commodification, so more of those things…

But to go back to your metaphor of the—great metaphor, by the way—boy in the Superman costume, I think that puts across the idea super clearly… And also sometimes it’s like you want to put on other costumes, but also, sometimes you don’t have to wear a costume. Sometimes, the boy is just sufficient… the boy does not need to be in a costume. And kind of building from that, I would love for you to kind of then introduce more formally, sensuous knowledge, and specifically going into how it connects the critical, the rational, the scientific, which we are not saying that is not important—it is important but also needs to be in dialogue with the enlivened, the ecofeminist, holistic, relational, ancestral, embodied, which were all the things you were kind of getting towards… So how does it kind of bring those two together, but at the same time, I think crucially there’s… to kind of make it more nuanced, it also disrupts that paradigm for sure, so I think it’s interesting that it at once kind of tries to connect that together, but also disrupts it. And holding space for that nuance, I think, is really interesting. I would love for you to go into that a little bit, as well.

MINNA SALAMI: Sure. Yeah. So maybe I’ll start, where I ended with the previous question, to tie them together, because, in so many situations that we have in our societies, for example, say in politics, in education, in academia, in all of these spaces and situations, what we also are experiencing in them, are relationships. And relationships are always driven, among other things, by feeling—strong feeling. Whether it is love, passion, anger, frustration, irritation, etc. And so, a deep sense of knowledge would be, inevitably, and logically, rationally, even, you could say, one which also encouraged us to have wisdom of feeling, and a way of being able to identify what we’re feeling, and a way to communicate, so a kind of emotional intelligence, if you like, but it kind of goes beyond that. It’s, to really have a kind of almost like a lexicon of feeling, but not in that taxonomical way, but rather like a deep-sense awareness, of what we feel, and what our emotive realities are.

So I preface with that, because sensuous knowledge, it stems from a worldview that is, in my case, a West African worldview, specifically a Yoruba worldview, as well as a feminist and a Black feminist one. And then of course, sensuous knowledge also stems from my own experiences in the world, as a person who has journeyed and traversed many, many places. But in the Yoruba cosmology, there’s a concept that is called ogbon. And I’ll use that concept to explain what sensuous knowledge is. So ogbon is the word for knowledge in Yoruba, and for very many words in the Yoruba language, there is a corresponding story in the mythos.

And so for ogbon, the corresponding story is that when the gods created our planet, they created ogbon, so that people could have knowledge, in order to build and create the societies that they wanted. But the gods realised that it wasn’t enough to just have ogbon. So they they split ogbon into two: into ogbon-inu and ogbon-ori, which translated, mean knowledge of the gut and knowledge of the head. So it’s sort of like, rationalisation, etc, on the one hand, and then, like, emotional intelligence on the other hand. And the gods declared that to only have one type of ogbon, would be to only be partly wise. And sensuous knowledge is ogbon. Ogbon is… if you’d like to, you could think about it as a kind of yin yang image, where you have ogbon-inu and ogbon-ori, occupying each one half of the holistic concept of knowledge. And so, it is that, going back to what I was just saying about, the situatedness of feeling… sensuous knowledge is a terminology that can help us to occupy spaces using all of our faculties.

So, you know, being aware that yes, say in a in a political situation, we can have an awareness that yes, there are laws and data and statistics and theories and ways of reasoning around any given particular issue, let’s say climate change, but there are also, a lot of feelings and evocations, sorrows, despairs, frustrations, hopes, desires, dreams. There are actual manifestations in our bodies that are occurring due to climate change, there are people having to migrate, there are losses, there are dreams, and then there’s also a whole body of aesthetic creation: our music, film, books, novels, that also are addressing that issue. And so situating ourselves in this way in which we have an awareness, whenever we hear the word climate change, so it’s not just oh, sometimes I think about the art about this, and sometimes I think about the data—but it’s to constantly carry an awareness of it in a holistic way, so once you hear the word, or the terminology, “climate change”, you’re switched on to this full cognisance of what it means. That is the kind of approach that I’m referring to, with sensuous knowledge.

TAMMY (ADVAYA): That’s a great summary, thank you for that, Minna.

And I think that, so what’s kind of striking me at the moment is kind of use of the word holistic and full. And I think so dominant paradigm knowledge doesn’t strike me as full and holistic, it often feels kind of, I guess, for me, at least I don’t speak for everyone in this huge paradigm in which everyone is… a lot of people are on the pursuit of knowledge… But to me, it feels kind of, sometimes it feels a bit empty, sometimes it feels a little bit straightforward, it feels like halfway, like when you were talking about [how] there are like parts, and if you don’t kind of have a holistic sense of knowledge and feeling, then you don’t have the full spectrum, or you’re not accessing the full spectrum of that, the possibility of knowledge. And so to me, sensuous knowledge as a holistic approach, feels a lot more, I guess, grounded, a lot more relevant than the kind of current way we think about knowledge, which doesn’t kind of get you anywhere beyond, I guess, the academic, beyond the intelligence that we know, the rational intelligence, that is now becoming kind of not helpful.

Which is, I guess, a nice way to go into our next question, which is kind of about our current times. And so the whole point of this course, I think, is that we feel… at advaya, I think we feel that like this current moment in time, exacerbated of course, by I think like COVID hangover—is what I’ve been calling it—is like after these two years of like, what’s going on, and then we’re kind of coming out of it, and still feeling disillusioned, and more disillusioned, I think with some people. There is still a lot of fear, a lot of anger, a lot of polarisation, division, isolation. And I think there is an increased awareness of a lot of things. But I think the question is what we kind of do, post-knowing all of those things. And so acknowledging that the fear and anger are valid emotions, how is sensuous knowledge, and we were getting to that earlier… about how it kind of grounds and it provides a fuller perspective… but I want to focus on how sensuous knowledge is an antidote.

And I chose that word, I think, intentionally, because I don’t believe… I don’t think you believe in either, but I don’t believe in like silver bullet kind of solutions. So it’s not like [with] sensuous knowledge, it’s like here, this is the thing, it’s going to save us all. Nothing is going to be that. But it is one, I think, antidote. There can be a lot, and they can be used together. But that it is an antidote. And at the same time it encourages us to be hopeful and joyful, and at the same time present to, as you say, the disorderly character of our times. So I think the struggle is figuring out a way to be present and be grounded in the crises, while having hope and joy, so wondering how sensous knowledge is a pathway for that? Yeah.

MINNA SALAMI: Great question. Thank you.

One of the things that struck me as you were asking the question, was this phrase you used, of having like a COVID hangover? I don’t think that that’s [a] strong enough terminology for what we’re experiencing. It was and it is such a tough time, I think it’s sort of more like a COVID disaster, a toxic state that we’re in, or a depression. And I mean, this is semantics, and it’s not about getting stuck in which word we use, but the reason that that matters to the question you’re asking, is, because when we then bring in the word antidote, it is important to understand that, what we are going to be discussing and what we’re talking about here, what we we need is an antidote to something that is hugely destructive, and severe, and difficult, and tough, and challenging. Because I guess, with a hangover, we get some pizza or a restorative sort of shot of something, another drink, or whatever, and then we’re fine. And we may even enjoy that relaxing day, or whatever. But I think we’re in something that’s much more murky and complex and difficult.

And so, yeah, sensuous knowledge is really just providing a language with which we can think about what we want to do at this moment. And it’s kind of strange, because I… not that I was, in any kind of way predicting the future, but the book was released, just the same week as we went into lockdown, and there was something really quite comforting for me, because I was then doing a lot of book talks online via Zoom. There was something comforting to the fact that the topics that we were addressing were so relevant to the times that we found ourselves in. And so yeah, it’s really this language with which we can think about what kind of world we would prefer to live in, instead of this destructive, unelevated and discriminating world that we live in at the moment, in which we are destroying our own planet, and our social relations, very rapidly. Yeah. So I don’t know if that answers your question, but I’ll leave it there.

TAMMY (ADVAYA): Yeah, I think it definitely like… I mean, to answer the question would be like, the whole course I think. So, I’m not expecting you to definitively or like, in any way, fully answer the question. In any case, that was a great response.

And for sure, like, I think not getting caught up in the semantics of it, but also thinking about, yeah, like the way you described it as like, murky and complex. I think that is definitely how I’m feeling about it at the moment. And just to kind of extract a little bit—bad word—but to just extract a little bit more from your answer… I think I was kind of curious about your phrasing of, when you described it as being present to the disorderly character of our times. How exactly does like sensuous knowledge do that? I think being present is interesting, because it implies… not response, exactly. And it doesn’t kind of… it’s not like an action word. You’re just sitting there, and being like fully with it. And that really strikes me as something that’s really important. And it’s something that not everyone encourages to do, in a time when people want something, to hold on to, something to do, something to act… being present strikes me as really important as well, and I think comes back also full circle to the stillness that we were mentioning at the beginning. So wondering if you can expand a little bit more about that.

MINNA SALAMI: So I think that there’s… depending on which kind of environment we’re in, we may use different words that are sort of pointing to the same thing. So words like being present, and being still… things like that. Cultivating awareness, those kinds of terminologies are, to me, coming from a feminist tradition, pointing at the same kind of thing as having clarity, and having sort of a political consciousness. And so, one of the things that I’m always trying to do is to connect—I mean, that is, in effect, part of what sensuous knowledge is—these worlds together, because they need each other, desperately. And so, being present to the moment, is not some kind of, yeah, as you said, it’s not a passive state. And I sometimes worry that, it can seem that it is… it’s pointing to the effect of something like that, of cultivating inner peace or collective peace. I think there was a period in history where there were similar crises to what we face in the world now, where that was the antidote. So thinking of maybe like the era of civil rights, and sort of 60s, 70s.

At the moment, that isn’t the correct response. I think what we need now is to raise… to sort of elevate consciousness upward, I don’t want to create a hierarchy, so hence, I’m pausing to think about what the word is. But we need a methodology that kind of elevates us and, I’m going to make up a word here, and emwisens us. So, in the same kind of spirit of the word emboldens—which is something we also need—but to emwisen. And what that means, is to stay in the present, but the point of staying in the present being, to cultivate not necessarily just a kind of peaceful stillness, or even a joyous stillness, but a kind of clarity that has political temperature, as well as a feeling of ease, of direction.

And so one of the things that, is super important when we’re discussing our world and the situation, the frustrations, the post-pandemic depression and reality, is to always bring in the dynamic of power into the conversation, because otherwise, we risk becoming too lenient, and acquiescent, with the status quo, if you like, and too individualistic or something. So bringing in the dynamic of power, as a means to analyse the situation, and to explore the situation, while simultaneously also cultivating, the embodied and the sensuous. And that’s what creates this kind of mix, where we’re also then not dividing between, as you’ve reflected on say, academia, and a different kind of, more esoteric, knowledge or meditative practice, or things like that, so really bringing it all together, because—and I’ll just end by saying, end this question by saying that—while there is like a lot to despair about, and there’s this kind of what is being called a poly-crisis in the world, which is a big, serious issue o course, there’s also, I think, a kind of rising, awakening, happening. There’s a possibility for change in a way that there hasn’t been in a very long time.

And so the question we have to ask now is, what will keep us in a place where we are aware of the crises, but also of this possible awakening? What kind of knowledge can help us to really sit in that middle place? And so in some sense, sensuous knowledge is, it’s about, the discomforts, it’s about, if anything, if being present in anything, it’s kind of being present in the discomforts.

TAMMY (ADVAYA): Thank you for that. I think what strikes me as important from that is also remembering that what we’re talking about always isn’t on a binary. So in the same way that we don’t want to set up hope and joy, as counter to fear and anxiety and anger about the situation—like it’s on a spectrum. And at the same time, also, when we’re thinking about, like, academic knowledge and esoteric knowledge, those are not like binaries of kinds of knowledges. I think there’s a spectrum that’s in between, people are necessarily on that spectrum. And it’s not that if you’re on one end of it, you can never access the other side… there are no sides, per se, and being uncomfortable about that, and being murky about that, and I think that’s where like coming back to the murkiness of it, I think… it’s like leaning into the murkiness of the whole situation and being like, okay, I’m okay with how this feels, how complex, and then being bold, as you say, to acknowledge that it’s complex, and to be able to situate ourselves in a place where we can identify what about it is uncomfortable, what about it requires movement and shifts…

MINNA SALAMI: I don’t want people to think that murkiness is something that exists outside of reality. Murkiness is reality. And so what we want to do is, be comfortable with reality, maybe for the first time in history, at least in modern history, and that is why it feels uncomfortable and difficult, because we have been educated, in this Europatriarchal system, to think that reality can be dualistic, and can be classified and quantified, going back to what we were saying in the beginning. Whereas actually, reality in itself is always this murkiness, this synthesis of things. And it can be really difficult and uncomfortable for people to stay in that place. But it’s also precisely that, which makes it so exciting. It’s very exciting to think that we can actually find a way to situate ourselves in reality.

TAMMY (ADVAYA): Yeah, there’s a lot more that we could go into there, I think. And also, at this point, I think I want to invite people who are in this session, to ask questions, if you have any, if you want to ask them in the chat, that’s fine, too, or ask them in the Q&A function. And we’ll pick them up, as and when they come in. But if not, we’ll just kind of continue dialoguing until the hour is up. And like I said, could go on for forever really, talking about these things. I do think that I want to come back to that later, about being present to reality, so I’m going to say that just to remind myself to come back to it, because I think there is a lot more there.

But for now, I think could you kind of talk us through the course? First of all, how it came to fruition—I’m also curious about that, because I don’t know how it all came to be that we are organising a course with you leading it. And so the story of [how] that came to be and then the structure of the course, why you chose those topics, because I’m aware as I was going through the content of the course, that some of the topics can appear super dense, or are words that people might not have ever come across before. So maybe talking about what those topics mean briefly, and then also how the course will be unique. I think the big thing about this course is that it sets itself up to be a course that’s not just you giving lectures. This isn’t an institution, this isn’t university, this is like a conversation, exchange, and there’s a lot of different mediums and senses that you’re employing to get your point across and start to exchange. So I’m wondering if you can take us through all of that, but starting with the story of how it came to be.

MINNA SALAMI: Okay, so the course, it came to be… Because it was meant to be. Because it was meant to happen—is the shortest answer to the question. But yeah, I have been invited as a guest speaker on a number of beautiful courses that you offer at advaya, from a course about kinship, a course about women and power, there’s been a few others as well. And I guess, those conversations have always just felt so rich, and textured, and beautiful, that I’ve stayed in touch both with all of you, the team at advaya, but also, made friends and colleagues, with people who have joined those other courses and that I’ve met there. And yeah, I think it just really was a very spontaneous invitation from advaya to me to run this course. And I unhesitatingly said yes. Because actually, when I was writing the book, or at least when it was complete, I had a very strong yearning to turn it into something, into many other formats, such as, using moving images, art, and so on, but especially into a course format. But then, it’s been soon, three years since it was published—wow, time goes so fast—and so a lot has happened since, as well. And so the course is really such a wonderful opportunity to tie together what’s in the book with, some of the things that have happened in the world and in our civic and public dialogues since then.

So in terms of the format of the course, it’s very much about exchange. So really, what lies at the very centre of the course is that it is an opportunity to exchange, to have dialogue, to have conversations, to talk. To really talk, because I think that actually, so many of the problems that we have in society are, very simply put, about the fact that we don’t talk to each other. We do lectures, we do debates, we do argument and critique, and we pontificate and do politics, and there’s all of these formats through which we’re channelling what really is just this human need and desire to talk to each other. So that’s something that I absolutely find so important.

And I’m really looking forward to doing a course that emphasises that, because I also think that, this format of doing courses virtually is relatively new, it has been especially intensified during the lockdown. But, it’s new and yet, there’s now a kind of established way and format of doing online courses. And I think that that format is really powerful and beautiful: the courses that you do at advaya, and courses that I’ve seen elsewhere. But I think there’s still an impulse to generate those courses, in the same way that… utilising the same kind of tools and practices of a certain type of knowledge that we’re resisting. And so quite often, a course, there’s this impulse to just, I guess, to cater to the need for constant stimulation, because that’s very much part of the problem of our times, is that we need that constant stimulation, and that stimulation has to look in a specific way, which, again, has to do with a set model, which is tied to rationalisation, and so on.

So the point here is that we’re really going to disrupt all of that. And it’s not to say, again, that we’re just going to be still and passive, or anything like that. But to be with that slightly uncomfortable texture, of not being overstimulated, that comes when you are just talking with people. And it’s almost like when you, if you practice yoga, for instance, or for those who don’t practice yoga, you can think about reading a novel, or maybe cooking, or some kind of activity like that. And when you start off in a specific posture, or making a meal or a story, you are initially at a kind of superficial level, right, and then when you breathe into it, or when you get into the meal, or into the story, you’re suddenly like, in this deep zone, where you really understand… you’re making this beautiful meal, or you’re stretching out all of your limbs, or you’re so lost in another world of the novel, right? And what we’re gonna do in this course, is to attempt at the very least, but also I believe, we will, get into that space of flow, when we’re conversing.

But that is not to say that there is not going to be any element of the other formats. So, in each session, I will also give a lecture by which I mainly mean that I will offer insights and knowledge that I have, surrounding the themes of that session to sort of give people language through which we can then explore further and deeper. So, there will always be an element of like, an introduction to the theme, and then some of the deeper knowledge and insights that exist around it, and of course, my own personal reflections on them. And then there will also always, in each session, be an element of the sensuous, of that synthesis. So, each session will incorporate, whether it is sound or visuals, or ways of connecting to our body. So some element of ritual, of getting us out of our heads, so that we can then talk, and be together as whole beings, and not just brains that are like in constant need of stimulation.

So, yeah, so it will really be like a truly sensuous experience utilising our different faculties. I might ask people to bring objects, we might play some fun games. But yeah, it’ll be an array of ways of being together. And I guess that’s what makes it, unique—is that we’re, in some sense, going to be challenging the format of online courses that has emerged in the past two or three years. And just doing that, so that there is more possibility for this kind of space, because the future is going to be populated by a lot of interaction between humans in this kind of mode, and I think this is about the right time that we ensure that even this format, this kind of space, can be diverse, and can somehow also be connected to our bodies and to the ecosystems that we are in.

TAMMY (ADVAYA): Yeah, I think when you said about kind of this time being characterised by an increasing sense of… conversations and bodies and people being mediated through digital platforms, and disrupting the ways in which we form relationships, or the ways in which platforms want us to form relationships, and taking that back into our own hands, and turning it upside down… So a healthy amount of fun there and disruptiveness. More, again, to go into that. And I think we’ll come back to that in a little bit.

But there is a question from someone who, for anonymity, I will not say their name, because this will be going up in a recording. But this person says, thanks so much for this conversation. It’s very inspiring. So they are currently a human rights practitioner, doing their PhD on regenerative activism, on how to renew, restore and revitalise activism at the individual and NGO level. So they ask, how do you believe current ways of knowing shape the way we do activism? And how can sensuous knowledge contribute to reimagining and strengthening it? Which is a great question, because I think that comes at the discussion that we’ve been having, at a different angle. Yeah, so Minna, what’s your response to that?

MINNA SALAMI: I think we are really in a time between worlds. And in so many regards, when it comes to politics, to social relations, to catastrophe and risk, to the shifting global order… And activism hasn’t really caught up to that fact of the time in between worlds, and it is still, for the most part, activism is… the tools of activism, are still the same tools of the 20th century. Having said that, a lot of the problems are also still the problems of the 20th century. So, I think it is really important that there’s still like broadcasting, campaigning, protesting, all those kinds of disruptive activities are absolutely necessary. I mean, in some sense, what I want to say in response to this question is that we sort of underestimate activism. Like everything in this dualistic Europatriarchal system, we think of activism in a kind of either or way. And, there is so much more, that could be considered as activism, that isn’t considered as activism, still today.

But I think that that’s changing. I see that happening in a lot of activist spaces. And there’s so many conversations about things like post-activism, that the amazing scholar—he actually intentionally calls himself I think a fugitive from academia, so I shouldn’t refer to him as a scholar, but, I mean, scholar in the sense of somebody who’s very wise. He talks about post-activism. There’s a fantastic book called The Entangled Activist by an author called Anthea Lawson, that’s also pushing the conversations on activism deeper and further. So this work is happening. But I guess my message is that activism is a much bigger, more beautiful, maybe even more of like, spiritual, in the sense that it is an existential activity, rather than something that belongs in the domain of, “just” like NGO work or charity work or things like that.

TAMMY (ADVAYA): Yeah, to respond to that, that’s exactly where I think sensuous knowledge comes in, right, just to kind of tie back to your work, is that it encourages a different kind of way of knowing, and how do you bring that to an activism space, how do you bring that to a space that’s focused on kind of ticking a checklist of things to do, focused on meeting targets, focused on doing, right? Like how, going back to kind of being fully present and being grounded? Like how can that really help get at the kind of more existential questions, which are kind of the questions that will lead us to answers out of—well, not out of this crisis, but I guess, pathways… Pathways? There is no ending, I think there’s no end to that. But yeah, just to say that, I think there is a lot of ways in which sensuous knowledge can enrich activist spaces, and part of the reason why activists and NGOs, I think experience burnout so strongly is because they don’t kind of sit with the discomfort and sit with the existential questions, and kind of get caught up in the doing so much so that they kind of aren’t present to their own emotions. And then, it leads to to burnout. And not knowing what to do after that, or kind of being lost in the doing. So just to add on…

MINNA SALAMI: I think what sensuous knowledge adds here is that it’s not just about denying or neglecting the activist’s own emotions, or their own sort of position, vis-a-vis the cause that they’re fighting against, but it’s an understanding of that cause that is broader, that incorporates the senses, and groups that have been excluded, non-human nature, and once that shifts, once the understanding of the problem shifts, then the understanding of oneself in relation to the problem will automatically shift. Because it can be counterproductive, to think of it from the sense of like, oh, how can I be more embodied or more present to a specific problem, because that, again, is kind of individualistic, in the negative sense of the term individualistic, in that it creates this huge responsibility and burden on the activist. And it also blames activism and activists… it potentially can result in blaming activists for the problems, which is absolutely dreadful, because activists are some of the most important people, in the same way that we need artists. We need activists in this world, activists are absolutely precious to societal harmony and survival, really.

So the point is not that we should start blaming activists for their lack of awareness, it’s just expanding, with sensuous knowledge, we can kind of, once we look at a problem from a more poetic lens and a more holistic or embodied, or artistic or whatever it might be, a more queer format, if you like, then we see that, the way that I need to approach this cannot only be this one model, if you see what I mean.

TAMMY (ADVAYA): Yeah. I think also for the sake of time, we will move to the next question, which will, I guess be the last question also. And it was touched on, a little bit, but I think that this person is also asking for, well, I mean, I guess there’s no like how to, but this person is asking more for like a how to apply sensuous knowledge. Specifically, this person is asking about being present to reality, and being present to discomfort. And they’re talking about being uncomfortable with the social climate in France, specifically, where people are fighting against a law to postpone retirement. So they asked about how sensuous knowledge can show up in a practical way. But I think more broadly, also, this question can be expanded into talking a little bit about getting a bit out of theoretical and pointing more specifically to what exactly does it mean for sensuous knowledge to show up in our lives, whether it’s as activists or just as people?

MINNA SALAMI: Great. So the truth is that there is no like, practical, sensuous knowledge, because that would defeat the point, and bring us back into this rationalistic, sort of scientist’s way of thinking, which I truly believe is a real problem in the world, that we want a practical solution to everything. That said, it isn’t impractical, either. I mean, in essence, it’s about cultivating a kind of… so if we were to say that, our conventional education or conventional knowledge systems have cultivated in us a kind of scientific attitude, and that that attitude creates a number of problems, because it divorces us from our actual selves and our feelings, and our relations with others and with our planet. And we still need that. But maybe what we also need, as urgently and as a complement, is what we might call a poetic attitude.

And the thing about poetry, if we were to just distil poetry, is that poetry always brings us to the present. So, I would dare anybody to read a poem that they like, and not be in the present. When you’re reading a poem that touches you, you’re not thinking about the future or the past. All of those temporalities are there, you’re aware of them, how they brought you to this present moment, but you are in the present moment. And so a poetic attitude has a cognisance, of the past, of the future, of the problems, of the joys, of all of these things, but it is like, you are still right here. And so that isn’t practical, per se, but it helps us to have clarity, and so many issues that make us feel uncomfortable and make us feel pained, such as what is happening in France, is because they are cultivating this sense of confusion in people and a sense of a lack of agency that arises from confusion. And so what this poetic attitude, in combination with the scientific one, and all the other attitudes that may be of value, does, is that it gives you a feeling of clarity, with which you then feel more grounded in this murkiness, in this murky reality, rather than that you feel despair because of confusion—you may still feel despair, because you see things more clearly, but in that clarity, there is also the seed of a forward movement of joy, of resolve, and of hope.

TAMMY (ADVAYA): Thank you for that, Minna, I really appreciate the invitation to, I think, sit with with reality. And also be very clear. I think what I really respect and admire about you is your ability to be very clear. And I think clear, is kind of a not descriptive enough word. I’m trying to… struggling to find the right word, but your ability to distil and also choose very wisely, words to describe and to kind of paint a picture clearly, from you to me, and from you to everyone else who we’re speaking to at the moment. And that feels kind of very important in a time when like people say a lot of things, very generally and kind of big blanket, polarising, statements that are so popular, saying things that are more carefully chosen feels very special. And I’m very thankful for you doing that, and thus inviting all of us, who will be participants on the course, to do that alongside you, as well. So just thanking you for that.

MINNA SALAMI: Thank you so much, that’s very generous.

TAMMY (ADVAYA): And on that note, I want to close off this webinar. And also thank everyone who’s here with us, and everyone who will be watching it in post, I’m sure there will be a lot of people who are catching up on this webinar, and reading the transcript. So hoping that people who are participating and engaging with this in that way, feel equally enriched from what we’ve shared today. And an invitation to everyone to check out the course, Sensuous Knowledge, which will begin on 29th of May. And the course, all the information can be found on And on that website, you will also find descriptions of the week to week sessions, as well as more information about Minna, more context about Minna. So that I guess you can figure out whether the course is for you. But if you enjoy this webinar, I think you’ll really enjoy learning on this course, and this unique opportunity to disrupt online courses. And hoping that you will want to join us for that. And I’ll leave everyone with a closing remark from Minna, do you want to say anything to close this off? Before we all say goodbye.

MINNA SALAMI: I just want to say thank you to Tammy for hosting this so wonderfully. And thank you to everybody who who joined us today. And I really look forward to spending five weeks together with all of you who sign up. It’s something that I’m really, really looking forward to. Thank you.

TAMMY (ADVAYA): Thank you, everyone. And so now the webinar will come to a close. Thank you Minna for taking the time with us to spend this hour and we will see you on the course.

MINNA SALAMI: See you on the course!

TAMMY (ADVAYA): Thank you. Bye everyone.

Minna Salami #

Minna is a Nigerian, Finnish and Swedish writer, feminist theorist and author.

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Tammy Gan #

Tammy Gan is the Head of Content and Storytelling at Advaya.

Read Tammy Gan’s profile