A sidelong glance
“His bow is made of flowers, the bowstring of bees, five are his arrows,
Vasanta (Spring) is his adjutant, the Malaya breeze his war chariot,
and yet, by himself, O daughter of the snow mountain, when but a bit of compassion
he has got from a side glance of yours, the Bodiless One (Kama) conquers this world entire.”
“To do anthropology, I venture, is to dream like an Ojibwa. As in a dream, it is continually to open up the world, rather than to seek closure. The endeavour is essentially comparative, but what it compares are not bounded objects or entities but ways of being. It is the constant awareness of alternative ways of being, and of the ever-present possibility of ‘flipping’ from one to another, that defines the anthropological attitude. It lies in what I would call the ‘sideways glance’. Wherever we are and whatever we may be doing, we are always aware that things might be done differently. it is as though there were a stranger at our heels, who turns out to be none other than ourselves. This sensibility to the strange in the close-at-hand is, I believe, one that anthropology shares with art. But by the same token, it is radically distinguished from that of normal science, which defamiliarises the real by removing it altogether from the domain of immediate human experience.”
Tim Ingold, Anthropology is Not Ethnography
“A human body is present when, between the see-er and the visible, between touching and touched, between one eye and the other, between hand and hand a kind of
crossover occurs, when the spark of the sensing/sensible is lit, when the fire starts to burn that will not cease until some accident befalls the body, undoing what no accident would have sufficed to do…”
Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Spirit
At first glance, what have these three quotations – a verse praising Lalita, the musings of an anthropologist and a soundbite from a phenomenologist – have in common? I’m trying to articulate a mood – a sentiment, if you will, which is one of the ways in which I describe to myself, my approach to tantra as the sidelong glance. It often feels to me, that I am doing a jigsaw; a jigsaw where the overall image is unclear, yet I experience a definite thrill when two or more pieces – however momentarily – slide together.
Very often, it seems to me, I approach the subject in an oblique, roundabout manner, open to the enticements of the sparkling glance of Lalita, present in everything – be it in the words that light up the computer screen as I trawl the world-wide web, a shared moment with a passing work colleague, in the rumble of trains leaving London Bridge station. This glance is beguiling, it invites dalliance, sport, playfulness, recognition. It throws me into a reverie, where seemingly disparate themes flow together, fuse, fold and unfold. Lalita’s glance is a caress.
Sometimes I lie awake, unable to sleep, my body twanging like a bowstring, at other times – often in response to a question – it seems as though understanding condenses suddenly out of the vapour of nuance, only to withdraw once more into the background, having afforded me a tantalising glimpse. This is a knowing that is rooted in the world, which reveals itself through the world – in moments of contact, in the brief spark which passes when eyes interlock, when words on a screen or page seem to promise an unfolding into …