Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Answer of the Real

This is a typical response to the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland. Nature is telling us that we're ignoring her. Thanks to Robin Mackay for pointing me this way.

In brief, this is Bruno Latour's idea in action. He argues that nonhuman phenomena are already participating in human democracy, by making “statements” such as this, measureable by scientific instruments (the mode in which they “speak” to us). Lisa Disch spoke very eloquently about this at Johns Hopkins last week.

The trouble is, what counts as a nonhuman phenomenon? The cloud? Global warming that may include the cloud—or not? In a global warming age, where all weather is significant, nothing is significant.

It reminds me of Zizek's brilliant argument about the Lacanian “answer of the Real.” The little boy protagonist sees a plane fly into a huge window while he's fighting with his parents. He immediately says “That's my fault.” The answer of the Real is a phantasmical attribution of one's psychic state to contingent events. One is already in an altered state of consciousness (hysteria for instance), and one explains it by seeing it on the outside.

3 comments:

urbanomic said...

I think this is more interesting than you give it credit for - rather than simply attributing phantasmatic agency to 'Nature', there is a pragmatic-irrationalist meta-argument: Its tone tacitly admits that superstitious talk of omens is beyond the pale, but it then suggests either that in order to come to terms with the reality of our situation we would best act as if we did have superstitious fears.

Thus, 'rational voices' would be wrong to scoff at 'more superstitious ages' not because superstitious beliefs are well-founded, but because those belief systems are somehow more pragmatically effective in 'managing the earth' than weighing up scientific evidence and thinking rationally -- maybe ('glacial timescale') because they include some notion of aeonic time..
So the volcanic ash plume 'is indeed an ill omen', but a kind of objective opportunity for augury, from which it is our responsibility to construct the correct signifier ...

urbanomic said...

maybe it is the same as Latour's argument: "our conceptions of natural fact and reality must be re-examined in order or make room for other members of the political-ecological collective."

cf. "I therefore had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith"

Feed Me I'm Cranky said...

Sure, what counts as "nonhuman phenomenon" is more an exercise in our consciousness, perception, and culture's attitudes about what is "out there" (to borrow from you :); but if we accept that we are interconnected -- that nature is not "telling us something" because nature is not outside of us, then I worry that some would take the removal of a causal link to mean we are not implicated in acting responsibly towards nature (and I realize writing "towards" is problematic, but bear with me!)