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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

OOO + Uexküll vs. The Uexküll Regulars

...well maybe not against his philosophy per se, but against Uexküll-ism, practiced by Heidegger, Haraway, and a host of ecophenomenologists. Now Uexküll is legendary for his delineation of Umwelt, or “surrounding world”—different animals have different Umwelten.

Exhibit (A): Heidegger's argument that animals are “poor in world” and that non-sentient life and non-life doesn't really have a world to speak of at all—pure ontotheology. “My world is better/bigger/richer/more real than your world.”

If anything, as Levi Bryant argues in this fabulous post, the stronger argument is that no world is better than any other. In other words,
Uexküll needs a triple O-ing. Uexküll as alien phenomenologist in Ian Bogost's phrasing.

Exhibit (B): Haraway, “worlding” as an ethical principle. “It's good because it constitutes a world.” Thus “exterminism” is denying that things have a world, getting them oven-ready for destruction. Now there was a wonderful world of witch ducking stools. Should we preserve it? There was a world of Nazi uniforms. Should that be preserved? A world of concentration camps? This has been my argument in “We Aren't the World” (my RMMLA paper—expanded and remixed for World Picture, ha-ha, forthcoming quite soon).

OOO riposte: since everything has a world, we can't make ethical claims for any one object against others, based on its having a world. The murderer has a world as much as the murdered.

Exhibit (C): Assorted ecophenomenologists. I address this in Ecology without Nature. To me, this is Tolkien-ism, not really
Uexküll. In other words, an Umwelt is a way of being embedded—and being real is being embedded (just ask a Fox reporter in Afghanistan). Sheer smoke and mirrors. It has to do with an aestheticization of world—it's not an ethics per se but it can lead there. This kind of world has to do with rich backgrounds, contexts, environments. All of which, when analyzed, consist of other objects (which have their own worlds and so on). Thus there is no single, stable, solid world—no background, and thus no “world” in this woolly aesthetic sense. “This sentence is better than your sentence because it's embedded in a rich lifeworld, which I will now demonstrate using these tropes and figures. Did I tell you I was writing this in a desert? Look at me! Hey, that's me in here, writing, in a desert! Did I tell you I was in a desert?”

(That remark about Fox is no joke. The embeddedness rhetoric was in full effect in Gulf War 2.0, with reporters speaking against a background of tracer fire—but never against a background of blood curdling screams and bullets ripping through flesh. You might almost the tracer fire was fireworks. So embeddedness was a way to position the viewer as a virtual couch potato, somehow magicaly inside the TV screen. Far from getting up close to the action, the effect was to produce distance. Similarly, embeddedness rhetoric actually produces the aesthetic distance it claims to close.)

In OOO terms, this is sensual objects without real objects, sensual objects cut and stage managed to look as if they have boundaries and ditches and horizons.

OOO riposte: it's objects, baby, all the way down. The infinite regress of objects means that world, with its attendant Gestalt-isms (background and foreground, emergence etc.) is an illusion.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting post about Uexkull. It would never really occur to me to argue that it's wrong to destroy something because it has a world. I think much of this has to do with my Lacanian background. In my incarnation as an analyst, one of the key precepts was to set any normative judgment in the background. The only normative criteria was to be an advocate for the *analysands* desire. This is probably one of the reasons I have so much trouble with normativity in general. It's difficult for me to think in normative terms. Rather, my tendency is to think in descriptive or factual terms: "it is a *fact* that rocks have a 'world'". That doesn't entail that the world of rocks is good *or* bad. For me it just is. The question of whether a world is good or bad is another issue entirely, requiring a different form of analysis.

L

KC Masterpiece said...

I just commented similarly on Levi's post, and I'll ask a related question here:

"there is no single, stable, solid world—no background, and thus no “world”"

How do you see U's notion of Umgebung fitting in with this quote?

KC Masterpiece said...

I just commented similarly on Levi's post, and I'll ask a related question here:

"there is no single, stable, solid world—no background, and thus no “world”"

How do you see U's notion of Umgebung fitting in with this quote?