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

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Psychic Swamp Is Now Online

Here it is, in all its glory. Featuring very deep readings of Avatar. (By the way I'm sure how to talk about it yet, but I shall.)

Royal Academy Friday: Object-Oriented Thinking

Here's the schedule for the RA event at the Royal Academy on July 1. It's going to be packed. It will as ever be livestreamed, I hope.

10:30 Iain Hamilton Grant
11:00 Padraig Timoney
11:30 coffee
11:50 Martin Westwood
12:20 Tim Morton
12:50 Recap

1–2 Lunch

2:00 Panel Discussion
2:40 Open Floor Discussion

4:00 Royal Academy Schools Reception and viewing of Schools Show

6–10pm Loose Lips: an evening of film screenings and live events

Eco-tone: Object Space Entanglements mp3

And here, my shivering mates, is the mp3. (See the previous for details.)

Eco-tone Video

Here it is in all its glory, featuring discussions with David Reid, Kevin Love, Jonathan Watts and a packed room of listeners.

Kevin's response was exemplary, beautiful and touching. A work of art. It's well worth hearing in its own right.

David's presentation of various music and visual pieces was stunning, in particular some work by Ami Yoshida, which reminded me forcefully of Butoh.

Dark Ecology Challenge Update

...There will be more to come, I'm just taking a breather while I get these talks done. Thanks to all of you who have sent comments so far.


Well I'm here eating a bowl of granola at the Groucho Club. This is where the Royal Academy is putting me up and it's a good pied a terre, I can already see that. Flight was okay, especially since I had Iain Hamilton Grant's book to keep me company. The very little I've seen so far looks a little more trashed than last time I showed up: that was at the very apex of the boom in 2008 and before the Conservatives got in and started the “austerity measures,” basically punishing non-bankers for the sins of bankers.

The seminar later today will be livestreamed here.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

X-Ray Ecology

I've had my dark ecology, and Levi now has his black ecology. For me right now, I'm going to go with X-Ray Ecology, also known as Gamma Ray Ecology.

The thing about X-Rays: you can't see them. They see you. Remember that line in Empire of the Sun? Hiroshima looked like “God taking a photograph.”

Mental Illness and Causation

...of course the perennial argument on CNN et al. is “is it innate or environmental?” the sickening Shakespearean nature and nurture being used with brain addling frequency.

Levi Bryant's post on all this got me thinking as it contains a very interesting final paragraph about the deep reasons why we're stuck in this “debate”:

I think a big part of the problem here lies in how impoverished our concept of causality has become. The Enlightenment famously reduced all causes to the efficient and material cause, getting rid of Aristotle’s formal and final cause. When we approach self-reflexive objects like human beings we’re thus placed in a straight jacket where we have to decide whether the material cause is cultural (the signifier/discourse) or material (the brain/genetics) and where we have to decide whether the efficient cause is cultural or genetic. Yet if we reintroduce formal and final causation back into our thought, treating the formal cause as the cultural and natural milieu in which we develop and where the final cause is treated as the goals and aims we set for ourselves, we get a much richer developmental picture of human beings where we’re no longer forced to decide between biology and culture, genes and signifiers, but can instead think an interplay between culture, genetics, environment, goals, and biology in the course of our lifelong development. In other words, we now get a democracy of causes where we don’t treat one factor as the cause, but rather see these phenomena as multilaterally determined. This gives us a far wider set of means for engaging with our psychic maladies, allowing both political engagement and chemical engagement.
I need to think about this kind of argument as I work on my book on causality.

Frankenstein Symposium NYC August

This could be marvelous:

In 1818, when Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus was published for the first time, Mary Shelley could not have imagined the monster she was unleashing on the world. The creature in Shelley's novel is remarkably sympathetic and an eloquent speaker, capable of measured, intelligent, and articulate argument. But based on Boris Karloff’s 1931 film performance and confirmed by countless other films, comics, and illustrations, the general perception today is that Frankenstein’s creature is a “monster” who grunts or speaks—if he talks at all—in disjointed monosyllables.

Why has popular culture largely denied the creature his reasonable voice? This symposium brings together four scholars and the curator and bibliographer of The New York Public Library’s Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection to reflect on graphic and film representations of the “monster” from the past two centuries. The first half of the day will feature presentations on key visual adaptations of the creature, while the latter half will engage questions about what these appearances mean for understanding him as a political and historical subject.

Medievalism Conference CFP

Organized by BABEL and the postmedieval crew. This looks right. The code word: ATOM.

Iain Hamilton Grant

What a perfect read his book is, Philosophies of Nature after Schelling. It's wonderful and totally compelling. And you learn so much on every page.

I'm talking as a died in the wool Romanticist who swallowed what Grant describes as the various cartoons of Schelling out there. Grant has made Schelling incredibly refreshing, above and beyond what Zizek does with him in The Indivisible Remainder. Way above, as far as I'm concerned.

And I'm only on page 28...I'm excited to meet him on Friday.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Summer School: Early Literary Theory 5

Neoplatonism, Longinus, object-oriented ontology, realism, solipsism, ekphrasis, the sublime, God: you know, the usual...

Radical Joy, Global Exchange

This is about groups of people who go to ecologically damaged places and perform contemplative rituals there. Beautiful slide show. HT Trebbe Johnson. More on this soon.

UCD Search for Medievalist

My department (English) will be searching for an Assistant Prof. medievalist this coming academic year. Details to follow.

Eco-tone is happening now

Can't wait to hear updates from Paul Ennis, Robert Jackson and David Reid. Details of Friday's event below. Tons more stuff on the Eco-tone blog these last few days, including abstracts of the talks.

Emergence and the Sorites

Hold the phone: I was slightly in error in my post on Nathan Brown and emergence.

There is a deeper, more OOO reason why emergence is in trouble. This has to do with how emergence is a sensual object.

Nathan's emergence is only a problem if you cling to demonstrably brittle logics such as Russell-Frege. It's a Sorites problem that shows how you can never quite catch emergence in the act. You can never specify exactly when life emerges from non-life.

The problem is seriously mitigated if you adopt any number of paraconsistent logics. It goes away entirely if you are a dialetheist for whom p can also be not p without trivialism.

Monday, June 27, 2011

To Have Done with Life

Nathan Brown's conference in Zagreb has a good opener about emergence, same way of thinking as myself:

The term “emergence” is the surest index of the doubly physical and metaphysical scope of this problem. The emergence of life, we say, and what we seem to mean by this is that we do not know exactly how—at exactly what point and in exactly what way—life came into being, though we do seem to know a great deal about its properties—including, supposedly, that it exists. The problem of “emergence” is that a modality of being came to be which was not before, and the difficulty is that tracking the physical causes of such an event leads to irresolvable aporia. And these aporia are too easily dissembled through reference to “complex, self-organizing processes,” as if we can at once account for and evade the radicality of the event we are trying to think by placing it within the same category as the formation of snowflakes, traffic patterns, or the activities of termite colonies. In its typical usage (the work of Stuart Kaufman, for example), the concept of “emergence” is a crypto-metaphysical concept pretending to offer physical explanations, at once allowing and accounting for gaps in the latter through reference to “complexity.”
Elsewhere in the intro are some things I don't agree with. I don't agree with the idea that to think life metaphysically is to overmine entities into nonexistence, because I simply don't hold that this is what metaphysics necessarily does: sure, a certain metaphysics. Bit of a generalization there. I also don't agree that to undermine life to material “structures” and “functions” is to be outside of metaphysics: it is to choose a certain kind of metaphysics, again not mine. This one isn't a generalization but a question begging interpretation pretending not to be.

Summer School: Early Literary Theory 4

...featuring discussions of Aristotle, Horace, form, materialism, idealism, Darwin, object-oriented ontology, aesthetics, catharsis and a medium sized parrot called Fred (not really).

Without Nature = ?

Big (m)Other is watching you

A commenter writes:

i keep on wondering if your position that "there is no nature" isn't equivalent to the position that everything is nature, including pollution, nuclear waste, etc.

There are two reasons, in brief, why this isn't the case:

1) If everything is Nature, then Nature is stretched so thin as to become heuristically valueless. The term only has value when opposed to non-nature, artifice, the queer etc.

2) Nature is not simply a list that includes things (this is a major argument in Ecology without Nature btw). Think of a fairly normative list of Nature things:

Ferns, sunlight, mountains, lions, lichen ...

And so on. (Many of the Whitmanesque lines in Spahr's poem perform this metonymic evocation.)

Now add some terms:

Ferns, sunlight, mountains, lions, lichen, pollution, nuclear waste ...

Nature as such never arrives at the end of this list. It always waits off the end of the ellipsis. Why?

Because Nature is a transcendental signifier or top object (in OOO-ese). It's not strictly reducible to its contents. Thus it functions as a Big Other: a dimension, an environment (indeed) in which things are given meaning.

The message of ecological awareness is that there is no Big Other, there are only irreducibly unique beings.

Objection (2) is a far more serious objection than (1). Why? Because the argument against Nature must be an argument against certain forms of onto-theology.

Be Prepared for Psychic Swamp

...a mega issue on Avatar, produced in part by my friend John Clark of Loyola New Orleans. More on this soon.

That Dark Ecology Coda in Full

To Juliana Spahr's Gently Now, Don't Add to the Heartache:

And we realized that from the very beginning of our history, we had been androids. There never was a Nature from which we are now separated.
This subjective destitution is happening precisely at the moment at which we achieve ecological planetary awareness.
Oh fuck.

And we realized that not only were we to deinotaton, but all other lifeforms were also to deinotaton. Strange strangers.
The spruce was a spruce droid. The damselfly was a damselfly droid. The marsh wren was a marsh wren droid. The butterfly was a butterfly droid.
Oh double fuck.

...and then we came to realize that not only were lifeforms uncanny doubles of themselves,
But even nonsentient objects.
The stone was an uncanny double of a stone.
The neutron star was an uncanny double of a neutron star.
The wicker basket was an uncanny double of a wicker basket.
The computer virus was an uncanny double of a computer virus.
Oh bloody fuck damn and back again for an extra helping of double damn.

...then we reached an even worse conclusion:
Not only had we done it, caused the ecological catastrophe, the Anthropocene,
But we didn't even have the feeling of existential weirdness to rely on.
This was because our subjective destitution turned out to be a basic feature of reality
Not some special prize for being human, as Heidegger had argued.
Every blasted thing in the universe was an uncanny monster carving out its reality ruthlessly.
We couldn't even rely on our sense of importance,
AND we had gone and screwed up the biosphere,
And we knew these two things simultaneously,
For the same reasons. Finally the Darwin hit home.
The tragic intensity of this poem was part of the very problem it was so beautifully screaming, for Pete's sake!
It was then that we decided that we were total lame-os.
Oh fucking shitting bollocks with a huge slice of bollocks on toast for good measure.

New Antennae

Now online. The issue: human-plant studies.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Take the Dark Ecology Challenge 6: Collapse of Anthropocentrism

...then we reached an even worse conclusion:
Not only had we done it, caused the ecological catastrophe, the Anthropocene,
But we didn't even have the feeling of existential weirdness to rely on.
This was because our subjective destitution turned out to be a basic feature of reality
Not some special prize for being human, as Heidegger had argued.
Every blasted thing in the universe was an uncanny monster carving out its reality ruthlessly.
We couldn't even rely on our sense of importance,
AND we had gone and screwed up the biosphere,
And we knew these two things simultaneously,
For the same reasons. Finally the Darwin hit home.
The tragic intensity of this poem was part of the very problem it was so beautifully screaming, for Pete's sake!
It was then that we decided that we were total lame-os.
Oh fucking shitting bollocks with a huge slice of bollocks on toast for good measure.

Take the Dark Ecology Challenge 5: Spread of the Uncanny

...and then we came to realize that not only were lifeforms uncanny doubles of themselves,
But even nonsentient objects.
The stone was an uncanny double of a stone.
The neutron star was an uncanny double of a neutron star.
The wicker basket was an uncanny double of a wicker basket.
The computer virus was an uncanny double of a computer virus.
Oh bloody fuck damn and back again for an extra helping of double damn.

Take the Dark Ecology Challenge 4: Droids Everywhere

In continuation of my previous:

And we realized that from the very beginning of our history, we had been androids. There never was a Nature from which we are now separated.
This subjective destitution is happening precisely at the moment at which we achieve ecological planetary awareness.
Oh fuck.

And we realized that not only were we
to deinotaton, but all other lifeforms were also to deinotaton. Strange strangers.
The spruce was a spruce droid. The damselfly was a damselfly droid. The marsh wren was a marsh wren droid. The butterfly was a butterfly droid.
Oh double fuck.

Take the Dark Ecology Challenge 3: Where's My Romantic Irony?

Juliana Spahr's Gently Now, Don't Add to the Heartache seems to lack a crucial element of dark ecology: Romantic irony.

Yes, it sets up a world only to tear it to shreds. This is exquisitely painful.

But this is where the poem is less than disorienting. (Thus it doesn't quite work as a consummate piece of constructivism, IMO; which is what it's trying to be.)

The subject position from which the elegiac ripping is staged is never undermined. How could the poem do this? Through Romantic irony: the realization that the narrator is the protagonist.

Now of course what I call Romantic irony version 1.0 happens: this is simply the chorismos between the narrating We and the narrated We. That's kind of a default irony common to any statement.

And perhaps version 2.0 begins to happen. Something like the creepy awareness that we did it. We caused the catastrophe. But this is not stated from a position of vertigo, of unsureness—the poem seems profoundly sure of itself.

And nowhere is there version 3.0: the full dress, Shawshank Redemption style in which the entire poem is about the realization of Romantic irony.

What we have then is something like a version 1.5. A teetering on the edge of beautiful soul syndrome. Perhaps this is a good way to think about the subjective coordinates of beautiful soul syndrome itself. Put this together with the irreversibility I spoke of earlier and you get something like modernity cynicism, not full on ecological awareness. More on this shortly.

How to solve this?

Not sure, I'm not a good poet. But one way would be to include some kind of coda, or an extra set of stanzas, that said something like:

And we realized that from the very beginning of our history, we had been androids. There never was a Nature from which we are now separated.
This subjective destitution is happening precisely at the moment at which we achieve ecological planetary awareness.
Oh fuck.

New Eco-tone Schedule! This week!

Get your lovely warm Eco-tone schedule here, now with extra crunchy bits. Featuring Paul Ennis and Robert Jackson!

Take the Dark Ecology Challenge 2: Who Am Us, Anyway?

Like consciousness, Julian Spahr's poem Gently Now, Don't Add to the Heartache has no reverse gear.

The poem's ontogeny maps onto a putative human phylogeny.

Thus the experience of reading the poem is the double experience of living through human history and living through the elegiac poem's relentless onward flow.

This dislocation yet similarity between the experience of reading and the experience of putative human history maps onto the dislocation/similarity between the “We” of the subject of the enunciation (the narrator) and the “We” of the subject of the enunciated (the “we” of human history).

The We of history in itself is fractured since this we decomposes into unique groups and individuals spread out across time, from a vast variety of disparate cultures and biomes.

(I am reminded of a question posed by Firesign Theater: “Who am us, anyway?”)

My working hypothesis then is that we are dealing with a constructivist not an object-oriented poem. A poem that constructs a paradoxical machine for subjectivity, so disorienting its desire for stability that it begins to work on it. A device for upgrading your consciousness. A consciousness-raising poem.

This would square with the Whitmanesque long lineation, the structure that defeats the fixated gaze and the aura.

Quantum Realism

A recent experiment seems to validate correlationist or idealist interpretations of quantum theory. That's how New Scientist wants to spin it.

There are three basic interpretations of quantum theory out there:

Idealism: reality only exists insofar as it is perceived

Correlationism: reality exists, but it can only become meaningful by being measured by (human) instruments

Realism: there is a real reality that is meaningful from its own side.

OOO stands with Bohm, Valentini and various others who cleave to this last view. But there is a significant difference.

The difference is that for OOO there is a fundamental chorismos between an object and its sensual prehension.

OOO is not a theory of lumps that are somehow personalized with qualities (substance and accidence). These lumps are ALSO sensual prehensions, nowhere near deep enough.

So it's not a matter at the QT scale of colorless quanta that gain color when they interact.

The realist interpretation of the recent experiment is that particle A exists without being measured. Yet when it is measured it assumes qualities appropriate to the measuring object.

For OOO it's as if every entity is a correlationist. Every entity is to deinotaton (Sophocles).

Take the Dark Ecology Challenge

Angie my Ph.D. student tells me that there was a dark ecological reading of Juliana Spahr's poem Gently Now, Don't Add to the Heartache. But she doesn't tell me what it is. Instead, in a kind of double blind test, she has asked me to do my own one and see how congruent or dissonant it is with the dark ecology view. Okay, you're on.

So the first thing I notice about the poem is the terrifying Whitmanesque lists of products. Genius. By the time they showed up I was expecting them, which made them more scary. They modulate the Whitmanesque lists of lifeforms, which are wonderfully particular.

The other thing I notice is how it produces heartache, evokes what it's talking about. In this respect it's a brilliant act of what I now call tuning. (Hey it's been a long time since I've read David Antin's piece Tuning. I should break it out.)

And I notice the uncanny (haha) resemblance between the poem and the Antigone chorus I just posted.

Okay this will go on for some time. These are my initial intuitions. What fun, I'm slightly nervous to take this dark ecology challenge.

Uncanny Human

strophe 1

Strange and terrible things are many, yet none is more strange and terrible than man; the power that crosses the white sea, driven by the stormy south-wind, making a path under surges that threaten to engulf him; and Earth, the eldest of the gods, the immortal, the unwearied, doth he wear, turning the soil with the offspring of horses, as the ploughs go to and fro from year to year.

antistrophe 1

And the light-hearted race of birds, and the tribes of savage beasts, and the sea-brood of the deep, he snares in the meshes of his woven toils, he leads captive, man excellent in wit. And he masters by his arts the beast whose lair is in the wilds, who roams the hills; he tames the horse of shaggy mane, he puts the yoke upon its neck, he tames the tireless mountain bull.

strophe 2

And speech, and wind-swift thought, and all the moods that mould a state, hath he taught himself; and how to flee the arrows of the frost, when 'tis hard lodging under the clear sky, and the arrows of the rushing rain; yea, he hath resource for all; without resource he meets nothing that must come: only against Death shall he call for aid in vain; but from baffling maladies he hath devised escapes.

antistrophe 2

Cunning beyond fancy's dream is the fertile skill which brings him, now to evil, now to good. When he honours the laws of the land, and that justice which he hath sworn by the gods to uphold, proudly stands his city: no city hath he who, for his rashness, dwells with sin. Never may he share my hearth, never think my thoughts, who doth these things!

Sophocles, Antigone


(Slightly altered from Jebb's translation)

For Nate

Plankton in the North Atlantic hasn't existed there for 800 000 years.

A whale swam through the Northwest Passage to Israel.

In the Renaissance, humans wanted to find the Northwest Passage, to ease trade. They didn't find it. So they created it. Now it exists.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mass Extinction Math

So if the previous mass extinction 55 million years ago took two thousand years as a result of 2 gigatons per year of carbon being released:

Does that mean that this one, given 30 gigatons per year, will take fifteen times faster, namely about 130 years?

Does anyone know how the math of mass extinction works?

30 Gigatons of Carbon per Year

[Consider the] Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, which was about 55 million years ago. During that period, there was a mass extinction - it's not one of the Big Five, so it’s not at the same scale of the end of the dinosaurs, for example - but it still led to the loss of up to 50 percent of marine species in some groups of organisms. The difference is that at that time it’s estimated, through natural causes, just over two gigatons of carbon was being pumped into the atmosphere per year for several thousand years. Now we are pumping 30 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere per year. So that’s why what’s happening now is so extraordinary - it's simply the rate at which this is occurring.

Paging a Relativity Specialist

I'm having big trouble with an idea in Phil Dowe's otherwise quite exemplary analytical philosophy survey of contemporary theories of causation.

He uses an example—he's trying to describe things that aren't really physically “real” but “pseudo” in some sense (a distinction I dispute somewhat).

Here's the scenario: I've changed it a little for clarity. Dowe says “laser beam” and I say “laser pointer.”

He imagines a laser pointer. Then he imagines a gigantic surface. The laser pointer is very powerful. The surface is very far away.

You hit the surface with the laser pointer. Then you wiggle it back and forth. (Imagine doing this on your wall, not so hard to do.)

His claim is that the speed of the wiggling dot of laser light is faster than light.

Having read two books by Einstein and two other books on relativity theory this makes no sense to me. You just can't add to the speed of light.

Then there's the issue of the gigantic surface. It's not whether building such a thing is feasible—say you can. It's the fact that light would take so long to hit the surface and return (let's say it could, the laser is phenomenally powerful), that the experiment would in effect take hundreds of millions of years to set up for any measurable effect to occur.

Maybe this is just a failure of my imagination but I think we're in an arche-fossil like situation in which you'd have to put the surface way past the light cone to wiggle it in a way that would give (for me the illusion of) faster than light speed. Which is absurd, because such an event could never be observed (it's outside your light cone).

Scale it back a little. If you hit the moon with a laser pointer, wiggling it would still not add to the speed of light, right? So even if you had a very very accurate device that could measure the whole setup, you wouldn't see that the laser dot was faster than light. Right?

Could someone with more experience in relativity theory than me please help me out? I think Dowe's argument is very spurious.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Essay for English Language Notes

...“Waking Up Inside an Object: The Subject of Ecology,” for 49.2. I'm happy about this as it begins to make a case for an OOO approach to ecology. I guess that means I shall be working on it in parallel with my book for the next few weeks since the deadline for revisions is August 1.

Slightly depressing insecure young tykes align with old fogeys to beat up on individuators. I don't blame them much, given the current state of academic morale.

Eco-Tone Schedule docs

Here they are for your perusal, filled with mouthwatering details.

Day one

Day two

Aaron O'Connell Explains His Quantum Object

...happily the terms he uses are identical to the ones I used in my recent essay. It's a macro scale object, as large compared with regular quantum objects as a human is from it. It's a tiny “diving board,” that's how he describes it.

I was struck by something I hadn't heard before, which was that before they ran the experiment (I talk about it on this blog) they observed the little sliver “breathing.” It was already in a quantum state...

This adds major empirical muscle, by the way, to the theory of motion I'm going to endorse in Realist Magic. We think motion is pretty straightforward (that's almost a pun), but it's actually incredibly strange and involves all kinds of paradoxes. Most philosophers aren't happy with these but when they edit them out, they introduce brittleness into the metalanguage, and that results in even worse paradoxes...

Ian Bogost's A Slow Year

The concept of this game (deluxe edition released very recently) is just wonderful. And, as Ian taught me, the color palette Atari used is really really spectacular.

Republicans: Stop Dicking with Normal Americans

Look at this diagram released today by the Congressional Budget Office. See the debt bubble we're in? See how it disappears fairly shortly if congress does nothing at all. That's right, no stupid cuts, no stupid dicking around with ordinary people's lives.

The Anarchist Turn

Great conference at the New School, just learning about it, here's Judith Butler. Full videos here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Guilt without Sex

HT Dirk Felleman (again!)

Balibar: What Is a Thing?

HT Dirk Felleman: Heidegger, math, modern physics—what's not to like?

Ontological Design

...courtesy of hauntedGeographies. Apologies that it's taken me so long to get around to talking about this.

There is a ‘flat ontology’, one that throws the designer into relief, It understands design as a non-hierarchical network of relationships that extends way beyond the human subject and that our artifacts, products and processes also design us.

Call for Civil Disobedience to Stop Keystone XL Pipeline

200 parts per million carbon, is it worth it? No! Bill McKibben, Naomi Klein, Wendell Berry invite you to a day of action in Washington.

Move to Mars! The Air is Lovely!

...HT Sophie Jerram. Feeling blue about our blue planet? Jack it all in and move to this environmentally sustainable Mars colony.

Media Ecology on Integral Ecology

Antonio Lopez does a good job I think, though again (see my comment) I'm left with a visceral reaction to the schematism of it all.

One example that bugs me from the AQAL grid: how come “phenomenology” is only about the first-person view? Does the term intersubjective mean anything anymore?

Again, it seems as if AQAL is a Procrustean bed in which everything has its pre-assigned place, no thinking required.

Sea Level Rise in the Anthropocene

...since the late 19th century – as the world became industrialized – sea level has risen more than 2 millimeters per year, on average. That's a bit less than one-tenth of an inch, but it adds up over time.

the researchers found that sea level was relatively stable from 100 B.C. to A.D. 950. Then, during a warm climate period beginning in the 11th century, sea level rose by about half a millimeter per year for 400 years. That was followed by a second period of stable sea level associated with a cooler period, known as the Little Ice Age, which persisted until the late 19th century.

Powerful Post on Fracking Ecofeminist and Mothering Ruminations. It describes a hearing on the production process, which quite frankly is a whole nother level of total wrong. You will learn, for instance, that among its many quirks, fracking releases extra radiation into the environment.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

You Put Your Left Foot In

UC Davis student Jordan Carroll has a post in which he grapples with Tool-Being. Now as a “recovering Marxist” of course I don't mind that OOO has nothing particularly dogmatic to say about Marxism as such.

But that doesn't mean you couldn't be an OO Marxist.
That's my journey but it doesn't have to be yours. I'm pretty sure you could be an OO almost anything. This to me is a sign of strength, not of weakness.

Now OOO might be challenging for certain kinds of Marxism—in particular, the very Hegelian ones that are almost forms of idealism. The ones that involve something like the academic performance of Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Meta.

But the one thing that OOO isn't is a form of individualism. How on earth could it be, if it allows all manner of collectives and affiliations to be objects, to count-as-one?

Summer School: Early Literary Theory 3

...featuring discussions of Plato's Republic and Phaedrus.

Creativity in the Face of Climate Change: Full Mix

HT Dirk Felleman. I've been wondering about the fate of the long play version of this. I linked a while back to a shorter version. But in this one you have the fun of seeing the rest of the panel jumping on me for talking “theory.” One of my first video recorded thingies.

London talk title

“The Aesthetic Dimension is the Causal Dimension.” I'm going to roadtest some of my causality book, which I'm writing now.

The painting is Intrigue, by James Ensor.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Economic Problem in 2.5 Minutes Flat

...Thank you Robert Reich.

Summer School: Early Literary Theory 2

Plato's Ion. Beauty, demons, death. And Miles Davis, Bridget Riley and Yukultji Napangati.

Reefs at Risk Report

...HT Lin Mu (@linmu). More on the cataclysm in the oceans (PDF). It's tough to say that this is report is aesthetically really beautiful, but so it is.

Summer School: Early Literary Theory Syllabus

Here's the syllabus for my summer class.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The State of the Ocean

...and talking of death, this report from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean is horrifying (PDF). It makes clear just how far in to the sixth mass extinction we are. The one that is a product of the Anthropocene, a geological period with a very precise boundary: 1945, when Little Boy exploded on Hiroshima, depositing a layer of radioactive materials around Earth.

Bartok, Death's Head Genius

Bartok insisted that his work be included in the Nazi Decadent Art exhibition of 1938. Atta boy. I'm particularly fond of the string quartets, in particular numbers 3, 4 and 5. For my money, although the Takacs does an amazing job, the ultimate is the Tokyo String Quartet's 1980s version. Why? They assault their instruments with unparalleled accuracy and violence.

There is something totally joyful in listening to music in which there is absolutely no smiling whatsoever.

Then there's the ocean of blood in Bluebeard's Castle. And the overall evocation of insects crawling on the forest floor.

Summer School: Early Literary Theory 1

This is what I taught today. First in a series of about twenty.

Reviewing Bennett

I'm having a nice day about to teach my first summer theory class and reviewing Vibrant Matter. I'd forgotten what a fun fast read it is. The review will appear in Theory, Culture and Society.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

New Workbook by Stuart Munro

This looks like it will be very good. Drawing Faces in Spaces #1.

Covering things made over the last few years this is predominantly a photo-book that pulls together photographic and sculptural work. This includes North London and the rim of the Caspian Sea, distressed fabric and blackbirds in Tokyo, an Amazonian ghost-town, the Bradbury Building and Million Dollar Hotel to name but a few.

Summer Architecture Show London

This looks very right. My new friend Shaun Murray said I should stop by if I can. Here's a good flyer for it.

E/Z Ecology and the Noosphere

Adrian Ivakhiv responds to my recent post on Integral Ecology, very helpfully. He is sensitive to differences between different kinds of prehension, which I just think is terribly important. Once a deconstructor always a deconstructor, in the sense that it's your job to multiply differences everywhere. So I like this approach, intuitively. More soon.

Van Jones, Green Latourian, vs. Glenn Beck, Fascoid Airhead

Van Jones won my heart in Berkeley last year when he talked about forming left groups that weren't just critique factories. Here he is challenging Beck. Nice one.

The Empty City

I don't like to comment very much on art while I'm experiencing it for the first time, so this will be brief. But I find The Empty City very compelling, for various reasons. It's deeply resonant with some ideas I've had about ecology, non-spaces, hauntology (surely k-punk should like it), illusion, contemplation, the uncanny, and so on and so on. And so on...

The Empty City is a novel that seems to be appearing online under the direction of Berit Ellingsen of Norway. I shall keep exploring it...

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Where Is the Anti-Nietzsche?

Major inspiration for my ecology projects came from Malcolm Bull's essay “Where Is the Anti-Nietzsche?” which you will find in a New Left Review for 2000 (May–June).

Bull argues brilliantly that all attempts to climb over or reverse Nietzsche result in falling into his trap, since you are trying to master him.

What is required instead is an aikido-like move in which we crawl out weakly and lamely from underneath Nietzsche, like Danny in the Shining or small rodents surviving the cataclysm that wiped out the dinosaurs. Stop trying to win.

Bull relates this strategic weakness to ecology and identification with other lifeforms. I argue that the ecological age we are now in is an age of weakness, lameness and hypocrisy. And I mean those very precisely and positively.

Anti-Nietzscheanism is, in short, ecological awareness. It's a genius argument and it's not surprising that he liked The Ecological Thought. I have yet to read his book based on the essay, which he sent me subsequently, but I'm about to.

Here Comes The Democracy of Objects

Bryant talks about its online listing here. I'm looking forward to seeing the final version. If I recall aright it's a gigantic baroque cathedral full of side chapels, statuary and whispering galleries.

Elegy for an Illusion

One of the saddest things I witnessed in my whole life was watching my brother listening to this tune over and over again while he descended into schizophrenia. It was like he was saying goodbye to his mind.

It's possibly one of the greatest elegies ever written, because it captures the edge between the sense of loss and the sense of illusion. We need this stuff in our ecological age.

If you don't know these guys get to know them immediately: P.M. Dawn.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Derrida on Agamben

...ouch. I'm getting around finally to reading The Beast and the Sovereign, in which Derrida pulls no punches in quite the devastating assault on Agamben. I'm afraid I do take sides here, since I find Agamben infuriatingly arrogant in just the way Derrida does: “he must feel that he is surrounded by a lot of idiots, who are more bêtes and more blind than is possible.” Critical animal studies folks will notice the charged language here.

Poor Levinas, writes Agamben (writes Derrida), didn't know what he was talking about in 1934, but I, Agamben, will fill him in. Silly Foucault, he wasn't able to push his biopolitics as far as I, Agamben, have done: “Foucault was almost the first ...” And so on: “Agamben ... wants to be twice first, the first to see and the first to announce an unprecedented and new thing ...”

Exactly. Luckily Agamben is waning in my neck of the humanities.

How to Get That Elusive Academic Job 21—rejection

If you're facing rejection right now, it's very important to realize, especially in a down market, that it's not personal. Really. Truly. The indifference of the system is also crushing. But perhaps it's better than thinking that someone was out to get you. It's very hard, after such a long and painfully exposing process, to digest the wounds. Give yourself a break and stop ruminating about it.

I've had all kinds of feedback as to why I didn't get a certain job, though seeking feedback is risky. I'd avoid it if I were you. It may only confuse the issue. One guy said “Well you do cultural studies,” to which I replied “No, I don't”—to which he replied, “You say your work draws on it”—to which I replied, “Did you read past page three of my book?” End of conversation.

There are some structural reasons why things suck. I'm looking at you, Ivies. They tend with very few exceptions to hire their own. I remember when I was at Princeton, doing a postdoc, I wasn't allowed in the job applicants' workshop “Because you're not from Princeton.” Coming from the UK where there is a totally different culture, that sucked to say the least. Another place said I was “overqualified”—that was Yale and I nearly did myself in when I heard that one.

Because of this, the Ivies are missing out on some of the most imaginative, creative work that happens in the humanities.

Somewhat selfishly perhaps I like to think that the best people sometimes take a few goes to get a job. Especially if you're fighting self esteem issues or some other urgent emotional issue, as I was.

I used to keep a folder with all my rejection letters in it—a few years into having a job, I burned it. There's always next time...

Find some allies. Assemble your team. Make sure your letters really rock. As placement officer at my school I can tell you that some students make bad choices about whom to ask for letters. If your recommender isn't writing about 3 plus pages for you, you should think about changing them or talking seriously with them. There's an absurd rule: if I praise you highly for one page, I'm saying you shouldn't really be considered. If I praise you highly for two pages, there might be something wrong with you. Three pages does the trick and four pages says “This is the best student ever.” Sorry dudes that's the American way.

HT to Adam Kotsko who inspired me to put this together, somewhat late in the day.

Got about $70/month for energy bills? There is now no excuse not to have solar

Google just teamed up with Solar City to provide $280 million worth of solar to residential areas. I'm not sure how it will work but surely they will buy into Solar City's leasing plan, which will create economies of scale.

At present I pay $90 per month to lease 16 solar panels, which provide 20kwh of electricity, enough for a family of four on most days.

It's identical to paying for coal plant energy, cost wise, but:
1) You have a regular bill every month, and the predictability is good
2) You are doing something for others at the same time

I imagine that the Google partnership will bring these costs down to the point where one is actually a little bit up on the deal instead of even, as I am. Like I say, I'm happy to be even, since it's of benefit to others.

My Thinking Nature Essay

...“Some Notes Towards a Philosophy of Non-Life.” For your convenience, here is the link to the right page.

Bruce Sterling gets his Aristotle on

...he enjoyed this interview with Graham Harman.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Paul and Lenin: An Anarchist Critique

...on this view, Zizek is correct to argue that Paul and Lenin are isometric. Both changed the polis by universalizing a form of subjectivity. In Paul's case, Zizek and Badiou argue that he spearheaded the invention of a new mode of subjectivity beyond the specific lifeworld of being-Jewish. In the case of Lenin, the transition was from being working class to being a proletarian.

However, there is an underside to these isometric transitions.

Both forms of subjectivity also underwrite massive institutional norms--official Christianity and Soviet Communism. Indeed, the subjectivity itself is always secondary in the last instance to a teleological vision of History (the triumph of the true Church, the downfall of capitalism).

Such a "revolutionary" subjectivity is thus totally standardized, like Ford's "Any color you like..."

This essay by Junge Linke does a great job of explaining the paradoxes

Let the Circular Firing Squad Begin or, a Lie in the Form of the Truth

“Obama is failing me. He has failed to be the cartoon superhero I fantasize him to be. Therefore he must be destroyed. I don't care if the extreme right gets in—in fact, this would be good for us. Give us a good kicking. Then the revolution could begin. I refuse to vote in 2012. He shouldn't have passed that weak health care reform: nothing would have been better than something, because nothing makes me feel justifiably angry, and it's always good to have reasons to be angry. He should have shouted and pounded the table and gotten angry, just like my fantasy. For me, Change You Can Believe In meant Abandon All Inhibitions Here, Your Fantasy Black Friend has Arrived. He let me down. We should hand the reins to the right wing in 2012 by any means necessary.”

Thinking Nature 1 is now online

The new journal, edited by Ben Woodard and me, is now here, featuring essays by Paul Ennis, Michael Austin, Tom Sparrow, Ted Toadvine, a review of Stengers' Thinking with Whitehead, and much more.

Ben is a lovely guy and working with him has been a treat.

Jarrod Fowler's P.S. (sleeve note)

Here is my sleeve note for his new release, now available from Leaving Records.

To generate, or rather to discover from within music itself, substances that resist not only classification as music, but music as such. To locate music as a small island of pseudo-consistency in a gigantic ocean of non-music, after François Laruelle. To locate noise as the infinitesimal subsidence of this island into the ocean, much bigger than noise, quiet, sound and silence.

To force music to think about itself, as music. To see thinking about music as distorted by what is exterior to thought, and even to human being. To discover, with a slightly uncanny horror, that the wall between human being and nonhuman is the appearance of the nonhuman itself. To realize that this wall of resistance is a symptom of what the philosopher Quentin Meillassoux calls hyperchaos.

To delineate through this method a working model of causality itself, which operates by what Jarrod Fowler calls rhythmicity. To investigate beats, which break up sonic continua: one beat as the minuscule flicker of causality. To realize that this causality floats on top of and emerges from the ocean of rhythmicity. To see, to hear that there is only this ocean, continually sampling itself, breaking itself up into itself. To announce this inherently contradictory reality in a sonic form as dialetheia, double-truth: p ∧ ¬p.

Of Wheels and Their Reinvention: The Trouble with AQAL

So I'm the grumpy guy at the back of the car driving through the land of Integral Ecology, a book by Michael Zimmerman and Sean Esbjorn-Hagens (with Marc Bekoff), now abbreviated to E/Z, a slightly unfortunate acronym as I shall soon show.

So far Adam Robbert and Sam Mickey of Knowledge Ecology have very elegantly covered chapters 1 and 2, and Adrian Ivakhiv has done two equally marvelous posts on chapters 3 and 4. This is in parallel with being a new dad—talk about all quadrants, all levels! (That was an AQAL joke, for those of you not familiar with Ken Wilber).

In my curmudgeonly fashion I poked my walking stick into the bushes of E/Z's ideas about Romanticism, which frankly I found too—E/Z...

Now I'm afraid I have another “problem,” and this time it's with the notion of AQAL, which seeks to integrate all forms of knowledge.

Here's the thing: the four quadrants reproduce almost perfectly human knowledge as given to us: subjective (“I”), intersubjective (“we”), objective (“it”), and interobjective (“its”). Robbert reproduces E/Z's assertion that “These are roughly equivalent to fine arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences.” Then E/Z add some Vernadsky like language (the spheres): physiosphere, biosphere, and noosphere. Adrian is good on this in his first post. I'm going to address the issue not so much in terms of the form of the spheres (they are too static for Ivakhiv) but simply in terms of what they cover.

In a nutshell, the trouble is that the four quadrants and four levels map perfectly onto normal everyday human prejudices. For example:

The noosphere is limited to beings that are sentient. It's not difficult to read into the “noo” prefix the Neoplatonic idea of a sphere of nous (same word) that transcends the physical. Some kind of Neoplatonism is at work here, though E/Z are at pains to say that nous emerges out of material physis and not the other way around—now that would be cool, a twenty-first century book that really is fully Neoplatonic.

Now science is discovering limit cases of sentience that don't require neurons, such as plant sentience, or brain-like behavior of sponges. Should these be included in the noosphere? So we have a Sorites problem: the noosphere is vague and inconsistent. Yet it seems like it wants to be consistent.

I also detect in this noosphere a traditional Heideggerian prejudice about humans, now somewhat generously extended to sentient beings in general: only they can carve out a world. This isn't surprising since Zimmerman is a Heideggerian.

I must protest as an object-oriented ontologist. Nothing about what a sponge or even a pencil does differs very much, at an ontological level, from what a human does when she cognizes. Yet if the noosphere can be said to cover not only the entire biosphere but also the entire physiosphere, how useful is it as a heuristic concept?

I put it to E/Z that the noosphere can only be functional if it discriminates between some kinds of thing such as cognizing with neurons versus other kinds of thing such as cognizing with plant hormones, or resting on a table, or spanning a river.

But these discriminations shouldn't just be imported wholesale into the system: that's just smuggling pre-given contraband into your philosophical view. Otherwise the system just can't account for the very things it is trying to integrate: all knowable things. This is a big problem.

If AQAL is only saying that some beings with neurons have minds, then I can think about that using my pre-given prejudices in a way that is just as good as AQAL. If not better, because I'm unencumbered by a metalanguage that inevitably is more brittle than the language I'm using, ordinary English. (As Adrian puts it, AQAL is a meta-methodology.)

Now we could do the same thing to every other set in the quadrant and sphere model. For instance, the difference between my use of interobjectivity and E/Z's use of the term is that for them, “object” just means “something that isn't social, human, sentient or noetic” or something like that. An AQAL object just is an ordinary object as it appears to non-examined, everyday human prejudice. Whereas for me, “object” can mean the Pope, wallabies, the Oort Cloud and flapjacks.

So far from breaking the deadlocks within Cartesian dualism, favorite whipping boy of environmentalism, AQAL reproduces them by importing them wholesale. In fact, in some sense we're worse off than where we were with Descartes, because at least there we have an interesting (that is not pre-given) conception of extension (rather than objects), and an asymmetry between subject and object to which AQAL appears willfully deaf.

Postcript: a note on mandalas. E/Z clarify that they aren't creating a hierarchy but something like a Buddhist mandala of beings. People love to say that their model isn't vertical but horizontal, as if this made everything better. For a kick off, I'm not convinced that one dimension is less oppressive than another. But for another thing, mandalas are also vertical. Both in a real and a metaphorical sense:

1) The circular form you see in thangka paintings is a 2D map of a 3D structure (see above).
2) To wit, a palace, that contains a divinity at its center.

No points for guessing why this must be hierarchical, in the nasty old sense of that word (if you must).