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

Saturday, December 31, 2011

You Have to Hand it to Tom Beckett

His opening interview question resulted in six pages pouring out of me. Some people just are really good at interviewing.

Thought for the Day

From Graham Harman:

How do you know when the attempt is being made to turn something into a master discourse? When the claim is made that there is nothing outside the master discourse. When the master discourse can supposedly account for everything and its opposite. When the master discourse claims that it has no real enemies, because it actually already agrees with what its enemy is saying. (Deleuze’s attempt to turn Leibniz into Spinoza in Le Pli was an alarming sign even during his lifetime.) Derrida was the former figure on whose behalf this attempt was made, and Deleuze seems to be the new one.



What the Heck Was That All About?

So much happened in 2011 that I'm left trying to figure it all out, or rather, just enjoying the ride and not figuring it out! Maybe the highlight was being told that Realist Magic would be published. To read someone's work is a kind of intimacy and those moments of acceptance are rare and truly beautiful.



Bad at Sports Interview

I just did an interview for them. It's an interesting site, and I enjoyed doing the interview—I'm not sure when it's going to come out.

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Heck of a Bad Weather Year

Are you paying attention yet, deniers?

Vicarious Rumi

"When you strike steel on flint fire leaps forth; But 'tis by God's command it thus steps forth."



Tintin

I am a longtime Tintin afficionado—since at least the age of 4. So it was with some slight anxiety that I sat with my daughter waiting to watch Spielberg and Jackson's effort today. Especially since the British press had dissed it so roundly. I assumed, as did several others, that this was just typical anti-American (and anti-Spielberg) sour grapes.

So it turned out to be. Tintin is great fun. The reason it works is because it isn't a slavish imitation of the books—the very reason why the British reviewers didn't like it. Sadly, this kind of hauteur becomes compulsory after a few repetitions in the UK, where about five fairly predictable opinions on any topic are rigidly enforced by the voraciously consumed daily papers. When I go to the UK I inevitably get caught up in the game of jumping to one of these prefabricated conclusions as quickly as possible. Sometimes I wonder whether all the news and current affairs shows over there should be retitled Jumping to Conclusions with [Name of Presenter], just for clarity's sake. “And now, the news, after which it's time for Jumping to Conclusions with Jeremy Paxman.”

It's better than a slavish imitation: it's a metaphor, a translation (in Harman's terms), almost a parody (a very well meaning one) of the original. Thus it reveals something of the original object that slavish mimesis could never do. (Did you like how I did that?!)

As if to make clear that this is not the cartoon, a stylized silhouetted Tintin weaves in and out of the credits, to be replaced by the three-dimensional one as he gets his picture painted in a market. The painting is an Hergé cartoon. The “real” Tintin is off the hook. 

This version evoked the disturbing intensity one felt as a child at the almost-realistic drawings of, say, a drunk Captain Haddock setting fire to his row boat on the high seas with Tintin and Snowy aboard. Tintin and Haddock were both palpably people, though not quite human and not quite flesh and blood, as were the Thompson and Thomson, who bounced off lampposts like rubber (as cartoons do) but with a wince-inducing thud (like cartoons don't).

Nonhumans are radiantly real. The fire burns, the bullets and wallets and paper and tires do their bulletty, walletish,  papery and tire-ing business, the ocean is very wet, the cranes are horribly violent. Then there are the reflections. Realistic ones, juxtaposed with mannerist moments in which characters are reflected in drops of water are used to flow from one mise en scene to another.

The way the movie pushed an edge between realism and something more expressionist was very pleasing, a little bit like bad acid. The original Tintin could be quite nightmarish like that. In this version, you saw a person, then you looked again, and saw the too-much-protruding nose, and realized he was a cartoon—then you saw his teeth, and wondered again whether he might actually be real. And so on.

Rick Elmore on OOO

At Environmental Critique.

Mr. Patterns

This is a great documentary about Geoff Bardon, who was the catalyst that ignited the Western Australian Aboriginal art movement at Papunya Tula. I'm just about finished with my Napangati essay and this is a great thing to behold.

Most studies of indigenous Australian art and philosophy are in a Deleuzian mode, and in general Deleuze has had a very tenacious hold in Australia. It'll be interesting to see what people make of my OOO approach.

New Napangati Title

YUKULTJI NAPANGATI: OCCUPYING DREAMING

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chris Schaberg's Airport Book Finally Here

On my desk! Thanks Chris! Ian Bogost on the back: “The airport is the poetry.”

Singing Apartment Blocks



Thanks to a brief conversation with Ian Bogost about something tangential, I have found out something you knew already, which is that Aardman animation did the videos for Peter Gabriel's “Big Time” and “Sledgehammer.”

There were two factions of undergrads at Oxford in 1986: those who almost only ever listened to The Joshua Tree, and those who almost only ever listened to So. I counted myself in the latter party.

My favorite part of the above video: Gabriel's whitened head slapping the pillow with the most evil smile.

You will enjoy the dancing nonhumans if you have never seen it, which seems unlikely. Further back in my childhood the same guys did this:

Some Cool and Not Cool Stuff that Michael Dummett Said

[T]he class of true sentences is the class the utterance of a member of which a speaker of the language is aiming at when he employs what is recognizably the assertoric use. [COOL: truth telling is like winning a game]

[O]nce a system has been formulated, we can, by reference to it, define new properties not expressible in it, such as the property of being a true statement in the system; hence, by applying induction to such new properties, we can arrive at conclusions not provable in it. [NOT COOL: Gödel makes this impossible]




Libraries

I don't remember the local libraries being shut for this long. I blame monetarism. It is now a systematic menace to Earth. Standard and Poor play their downgrade game just as Bush II played the terror color organ. And my kids can't use the library.



Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Tar-Nished






Oh dear. Sometimes a picture does tell a thousand words. This is what happened over ten years in Alberta when the tar sands thing started going.

Discipline Essay Title

Yukultji Napangati: Thinking Painting Dreaming.

Talk at Harvard

On February 6. Details to follow. It'll be at the Cultural Politics Research Seminar, Harvard's Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.



A History of the World in a Hundred Objects

It's a rather hefty stocking stuffer from my mum, who gathers I'm keen on objects these days. I've been looking forward to reading it for quite a while.



Essay on Buddhism and Nihilism

By Karl Steel's student. Looks good already.



Harman on Garcia

The uncannily handsome young French lad has an uncannily OOO-like view.



Aboriginal Art Essay


It's on Yukultji Napangati's Untitled 2011. I've written about 2500 words just now. I'm happy that I still have it in me! It's for this art journal called Discipline and I'm a little bit (a few days) late.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The American Chicken

Here's a little bit of Hyperobjects. I'm working with a very gifted artist on something and we are talking about how “weird” we need to get on this project. I'm the spokesperson for weird. Here's why.

We need to get out of the persuasion business and start getting into the magic business, or the catalysis business, or the magnetizing business, or whatever you want to call it. Using reason isn't wrong. But with an object this huge, this massively distributed, this counterintuitive, this transdimensional, it's not enough simply to use art as some kind of candy coating on top of facts. We can't just be in the PR business. Percy Shelley put it beautifully when he wrote “We [lack] the creative faculty to imagine that which we know.” That was back in 1820 and it's only gotten worse.

The other trouble with the candy approach, or the reason-only approach (its twin in many ways, really), is that human beings are currently in the denial phase of grief regarding their role in the Anthropocene. It's too much to take in at once. Not only are we waking up inside of a gigantic object, like finding ourselves in the womb again, but a toxic womb—but we are responsible for it. And we know that really we are responsible simply because we can understand what global warming is. We don't really need reasons—in fact reasons inhibit our responsible action, or seriously delay it. No neonatal or prenatal infant is responsible for her mother's toxic body. Yet that is the situation we find ourselves in—on the one hand terrifyingly regressing, on the other hand, enragingly implicating.

It's like the joke about the man who ended up in an asylum as he was paranoid that he was being stalked by a gigantic chicken. Upon being released, he returns a few weeks later, sweating and terrified. The chief psychiatrist tries to reassure him: “But you know that there is no chicken.” “I know that,” says the man—“But try telling that to the chicken.” This is the urgent question of our age. How do we convince the chicken—in particular, the American chicken—that she doesn't exist? In other words, how do we talk to the unconscious? Reasoning on and on is a symptom of how people are still not ready to go through an affective experience that would existentially and politically bind them to hyperobjects, to care for them. We need art that does not make people think (we have quite enough environmental art that does that), but rather that walks them through an inner space that is hard to traverse.

Greg Chaitin, The Unknowable

He is a mathematician in the lineage of Cantor and Gödel who pushes Turing's halting problem solution to a limit he called Ω. It's a number that can't be known.

Bogost Blogpost on OOO

This is in response to Jussi Parikka's recent post. I'm enjoying reading it. I may chime in at some point, not quite sure yet.

Death of Thinley Norbu

I love his books.

His Holiness Dungtse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche passed away in New York, the United States this morning. He was 80.

Born in 1931, Dungtse Rinpoche was a prominent master of the Nyingma lineage, a renowned teacher and an author of numerous books on Buddhist teachings.

He is the eldest son of Dudjom Rinpoche and father of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche.

Soon after the news of his demise reached Bhutan, His Holiness the Je Khenpo who is in Autsho, Lhuentse offered a thousand butter lamps.

Special prayers are being performed at the Punakha Dzong and several Lhakhangs and Goendeys across the country.

The Drabi Lopen of the Zhung Dratshang in Punakha expressed condolence and respects of behalf of the monk body.

Rinpoche’s body will be brought to Bhutan after 21 days. The Kudung will first be taken to the Ranjung Yosercholing Monastery in Ranjung.

The final rites are to be performed at Lango in Paro.

Dungtse Rinpoche visited Bhutan twice, once in 1994 and in 2009

Napangati Essay

Is coming into shape. I think I know how to write at least 3000 words of it--and that might be enough. She is a visionary aboriginal Australian artist.



Monday, December 26, 2011

5MB in 1956


Looked like this.

Illusions of Piccadilly

Reflective glass and Fortnum and Mason's and the street, an interobjective system.
























Doug Kahn and I




In New Zealand. Doug is delightful to work with. We have chemistry--hopefully it is non-toxic to others.

Thinking Nature Deadline

...in fact it's the end of January. You are welcome to send things to me or Ben Woodard.



The Sound of Crying



By Prefab Sprout. Pop and profound perfectly placed together. Good Buddhist hit...fantastic midsection, and that chorus is just, well.

Thinking Nature

Exciting things are afoot (watch this space) and submissions are still welcome till the end of the month.



More Great Humans

This year was made far more jolly by the talents and warmth of Kris Coffield, Eileen Joy, Cliff Gerrish, Jon Goodbun, Nick Smaligo, C.S. Soong, Leslie Roberts, Joy Wheeler and Doug Lain...



Sunday, December 25, 2011

More Garcia

"ce Traité considéra sur un plan d'égalité une table, un silex taillé, un quark, un gène, une personne humaine, le mot «vérité», une robe rouge, la couleur d'un tableau abstrait, un tiers de branche d'acacia, l'espèce chimpanzé, cinq secondes, un rite de passage, l'inexistence d'un fait ou un cercle carré."

OOO in French

This is quite a nice review of Tristan Garcia's book Forme et Objet: Un Traité des Choses, which Graham is about to buy and which Ian and I are reading through at present.

Perhaps now that OOO is in French, by a handsome young Frenchman no less, the doubters will start to believe : )

Cheerful Yuletide

Once again the Triple Goddess has strutted her funky stuff, bringing us to the start of a new year. Happy Yöl y'all.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Continent 4 Is Now Online

Thanks to Paul, Jamie and the very creative crew at the journal, Continent 1.4 is now up and it looks very beautiful, don't you agree?

Shroompomorphism

About a year ago, I posted a picture of a tree stump in my garden being digested by fungi. Well here we are a year later. You can see how the tree has given the fungus some of its shape as the fungus slowly eats away at it. It's reborn, a dendromorphic fungus, which is fungus-pomoprhizing the tree...





Tehillim

 By Steve Reich. The whole thing is incredible. But the fourth part just hits a certain sweet spot between traditional Jewish singing and something like disco. It's eye moisteningly good. Of course you should hear the whole thing to get the whole effect. Happy hols everyone.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Of Correlationism

We are humans so we anthropomorphize, not sometimes more, sometimes less, but all the time. In the same way as this glass glass-pomorphizes, and this cat cat-opomorphizes.

Thus we poor OOOers are constrained to use human examples of objects, using human terms: lint, galaxies, pot noodle soups, superglue.

But what about that pot noodle soup or that lint? How does an insect see the world? How does a park bench? Surely they might not see it as “objects”?

There is a sleight of hand going on in this question. The term “object” becomes a human-only term by default, and those who use it are guilty of anthropocentrism.

First up, what's the problem with that? If we only ever anthropomorphize there can be no escape. I find that the accusation of anthropocentrism is often staged from a position that is anthropocentrism: the belief that we (humans) can stand outside of our phenomena.

Second, a mistake is being made about how arguments work. If we are to be deprived of any words at all with which to refer to things, that's a little bit unfair.

The sleight of hand is based on the continued assumption that things are only park benches and lint for humans. Or, more generously to nonhumans, that if lint can also comprehend a park bench, it's not a park bench but a shambukslurt, or whatever a piece of lint thinks it is. Or perhaps that to all nonhumans, there is a meaningless flux that is only assembled into coherence or meaning by (deluded) humans.

Whatever form it takes, this assumption just is correlationism. This is what we are against.

Animals and Tools

This piece today on NPR about tool use in animals, to commemorate the reissue of the book Animal Tool Behavior: Now with More Animals and Tools! Not the real subtitle...

Harman on Literary Criticism

I've just had the pleasure of reading Graham's essay for New Literary History. I'm not going to put any spoilers here but let's just say that

1) Graham could easily have been in an English department if he'd wanted to.

2) He outlines a stunningly simple form of OOO literary analysis that is remarkably similar to how I've been teaching my “how to read a poem” classes since 1995.

This method could easily be taught in grade school, which is more than can be said for most contemporary approaches to literature. It is both simple and profound.

Performance Studies

They voted me into their faculty today. Very joyful for me, since this is where my work is headed to some extent. And there are some superb Ph.D students, among whom is Duskin Drum.



Thursday, December 22, 2011

Posture and Mind

Right on Sogyal Rinpoche. Or as George Clinton didn't say, move your ass and your mind will follow:

"In the West, people tend to be absorbed by what I call “the technology of meditation.” The modern world, after all, is fascinated by mechanisms and machines and addicted to purely practical formulas. But by far the most important feature of meditation is not the technique but the spirit: the skillful, inspired and creative way in which we practice, which could also be called “the posture.”

The masters say: “If you create an auspicious condition in your body and your environment, then meditation and realization will automatically arise.” Talk about posture is not esoteric pedantry; the whole point of assuming a correct posture is to create a more inspiring environment for meditation, for the awakening of Rigpa.

There is a connection between the posture of the body and the mind. Mind and body are interrelated, and meditation arises naturally once your posture and attitude are inspired."



Anti-Nihilism Death Ray

...from within nihilism itself. That's the line I'm running in Hyperobjects. Philosophies, like elections, have consequences. Trying to negate nihilism by running towards what Heidegger calls Erlebnis (lived-experience) only doubles down on the nihilism. You have to tunnel through it.



Holiday Shopping

So much shopping to do these days. Happily my mum is here and can sit with Simon asleep in the car while I pop into Target for some dish washing tablets. Yes, the earth of life. Ian Bogost quips accurately that Target is Walmart in hot pants.



Books, Books, Books

Nice chat with Andy. Made me realize that I know what I'm doing now when it comes to writing books. It wasn't always that way. I made some suggestions for how to turn his remarkable dissertation into a book, and I think they were good.

Talking of which, I've trawled every hyperobjects post and everything is now in place. Now I have to look through my database. I am nothing if not thorough...I have 27mb of notes in this thing. I've put a "not yet inserted" label on the hyperobjects things I might want to include, so hopefully I'll be able to find everything.

Coffee with Hageman

Well this is very nice. Andy Hageman is in town. He's thriving in his postdoc. I'm about to have some coffee with him and give him some interviewing advice...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Boulez

Going through my stuff here I discovered a nice discussion of his masterpiece Repons and Robert Cahen's movie of it. It really is one of my life's joys that piece.



The Fact of Death and Nonhumans

My daughter is in an interesting head space today. She finished the first novel she's read in which there is not a happy ending: some dogs die.

I remember my first encounter with real death, on my grandparents' farm in the Lake District. I saw a dead sheep. Same age as Claire when it happened.

My grandma had died in 1974 (not the Lake District one). But I hadn't registered it. It was easier to see it in a nonhuman perhaps. 

******

As for me right now, I guess I share the sentiment of the Dalai Lama, who says “I'm almost looking forward to it, to see whether my training works.” Emphasis on almost.

Trawling through Hyperobjects Posts

There are 180 of them and I've worked through 75. I'm making sure all my thoughts, especially the ones about art, are in there.



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Into Eternity



A very cool Finnish documentary about storage of nuclear materials. Full video.

Schaberg Book in LA Times

Result! This is a nice review of Chris and Yakich's airplane travel book.

Aristotle with a Twist

Sounds like a nice cocktail. I'm looking forward to reading the printed version of Graham's talk. For some reason I was thinking today about my favorite guy of the Arabic Aristotelian world, al-Kindi.

How do you get to invent rubbing alcohol 1000 years ago? You give a shit about the phenomenal world, this one, because the essence of this envelope I'm holding just is this envelope's physical form. It's not some idea in a beyond.

If you strip final causes and prime movers out of Aristotle, you end up with something quite like OOO.



Hyperobjects Finished

I've just finished writing it, and all the citations are in place. The one thing to do now is to look through my notes and put in extra observations and some art that I  haven't yet addressed. But I could send the whole thing right now. That's quite satisfying. Happily my research assistant really came through on this last week, checking all kinds of citations very accurately.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

That Dungeons and Dragons Bio

Timothy Morton is Professor of English (Literature and the Environment) at the University of California, Davis. Prior to this he was a Druid, a Neutral Evil Magic User, an Illusionist–Cleric (his favorite) and a character he made up called a Taoist (details on request). He is the author of Realist Magic (Open Humanities Press, forthcoming), The Ecological Thought (Harvard UP, 2010), Ecology without Nature (Harvard UP, 2007), seven other books and over seventy essays on philosophy, ecology, literature, food and music. He still has uneasy memories about his DM transporting him to a world that turned out to be inhabited by beings from the Cthulhu mythos. He is currently finishing Hyperobjects. And he blogs regularly at http://www.ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.com

Jon Cogburn on SR, Analytic and Continental Philosophy

HT Graham Harman. It's a nice argument I think. By the way, I just completed by bio for his D&D collection. I'll put it here soon.

New Metaphysics Forthcoming

Graham talks about some of the upcoming titles in his and Latour's New Metaphysics series.

Annotating a Book

It's a very different cognitive task than writing it. I like to keep them separate. I put in the notes but I don't worry too much about the exact page numbers and other details when I'm writing. It's a fiddly job and it's very inhibiting of thought for me. I just have to trust that I'm going to do it later.

But now that I'm doing it with Hyperobjects, I'm finding it very pleasant. I do have to check through some things to make sure I put them in. Then it's almost good to send I think. I'll read through it a few times for style.

Music Therapy and OOO

I heard an interesting show about music therapy on the radio a couple of days ago. Both my parents are professional musicians so I was keen to think about it.

I was thinking about how it worked—how music can have such an impact on the brain. I've been writing about causality and my view is that something can change, destroy or deeply impact something else when it becomes formally very regular. An earthquake is a more regular than normal oscillation of tectonic plates. A stroke is a weirdly regular brain wave pattern.

I was wondering whether the stacking of music, suggestion, lyrics and memory on top of one another in music therapy was what had such an impact. That it's the synchronization of many objects that has this effect, holding the mind and allowing new connections to be established.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Formal–Causal Look at Old Things

I have a hypothesis: the more widespread a form is, the more ancient. The proteins in our bodies that predate even the DNA mechanisms that synthesized them most recently, are archaeological evidence of LUCA, the last universal common ancestor. The snow on your TV is a trace of the widespread CMB, the cosmic microwave background.

Poems have frequently been written on paper, and have frequently had regular stanza forms. These forms are widespread and come before other formal phenomena.

I'm trying to think objects through formal causes at present, since OOO is a weird Aristotelianism, and Aristotle is all about morphē, form.

And Not Forgetting

Zachary Fraser, Nicola Masciandaro, Eugene Thacker, Paul Boshears, and everyone else who worked with me on essays this year, such as Rita Felski, Jamie Allen, Adeline Johns-Putra, Tim Clark, Serpil Opperman, Paul Ennis, Greg Garrard, Sean Murray, Jon Cogburn, Kevin Marsh, Joanna Demers, Jacques Khalip, Alan Weinberg, Stephanie Lemenager, Alan Braddock, Julie Carr, John-Michael Rivera, Klaus Loenhart and Tom Ford.

Fortunate

I feel so lucky for the following reasons: Graham Harman, Levi Bryant, Ian Bogost, Douglas Kahn, Sophie Jerram, everyone i worked with in Taiwan and Australia, Liam Heneghan...more soon.



Harman on Miitary Detention

Graham has an excellent post about it, viz.:


One of the reasons it bothers me so much is because I already live in a country where this law exists, and I can tell you that it absolutely sucks. Without an independent judiciary watching over each step of the process, detention is one of the foremost powers of tyranny.

It may just be terrorist suspects at first, and maybe you don’t see a problem in that case. All right. But next it will be drug dealers. And then maybe just Muslims who say a few harsh things about Israel in public. And then maybe members of fringe political parties. And then maybe bloggers who swear at at the Army and the President. And then maybe the U.S. reaches the stage of Egypt, where it’s just whoever the hell the government feels like throwing in prison.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Actor Recursion Theory

By Robert Jackson.



Ian Bogost Talk

“The Cartoonist and the Whaler,” which by the way sounds like a cartoon I'd like to see.

Gratton and Scu on Animals

Peter makes a good point at the end of this post on an unfortunate incident undergone by Scu.



Next Up: Finishing Hyperobjects

My trusty research assistant Ben just turned in a crucial treasure trove of work, so I'll be done in about 3 days.

Graham and I just finished essays for Rita Felski's New Literary History--should be a big splash there.



Environments and Societies at UC Davis

The UC Davis Mellon Research Initiative "Environments & Societies: History, Literature, and Justice" 2012 Colloquium Series

The weekly colloquium will focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration in the environmental humanities and humanistic social sciences to undertake a broad rethinking of human-nature interactions that are critical to meeting the environmental challenges of our era.

Each meeting will feature an invited presenter whose work will be pre-circulated for discussion. Meetings will take place on Wednesdays from 4-6pm in 126 Voorhies Hall, beginning February 8 and ending on May 2.

More information is available at:
http://environmentsandsocieties.ucdavis.edu/

The current schedule of speakers (please continue to check the website for updated presentation titles):

February 8, 2012 – Sarah Jaquette Ray: The Ecological Other: Bodies, Nature, and Exclusion
February 15, 2012 – Valerie Kuletz: The “Elemental” Problems of Life: Un-Natural Natures in the Age of Fukushima
February 22, 2012 – Nancy Peluso
February 29, 2012 - Stuart Kendall
March 7, 2012 – Richard Hiskes
April 4, 2012 - Ursula K. Heise
April 11, 2012 – David Correia
April 18, 2012 - Thomas Andrews
April 25, 2012 - TBA
May 2, 2012 – Connie Chiang

Please forward to any colleagues who may be interested and invite them to join the Environments & Societies listserv by contacting: environments.and.societies.ucd@gmail.com.



Classes next year

Literature and the Environment and a survey of literature 1700-1900. And I'll be teaching in London in the spring.



Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christopher Hitchens

I liked his later work, when he realized he was dying. It had a freshness and a humility to it.

The God Is Not Great stuff and the pro-Iraq war stuff was just awful, I thought.

He had a kind of anti-BS BS, which I also didn't care for too much.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Shaviro, Melancholia, Warwick

I like Steven Shaviro's post on the von Trier movie Melancholia. And I like Henry Warwick's comment—Henry gave me permission to reprint it here.

This is a somewhat cleaner version of a response I wrote on Steve Shaviro's excellent blog, The Pinocchio Theory. I wrote it in response to his excellent and insightful preliminary review of the film Melancholia by Lars von Trier, which can be read here: http://www.shaviro.com/Blog/?p=1019

I sent my review to Tim Morton because I pointed at one of his books in the review. He asked if he could republish it here on his blog, and I agreed, but I wanted to "clean it up a little bit". I wrote the review on Shaviro's blog very late at night (1 AM) and in retrospect feel it could use some detailing. I am honoured that Tim wants this on his blog.
- Henry Warwick

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Steve, I agree with your points. I would like to add my own perspective, which is that Melancholia is also an allegory of the end of western civilisation.

Justine is the romantic depressionist. Like her namesake she dies in an instant by an implacable act of "nature". She is kind of an embodiment of the anti-rationalist pessimism of Schoepenhauer et al. Her sister, Claire, is simply trying to understand what the hell is going on. Claire = Clear. Clair's primary concern is her son, whom she loves dearly. She is the “normal human”, living in extremely abnormal circumstances, and her limitations and frailties distort her actions and responses, even as she does her best to cope. She has feelings - complex feelings ranging from panic to devotion - and is free to express them. She is basically an optimist, and even when things are going very poorly, it is only at the end when she truly gives up hope and then tries to come up with an honourable exit from this mortal coil. Her child is The Child. The father (her husband) is Science – rationalist, positivist, Science. As he is a true rationalist and dedicated to his own “enlightened self-interest”, it only makes sense why he suicides.

It is HIS estate they live on – they live in luxury thanks to Science. It is a wealthy estate – wasteful, pointless, and finally dysfunctional and suicidal and completely incapable of protecting them from Melancholia.

The Arrival of Melancholia is the realisation that the World is coming to an End. And the World is socially constructed - especially the World they live in. Hence, to really get the point of the World Ending, von Trier couldn't have the “World” ending – it has to be The Planet Itself Ending. The utter bullshit of the “science” displayed in the film re: Melancholia’s path to Earth's destruction, is so thin that any high school student who studied rudimentary gravitational physics can demonstrate how utterly wrong the movie is. As that is so, the destruction of the planet Must Be not the end of the Planet but the end of the World, and the only world we see in the movie is the world of the bourgeoisie… the Western World.

For me Melancholia is a philosophical surpassing of Avatar. Avatar was very clunky in its critique of Western Industrial Civilisation. Melancholia is quite the opposite. Avatar said “We’re ruining the biosphere with industrialism. We have to stop industrialism cuz… it’s like... really bad.” Melancholia comes from a more sophisticated “Dark Ecology” position – there is no solution. There is no “way out”, the World (western industrialism) is coming to an end, and we have no idea what will replace it or how or when.

Now, it appears that Melancholia is about the size of Uranus, only rocky. That’s MASSIVE. If it had passed by the earth as close as it seems (well within lunar orbit) it would have tossed the moon out of orbit, and blown the earth into a much more eccentric orbit around the sun. It would not have gone “around the earth” and then come back for an impact. Something that huge and that dense would have tossed the earth around like a toy and dragged it about. The looping manoeuvre in the movie would/could not have happened. IF the earth did strike Melancholia head on, it would have blown a big chunk of Melancholia away – it would not have been simply absorbed, and this would create a smaller Melancholia and several large moons of Melancholia. Or, if Melancholia was somewhat less dense, or struck with a more glancing and harder blow, the Earth's impact would have blown it to pieces and created another asteroid belt around the sun. The density and mass of this asteroid belt would be so great that the orbits of Mars and Venus would be massively disrupted. None of this happened or was even suggested in the film.

Which is why I suggest the movie wasn’t about the science of planet impacts or the end of the Planet at all. Trier says it is about humans acting in a difficult and depressing time, drawing on his own experiences of clinical depression. I see that as a humanist handle to a larger story, as described above - the end of Western Industrial Civilisation - the end of the "World" as we know it - the vapourisation of the capitalist system by the utterly implacable and vastly larger forces of our planet's ecology.

Of course, I could be totally wrong. But that’s my story and I’m stickin with it for now….

Streets of Your Town



A whole novel in two verses and a bridge. By the Go-Betweens. Sorry about the jumpy beginning and sound quality.

It's that footsteppy rim shot repetition, with the merry-go-round rhythm, evoking a feeling of cycling in place while moving. And the absolutely to die for cotton candy on the pier guitars. The way each verse almost tells a story, both musically and in the lyrics—but keeps catching itself. Clearly it's a song about death, the attempt to live down a trauma, withdrawal, depression. But we only see it in glimspes.

Mystery Project Update 5

Oh, all right, all right—it's Buddhaphobia. I realized I needed to revise it and I didn't want to jinx it by being too out about it. But I've had enough insights in the last few days that I'm okay with the project right now. I've written 26 000 words since last Thursday. I think I'm going to carry on thinking things through rather than reading too many notes yet, though I may start to glance at them. It's really paying off. But I have to let the insights happen.

Teaching Ecocriticism Textbook

Just published, edited by Greg Garrard. I'm at the end talking about teaching deconstruction in that context.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Help Finding out about a Permission

I'm reproducing an image of Woodstock from the Peanuts cartoon for an essay on ecology (for Greg Garrard). Who do I ask for permission?

Mystery Project Update 4

23 000. I'm writing essays that are due during the day, while working in this at night. It's a pretty decent schedule though it means my mind hits a wall towards the end of my night stint. I'm going to write 2000 more words blind, then look at my notes.



Second Anthropocene Essay done

And sent. It's my first time talking about Butoh, my new favorite thing, in print. Some of you may have heard me talk about it.



Monday, December 12, 2011

Kris Coffield Gets Mesh-y

This is an interesting riff on one of the supporting structures of The Ecological Thought.

Ecology without the Present

Yes that's right suckers, the list just keeps growing of what ecology must be without! : ) It's the title of my essay for Oxford Literary Review, the second Anthropocene one, and since my last post I've gone and written all but 1000 words of it. I'm fond of the epigraph:

I learned a new word today. Atom bomb. It was like a white light in the sky. Like God taking a photograph.

First Anthropocene Essay Out of the Way

...unlike the Anthropocene, unfortunately, which is still very much with us. It's for a special issue of a journal edited by Tom Ford, a sort of “What next after theory?” deal. Title:

“From Modernity to the Anthropocene: Ecology and Art in the Age of Asymmetry,” The International Social Science Journal 209.

Now I'm going to finish my second Anthropocene essay for Oxford Literary Review

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Glass of Water

This is such a nice quotation. I'm getting back into studying Zen. I'm a Tibetan Buddhist but the first ever book on Buddhism I read was Zen Mind Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki. When I finally met Alan, whose fault it is (!) that I am a Buddhist, it all fell into place as he had been Suzuki's student in the late 60s to early 70s.

OOO fans: when Katagiri says “object” he means “ontically given.” It's really rather OOO, I feel.

The Buddhist way of seeing the world is quite different from the objective way that we usually see things. In the usual way of seeing, you look at a glass of water and say, “Oh yes, that is water.” Then maybe your mind compels you to be curious, so you study what water is: a chemical composition of hydrogen and oxygen. In order to study it, you have already acknowledged that water exists as an object with substance. First, you see that water exists, and then you study it objectively. The purpose of this scientific way is to have knowledge. Buddhism doesn't see water this way.
     Of course, Buddhism doesn't ignore the existence of water, but the purpose of Buddhism is to save us from suffering. So it explains that nothing has its own permanent substance, because all phenomena in the world are constantly appearing, disappearing, and changing based on the conditions functioning in a moment. If you study water according to Buddhism, you may say, “Well, as a human being I think it is water for me to drink, but if I were a fish I would think that it is my house, my world. To me it is water, but to a fish it is not water.” There are a hundred different ways to understand water, because a moment of existence is really complicated.
… When you examine something analytically, seeing it as an object, concept, or idea, you are not facing it vividly.




Mystery Project Update 3

20 000 words. Lots of good family care things were done today, which meant I did a little less writing. But no matter. This is just leaking out of me, spontaneously. It's stranger than Hyperobjects that way. I have less of an idea of what I'm doing, even less confidence. But I seem to trust what I'm saying.

While my trusty research assistant is working on Hyperobjects I'll get on with this.

Reconfiguring Philosophy

Ian Bogost has an excellent post about what looks to be an excellent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, not an organ I generally associate with anything like thought. Check it out.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Disappointed



This is without doubt the most magnificent and joyful way of telling someone to fuck off I know. Use it wisely. Sickening goth major–minor sliding, chorusing and heavy guitars. The right sort of hard drumming. And of course John Lydon. It has some of the absolute best lyrics too:

Promises, promises / Old tired worn out second-hand sentences / One thing with you is certain / You're a really sad person...

This one has Spanish subtitles and is from the actual album 9, which is best. Without stinking ads. Play loud.

Mystery Project Update 2

18 500 words. I'm really not sure how it's happening, but I'm glad I took the time to note that it was ready to be written. I could have ignored the thought and pushed ahead with Hyperobjects. That's an awful lot of words, or as some of my students say, verbiage, since last time I wrote.



Friday, December 9, 2011

Bhob Rainey Book and MP3

This looks interesting indeed. Chris Schaberg had a hand in persuading Rainey to put it together. With Pauline Oliveros!

Manual is a combination full-length album and book focusing on the music and improvisational practice of the BSC, an eight-member electroacoustic ensemble formed by saxophonist and composer Bhob Rainey in 2000. More than just music with copious liner notes, Manual examines the process of improvisation from both within and outside the BSC, encountering topics ranging from genealogy to architecture, the boundaries of sense to the benefits of failure, flows of energy to bouts of guilt. The intersection and unfolding of ideas is often complex, but the writing in Manual is earthy and comprehensible, keeping jargon to a minimum without sacrificing the depth of the subject matter. Manual is not a monument to the BSC but rather an appreciation of improvisation from the perspective of an especially prolific community.

Schaberg Book Now Out

Chris blogs about it here and you can see it here.

UC Davis Admin and Resource Management

Hilariously it's called ARM. John Meyer is the VC in charge and he was the guy who directly authorized the police action.



Mystery Project Update

13 000 words. Well, I guess I must be doing this mystery project, for real. I haven't looked at any of my notes yet. It worked so well for Hyperobjects, I thought what the hey, let's give it a go with this one. I'm incorporating some work by Dylan Trigg,  Zachary Price and Eugene Thacker, which is very pleasant.

Will Try to Speak to UC Davis Chancellor Today

At one of the interminable town halls. I think it's a ruse of cynical reason not to.



FBI Called Me

True story: the FBI called me about a student from long ago. It was five minutes before my class at Occupy. Later in the day, as I dialing the agent's number, she called me. She asked to meet. For some reason she was on campus at that very moment. It was the week of the strike. I said I had a heavy workload and couldn't do it.

Of course there are many possible interpretations of this.



UC Berkeley Faculty Vote on Chancellor Birgenau

When no-confidence won't work, but "diminished confidence" passes by 300 majority.



Thursday, December 8, 2011

Leigh Kirkland OM AMITABAYAH HRIH

Leigh taught one of the very first real Buddhism classes I ever did. Well she was part of it, a very good part of it. She said I had beginners' mind. I remember what I said to merit that. It was that I'd been meditating and I felt like a piece of raw flesh.

Leigh died today, hope she has a good bardo transition.



UCD Chancellor's Board of Advisors

Doesn't look great so far.



Mystery Manuscript

I turned in my Open Humanities Press contract for Realist Magic today. I seem to be working on something else. It's not Hyperobjects, nor is it any of my existing essays (see my previous). I'm not going to talk about it directly here. I believe that if I sidle up to it, in every respect, it will work just fine.

Let it be known however that since starting on it, I've written about 7000 words (since 10pm yesterday).



Wednesday, December 7, 2011

UC Davis Asian Studies Releases Resignation Demand

Read it here.



ASLE UKI CFP: Composting Culture

For September 2012. Deadline February 29 2012.

"Modernity will begin and end with Hegel"

It's the final sentence of the description of Žižek's forthcoming magnum opus, to which I would simply add: it has already ended. My essay in Evental Aesthetics addresses how Hegel anticipates but can't think the phase we are now in which I call the time of hyperobjects.



UC Davis No-Confidence Letter

Published in today's paper.



Mumia Death Penalty Dropped

Breaking.

We Want the Same Deal You Got

My friend the historian Louis Warren taught a class at Occupy recently whose contents were the following: 

Taxpayers who paid $17,000 per year for each undergraduate in the UC in 1991 now paid only $7,000. The focus of student attention should be the legislature (although they need to make demands of the regents and chancellors, too). The legislature has the power to tax. The regents do not. There are 180 000 undergraduates in the UC system. An increase of funding at the level of $10,000 per undergraduate is the bare minimum of what's required. That's $1.8 billion, and it has to come from the legislature. We could fire every administrators in the system and not get anywhere near that amount of money. 

The vast majority of state legislators are 45–65 years old; most went to UC/CSU/Community Colleges.  
The occupy movement might do well to demand of legislators,  "We want the same deal you got." 

Peppergate T-Shirt


Flaunt your disgust at police brutality. I am having this made specially for UC Davis faculty next time we have a meeting in Mrak Hall (see my previous). But what the hey—you can have one too...

Peppergate Update


Mrak is the main admin building on the UC Davis campus. It is now locked from the outside. To enter, you have to show a university ID and be checked on a list of people entering the building. I had to do it yesterday, as did David Copp (Philosophy)—we were both attending somewhat significant committee meetings.

This is surely (and happily in a twisted way) a symptom of that part of Occupy that is now Paolo Freire Open University—aka the financial aid office at the center of campus.



How to stop it. I think we all need to refuse to enter Mrak for any reason whatsoever.

Earth: Hyperobjects Update

So, here I am, at the citation fixing stage of Hyperobjects. Why not? My Prius is being serviced (90 000 miles, the big one, bit of sticker shock there!). So I'm sitting in the Toyota dealership.

And it occurs to me that this is exactly where I started writing the book, in August. How strange.

Fixing citations is like gardening. You are relating to the basic earth of your project. It's very different from writing, which is more like flying. For me it's best to segment the tasks so they don't overlap at all.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

At the California College of the Arts


A very nice shot by Cliff Gerrish. Somehow he captures the warmth and intimacy of that evening. It was a really really good time. Video, mp3, powerpoint here.

Peppergate Task Force Announced

Here is the task force enjoined to investigate the use of chemical weapons against students on the UC Davis campus by militarized police.

Yes we who are pushing for a vote of no confidence in the Chancellor are calling it peppergate.

On December's Decks

Okay, I think I have it figured out. I have an essay on Aboriginal artist Yukultji Napangati to do for the journal Discipline. I have an essay called “Ecology without the Present” (haha) for Oxford Literary Review. I have to tidy up the notes for Hyperobjects and put in the last remaining pieces. An essay for Symplokē on hyperobjects. And an essay called “Inside the Hyperobject We Are Always in the Wrong” for Theory Culture and Society. And something on “Body” for a book of terms for literary study.

Ben Woodard in Organs Everywhere

Ben has a very readable essay on ecology, monstrosity and the uncanny in the current Organs Everywhere. A very nice looking online journal to be sure.

Discovery to Air Global Warming Arctic Show

At last. Details and petition here.



Helvete Essay

In other news, I'm revising my black metal essay "The Smoking Pool of Death." I learned a lot from thinking it through.



Full Title

Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality. With any luck it will have half the sales of Levi's The Democracy of Objects : )



Realist Magic to Appear

...with the Open Humanities Press, a decision that brings me an awful lot of joy. Now I have to get stuck in to some revisions, both mine and the editor's.



Oh Trungpa

“Genuineness is truly feeling oneself as a human being. From that, you begin to realize that there is no fundamental problem with your human existence. Nothing about you needs to be destroyed, or razed; no warfare is necessary. That is the ultimate idea of warriorship: being all-victorious. If you have to fight, you are not all-victorious. When you are all-victorious, you don’t have to conquer anything.”

Monday, December 5, 2011

UC Davis Senate Vote (PDF)

Last Friday. I wasn't there.



Discovery Channel: Don't Censor Global Warming

Sign the petition here.



New Ajay Kurian Show

Graham has the details.



Garcia and Harman

Tool-Being is happily the first citation at all in Forme et Objet.



Une table, un quark, une robe rouge

...among the things in the Latour litany on the back of my just-arrived Forme et Objet by Tristan Garcia. Other things: "la couleur d'un tableau abstrait, un rite de passage, un tiers de branche d'acacia."



Occupy Financial Aid

Possibly even more striking from an architecture-design standpoint. Tents inside Dutton, the financial aid place.









CFP: Psycho-Ontology

In Jerusalem. Pinker and Chalmers will be there among others.

Occupy Today

With a neat dinosaur.










Walking through Occupy

It has transformed the center of the university and is very pleasant to stroll through. I do it with my kids as often as possible. Now I'm on my way to the land of coffee.



Comp Lit Ph.D. Exam

Today with the very smart Chris Tong. He's working on "nature" in Chinese literature and architecture.



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Breaking: Paul a Bit of a Wanker

With full respect to Alain Badiou and the other Pauline Maoists out there, this is how a non-Christian sees the whole Paul thing.

A Friend Writes

A friend here writes about an editorial in today's Davis Enterprise:

there is a a good editorial in today's Enterprise on policing in the wake of 9/11—one does not have to think much further to get to drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan and, I suppose, now everywhere.  But fixating on the Chancellor has not made it easier to think beyond the white folks. An opportunity missed indeed—a bit like 9/11 itself.

Two Weeks too Late

This morning I woke up realizing what I'd have said if I'd been up on that UC Davis podium at the rally on 11.21.

It would have started from this: the war on terror is over. It's over. Time to go home. 9/11 was about militarizing everything, and now it's come home to roost by being practiced on American children. Who authorizes that, who does that, spraying pepper spray down someone's throat, for sitting on the ground.

9/11 was used a big excuse to give the police weapons that are now being used to defend private property against free speech, even more than ever. Police are there to protect private property. UC Davis gets billions from big food and big ag corporations. Administrators are living in a bubble in which they respond mostly to that. It's an inherently violent situation: big corporations, big money, threat of defunding by the state, police with weapons. It has nothing to do with education anymore.

Clearly this connection has come to a point where big business is ready to do violence to voting citizens to protect its interests. This has to end. 


The point is, there were TV from around the world. This was a moment in which poor professors could actually speak to (as they love to say) “a larger audience.” To show people who are are and what we think—some of it quite carefully worked out, all of it hardly ever given the airplay. To give others a reason to get behind the tactics.

Tragically, and this is only my opinion—we blew it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Simon James Against Holism

Wow, this looks right. Buddhism and ecology with a twist. A Timbo-like twist!

Psychedelic Death

After you Die, You See This...

When I awoke this morning it was to the telltale rushing sound that indicates that part of my CPAP machine that pushes air into my lungs was disconnected. The new tube is a little loose at one end.

Then I remembered my dream. It was the beginning of an after-death phowa (ejection of consciousness) dream: another telltale sign I wasn't breathing right. (I have sleep apnea and if you search for apnea in the search bar you'll find my posts about that.)

In my dream I was eating pieces of huge magic mushrooms (!) and was repurchasing copies of Dungeons and Dragons books: the Monster Manual, Deities and Demigods, and Player's Handbook (see above). Yes, glowing demonic faces with horns, riiighht....

At the time I recall thinking: I'm not tripping hard enough to be completely absorbed in the trip—should I eat more or just leave it? This coincides, I think, with having just enough air to remain breathing (semi-breathing), rather than the full on out-of-body dreams I was having every night at one point a couple of years ago.

I mean every few minutes my brain would dump its DMT and I would go into a world of pulsing colors and strange alien beings. According to the brain scan I had I was only in REM for 2 minutes a night for over 15 years—yet those few moments a night felt like thousands of years. Sometimes on waking the pulsations would continue in my visual field, I mean, really vivid: animated Yukultji Napangati (search for her name in the bar). In the dreams I would meet my Buddhist teacher and he would explain that I had just died, and how to meditate in the after death state (bardo). Every night. It was relentless!

I almost miss them...but being alive is quite nice : )

Reflect Occupy

To differ with  Mr. Krahn, this Al-Jazeera editorial correctly identifies, and exemplifies one of the things I like very much about Occupy.

Glass Occupy

Philip Glass addresses Occupy.



Funny Review

This is kind of funny: I just read a review of Ecology without Nature (from last year), where the author found fault with my “attempt[ing] arguments conducted in more than one register at once, arguments too often sealed wtih a witty one-liner in lieu of a well-reasoned conclusion.”

Heaven spare us from talking on more than one level at once! Pedants of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your audience!

Reading a Dissertation

From New Zealand, a performance studies/sociology investigation of ecotourism called “Expedition Cruising in Solander: An Application of Ecology without Nature.” It's nicely done, probably better than what I did for my diss.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Adam Robbert

It was very nice to see him today. It's excellent that people all around the world seem to be dialing into ecological philosophy these days, and not your 70s or 80s version either, but new kinds of approach.

Adam and I talked about the ins and outs of doing Ph.D. work. The thing is, if you already have a vivid idea of what you want to do, you should be empowered to do it—it's all good as long as your potential committee members think they can work with you, rather than simply letting you do what you've already solidified.

Adam's blog, if you haven't seen it, is very good.