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

Sunday, September 30, 2012


Cary Wolfe's talk and OOFeminism have had about 500 hits so far.

And I'll be the keynote at next year's SLSA. The theme is Post-Nature.

Bother It

I missed Christine Skolnik's panel, and a talk on said panel by Anthony Paul Smith. Packing to leave. Now in a taxi with soul blasting. It's been a magnificent trip, in every respect. Best conference I've been to in a while. Apart from the other one Richard Grusin ran earlier this year.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Cary Wolfe: SLSA Keynote 1

Before the Law (Chicago, forthcoming).
different commitments of animal studies. Ethics, not really politics. Biopolitics, theory generally, but not that interested in the status of nonhuman creatures.
Donna Haraway's critique of Foucault. Animality as basically a problem for the human in relation to itself.
What resources does biopolitical thought provide for animal studies?
New knowledges and so on have left our educational and legal institutions in the dust: less because of our coolness than pressure from outside.
Humanities have not been so good at thinking about nonhuman beings. Nor responsive to their changing plights and needs.
Race, gender, sexuality, species: those doing the expanding are secure in the floor plan of subjectivity that we all thought was the problem in the first place.
Humanities will have to become the posthumanities.
Rich bourgeois democracies: not to take the we for granted.
June 2008, Spanish parliament rights to great apes. On basis of human rights.
massive amounts of factory farming
we need something other than the blunt instrument of human versus animal to make sense of it
great apes have a lot more in common with humans than with many other animals
how can we line up the differences of ontology and law?

Cary Wolfe: SLSA Keynote 4

Pet pharmacology. Yet another lifestyle foible of the well to do? Reconcile, drug to treat separation anxiety, tastes like liver and is chewable (Prozac)
Why do animals develop mental illnesses and respond to the same medications?
These drugs were tested on animals anyway! Humans are using animal drugs!
Some animals flourish because they are animals.
And yet at the very same moment, billions of animals that exceed cats and dogs in capacities relevant to their standing have as horrible a life as one could imagine, also because they are animals.
So the trouble is a distinction between bios and zoe that cuts across species lines and obtains within the domain of human life itself.
Derrida: "the animal" is "asinine": an ideologeme
Esposito: we can only turn from thanatological logic only if we think animals as the subject of protection.
Subject is never separated from the living roots from which it is separated
Modality of bios that can't be inscribed to the conscious subject
Race and species must give way to their own deconstruction >> highly differentiated thinking of life in relation to biopower.

This doesn't mean (as Esposito says in Bios) that all life is equal. It's just that the human animal distinction is of no use whatsoever. Need to focus on shared plight.
Whose lives count as lives?
This makes a huge advance << liberal justice tradition (reciprocity, agency etc.)
But also a problem: of ethnocentrism.
Arendt: what constitutes the right to have rights?
"The Origins of Totalitarianism": universal human rights is dubious because it's << homo sapiens not membership in political community
Recourse to formal conventional rights
But pressure on this from historical fact that the call for the declaration of rights 1948 << stateless persons (bare life).
The right to have rights is indeed the question.
>> full complexity of the engagement with biologistic continuism (Derrida). Heidegger was right to reject homogeneous continuity between man and the animal. The questions are indeed phenomenological and ontological. What he was wrong about was his insistence that whatever is at stake corresponds to a difference in kind. Not effacing the limit but multiplying its figures.
Calarco: the presubjective conditions of subjectivity can't easily be restricted to human beings. Posthumanism must return to first philosophy to create a nonanthropocentric ontology of life-death.
(nice one Matt!)
Everything that is ethically relevant has nothing to do with the human animal distinction or any other biological distinction.
Rejecting continuism makes possible a more robust naturalistic account of what gives rise to what can't be reduced to the biological domain alone.

At the same time: law and ethics and justice challenge: within a parliament or political ecology of things, some are whos and not whats. Chimps, fleas, cage. Are there not qualitative differences?

Thickening and deepening our relation to objects and other things. Levi Bryant: the issue isn't one of excluding the human but how to extend the domain of value without humans being at the center.

Whether that domain of value can continue to be, even if humans cease to exist. If not we could only commit to relative values. Planet would just be, not be valuable or not, if no humans.

Ethics: to whom it matters cannot only be human. If the who is not a biological given but is rather an emergence << relation to the what, its outside, then the who is permanently open to the possibility of whoever it might be.

Cary Wolfe: SLSA Keynote 3

Factory farming not just ethically embarrassing sideline, but rather in fact constitutively political for biopolitics in its modern form.
exponential expansion and routinization of logics that extend from Chicago slaugherhouses to the death camps and back again
newly expanded community of the living regardless of whatever species
risk involved in factory farming
Pew Commission on industrial farming: factory farming produces cheap meat but it's only viable because it passes on health costs to the public
shifting the cost to the taxpayer
external costs: environmental degradation, pollution of air and water
antibiotic costs: NYT 80% of antibiotics in USA go to livestock on factory farms
certain kind of staph kills more people than AIDS
UK foot and mouth epidemic 2011
CA 1970s 9 million hens
Chickens, turkeys, ducks 2004 H5N1
Esposito: social systems haunted by need for security; threat created by protection (autoimmunity)
massive subsidies to prop up the entire system
can you really isolate all this from the political per se
or >> impoverished political
all relations of force imply a power relation (Foucault)
political analysis and critique have to be invented, but also modifying relations of force in reality
to bring out new schemas of politicization this juncture however we must remember the ambivalent quality of Foucault's sense of biopolitics focused on the aleatory body
at the same moment at which the scale of factory farming is nightmarish, we contemplate human rights, and care for companion animals (US pet care 17bn in 1994 to 36 bn in 2005, 45.5bn in 2009).
 vets, dental cleaning, oncology: the capacity to make live in Foucault's words, outstrips what's available to many of the world's human population now...
pet health care insurance (271million dollar business)

Cary Wolfe: SLSA Keynote 2

 Butler doesn't extend this to nonhumans. Still it's worth asking if the bios/zoe distinction might be of some use regarding our treatment of nonhuman animals.
Derrida. Analogy between treatment of animals and holocaust. Racialization as a half way house. Foucault 1975-6: racism is the precondition that makes killing acceptable.
>> you can't talk about biopolitics without talking about race, and you can't talk about race without talking about species
exposure of how that designation masks and makes possible the more fundamental operations of biopolitics. The anthropological machine.
Thanatology dominates Agamben. The death camps as the political space in which we are still living.
Foucault is more ambivalent. The power to make live.
Making live and letting die.
Medicine, health professions, governmentality, managing and enhancing the lives of populations via hygiene.
Subtle but important difference. Foucault allows us to disarticulate sovereignty and biopower.
What gets lost in the formal symmetry in Agamben is how to think the biopolitical field of affectivity.
Foucault's displacement of sovereignty doesn't get rid of it but could be helpful.
Power's increasing need for the various techs of management and so on.
Esposito: not a withdrawal of the field subjected to law, but the law shifts from transcendental level of codes and sanctions to the level of rules and norms addressed to body.
>> 1. Biopolitics form of government of a new dynamic.
2. Fundamental problem is not of a single source but of a multitude of forces.
3. Biopower targets a power that does not properly belong to it.
Jeff Nealon: Not a negative relation of domination, but a positive relation among virtual forces. (Foucault)
Anatomy of how the machinery of power strives to maintain control
Forces that derive from animal bodies
Enfolded in subjection and resistance through specific dispositifs
>> chance for life to burst through power
power/knowledge complexifies the body, which increases risk
Thus Foucault: the intro to life into history is constructive; you can propose a new ontology that begins with the body
One key insight is that without factoring freedom and resistance, you can't understand power.
so we need to peel the sovereignty offfactory farming can't be called political by Agamben, but in Foucault, yes
common subjection of the factical existence of both humans and animals
assembly line processes to kill jews << Ford << Chicago slaughterhouse disassembly line

SLSA Liveblog 9: Seth Morton

“Poetry in the Rift,” SLSA (”Nonhuman”), Milwaukee, September 27–29, 2012

nihilism and poetry
rift between science and art

Heidegger: rift in philosophy in mid century
rift is back again
molecular poetics; scale terms “upward and downward”
Trakl’s poem: resting vs ambivalence of the wanderer in relation to the radiating bread
if molecular poetics scales up, to greater interests--then it is equally exposed to being ground down in the other direction
hyper specificify
poetry tends to bear down on the minute in response to the loss of something transcendent
the point in setting scalar frames against each other is to bring out the similarities
the rift: the negative space that disappears in both scalar maneuvers
what is at stake: to close the gap
by spending some more time with Heidegger’s last word
a bridging mechanism between proper and improper technics
hypernihilism (Kroger); autoimmune nihilism
Sebald and Celan dramatize the tension around the rift
Sebald responds in prosaic prosody
Celan embraces negatively
covering over a nothing that threatens meaninglessness
expose nihilism to a nothing that unravels its logic
Sebald: after nature is his first and most obvious attempt at nonacademic writing
concern with idea of poetry as a ground zero for interpretation in molecular poetics
Sebald’s sense of style seems out of place in the context of a poem
‘after” nach -- according to or temporally after
ironic death of nature
imbrication that makes it impossible to distinguish nature as such
and so can’t establish a firmanent
past life occurs ekphrastically in Grunewald paintings: dissolving natural grounding of meaning
an inhuman falling away of the molecular grounding
panic stricken kink in the neck: absence of balance in nature (Grunewald)
subject carries forth its own inhuman project, to find out how far it can go
Heidegger’s completing nihilism was only the culture’s impulse
finding a name for the nothing versus closing one’s eyes to it
rime evading signification
Celan: fallout of meaning and language to make sense of meaninglessness
“You Were My Death”
poem evacuates what is around the content
subject >> direct object >> indirect object
speaker is let go of/lets go of the world
threat of nihilism
speaker washed away in a sea of meaninglessness
Celan’s grim reminder of what the Sebald makes you think
can the circle be squared outside the active and passive dichotomy
Derrida: resurrections of vulnerable body
Celan’s inscrutability
...poems become more sparse and thus more molecular
infuriating the technics of a nihilistic culture

SLSA Liveblog 8: Derek Woods

“Molecular Poetics and the Scales of Oil: Marina Zurkow’s Necrocracy,” SLSA (”Nonhuman”), Milwaukee, September 27–29, 2012

the children in hazmat suits
industrial catastrophe
dynamic sublime
scaled down hazmat suits layered with cuteness; precious and horrible like the girl in The Exorcist
Necroracy is ironically not apocalyptic; cataplexis as cartoon hydrocarbons; ambient poetics that collapses figure and ground
molecular scale as absent presence that fills the atmosphere with hydrocarbon voices
chemical substrates of the military industrial
Barthes on plastic: the myth of processing everything
this creates lots of black boxes that make this infinite plasticity fantasy become weird and strange
limit case of processing: any input >> any output
Star Trek replicators
ideological function of plasticity
Mesocosm Wink, Texas
realism plus manipulated scale effects
looping in a separate room, the only piece that uses visual perspective
nothing is the “right” size
nonhuman scales haunt around the edges
Haldane on insects
Tim Clark on noncartographic scale: not a smooth moving in and out
scale variance
we need scales outside our scale mesocosm
Powers of 10 movie
Mesocosm movie: sinkhole as portal into geological time
Neo/Geo: black boxes with distorting mirrors: juncture of deep technics and deep time

SLSA Liveblog 7: Ada Smailbegovic

“Molecular Poetics: Instabilities in the ‘Particle Zoo’,” SLSA (”Nonhuman”), Milwaukee, September 27–29, 2012

What does it mean to introduce the infinite life of molecules into poetry?
Does life inhere in all matter?
Christian Bok. Bok explores matter. A strip of steel interests us in itself.
Emphasis on microscopic matter. Steve McCaffery, “The proto-semantic level”
“the rumble beneath the word”
Four Horsemen sound poetry group
materiality of language
concrete poetry
Steve McCaffery, Carnival; 16 panels that you have to rip out of a book to assemble the poem
marks exceeding their semantic value
Opal from Bok’s Crystallography
both poets cite Lucretius. Lucretius thinks of atoms as like letters, how you combine them is significant
forests and fires each caused by the shuffling of these atomic letters
moving differently and in different combinations
Steve McCaffery, “Oceanside, a Lipogram”
Brownian motion. Brown starts assuming that the movement is because of life, but realizes it’s intrinsic to atoms
Lucretius bridges huge spans of scale
making observations at one level to surmise things about another scale; small >> great
“a small thing may act as a footprint of a concept”
micropoetics: language as textural and material
Bok, Ten Maps of Sardonic Wit: a book made of Lego bricks
exploring relation of atoms and words
anagrammatic disarray, atomization of language; pile of debris as zero degree of that
The Xenotext Experiment. Doesn’t address Fox Keller and Lewontin on gene-centricity.

SLSA Liveblog 6: Judith Roof

Unhuman Nose-ologoy: Scalar/Molar Profiles
the nose knows
uncomfortable displacement on the face of things...
base order calculating machine
atavistic signifier of body over mind; demoted through history
metonymical or metaphorical but not itself
imaginary control understood as human vs animal difference
how the molar becomes the scalar; cybernetic exchange
Polyester, John Waters: odorama scratch and sniff cards
analyzing the phenomena of group response by stimuli; self consciously clunky
esther--reaction that gives bouquets
alignment as a low cultural process
smell operates in the present ((hm not sure)
sight is cultural privileged as more reliable
olfactory bulb; olfactory sensory neurons with olfactory dendrites
ligand binding to receptor neurons >> cerebrum >> conscious perception and amygdala and hippocampus
molecular and cellular levels
problem of timing; bringing odors to consciousness is only one
the limbic system isn't very associated with the language part of the brain; olfaction precedes linguistic processes
suggests two kinds of consciousness
most researchers suggest that smelling is unconscious
we assume we are separated; appearance of separability and distance in sound and sight
the environment literally gets into the individual
bodies and groups are always already entangled in a feedback system

SLSA Liveblog 5: Nonhuman Scales of Sense (Jennifer Rhee)

“The Anti-Robot Proprioception of Simon Penny’s Petit Mal,” SLSA (”Nonhuman”), Milwaukee, September 27–29, 2012
distressing video about Big Dog being used in military applications (Boston Dynamics)
slavish subservience to humans, robot is kicked
Suchman: a different configuration would require much greater imagination and a radical change in our collective sense of what’s worth a headline
trying to find robotic imaginaries in different political environments
Simon Penny’s Petit Mal, an autonomous robot work
Queer Phenomenology: Objects, Orientations, Others (Sara Ahmed)
objects need to have stories of their relations and histories of arrival
early robots such as Shaky didn’t fare well in real world situations
they inhabited worlds that were representational
Petit Mal moves haltingly and at times invades humans’ space
Petit Mal seeks to charm and surprise
Big Dog makes you afraid
Ahmed: contact >> opening of future between objects

SLSA Liveblog 4: eldritch Priest

Ideas about OOO. Notions of abstraction and experience.
Conversations with Brian Massumi.
Philosophies based on music.
Philosophy in a New Key, 1942, Suzanne Langer on a new philosophy of living form.
Biological process theory of mind.
Guided by Cassirer: experience is the experience of forms.
Langer: art resides in perception of art's abstraction << forms.
lived abstractions
validates the aesthetic experience as a real effect.
Ah, he said he was going to use Ian Bogost but didn't. 

SLSA Liveblog 3: Ian Kennedy

“Machinic Amodality and Carsten Nicolai’s Telefunken,” SLSA (”Nonhuman”), Milwaukee, September 27–29, 2012

Chion: rendered sound--aesthetically hyperbolized
Nicolai’s Telefunken extends sound beyond human embodiment
Produced in 2000; impulse frequencies and test signals that are then fed into a TV audio input
hearing a static tone yet seeing pulsating lines; much more subtle shifts in the sonic tone
logic of translation (cross modal) is alien to human experience
what happens when rendered sound accommodates the nonhuman?
sensations of falling, air movement, changes in temperature and pressure
problems for cinema: because limitation to two sense modalities
affective palpability; the sound of what it feels like to be punched
Daniel Stern calls this affective attunement
parent tunes to infant’s affective state; downward voice for downward arm movement etc.
you have to put an affect in a multisensory experience, then sonically intensify
how affects are shared
amodality: the feeling of being alive, eg
a kind of flat ontology of a pan affect or pan aesthetics
affective encounters all the way down: Steve Shaviro

SLSA Liveblog 2: Nicholas Knouf

“The Noises of Finance: HIgh-Frequency Trading and the Inadequacy of Accelerationism,” SLSA (”Nonhuman”), Milwaukee, September 27–29, 2012
Recording of the guy freaking out about the 1000 point drop in the Dow.
Trader's Audio, live coverage of market movements on internet. To enable traders to get a sentiment of the market.
On May 6 2010: infamously known as the Flash Crash. Between 2 and 3pm the NYSE had its largest single day loss and largest single day gain. It would appear that a single large selloff caused a cascade of trading activity by high frequency trading algorithms. The algorithms didn't take into account their impact on the market.
Prices went to computational limits on prices: 1 penny or 100 000 dollars.
Twenty minute period.
Might the shouting contain information not in the trading? Is a question that's been 2001.
Location of the exchanges have shifted. E.g. data center in NJ in Mahwah. Four times the size of the NSA data center.
Need for speed << location
New fiber optic lines to shave millisecond off travel between NYC and Chicago.
High numbers of bids and asks, rapid cancellation, capture of spreads, positions held for milliseconds or seconds.
Very very low margins.
ADM8 a trading bot that predicts price changes to capture profit.
Flash Crash Sonification: rybn (2011)
Bringing out the crash resonance.
financing stuck in a speculative short term loop
Accelerationism: drawing on D&G and Lyotard. Coined by Benjamin Noys.
Suggestion to speed up capitalism in order for its own internal contradictions to contribute to its downfall.
2010 conference. "Photonic Hypercapital Digitalizes Eschatology."
Brassier: Land replicates neoliberal ideology.
But Knouf's problem has to do with positive feedback. Land assumes continual acceleration. But this requires that the loop remain positive. Not oscillating.
The dynamics we have seen are not just positive feedback loops.
Noise as a virus that prevents simple feedback.
Land's eschatology indexes a desire that doesn't fit reality...

SLSA Liveblog 1: Douglas Kahn et al.

Ah at last, an internet connection. I'm at the panel The Nonhumanity of Sound.

Douglas Kahn, “For More New Signals.”
This is part of his new book Earth Sounds. Looking at things from the standpoint of sound and electromagnetism.
Telescope. Used for astronomy, stargazing, long distance communication in optical telegraphy.
Mechanics/acoustics + electromagnetism: natural radio first heard by Thomas Watson.
Line functioned as an unwitting long wave antenna. Two decades before Marconi.
Some sounds discussed in musical terms and by end of C19 called musical atmospherics.
Musical, or quasi-musical, or non-musical sound.
Starting with telegraphy and telephony so called noise was eliminated, throwing out nature with the noisy bathwater.
But even unintended noises would be heard aesthetically.
Watson thought he heard storms on the Sun, which had been studied using telegraphy.
Thoreau listening to the wind on the telegraph lines, calling it a harp.
The Aeolian. Aelectrosonic.
Aelectrosonic: implications for history of music. Any history of electronic music shows a procession of devices with no nature.
Nature is used provocatively here because of its exclusion from histories of electronic music.
First generation of electronic musicians concerned with control not energies being controlled.
There was talk of ether, but this was cosmological, metaphysical.
The only unallowed statement about nature was Thomas Patterson.
Alfred Goldsmith 1938, in journal Modern Music: electrically produced music partakes in nature. Pretty much the only time this happens. It's not further from normal human needs than music produced by mechanical means.
Technical control of the signal is what one needs. Split in history of electronic music of avant garde and engineering. Rift was in Bell Labs itself.
Theremin criticized for producing the classical repertoire. Or for sound effects!
Theories of music based on an all-sound plenitude. Codified through John Cage.
"For More New Sounds" (1942) Cage sought engineering evidence for sonic plenitude. Homer Dudley's vocoder. Edited Knudsen's favoring of programmatic sounds to provide a background of unpitched or adventitious sound behind music.
Then Cage switched from utterance to audition. 1950s: don't produce sound that is musical, just be willing to listen. Tight tech control of sonic plenitude >> indeterminacy. You can't let things be themselves if you're running them through tight mechanisms.
Tenney at Bell Labs. Using cellists to determine the signal differently of nuclear bombs.
Wilhelm Reich began to be popular.
The idea of a total transducer. Idea that we have heard or could hear all sounds.
"Electronic music has evolved not to create new sounds ... but to go beyond sounds."
There are no new sounds. Total transducer that involves all human experience.
Metabolic Music, 1965. An enteroceptive piece influenced by Reich. Incorporated brainwaves.
Close control >> removal of constraints.
Reich: removing armor and getting in an energetic relationship with global ambient energy.
Lucier: brain waves plus whistlers. Whistlers go through the vacuum of space. Constitute an electromagnetic spatiality.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Underground Ecocrticism

This flyer gives you an idea...

Wake the Fuck Up

Thank you Samuel Jackson. Happily like Oron Catts I am a hypocrite. Time's a wastin' to be right and powerless. That's right I'm looking at you Adam, Anthony and Gerry...You know who you are...

Angie Lewandowski Wins Poetry Contest

Nice one Angie!

Extraterrestrial Buddha

HT Rayya Ghul.

Oron Catts's Keynote at SLSA (notes)

(There was no internet so this is a bit later than the talk, so it's not strictly a liveblog. Never mind!)

intro: “life or elusive nonlife of matter or objects” (OOO ref!)

This is happening in a GIGANTIC IMAX, gigantic. The powerpoint is displayed on the concave surface of a dome. Douglas Kahn and I are sitting right opposite the display, which is about 100 feet away from us, and about 100 feet up.

“To think of objects not as instruments for our use, but as entities that are effectively linked and that need care, to think of objects as plants in our garden...that have lives of their own...objects that perform services and that require care”
Ezio Manzini (design)

growing rather than manufacturing the environment

nagging feeling that things might go wrong
production of animals for human ends (French artificial mother, 1750)
disassembly lines >> Fordism (living beings >> products)

H.G. Wells life as “something plastic, something that may be shaped and altered”
life as a raw material
biology becoming engineering
dream of Geoff Loeb

incubators from Buffalo; factory farming (Cyphers Inclubators)
Safran, “Factory farming considers nature as an obstacle to be overcome”

tissue culture in early C20
infant incubators Coney Island
Carrel’s artificial heart 1930s, organ perfusion pump

Charles Lindbergh, mechanic

Carrel recommended gas chambers for humans...

1995 the mouse with an ear, done again for display, to get NIH funding
tissue engineering
1989 image versus 1999 image of body being replaced by machine

scientist trying to develop artificial cornea, box full of rabbit heads, take eyes out, antibiotic liquid
they didn’t even have the ability to discuss it, unless it’s a quotation from Blade Runner
growing rabbit cells over glass structures
hydrogel works like stone age tools
we are now starting to chip away life
In Vitro Meat, Disembodied Cuisine, 2001–2003

this meat is “semi living”
trying to build exercise machines to the meat
British chef: people are happy to eat pigs chained to the floor
BBC show about extreme tech solutions to problems tech created

France 2003 allowed eating (not UK or Ausralia)
tissue engineered frog steaks!
the most expensive piece of meat ever
four of eight people spat them out so they were then exhibited as the remains

Victimless Leather 2002
tiny jacket of mouse and human cells
“Murder in MOMA”: the system had to be switched off since the mouse cells went ape

Medicine and Art, Mori Art Museum Tokyo
Oron had to administer medicine to his art when the tiny kimono got a fungus

>> Modern Meadow, Peter Thiel, rhetoric of saving the world (doing it for real)
Catts doesn’t like it; it’s okay as a luxury item but a bit off as a “growing forward” world saving thing

Neolifism: fetishization of tech approaches to life
old style museums privilege form of lifeform
privileging the form when it comes to new forms is starting to lose its meaning
death mask of dolly, small statue of mouse with ear

actual collections are kept in small cryogenic vials

wet dream of the geek: the dna packet of info
frozen ark idea: totally devoid of context, why care for the environment

so even conservation people are affected by neolifism
idea we can improve on nature
“that’s how fucked up we are”

cabinets of curiosities
the only piece of living life in this exhibit is the one that looks the most tech

Oron thinks he has neglected something: the substrate
the context
how engage with this
camp at far north of Finland
he didn’t know the place would be teeming with life

crashed German plane site; charred earth looks like it had happened yesterday
Lindbergh was allowed to examine the Junker bomber (he saw those very planes)
fascist stuff about race
shrapnel in eyes that wasn’t rejected

substrate stiffness essay 2009

Golems were made of one third calves
Golem was a proof of concept that humans have power of creation
once Golem becomes too useful the rabbi at Prague turns it off

constantly recurring articles about being able to engineer blood vessels
we still believe the promise of engineered life

Q&A: we should be aware of the inherent violence in our existence
that’s why I’m down with hypocrisy (yes!)

Alpha Pure

"According to Dzogchen, the entire range of all possible appearances, and all possible phenomena in all the different realities, whether samsara or nirvana, all of these without exception have always been and will always be perfect and complete, within the vast and boundless expanse of the nature of mind. Yet, even though the essence of everything is empty and “pure from the very beginning,” its nature is rich in noble qualities, pregnant with every possibility, a limitless, incessantly and dynamically creative field that is always spontaneously perfect."
Sogyal Rinpoche

Oron Catts says something cool

"The only scientists who really work with us at SymbioticA are frustrated ones who don't want to be technocrats, who want to do things that might fail." Like experiments...



Mad numbers of people here that I know. Eric White from Boulder. Douglas Kahn from Sydney. Clara Van Zanten (haven't seen her yet). John from Emory. Judith from Rice (hi Judith!).

Underground Ecocriticism site

Is now live. I'm keynoting

One Edit Down

It was nice to revisit that essay for Oxford Literary Review, on deconstruction in the Anthropocene. We need all hands on deck to think this mother.

Not a bad essay considering I wrote it in an hour!

Introducing Duskin Drum

Duskin, you are a freakin genius.


By Floppy Sounds.


Buggles, “Vermillion Sands.” All hail Trevor Horn.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Claire with Allan.

Suicide now the leading cause of death in the USA. Why?

In Milwaukee

So here I am for the Society of Literature Science and the Arts. I'm doing two talks. My friend and colleague Cary Wolfe is keynoting. Douglas Kahn is here, yay! My friend Mark Payne is talking as is his friend and my classics advisor Brooke Holmes. UCD student Ted Geier. Derek Woods and Sophia Hsu my new Rice grad students are talking. Ian Bogost is talking. Judith Roof and Steve Shaviro. And so on!

I'll try to liveblog as much as I can.

Contemplative Studies at Rice

A very welcome email inquiry leads me to broadcast more widely that I've been invited to teach and collaborate with Rice's contemplative studies program.

Contemplative studies is the new new thing adjacent to religion. Brown has it and Rice has it--not sure where else. The idea is to integrate contemplative practice and study.

Anne Klein and Jeffrey Kripal are among the exponents here.

Appointed I just got a letter from Rice's president that announces that I've been appointed as a Full Professor here.

That's how they roll at Rice. They give you the endowed chair, then they appoint you. In the words of my most excellent Dean, this is like having a church wedding followed by a civil one...


Gosh this campus is so quiet. Even with the construction going on for the Rice centenary.

There are 650 faculty and about 5000 students here tops.

In Memoriam

Tennyson's magnum opus is what we'll be tackling today in Victorian Nonhumans, along with Rosetti's Goblin Market and Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy. Doesn't that sound fun?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How It Went

Well my general sense is that Buffalo is really jumping right now with interest in OOO, and a very vital ecology and humanities group, with crossings between those interests.

A small circle of OOO keen people surrounded me at the end. I had to exit a little quickly so, just to make sure my message to Randy Schiff and Alex Reid is reinforced here--people who surrounded me, do please write me if you want to continue the dialogue.

A Nice Post on Victorian Nonhumans

Thanks to Philip Adams.

Congratulations Dana

My Ph.D. student Dana Van Kooy has gotten a contract for her book Shelley's Radical Stages, with Ashgate, who make excellent books. Well done Dana!

Josephine Starrs, Tipping Point

Not for the squeamish: this is what I call Dark Ecology...

Ecological Awareness Is a Strange Oedipal Loop (mp3)

The q&a was absolutely excellent I think. There was a real dialogue happening. Thanks to all concerned!

In particular, Randy Schiff deserves high praise for his generous and elegant handling of the exciting new ecology and humanities group at Buffalo.

Clinton Plus Buddhism

Good lord!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

And This

We Talked About

This, me and Randy Schiff:

A New Addition the family today. Claire has decided to call him Allan Whiskersworth.


Very quick plane ride that. I finished some Husserl, which had come with me to Australia and France. Now to meet Randy Schiff.

Nice Flight

Sometimes they are nice, you know. I practiced Vajrasattva and had a couple of g&t's. And slept.

Yes I'll Be in Lisbon

Some of you are wondering about this Portugal trip. Yes that's right you are not deluded, I'm going to be giving two talks there on philosophy and ecology from 26 to 29 October. I'm giving a talk in Lisbon and a talk in Guimarães.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

This Is Just So Good

BillRose Thorn.

Dark Ecology: Philosophy in the Anthropocene

That's my public talk in Madison, click for details. I'm after Adam Phillips, gulp!

A Paper

...that's a paper I'm giving at SLSA, "Buddhist Objects."

Buddhist Objects

About 10 pages today. I could be getting close to the Buddhaphobia zone. Dark Ecology first, but this book is starting to talk to me about what it really is.

Political Theology and Poetic Theology

A talk by Victoria Kahn yesterday. She's a professor of English and comparative lit at Berkeley. Great talk. It was laying out a critique of Agamben's and Zizek's turn to theology. Here are my notes for your delectation.

modern subject had to be brought into being: politics as a kind of poetics

a somewhat unorthodox paper to give
political theory more than literature
but political theory is a form of literature as a self conscious reflection on its own status as fiction
recent debates about political theology have been hobbled by an inattention to poesis

powerful resurgence of interest in political theology: legitimation of political authority
castigation of liberalism for cordoning religion off within private experience
Charles Taylor, Agamben, Zizek, Eagleton
upsurge of religion or the religion dimension of secular modernity
all seem to agree that we are living in a post secular world
Whiggish narrative has come up against the fact that religion has not withered away, but is ever more present
liberalism has failed to address US profound religiosity and jihad
so we need to return to religion to recover cognitive and affective resources lacking in liberal political theory
religious or transcendental dimension of our living together
even someone like Habermas (who has preeminently defended secular rationalism) is now making this argument about religion

early modern period:
emergence of the nation state and liberal political theory
sustained critique of political theology
assumption of divine right of kings; but numerous challenges to that
even anarchist critique of the state
but Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza: dismantle theological modes of understanding
emphasis on human capacity for fiction (poesis)
a subset of poetic theology

bond that has implications for today
doesn’t deny that there are other stories
but nb the most important writers articulated a profound critique of political theology
vs our contemporary look to theology

(to what extent is the contemporary turn a reaction to reason, the disturbance of reason, the things that it has thrown up)
(and the turn to Christianity--you don’t see Zizek turning to Buddhism e.g)

Carl Schmitt: Agamben clones with Heidegger and Foucault
A nazi synpathizer whose work was influential in the 20s and 30s
the absolute sovereign is like god
thus the sovereign is outside the law, capable of deciding the exception
Agamben, The Kingdom and the Glory
why does power need glory? he asks: this can only be answered by bringing the questions back to the theological
he insists that glory in the form of consensus is at the center of politics in modern democracy
“a realm of indistinction” (one of the things that she hates about Agamben--so opaque)
glory is the place where this bilateral relationship emerges into the light (unquote)
the theology of glory is the secret point of contact

Paul Kahn (no relation), The Legal Scholar
Schmitt is not just a defender of political absolutism he argues
his later work lends itself to understanding modern sovereignty as the locus of the power to decide
“a collective transtemporal subject” (sovereignty)
“the mystical corpus of the state, the source of ultimate meaning for citizens”
the popular sovereign can demand that we kill and be killed for the state
sacrifice not contract
terrorism: political identity as a matter of life and death
problem: terrorists have a genuine conception of the political

dangerously stunted version of politics!
by contrast, the alternative is what the early moderns called civil religion
Jakob Taubes: religion as a part of political theory (rather than the other way around)
Taubes: the very term “theology” in the Republic demands that theology must justify itself in the court of reason
(commentary on the dialogue between Adeimantus and Socrates in The Republic)
Soc and Ad are talking about the place of poetry when the term theology occurs for the first time
declaring your fictional task too overtly may produce a crisis

association with the ancient Romans >> Augustine City of God
mythical theology, physical theology, civil theology (the theology used by the city)
for Aug mythical theo is part of civil theo
false gods of pagans
map for early moderns
many tended to agree with the conflation of civil and poetic theology
(because unlike Aug they saw religion as a poetic fiction)

Hobbes: Leviathan; account of the state
as long as church and state separate, subjects will resist state >> outbreak of the civil war
Erastian position: absolute subordination of religion to the state
to collapse absolute religion into civil religion
mentions Numa who said he got laws from a nymph
Romans tolerated religion as long as compatible with civil government
exception for the Jews
Roman vs true Christian religion: not invented by men but handed down by God
Hobbes veresion of the Jewish question. Jews excluded by Romans because special covenant with God.
To introduce the Jews is to say that Christian claim of special relationship with God are just as “bad” as the Jews (as they have an unmediated relationship with God).
Hobbes’s Erastianism amount to a reinvention of Roman civil religion. By pretending to respect the truth of Christianity.
Human invention and divine commandment distinction collapses: it’s just the invention of the sovereign
Hobbes turns Christianity into a civil religion

Machiavelli, Discourses. Praises Roman religion. Numa’s feigned confab with the nymph. This fiction was necessary because many good things are known to a prudent man that are not so plainly rational that everyone knows them.
fountain nymphs who had gift of prophesy, identified with the muses
Numa’s poetic recourse to God was >> strength of Romans
>> good laws >> good fortune >> happy results of city’s endeavors
Moses feigned confab with God like Numa and the nymph
Prince must feign religiosity when it is useful to do so
Concluding chapter of The Prince demonstrates how you use religious rhetoric for political purposes

elsewhere M condemns the pacifism and feminization of Xianity
Even Francis and Dominic: reformed Xianity would be even more debilitating
“it is evil to speak evil of what is evil”
M recommends civil religion: poetic capacity to respond to fortune

Spinoza: the Bible is a text like any other
only on the basis of close reading can one determine whether the Bible is divinely inspired
a radical thing to say
divine inspiration a product of right reading and right use
a more daring version of Hobbes for Hobbes
“I durst not write so boldly” after reading it
TTP (Tractatus): turns religion into culture
a kind of immanent critique
vs Maimonides (you need reason to interp scripture)
Bible must be according to the Bible itself
meaning and truth distinguished
internal coherence; bracketing truth
narrative, parable, vivid imagination
critique of theocracy: truth as a basic set of moral doctrines >> undercuts crafty priests who can manipulate
destruction of Hebrew state from within << power of priesthood
covenants are now written on the heart not in stone: emphasis on consent >> defense of democracy

S’s interest in poesis not just to do with scripture, but enacted in his own text
adopting at first a pose of piety >> patient irony and dialectical redefinitions >> reason and faith incompatible

exposing religion as merely civil religion
lots of phrases where he says one thing and it turns out it can mean the opposite: religion is part of your inner being

how can religion be brought back after it has been ruthlessly exposed qua religion
to embrace religion for its utility in the absence of a conviction of its truth
in not answering the q S points us to this: dramatizes tension between civil religion and liberalism

if we think in Biner’s words as the empowerment of religion for citizenship, liberalism is the rejection of this even for the sake of empowering the citizen
S advances civil religion on religion in the Dutch republic; but his telos is a critique of religion and a defense of liberalism
allied in a critique of theocracy but opposed as to the ultimate place of religion in the modern state

early moderns offer a powerful series of meditations on creating our own social and political arrangements
counter to foundational theology
preoccupation with human capacity for poesis

Blumenberg: modern project << early modern period
(secularization debate)
Xianity can’t explain the legitimacy of scientific and philosophical curiosity
so secularization must be rejected--is this the problem with the political theologists of our age?--they are buying into a modernity talk, of a radical break)
instead, reoccupation: medieval problems reoccupied in a new way
a novel response to the crisis of the medieval world view
late medieval nominalism
crisis of order in universe but space for human self assertion
modern project as making or creating =
Vico: truth and fact are interchangeable (verbum, factum)

discovery of the unconscious, etc
some principle of authority is necessary
yet it makes a difference to our understanding whether we describe these in human or divine terms
Arendt: the alliance of religion and authority doesn’t prove that authority is religious (yay)
possibility of a purely secular politics
and a purely secular conception of culture
>> recovery of purely human realm of the symbolic

tendency hand over the symbolic realm to religion
suggesting that any gesture of transcendence is religious
or that the political is religious
>> religious metaphors a sign we can’t escape religion
>> critique of Arendt for using religion language (!) (Moine)
but why should we assume that religious metaphor is a subset of political theology rather than the exact opposite?

how useful are M H and S in liberal democracy
more than Agamben!
Hobbes defended absolutism but dissolved absolute religion
we can only know what we make ourselves
for M religion is important as a political tool
S same point
S and M were demystifers; power as a relation of forces

“praise of god” and “inoperativity” of god and human nature (Agamben)
a part of human being that escapes biological life
glory: essential nonalienated human nature
model is the poem that suspends denotation
quotes Ethics (nonteleological immanent cosmos)
but TTP: politics as non religious
we don’t have to think inoprativity as theological, unless god = nature (deus sive natura)

analysis of ideology
human making

Schmitt became popular because he was translated.
And because he offers a critique of liberalism that can be popular on the left.

it’s complex in Spinoza because for some his metaphysics has a religious core

Betty Joseph: liberalism has adopted the idea that religion is in a book
the shared idea is that religion is in a book
an idea that there is something good in religion, something in the book
codified narrative: has this been one of the legacies of the book?
some religions don’t have a version of the book
relationships to reading are different in different in different religious practices

S elaborates a model of critical thinking <> the reformation; Luther (scipture is its own interpreter)

is liberalism hobbled by a sense of interpretation that is not adequate to contemporary religious debates?

renewed interest in theology misconstrues theology and liberalism (as neglecting theology)

Hobbes translates Homer, the father of all poesis
there is a literary dimension to all these figures
Machiavelli wrote drama
but that in itself isn’t the explanation for poesis
division of the disciplines not as strong as now

What Now?

Okay, so I've got my stuff together for the Sawyer Seminar in Madison, and for Buffalo on Monday. So now I need to finish my two talks for SLSA. One is on Buddhism and it's called “Buddhist Objects” (right?). The other one is on Plato's allegory of the cave and the haptic.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Window (MP3)

Honest I didn't make this while I was on mushrooms. It just sounds like it : )

I made this nice art for it

In Madison Next Month

For the Sawyer seminar at UWisc. I'm doing two talks:

A public lecture called

Dark Ecology: Philosophy in the Anthropocene

The seminar, in which I will argue that the concept of biopower is wack.

Eternity Is Holding a Rubik's Cube, and Everything Inside of It Seems to be Nude

PM Dawn. The best.

Oxygen Adjustment Time

Somehow this is indicative of the difference between CA and TX. But my new sleep doctor has allowed my CPAP to adjust itself to my breathing. The CA tech guys set it to 8 cubic centimeters per second, which is like a rather fast flowing tap water pressure. But it's a pretty sophisticated machine that collects data about my breathing and the TX guy noticed some anomalies. So he's allowed it, sophisticated beast that it is, to figure out when I need a greater pressure up to 12 cubic cm/second.

How do I know it's working? It's 7am and I've just written this post in 45 seconds.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Best Line Ever

“[In Proust] each sentence puts an established attitude out of business with remorseless gentleness.” Adorno.

"I saw my old man exploding out of a tunnel--I knew I came next"

We've all been there, Julian.

Form Is Almost Everything

...that's at least half the battle actually. It has taken me a long time to figure out what Dark Ecology wanted to be.

I was trying to fit it, or better to stretch it, into three chapters. I have enough material for three chapters, for sure.

But it just didn't feel right. Now I'm excited about the book, because the form feels exactly right.

I like the idea of a single tunnel that takes you back to where you started.

Dark Ecology Liveblog 2

For philosophical reasons, it will only have one chapter.

Two chapters or sections (like Hyperobjects) provides you with something real and then a reflection on it.

Three chapters (like Ecology without Nature or The Ecological Thought) takes you on a journey from A to not-A to possibly B.

In dark ecology no journey is possible, because it is like a Möbius strip. Just as a Möbius strip has only one side, so in Dark Ecology there will be only one chapter.

Publishing Dark Ecology

Several groups of people are after it. I wonder...given that it will have ever so many visual components and I hope sonic too, would it be expedient to work again with OHP? Then at any rate one could download it for free, which would be awesome.


Well I wrote about 14 pages in under an hour. Paper is done, I reckon. This is a good sign as it means I'm getting comfortable with dark ecology.

Zizek on Buddhism

Slavoj is going to lecture on Buddhism fairly shortly at Birkbeck. I wonder what he's going to say? My friend Marcus Boon wondered whether it was going to bring ecology without nature in line with Buddhism—which would be excellent. My less sanguine guess is that he's going to peel Buddhism away from neuroscience.

This has been a project within Buddhism and Buddhist studies in any case—Eleanor Rosch has been on it for some time, for instance. But I imagine that it will be coming from a more critical place: Buddhism is ideology, not science, or scientism-as-ideology.

Is anyone going, and would anyone like to record it for me? Or take notes?

The Next 10

I think I can finish my Buffalo paper today. Poor little Simon is sick with something, so it can wait.

But it's a good sign. I got the point with Hyperobjects where I could write a talk in one sitting.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My My

...that was a good class. Thank you students! I can't think unless I teach. We tackled the possibility space of art since 1790, the advent of the Anthropocene. We created a logic square for different moves within the possibility space. We mentioned Joy Division. Joy Division as the Keats of now. What more is there?

Ten Pages

What a wonderful hour. I've just written ten pages of"Ecological Awareness Is a Strange Oedipal Loop." My talk for next Monday at SUNY Buffalo.

Talking of loops, I want to get my loopiness tighter and tighter as I home in on writing Dark Ecology.

All my talks since Australia are dry runs for that.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Me, Talking

After the After Queer, After Humanism thing.

Victorian Nonhumans

Having laid the groundwork, it's time for some serious poetry analysis. This really is one of my favorite parts of the job. I'm looking through my anthologies of Victorian poetry to find anything about nonhumans. If you want to help me please post a comment.

BillRose Thorn on Me

A very touching post on The Ecological Thought.

Another One Down

Somehow I've managed to cut a 7000 word essay to 3500 words. You have to get into a certain space with cutting. You start with some small cuts, then you begin to snowball. The cutting becomes more and more obvious. Cutting is as meaningful as writing, you have to think to yourself. Most of the time it's true.

One Down

Well that's one down: the abstract on “ecology” for the Key Terms volume. It's tough writing 700 words, actually. I'm happier with a few thousand.

...and Some Class Prep

We're moving into the phase of Victorian Nonhumans that requires detailed knowledge of Enormous Victorian Books. So quite a lot of reading will be done today.

Another Day Another Essay

Or rather, three. One I need to write from scratch. Another is a 700 word summary. That one shouldn't be too difficult. I'm a bit stumped on the first one, but we shall see...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Dark Ecology Liveblog

So I got the thinking down--and this book is going to be 90% thinking, only 10% examples. The examples fit the thinking in two ways: long term models for the paradox of dark ecology, and shorter term indices of the syndrome. These shorter term indices reflect my long term love of what we can easily call the gothic.

It's going to be 30 000 words long. With a bunch of images. And hopefully sounds, and other data.

Classics Scholarship

Does anyone out there have a favorite writer on Sophocles? Let me know.

I'm struck by the creativity of current Greek scholarship.

Harman on OOO lit crit

I thought his insight about how New Criticism and New Historicism are deeply similar was brilliant actually. I've been saying that for years.

Realist Magic almost Ready

Things are looking good so far. Ian has furnished a most excellent and hilarious version of Figure 2. I'm not sure what the production schedule looks like but we're ahead of schedule here.

Entanglement while Moving

Quantum keys beamed from a plane at 300kph.

Jeffrey Kripal

You are interested in mysticism? You should seriously investigate the work of my friend Jeff Kripal. He's just published a beautiful and amazing book on comics and mysticism, which is incredibly richly illustrated.

And he runs GEM here at Rice, which stands for Gnosticism, Esotericism, Mysticism.

Deep Time Contagion

Andy Weir gets it together after the Treignac conference we met at...

Logic and Logistics

This is quite nice. From the Enowning blog.

On Not Using PowerPoint

I seem to have weaned myself off of it. Hyperobjects talks required it, it seemed to me, because there were an awful lot of charts and information. But the latest batch of talks don't seem to need it.

I'm happy with that. Putting them together is a chore though I like what I do with that necessary constraint. And PowerPoint is notoriously fatiguing for an audience.

SUNY Buffalo Talk Details

Timothy Morton (Rice)
Ecocritical Studies Research Workshop
“Ecological Awareness Is a Strange Oedipal Loop”
September 24 – Monday
4:00-6:00 PM 306 Clemens Hall


I'm showing my daughter Claire around Rice's library today. It's an incredibly beautiful one, with these glass quiet spaces with chairs and whiteboards to do Serious Thinking in. It also has rather fab music and DVD collections. You can see the whole school from the second floor. The conference space has a Tardis like ceiling.

As you can imagine, Claire is super into reading.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Braddock on the New Barnes

In the LA Review of Books , my good friend from Cornell.

Chris Schaberg Walks Ecologically

With photos!

Next Up

My talks for SUNY Buffalo and SLSA, on ecology, Buddhism, and philosophy.

Editing two essays: one for Gerry Canavan and Kim Stanley Robinson; another one for the Dutch Yes Naturally team, since I'll be speaking in the Hague on ecology next year.

Editing Hyperobjects for publication. Getting the permissions sorted out. Loads of images in that.

After Queer, After Humanism Roundtable (MP3)

Featuring Joseph Campana, James Faubion, Renee Hoogland, Colleen Lamos, Tim Morton and Judith Roof.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Lee Edelman: After Queer, After Humanism Liveblog 8

Bartleby dies silently in prison. The lawyer, far from heartless, feels compelled to positivize Bartleby
[I'm not sure this gets at the brokenness of what the lawyer is saying at the end]
Producing Bartleby the text to make Bartleby the man disappear
[for Edelman, society is fractured from within, there is ideology etc.: it's a basically Marxist view]
But the story of Melville of the story of the lawyer, resists the erasure of the antisocial
Tension between standing for something and engaging in an act
Standing for something is to accede to social exchange
vs act, breaking from framework of legibility
[again this is quite Hegelian]
“somehow I had got into the way of using the word ‘prefer’ ”
queerness as textual preference
Derrida on Bartleby: saying nothing or promising nothing; “reminds one of a non-language”
something else in language; the queerness construed as nothing, negativity, preference for negation
left as well as right follow this kind of threat
left as legible because of that
different visions of the human community, both aspiring to collectivitiy
Hardt and Negri: Bartleby as the absoluteness of refusal that is a refusal of servitude
It can only go so far: refusal as only a beginning; we need a new social body
Bartleby can possess no value except as a proof of negativity's self-sufficiency
editorial from the Daily Oklahoman, Sunday November 2011: “a study in petulant behavior”
“childish and sometimes violent”
specter of anarchy, radical lawlessness versus implicit ideal of social body a la Hardt and Negri!
the queer as whatever a political order cannot accept
OWS: “sane and human reaction” to Wall St.
All 3 positions would eliminate the queerness that doesn't worship the gods of the polis (like Socrates)
So one needs to attend to negativity; teaching nothing; the place of that nothing in the politics of the human
dishumanities functioning as irony that Cicero recognizes in Socrates (“a purely negative dialectic which refrains from pronouncing any positive”); the lawyer has a bust of Cicero...

Lee Edelman: After Queer, After Humanism Liveblog 7 do so, the narrator must fill in the gaps with imagination
sense of past as handler of dead letters; so moved is the narrator by these phantoms that he produces the two exclamations
we are often asked to guess what B might be, in the story; being presented with a person's resistance, it is our obligation to think about what the possibilities of what that person might stand for
our sense of the purpose and value of the humanities—insisting that what resists comprehension can be colonized by imagination
Rockefeller report in 1984 on the humanities: enriching, stretching, increasing our distinctively human potential
yet this value resonates from corporate America, on which the humanities depend
affirming the human, and reproducing the fantasy that the human as concept maintains: a fiction of community
the sameness at the core of the human; comprehensible and collective-izable
radicalized into an otherness that is nonhuman; Klein on the imperative of reading Bartleby
by making a person stand for something for whatever we project—the person as a screen
such a person is an artificial being
vs. OWS resisting the equation of artifice and nature
personhood ought to be self evident; but this reflects biases and one can now extend it to corporations
the category is elastic
marking it as a fiction: “we hold these truths self-evident”
Labor of creating self-evidence: humanities and politics
every deconstruction of humanism relies on a logic whose structuring principles appeal to self evidence in the end
conserving the use value of the human as a mask for the machinery of production
Geoffrey Harpham and Martha Nussbaum on the humanities: to generate an experience of being  a member of the human species [which as Dipesh was arguing is technically impossible] (Ellen Schrecker, Academe Online, September to October 2011)

Lee Edelman: After Queer, After Humanism Liveblog 6

One week later: Hardesty wrote about how Bartleby continued to resonate. Reading of Bartleby ensued at OWS.
Library Journal reported on the reading, Molly McCartle: “the character's profound aloneness” as an issue. Rejection of family and connections. Protest against nuclear and patriarchal stuff. Occupy all about solidarity. New societal structures.
Pointing towards the queer. That very singularity, the pathos of Bartleby's exclusion from every role apart from that of employee, that suits him so well to OWS.
Iconic function of Bartleby: in story and in OWS, derives in dignity of his resistance to power, his refusal of demands, his poignant lack of connection to the world that would make him comprehensible.
“one of those beings from whom nothing is ascertainable”
life's withdrawal into a stillness beyond itself; poised between life and death
radical refusal to be or to be known; even his copying habits; silence, paleness, mehcanicalness
“singularly sedate”; “in a singularly mild, firm voice”—the radical assertion of “I would prefer not to” is also his lack of recognizable affect in his voice; “not the least uneasiness...”
no trace “of anything ordinarily human”—this lack will have to be made to enable his embodiment of the human
the paradigm of the human
the narrative that begins with the flattest of statements, concludes with a famous outburst of passion
what moves him is his triumph in moving from the first explanation to the second (reading B as a figure for humanity as a whole)
B's impenetrability can speak to a universal situation
The mystery of a being at a limit of the human, and gesturing towards its own beyond
the narrator thus defines the human as inherently self-transcendent and thus as what no human can purport to embody
B's unfathomability submits at last to being fathomed... (cont.)

Lee Edelman: After Queer, After Humanism Liveblog 5

Lee Edelman, “Occupy Wall Street: ‘Bartleby’ and the Humanities”
Fletcher Chair of English at Tufts
Queer Theory and the Death Drive (2004)
Lee thanks the organizers, Derek and Alanna. The performers of Genet.
August 11, 2011: Mitt Romney. “Corporations are people, my friend.”
“Too big to fail” vs ordinary citizens
September 17. Occupy Wall St. began.
Hundreds, then thousands showed up. People sacrificed for big banks and huge corporations.
October 11. Blog post on Bartleby by Hannah Gersen.
The complaint that there is no demand is irrelevant. The point of OWS is to put a face to America's dwindling middle class.
Bartleby gives a face to OWS. Supplementing personhood with a figure whose pathos can underscore subordination to commercial interests.
To counter the prerogatives of corporate personhood, the protestors insist instead on the preeminent rights of the natural person. But with the figure of Bartleby, an artificial being.
This quickly gained a life of its own. New Republic essay by Nina Martyris. “The patron saint of civil disobedience.” “The power of no.”
Bartleby as an educated homeless vegan.
Bartleby t-shirts. Essay by Michele Hardesty. Evocative but not perfect: “such a rich story could never ... provide brief slogans.”
Second irony. Imperfections expressed as the surplus of literary over political interpretation.
Income inequality vs literature! Impoverishment of politicization... “such a rich story.”
aesthetic worth exceeding the political
distance from the reduction inherent in the ostensible referential transparency of politics
Betrays a corporate logic. Irony from literature or politics?

"A Hat just like Daddy's"

After Queer, After Humanism Liveblog 4

Mica Hilson, “Cuckoos of the World, Unite!”
Cuckoo figured in nature and science writing as a welfare cheat, grifter, and queer child.
Nature writing is always ideological.
Focus on the selfish gene. Selfish Dawkins-ism. It is heteronormative. Obsessed with lines: keeping subjects in line to keep the family in line.
Using systems theory to reframe the cuckoo's relationship with its host.
Heathcliff as cuckoo. The good that cuckoos can bring to an ecosystem.
The boy as a toxic gift. Affective bond between cuckoo and host. Wuthering Heights as relic of dying system. Inheritance of family lineage is more like a closed loop. The seeming instability was ultimately a gift to the social system.

Megan Fernandez, “Transgenic Poetics.”
Idea of seeing everything. “We halved them because we could” (Matthea Harvey)
Judith Roof, my fantastic new chair, The Poetics of DNA.
fascination with the molecule as an agent of mutation
gene as mythical agent of selfishness
terrorist discourse
transgenic changes our aesthetic categories: changing ideas about freedom, pleasure, comfort
to consider how the making of new creatures allows us to assign new affects
becoming creaturely as part of transgenics
vitalism: genomic diversity and uncertainty
Haraway: mixochrondra paradoxa that have loads of different types of DNA
also a way to integrate OOO (aha!)
centaurs, breeding, superstition, witches: the transgenic is everywhere!
Eleni Sikelanos, Body Clock: an account of her pregnancy
2009 modification of marmosets
Sikelanos: nonlinear engagement in science and political language
kinship between words
“corpsicle” (nice word)
“genotype stomping on phenotype”

After Queer, After Humanism Liveblog 3

Abby Goode, “Meville's Reproductive Waste.”
Gardner treatise on sterility. “The gnawing worm in the bud of happiness.” The threat of reproductive failure. Reproductive narrative as a symptom of the heteronormative character of narrative.
Narrative infertility. Doubt, risk, uncertainty.  Alcott's world of bachelors.
Melville: paradise of bachelors and Tartarus of maids.

Benjamin Bagocius, “Semen Unsexed: Darwin's Queer Pangenesis.”
Nice title!
Darwin: “The belief that it is the function of the spermatozoa to communicate life to the ovule seems a strange one.”
What is the sex of cells? Can we detach gender from sperm and egg?
Pangenesis hypothesis in The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication. Published between Origin of Species and The Descent of Man.
Gender as a force that a nongendered cell does.
Darwin: “it is not the reproductive organs or buds which generate new organisms, but the units of which each individual is composed.”
Essence of male and female is not what distinguishes them: but what brings them into commonality, their bodies' capacity to create what Darwin calls “gemmules.”
“Cells or units of the body increase by self-division or proliferation, retaining the same nature, and they ultimately become converted into the various tissues and substances of the body. But besides this means of increase I assume that the units throw off minute granules which are dispersed throughout the whole system; that these, when supplied with the proper nutriment, multiply by self-division, and are ultimately developed into units like those fro which they were originally derived. These granules may be called gemmules. They are collected from all parts of the system to constitute the sexual elements, and their development in the next generation forms a new being; but they are likewise capable of transmission in a dormant state to future generations and may then be developed. Their development depends on their union with other partially developed or nascent cells which precede them in the regular course of growth...Hence, it is not the reproductive organs or buds which generate new organisms, but the units of which each individual is composed.”
Sexuality as a pancorporeal synchronic sexual force.
Surprisingly Grosz doesn't address this.
incomplete sexualities that span our entire bodies: diversification of anything recognizable as sexual
every body embodies this now rather than in the future
queerness is ontological now
avoiding essentialism and inviting difference and otherness
sperm and egg have a queer relationship: inherent immaturity, constant development, susceptibility to change; what they show when they don't unite is as important as when they do unite.

You Still Think Space Isn't an Aesthetic Property of Things? Watch This

HT Toby Bates, Ph.D. student extraordinaire. The slinky doesn't fall until the top transmits information to the bottom. It is as if it were levitating. It's highly mysterious if space is a container that objects fall through. But it's not mysterious at all if space, as we know from Einstein in another way, is an emergent property of things.

It's terribly hard to explain motion unless you think objects are intrinsically displaced from themselves. If you think they fall through something, you end up with Zeno issues. 

After Queer, After Humanism Liveblog 2

I'm here on the “Power” panel. Larry Butz and Sophia Hsu, my Ph.D. students, are here.

Hives as sovereignty. Actual bees! John W. Ellis-Etchison, “Charles Butler's Apiary Femtopia: Towards a Poetics of Posthuman Sovereignty.”
Queen bee as monarch. Feminine monarchy: more benevolent and more vindictive. Awe and terror.
Machiavelli: fear of punishment. Fear and love intertwined. Bee has fangs and a spear. Containment of the minority.

Larry Butz, “Posthuman Dialectics and Foucault's Power.”
Hayles lacks a theory of ideology. Foucault might supply the answer, though Hayles has issues with Foucault's idea of embodiment.
Foucault's attempts to clarify resistance. Uses the plural “resistances.”
Stephen Lukes. Alternative to Foucault's ultra-radical view. A way of investigating the power of ideology in action. Like Gregory Bateson's cybernetics: we consider what alternative possibilities could have occurred, then ask why they were not followed.
Lukes doesn't propose a systems model, and is thus susceptible to Hayles's embodiment critique.

Ticklish Subject: Zizek shows how that kind of resistance doesn't work very well. Power from outside; resistance power (productive power). Later Foucault tries to reinstall the self constituting autonomous subject, to resist the idea that resistance is always coopted in advance.
Of course Foucault should have used Hegelian dialectics.

Foucault committed to a notion of cognitively directed intentional self fashioning, transcending its constitutive circumstances.
Armstrong and Lukes observe that Foucault is incoherent and pessimistic. Allows for a dismissal of his work.

Hayles: “we jettison corporeality for an informational view of ourselves.”
Importance of the particular and the material.
The problem is substitution of abstraction for reality. One doesn't consider embodied agents but the abstraction. Grosz: “There is no body as such, there are only bodies.”

[Larry is going to be a fun student, I can tell]

The solution: to reassert the importance of embodiment. Models are not the problem rather the substitution of the model for reality that is the problem.

Body not nature or the natural. The body causes embodiment to seem naturalized.

Hayles uses Merleau Ponty: inscription and incorporation. Typing as an example.
What does “bimodalities” mean?
But it seems to work like a dialectic.

Foucault: Productive power does not mean that resistance is only a reaction. Resistance is more similar to bodies than to the body. Hayles is a little mistaken. Bodies are always capable of a multiplicity of practices.

Sophia Hsu, “Moving On: National Inheritance and the Displaced Child in Bleak House.”

Bleak House touches all corners of the British nation. Fantasy of total objective knowledge.
But when we read it we still know nothing.
Jarndyce and Jarndyce: so complicated that no man alive knows what it means.
How does a liberal society manage things without sacrificing its ideal?
Shepherd's intensive care for her flock.
Goodlad and Berlant. The relation between the shepherd and sheep.
Nation figures its citizens as childlike.  Taught only to know without understanding.
Politically unconscious citizens with complete faith in the nation.
Readers and characters as children. Figure of the child as citizen in training.

Legitimate citizen child. Illegitimate child citizen.
Nation purports to be nurturing, but it instrumentalizes the child. Caroline Levander.
State's reliance on the idea of a self on whose behalf the state advocates.
Child displaced as symbol of the future, or a reminder of the past from which politics departs.
Bleak House offers a third picture: child as subject of the present perfect progressive.
The child must grow up.
Novel recognizes simultaneous existence of multiple presents.
Nation's promised heir. Living for the future. No room for him in the present.

Richard Carstone. His obsession with his inheritance. Sabotages his immediate life.
Or the child who has no future. Who compels us to live only in the present.
Terror of Joe: frightening thought of him. He is “scarcely human”—thus recidivism is possible. Primordial mud imagery at the beginning.
By killing Joe, the novel acts a degree of resisting the child: the future must stop here (Edelman).

Edelman seems to think that liberation is available if we only live in the present. But the present is total inanity in this novel. Stupidity of the -oodles (Dickens's play on names).
So either >> future or >> defer future to expediency.
These are false choices.

Instead we need a third option: remembering the past and recognizing the future in the present.
Present perfect progressive: already begun but not yet completed. “I have been giving this presentation.”
Bleak House relies on this right at the start. Image of the megalosaurus. Drizzle.
Biblical time <> Juassic <> capitalism etc.
Everything slips around. The world goes on. Connotes the future death of the sun, son, and so on.

Palimpsestic present with an eye to future and deep historical awareness. By jove Sophia I think you've got it.

Domestic ideals restrained. Novel doesn't confront the deadlocks such as Joe. Averting its eyes.
But in the present perfect progressive the aversion is impossible. Joe refuses to be displaced temporally. “Where can I move to?” The desire to dispose of Joe or clean the street undercut by the return of the mud. “The unfortunate are dying thus around us every day.”

Esther (the protagonist): “Even supposing.”

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Cloud No Bigger than the Fist of a Man

I know what Dark Ecology will be. I figured it out in Australia, and it was confirmed in France. I'm not telling. Dipesh is into it, for sure.

I know it will be this cloud, rather than that cloud. I've written the first and last words of it. Finally it feels right. I've written it twice already!

I tend to work in a somewhat intuitive way. And I tend not to want to repeat myself, either in form or in content. The most important wish is not to repeat form.

I've realized that from Dark Ecology's point of view, the first two books were the outer and inner parts of a series of concentric circles, the innermost of which is Dark Ecology. For a while I thought of Dark Ecology as part 2, where The Ecological Thought was the prequel and Ecology without Nature was part 1.  I thought it was simply going to take the ideas of the first two books out for a spin in culture at large. But no.

The concentric model is much more satisfying, from this moment's standpoint.

One thing: it will have loads and loads of pictures. Maybe even an accompanying CD.

After Queer, After Humanism Liveblog 1

Derek Woods (my new Ph.D. student!) introduces the shebang.

We are investigating the theoretical utility of queer as a concept, the human, posthumanities.

The moderator is Hannah Biggs, who is also in my Victorian Nonhumans class.

Marcel LaFlamme, “Furry/Hairy Life.”
Alexander Henry's settlement in North Dakota, 1801. (Wasn't called that yet.)
Bears vs the gym body. Marcel went to the pride festival in North Dakota. People like food and beer and they don't care about staying skinny, he heard. Masculinity, butch demeanor.
Fur Nation: history of Canada as a series of touches between fur and skin at the locus of the commodified female body.  Drawing on Nancy and Derrida. Growl, a social networking app for bears. Sense of schism in one of the informants. Freedom tied both to urbanity and to specific possibilities of dress and bodily comportment. He would be afraid to wear a tank top. People would throw red paint!
Scholarship sees bears as transgressive and not queer enough simultaneously.

Dolleen Manning, “Queering Settler Spectacles: An Indigenous Critique of Post-(De)humanism.”
Deleuze and Guattar: becoming animal represents an attempt to reconceptualize encounters with difference. Yet this concept treads a slippery slope between humanism and dehumanization, while appropriating indigenous concepts. No thrill in Wild West cast members becoming animal.
This is a twofold dilemma: cultural misconceptions and romanticizations of “being at one with nature.” Self-referential agency implied in totemic collapse or symbolic correspondence.
Buffalo Boy and Buffalo Girl.

Robert Azzarello, “Desiring Species: Darwin, Freud, and Environmental Ethics.”
This is, I know, going to be fascinating.
Freud burned his early writing. Post-Freudian analysis has exhibited a persistent and almost calculated ignorance of its own origins.
Darwin exerted a profound influence on Freud. Not only in his schooldays, but throughout his entire career.
Desire and species. What does desire mean for Darwin? What does desire mean for Freud? How are these two concepts related?
Darwin: Origin: “Nothing is easier to admit in words than the truth of the universal struggle for life...Yet, unless it be thoroughly engrained in the mind, I am convinced that the whole economy of nature...will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood” (1859, 108).
Issue of conatus. Spinoza describes it as the essence of all life. (Yet isn't this actually from Schopenhauer?) There is an ontological narcissism in species: a species desires itself and through that desire consolidates itself as a species.
The threats to survival always come from the outside.
Freud massively increases and complicates Darwin.
Leopold on the biotic community. What Darwin and Freud add to that?
Biophilia: 1960s, Eric Fromm coined it. Distinguished from necrophilia. >> Wilson. Made it into an attraction to novelty and lifelike processes.
Azzarello situates the death drive within a species. Adam Phillips says that the death drive is metaphysically incorrect.

Manscaping. How to display one's hair.
Fur and the fur trade.


And NOW there's a symposium for two days here called After Queer, after Humanism. Lee Edelman is showing up and I'm on the closing round table. Queer objects, natch...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dipesh Chakrabarty Liveblog 7


We must think in terms of ecology without nature.
Animal Planet happens in a box; but we are in that same box!
Aboriginal stories; there is a much greater acknowledgement of life and death in the stories of humans.  The Dingo that kills the bird, which makes the land ocher through its blood.
Ancient religions are interesting in that they put the human in the story of eating, killing, bloodletting.
Somewhere in human history we moved away from that.
Islamic philosophy: discussion on man in the Koran. God is compassionate as he left us with all this food. If you posit humans as facing nature then God becomes the third term who has put these two things together for us to enjoy. In the Aboriginal stories we are part of what goes on.
Not watching from outside the box, but being inside the box.
So when do we begin to think we are outside the box? That is a crucial question.
One strand goes into early modernity.
Then Islam tells us this is much older.

Q: The three-generation-forwards generation counts for me as a person. But it's hard to think as a historian.
A: Archer is trying to extend to the future that we have extended to the past. Understanding that is built into humanist history is the same one that Archer and Hansen are appealing to. How do I bring into the grasp of my understanding something that may not seem as urgent, even three generations out? I think of my retirement savings, I think business as usual. In some ways we are not outside the structure, but part of it.

Q: The self-understanding as species not available in experience. How might we theorize that? 
A: This is a very rich vein in theology. God as not available. But I came into this through Provincializing Europe. Something in me was wanting to hold on to one history of humanity, just speaking to another human being. I was reading Heidegger. Phenomenology speaks of a human being unmarked, but the core category is experience. You can see that the philosophy of experience is modeled on conceptualizing the human as individual-like. Da-sein has mortality etc.
So fundamentally the fact that individuals are finite is a building block for ontology. And species is a classificatory category. In Aristotle's Logic etc. It can be exemplified not just by humanity but by any species. So you can't write life history without species history. It's cognitively available to us. So I'm puzzled when Wilson says we must develop self-undestanding as species.
(ME: species as a strange stranger, as a kind of collective Da-sein...OOO)
When I put pressure on it in my own head, I find that you have to make it like something: simile, metaphor. You need those things.
(Species as uncanny: we contain other species etc. and there are no rigid or thin boundaries)
(Otherwise you are left with a kind of upgraded essentialism and metaphysics of presence)
This raises the question of humanism.
The notion that we are one. You can't name them: the spread of the last 4000 years is tiny.
Q: I think of Heidegger.
A: Marx begins with a distinction between tool and tech. But Heidegger thinks of tech as a mark of human alienation. But Wilson etc. sees a continuum from the chimp to us. Biologists are ignorant of Heidegger. I'm more with Lovelock that we should throw everything at it including tech. We should buy time. But philosophically I'm not as anti tech as Heidegger.

Q: Finding new metaphors. Some humanistic function that is outside of the temporal logic that is part of the problem. And how do historians think temporality?
A: I'm trying to think simultaneously on two sides of a disjunction. The figure of the human who is rights bearing and has capacities etc. who is sensitive to justice, is the figure that might make it very difficult for humanity to become a political category. But we can never escape this figure, because given our finitude we are biologically driven to this. Maybe we can separate our fascination with this figure from everything we intellectually mean by the human. Evolutionary problems: pelvis, back, etc. have something to do with that history. The crisis is of such a nature that when you read the "useless" science of it, it brings to the fore that long term history which will always come out forgotten and relegated to the background. I'm not going to force my students to become sociobiologists. But the crisis is urgently productive of literatures such as Archer and Hansen. That creates a ground, an opportunity to inform ourselves of this history, to reflect back on the disjuncture of the two fields. Awareness of the disjuncture is the humanist predicament. Here we can contribute something.
Edward Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth: now is the time for sci and humanities to come together. He doesn't know enough humanities to know how.
I see the crisis of generative of new creative endeavors. All universities are tuning to it--c.f. Environmental Humanities in Australia.

Q: problem of dualism in world religions. Eschatological resources and time frames. Is a dialog with religion a good idea?
A: Buddhism is surely one religion that could help!
I am also reminded of a lecture by Tagore in 1930. Influenced by that tradition, and also evolutionary science. Chapter on this: interesting sentence--“different peaks of the same mountain range”--we have to learn to see humanity in the perspective of the infinite. The sublime. Geological sublime for us. Archer: rhetoric of humility. We must deal with the question of scale. Historians write history on the same scale, roughly. The incommensurability issue appears.
What we do in most classrooms is just 200 years. “Prehistory,” archaeology: you then go 5000 years at a time. But there are people on this planet for whom these questions of scale are already operative. Aboriginals came to Australia 60 000 years ago. In societies that have secreted documents, we have been lucky to think that our recorded history is rich enough in itself to give a long sense of ourselves.
Charles Taylor: ancient religions, before the axial religions. These are important. You actually get a longer scale. A human capacity to see themselves as part of life and death.

Q: how recent legal changes in Bolivia, where they gave rights to mother Earth, and how that fits in, work.
A: It's an interesting experiment. It anthropocizes all these things. The moment you give them rights, you need spokesmen. You need someone to file a case. How will it play out?

Q: using ancient religions. This may also offer a way to think about the scale of society.
A: certain things might be lost, but this indeed might contribute to changing our knowledge! But at the same time, I think that--the hunch I'm working with is that, if you think climate change as a big problem, there is a challenge to you as a practitioner of history to rethink the fundamentals of your discipline. How you do it for history I have some sense of. But not for Anthropology, etc. Histories of energy consumption. I was first a labor historian. Labor history is embedded in questions of freedom. We can now build a Taj Mahal without humans because of cheap energy. This is deeply tied to the question of freedom, freedoms that we value. There is a disjuncture.

Even when we think about nuclear energy and so on, we think in terms of what is it for me? But the temporal scales are not commensurable with the problem. But unless we somehow find a way to bridge the divide, the danger of undemocratic resolution, of a Hobbesian resolution is immense. Powerful people will come along and impose solutions. What I truly fear is a more militarized future. I can't believe a new tech will not contribute to warfare. In the name of humanity!

How do my activities express how I am in the middle of this disjuncture?

Q: alliance of useless humanist and useless scientist. The scale demands a rapprochement. Faculties of understanding and reason: appealing to it and expressing the concerns. Where do you see the dialog between sciences and humanities becoming most fruitful? I was surprised you went to metaphors. I thought you wanted us to delve more deeply into the empirical. Rather than leveraging our poetic imagination.
A: The thing is, when a big crisis happens, people are going to be discovery animals. Impact of relativity on painters. Misuse of science happens, creatively. This is not happening in a disciplined manner. What is emerging is an undisciplined conversation. Archer doesn't know he's speaking like a humanist. And when DC pointed this out, this was of no consequence to him. But what DC sees is that this conversation is emerging, still very one sided.

If you want to enter the conversation, you have to read. You have to go through the footnotes. William McNeil, historian of the environment. Or Alfred Crosby. They use words that speak to human experience: invasion, conquest. They are talking about chemicals! In nature there is no drama. There can only be human drama. But all these words have to come in. (Ah, me: this is where I beg to differ...BUT--see the next point! This is pretty good!).

And then...

Heidegger seminar on Heraclitus: question of steering. Is lightning inside or outside everything? Just a few years before Heidegger's death, he raises DNA: think of DNA. In the use of the word slave to describe worker bees. Is DNA driven slavery the same that the one that is imposed from outside? Problem of ambiguity that biology can't get out of. This is a deep problem in biology. Constantly drawing on human experience to speak of something that is blind to it. They find the word to be the nearest to human behavior.

We have created a problem that is blind to our dramas.

Q: is the policy process about making the timescales commensurable?
A: Let's look at the trade off between growth and abatement of CO2 conversation. In this discussion, there is a need to find a middle: a mean during which growth happens--there is no discussion of what CO2 does to the oceans, the food chain, etc. This is completely kept out of the document.

Q: How as humanists we can understand self-destructive impulse of the species in this larger context.
A: I have not read anything in biology about this kind of thing. They would argue that tribalism is inherent to other beings--thus we create dwellings that we defend. That is wired into DNA.

Wilson assumes that cognitive rationality makes us more rational. But this is disproved in everyday life. The disjuncture is the difference between contingency and probability. You feel ambushed: you get AIDS and think why me? Probability on the other hand, is the currency of the long term scientists.

The species biologically has no personality. Any species is extremely present focused. It's possible that the sheer survival mechanisms make us short term focused. Some argue that we won't do much about climate change until it's all over us.

Dipesh Chakrabarty Liveblog 6: Now That's What I Call Speculative Realist History

David Archer et al. put human history back into Earth history. Curt Stager, Deep Future. The planet will take care of things. But it will be a very long period, this taking care. Thus the problem of future generations comes up.

Stephen Gardiner, A Perfect Moral Storm (game theory): the crisis is not like a traditional environmental problem. The usual one is that of the commons. Narayan et al. are based on this commons problematic. Gardener: in the tragedy of the commons, the people are present. But the climate problem is futural. Hurricanes etc. are to do with the past. Future generations are not there to argue with us. So the question of moral responsibility becomes even more problematic and acute.

When DC reads an economist writing on climate change, he sees a can do story about a fixable problem. Archer's book begins as a deep lesson in humility. We come late to Earth. We suddenly feel ourselves “outscaled” by the crisis we face, as Tim Morton said to me (!).

How to communicate the urgency of a problem that affects people that far out?

Imagine if the Greeks had found cheap oil. And we had to deal with the effects of that. Would we still think of them as a pinnacle of Western civilization?

“We shall fight the greenhouse effect with the Whitehouse effect.” E.g. Romney: just legislate that there is no human CO2 effect! The gagging of Jim Hansen at NASA. Hansen was having lunch with Gore who introduced him to Jim Lehrer: “The crisis happens in thirty to fifty years? If it's not happening now it won't make news.”

Most policy makers think about physics not palaeo-history.
Just because you can't act, it doesn't make it untrue. (Nice one DC!)

We humanists are allied with the useless scientists...

If the problem is capitalism, then it's a problem of sovereignty. The human is a figure of sovereignty.


In the palaeo sense, humanity is a FORCE. How force becomes a category in Newton. In pre-Socratic philosophy force was moral: if God's creation is harmonious why should there be movement? >> the sheer capacity to move things.
So when they say humanity has acquired a physical force, they are saying that humans are now allied to geophysics. The relationship to earthquakes and volcanoes etc.

So it's sovereignty versus force. Force is not a figure of sovereignty. We are not talking of humanity that will feel moved. But humanity as an actual physical force. Experience as a category in the former view. But force is not available to us in experience.

Archer and Hansen thus have a problem: to bring to us something that is not directly available to us in experience.

DC thinks of species. The level at which we are a geophysical force is the way we think humans as a dominant species. Jody Hey, a book on the term species. Species are so going extinct--there is a pragmatics here. 

Wilson: we need to develop an understanding of us as species. But this is a contradiction for DC. We can know through reason, but not through understanding.

There is a fracture. The argument for AGW raises the question of what is humanity. If you look at the justice arguments, humanity can't be an operative category. There will be actions in the name of humanity (like Neil Armstrong).

If global treaties fail, if democracy fails...then powerful countries through private sector may be adopt the option of geo engineering. DC can't imagine that not being militarized. Like space tech. So there is a price to be paid for humanity not being an operative category.

If you read the useless scientists, humanity is a cognitively operative category. There is a decollage. A fracture. A crack. It's not reasonable to expect that humanity will produce itself as a political category.

Thus climate change is a wicked problem. (A technical term.) One with a rational diagnosis but no feasible rational solution. Because the windows for solving the problems don't come together to solve it, because there are so many windows. Hansen's argument to stop producing coal, period, could result in disaster in third world.

So we have to carry on until we find alternatives. For another tech to be viable plentiful and cheap, will take 50 to 70 years. So then we must assume that we will use major amounts of nuclear. And so on.

A wicked problem is even more wicked in the sense that we can't come together to rationally act on the rational solution. There is a rational public fallacy--“If only I could speak to the President straight.” There is not a rational public out there.

There are solutions on paper, which produces the temptation for people to act in the name of humanity--like the geo engineers.

So what do useless people do? We need to struggle for the democratic alternative, however impossible it seems. We need to bring a sense of the seriousness not just for now but for the future--beyond the immediacy. We know as humanists that we can't produce this without new metaphors. This will be done by humanists, film makers, painters, art movements. Scientists are speaking to the need for new metaphors. To place our understanding of ourselves in the context of Earth history and the history of life on this planet.

For a long time we have written history on the assumption that there is human evolution, but it doesn't come into view. The use of the pelvis in childbirth. Until now we wrote histories by taking evolution for granted. But the crisis brings to the fore the question of Earth, evolution, life history. A lot of this will have to be the background noise we carry in our heads, as humanists.

Now that's what I call speculative realist history!!!