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

Monday, August 31, 2015

S&M Ballet 2

...come to think of it all of that isn't very different from the work of my lovely new friend Arca, Björk's producer. I'd definitely ask him to score it nowadays.

S&M Ballet

RIP Oliver Sacks. When I was in my final year at Oxford I was writing a ballet of Shelley's Prometheus Unbound mashed up with his Awakenings with dancers in bondage gear and with disabilities. (Before it was a movie.) Obviously I wish I'd had the time to complete it. I had a producer and everything and we were sizing up set designs, but...sadly...an essay on Milton got in the way...

Friday, August 28, 2015

Beam Me Up Scotty

From the Hysterical Puffington Post's list of 6 signs "your relationship is doomed!" (!)

"4. Dating a Person Who Keeps Your Relationship a Secret on Social Media
Does the person you're dating avoid posting photos of the two of you together? Is that person otherwise active on social media? If yes, have you two discussed this? New couples who are excited about a future together usually want to share their happiness with friends and family. If that's not happening in your situation, you should certainly ask why?"

Unless you put your tendrils in this ultraviolet light, you are evil.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"Shots Rang Out"

...is an appalling American euphemism for

SOMEONE SHOT SOMEONE

...and “rang”: a gunshot is so not a bell.

Remember the Gulf War reporting? “I can hear the sound of tracer fire around me.” =

I CAN TELL THAT BULLETS ARE RIPPING THROUGH PEOPLE'S FLESH

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tim Morton's Coffee

Someone sent me this and naturally I smiled.

Morton and Harman in Attempt Magazine

I'm saying some things about our current agricultural-logical-ontological crisis.

A Simple Way to Determine the Correct Recommended Daily Amount of Sugar in a Product

Soft drink companies are resisting FDA plans to put the percentage of the recommended daily amount of sugar on products, as opposed to grams per serving (the gram being a unit Joe Average USA has no clue about). For the sake of reference, one can of Coca Cola contains 130% of that amount, I believe.

But I think there's an easier way to determine this amount. It's simple. The recommended daily amount should be:

That amount which, on live TV, the CEO of the soft drink (or other) company is prepared to consume in a single sitting.

“Coca Cola can be part of a balanced daily diet.” [actual quotation by actual big person during London Olympics, sponsored by Coca Cola]

“Fantastic. Okay. Here are eight cans of cola. Drink them.”

“Well...perhaps we shouldn't get carried away here.”

“Oh, okay. Seven. Drink seven.”

“Erm...”

“Fair enough. Six. Go on. Drink.”

etc.

Fuck Faces

So, some Hollywood celebrity has said that her motto is “Don't be an arrogant fuckface,” and the In-a-Hysterical-Huff Post has described it as the best life advice ever given.

I noticed last week that commenters on another article seemed happy to label those with whom they had some dislike or disagreement fuckbags.

But what are these things, and why are they bad? A fuck face might be quite nice, or funny: just look at Pasolini's Decameron. And a fuckbag? Is it a scrotum? A bag of sex toys? What? And why are those bad?

Or are we saying Bare life animated corpse that I'd like to violate? (Very bad in context, since fuckbag was being used against a now common and notably sexist meme.)

Wanker and other derogatory terms I understand--there seems to be a clear referent. But that's not the only reason to prefer them. This isn't an elegy for a mythical lost age where we said what we meant and meant what we said. It's more about how the new insult is a double-wide turbo charged truck in comparison to the older one, which now seems like a cheap old bicycle.

These new blends of insult approach word salad, but not enough. There is some minimal reference, and therein lies the aggression. This isn't about the free play of the signifier, but its opposite, the coercive mashup of little bits of reference, demeaning the whole notion of faces and fucking, and bags etc, not to mention sounds and words.

These features are symptoms of a terrible, narcissistic aggression, fueled by the mirror shades that are the affordances of online subjectivity.

Astounding how easy and viral these terms are--the whole game is to be--what?--not disinhibited, maybe repressively desublimated (thanks Frankfurt school!) enough to use them. Interestingly, I wonder whether the celebrity and her audience would have felt less comfortable saying wanker.

Speech is energy and energy, obviously, can be used as a weapon. But who is being attacked by fuckface? It's as if language, let alone sexuality, let alone the user of the term, is tearing itself/herself apart in the act of flipping the bird in another random act of online superhighway (as Clinton used to say) road rage.

Saying Don't be an arrogant fuckface is being an arrogant fuckface. And hearing it in a TV studio without wincing. And publishing a Huffing and Puffington piece about it.

This is much more dire than some older guy lamenting people's lack of manners. This is lamenting people's lack of pleasure, its gentle pulsation, its tendrils. Lack of pleasure regarding sexuality and language, two interrelated phenomena.

Fuckface is a pleasure defoliant. The Napalm of insults. It strips the entire forest, the communication dimension in which the speaker herself or himself also resides. Nothing left to salvage.

It's sort of like channeling Schopenhauerian will. In Schopenhauer's world, if you eat me, that is will eating itself. The world of what he calls representation (incarnation, physicality, enactment) that disguises this snarling loop is left in tatters. The new insults are arc lights of cynical reason.

My mum, a psychoanalyst, is really disturbed by the way the internet seems to want to allow everyone to play at having not a mental illness but a personality disorder, something far more intense and chronic and basic than acute misery.

I think we need to have another look at what Žižek was writing in the later 90s, when he kept on and on making the point that the transition to what he was calling virtual reality needed to be noted and analyzed. Something is happening, he was arguing, and we won't even be able to see in such a way as to notice that something is happening, a few years into virtual reality.

When some people (scholars and the military) had the internet, it was some kind of freedom pleasure space.

Now that “everyone” has it, it's become an authoritarian aggression space.

When did that flip occur? It's interesting to think about, because it involves the paradox of the heap (the Sorites paradox). Was there a more or less precisely defined transition moment between these two states, and roughly how many people were online for it to have occurred?

Let alone why. We have no idea why--apart from the fact that samsara is aggression, or that people aren't yet ready even for consumerism, let alone more futuristic forms of pleasure. It's the angry agricultural God who yells fuckface at his creation, which is a reflection of his face. The psychotic who-is-killing-whom snarl: faces that fuck, death to faces, fuck as kill, faces of pleasure as ugly insults.

And the parallel transition from wanker et al. to fuckbag et al, alliterative messes insidiously less significant than shouting some truly a-signifying wash of consonants. (Again, this isn't a war against the signifier in the name of the good old referential days that I'm trying to mount here.)

The culture of fuckface is funny if you can see how caught people are in finding the fastest, most efficient aggression mode. Unfortunately, you have to be pretty contemplative to have slowed down enough to appreciate how funny it is. And it's funny in a desperate way, like watching puppets fry themselves alive. Live human auto-sacrifice. Yahweh tearing his face off.

Post-Maoist Orientalism

The idea that the Chinese Communist Party knew exactly what it was doing, in a parallel universe of power that was equal to the “West” yet mysterious, has just been fantastically demystified in an all that is solid melts into air sort of a way (Marx's Macbeth quotation re: capitalism).

This idea has been exposed for what it is, a kind of contemporary orientalism hard wired into stock market algorithms.

A quick trip to the Tibetan Autonomous Region would disabuse most people of the idea that what is going on is a sophisticated, “brilliant” manipulation of capitalist rules. In the TAR nineteen year old soldiers with guns man (underline man) checkpoints in the middle of nowhere while political prisoners dig roads with their bare hands, supervised by more soldiers with guns.

And crumbling half-built buildings and obvious all-pervasive misery should convince you that China can somehow suddenly change towards a consumer-driven economy where people desiring things and being able to obtain them, with money (what money?) corrects the current crisis.

But then, no one bothered to look, let alone ask the Tibetans. If you live there or visit there (and are not a Han Chinese settler) you are supposedly a happy idiot like the Amish, or you want to be one, aka a “Western Buddhist.”

Traditional orientalist is about mysteriously “other” power-knowledge and “exotic” pleasure. But pleasure and knowledge are precisely what is missing in this new orientalism. It looks like one really might have to pass through the pleasure aspect of capitalism to get somewhere else.

Monday, August 24, 2015

First Day of Class




Orientation



Here Comes the German Translation of Ecology without Nature

I hear from Harvard that it will be early next year. So glad this is happening.

Ready to be a Decomponaut Yet?

Want to join me and Jae Rhim Lee? Here's a reason why:


Some of them are the most powerful figures in our industry, people who can call up Barack Obama about the dangers of nanotechnology, and Obama has to say “Michelle, I need to take this.”
“Barack, it is three o'clock in the morning."
“I know, but this guy is scared of sentient artificial intelligence and he's a huge contributor.”
And then Obama just has to sit there and listen to this shit.

Because we all know that 3000 years from now, everyone will be gagging to see Ray Kurzweil.  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Brit in Texas Observing the North

Prefatory note to English people: a state is not a county. A state is what the UK would look like if there were a United States of Europe. Vermont is Belgium, maybe, California is Poland (hahaha, I know, it doesn't work!).

And the size confuses a lot of Europeans. Two colleagues who visited me in Boulder, CO were like “Maybe this morning we could drive to visit the Grand Canyon?” And I'm like “Sure, you will need a day and two planes to get there, see you in a week!”

So, again, just to be incredibly clear. A state is a country-sized entity in a federation. You can fit at least two Britains into Colorado and the Texans are sizeist for a reason. It takes seven hours to drive at top speed from San Francisco to Los Angeles. And SF is in the middle of CA. And so on.

Anyway.

I think I can see pretty accurately, having not been brought up here, and having lived in several parts of the USA (NYC, NJ, CA, CO, TX). In other words, you can't accuse me of native prejudice or whatever, you guys from MA (yes I'm looking at you mostly) who are so...hmm, what is the best phrase, maybe jaw-droppingly rude sums it up?

So, here's an example. I'm having breakfast at my hotel. I'm doing this lecture in Canada. There's an architect from Boston and two scholars from Australia. The architect is pointing at my breakfast and looking at the Australians with a “hey this is hilarious” grin on his or her face, saying “That's a really Southern breakfast. I mean, it's really Gulf Coast. It's really Texan.”

What was the breakfast?

Eggs benedict, hash browns and some toast, with some spinach and baked beans.

I could have sworn I'd eaten that in New York City a few times. Even in Boston, if I recall, the last time I talked at Harvard. And now, apparently, far northern Canada.

The Australians were mortified. The Bostonian didn't notice. After a while I raised my head and looked at them like “Wow, this sucks a bit doesn't it, and we're all quite embarrassed.”

Quick question: Who in that group is coarse, rude, ignorant, with not great manners? And totally blind to all that, to boot? And not only that--assuming that others are the coarse ones?

The East Coast attitude to Cali was interesting. Mildly tolerant exoticization, sometimes tending towards romantic yearning. But with a slightly supercilious “You know they're all just baked out of their minds over there” kind of vibe.

That's far far nicer than what happens to people from my new hood. It's like being a Scot in England. You are seen as a synecdoche of this place and culture, and you have to explain yourself and account for it all the time. Even if you're English. From England. Which abolished slavery decades before the USA.

A perfectly snobbish writer for The New Yorker lost it and couldn't talk to me, had to walk away quickly, when he found out I was a very happy endowed chair at Rice, Houston, Texas and had no intention of moving back to a place where you have to be making $4m to be someone.

But the East Coast can be strangely backwards, compared to the Europe it apes. I remember the looks my mum and my stepdad (who is black, from Grenada) got walking down Fifth Avenue. I mean, these were looks of total horror. From the (synecdochically) winners on the right side of the Civil War.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Real Cost of Coal

I think you'll agree that the visual says it all.

The Trouble with Tara Thangkas

This is me with my Tibetan Buddhist hat on. I've been working with Green Tara since 1997, blimey, that's about eighteen years! Anyway, it's very difficult to find a good painting of her. It's strange, because you can easily find very beautiful White Tara paintings. And really fierce female yidams such as Vajrayogini are also often awesomely done.

But there's something about Green Tara. I think, hypothesis here, it has to do with the still patriarchal structure of Tibetan monasticism, in which the paintings are done. The painters are male. I think maybe it's easy to paint a really peaceful female Buddha--White Tara is all about healing. And maybe it's easy to paint an obviously really wrathful one such as Vajrayogini.

But a powerful deity who is all about fearlessness and also bestows the siddhis--psychic and all kinds of other types of paranormal power--hmmm....also the fact that Green Tara is weirdly liminal, like she's a little bit outside official Buddhism, some teachers won't give you the transmission for her, and so on. There is this underground Green Tara network, for sure...

It all adds up to a bit of a threat to (axial age, agricultural religion) patriarchy, doesn't it? I'm not casting aspersions on the deities or even on the monks. But it seems intuitive that it would be easy either to paint -- oh dear this is going to come out wrong if you are a Tibetan Buddhist, apologies in advance -- a virgin or a whore, those patriarchal constructs, than to paint a strong female with powers that transcend your institution. Yes?

Sorry, this could sound just awful. I don't mean it to be. I just found the best best best Tara painting, and I've been looking for them for almost 20 years. I have a good one on my wall, the best I could find, from Kathmandu. But this one, wow. I'm talking to the artist and I'll let you know if and when I get a copy.

And...it's a really, really ecological one!

Friday, August 21, 2015

The UK Political and Media Establishment Is Getting So Bunched It would Be Funny if it Wasn't Sad

Analyze the following sentence:

“If you are voting for the first time in an election, or for the first time in a while, you must be a fake voter.”

Now imagine how it would sound if a US candidate for President claimed that fake voters were signing up in droves just to vote for...Obama.

(And of course, this is what did happen.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Socialist Feminism

Here's what it is:

Here's a front door viewed sideways on:


          *
          *
          *
          *

Now on the left side of this door, people get paid for their work. On the right side of it, they don't:

             *
             *
Paid      *     Unpaid
             *
             *

Seems absurdly arbitrary when you look at it sideways on, no?

Anyone should be paid for working.

Discuss.


Monday, August 17, 2015

This Cheered Me Up

People who've downloaded things from my academia.edu page:


How Can You Stand It?

You poor Brits, when I listen to the BBC it's like reading Pravda. The British Pravda. Austerity Pravda. For instance, I just heard that "credible" meant "in step with international capitalism" whatever that means--which I guess means beyond-Friedmanite austerity religion (which isn't the same thing, by the way).

"Credible" as in "someone who leads the Labour Party who could get elected." You know, like those endless band conversations about whether we sound too much like Whitesnake or not.

It's so irrelevant, depressing and boring. And stupid.

And still I haven't yet heard a single interview with the front runner aka Jeremy Corbyn.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Why You Should Study with Me at Rice, Now

Hahaha. No really:

1. Rice is a tiny school of 5000 students with a huge budget. It's a liberal arts size with a liberal arts attention to individual students, with an Ivy League budget and research 1 status, with a bunch of Ph.D. programs all over the place.

2. You will get funded. Everyone gets funded. You will get paid pretty much my starting salary when I began as a professor. You will get travel money. You will get all kinds of fellowships to attend seminars and workshops that go on all year and introduce you to fantastic people from around the world.

3. We have very well funded institutes like the energy and humanities one (CEHNS) and the theory one (3CT). This means that if you are into ecology you will find your needs met all over the place. Two names: Cary Wolfe and Dominic Boyer. Look them up! There are more!

4. Because it's not on the East or West coasts, Rice is a very free and creative place where all kinds of extraordinarily interesting stuff happens. There is way less paranoia and way less sclerotic tradition. The undergraduates are incredibly introspective and hard working--some are double and some are triple majors, and there are very few minors. There are no fraternities (from day 1 of its founding) and a very enlightened alcohol policy (hence no violence to do with that) and in my experience (which has been a lot) a very enlightened sexual violence policy. These and other factors make it the most peaceful, easy to work at place I've ever been at.

5. Houston is the fourth largest and most un-segregated city in the USA. And Rice is smack in the middle of it. And the middle of it is beautiful. No one believes this unless they've visited. Trees. Lots of them. Almost like a forest. About fifteen minutes north of campus is Montrose, where the cool kids live (sorry people in the Heights!) and you can walk to the Rothko Chapel, Menil Collection and on and on.

6. Mexico City is closer and cheaper to fly to than Denver. And Mexico City is dope (hi Mario!). And then there's Belize and the rest of Central America.

7. It's a subtropical climate, i.e. we have rain. Sorry California. Forty minutes drive to the south is the actual tropics, aka Galveston, where there is 90 degree water and a gently sloping beach made of powder-fine sand.

8. You can live and eat incredibly cheaply. And incredibly well. If the quality of a $20 meal in Chicago (due north) is x, the quality of the same price meal in Houston is 5x. Sorry Chicago! New Orleans is six hours by car away. Austin is a few hours away, and the Austin folks I know wish they lived in Houston (no really). If you are in the 99% (like, all of us) you can live in the middle of a major city within walking distance of the zoo and the museums, as long as that city is Houston.

9. Oil. Energy. The belly of the beast. Come on, you know you want to. You will be able to see very up close the actual corporations that structure our world right now. It's very interesting and you get to study and meet all kinds of things and people. (FYI Texas in fact has sick amounts of wind power, a little known fact.)

Saturday, August 15, 2015

California, Now

This was taken by Rachel, a musicologist who is the wife of my Ph.D. student Ted Geier, who just graduated with a fine Ph.D. on meat and butchers in the Victorian period.

It's the sun in the later morning in Davis, California, where I used to live. Right now the county (Yolo County) is on fire, along with a whole lot of the rest of California.


Friday, August 14, 2015

Cecil and the 99%

I'm writing a book about human solidarity with nonhumans. Started it in about March of this year, having intuited there was a future book on the horizon. So when Cecil the lion was shot, I paid a lot of attention. It was as if the basic thesis of the book was being played out before my eyes. Above and beyond (or perhaps below, I think I'd prefer it that way) the normal pity/compassion/outrage of animal rights rhetoric, with its long heritage from the later eighteenth century and the way white anti-slavery rhetoric worked alongside it, there was something new.

This lineage would be why the right wing sneering at Black Lives Matter, and the subsequent racist and speciesist (both amplifying one another) rhetoric by them on Twitter regarding the lives of lions mattering, is more than particularly ugly and violent. The politics of pity always involved some kind of power relationship, or as William Blake says, Pity would be no more / If we did not make somebody poor.

No. The Cecil event goes way beyond the politics of pity. It's about what Occupy called the 99%. People are so beaten down by modern life that they realize quickly that they have more in common with a lion than with a dentist.

A perverse logic of economics and (the bigger picture) ecologics (to coin a phrase, to wit, the way human economic relations operates on and within the biosphere) has driven humans and nonhumans into each others' arms.

I can't think of another moment of such spontaneous identification. It took recordings of whale sounds to convince some people to get outraged about whaling in the mid-70s. Of course the Cecil event was hugely accelerated, amplified and distorted by the internet.

But it's solidarity that explains how the internet exploded into violent shaming of hunters in general and the dentist in particular. There's no handwringing “Why oh why can't we do something?” type of moves here. It's true compassion as in suffering-with. It's expressed via shame (not necessarily so great) and in its wake is all the other kinds of previous rhetorics and identification modes. But the wavefront is solidarity with nonhumans.

Shelley's line, loved by Gandhi and King, now has another meaning: Rise like lions after slumber / In unvanquishable number ... Ye are many, they are few.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

More Quantum Biology

Told ya...I am, as many of you who've read Realist Magic know, fascinated by quantum theory and its implications for causality theory (the fact that reality isn't a mechanism in any sense whatsoever). So this is really really nice. It adds to the other quantum-theoretical events that happen including the detail of how photosynthesis works.

I think Schrödinger's What Is Life? is due for a dusting and a nice new test drive, don't you?

This is all happening because of my awesome Ph.D. student Derek Woods--watch out world, he is coming!!

Friday, August 7, 2015

You Told 'Em I Liked Farmin

What do you think of vertical farms? This one in New Jersey will be huge. It looks like Ikea...thank you Cliff, once again.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Amazon Does This Weird Thing

...where it keeps telling me I really should read books by Timothy Morton, such as Hyperobjects. I really should get around to it, I suppose...No really, they recommend my own books to me far more than anyone else's. Does anyone else get this? It's brilliant, in a way. It's like the algorithm is simulating Oscar Wilde.

I Love What Alphonso Lingis and Avital Ronell Say about Nothing (!)

Childishly I get a laugh out of Nothing, my Buddhism book, all the time...But look at this:

“The reader will delight in two important aspects of Nothing: a multitude of contemporary Buddhist responses to the great political and social changes that have affected Asian countries—imperialism, colonialism, communism, corporate capitalism—and rigorous elaboration of Lacanian psychoanalysis with Buddhist psychology. This book is exceptional.”
(Alphonso Lingis, Pennsylvania State University)

“I have contemplated and endured 'nothing' for so long that it did not seem right to break my practice or offer other readers something like insight, possibly a moment of sense making and affirmation. But I break out of my trance to assert the emphatic necessity of this book, so erudite without loading us down, relentless in its ability to resignify. Sassy, brilliant, a genuine engagement with and of thought, this work tunes us to a thrilling, endorphinating way of thinking: my drug of choice.”
(Avital Ronell, New York University)


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Cthonic Index

...at Focal Point Gallery in Southend right next to London. I wrote something for Sophie Sleigh Johnson, whose exhibition this is, so you will see it in the book that goes with it. You will see immediately the reason why I got involved...the temporality of the show includes Mesopotamia...

"Shooting a Lion Is Bad, But What's Worse Is the Anthropomorphicization [sic]"

First of all, Mr. BBC Broadcasting House commenter, we can't help anthropomorphizing.

Second of all, wow.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

"Let's Abolish the Teaching of Handwriting"

Many are thinking of getting rid of it or have made steps towards that goal. Their reason: we don't do much of it.

There are all sorts of reasons why not to get rid of it, of course. The thick region between writing and drawing, for example, learning one is learning the other, the hand-eye coordination, the joy of moving a tiny stylus around, and on and on.

But let's just consider the logic.

We titrate even less than we write by hand: so let's get rid of chemistry.

We differentiate very infrequently in "the real world": so let's get rid of math.

More to the point: we use calculators all the time, so let's get rid of math.