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

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Hurry slowly

Hi everyone.

Several people have been wondering what the plan is, as in: “What the heck are we supposed to do now?!” Clearly we live in an ecologically volatile age. Global warming is happening. We may well be in the midst of the sixth mass extinction on this planet. And so on.

What a perfect time to sit back, reflect, and think.

I mean that very sincerely.

Aristotle declared that contemplation was the highest form of praxis; I agree.

While addressing the environmental crisis head on is absolutely necessary, there is also an ideology of speed, that separates action from reflection, doing from contemplating. We must resist this ideology.

This is a problem. The sky really is falling!

Chicken little is right—but let's not be headless chickens. There is nothing more dangerous than justifiable speed.

Environmentalism and capitalism are the same in this: they both keep asserting “Just Do It!” at the tops of their voices.

What's an introspective, introverted, humanities theory-head to do?

Marx said that philosophers had up until now interpreted the world, but the point was to change it. I agree with Slavoj Zizek that maybe it's okay to interpret right now. Interpret in addition to changing...

One of the things that modern society has damaged, in its ecological destruction, has been thinking. Slowly, gently, we need to put thinking together—maybe for the first time.

(Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?
Trinity: Because you've never used them before.)

So yes, of course—more solar, more wind, less carbon, more rights for animals, pause the fishing, fight environmental racism, interrogate global capitalism, and on and on and on...

But also—hesitate, slow down, carefully. Derrida's main advice to his students: decelerate. Feel the grief. Go through the sadness. (More on this later—some of you are interested in this topic, and so am I.)

Now we need to distinguish this slowing down from the easy-wipe version of Heidegger that's out there...maybe that requires a whole different post.

For now, here's a couple of lines from the Introduction to Ecology without Nature:

It sounds like a perverse joke. The sky is falling, the globe is warming, the ozone hole persists; people are dying of radiation poisoning and other toxic agents; species are being wiped out, thousands per year; the coral reefs have nearly all gone. Huge globalized corporations are making bids for the necessities of life from water to health care. Environmental legislation is being threatened around the world. What a perfect opportunity to sit back and reflect on ideas of space, subjectivity, environment and poetics. Ecology without Nature claims that there could be no better time. (10)


Marc Chan said...


I've been following your blog with great interest and I especially found this post to be quite beautiful. I filter your thoughts through a composer's point of view so it was a pleasure for me to see you mention Lucier and Laurie Anderson (in a previous post).

You might be interested in a parallel post on a composer blog that I read, where he talks about musical pauses and slowness. I chanced upon both your post and his on the same morning - to me that's significant!

Thanks again for a great post!


Mike Arnzen said...

Definitely a time for interpretation and reflection! Thanks for the encouragement in this post...your point about 'just do it' culture is smartly put: and we all could use the reminder to slow down.

jeron said...

I agree that people need to slow down and think. are you specifically refering to our ideas of "nature" and "the environment" which you do a great job at kritiking?

Is it really possible and/or okay to advocate for current alternative energy sources and a decrease in CO2 if we really should be thinking? you said we should think and change. Is there an order to that? If you've already advocated for these solutions have you even really thought? If not then it seems like you'd be acting first and then thinking or that you've thought a little bit, like that global warming is bad, so we should act and then think some more?

I just wonder how we escape the ecology of fear and ideology of "nature" that you and zizek kritik if we just sit around and think. What do I think about? What conclusions have you come to about "nature", ecology and our current environmental situation? (I feel like nature isn't stable, it's unnatural, stop relating it to ecology b/c ecology accepts change and (negative) human interactions).

basically, I get that your plan in reflection, but about what? Zizek was just like "you're wrong". But you cant just advocate that as parts of the planet and humans are dying. But I'm also not sure renewables and govt. regulations are the solution either.

jeron said...

btw: now that you are talking about ideology, I was wondering if you had read any Yannis Stavrakakis, especially his book Lacan and the Political and his essay On the Emergence of Green Ideology: the Disolation Factor in Green Politics (on google books if u just search the title)? I was thinking about using him in the kritik i'm writing for the kids. could be helpful in your upcoming book!

Timothy Morton said...

Dear Jeron,

Thank you for the book tip! I didn't know about it. It sounds very interesting.

One of the ideological frames we need to dissolve is the one that imposes a barrier between “thinking” and “doing.”

Why would regulation not be a solution? It sounds like while on the one hand you advocate “doing something” (at any rate not “thinking” so much...), the short to medium (i.e. within current capitalist conditions) solutions don't look so great. Am I accurately describing your point of view?

If I am, then it looks like ironically I am the one who is suggesting a greater amount of action, in this actual present moment...

Timothy Morton said...

Dear Jeron,

Of course, I should have said “short to medium term”!

jeron said...

So you're saying that we can think while we're doing? What I'm wondering is how that would change what we've being doing if the solutions we decided to do (solar/wind, etc.) are within the current capitalist, managerial, "stable nature" framework/ideology. We've seen so many kritiks of people who think that any action we take now just recreates the problem. I was wondering if there was a timeframe to your solution: think first then act? If not what does thinking while acting look like? Thinking is action, I get that, but as you said, thinking will not "solve" these environmental problems.

I keep being reminded of the first like 1-4 pages of Ladelle McWorther's book Heidegger and the Earth when I read you blog entry/book. But I feel like you're taking his thinking/do nothing alternative one step futher to actually include action but I dont get what that means.

jeron said...

McWhorter 92(Ladelle, “Guilt as Management Technology: A Call to Heideggerian Reflection,” Heidegger and the Earth, 1-9)
Our usual response to such prophecies of doom is to ignore them or, when we cannot do that, to scramble to find some way to manage our problems, some quick solution, some technological fix. But over and over again new resource management techniques, new solutions, new technologies disrupt delicate systems even further, doing still more damage to a planet already dangerously out of ecological balance. Our ceaseless interventions seem only to make things worse, to perpetuate a cycle of human activity followed by, ecological disaster followed by human intervention followed by a new disaster of another kind. In fact, it would appear that our trying to do things, change things, fix things cannot be the solution, because it is part of the problem itself. But, if we cannot act to solve our problems, what should we do? Heidegger's work is a call to reflect to think in some way other than calculatively, technologically, pragmatically. Once we begin to move with and into Heidegger's call, and begin to see our trying to seize control and solve problems as itself a problematic approach if we still believe that thinking's only real purpose is to function as a prelude to action, we who attempt to think will twist within the agonizing grip of paradox, feeling nothing but frustration, unable to conceive of ourselves as anything but paralyzed. However, as so many peoples before us have known, paradox is not only a trap; it is also a scattering point and passageway. Paradox invites examination of its own constitution (hence of the patterns of thinking within which it occurs) and thereby breaks a way of thinking open, revealing the configurations of power that propel it and hold it on track. And thus it makes possible the dissipation of that power and the deflection of thinking into new paths and new possibilities.
Heidegger frustrates us. At a time when the stakes are so very high and decisive action is so loudly and urgently called for, Heidegger apparently calls us to do- nothing. If we get beyond the revulsion and anger that such a call initially inspires and actually examine the feasibility of response, we begin to undergo the frustration attendant upon paradox: how is it possible, we ask, to choose, to will, to do nothing? The call itself places in question the bimodal logic of activity and passivity; it points up the paradoxical nature of our passion for action, of our passion for maintaining control. The call itself suggests that our drive for acting decisively and forcefully is part of what must be thought through, that the narrow option of will versus surrender is one of the power configurations of current thinking that must be allowed to dissipate.

Timothy Morton said...

Dear Jeron,

Very interesting, and profound, material. I'll have to think about this before I write back.

Thank you!