“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oxygen is Good (If You're Not Anaerobic)

“Whenever the membranes of the egg in which the foetus emerges on its way to becoming a new-born are broken, imagine for a moment that something flies off, and that one can do it with an egg as easily as with a man, namely the hommelette, or the lamella. The lamella is something extra-flat, which moves like the amoeba. It is just a little more complicated. But it goes everywhere. And as it is something—I will tell you shortly why—that is related to what the sexed being loses in sexuality, it is, like the amoeba in relation to sexed beings, immortal—because it survives any division, and scissiparous intervention. And it can turn around. Well! This is not very reassuring. But suppose it comes and envelopes your face while you are quietly asleep... I can't see how we would not join battle with a being capable of these properties.” Jacques Lacan, The Seminar, Book XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, pp. 197-198 (emphasis added)

I've discovered these things since two weeks ago:

1) I have sleep apnea. It manifests as waking out of sleep about once every three minutes, by stopping breathing. My heart beats faster and my brain goes into panic. I have about 2 minutes of REM sleep for every three hours' “sleep.”

2) My unconscious doesn't care if I live or die. How do I know? Well,

3) I got a pressurized air machine (CPAP) that stops me from not breathing. As I go to sleep I can feel my body trying to breathe in the snory, apea-like way that it clearly has grown to enjoy. The machine wants me to live more than my unconscious does. Weird.

4) Evolution doesn't care about some things. For instance, flaps of skin in your face. It doesn't seem to care that the sheer existential density of your own flesh could kill you. I probably wouldn't even be alive by now 100 years ago, let alone 3 million years ago, so what the hey. Jacques Lacan talks about the “lamella,” the existential presence of tissue that manifests as a fantasy of a pancaky frisbee of flesh covering your face. He forgot to add: this thing actually lives in your face. It is your face. It weighs down on my windpipe like the larval alien in Ridley Scott's film and it doesn't care if the weight kills me. And the movement of your chest (in a strange lateral direction) pushes acid up from your stomach, so sometimes you wake up choking on acid.

5) Now I've slept and breathed for two nights (first time in about ten years), I have some observations:
a) Oxygen is nice. Unless you evolved in the Archaean period. My blood oxygen at night was about 82% where normal is above 90%. I spent the first few hours of every day breathing again and reoxygenating, for about 10 years.
b) If you stop breathing every few minutes your brain thinks you're dying so it supposedly dumps a lot of the (reputed) neurotransmitter DMT, and that gives you quite strongly psychedelic lucid dreams. Every few minutes. (Yes I've been through the roaring chrysanthemum.) I don't mind swapping these for oxygen. (But hey now I know why I kept dreaming that I had just died...because I nearly had...) Conclusion:
i) dying is not so bad (your body is reduced to a mere trickle, then stops, so there's not much of you left to freak; but various other things continue, quite colorfully) and
ii) there are conscious states that seem to happen after you've stopped breathing (i.e. when you appear dead)—paging Lhasa...

c) I can do more than one thing per day!

6) I am a cyborg who is alive because there is a prosthetic device strapped to his face. I swapped a lamella of flesh for a lamella of silicone.

This thing affects one in five men over 40. Think about it...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Ecological Thought

My next book The Ecological Thought is coming out in April. The basic argument is that you don't need to have some special experience of oneness with everything to think and practice ecological awareness. All you need is a functioning mind and a willingness to learn things in life sciences.

The book fuses—perversely for some—Darwin, Dawkins, Dennett, Deleuze and Derrida. Their names all begin with D, I suppose...The idea is that non-trendy utilitarian materialism and deconstruction could have a very good conversation with each other, to each other's benefit.

The good news is that even in reductionism and extreme doubt, you can find ecological awareness. So think about how easily you can find it elsewhere.

Palin Drome

Palin's op ed in the Washington Post (12.09.09) condemns “scare tactics pushed by an environmental priesthood that capitalizes on the public's worry and makes them feel that owning an SUV is a 'sin' against the planet.”

Palin displays the paradox of extreme right wing ideology: it seems to tell us to obey authority without question, submit to "traditional values" and so on...but it has an equally necessary implicit message to enjoy, to commit crimes without guilt, etc. Hence the message about enjoying SUVs.

The problem of global warming science is that it deprives the right of the minimal apparatus that enables the functioning of their two levels (the explicit, condemning sin etc. and the implicit, encouraging all kinds of violations—a form familiar to anyone who's survived a totalitarian regime).

By seeing that everything we do on Earth affects our biosphere, we are deprived of the minimal foreground­-backgroun­d distinction that enables us to think on two different levels at once. Suddenly there is a short circuit between the levels and we can no longer enjoy things in secret, because we know that (metaphorically) Google Earth already has a picture of us doing it, even if no one else sees it...

There are no hidden corners.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Some interesting essays on global warming, culture and philosophy have been published in the Danish journal ReThink (this takes you to the online version). There's an essay by me there on global warming and ideology.

E.O. Wilson on biodiversity threat

Here is a succinct article on E.O. Wilson's dire warnings about biodiversity as we undergo the Sixth Mass Extinction Event. Truly intensely sad.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Off the top of my head, here are some ways in which whale recordings have entered human culture:

As popular sound art
As scientific data
As environmental recording
As New Age music

One of the neat things about hearing them again is that now I have a greater understanding of acoustics and I can really hear how the whales are using the ocean in the same way as yodeling uses a valley: “playing” it, sounding it out. The ocean is part of the whales' instrument as it were. Whale song co-evolved with its material medium. So in effect whale song really is ambient art, in itself.

There are notable songs about whales and so on since the 70s. But I wanted to mention two that stand out, as they're attempts to make a human instrument sing like a whale. I'm thinking of:

David Gilmour, psychedelic guitar solo in the midsection of the side-long Pink Floyd song “Echoes” (Meddle, 1971); surely Pink Floyd listened to Songs of the Humpback Whale (1970), interested as they were in environmentality and in sound-effects.

Steve Hillage, guitar in System 7, “Miracle (Orb remix)” (1991). This is a wonderful tune if you can find it. Steve Hillage is the lovely old hippie from Gong.

Nice pic of Detroit (home of the immortal Derrick May, who is on this recording)

This is from Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972).

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Deep Voices

Much to my delight I've discovered that iTunes sells remastered versions of the two masterpieces of whale recordings from the 1970s, Songs of the Humpback Whale and Deep Voices. I'll let you know what I think when I listen to them—haven't heard them since I was 9 years old...

Isn't it nice how the cover of Deep Voices looks like it was done by Aubrey Beardsley?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Trend Spotting

Spot the trend, courtesy of NASA:

Sunday, November 8, 2009

She Was a Visitor

Robert Ashley is in my good books for the wonderful vocal performances on Eliane Radigue's songs of Milarepa discs.

For a soundtrack to The Ecological Thought look no further than “She Was a Visitor” (you can get it on iTunes). It's a beautifully simple idea. Ashley repeats the phrase “She Was a Visitor” and the audience vocalizes the consonants and vowels. A gradually swelling ocean of fractalized lingual sound arises around the individual voice, a Dionysian chorus of others, a giant flock of letters, organs without bodies. It's as if we glimpse the infinite strangeness of a unique person, their non-holistic multiplicity (how many people are in that crowd of vocalizers? Does it matter?). Intimacy and infinity at the same time. Like Jacques Derrida's idea of the arrivant, the “visitor” who is utterly unexpected, and to whom we owe an infinite hospitality. Like extraterrestrials, already living here. Uncanny strangers: we are them, and we are among them.

This is how The Ecological Thought thinks of life forms.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Weird lawns

(That's the
Blue Velvet one)

The good things about having just copy edited The Ecological Thought are:

--I can watch The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari on Netflix streaming.

--I can listen to Garlands by The Cocteau Twins in lieu of a soundtrack.

--I can proof read my essay “The Dark Ecology of Elegy” for Karen Weisman's forthcoming blockbuster, The Oxford Handbook of the Elegy.

Ah, life is good...did I say “life”?

So I'm going to add some things here that didn't make it into the final draft of the essay. They have to do with weird lawns. And as we know, lawns are inherently not weird. Weirdly not weird.

I've written on lawns before so you may know what I think, but in essence, the lawn is the embodiment of private property in public (Keep Off the Grass). Thus they became a symbol of republicanism (small /r/). Hence the giant lawn at Monticello, designed to show, like huge parking lots and big tables in restaurants, how much private property Jefferson had, while keeping some of the actual private property (slaves) hidden around the sides of the house. When he visited Zurich, Lenin was pretty amazed by all the carefully mown lawns.

--Switzerland was founded on a lawn. (Well, the Rütli Meadow.)
--One of the primordial lawn images is that of the lawn studded with flowers, like a blank page studded with words. Tropes are flowers. That's why it's called an anthology (a collection of rhetorical flowers, viz. “flowery language.”)
--Frankenstein was written in Switzerland and the good doctor is a Genevan.
--Wordsworth was obsessed with lawns.
--Percy Shelley was obsessed with Wordsworth obsessed with lawns.
--Shelley's poem Alastor is about a republican (small /r/) poet, called Poet.
--Alastor is Shelley's version of what Mary did in Frankenstein.
--The poem says it's a critique of Wordsworth for not being Wordsworthian enough.
--Or is it?
--It's an elegy for a dying Poet, and a dying politics; and like any good elegy it turns into a horror movie where we know what's going to happen before it happens, and then it happens.
--What happens is that the Poet becomes obsessed with Nature until he dies, literally immersed in it.
--As part of this immersion he visits a lawn. A weird lawn.
--So the question is, is the weird lawn what happens when you do something to Wordsworthian language--or is it inherent in Wordsworthian language from the get go?
--To be continued. For now, here is the weird lawn.
The meeting boughs and implicated leaves
Wove twilight o’er the Poet’s path, as, led
By love, or dream, or god, or mightier Death,
He sought in Nature’s dearest haunt some bank,
Her cradle and his sepulchre. More dark
And dark the shades accumulate. The oak,
Expanding its immense and knotty arms,
Embraces the light beech. The pyramids
Of the tall cedar overarching frame
Most solemn domes within, and far below,
Like clouds suspended in an emerald sky,
The ash and the acacia floating hang
Tremulous and pale. Like restless serpents, clothed
In rainbow and in fire, the parasites,
Starred with ten thousand blossoms, flow around
The gray trunks, and, as gamesome infants’ eyes,
With gentle meanings, and most innocent wiles,
Fold their beams round the hearts of those that love,
These twine their tendrils with the wedded boughs,
Uniting their close union; the woven leaves
Make network of the dark blue light of day
And the night’s noontide clearness, mutable
As shapes in the weird clouds. Soft mossy lawns
Beneath these canopies extend their swells,
Fragrant with perfumed herbs, and eyed with blooms
Minute yet beautiful. One darkest glen
Sends from its woods of musk-rose twined with jasmine
A soul-dissolving odor to invite
To some more lovely mystery. Through the dell
Silence and Twilight here, twin-sisters, keep
Their noonday watch, and sail among the shades,
Like vaporous shapes half-seen; beyond, a well,
Dark, gleaming, and of most translucent wave,
Images all the woven boughs above,
And each depending leaf, and every speck
Of azure sky darting between their chasms;
Nor aught else in the liquid mirror laves
Its portraiture, but some inconstant star,
Between one foliaged lattice twinkling fair,
Or painted bird, sleeping beneath the moon,
Or gorgeous insect floating motionless,
Unconscious of the day, ere yet his wings
Have spread their glories to the gaze of noon. (426–68)
...weird, isn't it?

Now back to what is now Nosferatu plus Treasure.


Despite my best attempts to hide it I've been told I'm Deleuzian almost every other day since about 2006. So I guess the other thinks I'm Deleuzian. If you can't beat em join em! Take this blog, for instance, “Violent Signs” by Tim Matts. What's not to like? Sometimes I kind of worry that Deleuze is better at advertising new versions of the same old thing than actually going there—I know this sounds counter-intuitive to those who like me have enjoyed his prose. (I used to do a lot more Deleuze, but like the guy in the UK anti-heroin ad from the 80s, “I can control it.”) But I must say The Fold is a pretty wonderful book and as I'm thinking a lot about fractals for my new book at the moment, essential reading.

(I also worry that the Deleuzo-mania that seems to have swept the UK since the mid-90s is a little bit of Brit-Art-like catch-up with contemporary theory, viz. deconstruction, which never really took root there, with the notable exception of Oxford Literary Review. The sad old Derridean depressive in me has a little reaction to the burial of Derrida under mountains of Deleuzian prose...)

“Violent Signs” is also a place where you can see Slavoj's bit in Examined Life—a very succinct encapsulation of ecology without nature.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


To mark today's day of action on global warming I decided to put on some drones and write this. I've been trying, of course, to disseminate, haven't we all, the idea that since neolithic times atmospheric CO2 has never risen above 275ppm (parts per million). The safe upper limit is 350ppm. Currently we are at 387ppm and rising by 2ppm per year.

Geneva was wonderful—high intellectual level, incredible conversations, extraordinary to share all the diverse research—thanks so much to Martin Leer and his crew. Apart from right at the end, when I was jumped on for having my nose in books. It's not the first time! Funny, because I was the one sticking up for science and the big picture (
Humanists so often seem to shoot themselves in the foot, so wedded are they to postmodern poetics...). But apparently, so I hear, non-Western people can't and won't and shouldn't give a hoot about global warming, so immersed are they in their lifeworld. Only rich westerners care. Which is bad, because it shows how alienated they are. And humans are forever and intrinsically a blight on mother nature, so to hell with them. No kidding, these precise sentiments were voiced. (By not-me.)

(Which is ironic, considering new figures that say more Americans than ever doubt or deny global warming.)

Here's to having more than one idea in your head at once. I'm sure all my Nepalese and Tibetan friends would approve. Their lifeworld is global warming, like ours.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Swiss timing

I'll be in Geneva on Friday doing a talk at the University of Geneva, called “Ecology as Text, Text as Ecology.” I'm going to talk about how Darwinism and deconstruction are intimately intertwined.

Can you believe that chimps have a sense of the uncanny? And that it manifests precisely in a space between obvious cartoons and “normal” alive members of the species? So if you portray them too accurately, they freak out? (See the post below.)

This is precisely what is meant by “strange stranger” in my new project. What is most intimate about our existence as life forms is also what is most uncanny. Any ecological cultural project that has a tin ear for this uncanny quality is not genuinely ecological. He said, provocatively.

Like Humans, Monkeys Fall Into The 'Uncanny Valley'

Like Humans, Monkeys Fall Into The 'Uncanny Valley'

Shared via AddThis

The Strange Stranger Has Arrived just in time for The Ecological Thought.

Eliane Radigue, Musical Heroine

Eliane Radigue trailer from Anaïs Prosaïc on Vimeo.

She is a genius. A true explorer of materialism.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Can't Get No Satisficing

Alan Turing's own example of the Turing Test for artificial intelligence is not about human versus nonhuman, but man versus woman — as a gay man, he must have known about performativity. The man must convince the interviewer that he might be a woman, and vice versa. This resembles evolutionary “satisficing”: instead of becoming optimal for their environments, life forms do just enough to look and quack like themselves. We could thus imagine how queer ecology might invert the conventional wisdom on virtual reality art such as transgender artist Micha Cardinas's simulations of nonhuman existence, performing as a dragon in the online domain, Second Life. It's not that these simulations demonstrate posthuman platitudes about malleable identity (Cardinas's own estimation), but rather that identity as such is already a simulation — a performative display. At its most hardcore, this might imply that virtuality is hardwired into living substance. It's not just that rabbits are rabbits in name only: it's that whether or not we have words for them, rabbits are deconstructive all the way down — signifying and display happen at every level. Nothing is self-identical. We are embodied, yet without essence. Organicism is both holistic and substantialist, visualizing carbon-based life forms (“organic” in another sense) as the essence of livingness. Queer ecology must go wider, embracing silicon as well as carbon, for instance. DNA is both matter and information. True materialism would be non-substantialist: it would think matter as self-assembling sets of interrelationships in which information is directly inscribed. The garden-variety environmentalisms, with their vitalist webs of life, have ironically strayed from materialism. Queer ecology would go to the end and show how beings exist precisely because they are nothing but relationality, deep down — for the love of matter.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Music without Ecology

Well it's been a good month if you've been a musical note, because I've been playing you, on my nice new Mac, and recording you too, if you sounded good. It hasn't been very good if you've been an ecological idea. Sorry, ecological ideas.

In the mean time I was asked to do an essay for a Danish culture magazine and a talk in Arkansas after fire dancers—they want me to follow that?!

The UC system is losing a lot of money at present. My money saving scheme is to videoconference. I don't believe most of us profs. know how much power there is in the new computers. My friend Mark who does music recording for a living borrowed about $12 000 to start a studio in the mid-90s, on gear that took up an entire room. You can now get most of said gear in your average $1000 or so MacBook and about $500 for Logic, the state of the art Mac sequencer. Of course the gear comes with all kinds of loops, presets and other automated devices. Walter Benjamin eat your heart out.

I guess the eco link is that a lot of my songs are about lawns...I am obsessed with lawns. They are like flat Barnett Newman paintings that everyone has in front of their house. The house sticking out its tongue to show what a decent individual you are. Individual, not unique. They are so much an intrinsic part of the fantasy space that is post-war US suburbia. They perform the same function as the big empty spaces in corporate buildings: look at my private property, look at the privacy of my property, behold, in public, how private I am, I am just the same as you, but different—I am a different version of you, I am an uncanny repetition of you, my space has no decoration, I am not feminine, I am a non-feminine being, I have crew-cut grass, don't walk on it please, look but don't touch, this is private property, keep off, but admire by all means, look at this big empty space with nothing alive on it, it's a symbol of the flat green stuff in my wallet, this is totally ordinary weirdness, this is weird total ordinariness, there is queerly nothing queer about this lawn, you know, nothing to distinguish it from your one, but remember, it's mine, not yours. And so on and so on...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Finishing ET

Yes I'm putting the finishing touches to what I now think of as ET, The Ecological Thought (which if you read it is a good-ish joke). I'm excited—more than with previous projects, I think just because I put a lot of er, thought into it up to the last minute. Finishing a book is like playing with Play-Doh: you push some more in, smooth it down, take a look, push a bit more in, tear some out, smooth it down, take a look ...

Monday, June 8, 2009

Viroids and retroviruses

Two corrections to a video I posted on YouTube ("The Mesh"):

1) The essay on ERV-3 (the retrovirus that may code for immunosuppressive properties of the plactental barrier) is 16 years old (not 30).

2) I meant to say "viroids" not "virions"—a virion is an infective viral particle. A viroid is a small circle of RNA that probably dates all the way back to RNA world.


Coming next: There's No Place Like Home (my review of the latest eco-sermon).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ready, offset, go

Yay—the solar system has just offset the equivalent of two mature trees' worth of carbon.

That'll make up for the one mature redwood that was struck by lightning about five doors down from us. The lightning boiled all the water and sap in the tree and we woke up to the sound of it exploding and evaporating. Then we were strafed by two waves of electromagnetism, turning the fuse-blown lights back on once, then twice. There were 6" or so shards of tree everywhere.

That'll teach me to change my graphic to a field ion microscope image of a tungsten atom...looks like a slice of fruit, no? Anyone else see the fractal pattern? Some of the early atom photos were psychedelically tinted (do a Google Images search). They look so much nicer than the nubbly rubbery stubs generated by the scanning tunneling microscopes, no? Less materialistic...more like waves...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Waste of Time

Head on over to Wired magazine and see time-lapse movies of the Earth literally disappearing under our feet. It's doesn't get any more ecological-without-nature than this...

Here's a view of Amazon deforestation.

Another EwN triumph for Google Earth-type technology (see my previous) — in this case, the NASA Earth Observatory.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009


I started a YouTube page. I'm into the Haeckel drawings of radiolarians and used them as a background. Haeckel coined the word ecology.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Mesh

I'll be presenting this talk at a very interesting conference in Santa Barbara on friday. It's called Beyond Environmentalism. Elaine Scarry and Ursula Heise are keynoting. My talk is based on a concept from my new book The Ecological Thought. The complete video is now uploading to iTunes U, in my podcast class Literature and the Environment. You can already download three smaller file versions from the same place.

The Mesh

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Beautiful Soul Syndrome

In “Talks and Stuff“ in the right hand column, I just uploaded a pdf of the talk I was scheduled to give at UCLA this wednesday (May 20). Unfortunately I won't be able to make it in person—but I'll be podcasting the talk for my Romanticism course on iTunes U. Let me know what you think if you read it or hear it. It's for a seminar called “A Cultural Prehistory of Environmentalism.”

The talk is about the way in which some forms of environmentalism are caught in Hegel's dialectic of the beautiful soul—an attitude towards reality that sees the world as evil.

Beautiful Soul Syndrome

Beyond Environmentalism

I'll be talking at the Beyond Environmentalism conference at UC Santa Barbara this friday. Lots of speakers—promises to be a great do.

Friday, May 15, 2009

All the corners of the buildings 2022 remix or, Glam Ecology

...Who'd but we'd remember these? These blog posts I mean :)) I nicked the idea off of the Floyd's brilliant (full title please) Animals: 2018 Remix. "Yes, fans, it was playing over and over in our heads too, from when first we played 'You Gotta Be Crazy' live, no wait, from 'Careful with That Axe Eugene,' oh, actually, 'Astronomy Domine'...wait a second, 'Interstellar Overdrive, the way Syd's pinging guitar becomes 'stone, stone stone, stone..."

This song and the video have aged amazingly amazingly well. I'm ready to say to the world: this is my favorite Bowie of all, obscure as it is perhaps. So this post IS the one I wrote in 2009, remixed. I'm gonna write this and hit "update" and you're gonna love it. I gotta better way. 

Yeah, it's David Bowie's “New Killer Star.” (See the video below.) 

Headline: when you put a teleological system (agrilogistics, capitalism) into a non-teleological one (the biosphere). There is a predictable result. The non-teleological one is destroyed. 

Byline: imagine the World Trade Center is a pair of arms holding a lenticular photo...now watch the video. 

So first up the song and video seem to be doing the same thing: talking about 9/11 by not talking about it but instead kind of miming about it, gesturing about it. The lenticular printing gimmick in the video is a flashback to the 70s when 3D postcards were all the rage. And the Twin Towers are a 70s kind of an artifact (finished 1970–1971). And there are two of them. And you see them kind of like you'd see a lenticular image, flipping from one to the other with a slight turn of the head. So the position(s) from which we see the imagery in the Bowie video is the position(s) of the Twin Towers themselves. This puts us in the awkward, ahem, position of seeing things from the point of view of an object that doesn't exist, as if we were able to peep into a world from which we were excluded—say we are voyeurs, like Mitch in the famous peeping Tom scene in Vertigo, or dead, like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, or the denizens of the Towers. This means that parallax is built in to the way we are meant to interpret the song. Parallax means that something appears to be moving against a seemingly static background, but really we are moving and are seeing our movement inscribed “over there” in what we seem to see. Moreover, it's as if this parallax view (good phrase of Slavoj Zizek's) were directly built into the architecture of the Twin Towers. So that the view of the Towers (“of” in both senses) is a view of a digital age in which the logic of binary difference means that there's no single privileged viewpoint from which to view things properly—there's no original tower; not only that, but how we are to look at things is inscribed directly into them (user-friendliness). David Simpson's book 9/11 is the best analysis of the Towers as a digital spectacle. If you were looking at reality from the point of view of the Towers, it wouldn't add up to a nice gestalt but would constantly flip from one perspective to another, undermining the Renaissance logic of the vanishing point simply by doubling it (and thus appearing to reinforce it on another level). Surely this parallax logic was designed into the Towers themselves, which stood as a monument to the deconstructive energy of global capital. If you have two lenticular viewpoints, both viewpoints are “wrong”—and two wrongs don't make a right. And there's no position half way between the two viewpoints that reconciles them. Depth perception is a function of parallax, because our two eyes see things from slightly different points of view. Lenticular images mimic this in a gratifyingly crude manner. Each vision refuses to be fudged into the other one, unlike the way “normal” perception fudges the view from our two eyes. Perception is thus radically de-realized, removed from the normal boring platitudes about how we always perceive in a “world” that our perception co-creates. In Bowie's song and the video, there is no “world” as such. This makes the song profoundly ecological (though not traditionally environmentalist). The notion of “world” is a kind of stereoscopic illusion of depth based on parallax—the way our twin eyes see things slightly differently gives rise to a sensation that we are embedded within something. But this is only because we are primates with two frontal eyes. A spider would do a very different 9/11 video. This is far more drastic than saying that there are as many “worlds” as there are species. It means that there is no world as such. “World” is purely a projection based on a certain technological setup (in our case, frontal stereoscopic vision). If you still think this is a “world” then you've practically eaten the concept away to the bone. And worlds are supposed to be rich and chewy. Far things and near things seem to shift differently. The optical illusion of parallax suggests that our perception of a “world” in which we are embedded, our perception as such, is intrinsically illusory. For any optical illusion to work, optics as such must be something of an illusion. It almost looks real, yet we know it's an illusion (“See my life in a comic, like the way they did the Bible, / All the bubbles and action, the little details and colors”). This insight accords with a general insight about ecology. The more we find out how everything is interconnected, the less we can imagine things existing in a “world” that somehow surrounds and supports them. If “We Are the World” then there is no world—it's just us, no? Even worse: once we include our subjectivity in our world, as good ecological citizens, we eliminate the possibility of “world” as such, because this depends upon a sort of conceptual upgrade of the optical illusion of depth that only exists as a function of our physical separation from the things we are looking at. The view from the World Trade Center turns what appeared natural into a lenticular fantasy image that we immediately recognize to be a stereoscopic illusion. Depth is only possible because of a fudged switching beween twin points of view. There is no depth as such. Depth is simply part of our phenotype, the way our DNA expresses itself. The World Trade Center acknowledges the fact that we are primates with eyes in the fronts of our heads, making this fact appear in a somewhat humiliating way, as if we were drunks seeing one tower split into two. It mocks the illusion of depth. Perhaps it's not surprising then that the 70s remake of King Kong had the giant primate straddling the Twin Towers.

Primate visions: it's interesting how, given my new argument about how religion is the phenomenology of biology, we here see a godlike ape straddling the ultimate symbol of American capitalism and big science (Hallelujah, Laurie Anderson). Language, ritual, religion, art--Darwin himself pretty much already argues that we got these from primates before we evolved. Not to mention beetles (art at least, for Darwin anyway). 

"We gotta better way. We're the humans."

"Oh George, mate, I gotta better way. Curious George II, the 70s mate: you were fantasizing a lot, I imagine. You were in your 30s, coming into your power. But I WAS the fantasies. And they were about art destroying itself, Jesus, not destroying cities because your enemy destroyed some buildings," said David Bowie, obliquely. 

"I gotta better way, David. Instead of attacking Saudi, we're gonna bomb Iraq. Glam was a better way than rock n roll, same thing, only better. You made me do this," replied George Bush. 

Double vision is when the cognitive system isn't functioning properly, revealing the clunkiness of the two frontal eyes—and hence the unnaturalness of the whole setup. Likewise, the actual music of “New Killer Star” is a sort of double hearing. The wonderfully iterative chord sequence on the guitar, mindlessly chugging up a bit, down a bit, and back again, reinforces the sensation of being locked in a twin groove that is demonic because it isn't chosen and keeps returning. It lurches forward like some artificial monster, relentlessly. The riff is marvelously both rock 'n' roll and glam, as if we were flipping, in lenticular fashion, between 1960 and 1974. If rock 'n' roll is “natural” pop music, then glam is surely “artificial”—so there's a both/and logic going on at this level—more on this theme later. I like how there are twin verses and twin choruses. This twinning is how the song parodies elegy, the genre to which it refers in the lyrics. Elegies do what canned laughter does: they automate an emotion (grief) so that we don't have to undergo its burden. Their nature imagery is strictly sadistic—nature returns (normally it's the spring following winter) unlike the dead person, who remains dead while flowers sprout from his grave. 

In Python's The Meaning of Life, Gilliam's film invades the main film. In "New Killer Star," glam invades rock n roll. The invasion has already started: the "rock n roll" riff, the verse one, is in fact a slightly shifted "Crocodile Rock." Already a kitchy photo. 

And how? Because there is in fact a continuity between glam and rock n roll. A continuity between agrilogistics and capitalism. A continuity between the humans and the horses and the chimneys. 

Bowie's parody delivers a swift one-two punch to grief that weaponizes it. Grief is the only appropriate reaction in an age of ecological catastrophe and spectacular politics (such as 9/11 and its aftermath). "New Killer Star" thus reveals the ideological function of elegy (and boy wasn't that on display on all channels after 9/11?), to steal any semblance of an inner life and slap it together in a nice lenticular image where death is everywhere and nowhere. 

In Moonage Daydream Bowie says how his songs are editorials on the year gone past. This was released in 2003. I can't tell you how curative this is for me, marinated in the 9/11 proto-fascism. The fact that there are twin GOPs, the Cheneys' one where you hate on Trump and the actually explicitly fascist one where the dog whistles are within the range of human hearing, and the fact that I remember, not as an individual but as part of it, like all of us (who but we'd remember), how Cheney and Trump are in a continuum. 

That's the underside of a lencticular photo. It it a photo "about" a continuum. It screams unity through its horrible duality. 

In the video this elegiac parody of elegy (we can't move forwards, we're stuck in a moment) is imaged by staging each phase of the lenticular image as a moment in time. So up in the clouds, the flight attendant is forever burning his hand with hot coffee and wincing. The bluebird is always chirping in the dead artificial landscape down below. The satellite is always just about to crash to Earth. The plane is always just beginning to shift its course (has it just been hijacked?). Another sunny day in neo-pastoral suburbia, whose mindless repetitions exude a sense of imminent threat. It's not that there's a disaster waiting to happen—of course there is, on my reading—but that there's already a kind of disastrous, bright positivity to everything we see. (Surely this is David Lynch's territory, hence perhaps the mechanical-seeming bluebird, an obvious allusion to Blue Velvet with its menacing suburban lawns.)

I am absolutely haunted beyond belief by the drop of water coming from the corner of the overworked air conditioner on the corner of the building where the only genuine difference between the guy starting the lawnmower and smiling / grimacing with pain (apes grin where they're about to attack) and the woman upstairs winking is that she got to America first, and she's upstairs. 

"I never said I'm better than you." 

Oh but you are, you're Europe, only once more with feeling. Europe, automated, made by Texas Instruments. 

The basic flavor of George Bush's presidential campaign was him comparing himself to Gore, considered a political droid of some kind, by making out like he was a regular American. He never said he was better than you, unlike Al Gore, so he won. 

It's as if we are witnessing a suspended moment in time between two moments. 

George Bush notoriously had trouble pronouncing "nuclear" in a non-childish ("nuke you la") way. One of his teleprompter scripts I recall said "new clear" to make him say it right. New Killer Star. 

"But George," cried Bowie, "If anyone's going to discover the stars made, it's me, all right? I discover the stars. I do. Not you." 

I'm thinking now said the blog post, although this was in fact an artifact of the repetition of the blog post. 

This moment is truly impossible—it takes place “between” each guitar riff, each phase of the image, and as we've seen, there is no between. Yet the song appears to insist that there is indeed this utopian (no-place) viewpoint. It's that Matrix or Google Earth point of view (see the previous post on Google Earth art) that visually performs what in poetry is called ekphrasis, the vivid description that suspends time through its loving lingering on exquisite details. The video evidently internalizes Google Earth, giving us a series of multiple lenticular views as if we could assemble them all into a composite image—hey look, there are the twin factory towers in the shot of the girls playing ball...And the video includes a shot of the Earth from space. This loving repetition is also, of course, the compulsion to repeat, which seems to get ever stronger in a world of touch-screen rewind controls, which coupled with the sadistic desire to see everything and record it, seems perversely to have reimagined Benjamin's dreaded aura for a contemporary age—what could be more auratic than the cheap lenticular gimmick? Isn't it the case that there are lenticular winking Christs out there? Far from demystifying reality, as Benjamin thought the close-up and other cinematic techniques would do, the desire to see and see again has remystified it in another way. When the first plane hit the Tower on 9/11, it wasn't recorded (well, perhaps by a few cameras). When the second plane hit, all the cameras in the world seemed trained on it. Hegel: for an event to occur, it has to occur twice. This “event”-fulness was built into the terrorist action, and the Bush Administration fell for it hook line and sinker. As did the media, who couldn't stop playing and replaying the event as if it were on a loop. The constant repetition became pornographic. Like the meaningless shifting back and forth from one lenticular image phase to the other. Back and forth, back and forth, impotently. The lyrics appear to deliberately evoke spectacular events in a recursive way, such as the 60s pop show “Ready, Steady Go” and the more recent “Stars in Their Eyes.” (Other shows are “Face the Music” and “Dateline.”) But of course, this is not an event—it's just an idiotic, horrifying pulsation between two singularities. And a one, and a two, and a one, and a two... By excluding any possibility of a human excess behind, within or beyond the relentless, rocking-horse duality of the idiotic rock-n-roll riffage and the lenticularity of the video, this artifact serves a truly politically progressive purpose. It doesn't allow the comforting illusion that there is a “right” or “human” way to bear witness to idiotic violence. In this it's a searing indictment of the Bush Administration, far more so than the Romantic pap that passes for progressive such as Rage Against the Machine or Michael Franti. And by including Nature, in full ideological dress, on “that” side of the imagery (“The sidewalks and trees...” in the lyrics, the view of suburban idylls in the video, the knowing, happy-happy joy-joy imagery of workers in suburbia/countryside, a homage to Stalinist cinema), “New Killer Star” observes correctly that there's nowhere to which to escape, nowhere from which to mount a criticism of current social conditions that is outside of those conditions. 

"Is this menacing" is menacing. 

Phantasms as reality. "There are weapons of mass destruction" is a weapon of mass destruction. 

Nature is as much a part of the perverse enjoyment-factory as the twin towers of the power station exuding polluting smoke within the emerald landscape of the video. I actually love how suburbia and the countryside are also a kind of duality between which the video flips in lenticular fashion, just as Battery Park (mentioned in the lyrics) is a sort of faux utopian urban garden right by the Twin Towers site. That double decker train is surely pulling in to some suburban station, and the power station is there in the hills to send power to the city that is never directly seen yet totally present—as I've argued, we are looking at the scenes in the video from the point of view of the Towers themselves. Suburban nature (and its “wilderness” remix, National Park campsites), can't decide whether it's artificial or natural. We flip like a lenticular photo from artificial nature to natural artifice. We crave those landscaped dry creek beds in front of our houses, and the Parks need trash cans and toilets. 

Lord of the Rings, if it's any good, is about giving suburban bigots a kick in the pants. The Hobbits are being schooled. Or it's about the fight to preserve xenophobic bigotry. 

Why did we have President Bush when we could've had President Bowie?

"But I was the president," said Bowie, "In that scary way as well." 

Phantasms as reality. Watching a pop video. 

"Paradise is exactly like / Where you are right now / Only much, much better" (Laurie Anderson). 

Suburban nature in a sense is more natural than natural—hyperbolically lush and carefully managed, nowadays without too many pesticides and herbicides (if you're being ethical). 

Google is the computational version of the Neoplatonic God's omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence. 

That initial bluebird is just right—it's just a little bit more than natural, so it slips into being super-natural. (Supernatural, like 30% extra natural...) And those two girls throwing the ball across the pool—twin towers of suburban beauty—locked forever in their meaningless display of sculpted body tissue. The video shows us a complete “world” with factories, trains, gardens, and hills, and houses, planes, satellites—a picture postcard of modern life. 

I've gotta better way. It's called communism. Or is it better to say that it's not a better way, that bettering is the problem and communism is the solution...

The way postmodern pastiche has a menacing and highly ecological doppelgänger encoded within it like factory chimneys in a kitschy photo or like the other image in the technology of lenticular photographs. 

I told a lie. There are in-between steps. Yet these are also steps, like steps in a recipe. An algorithm is a recipe. When you automate Europe. Then you automate slavery: primitive accumulation, colonialism and coal give way to steam engines and coal and wage slavery, plus actual slavery still, including nonhumans giving away their labor for free. 

Horribly violent in-between steps, to create the illusion of continuity. 

The steps comment on the violence of creating an illusion. That this is natural, only much, much better. Sparkly natural. Glam nature. Suburbia. 

The illusion of continuity, and the sadistic delight in the clunkiness of the illusion. Sadistic at least insofar as the World Trade Center, capitalism, the hands holding the lenticular photo, the big tech weaponry from space in the form of falling junk, let alone actual missiles, the way teleology cradles the world in its long arms (Laurie Anderson). The way the format of the video and the song cradles its content, whether seen as good or taken as bad. 

The way the negative and positive readings of this song stack onto each other so perfectly. 

The violence of imposing a stepwise illusion of continuity on a continuum, and then justifying this imposition by saying it's an upgrade. Both of those things. 

You sell your labor on the cheap, unlike the other products on "the market." That way the owner can make a huge profit. The illusion of continuity in the form of an invisible hand. Don't worry, your actual hand will feel better, and you have to serve that coffee anyway, else you're fired. 

The song, which is in part a dramatic monologue sung by George Bush, and the video, are both coherent "worlds." Yet it successfully conveys that this world is simultaneously totally nonexistent and horrifyingly hyper-real. It's not a perfect world—the hammer falls on the poor coworker's hand and the flight attendant spills the coffee. That image of the flexing hand—is it an allusion to Laurie Anderson's video for “O Superman” (“This is the hand—the hand that takes...Here come the planes, / They're American planes, made in America—Smoking or Non-Smoking?”) (Anderson performed that in NYC one week after 9/11. Wow.)  

Proletarian clumsiness, or being hurt by one's tools, which are an extension, literally, of the Man? These moments in the video seem to comment on the lenticular form itself and on the social system we're still in, the one that is now munching down the trees on that sidewalk. 

Is the guy yanking the lever atop the pole a deliberate Peter Gabriel "Big Time" era lookalike? 

Who'd but we? If you're not working or visiting the World Trade Center--if you don't have time off or a job in that building--you're going to see it as corners. Gigantic corners. I remember. When I lived in Manhattan for two years, that was what it was. Actual experience. It's just an accident. It's not better or worse. The treasure, the ordinariness. It's not glam sparkling like the chorus, it's just sidewalks and trees and corners, seemingly unadorned by tropology. Not "flowery" or ornamental. A trope is a flower, hence "anthology," a collection of flowers. A trope is an algorithm and quite accurately, a flower is the plot of an algorithm. 

Of course the beauty of lenticular photos is that they don't seem to “work” properly—in an age of digital animation we can smile at these clunky kitschy products. But in another way the photos don't lie—there is no point that is magically in between different moments. Any movement can be broken up into a sequence of still images, so in a sense there is no movement as such (Zeno). We only observe things happening retroactively. Thus the song and the video appear to swing on a clumsy hinge between past and future, wanking time (for want of a better phrase) back and forth like a DJ trying to beat match. And failing. Of course the DJ is revolution, and revolution is trying to find a point in the groove at which to insert a whole new tune. But that point never arrives, so the DJ keeps sliding the needle to different points on the disc, only to rediscover the same thing. There is no exit from this bright non-place, this horrible utopia. So all lenticular photos are obviously staged for a camera, like 9/11. You'd have to set up the shot of the falling hammer. Failure is successfully staged as a kind of obscene comedy. (The wincing workers, caught in their pain like cartoon characters we can sadistically watch being hurt over and over again.) So there is an uncanny sense that what we are seeing has been predicted and preprogrammed. That what we are witnessing is a prefabricated event, seen from an impossible point of view—Ground Zero.

There's more to say, but I'm so excited I'm going to "update" now and add later. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Communication and the Environment conference

The 10th Biennial Conference on Communication and the Environment will be held June 27-30, 2009, at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. There will be some 80 presentations on public participation, media criticism, social construction, risk assessment, and policy applications. Check out the conference website.

Statistics versus mystics

Head on over to this entry on Nate Silver's extraordinary Five Thirty Eight site and you'll learn a lot about people's beliefs about global warming.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Does the Environment Have a Right?

This looks like it's going to be a wonderful do in Chicago. Hope you can come if you're near.

This, roughly, is what I shall say:
Ecological ideology (the various “environmentalisms” for want of a better word) is either fully embedded within capitalist ideology; or, when it strives to escape, it only achieves a kind of geostationary orbit. Is it possible for us to imagine a postcapitalist ecology? Yes—ecology intrinsically transcends capitalism. My project Ecology without Nature argues that in order to develop this idea we will need to drop the idea of nature, and the numerous “new and improved versions” derived from environmentalism, systems theory, Spinozan Deleuze-and-Guattari-style imagery, and so on. In so doing, ecological politics will have to move beyond consequentialism and towards something more like Kantian duty.
Here's a full text of my talk.

Morton Chicago Talk

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The little details and colors

I'm sure it hasn't escaped anyone's attention how environmental this is.

In the next post or two I hope to do an ecocritique of this extraordinary text.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Next Port(land) of Call

...And so to Portland on Tuesday, where I'll be talking at 7pm on ecology and sustainability at the Portland State Smith Memorial Student Union (room 338), thanks to Amy Greenstadt and the Humanities Sustainability Research Project. I'll also be doing a seminar the following day.

Morton Portland Talk

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Put up your Dukes

I'm at Duke University today and tomorrow doing a roundtable on ecology and ideology with the good people of Polygraph.

(Update) It was a really really great discussion, thanks in large part to the contributions of Kathy Rudy, and to the stellar organization of Gerry Canavan, Ryan, Lisa and the rest of the Polygraph crew. It's now available on YouTube.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Romanticism podcast

I just started podcasting my British Romantic Period class on iTunes U, if you're interested. (As you probably know you can get my Literature and the Environment class there too.)

(Update--thanks Richard for noting the difficulty. iTunes renamed me anonymously):
Open iTunes
Click on iTunes U
Click on Universities & Colleges
Click on UC Davis
Romanticism should be on the main page.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Fiddlers on the roof

The spate of phallic art on rooftops for viewing via Google Earth deserves comment. It wouldn't be hard to do a Lacanian reading here. Google Earth promises the ultimate illusion of being able to see reality from the point of view of a (strictly nonexistent) Big Other, incarnated as outer space. It's as if outer space itself were looking at Earth and that we, by extension, were in the position of outer space. This view from the impossible Big Other's viewpoint is the basis of the Earthrise image that Al Gore popularized (in his movie and elsewhere; see Ursula Heise's new book). It's the ultimate totalizing gaze of surveillance at its purest.

You could read the phalluses as desperate attempts to normalize the situation. This takes various forms:

1) Flipping the bird to the view from the place of the Big Other, rather like the bumper sticker that says “How's My Driving? Dial 1-800-EAT-SHIT.” In a sense, aren't these bumper stickers there to convince us that there is a real, coherent Big Other—didn't Lacan say “Every bumper sticker is the bumper sticker of the other”? No, he didn't. It's amusing that the phallic symbol in the photo above “waited” for almost a year to be seen. So that in a way the illusion is that it was being “seen” by Google Earth itself before humans stumbled upon it. The phalluses are messages in bottles for voyeurs that return their own prurience back to them in the tawdriest imaginable form.

2) The gaze of the Big Other is imagined to be the phallus as such, so the phallic symbol tries to neutralize this by appearing as an object of that gaze. Just when we think we're standing in the phallic position of the all-seeing eye, the phallus appears “down over there” on someone's roof. Of course, this neutralization never really works—the phallus is everywhere and nowhere at once (and as the rooftop phallus meme multiplies, its impotence grows more and more apparent).

3) A parody of the Lascaux cave paintings, as if Earth dwellers were primitives viewed by extraterrestrial anthropologists—ourselves! Or the inverse—a perversely idiotic message to send to curious aliens: the essential bits of Man (who exited the Solar System on the Pioneer Plaque), minus the man.

The overlapping of primitivism and ultra-modernism here reminds me of the New York new wave scene, viz. Talking Heads and Laurie Anderson (“Big Science” in particular). Now anyone can do a David Byrne. In this case, the well-worn contours of the phallic symbol mock the newness of the possibility of seeing everything from the Big Other's point of view.
It's significant that the phallic symbols appear to be the very first form of unofficial Google Earth art. Okay so we've all heard of artworks that anticipate or mimic Google Earth—but never of art that can only be viewed via Google Earth. It's neat that the first example of this art is anti-art, graffiti.

4) Converting the entire surface of the Earth into a school lavatory wall brings obscenity and the ridiculous back into the sublime techno-joy. It's as if the pristine image of the fragile, glass-like Earth were already an antique product of a more naive age. In this sense the phalluses merely point out what was already the case. Google Earth actually abolishes Earthrise as a distanced, aesthetic object with an aura (you can almost see it!), since you can zoom in and out and see many, many different places and angles on a whim. Ironically, then, the kind of global view often seen as the devourer of the “organic” local perspective finds itself tossed into the dustbin of history. The phallic symbol merely points out how Google Earth has already de-aestheticized the planet.

We must now be on the lookout for art that no one may see, because it's been placed to be viewed via Google Earth. Isn't this exactly the way Holbein inserts the phallic skull into his painting The Ambassadors?

We can't view the skull, a memento mori, without viewing the picture from an entirely different dimension which erases the picture as an illusory window onto a deep, perspectival reality (we have to look at the painting perpendicular to it, on its right hand side). Google Earth art is essentially spectral/phallic in this way. We can't see it without destroying the illusion of a lifeworld upon which ecological ideology depends. All the human dwellings are flattened by the shift to another dimension.

Google Earth appears intimate with everywhere: in the Google Earth image of my house you can see the trash cans sitting permanently outside. You can see my mother's fish pond in Wimbledon, London. But this intimacy is achieved at the expense of simultaneously evacuating the deep, surrouding, immersive lifeworld.

Psychoanalytically, the ultimate horror is that there is no real phallus—it's always a distorted shadow of an image that we can only glimpse as an intersection from another dimension. The phallus doesn't really exist “within” any one of the dimensions—it only appears as/in the distortion of one dimension by another. So the rooftop phallus is impotent, and so is the Google Earth phallic gaze. Once you can see everything, there is no guarantee of meaning. The more information we have, the less richness. Ironically, then, the ultimate proof that “there is no metalanguage” (Lacan) is not that we're limited to our perspective within our horizon, but that once we achieve a perspective without a horizon (Google Earth), we realize to our horror that we are not outside of subjectivity, with its distortions and desires. There is no outside—and no local either!

So learning about global warming and our fragile Earth, and so on, serves to make us feel something much worse than an existential threat to our lifeworld. It makes us realize that there never was a lifeworld in the first place, that in a sense it was an optical illusion that depended on our not seeing the extra dimension that Google Earth (and global warming mapping) opens up. (See here for an elegant Google Earth guide to your locale's emissions.)

I recently saw the Coen Brothers' brilliant and disturbing Burn After Reading, which was as horrifying as it was hilarious, often simultaneously. The opening and closing shots were a kind of Google Earth zoom towards, then away from, the D.C. area location; and there's a general theme of surveillance and being caught in multiple ways of framing reality. The conclusion is very similar in effect to the discovery of the rooftop phalluses: the CIA has eliminated the people it thinks might be a threat, but they have no way to ascertain that the characters in question really were a threat, or even what they were threatening. What is truly horrifying is that the big picture view becomes just another actor, just another viewpoint among others, so that it doesn't contain the others in a nice holistic Russian doll set.

It is guaranteed by the laws of psychic physics that the more information we have in our greedy pursuit of being able to see and photograph everything, the more our sense of a deep, rich, coherent world will appear unavailable: it will seem to have faded into the past, or to belong only to others (primitivism). Some of us will eventually think that we once inhabited this deep, rich, lost world. Others will realize that even this sense of loss is an optical illusion created by our current modes of seeing.