“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

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.