“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

Monday, June 27, 2011

Without Nature = ?

Big (m)Other is watching you

A commenter writes:

i keep on wondering if your position that "there is no nature" isn't equivalent to the position that everything is nature, including pollution, nuclear waste, etc.

There are two reasons, in brief, why this isn't the case:

1) If everything is Nature, then Nature is stretched so thin as to become heuristically valueless. The term only has value when opposed to non-nature, artifice, the queer etc.

2) Nature is not simply a list that includes things (this is a major argument in Ecology without Nature btw). Think of a fairly normative list of Nature things:

Ferns, sunlight, mountains, lions, lichen ...

And so on. (Many of the Whitmanesque lines in Spahr's poem perform this metonymic evocation.)

Now add some terms:

Ferns, sunlight, mountains, lions, lichen, pollution, nuclear waste ...

Nature as such never arrives at the end of this list. It always waits off the end of the ellipsis. Why?

Because Nature is a transcendental signifier or top object (in OOO-ese). It's not strictly reducible to its contents. Thus it functions as a Big Other: a dimension, an environment (indeed) in which things are given meaning.

The message of ecological awareness is that there is no Big Other, there are only irreducibly unique beings.

Objection (2) is a far more serious objection than (1). Why? Because the argument against Nature must be an argument against certain forms of onto-theology.


Le vent fripon said...

Thanks much for the thoughtful answer. It makes sense to me. I'm looking forward to eventually reading one of your books.

Will Frei said...

I am brand new to OOO, but highly intrigued. I look forward to reading Ecology without Nature, but should note that I haven't yet (maybe it will answer my questions and more).

One set of issues that I am currently wrestling with has to do with "art" as a category. My thoughts are still forming but I will try to articulate some of the questions I have here.

I am aware of your argument that causality is aesthetic relation, but I am not so much interested in defining art as determining when to jettison a category. For instance, you reject Nature as ecology's Big Other. Why not reject the category of art? Doesn't it diminish and obfuscate paintings, movies, sculptures, etc? How does OOO relate to taxonomy? Do we encounter categories as objects? Groups of objects? Are categories solely heuristics? Or is it just a matter of redefinition--moving the aesthetic to the relation between objects? And if so, why not redefine nature? Should we go around deflating Big Other balloons (as Derrida deflates onto-theological balloons)?

Apologies for the rambling and naive nature of my questions :-), just trying to clarify a knot.