“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, October 31, 2011

Inaction and Stasis as Ecological Art

Finally, I can answer Adeline Johns-Putra's question! Skype cut out a little bit at that point. Adeline was wondering whether, since we are always “wrong” against the hyperobject (because we're inside it), is doing nothing a kind of statement?

There are three aspects to this. The first aspect is the main way I answered it in the moment. There are real entities and we know this now: so one approach is indeed better than another approach. If metaphors (causal anything, from my OOO point of view) are about real things, then some metaphors are better than others.

Sitting on one's sofa would be an aesthetic event. But it wouldn't work as well as Chris Wainwright's iceberg.

That's how I answered it at first.

Now for the second approach. “Being a chameleon poet (like Keats) even while staying still—is that aesthetic?” was kind of the gist of this angle of the question.

I addressed that in terms of the onto-theological distinction between process and stasis. I answered this in terms of OOO, that there is a rift between appearance and essence from the side of the object itself. I've addressed this in numerous place here and I won't rehash it. But basically, the distinction between process and stasis isn't anything other than an anthropocentrism and a reification.

That was my second reaction.

But Adeline's question, fuzzed out by Skype, looked a lot more like this (this is her email, which she sent a little bit later):

My question was about the location of the aesthetic event in ecological art in the time of the hyperobject. Is it to be found in stasis as much as anything else? Maybe ‘stasis’ is the wrong word – perhaps I mean ‘rest’. If objects are Keats poems, then Keats is the ecological artist par excellence. If so, the aesthetic event happens when the poet refuses the irritable reaching out for facts, mysteries etc., or (in my very favourite statement of Keatsian poetics) when not himself goes home to himself because the identity of everyone in the room has pressed upon him and annihilated his identity. Assuming that it is in this that he’s experienced the strange strangeness of other objects, and that it’s this that is crucial to Keats’s art and to ecological art, then does this (pursued through volumes) mean that it is possible to practise ecological art simply by sitting still? This might not be a bad thing, but I find it significant. I realise I might be simply disregarding the importance of a subjective expression of that aesthetic event, but then doesn't this risk reducing objects to their relations?

Now Adeline's question is a deal more profound than the questions as I made them up, the Skype fizzing away (it almost sounds like crows cawing at that point). So thank heavens for email, right?

I've been waiting for ages to answer this so I'm happy to do so now.

Okay, there are three areas here: the notion of resting as an aesthetic event; whether this resting is merely a receiptiveness to only subjective impressions; and whether this receptivity reduces objects to relations.

And here's my answer:

1) Is resting an aesthetic event? Yes. Of course resting is an aesthetic event. In fact, I think most of our comportment to hyperobjects looks like “rest” right now in various forms: stunned silence, denial, obsessive compulsive behaviors (endless 350s on beaches) that sum up to rest across the surface of Earth (when you see them from a high enough dimension).

Meditation or contemplation would for me be the quintessence of rest in this sense. For sure I believe we need a lot more of that. Indeed since I hold that thinking is akin to contemplation I think philosophical reflection on the hyperobject is a kind of rest. There are various dimensions of this rest—mindfulness, awareness, simple letting-be—that are equally fascinating in themselves.

Rest in this “positive” sense suggests a deep acceptance of coexistence. Since Keats is not (ontically given) Keats but is a symbiotic community of all the impressions of others on his chameleon-like skin, what can he do but rest with that?

2) Is this a receptiveness only to subjective impressions? Yes, but in a modified sense that makes it not so bad. “Subjective impression” is far more than a merely whimsical or self-centered interpretation of a thing, but an attunement to a thing's reality. This attunement might be distorted in some way but in order to be distorted, there has to be some kind of realness, some kind of always-already going on.

3) Does this receptivity reduce objects to relations? No. My aesthetic–causal impression of something is not that something, by definition. This becomes obvious in the case of hyperobjects: the cold wet things I feel plopping on my head are not global warming, yet they are.

Which leads me to a “Moreover”:

Moreover, since all entities are chameleon poets in this sense—since Keats and a chamelon and a piece of chalcedony are all doing the same thing—all entities are “resting”!

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