“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, October 21, 2012

Portugal Talk Details

Here's my schtick for Portugal this week:

Dark Ecology: Art and Thinking after the End of the World
Timothy Morton

In the later eighteenth century, humans have been depositing a thin layer of carbon in Earth's crust. This layer can now be detected in deep lakes and in Arctic ice. The term now given for this by geology is Anthropocene, a disturbing moment at which human history intersects decisively with geological time.

Since 1945, when humans began to deposit a layer of radioactive materials in Earth's crust, the Anthropocene has accelerated logarithmically, and we now live within a period called The Great Acceleration. Global warming and extinction are interrelated effects of the crossroads we have now reached, a crossroads at which geological and human time have intersected.

This intersection renders meaningless the very tools with which modernity has striven to talk about the nonhuman: concepts such as Nature,world, and even environment are now obsolete. Though they may be politically useful in some circumstances, they are not heuristically useful in any meaningful sense, and may indeed be part of the problem and not part of the solution.

Furthermore, we are now confronted with gigantic entities—global warmingevolution, biosphere—that cannot be seen directly by three-dimensional beings of limited intelligence. Rather, they can be inferred mathematically and logically, a fact that emphasizes that reason itself is not strictly human-flavored, and that we inhabit a reality that is much larger, and more intractable, than we had supposed.

1790 was also roughly the moment at which Western philosophy decided that it could not talk about the real, but only about (human) access to the real. I see this moment and the fact of the Anthropocene as deeply related. For instance, Foucauldianism could claim that worrying about ecological issues is simply another example of biopower, the imposition of power at the biological level, without regard to the fact of the Anthropocene. Foucault was a student of Lacan, who was a student of Heidegger. Heidegger claims that there was no gravity until Newton came along. Heidegger gets this thought from Kant's restriction on the limits of human knowledge.

What is required is a philosophy—and a corresponding ethics and politics—that can think the nonhuman, not simply as the adornment or correlate of the human. Modernity damaged Earth, but it also damaged thinking. Unfortunately, one of the damaged concepts is the very concept Nature.

I call this philosophy dark ecology. It has quite strong implications for ecological arts.


Timothy Morton said...

Pete writes (and was unable to post):

"Heidegger claims that there was no gravity until Newton came along."

I understand MH claimed there was no "force of gravity" (What is a Thing? lectures). Gravity itself has been around at least since Aristotle came along, although our understanding has changed substantially. The force of gravity lasted until Einstein, less than four centuries. After Einstein we understand gravity geometrically, instead of as a force.

Timothy Morton said...

"Newton's laws ... are true only as long as Da-sein is. Being and Time I.6