“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, March 31, 2013


The Ozrics lived up my road opposite my favorite pub. Many were the evenings outside that pub, just off Wimbledon Common. My brother gigged with them (drums) a few times, and if he'd been less freaked out would have made it to the audition and gotten the job. (They said so later.) They used to like my electric violin playing. Poor Roly. And it's Easter.

Some More ASLE Speakers

It turns out my Ph.D. students Derek Woods and Diana Leong will also be at ASLE. Fantastic!

Diana is working on race and OOO. It is a rapidly developing area--stay tuned.

Derek and I just had a very nice chat with his other main guy Cary Wolfe, to figure out the next stage or two of his life.

Happy Easter

(1) Christianity should be a little bit scary. It's best when it's a little bit scary.

(2) Happy Eostre. Here's Michael Tippett.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Pagan? Looking for Easter Fun?

Get a hold of, or just find out about, this. The pictures alone.

Welcome Michael Miller

Congratulations to Michael, who is coming here in the Fall. We loved having you over the other week!

Agrilogistics Autoimmunity

The poor bees. Thanks Dirk Felleman.

Think about this:

Dionysus' sacred animal is the bee.
Easter is a Christian takeover of a pagan ritual.
Christianity is Platonism for the masses (Heidegger).
The beyond is more important and more real than the mundane (Christianity).
Monsanto's profits are more real and important than bees (agrilogistics).


Thanks Cliff Gerrish. This chap has tuned into the ethical and political (not to say the psychological) problem of hyperobjects. There's just one problem. It's not like overwinding a watch, to the extent that it's perfectly possible to think these things; terribly easy in fact, in some sense. The problem is that you can't unthink them. And you shouldn't: unfortunately your ethics is now duty bound to bear them in mind. So if we are watches we are definitely broken.

It's interesting to me, as a student of the modernity versus premodernity story, which is a story about how we went from a watch or clock like social state (Levi-Strauss) to an engine like one. Yep. This guy has tuned into the problem, for sure.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Line of Reality

"People can have religions. But they shouldn't cross the line of reality." Claire Morton (9) on how some people insist that dinosaurs and humans coexisted.

Welcome Elena Valdez

Congratulations Elena, we think you made the right decision! Another great addition to the graduate roster for next year. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rice Humanities Symposium CFP (eco scholars nb)

Rice University English Symposium

September 13-14, 2013
Ecology and the Environmental Humanities

The 2013 English Symposium at Rice University invites responses to the ecological and nonhuman turns in the humanities. These turns are undoubtedly responses to environmental crises, food shortages, global warming, factory farming, and species extinction, but this symposium is also interested in discussing the emergence of nonhumans, such as matter, objects, animals, systems, technology, and media, in our critical conversations surrounding these problems.

While the humanities have an opportunity to challenge the problems and solutions put forth by scientific discourses, the Anthropocene, the post-Natural, and the Posthuman come to challenge humanism. What are humanities scholars able to contribute to the conversations concerning ecology and nonhumans?

Papers can address these topics across a variety of periods, genres, disciplines, and theoretical frames, such as:

Affect Theory

Capitalism and Political Economy

Critical Animal Studies

Critical Race Studies

Cybernetics and Technology

Disability Studies

Environmental Activism


Food studies

Gender and Sexuality Studies


Green Capitalism

History of Science


Medicine and Disease

New Materialism

New Media

Object Oriented Ontology

Population Studies





Settlement Studies

Social Movements


Systems Theory

Proposals (max 250 words) are due on May 15. Papers should be readable in 20 minutes, but shorter pieces are encouraged to allow more time for discussion. Please email proposals to rice.symposium@gmail.com as a word document or pdf file.

Consumerism Class

Next fall, for the undergrads of Rice:

We are going to investigate the art, literature, music and more of consumerism, which spans from the late eighteenth century to now.

The goal is to see how deeply ingrained consumerism is in the way we think, write and read (and otherwise appreciate things), and that this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but certainly one that should be studied.

I'm the author of four books on consumerism including a study of vegetarianism in the Romantic period.

Picasso Black and White

I've always been more into Matisse than Picasso--maybe it's the opposite with Graham--but this exhibition here in Houston is terribly compelling. One wonders after all this time what it is that makes it almost all so good. It's the confidence of the lineation perhaps? I'm standing here in front of his version of Las Meninas for the hundredth time, maybe in my life, and wondering about it.

I associate Picasso with a certain kind of violence. Asked "Who did that?!" by a Nazi officer confronted with Guernica, Picasso said maybe the best thing anyone has ever said: "You did."

Wow, that's even better than Gandhi's "I think it would be a very good idea," when asked what he thought of western civilization.

"You Cannot Say There Is No Coffee"

In our ordinary experience, there is the world and there is you. Recognizing this does not mean that you are going against the Buddha’s teaching of egolessness. There is definitely something there, which is the working basis and magic of the path. You cannot negate that you taste a good cup of coffee. You cannot say that there is no coffee and there is no “you” to taste it—there are such things! Mindfulness of life is based on that kind of immediate appreciation. The meditation practice is to learn to appreciate the immediateness of what is happening right here and now.
--Trungpa Rinpoche

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Heptosexual Microbes

Thanks Cliff Gerrish. But the byline should not have been, given the sexual mechanism, "You complete me." It should have been "You incomplete me."

The Secret Life of Plants

We were (Jane Bennett, me et al.) all sent this rather charming PDF for the May Princeton event.

Tuned City Brussels

I'll be there!

Congratulations Mark Celeste

Another great acceptance item. Mark Celeste, who is a very very promising Victorianist, will be working with me, Helena Michie, Thad Logan and the rest of the long nineteenth century crew here. Well done sir. Welcome to Rice.

Some New Talks

1. American Academy of Religion. With Jane Bennett, Adrian Ivakhiv, William Connolly and more. The young Hegelians can come and drool on us poor new materialists! This November I believe.

2. Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies (March 2014), keynote.

3. Tuned City, Brussels. Later June.

Other talks are in Future Talks.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Congratulations Jade

Congratulations to Jade Hagan, who has accepted an offer to come and study with me and the other crazy cats here! Rice is overflowing with good stuff right now in the way of support for the ecologically minded humanist.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Extinction Toons

Polar Bear Cafe. Thank you Duskin Drum. Very very good.

Thank Heavens

A New Essay

I'm writing a really long essay for the journal diacritics, for an issue that will be invoke perhaps the most famous issue, “Nuclear Criticism,” for which Derrida contributed one of his best (in my view) essays. This one will be called “Climate Change Criticism.”

I've written a fuzzy version of my essay, which can be about 10 000 words long. I'm very pleased with the title: 

She Stood in Tears Amidst the Alien Corn: Thinking through Agrilogistics

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ecology Kitsch Parchment (MP3)

With me and Bruce Holsinger. It was incredibly good on a number of levels to reconnect with him this way. You'll see. Listen as Bruce and I blithely ignore everything between the late fourteenth century and 1985. Oh and Scritti Politti is involved. And animal skin.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Subject to Change Liveblog 14

Callum Ingram (UVa)

“Democrats in Space: Critical Geography and Material Efficacy” 

How to account for objects, eg the persistence of architectural built space in the power of the Supreme Court
Rawls: misses how objects condition politics and exceed signification
Hobbes: natural laws as social products
Meyer: constitutive model, good but vague (political norms develop within bounds of constitutive possibilities)
Harvey: things are a variable, not an expression nor container of politics: reduction to normative structures
Latour, Whatmore: theory constrained by the fact that everything is social circumstances
pragmatism: don’t we need what works best for our politics?
yet this misses out on OOO and new materialisms, that things are not able to be what we say what they are
I’m a democrat, and does that mean I get to push things around?

This was a most interesting talk. My notes have not done it justice, because it was fast, fierce and awesome. Sorry! There was an incredible handout which I shall try to get. 

Subject to Change Liveblog 13

Justin Butler (U Minnesota, Twin Cities)

“Biopolitics and Biopoetics: Materialism and Object-Oriented Ontology” 

I try to steer this more towards the political
I want to step towards biopoetics especially as an alternative to ecopoetics
by trying to attune some poetic thought to genetic processes
Raymond Williams: affirmation of materialism’s categories based on what it discovers in the world
the newness built in to this is then legitimized or discarded
new knowledge leaves the old fixed in the past: structured in obsolescence
vulnerable to the paradox that it eschews fixity only to congeal categories, definitions, order
it ceases to be materialism by doing what it says materialism ought to do
obfuscation of self-renewal << biopolitics (regimes of categorization)
Foucault: managing territory >> managing people through biometrics
biopolitics is about making live
administration of biological life
>> reducing the objects to something less than they are
A foundation of OOO is its regard as an inexhaustible entity
thus an object can’t be totalized that has an instability, a type of infinity, which suggests the possibility of its own non-identity with itself
materialism sees objects as things that are not worth pursuing further
OOO: gaps between concept and thing and between concept and itself
thus after Adorno a thing becomes its concept which it is not! 
is this <> life?
inhering nonidentity of self
DNA << nonlife (phosphates, sugar, nitrogen)
DNA is both itself and representation of itself
DNA is both life and lifeless
it is itself and concept of itself, which it is not

>> politics
if lifeforms are representations of themselves, what are they representing
>> questions of democracy
if representing is not re-presenting but presenting another? 

Merleau-Ponty, notes on Nature: operative nonbeing that defines life, interrogative and positioned towards the future
is this purposive or not?
a gene would seem to require intentionality

or are representations more like the presentations of another?
if so then the gap is a question of poetics as of genetics

Jacques Monod: teleonomic structures emerge out of randomness, which undergirds structure itself
thus for Monod life is essentially unpredictable
evolution is just order with 20/20 hindsight
thus there is no intentionality at this fundamental level

Francois Jacob: most thinking tries to impose an order merely commensurate with its historical moment
while life is a bricoleur that makes do with whatever is at hand

<> problem of materialism

thought’s emergence erases its origin
life’s emergence erases its contingency

materialism’s absence of teleology

pell mell emergence should not sap the claim of orderless order (materialism)
should contest obsolescence that it produces
because it’s biopolitics that is keen on teleology

materialism can only be itself by not being itself: it is more circular or Mobius like than linear
the cause leads to the cause

>> Harman and vicarious causation! They are agreeable

tool analysis and withdrawal; real objects recede from relations
sensual objects don’t recede from relations

sensual contact is representational (”intentional” in phenomenology--don’t confuse)

I and the tree inhabit the same sensual space
two separate objects partake of a third, “representationality” 

Francis Ponge, “L’objet, c’est la poetique”
objects are outside the soul yet they are ballast in our heads
immanent and transcendent
man is a curious body whose center of gravity is not in himself
the object accuses the blow

Subject to Change 12

Jeroen Nieuwland (Charles University in Prague)

“Hybrid Contingencies: Entanglements of Expression, Text, and Bodies in Conceptual Poetry”

I’m interested in chaos
change, serendipity, contingency: radical uncertainty

Stephen Gould: punctuated equilibrium
all kinds of crises

Meillassoux: the necessity of contingency
every object is contingent in itself but conceptual poetry frames pieces of the world as objects
allows this contingency to come forth

Craig Dworkin: parsing a book from 1874 on grammar

poetry books of transcripts of abused children (good heavens)

radical contingency in which anything can function as a poem

expression is displaced from the subject to the object

lyricism is transcendent while contingency is immanent, affective (how different is this really)
each form is contingent in itself (where have we heard this before)
Duchamp’s urinals
conceptualism is allegorical: minimal difference between original frame and its relocation 
Morton: rift between appearance and essence

one object with its infinite contingent possibilities

Dworkin’s Parse (a version of Abbott’s How to Parse): the rift is internal; rules of grammar applied to themselves
there is no system that does not contradict itself
Nietzsche, “we still believe in god because we still believe in grammar”

author: “I’m holding up a mirror and making people look at their own reactions”

some sentences are parsed very generically “Word word word word punctuation mark” etc. 
some are parsed jokingly “plural first person subjective case pronoun used in bad faith to suggest a camaraderie with the reader auxiliary verb adverb”
some are not parsed at all “write the book that pleases you best. What is the subject of pleases?” 

Morton’s concept of aperture: irreducible uncertainty

conceptualism is not the first to think about contingency

concept and contingency are entangled
this open space is an interesting ethical space

I like the idea of a non-conceptualism; not necessarily negation, but more as entanglement

Subject to Change 11

Ann Mazur (University of Virginia)

“Props in Victorian Parlour Plays: The Periperformative Object”

Transformative potential of home theatricals. 
Creative use of props. Slaying a mouse with a poker. 
textual scholarship that dismiss objects forget that props aren’t just signifiers
they can become absorbed into the play action (Stauffer)
Can become part of the play’s cultural tradition
Henry II’s planting of seeds
props contain their past
Daniel Deronda: the diamond necklace
Sedgwick: letter is peri-performative, avoiding performative sentences
“I dare you” vs “not on my account” -- a changing of the nature of what is agreed
>> makes it more potent
you need the necklace for the letter to have its full effect
the return of the necklace is supernatural: she can tell she’s going to get it back
ogre’s head or beast’s head instructions: complex mesh and you can make it! 
e.g. Rumplestiltskin that involves a trap door! 

Subject to Change Liveblog 10

Joao Paulo Guimaraes (SUNY Buffalo)

“Malleable Bodies and Unreadable Beings: Eduardo Kac and Leslie Scalapino’s Poetics of Unnaming,”

Kac is a pure relationist
Scalapino is a Buddhist relationist
bioart: genes have no intrinsic meaning

Harman: this is reductionism (overmining): beings expended by their relations

It seems as if Scalapino is also saying this: dependent origination
malleability of animals and humans
use of Nagarjuna: he does not intend to imply that reality is nothing at all
lack of existence just means lack of essence or boundaries

Scalapino’s view is not that things are expended in their relations
similar to Buddhism’s investigation of the mind
hidden potentials of the body
everything carries within it a childlike self-destructive potential
while writing she felt she had to be in conflict with herself
humor: panting like a dog (Guimaraes is researching how before modernity, Nature could be funny)

bioartists: plant-animals fantasies etc. 
bodies as utterly plastic and contingent
vs Scalapino’s bodies, too close or too far away to be totally fungible

Why the Comedy Ouroboros?

Let's start with why it's so compelling—apparently also for Ian, who generously took on my charge to make one.

I think it's because the snake seems so terribly keen on eating itself, in the same way that my rather young cat looks rather intense when he is imitating what he takes to be kissing, namely holding your fingers with his teeth, without biting.

The thing is, is the ouroboros fascinated by the biting or—and this is perfectly reasonable given where his/her gaze is placed—fascinated by being fascinated?

I'll add here that this is a major intervention in ouroboros imagination. Most ouroboroi are rather frightening looking, or rather opaque. The nearest one to Ian's is this:

It's not as good is it? I quite like the slightly defeatist ennui of this one:

But most others are terribly serious.

Subject to Change Liveblog 9

Gary Grieve-Carlson (Lebanon Valley College)

“ ‘No Greek will be able / to discriminate my body’: Charles Olson’s Objectism and the Decentering of the Human Subject” 

Olson’s discovery of Whitehead
Whitehead’s decentering of the object, the mechanistic theory that is the “orthodox creed” of scientism
contemporary physics versus the mechanics of simple location
“If I see a planet I am not seeing the actual planet--instead chemicals are causing a subjective experience of the planet” (it’s the old undermining/overmining one-two; it’s not that different from the old scientism!)
Principles of Natural Knowledge
our commonsense view of subjects and objects is false
so we need not to think of discrete subjects and objects but as events that unfold across time and space
an event prehends into unity the different aspects of nature that it includes
events can overlap and nest within one another
they exist diachronically and synchronically
the observer and observed are aspects of events
1950 Olson’s Maximus poems >> 1970
Maximus is Olson’s persona
precession of the equinox
the event that is the wobble unfolds within many larger events; each point is imposed by the vast precession of points going back to the planet’s origin
poem also << antecedent precessions
who is the author? not the poet or the poem--nothing can be discrete
not only is Olson a compound of his antecedent precessions but he’s also part of the larger environment he’s in
“An American / is a complex of occasions”

Heraclitus: panta rhei

The Dark Side of the Household Object (MP3)

A talk about OOO, Pink Floyd and ecology, at UVa's awesome Subject to Change conference. Thank you Jesse Bordwin (who introduced me), Tom Berenato and all the other incredible people. Thank you Bruce Holsinger! It's good to know you all these years sir.

Subject to Change Liveblog 8

Kaushik Viswanath (Notre Dame)

“Animating the Inanimate: An Ecological Reading of Arun Kolatkar’s Poetry”

On Kolatkar’s ecological vision
postcolonial readings of the poems can be essentialist and reductive
1. emphasis on ecocentric perspective (world is interdependent)
2. humility
3. skepticism concerning hyper-rationality

1. a ruined temple has been occupied by a small family of dogs
2. forays into the animals’ interiority
3. religious tone, not wanting to be conned: not belief but perception

the speaker sees all kinds of broken things in the temple
“the dark side of the object” (Morton)

“that’s no doorstep, that’s a pillar on its side--yes that’s what it is”

Pie Dog: a stray that sits on the streets; not a projection of the speaker
“I look a bit like a seventeenth century map of Bombay”
engagement with neglected environments

Subject to Change Liveblog 7

Amanda Montei (SUNY Buffalo)

“Transcorporeality and Ecological Critique in Hanna Weiner’s The Fast

Hanna Weiner as a marginal poet who claimed she was clairvoyant (she was schizophrenic)
often she is analyzed as a pathological symptom
ignoring her radical relation to the environment
early performance works: vacuuming the streets and giving hot dogs away
Stacy Alaimo: transcorporeality
The Fast: a record of a period of acute chemical sensitivity
claimed to see words on her forehead: printed on outside or emerging from beyond, or inside?
words have a political-ecological awareness, she claims
destabilization of the “anthropomorphic, autopoetic lyric I”
vs “the spectral nature of Cartesian duality”
hard to draw a line between human and nonhuman these days
“viscous porosity” of distinction (Nancy Tuana)
hot dog performance: hidden ingredients, “the traffic in toxins” (Alaimo)
relation to chemical sensitivity in The Fast, an autobiographical novella
acid trips and release of energy in spine
urinating in pots to avoid bathroom
living in the sink to avoid metal
frustrating and futile attempts to find a nontoxic place to live >> grim humor
could feel electricity in walls and nylon carpeting
pesticides and formaldehyde
how to disengage from capitalism: very difficult! 

Subject to Change Liveblog 6

John Trevathan (U Minnesota Twin Cities)

“The Mouth of Literature: Experimental Ecological Poetry in Galicia”

Prestige oil spill 270 miles off coast of Galicia
Manuel Rivas, The Disappearance of Snow talks about it
oil as “little trails of clay” (in the political discourse); narratives of denial
>> strategy like Goya’s etchings: what one cannot see expressing what one cannot say
The Mouth of the Prestige; we are forced to see that a nonliving thing is speaking to us about its silent yet volatile capacity
recycling of symbols as protest art; use of umbrellas
the March of Suitcases; bagpipes; conch shells
unbinding icons from their regional connotations
alliances between things and people moving away from cliches
ecological fragility: pluralism of people and habits
dehumanizing is about denaturalizing the everydayness of objects not removing the human
ultra-objects like hyperobjects (!)
The Disappearance of Snow a unique undertaking in four languages
<> Ortega’s descriptions of early avant garde movements
“Mayday” poem: onomatopoeias of clangs and beeps
minimal use of light
apostrophe speaking to fear; ambient noises of dogs barking “vomiting up the colors of nothingness”
a bizarre concatenation of objects outside their everyday qualities
to draw our attention to the ontological activity of language
threat of network of language disappearing completely

Friday, March 22, 2013

Subject to Change Liveblog 5

Sharon Kunde (UC Irvine)

“Slimed! Meshy Baptisms in Elizabeth Bishop’s ‘At the Fishhouses’ ” 

Bishop, At the Fishhouses
human bleeding into the environment
symbolic violence << overfishing
Baptism: symbolism that transforms matter
attempts to baptize the seal fail: netting
seal as symbol, emblem, mark
“diving into the narcissism of anthropomorphization” (Morton)
true escape is to extend narcissism: seal regards the speaker while the speaker sings hymns to it
free swinging indifferent element of temporal horizon
speaker imagines water contact as threatening
Derrida: possibility of sharing possibility of nonpower
language as a kind of net: not the same as knowing
not the original thing but a new thing or experience
something that escapes 
the flowing element in which we are immersed misses something
figure of the water as a figure of knowledge
speaker keeps bumping up at the edges of finitude
as an act of dark ecology

Subject to Change Liveblog 4

Poems and Things panel

Mande Zecca (Johns Hopkins)

“The Combined Refraction of Everything Else: John Ashbery’s Objects” 

objects complicate what we think of Ashbery
Rain Taxi--a symposium on Ashbery’s working environments
The Disappearance of Objects (on the rise of the postmodern city)

assumption that Ashbery’s arrangements of objects <> his textual arrangements
eg his penchant for catalogs

NY transition in 50s and 60s, homogenization: abstraction 
>> assemblage based art of Johns, Oldenburg; taking up refuse and fragments
to counteract the leveling out of their milieu
erosion of place

Ashbery’s poetry of this period inflected with a similar anxiety

early critics of Jasper Johns deemed them too literal (Greenberg)
or critique of the modernist I
or a commentary on gay life in postwar America

but the closest according to Shannon is Hal Foster’s “The Passion of the Sign”
a crisis of signification: pure or literal signifiers are freed from the ballast of their signifieds

Auden: infamous foreword to Some Trees
and the NYT review of Johns “all very puzzling” (which is what Auden would have said given the chance!)

Shoptaw: access to meaning and social issues related
Foster <> Perloff on semantic discontinuity

poetry of abstraction and art that resists abstraction are deeply related
thus says something about how hard to disentangle objects from abstractions

affinity between Ashbery and thinking objects in poems

Lucretius, Mallarme, Bok

1965 conversation with Coke: what does and does not belong in a poem
“I would not put a statement in a poem”
“poetry does not have subject matter because it is the subject”
“when you said ‘we’ were you including the other objects in this room?”
“of course”

Sonnet (More of Same)
“pattern” material and abstract

Ashbery revives and complicates Williams on reconciliation of ideas and things

great example from “Scheherezade” about how ideas and dreams are autonomous entities CP 432
Other dreams came and left while the blank
Of colored verbs and adjectives was shrinking from the light
To nurse in shade their want of a method

“Some Old Tires”: no tires in the poem! but an alchemy whereby ideas and things begin to exchange for one another
slippages between the immaterial and the concrete

“Purists Will Object”
what use is a rarefied diction that is removed from everyday life

articulating relationships between humans and language

Subject to Change Liveblog 3

Tyler Babbie and Katelyn Kenderish (U Washington Seattle)

“Anthologizing the Landscape: Poetics of Plants in Places” 

Three works that elucidate the meanings within landscapes
Botkin, The Moon in the Nautilus Shell (2012) << Discordant Harmonies
Scolds readers for not having paid enough attention the first time
Beg that complex ecology becomes a world changing philosophy

idea of balance of nature << Greece
modern science as revealed truth
Apollonian/Dionysian nature

Schama, Landscape and Memory
troublingly “historical” 
focus on America as if the new world inherits European history

recognition of where a place exposes its history
mountains etc as background
“landscapes are culture before they are nature”

Skinner on ANT
Latour: the social is not an invisible thing but an association
landscapes are not shadows of archetypes but rather are interactions between collectives
Praises Jonathan Skinner, Birds of Tifft

>> analysis of HD’s “Sea Garden”
Sea Garden’s relational aesthetic
<> ANT
plants in hostile environments
use of term “weed”

Jane Bennett: materialism of things that are on their way to becoming trash

“Sea Iris”: art object made of plants
it is about metaphor
“you are pained blue”
puts the sea iris in relation to human art 
“do your roots draw up color from the sand”

describing the plants without imposing too much of the human on them
Politics of Nature (Latour): “spokespeople” (scientists)
putting descriptions of entities into other descriptions
they do not humanize
>> “a natural place” for description

imagism: Sea Garden as the first imagist poetry >> Pound
if poems can be nonhuman actors then these poems translate into literary history

the poems approach the flowers as unfinalizable

Subject to Change Liveblog 2

"Poems and Things"

Kevin Holden (Yale), “Allotropic Series” 

poetry’s relation to the nonhuman
<< poetry nonparaphraseable
<< poetry autotelic

>> analysis of Clark Coolidge, Space (1970) and The Crystal Text (1986), Christian Bok, Crystallography

“the crystal cannot speak 
the good book cannot speak”

writing at the crystal and off it
the poet speaks at the crystal but the crystal is dumb and cannot speak back
line breaks as cracks in the poem’s surface

“writing that leaves things alone”
“closed voice”
poem as a thing, an inorganic organism

not that poems can’t mean or can’t be thought
poetry is and operates by a supersaturation of meaning (it is ALL meaning)
something remains hard and nonhuman, irreducible to consciousness

otherness, singularity arise from the words themselves
logically impossble condition in which each word is equally important
Mandelstam: poetry’s hyperkinetic energy; poem can’t be flattened or exchanged
meaning separable from physiological effects

Wittgenstein: philosophers who think that thought can extend experience should think about the fact that you can transmit talk but not measles by telephone

Vorticism: “art of the energized present”
Pound: poetry as “the radiant node or cluster from which and through which and into which ideas are constantly rushing”
Tzara: nothing more can be said about art

Celan: the perfect, the puppet, and the monster esp the Medusa (who turns the human to stone)
poems as intensifications of language

Andrew Jaron: nonlinear dynamics of complex systems: self-organizing (autopoetic)
the lute, singing of its own accord
>> poetic autonomy
creation recreates destruction as an opening to otherness

a poem is a crystal as it is autonomous

Bogost on wonder: Iris the messenger who couples earth and heavens
this is what poetry does, connecting the human and the nonhuman because it’s always part object
“the need to have humility about the knowledge we do not possess”
Francis Bacon: the seat of knowledge and broken knowledge
a science attached to nothing, a knowledge without knowledge

negative capability: a formal logic and a form of thought about nothing
an emergent self-generating science, curling on itself

“to wonder is to respect things as things in themselves” (Bogost)

poetry already does relieve one of the “crushing correlational system” (Harman)
there is a dimension of poetry happening all the time that is already unreifying the relation to the other

poetry reifies the living and unreifies the frozen (as Celan shows in Meridian)

Joran and Bogost both say that humanism and criticism no longer wonder, ceding that to science
but poetry always already does

Christian Bok, Crystallography, his first book (1994)
all kinds of concrete poems, lattice poems
a clear page of plastic that overlaps the page
an unnumbered crystal page; a thing that one does not merely read but sees through

how do concrete poetry and lyric poetry relate?

are the nonhuman and the nonparaphrasable the same thing?

Subject to Change Liveblog 1

Poems and Things Panel 1

Joe Albernaz (UC Berkeley), “William Blake’s Apocalyptic Ontology: An Encounter between Blake and Object-Oriented Philosophy”

OOO (displacing the human from its centrality) <> Blake (human form divine)

Blake actually quite close to OOO! 
Albernaz now gives a brief introduction to SR
rejection of post-Kantian preoccupation with human being and human access
>> OOO
>> definition of “object” 
definition of encounters between any objects at all as exemplifying the zuhanden/vorhanden gap

Then an introduction to Blake
Shelley, Wordsworth, Clare, can be appropriated as OO (Morton) but Blake seems tougher
final plate of final major work, Jerusalem: 

Such is the Cry from all the Earth from the Living Creatures of the Earth
And from the great City of Golgonooza in the Shadowy Generation
And from the Thirty-two Nations of the Earth among the Living Creatures
All Human Forms identified even Tree Metal Earth & Stone, all
Human Forms identified. living going forth & returning wearied
Into the Planetary lives of Years Months Days & Hours reposing
And then Awaking into his Bosom in the Life of Immortality.
And I heard the Name of their Emanations they are named Jerusalem

“all human forms identified” even tree and stone
we are quite close to OOO here
not exactly mystic animism or panpsychism: the human form is something unidentifiable (can’t be reduced to its properties); human forms withdraws into its individuated core

without this individuated essence you just have Satan’s rocks (just mathematizable, “shapeless chunks of nonentity”--nice!)

Blake on Joshua Reynolds: identities are neither cause nor effect but eternal

>> how is causation possible (Harman)
>> a brief account of vicarious causation

A similar problem emerges in Blake
each individual constitutes a fully organized cosmos
“in every bosom a universe expands” (Jerusalem)
but how do these universes interact and in what universe are they interacting?
Harman: “without vicarious causation we would be left with countless private universes”

Blake: “a natural cause only seems” >> one needs spiritual causes (resembling the thought of occasionalism)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

There's a First Time for Everything

Such as hearing "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway" in Five Guys, Dulles(t) airport.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dennis McKenna: Human-Plant Co-Evolution

I’m the attorney who represented the Peyote Church is here to introduce McKenna: 
we need visionaries who can stretch and even shatter the outer limits of our imaginal reality. 
no account of the universe is complete without considering entheogenic reality
this gentleman is wearing a very natty suit and tie!
McKenna is a founder of HEFFTER research institute: therapeutic uses of psychoactive substances derived from nature

I want to share with you today a series of speculative ideas that have to do with palnt-human coevolution, which has been going on for millions of years. 
Plants are all around us. We don’t pay much attention to them, even though we depend on them. They are very different from us. But when you think about them they are really weird
They don’t move around, they don’t respond to their environment through behavior. They have strange reproductive habits. They require another species, often, to complete their cycle. Plants just do it, even though it would be a little kinky if humans did it! They don’t look like people but people can look like plants. 
But plants have mastered a little trick: photosynthesis. Sunlight and water >> organic compounds starting with simple sugars. The byproduct is oxygen which we breathe. 

>> myriad of pathways >> simple sugars >> all the molecules of life
those compounds are universal, found in all life, because they are what life runs on

But besides these, plants (which have a sort of chemical exuberance) have elaborated a vast array of secondary compounds: phenolics, alkaloids, turpenoids, strange sugar derivatives: these aren’t universal, not required for life, but they serve plants in useful ways
because plants substitute biosynthesis for behavior: secondary metabolites are messenger molecules
plants can’t run away; they respond to threats through biosynthesis

they use messenger molecules to mediate their relations with other organisms, including other plants, bacteria, fungi, insects, herbivores (including us)
plants use this chemical language to mediate their situation in the environment

Three purposes: defense; semiosis (sending a signal); symbiosis (come closer)
the close association of different species for mutual benefit (symbiosis)
>> quite elaborate when it comes to insects; millions of years of coevolution
fragrances: small molecule turpenoids; pigments, color
UV light: plants look like targets
>> nectar, pollen 

humans are also symbiotic with plants: medicine, fiber, construction materials, dyes
usually to the mutual benefit of both: domestication >> easy street: protected from the vicissitudes of natural selection
agriculture: what makes civilized humans possible
we are still sorting out its consequences. Transition from hunter gatherer nomadic to sedentary settled lifestyle
cultivation of plants
we can grow plants and modify them to our needs
rooted human societies; villages; division of labor; invention of law, science, art specialisms etc
agriculture is the foundation of culture!
culture is another huge game changer, not anticipated by biological evolution
culture works on a much faster timescale than biological evolution
culture depends on language: the vehicle on which culture rides
we impact plants as much as they impact us
Brussels sprouts are genetically modified, a monstrosity! a technological artifact as much as a computer
same with medicines: cannabis sativa (one of the oldest we know of), cultivated 12 000 years ago
there is no wild cannabis sativa: they are all a form of cultivar

secondary compounds in plants >> naturally occurring toxins >> human dietary exposure >> recognition and avoidance mechanisms, repulsion (emetic etc); behavioral detoxification (such as peeling); activation of physiological detox mechanisms involving the GI system and endocrine metabolism

also >> alterations in DNA and DNA/RNA processes; molecular changes in specific gene products such as enzymes in the liver, hormones (>> feedback on DNA, modulating gene expression)

both of these >> initiated variations in diverse metabolic processes >> modifications in disease susceptibility 

Now McKenna shows a timeline of neural evolution. The line is anomalous. Size and complexity of human brain took place in an explosively short span (within two million years, it increased about 3 times, and complexity increased)
The neurologically modern brain evolved between 2m and 100 000 years ago. 

Might have this been affected by the chemical ecology that the plants lived in?

Suddenly we are language using, spiritual, tool using, etc etc; we are like nothing else on the planet...
Other animals have language and culture but not really, nothing that comes up to that level
we are blessed or burdened with this extraordinarily complex brain
The brain is one of the most complex structures in the known universe: 100-500 trillion synapsis; Milky Way 100bn stars. “The three-pound universe”
We have this three pound piece of jelly...where all our creativity is...

This organ also works through messenger molecules, the neurotransmitters

Dali: I do not take drugs, I AM drugs. If you think about that it is true! Most drugs function by affective synthesis, storage, release, degradation or reuptake of neurotransmitters, or by mimicking or blocking their effects at synaptic receptors

So this is not crazy but reasonable speculation
we are an anomaly: complex language, complex technology; storage of information outside of ourselves and transmit it non-genetically to future generations (that’s a big one)
symbols can be experienced as real > foundation of human culture: the edifice of all human artifacts << complex brain

how old is consciousness? when did it first emerge, this world of abstractions--when did it become real for us?

oldest intimations are Venus of Tan-Tan, Morocco (300-500kya) and Venus of Berekhat Ram, Golan Heights (~230kya)
they look crude; they were not made by homo sapiens but rather homo erectus

Blombos cave, S. Africa (70-80kya); ochre plaques engraved with abstract designs and shell beads
between 70 000 and 2000 bp there was an explosion of art (bp = before the present)
Venus of Hole Fels; Bhimbetka Rock; Bradshaw Painting Western Australia; Aurochs at Lasceaux; Cueva Manos Argentina; Drakesberg S. Africa

Consciousness had permeated the world. What triggered this? 

Kubrick’s 2001. The Monolith erupts into history. An irresistible force. Terrifying, fascinating, incomprehensible. Haunts pivotal events in human history. It exists in nature: in psychedelics. They provide the trigger. 

They are quite common and as mysterious and impactful today as they were to our ancestors 15 000 years ago. We know more about how they work but we don’t understand consciousness....

True psychedelics work on serotonin: 5-hydroxytryptamine (5HT). Also dopamine and norepinephrine. All << amino acids which << plants (we have to get them from plants or animals that ate plants!)

the serotonin neurons <> conscious experience
classical psychedelics interact with 5HT2a receptors (a particular subtype of serotonin receptors)
visual effects: abundantly reflected in shamanic art (such as Jaguar masks)
psilocybin is easy to get (in fungi)

12 000bp and modern times: psychedelic culture showed up everywhere
Algerian plateau, Peru, Guatemala; Selva Pascuala Cave, Spain; fossilized peyote buttons from Pecos River TX (3780BC)

language: meaningless sounds <> meaningful symbols
this amounts to synesthesia: translating one sensory modality into another
psychedelics readily induce synesthesia
thus they are neurocognitive programming tools: how to use the brain--the hallucinaton of consensual reality in which we are all immersed

and “portentousness”: a sense of seeing more than you can tell; Daniel Freedman “On the Use and Abuse of LSD” (1968)
psychedelics reliably do this
gazing at something intently for hours

>> religion
psychedelics activate religious sensibilities

Roland Griffiths: “Psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and spiritual significance”; Psychopharmacology 187: 268-283
20% said it was the most meaningful experience of life; 40% top five

Franz Vollenweider (director of Heffter Zurich)
lots of overlap between psilocybin users and spiritual practitioners

>> shamanism: spirits play important role in human life; shaman can cooperate with spirits; spirits can be good or bad; series of techniques to enter trance; role of animals; shaman spirit leaves body and enters into supernatural world; healing
And poet, bard: master of language

Henry Munn: “language is an ecstatic activity of signification” (”The Mushrooms of Language” in ed. Harner, Hallucinogens and Shamanism)

having a history; anticipating death