“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

Friday, May 22, 2015

Humankind (MP3)

I am the devil:

The New Left universalizes the human by distinguishing human being metaphysically from all nonhumans, in an implicitly pre-Kantian ontological move that seriously weakens, unconsciously, its political edge. Far from a “You're either with us or against us” separation of the New Left (and its legacy, the anti-essentialist theory class) from speculative realism (“You can either be a feminist or anti-racist or postcolonialist or not—and not being means you are a speculative realist”), it is perfectly possible and indeed necessary to think nonhumans in a left way. Denouncing attempts to do so as “hippie” and denouncing ways of proceeding to do so as “phenomenological” (the polysyllabic version of “hippie”) will no longer do.

(My talk at UC Santa Barbara)


Anonymous said...

Phenomenological as polysyllabic hippie. So funny. #icant

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to listening to this later, but I'm puzzled by your remarks above. Why is it necessary to talk about the popular "left/right" gap in relation to nonhumans? Is it even necessarily human? Don't you have to believe in the "state of 'Nature'" to even talk about left/right politics? Left being "Nature is good", right being "Nature is evil"?

Asa said...

I like the notion of essentialism minus the metaphysics of presence. I haven't read enough Derrida to be really sure what it means, but it's pleasantly evocative.

I've been thinking about how species in the Darwinian sense is different from species in the Aristotelian sense, in a way I didn't hear you make very explicit in the talk, but which seems to fit well with your argument. Aristotelian species are eternal and immutable, whereas Darwinian species get very blurry on a long enough timeline. To use your term from Hyperobjects, taxonomy temporally undulates. So there is something a bit like an essence of "human" or corvus corax, but it's an essence that's constantly changing at a pace imperceptible to our ordinary faculties.

Your critique of the anti-essentialist left resonates with some thoughts I've been having too. In a way, reducing everything to [human] social constructions is about as anthropocentric as you can get.

Asa said...

Oh, and while I'm at it, there's a question I've been meaning to ask you, and this seems like as good a place as any: have you been following the sordid saga of Heidegger's Black Notebooks?

I listened to this conference on the antisemitism in the Black Notebooks shortly after reading Hyperobjects and I was struck by the fact that one of Heidegger's main accusations against "world-Judaism" is that it's somehow responsible for "the de-worlding of the world." I keep wanting to connect this to your idea of the end of the world, but I'm not sure how. It does seem like trying to hold onto one's world can lead to horrific consequences for entities that fall outside of it.

And there's a truly haunting question in the last 20 minutes of the last lecture that throws a disturbing ecological light on the whole thing (leaving that word vague because "thing" here could refer to the conference, Heidegger, or the history of humanity).