“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

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Another Dark Ecological Amuse-Bouche

Anatomy of ecognosis. Ecological awareness is like a chocolate with concentric layers. In the spirit of René Wellek I have mapped these layers in an absurdly New Critical way like some kind of cross between a Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master and Northrop Frye. Like Donna Haraway, I believe in the affective power of old-fashioned kitschy theory objects like the Greimasian logic square she dusts off. I’m calling ecological awareness a chocolate in part to provoke the standard reactions: chocolate, sugar, addiction, bad! And to blend that chocolate with ecology (saintly, good, just) in a perverse way.

Each descending layer of the chocolate is a more accurate attunement to the basic anxiety inherent in sentient attunement to things, itself a symptom of the inner inconsistency that marks existence (and coexistence). Machination ruins Earth and its lifeforms, yet it supplies the equipment necessary for human seeing at geotemporal scales sufficient for ecological awareness. We reach for the chocolate because we already attune to the anxiety provoked by this ironic loop of revealing. Something is wrong; our normal machinations (mental and physical) are interrupted or disturbed. We need a piece of chocolate. This is special chocolate, however, that doesn’t block anxiety. The basic mode of ecological awareness is anxiety, the feeling that things have lost their seemingly original significance, the feeling that something creepy is happening, close to home. Through anxiety reason itself begins to glimpse what indigenous—that is, pre-agricultural—societies have known all along: that humans coexist with a host of nonhumans. For reason itself reveals itself to be at least a little bit nonhuman. In turn, reason discovers global warming, the miasma for which humans are responsible. Through reason we find ourselves not floating blissfully in outer space, but caught like Jonah in the whale of a gigantic object, the biosphere. Such an object is not reducible to its members, nor its members to it; it is a set whose members are not strictly coterminous with itself.

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