“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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Chtonic Index

Get thee to a bookseller and get a copy of this excellent book by Sophie Sleigh-Johnson. She commissioned an essay from me and the request really pushed my thinking: I'm a big fan of that!

But the book is much more than that. It's about (and is) the uncertain margin between physicality and information, between writing and painting, between marking and inscribable surfaces, human and nonhuman realms, past and present, Mesopotamia and Southend...It has a really fantastically uncanny ecological resonance, not your usual modes.

The most common modes out there right now in humanities and arts are:

(1) The overwhelming information dump, out of date already before publication and replicating the shock of grief and the unhelpful pleading that has gummed up ecological speech. No space is left for exploration. It's like how hip hop can be hamstrung by name checking. Better to go directly to the phenomenology of ecological awareness--talk to me directly about shock and the feeling of needing to plead...

(2) The underwhelming confession narrative about my authentic experience of nonhumans, failing to hit the collective awareness target, the sense of planet, and the feeling of unreality. Aka what I've called ecomimesis. Instead, stop trying to delete the weirdness of writing and the playfulness of beings, turn up the ambiguity.

If you're writing a book about environmental humanities, don't do (1) because then you are an example of what you should be studying...it's like “studies” of vegetarianism that slip into that discourse's rhetorical mode, the list that becomes less and less convincing the longer it is: “Did you know that Gandhi, Hitler, Ron from 1120, Plutarch, Frederica, assorted mystics, my auntie Flo... were vegetarians?” I can't tell you how many examples of that there have been in the last two hundred years, having done my Ph.D. on it...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So avoid the heuristic and self-indulgent aspects of affect in writing? Trying to do this now without being like (anyone or) a cold little Utilitarian from New Zealand who does much good, nonetheless or, alternatively, regressing through all that has come before. Powerful full moon coming up on Sunday, so order this book on that day for max Chtonic effect! And via your local bookseller please as we want to save the world from Amazon and its imposed mode of being.