A New Geocentrism
July 14, 2013 § 3 Comments
In my last post I introduced a new concept I’ve been working on called “geocentric media ecology.” The addition of “geocentric” to “media ecology” is a move inspired by Bruno Latour’s recent Gifford Lectures wherein he stressed the importance of what he called “The Sublunary Matrix” — the planet earth, in simpler terms. In my view, Latour’s aim in highlighting the sublunar dimension of human existence is precisely to re-situate our matters of concern towards the fact that we are not heading for the stars — there is no escape from our earthly drama, at least not anytime soon — and if we are to break with modernity and form an ecological polis we must once again forge a new perspective on human life.
While the geocentrism of Ptolemy has long since been overturned by Copernicus — an overturning which transformed the relation between human and cosmos forever — we are nevertheless tasked with the reality that the earth still is very much our center. Thus after all of modernity is said and done we end up back where we started, in a new geocentrism. However, the new geocentrism is nothing like the old one: It is not God-given nor certain, and it promises more peril than hope. We are stuck in our geocentrism unable to remove ourselves from the bottom of the giant gravity well we call home. One thing we need, then, is new concepts that help us situate amidst this new geocentrism.
One of these concepts is surely the now infamous term “The Anthropocene,” which suggests that at the same moment we discover the importance of our geocentric existence we discover that our own species is to blame for the sixth mass extinction event in the planet’s history, and the first caused by one of the planet’s own creatures. But another more subtle concept also emerges as a possibility for thinking this new geocentrism, and it has to do with the recovery of a sense of “cosmos” over “universe.” Take for example Ed Casey’s distinction between the two:
The universe is the passionate single aim of Roman conquest, Christian conversion, early modern physics, and Kantian epistemology. In contrast, “cosmos” implies the particularity of place; taken as a collective term, it signifies the ingrediency of places in discrete place worlds. (The Greek language has no word for “universe”; instead, it speaks of to pan “all that is,” “the ALL.”) In its aesthetic being — “cosmetic” and “cosmos” are second cousins via the sharing of aisthesis, that is, bodily sensing — cosmos brings with it an essential reference to the experiencing body that is in close touch with it, takes it in, and comes to know it. The universe is mapped in physics and projected in theology: it is the transcendent geography of infinite space. The cosmos is sensed in concrete landscapes as lived, remembered, or painted: it is the imminent scene of finite place as felt by an equally finite body. (1998, p. 78)
Through Casey’s research we find that the new geocentrism has more to do with a re-newed conception of cosmos —a series of finite, bounded, aesthetic, fragile, and concatenated places — than it does with the modern image of the universe as a “transcendent geography of infant space.” However, while a new geocentrism must recover a sense of cosmos, it cannot abandon the sense of universe, either (too much of our well-being depends upon its ahuman mathematical schemas). For this reason, the new geocentrism integrates cosmos and universe into a new composition whereby one recognizes the infinite, place-less, void of universe, whilst articulating and giving new life to the particularity of felt sense reality inherent to living on this particular planet, and participating in its highly unique history.
A new geocentrism operates at the transecting of planes more different in kind than degree — the earth as a new center of vulnerable emplacement, and the shell from which the transcendental operations of modernity hatches. The term “geocentric media ecology” adds to these concepts by foregrounding the traditional anthropocentric view of media ecology as the study of the ways in which humans modify their environments and affective sensibilities, but also suggests that media ecology has always been a multispecies affair. A geocentric media ecology, then, aims to produce descriptions of the ways in which multispecies entanglements can be brought together in new cosmopolitical arrangements.