These strange little gems have been warping my mind for the past decade or so. Worthy of as much reference as any text is.
These strange little gems have been warping my mind for the past decade or so. Worthy of as much reference as any text is.
Cosmopolitics and reconstituting worlds; Concrete political clashes between worlds; 1995 majority of French population believes the future of their children to be worse than their own; the end of the trust in progress; Globalization; sacrifice for competition; Political Ontology; civilizing modern practices
What are concepts good for? Science wars—scientists and critical thinkers—rationality, universality; modern hegemony—knowledge cannot be about representation only
Concepts have a power; the self-confirming power of representationalism; the concept of practice is introduced to divide scientists (to break “Science” up); open up a space for thought in which the monolithic figure of objective knowledge is broken
Reformulating the claims of the sciences rather than directly denying them—situating objectivity as a rare achievement. The particular and exceptional nature of objective interpretation; the general reduction.
Disembedding what has to be enrolled as a witness. The production of reliable witnesses. The indifference of the prospective witness to the experimenters question. If the witness speaks for itself it is not a reliable witness.
If relevance—rather than knowledge—was the goal adventure rather than conquest may have been the outcome of experimental practices. Civilizing scientific practitioners. The creation of new adventurous questions. The idea of civilized practitioners is as speculative as the idea of “Political Ontology.” The concern for relevance is thwarted by the blind imperative for objective knowledge.
Knowledge Economy—knowledge is a matter of representation only, but not the kind of verification critical thinkers are after. Speculative economies, bubbles, and crash economies are taking control over the production of scientific knowledge. The machine may run without the need for reliable knowledge.
The question of an ecology of knowledge or of practices is a question of a political and practical struggle against that which is destroying all practices. How can this ecology—a capacity to link; to present oneself in a civilized way—extend to other than human persons?
Can we avoid the curse of tolerance? “We know better, but just have to ignore those others.”
Are we able to admit that we are bound to coexist with others—Pachamama—beings who have their own ways of demanding consideration.
This is beyond separating scientific practices from general knowledge. “Politics” in its Greek sense is maintained—a gathering of people congregated to discuss an issue. “Cosmos” is there to signify the limitations of this political process.
Other than human entities enter the political scene. Partial connections liable to articulate divergent worlds. Marisol and political ontology. Marisol wants to ontologize politics and interrogate the link between diplomacy and politics. Other than human entities are to be recognized as political protagonists. A radical re-invention of politics that bears on ecology/equality.
Equality and homogeneity of the space that gathers a political community. Extended to the spokespersons for nonhuman communities. Things defined as a matter of collective concern. Bruno Latour; entangled realities of things. Isonomia; more than human world vs. other than human entities.
Matters of belief; matters of concern. We may all agree that the earth has been mistreated; we may all suffer the consequences of modern irresponsibility. Paying attention to what has been recklessly ignored. Slowing down in order not to reduce more than human entities.
The challenge of animism. The entities themselves; taking seriously the commandment “not to regress.” The ecology of practice and cosmopolitics complicate the meaning of this statement. Not in a world that is mute, but is more than human. Negotiating the consequences of an other than human injunction. Reverse cosmopolitics.
The challenge of animism is the point where a strange equality is achieved.
Only a naturalist would organize into Descola’s categories. Organizing schemes; neuronal attractors.
Deleuze/Guattari—Rhizomes; ecological anarchy; heterogenous practices; not a free for all; the connections must be effectively produced. Scientists as diplomats creating rhizomatic links. Conflicting ontologies.
The challenge of animism could be evaded by the power of the injunction if the injunction is given a more than human power. More than human entities have to be recognized so that they do not become overpowering. We are demanded to feel that we feel the high responsibility of determining what it is that really exists and does not exists
Those who claim to be animists—that say that rocks really have soul, power, purpose etc.—have no real word for “really.” The “do not regress” commandment and the statement “other than human entities really have power.”
Reclaiming means recovering what we have been expropriated from and that we have to recover from this expropriation. “Do you really believe in . . . ?”
The smoke of the burned witches still hangs in the streets. Those witch hunters are no longer in the streets, but are replaced by the modern pride that we are able to determine by ourselves what really exists. We are the heirs of social and cultural eradication in the name of civilization.
The point is not to feel guilty. But, following William James, to open up a “genuinely” effective option. Starhawk: claiming the past is not a return to an authentic past, but learning to feel the smoke; to reactivate memory and imagination. Respective milieus.
Those who sneer and those who are sneered at.
Is it possible to reclaim animism? The other than human entities really exist. David Abram. Animism is no longer here an anthropological category. Not reducing the craft to a matter of illusion(ism). If there is an exploitation it is the magician himself who is exploited. Senses for participating in the metaphoric capacity of things. The flux of participation. We are a particular kind of animist. Animated by signs, and animating them. The spell of written text; the alphabetic text as able by itself to experience strange scenes and other lives.
The compulsive insistence on either/ or attitudes. Writing is an experience of metamorphic transformation. The idea requires some bodily contortion; assemblages; a coming together of heterogeneous components. The manner of my existence is my participation in assemblages. Animation; agency; desire; assemblage; reflexivity; the experience of detachment. What is really responsible for what?
Assemblages and William James’s radical empiricism. Not experience as critically purified—subject and experienced object. Relating animism, assemblages, and radical empiricism is a dangerous move because it may appear to comforting. We are pondering experiences other people have written down.
The erotic power of ideas animating the human soul (Plato). Imperfect realization. The possibility of imperfect realization; not knowing the search that animates us. Metamorphic sources make themselves felt. The violent history of ideas.
How can we grant this kind of intentionality to other beings? The text imposes itself as an entity of human province only. Animism is a typical anthropomorphic fantasy.
Improvising words—words with academic restriction. “Magic”—of an event, landscape, music—protected by “metaphor” it is safe to use. Ignoring that we are interfused with something else that may or may not be intentional (we do not really care whether the interfusion is intentional or not).
The sad monotonous voice instructing us not to become mystified. The role of illusions. The craft of magic. Naming it such is in itself an act of magic; conjuring a sense of discomfort associated with the word. How can we accept such a return to supernatural beliefs?
Fictions have a power to shape us—to empower or enslave us. “Fiction” is a poor defense against the shaping power.
Empirical practices of immanent attention. Whitehead and diagnosis. Toxicity. Contemporary witches are radically pragmatic. Interpreted in terms of assemblages. Does change belong to the goddess-as-agent, or to the
If magic is to be reclaimed as an art of participation then assemblages are reframed as empirical.
Disloyal fabulation. Discreetly dismantling academic habits. Confusing the gaze of inquisitors. New habits of knowing what makes us think and feel differently.
The west and the rest. The devastating machine now destroying even the sciences. Equality; all peoples cultivate a manner of animism. Living together or becoming-together. Agents for anti-colonial alliance. Treaty making is not a new universal in a world where many worlds may exist. Not the west and the rest. Treaty bound.
Civilizing the demanding power that commands us not to regress. Immanent attention. Speculative Fabulation; participating in political ontology after learning to relate to the more than humans that make us a people. Politics with the metamorphic efficacy of rituals. Situated by that which one cannot betray without losing one’s soul. An ecology connecting milieus; animating in order to be animated.
Isabelle has given us a kind of a feast which is impossible to comment upon. Some kinds of questions that may provoke certain kinds of conversations I would like to see enabled.
SF; speculative fabulation; string figures; animating cosmopolitical critters. Scientific fact. Science fiction. Speculative Feminism. Its temporality is “So far . . . “ To produce with another; to jest; speculative joking—serious joking.
It matters what thoughts think thoughts. It matters what worlds world worlds. It matters what stories tell stories. Marilyn Strathern. Working by partial connections; analogy. Two dissimilar things held together not to find common identity or differences but to let them systematically exam one another.
THINKING THOUGHTS WITH THOUGHTS
Not to establish what is true, but what is happening reciprocally. Indigenous politics. Cosmopolitics. These words are swirling among us. Ordering avalanches of data.
Graphing SF. Psychotic tree structures in their lines of transfecting; transforming. Cat’s cradle figures. This kind of art depends on the machine. Incredibly competent digital transmogrification.
The gift of symbiosis that the bacteria provide the earth. Over the chemical top-ness. Homages to the gift of symbiosis; multi cellularity, The peopling of the earth; the other than human peopling of the Earth. The level of detail at which we are all lichens. The challenge of animism.
Urusula Le Guin. The Word for World is Forest. How Forests Think. Freud. The practice of lucid dreaming. Infecting the imagination with color.
Isabelle Stengers’s cosmopolitical critters are IDEAS. The doings of ideas populate the territory. Taking her ideas seriously. Otherwise she is completely incomprehensible.
Isabelle is a craftspersons (philosopher) for the building of the lures of propositions for abstractions. Not “mere” abstractions. The building of abstractions that hold worlds together—fragile, more than humans, other than humans, not methodological individualism. Abstractions coming together like Margulis’s endosymbiotic critters.
This is the kind of work that Isabelle does. What kind of FRIGHT is she trying to make available to us? Some kind of reclaimed other-than-human. [What trouble is Donna trying to evoke]
Isabelle is concerned with the phrase “concrete situations.” The really real. The actual etc. (Marisol challenging Isabelle). What is the suspicion of concrete situations? One of the most important things in Isabelle’s cosmpolitics is the outcome of experimental scientific achievements. Science’s experimental achievements—scientists at risk to materials, answers, colleagues, other stake holders, agnostics—something that holds is a radically pragmatic, full of consequences, agonistic achievement.
Concrete situations have a kind of “LAND HO!” — tell me what’s really in play here. If you have “good will” any one can describe in plain language what’s really happening. Isabelle thinks this is plainly neurotic. [Concrete situations are outcomes not givens?]
Isabelle is concerned with the uncritical “concrete situation.” That you can just be “clear” about what you mean and what’s happening. Here we run into a forest of odd terms—humans and nonhumans—they seem to inhabit (can be made to inhabit) the once Euro West. The experimental practices are not born of Western worlds alone. Greece is not the birthplace of Europe. [There is not a disagreement here—this is a false problem Haraway and Stengers do not need to debate].
Choreographed and complex relationships between humans, machines, bosons, horses, inclined planes, archived mouse parks, mice, etc. can count as nonhumans. Collectively these are more than human in Isabelle’s lexicon. Other than humans seem to do something else (Or “earth others”—Val Plumwood). The other than human; there’s trouble there. It doesn’t seem to be includable within cosmopolitics or the more than human.
Thou shalt not regress. The problem of animism. Why are we back in the language of colonial developmentalism? Descola’s semiotic square. The technology of the square. Isabelle is suspicious of generalizing a “developing organism.” Why has Isabelle set up the problem in this way? Isabelle is saying hold still; we’re going to honor this commandment.
Haraway: The problem of animism should not be posed as question of development or regression. This should not hold so much weight. Isabelle’s demands are more interesting and complex than this. Relations between the indigenous and cosmopolitics. Indigenous cosmopolitics. Is this oxymoronic?
Some kind of politics as usual has been suspended when a mountain is made visible—and made visible by a specific person who can make it visible—in politics. Cuzco. Confrontations. Forceful entities making claims on everyone—whether you believe in them or not. Forces are making demands in ways that are rather recent, or in some aspects are recent, and are consequential for (maybe) reconstituting worlds.
Isabelle is a radical pragmatist; we share the same enemies. Humans and their machines are a “people” where intentional individuals play a very small role.
Isabelle’s language is anti-inflammatory and immune system boosting, rather than something that should give me allergies. Isabelle and I share the same enemies: the notion of ecological services; knowledge economy; truth over illusion; the power to dispel others of their illusions in the interest of my truth because I have given myself that power.
Moments of literalization that claim to speak for the really real—whether or not they are spoken by Europeans or not.
What should be understood in the “Thou shalt not regress” is not whether sentient mountains really exist, but not sorting out whether or not sentient mountains exist. The point is to leave alone the sorting. Civilizing won’t work either. We cannot pronounce what exists and what doesn’t. Or what is truth and illusion; these separations are part of eradication—mountains, ideas, soils, practices. The power of extermination, genocide, and sorting.
To reclaim, but not to restore. Reformatting and reclaiming and SF. What comes into the world that way and whether one throws one lot in with it. Zoo. Ooz. Open structures of participation. Who leaves is not under your control. Whoever you are. The power to leave is very important to everything Isabelle means by politics.
Metamorphic transformation. Recognizing what animates us. What Isabelle is asking is that we be with those who share practices of disloyal fabulation. We have to actually experience transformative fright. The world we thought was there is not. It undoes what we thought we were. Worlding vs. ontology. What is and what is not. Who is using ontology how? Isabelle does not use ontology in order to sort.
The history of heresy. Rooting out heretics. The forced act of belief. Coerced belief. Deeply felt belief can still be coerced. “I believe . . .” is a very Christian—not Greek or Jewish—thing to say. The Christianization of the Greeks.
There are ways in which Isabelle and I [Donna Haraway] are barely secularized. Is indigenous cosmopolitics an oxymoron? Different uses of ontology. Powers acting, pressing, having affects, whether or not anyone believes in them or wants them to. “Sentience” is a very baggage filled word.
Producing a powerful fright with “Thou shall not regress.” Radical pragmatism and opening to experimental situations.
Killing and “carrying capacity.” The failure to put together ontological politics. Destruction of Navajo land and sheep.
Q & A
Ideas are critters to be honored and feared. The invention of humans. Whitehead and Plato. This is another aspect of ideas. “Human” is an idea; a soul animated by ideas. We are the people of ideas. Ideas may have the status of other than human beings, and the problem is knowing them. They are dangerous; more complicated than us fabricating them. The fury of an imperfect realization of ideas. The westerners who see themselves as “the people” or “human” and not among other people.
The point is not to honor the “do not regress” command, but to take it as a divine power that marks that we have not honored or received what makes us human. It is important that we honor or learn to receive. If we re-member that we were made humans, than we can acknowledge that others are made otherwise. We cannot dream of a freedom from the “do not regress.” Super market spirituality (“no limitations”).
Oncomouse. The first patented animal. An instance of cyborg; a particular kind. Oncomouse as who am I; the implosion of propriety forms; sacrificial surrogacy; detailed technical knowledge; practical relationality with flesh. A non-optional origin story of who we are. Oncomouse is a little bit like Plato’s human; Linneaus’s homo sapiens. Somehow Oncomouse is now a player in the world of ontological politics and cosmopolitics. She is my sister. You can’t repudiate her.
Your [Isabelle’s] relations to proprietary biology do not work for me.
Oncomouse is a victim of worse and worse science.
I don’t think that’s true. I think you like it less and less. The proprietary issue; the financialization of biology etc.
Oncomouse is part of my world.
I think you become a critic when money enters biology.
I would fight my own indigenous politics against the knowledge economy
I think I’m more worried about Plato . . .
Patents do not need reliable knowledge. Just correlations that can be appropriated. Oncomouse may be my sister, but she has been misused.
Well . . .
[Questions/comments—Marisol de la Cadena].
Cosmopolitics as slowing down of political good will.
Abstractions are very concrete.
Time: 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM Location: Multipurpose Room: Student Community Center
Speaker: Isabelle Stengers, Free University of Brussels Interlocutor: Donna Haraway, UC Santa Cruz
This is part of the 2012-2013 John E. Sawyer Seminar on the Comparative Study of Cultures “Indigenous Cosmopolitics: Dialogues About the Reconstitution of Worlds”
This year long seminar will convene an interdisciplinary and international group of renowned scholars to discuss comparatively the innovative world-making possibilities that might emerge from the conceptual and political interrogation of the division between nature and culture that organizes modern life. Our guests–sociologists, philosophers, anthropologists, literary critics–work on science and technology studies, environmental studies, indigeneity, critical design studies, and feminism.
This event is sponsored by Anthropology, DHI, STS, CSIS, and LGBTRC
By Graham Harman
Bruno Latour describes his Politics of Nature as work of political ecology. Its subtitle, “How to Bring the Sciences Into Democracy,” suggests a specific and limited topic, albeit an interesting one. Yet what this book really offers is a full system of metaphysics, perhaps the first original system of the new millennium. Latour declares these large ambitions openly. In so doing, he is fully aware of the stones that might be showered upon his parade: he warns us jokingly of “a dreadful specter…the obligation to engage in metaphysics, that is to define in turn how the pluriverse is furnished and with what properties [its members] must be endowed.” Here already we see what separates Latour from some of the better-known French thinkers of the preceding generation: Derrida, Foucault, Lacan. Like these other figures, Latour is usually pigeonholed as a “postmodernist”; unlike these others, no legitimate case can be made that Latour deserves this label. Owing much to Whitehead and nothing to Heidegger, Latour belongs to an invisible but effective tradition in contemporary philosophy that might be called “School X,” for lack of a better name. School X has nothing to with either the analytic or continental schools, which are often taken to exhaust the field of possible contemporary philosophies. The endless duels and reconciliations of the analytics and the continentals, like those of Pepsi and Coke or Doritos and Tostitos, only distract us from their overarching shared features. Both schools remain too loyal to Kant’s Copernican Revolution. Both continue to loiter in that narrow strip of philosophy that deals with the conditions of human access to the world rather than the world itself-for the simply reason that they assume from the start that philosophy has no legitimate right to do otherwise.
A few weeks ago, Jeremy Trombley brought up the idea of publishing an edited volume on vulnerability. The idea generated a lot of interest, and, since then, Jeremy and I have been working in the background to write up an abstract to submit to Punctum Books, and to share with others who might be interested. Our aim in this project is of an interdisciplinary nature, and therefore we welcome constructive suggestions from people working in the humanities, social sciences, ecology, and more. As we continue to improve upon and finalize our manuscript proposal we welcome feedback in the form of comments or emails. Your suggestions will help us to deepen and complexify the final form of this volume.
Editors: Jeremy Trombley and Adam Robbert
Since Ernst Haeckel first coined the term “ecology” in 1866 much ecological research has emphasized the interdependent nature of all beings on Earth. But if ecology implies interdependence then another truth is evident: Ecology is precisely what makes beings vulnerable to one another at the level of their existence; ecological vulnerability opens into ontological vulnerability. In other words, the flesh that surrounds an organism—enveloping, sustaining, in part defining—is also the rupture that makes it vulnerable to the outside. Flesh is permeable. We, as fleshy beings, are therefore vulnerable, precarious, and fragile—open to the world and the other beings with whom we share it. We feel pain and we recoil. We break, we bleed, we die. This is an essential feature of our existence. To be is to be vulnerable, and this vulnerability makes us dependent upon others for sustenance, support, healing, and care.
Part one of this book addresses the philosophical aspects of vulnerability. Since vulnerabilities imply the creation of complex, evolving boundaries between beings, they also play a central role in ontological, epistemological, and ethical discourses. How are we vulnerable? Is vulnerability an ontological category? To whom or what are we vulnerable? Who do we, as unintentional creators of a new geological epoch called “The Anthropocene,” make vulnerable? These questions foreground speculative and experimental inquiries into the nature of vulnerability, and form the central themes organizing part one of this volume.
Part two explores political, economic, and cultural issues from the perspective of vulnerability. All bodies are vulnerable in radically different ways, and attending to these differences is precisely what makes vulnerability so complex. A mountain is vulnerable in ways that an animal or plant is not, and the needs of each, we may discover, are mutually exclusive. What’s more, the ways we armor ourselves against our vulnerabilities shape our personal and social lives. These armoring techniques help define social boundaries and flows of energy—material, political, psychological, or otherwise. Vulnerabilities also effect capacities within our individual lives—how we are able to express ourselves, and the limits of our expression. Vulnerabilities thus play a substantial role in shaping who we are, and define many of our roles, responsibilities, and obligations in society.
Interwoven throughout the book are personal reflections, case studies, and stories circling the collisions of ontology, vulnerability, and ecology as they manifest in the twenty-first century. These stories illuminate theoretical and empirical dimensions of vulnerability in terms of lived experience. Our goal is not to develop a total theory or representation of vulnerability and its effects, but a series of fragments, an assemblage of thoughts, concepts, and affects about vulnerability and its significance in our lives and the more-than-human world. Through these “perspicuous representations” we hope to change the way we think about our personal, social, and ecological lives by bringing vulnerability into focus, and reflecting on its effects upon the complex ecologies within which we exist.
Vulnerability can be terrifying, but it can also be beautiful and provoking. It is this openness to the world—where bodies meet in risky entanglement with one another, bonding to become something new—that makes life so wondrous. Indeed, without such openness life would be static, dull. Without such openness, there would be no caring, or compassion. Being and vulnerability thus become essential points of contemplation for thinking ecologically in our contemporary moment.
Tim Morton informs us that he will participate in a panel at this years American Academy of Religion conference alongside of William Connolly, Jane Bennett, and a host of others. The focus of the panel will be Bruno Latour’s recent Gifford Lectures, which you can watch in sequential order here.
I’ve commented before that Latour’s most recent writings express a certain stylistic and ontological sympathy with Tim’s work in Ecology Without Nature and elsewhere. In particular I found Latour’s invocation of Shelley in his paper “Waiting for Gaia: Composing the Common World Through Art and Politics” to a have particular Morton-esque ring to it. And the overlap cuts the other way too: Latour’s decision to jettison the concept of “Nature” in his work Politics of Nature bears quite an affinity to Tim’s arguments in Ecology With Nature (though in this case Latour’s work pre-dates Morton’s by about five years).
I’ve spent a number of hours analyzing the convergences and disparities between Morton and Latour’s work, so I’m quite interested to hear how Morton might articulate these differences in the context of the Gifford Lectures series. The most striking difference is probably Morton’s turn to the non-relational dimension of objects following his encounter with Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy; there just is no corresponding idea in Latour’s ontology. But there are other interesting shifts in emphasis: Morton’s work foregrounds an explicitly psychological dimension that centers the experience of anxiety as a central ecological affect, for example, whereas in Latour we find very little in terms of psychology. Conversely, Latour’s emphasis on tracing actors-in-action is ethnographic in a way that Morton’s work just isn’t. In my essay for O-Zone one of my aims it to show that these two approaches are highly conversant, and thinking them together is of profound importance.
None of this is to imply that I’m not interested in what Connolly, Bennett, and the rest of the panel have to say, but to my mind the Morton-Latour dialogue represents a particularly interesting juncture insofar as, at least as far as I can tell, Conolly and Bennett are much more of what we might call “orthodox” Latourians than Morton could ever be. I don’t mean that with a positive or negative valence, but only to indicate that the differences between these two ecological thinkers is precisely what would make that dialogue so interesting and productive. I’m looking forward to seeing how the panel plays out.
Andre Ling links us to a very interesting interview with Isabelle Stengers where in part she writes: “One way of articulating what I do is that my work is not addressed to my colleagues [laughs]. This is not about contempt, but about learning to situate oneself in relation to a future—a future in which I am uncertain as to what will have become of universities. They have already died once, in the Middle Ages, with the printing press. It seems to me that this is in the process of being reproduced—in the sense that they can only exist as diplomatic institutions, not as sites for the production of knowledge. Defending them against external attacks (rankings, objective evaluation in all domains, the economy of knowledge) is not particularly compelling because of the passivity with which academics give in. This shows that it’s over. Obviously, the interesting question is: who is going to take over [prendre le relais]? At the end of the era of the mediaeval university, it was not clear who would take over. I find this notion compelling.”
More close readings of primary sources is the key: “I have found that, increasingly, I have to teach students to read, actually read, the words on the page in order to be able to answer simple questions about the text. I have to train them to look down at the words rather than looking at me or up at the ceiling or into their hearts in order to comprehend the meaning of the language. I have to remind them to cite passages as evidence when they answer questions, something more and more of them are unaccustomed to doing. I have to exhort them to use dictionaries to look up words they don’t know because the approach to “reading” they are so familiar with does not depend on knowing the meanings of words. Instead, they have been expected merely to offer “reader-response” answers to questions that prompt readers to react superficially to the text rather than to comprehend it. This subjective approach emphasizes loose, personal reactions to texts and interpretations that can not always be supported the text itself.”
Walter Benjamin counsels the writer: ”In your working conditions avoid everyday mediocrity. Semi-relaxation, to a background of insipid sounds, is degrading. On the other hand, accompaniment by an etude or a cacophony of voices can become as significant for work as the perceptible silence of the night. If the latter sharpens the inner ear, the former acts as a touchstone for a diction ample enough to bury even the most wayward sounds.”
Here he is on activism and conformity in the university: “Responding to anthropologists’ frequent claim that they embrace activist scholarship, he echoes Ms. Nader: “They don’t mean it” — at least when it comes truly radical activism.”If I were to generalize,” Mr. Graeber says, “I would say that what we see is a university system which mitigates against creativity and any form of daring. It’s incredibly conformist and it represents itself as the opposite, and I think this kind of conformism is a result of the bureaucratization of the university.”
And here on the need to let criticism breathe: “Normally, when you challenge the conventional wisdom—that the current economic and political system is the only possible one—the first reaction you are likely to get is a demand for a detailed architectural blueprint of how an alternative system would work, down to the nature of its financial instruments, energy supplies, and policies of sewer maintenance. Next, you are likely to be asked for a detailed program of how this system will be brought into existence. Historically, this is ridiculous. When has social change ever happened according to someone’s blueprint? It’s not as if a small circle of visionaries in Renaissance Florence conceived of something they called “capitalism,” figured out the details of how the stock exchange and factories would someday work, and then put in place a program to bring their visions into reality. In fact, the idea is so absurd we might well ask ourselves how it ever occurred to us to imagine this is how change happens to begin.” (Thanks to Ian Bogost for highlighting this quote.)
Professor Graeber spoke at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco just two weeks ago, but I had another commitment with the Deleuze group I am working with, so we all missed the talk. I believe that some students did record the lecture and if I can get my hands on a copy of the audio file I’ll be sure to post it here. Professor Graeber is currently promoting his new book The Democracy Project, which is sure to be a solid take on contemporary political theory and activism. For those interested I uploaded the talk he gave last year at CIIS here.
From “The Anthropocene – reflections on a concept, part I”: ”For Latour, the ‘new world’ of the Anthropocene represents a profound ontological shift in human understandings of connection and entangling with the nonhuman. The ‘arrow of time’ (as he argues here) no longer points towards emancipation from the bounds of nature through the purification of’ ‘matters of fact’, but rather towards ‘more and more entangled matters of concern’ (see also his recent Gifford Lectures on ‘natural religion‘). The Anthropocene, on this reading, is a vindication of Latourian realism.” [Via Jeremy Schmidt]
Another Turn After ANT: An Interview with Bruno Latour: ”This is a review, or preview, in the form of an interview, of Bruno Latour’s forthcoming book, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence. We discuss his intellectual trajectory leading up to actor–network theory and the pluralistic philosophy underlying his new, ‘positive’ anthropology of modernity.”
Deleuze begins the third chapter of Difference and Repetition with the problem of beginnings. “Beginnings,” Deleuze believes, are paradoxical because the idea of beginning presupposes that which it excludes: something that came before the beginning. The attempt at finding a beginning in philosophy is a “very delicate problem” because the idea of “the beginning” implies a starting point where all presuppositions have been eliminated. But the problem of beginnings also provides an entry way into a critique of what Deleuze calls “the image of thought.” The image of thought, for Deleuze, has been the dominate mode of philosophical thinking since Plato. In a sketch, this image gravitates towards a particular understanding of the true as easily separated from the false, a reliance on representational cognition, and the assumptions of “common sense” philosophy predicated upon a Cogitatio natural universalis.
“At a time when the arts and humanities are being squeezed ever tighter the work D.U.S.T is doing is necessary and vital. The ethos is very much D.I.Y. exactly what has occurred historically when austerity hits and the academy starts to close itself in on itself.”
A nice summary on the recent D.U.S.T (“Dublin Unit for Speculative Thought”) conference is available here.
“Give evolution enough time and space, they say, and new species can just happen. Speciation might not only be an evolutionary consequence of fitness differences and natural selection, but a property intrinsic to evolution, just as all matter has gravity.”
It’s a speculative and intriguing hypothesis. Read more about it here (via Matt Segall).
Dylan Trigg’s The Memory of Place: A Phenomenology of the Uncanny is now available in paperback here. I ended up buying the Kindle edition to avoid the steep price of the hardcover, but I may have to double back and pick up a physical copy now that the price has gone down. Highly recommended reading.
The philosopher is tasked with the work of responding to a series of complex and evolving questions: What is being? How do we know? What is a good life? Who are we? Such inquiries are so formative in the history of philosophy that gaining a solid grip of their influence on philosophic practice is itself almost tautological: Philosophy is the pursuit (love, etymologically) of these questions, and the emergence of the right questions is in turn the wisdom or love of philosophy itself. In philosophy the role of such deep questioning has always been of central importance.
But there are also smaller questions that are easier to study as they unfold and shape the dynamics of a specific philosophical event. One such event is evidenced by the back and forth between a conference speaker and her audience. The speaker presents her material and patiently awaits a response from her peers. Here an important deconstructive moment occurs when responding to the question. The philosopher must determine what the question being asked does to the content of what she has presented. We find such practices of deconstruction widespread in philosophy. One can find, for example, a Jacques Derrida painstakingly analyzing the conditions within which questions are framed, what is made possible by the question, and what becomes inaccessible by framing inquiry in a certain way. The philosopher can decide whether the question is adequate to her content and proceed to respond based on her assessment.
The question I ask myself when observing this phenomena is how does the question impact the content of what is being said. Much ink has been spilled in twentieth century philosophy over the importance of “paradigms” (Kuhn) or “epistemes” (Foucault). To my mind the paradigm and the episteme provide deeply ecological accounts of human subject formation, and the recursive relationships enacted between human knowledge production, on the one hand, and the evolving plasticity of the human subject, on the other. For Foucault an episteme refers to the historical conditions of possibility within which the knowledge and discourse of a particular epoch is grounded. For Kuhn the paradigm refers to a very particular mode of research questioning enacted to stabilize the puzzle solving practices of “normal science.” These puzzle solving strategies have consequences for how humans and technical instruments are assembled, the goal being to refine the acceptable methods for studying a particular constellation of phenomena.
In the case of both epistemes and paradigms disruption is an always present possibility (“epistemic rupture” to crib a phrase from Gaston Bachelard, or “scientific revolution” to borrow Kuhn’s term). However, when I use the phrase “ecology of knowledge” what I am interested in is less the background conditions within which questions are framed (Foucault’s “historical a priori”) and more with giving an ontological description of the ecological relationships that emerge between the content of a philosophical statement and its encounter with a mode of questioning; or, more deeply: My concern is with the sensitive plasticity of modes of thought to different kinds of knowledges, and how these sensitivities shift during encounters with certain kinds of questions. In this sense the deconstructive moment remains an important aspect of understanding knowledge ecologies; it recovers the background of historical relations that shift in and out of different species of subjectivity.
However, beyond this archeological task, giving a descriptive ontological account of the encounter between knowledges and subjectivities is also central. (Of course there is no actual binary between the “archeological” or “deconstructive” moment and the ecological one. I am drawing a line of convenience to help organize my own thinking.) It is in this sense that I have begun to think about knowledges and questions as mediums of the kind that media ecologists interpret. In other words, just as different kinds of technological assemblages enhance, reverse, retrieve, and obsolesce different experiential possibilities within human organisms and the sensory ecology of a certain social epoch, so to can we study different kinds of questions and knowledges as mediums that reframe the ecological conditions within which human subjectivity is shaped. In fact, given the wide diversity of world views active on the planet today, I believe that giving such an ecologically descriptive account is essential to questions framed under the term “Cosmopolitics.”
A cosmopolitics of knowledge must explore and describe the influence of knowledge ecologies on human subject formation. The human organism, and possibly all organisms, is immersed not just in ecologies of other beings and constructed environments, but also within ecologies of knowledge that play every bit as profound a role in constituting the conditions of a given epoch. In this sense “the question” is an ecological actor capable of either sustaining the activity of the epoch (“normal science”) or of asking a new question, calling forward new modes of thought not yet believed possible (“epistemic rupture”). We should be able to produce an ontologically thick description — a genuinely radical empiricism — that takes into account the ecological relationships between knowledges, knowers, and questioners; and not just in terms of the episteme or paradigm, but in terms of the ongoing ecological signaling between all organisms and species of subjectivity. To the questions-themselves!