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.
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.
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]
“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).
In the 1870s Italian geologist Antonio Stoppani made a radical argument: we can no longer justifiably call our geological age the Holocene. Instead, Stoppani argued, geologists must concede that human behavior had caused enough radical change in the functioning of the Earth to warrant the naming of a new era. He suggested the term “Anthropozoic” to describe this new world. The name did not stick. But in the year 2000 something similar happened with quite different results. Dutch Chemist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen began to publicly admonish his colleagues use of the word “Holocene.” Again, Crutzen argued that humans had caused enough change to the Earth’s geological systems to warrant a new epoch. He called it the “Anthropocene.” This time the notion struck the scientific community with greater weight, and Cutzen published a paper on the idea in a 2002 issue of the journal Nature. Where Stoppani’s colleagues had found the idea of the “Anthropozoic” unscientific Crutzen’s were willing to investigate. Since then the Anthropocene has become an increasingly used term to describe the intersection of human behavior with the deep structures of the Earth’s evolving dynamics.
This history forms the context within which Making the Geologic Now, a new volume from Punctum Press, begins its investigations. The book itself looks like a hybrid entity — think of an issue of Adbusters magazine (though less threatening) or McLuhan’s War and Peace in the Global Village (though with broader range) and you’ll have a feel for the form of this text. The aesthetic is overwhelming at times, but perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. This is after all a text about all things earthly, and in the Anthropocene that means a multimedia object about a “teeming assemblage of exchange and interaction among the bio, geo, cosmo, socio, political, economic, strategic, and imaginary” (23). While cluttered in places the volume is nevertheless an attractive enactment of the ideas it presents, and it doesn’t hurt that the book merges with an online presence of the same name (geologicnow.com). Like other Punctum books this one is also available as a free download and a purchasable hardcopy.
As Jane Bennett notes in her afterward to the volume, the essays, images, and artifacts found in the text form “speculative devices” of a sort by which we might better tune towards the geologic as a condition or medium within which human thinking and practice must be understood. The Anthropocene, Bennett tacitly suggests, implies “a certain convergence between two styles of temporality that we had formerly thought were distinct” (244). Bennett is referring to the intersection of geological deep time with that of human historical time. The book is thus aiming to enact cognitive shifts in human thinking and practice so as to “make monumentally slow change palpable” (20) suggesting that thinking the geologic is a difficult but conditional task for our present time. The editors write: “By making a geologic turn, we direct sensory, linguistic, and imaginative attention toward the material vitality of the earth itself” (25).
I’m looking forward to continuing to engage with this text and its more than forty or so entries (I’ve only gotten through a handful of them myself), and to joining the writers in asking, “What might become thinkable and possible, if we humans were to collectively take up the geologic as our instructive co-designer — as our partner in designing thoughts, objects, systems, and experiences?” (18) While I don’t have a straightforward answer to the question what’s clear to me already is that, much like other works in this genre such as Bennett’s Vibrant Matter or Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern, this text presents complex ideas in a form and style that will be appealing to a variety of audiences: academics and non-academics, undergraduates and senior Ph.D. candidates, or even designers, architects, engineers, policy makers, and artists.
Newly published research indicates that the sky above our heads is filled with complex living ecologies that contribute to global weather dynamics. In the words of one researcher, this “contributes significantly to the hypothesis that the atmosphere is alive . . . The possibility of microbes being metabolically active in the atmosphere transforms our understanding of global processes.” We’ve seen reports like this before, but freshly published research always brings these exciting ideas back to mind.
The report also reminds me of one of the arguments from my article in Thinking Nature (forthcoming . . . soon?). In that paper I suggest we need a new conception of media ecology expanded to include all organisms, and not just human ones. From this perspective the sky is not a given backdrop upon which evolutionary dynamics unfold, but a recursively active media ecology that is constructed by a series of entangled organisms. Organisms are media ecologists enveloped by the media ecologies of other organisms, and aerobiology is just one exotic example that highlights this point.
What I think is so interesting about this perspective is that it implies that the Earth itself is not just a ground, but also a medium that constrains and conditions the semio-energetic cascade of organismic and ecosystemic development. By re-thinking the Earth as a kind of media my hope is twofold. First, I think the idea can open up the possibility of a more porous and participatory encounter with the Earth as a malleable but constitutive entity that frames the possibility of all human activity. Second, media ecology can highlight the important role played by the material distribution of constructed environments in terms of the enactment of an organism’s worldspace.
The latter point has consequences for how we think about cognitive ethology too. If we think of the Earth as a media ecology, or a series of media ecologies, then we have to think of the enacted worldspace of each organism from a distributed and extended perspective. In other words, if we think of media ecologies as constructed zones that tamper with the sensory ratios and affective sensibilities of organisms, then we are obliged to conclude that each organism’s “ecology of mind” is extended beyond the sensory apparatus of the physical organism. It’s a sort of strange but striking image: The Earth fluoresces with the distributed cognition of billions of organisms and the flashing perceptual zones of a diverse anarchy of media ecologies of mind.
I was happy to discover earlier today that Michael Marder’s new book Plant-Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life is finally available for purchase (and I was even happier to see that the book is getting a bit of discussion on Twitter and elsewhere). I’ve pointed to Marder’s work before (here and here), and I’m hoping that with this text we’ll finally see a full-blown version of what we’ve already seen in some of his papers and articles. It’s definitely worth adding to your list if you’re looking for new philosophical approaches to plants and ecology.
I wrote a short piece for the Worldwatch Institute on climate change and systemic causation. Interested readers can find the piece HERE.
Here is a little excerpt:
“This phrase, “systemic causation,” should be repeated like a mantra in all forms of media—from mainstream news outlets to blogs, twitter accounts, and Facebook posts—until the phrase becomes part of our shared lexicon for thinking about ecological issues like human-caused climate change. Systemic causation requires that we, the concerned and ecologically knowledgeable, play our part in describing the complex nature of climate change so that we can move forward with policies that recognize the multivalent social, political, and material catastrophes that are heading our way.”
[Image: Richard Hardy]
Recently I have been reaching out to various academic communities to gather sources on what a media ecology of the city would like in the twenty-first century.
While most of my posts on Knowledge Ecology have to do with various branches of continental and speculative philosophy I am not at all ignorant of the fact much of the important work in this area is coming from sociologists, anthropologists, geographers, and political or urban ecologists; for this reason I have tried to reach out to them in particular (much thanks is due to the EANTH listserv, which I highly recommend to interested readers).
Thinking the city is necessarily a transdisciplinary endeavor and I would love to hear what folks in other disciplines or branches of philosophy have to say about centering the city as an object of investigation (are analytic philosophers working on new frameworks for exploring human-city dynamics from an ecological perspective? — truth be told I have no idea but would love to find out).
I have a short list of important texts that have been recommended to me from the social science community which I am posting as an online PDF incase anyone else is interested in following along HERE.
Additions and further suggestions are welcome.
“We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.” — Erik Pooley
A helpful piece that actually addresses Climate Change in the wake of Sandy. Sort of an insensitive title though, no? The full Bloomberg article HERE.
[Photo: Ward Roberts]
The city takes us over. More than an environment it penetrates us; more than a fixed enclosure it shifts with our every behavior. The city, like a giant octopus swimming in the deep, swallows us whole and begins to shape us along its grooves and edges. It swims through the surrounding boundaries thrashing into rock, water, and sand. So much steel and glass metabolizes in our minds and shades the contours of our perceptions. It assigns to us new notions of speed, velocity, and distance; we expand along its metallic curves moving upwards into the condensing droplets of clouds. Its infrastructure percolates with the flow of oil, gas, and concrete; its hum sounds like cancer; its electronic lights glow like a million terrestrial stars. The city is vast, but it rests on the edge of continents like a small nebula floating in deep space.
We breathe the city air and its chemical refuse becomes our own. We inhale its chemistry; its molecules become us as our organic fibers trail through its rusty corridors; a wandering carnival of automobiles and spent fuel spill into the street. What is city and what is human is not clear—the threshold between parasite and symbiont is crossed ten thousand times a day, both recklessly and intentionally. But it’s not just the human that is affected by cities, even though it was humans who built them. The city is enmeshed in larger ecologies—perhaps extending like the barnacles on some fertile archipelago or small rocky island. But the city is itself an ecology; an ecology of communication systems, power grids, bridges, terminals, data, and screens. All of these are part of the human ecology of perception and material well-being. To be sure, the city is also a multispecies ecology of organisms that inhabit its causeways and hide within its industrial undergrowth.
Lewis Mumford tells us, “The city is a fact in nature, like a cave, a run of mackerel or an ant-heap. But it is also a conscious work of art, and it holds within its communal framework many simpler and more personal forms of art. Mind takes form in the city; and in turn, urban forms condition mind” (CoC p. 5). Surely, the city emerges from the molten core of that rumbling blue diamond we call earth; cities are geological facts. But it’s a troublesome statement: the city is a fact of nature. Troubling because cities are centers of violence and exploitation, of excommunicated laborers and strung out addicts. Surely things can be otherwise. In the awareness of other possible worlds, there is nothing inevitable about the city’s social strata. Here the idea of nature is a specter that is, “getting in the way of properly ecological forms of culture, philosophy, politics, and art” (EWN p. 1). Nature is an indefinable emptiness, everything and nothing all at once.
A city is haunted by its comparison with this indefinable nature. Within the idea of nature the city is caught in never ending battles between the sacred and the profane. Either the city is the city on the hill—a beacon of a utopian future that turns a blind eye to its oppression and pollution—or, conversely, the city is the city of the damned—something out of balance with the surrounding landscapes of trees, oceans, and hills. In both of these senses “nature hovers over things like a ghost” (EWN p. 14) and prevents a more radically ecological vision from coming through. To Mumford we might then say that, yes, the city is a fact, but it is a fact of the earth and not a fact of nature, and we must learn to love the city’s most forgotten strata, its most unnatural temperaments, in order to understand what ecology means for the human mind.
And read more Bruno Latour:
“To succeed, an ecological politics must manage to be at least as powerful as the modernizing story of emancipation without imagining that we are emancipating ourselves from Nature. What the emancipation narrative points to as proof of increasing human mastery over and freedom from Nature — agriculture, fossil energy, technology – can be redescribed as the increasing attachments between things and people at an ever-expanding scale. If the older narratives imagined humans either fell from Nature or freed themselves from it, the compositionist narrative describes our ever-increasing degree of intimacy with the new natures we are constantly creating. Only “out of Nature” may ecological politics start again and anew.”
Cryptobiosis is a state of life certain organisms can occupy in the case of extreme environmental conditions. It’s an ametabolic condition where the organism enters a death-like state to protect itself until surrounding conditions become more favorable again. Once conditions have returned to normal the organism re-inhabits a regular metabolic state and the creature is “alive” again. What you’re looking at in the above video is a Tardigrade, and using cryptobiosis (sometimes called “chemobiosis”) these guys can survive temperatures of -272 degrees C, 1200 times our atmospheric pressure, lethal doses of gamma rays, and high levels of environmental toxicity. But the real kicker is that in 2007 scientists learned that Tardigrades can survive in the vacuum of space. That means Tardigrades don’t just straddle the life-death barrier on a regular basis, but they could, conceivably, straddle the terrestrial-extraterrestrial barrier as well.
All of these readings of biology and evolution eat away at the distinction between inside and outside. What they all have in common is the view that neither organisms—nor the genes inside them—are unfolding within a pre-existing environment. Rather, each organism is a distinct individual, but also an assemblage; a wandering society of ecological activity passing in and out of other societies in complex, infectious currents of evolutionary concrescence. In the words of Donna Haraway, “Individuality is about selectable patterns of variation…so that…it’s not just that genes act within environments which include the organism, but genes themselves are already a crowd…a kind of Whiteheadian concrescence” (Haraway, 2011). The notion of “concrescence,” interpreted as a form of novel togetherness, situates the field of evolutionary biology within the open, enfolded trajectories of insides and outsides, individuals and collectives, each acting at multiple stages of an organism’s development.