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.
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.”
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.
“French anthropologist and sociologist Bruno Latour has been described by the Holberg Prize Academic Committee as a creative, humorous and unpredictable researcher. The Academic Committee justifies the award for this year’s Holberg Prize by stating that ‘Bruno Latour has undertaken an ambitious analysis and reinterpretation of modernity, and has challenged fundamental concepts such as the distinction between modern and pre-modern, nature and society, human and non-human. (…) The impact of Latour’s work is evident internationally and far beyond studies of the history of science, art history, history, philosophy, anthropology, geography, theology, literature and law.’ Latour is currently Professor at Sciences Po in Paris.”
2013 might just go down as the year of Latour. You can read more here.
Levi Bryant has posted some reflections on the deployment, evolution, and potential shortcomings of the term “correlationism.” It’s an interesting read that covers some of the more baffling developments and associations that have become attached to this oft-quoted term, and the post has me reflecting on the impact that correlationism — and its adjacent speculative realist movement — has had on my own thinking. Now, I don’t use the term correlationism very much, almost never actually, and I don’t really consider myself to be a “speculative realist,” whatever that might mean, but I have been involved in my fair share of discussions surrounding both so it’s not like I’m divorced from these terms either.
In the first place correlationism is, for me, a problem that I have to get into rather than one I have to get out of. This has to do with the fact that my two largest intellectual influences — the sciences of ecology and speculative philosophy — both start off from a radically different position than those for whom correlationism is a problem, and for whom the critique of it is an innovation. That’s not to say that correlationism doesn’t usefully describe a particular set of philosophies, or that the responses the concept has generated are simple, unnecessary, or unhelpful. Rather, I’m trying to emphasize that correlationism is a concept that has emerged historically within the context of a very specific set of discursive circumstances, and that there are other discourse communities, other ecologies of thought and ideas, for which correlationism wasn’t the problem or tradition of thinking that needed to be challenged or overcome. I just happen to belong to one of those traditions within which correlationism might never have emerged as a topic of consequence.
But if correlationism is not a term I readily use, and not a problem I was trying to solve, what has correlationism done for the work I am doing? The answer is that it has made possible a greater variety of discussions with a greater variety of people. The concept of correlationism has redistributed discursive relations amongst philosophers. In my case it has increased my ability to dialogue with people working within continental philosophy, and made it possible for me to engage these traditions in a much more complex way than was previously possible. However, even here the contribution of correlationism has to be thought within a larger ecology of knowledges, and within a movement towards speculative philosophy emerging in continental circles more generally. This movement seems to have had something of a slow build over the past few decades, but surely we can point to a kind of Deleuzian moment with an epicenter radiating out somewhere around the publication of Difference and Repetition in 1968 (and even earlier with his recovery of Henri Bergson in Bergsonism). Surely a more robust genealogy would reveal an even more distributed build through time.
The situation today is quite different. Indeed, we can now name a whole litany of new speculative texts in addition to those directly associated with speculative realism. Here we can mention Isabelle Stengers’ book Thinking With Whitehead, which has clearly had a huge impact on the way Whitehead is read in France and elsewhere, as well as Steven Shaviro’s book Without Criteria, which as had a very profound effect on my understanding of Kant, Deleuze, and Whitehead, and has opened up new avenues of discussion between continental and speculative philosophy. We’ve also seen works like Nature and Logos, which draws connections between Whitehead’s speculative philosophy and Merleau-Ponty’s later philosophical research. There’s also been a renewed interested in older texts like Gabrial Tarde’s Monadology and Sociology. And There’s still much more on the horizon — the english translation of Bruno Latour’s An Inquiry into Modes of Existence for instance. There are countless more examples we could list.
All of these works point to an interesting shift, not just in continental theory, but in the ecosystems of thought that are now capable of interacting and mutating with one another in general. A new phase of parasitism and symbiosis has begun, and I think that the truly interesting syntheses of these disparate figures still lay ahead of us. Within this broader shift towards speculation correlationism has acted as a kind of rallying point in otherwise loose ecological zones. Here the object “correlationism” must be thought of as a conceptual actor with the agency to produce different kinds of discursive effects structurally coupled with different kinds of media. So even if it’s not a concept I hang my hat on every night it is one that has directly impacted the ecologies of knowledge in which I participate. At the end of the day it’s the increase in dialogue with a more diverse group of thinkers, a dialogue that I can attribute to this word “correlationism,” that I think has had the most impact on my work, rather than the problems to which the concept itself refers.
Below is a list of some reactions to the first wave of Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures.
I haven’t been able to watch the lectures via live stream, but I will certainly catch up with them once they are all posted online (the Edinburgh website indicates that all lectures will be posted 2-3 days following each talk, and it seems that watching them all at once might be the best way to listen to the series).
I recently joined a reading group to discuss Gille Deleuze’s work Difference and Repetition. Below is my fairly amateur attempt at highlighting a few of the central points from the first 50-60 pages that stuck with me. We’ll be meeting about once a month for the next few months, so I may continue to post short summaries like this as I make my way through the book (or, you know, I might not).
Deleuze’s argument thus far, I think, can be broken down into a few steps that I have summarized as follows:
(1) The central claim which Deleuze makes in this text is that difference and repetition, rather than identity and contradiction, can provide us with a more apt ontological account as to the nature of things (where “things” is my short hand for common metaphysical categories such as change, endurance, relationality, substance, property, etc.)
(2) The problem, Deleuze suggests, is that, historically, philosophers have failed to conceive of difference-in-itself, and have instead only been able to account for difference as a subordinate component of identity (i.e., “We propose to think difference in itself independently of the forms of representation which reduce it to the Same” [xxviii]).
(3) When we think of difference as subordinate to identity—even as the double negation of identity and contradiction, i.e., as a moment in a dialectical synthesis—we think of difference only in terms of its representation as conceived within relation to identity. In other words, difference is only hinted at as the difference made present by a certain form of identity (mediation?). When difference is thought in this way, “difference remains subordinated to identity, reduced to the negative, incarcerated within similitude and analogy” (50). In other words, dialectical thinking constitutes a form of violence (“incarceration”). Cue Derrida.
(4) However, while difference-in-itself cannot be conceived solely as a subordinate component of identity—as negation, contradiction, or opposition—we can nevertheless conceive of negation as a sign pointing towards the reality of difference-in-itself. In other words, “Negation is difference, but difference seen from its underside, seen from below” (55). Negation, contradiction, and opposition, give us clues—they act as footprints, impressions, or signifiers—to the nature of difference, but our goal is not to reduce difference to “the banality of the negative” (51).
(5) So, in order to arrive at a positive description of “difference and repetition” we must give a positive account of both terms outside of proximity to identity (hence Chapters 1 and 2). This positive description of difference is described as an “object of affirmation; that affirmation itself is multiple; that it is creation but also that it must be created, as affirming difference, as being difference in itself. It is not the negative that is the motor. Rather, there are positive differential elements which determine the genesis of both the affirmation and difference affirmed” (55). Sounds good to me.
(6) Here a crucial practice is to avoid the pitfalls of the “beautiful soul” (side note: surely San Francisco must be among the world capitals of beautiful souls). The risk, Deleuze thinks, is that by beginning our account of difference in this way (i.e., as something positive, generative, creative, affirmative, etc.) we may ourselves become a beautiful soul, “who sees differences everywhere and appeals to them only as a respectable, reconcilable or federative differences, while history continues to be made through bloody contradictions” (52).
Thinking towards my future engagements with this work, there’s all kinds of things I want to say about Deleuze’s arguments in relation to, say, Bergson and Whitehead, but I’ll leave that discussion for a later time.
Jacob Sherman offers a thoughtful response to Josh Ramey’s work The Hermetic Deleuze over at AUFS here.
I’m happy to call Jake a friend and mentor; I’ve been sitting in on some of his courses at CIIS over the past few semesters — particularly, a course on Bergson, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Stengers last fall and a course on Foucault and Hadot this spring — and it’s great to see how some of these influences are working their way into Jake’s response to Ramey’s fascinating book.
I’ve been slowly working my way through Ramey’s text myself (this parallel to a reading group on Difference & Repetition I recently joined). Of course there are plenty of people more able than I writing about Deleuze today, but if something strikes me as relavent during this little Deleuzian adventure I’ll be sure to post it here.
Edited by Peta Hinton (University of New South Wales, Australia), Michael O’Rourke (Independent Colleges, Dublin, Ireland) and Karin Sellberg (The University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom).
I will be giving a talk this Thursday (10-18-12) on Isabelle Stengers’ book Thinking with Whitehead. My lecture is part of a 15-week graduate seminar on Bergson, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Stengers being taught at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.
My talk will focus on (briefly) situating Whitehead within the contemporary philosophical landscape, and will then move on to discuss Whitehead’s critique of the bifurcation of nature as articulated in his work The Concept of Nature (which takes up the first 100 or so pages of Stengers’ book). There will of course be plenty of input from Stengers included as well.
It’s been quite a lot of fun re-reading Stengers’ book with an eye to explaining the concepts she covers to students unfamiliar with them. On my first read of the book I remember feeling that this book is best suited for more advanced students of Whitehead — a work best enjoyed after reading many of Whitehead’s primary texts. This time around, however, I found Stengers much more accesible, but maybe that’s just my increased familiarity with her style.
For those interested a draft of the paper I will be working from is available HERE.
The sciences, through cosmopolitics, are thus engaged in a “symbiotic agreement” with other modes of knowledge and other communities of entities. The symbiotic agreement is “an event, the production of new, immanent modes of existence, and not the recognition of a more powerful interest before which divergent particular interests would have to bow down” (2010, 35). Cosmopolitics calls societies of humans and nonhumans to produce a mode of “reciprocal capture,” pointing to the “coinvention of identities,” in which the life sciences, ecology in particular, play a large role in creating and sustaining new modes of existence amongst beings (e.g., through technology, medicine, and genetics). Thus Stengers:
I have called “cosmopolitics” the kind of experimental togetherness that makes peace a challenge and not the condition for a polite conversation…. The prefix “cosmo” takes into account that the word common should not be restricted to our fellow humans, as politics since Plato has implied, but should entertain the problematic togetherness of the many concrete, heterogeneous, enduring shapes of value (SMW, 94) that compose actuality, thus including beings as disparate as “neutrinos” (a part of the physicist’s reality) and ancestors (a part of reality for those whose traditions have taught them to communicate with the dead) (2002, 248-249).
Stengers’ move is to examine the proliferation of multiple sciences and their effects in the world. This examination aims to produce an ethical relation to science, and epistemology in general, in order to create democratic, cosmopolitical relationships alongside of the generation of new scientific concepts.
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.
I just came across a fantastic article on Whitehead and Media Ecology by Andrew Murphie (hat tip, @khaoid). My forthcoming essay in Thinking Nature Vol 2 reads the intersection in much the same way, and it’s nice to see others drawing on the interesting connections between Whitehead and McLuhan. Here is a particularly relavent excerpt:
Whitehead presents a little remarked upon but comprehensive ‘‘media theory’’ that resituates media in the world (that is, media events are not ‘‘bifurcated’’ from the rest of the world, in for example a ‘‘signal [medium] versus noise [world]’’ configuration). More dramatically, Whitehead writes of the entire ‘‘world as medium.’’ Whitehead’s philosophy here pre-empts significant aspects of McLuhan’s media theory. The medium is the message indeed, but the medium is also the world. So the very complex signal mixing that is world is the message. In Whitehead’s media philosophy, there is no ‘‘bifurcation’’ between different types of signal (technical or natural, for example). It is all world(s) as medium (p. 4)
It’s a great insight into the little explored terrain connecting Whitehead to McLuhan. My emphasis is less on the ways in which “It is all world(s) as medium” and more on the ways in which different kinds of entities extend themselves through different media ecologies. I retrieve the concept of “world” by placing it within the ecology of minds (my work suggests three ecologies: matter, media, and mind). The implications of this kind of theory are far-reaching and I’m excited to see what comes out of these expanded approaches to ecological thinking.
The following is a short essay written in response to religious philosopher Matt Segall. The primary focus of the essay is to explore and come to terms with the ontological facts of order, creativity, and valuation. Matt has suggested, following the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, that order, creativity, and valuation stem from God’s mediation and participation in the cosmos. My reading takes off in another direction and instead posits that order, creativity, and valuation stem from the irreducible nature of things-themselves rather than from divine influence. I will consider Matt’s points via a discussion of Whitehead’s Philosophy in relation to that of mathematician Stuart Kaufmann, which will draw out what I believe is valuable in Whitehead’s philosophy whilst still differentiating it from my own.