Coexistentialism

Coexistentialism: Unbearable Intimacy, Ecological Emergency. The manuscript is finished and off to the publisher. It’s around 110,000 words. The best thing about coexistentialism is the “co-,” indicating an ecological redistribution of Heidegger’s Mitsein (being-with) to include all beings, human, nonhuman, and otherwise. The worst thing is the “ism,” which is no doubt risky; it can degenerate into a lazy substitute for thinking along with other “isms,” but it could (I hope) facilitate solidarity, shared struggle, shared suffering, and shared feasting.  Existence is not the best or the worst, neither optimus nor pessimus. It just is: existence. 

I take the term “coexistentialism” from Tim Morton, who’s used it occasionally. Gaston Bachelard used the term “coexistentialism” much earlier, but he does not elaborate on its meaning. I align Morton’s coexistentialism with the “ecological existentialism” of the multispecies ethnographer Deborah Bird Rose. Both Morton and Rose suggest that Levinasian phenomenology and feminisms of difference (Irigaray for Morton, Plumwood and Haraway for Rose) are among the first to think along the lines of this ecologically rejuvenated existentialism. Despite that shared lineage, Morton and Rose are also worlds apart, specifically on the question of whether there is any “worlding” between beings.

Peter Sloterdijk, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Elizabeth Grosz also make prominent appearances, as they are involved in similar configurations of feminism, phenomenology, and existentialism, and they all think under the weight of ecological emergency, after the end of the world,  after the deaths God, nature, and the subject. Regarding existentialists themselves (e.g., Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, Jaspers, Heidegger, Jonas, Marcel, Bachelard), they appear throughout the book, providing the insights that coexistentialists update for an ecological context.

One of the most urgent problems in the current ecological emergency is that humans cannot bear to face the emergency. Its earth-shattering implications are ignored in favor of more solutions, fixes, and sustainability transitions. Solutions cannot solve much when they cannot face what it means to be human amidst unprecedented uncertainty and intimate interconnectedness. Attention to such uncertainty and interconnectedness is what ecological existentialism is all about. It is about opening existentialism beyond humans to include attention to the uniqueness and strangeness of all beings—all humans and nonhumans woven into ecological coexistence. Coexistentialism finds productive alliances and tensions amidst many areas of inquiry, including ecocriticism, ecological humanities, object-oriented ontology, feminism, phenomenology, deconstruction, new materialism, and more. This is a book for anyone who seeks to refute cynicism and loneliness and affirm coexistence.

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