Poetics, Practice, and Things

Poetry can compress vast acreages of meaning into a small compass or perform the kind of bold linkages that would take reams of academic argument to plot; it can widen the aperture of our gaze or deposit us on the brink of transformation…
One of the most striking and unsettling aspects of the Anthropocene is the newly poignant sense that our present is in fact accompanied by deep pasts and deep futures. Fundamentally, the Anthropocene describes how humanity has radically intruded in deep times, the vast time scales that shape the Earth system and all the life-forms that it supports.

– David Farrier [Anthropocene Poetics: Deep Time, Sacrifice Zones, and Extinction (University of Minnesota Press, 2019), 5-6]

I’m currently teaching an ecopoetics course, which has given me a good excuse for keeping up with new books like Farrier’s Anthropocene Poetics. In the gap between this post and my previous post, I was preparing for the class, moving north of San Francisco to a house along the Russian River, and doing the usual mixture of teaching, writing, and conferencing. Incidentally, the river is currently flooding due to unusually heavy rains, and a siren is sounding for people living on the river to evacuate. I’m basically in a tree house, high off the ground, about a minute’s walk from the riverbank, so that siren isn’t for me.

This blog might have seemed abandoned. I was just letting it breathe.  I’ve been doing a lot of writing in other venues. I’ve had a few pieces published recently, including an essay comparing Jean-Luc Nancy and Graham Harman on the ontological status of objects, “Touching without Touching: Objects of Post-Deconstructive Realism and Object-Oriented Ontology” [Open Philosophy 1.1 (2018): 290-98]. Another essay focuses on Christian, Daoist, and vegetal sources of Heidegger’s notion of letting beings be: releasement (Gelassenheit), “Without Why: Useless Plants in Christianity and Daoism” [Religions 10.1 (2019): 65-79].I also wrote something about philosophical practice (“Practice is not a Life Hack”) for the up-and-coming media empire, The Side View, run by the exceedingly industrious and brilliant, Adam Robbert. 

A few book reviews have come out as well, including my review of an anthology on nonviolence, Advancing Nonviolence and Social Transformation: New Perspectives on Nonviolent Theories, edited by Heather Eaton and Lauren Michelle Levesque. I also reviewed Jason Wirth’s poetic-philosophical book on Gary Snyder, Zen Buddhism, and ecology, Mountains, Rivers, and the Great Earth: Reading Gary Snyder and Dōgen in an Age of Ecological Crisis.

For the rest of the year, I have a couple more book reviews coming out, as well as a couple of chapters in anthologies (one on Stoicism, the other on climate ethics). I’m editing an anthology on multiple forms of ecological knowledge, with essays on conservation biology, traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in indigenous communities, psychedelic science, affective and imaginal ways of knowing, storytelling, Asian philosophies, Gaia theory, and more. I’ll share more specifics about that project as it gets further underway. Hopefully it will be out before the end of the year. I’ll also share more while I’m working on my next book, which is a short monograph about theology and new materialism.

New materialism seems pretty old by now, since it’s been over twenty years since people first started using that term. It’s basically a shorthand for the contemporary reception of Deleuze’s materialism (Karen Barad’s Derridean/deconstructive tendencies notwithstanding), which is still quite novel compared to the materialisms that run from Lucretius to Marx, or whatever people like Donald Davidson or Hilary Putnam were doing. New materialism is theologically rich, bearing in mind that it is sometimes expressed rather implicitly. In terms of transcendental monotheism, it’s entirely atheistic, which opens the door for much more complex and compelling forms of theos, drawing on kabbalah, alchemy, animism, panentheism, pantheism, Zen, magic, mysticism, and much more.

 

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Alchemical Thoughts: Of Tales and Fires

In Plato’s seventh letter (341c), he says that what he pursues in his studies cannot be expressed in words, but emerges through sustained communion with “the thing itself” (to pragma auto) and “is brought to birth in the soul on a sudden, as light that is kindled by a leaping spark, and thereafter it nourishes itself.” There is always a call for a return to the thing itself. Contemplation feeds on an alimentary fire. Thinking is alchemy.  Continue reading

The Aesthetics of Publishing

There are a lot of reasons to dislike academic publishing if you are trying to write philosophy or any kind of theoretical or scholarly work. Nonetheless, it’s still the best way to disseminate work with high standards of rigorous research, intellectual accountability, and meaningful communication. A couple of the usual reasons people give for disliking the publishing industry in general are that it is too slow and, more to the point, too elitist, whereas self-publishing platforms work more efficiently and give the author more creative control. That’s far from the whole story. It fails to mention the aesthetics…and the lunchmeat. Continue reading

After the End of the World

There are at least two ways of being after something.  After can be a matter of subsequence (like tomorrow is after today), and it can also be a matter of seeking something or trailing along behind it (like a predator goes after prey).  Being after is a lot like following something: tomorrow follows today, a predator follows prey.  This double-sense of after also shows up in German, “nach” (after/toward).

Although we generally know whether someone means subsequence or seeking when the word “after” is uttered, some ambiguity is inescapable.  One can always misread contextual and syntactic clues.  There is no way to completely secure the word “after” from the possibility of being read as pre- and/or post-.

We are after the past and after the future… a dual sense of after, a sense moving in both directions at once.  It is in that sense that we are after the end of the world.  We are not simply post-apocalyptic (or post-anything, for that matter), for we are still waiting, more or less vigilantly, for an apocalypse to come.

Some people might want to put apocalypse behind us and get it out of our future, but they’re just seeking an inverse apocalypse, an anti-apocalypse, seeking an end to all this talk of the end.  No matter how much we want to, we can’t just disavow apocalypse, end, or world.  We can never be after something in simply a “post-” sense.  The end of the world is our inheritance.  What we inherit is what we have coming to us.  The end, the world, the end of the world… they haunt our future, like a past that remains to come.

We’ll always be after the end of the world, and so we cannot just drop the end or drop our sense of the world (Lil Wayne’s ability to drop the world notwithstanding).  There’s nowhere to drop them off, no “away” to throw them.  We’re here in the middle of the world’s ending, going after it, composing a world that has already ended, mourning an end that returns incessantly.  Where are we going?  Immer nach Hause, immer nach Welt.

Latour, Rejoicing: A Critical Review

The recent work by Bruno Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (AIME, for short), deals with the various felicity conditions of different modes of existence, including religious modes of existence.  Along these lines, AIME extends his previous works on religion, including his writings on factishes, iconoclash, and the freeze-frames that convolute science-religion dialogue.  It is appropriate, then, that the release of the English edition of AIME was accompanied by the release of the English edition of his 2002 work on the felicity conditions of religious speech, Rejoicing: Or the Torments of Religious Speech (Polity, 2013).  With these works as well as his recent Gifford Lectures, Latour is making important contributions to theology and religious studies, opening up nice points of contact with science studies, ecology, speculative realism, and object-oriented ontology.

There are a lot of good points coming from Latour’s Rejoicing, which he articulates elsewhere as well.  Religions and sciences are not amenable to worn-out oppositions such as transcendence and immanence, subjective and objective, spirit and matter, fetishes and facts, iconography and iconoclasm, traditional and modern.  Instead of separating religions and sciences into two different realms of being or knowing, Latour recognizes that there is only one world, “no other world, just this one here” (174), and there is no truth we can discern about this world without constructing that truth.  Neither religion nor science has a monopoly on truth about existence, and neither one lays claim to knowledge of another world (since there is no other world).  Religions and sciences involve two different kinds of speech acts which thus have two different sets of felicity conditions, and when those felicity conditions are met, different things happen.  Scientific speech acts bring us knowledge of distant things (atoms, the Big Bang, the climate, etc.), whereas religious speech acts bring us closer to one another (family, friends, loved ones).  Sciences enact references and information about the distant and far away, whereas religions enact translations and transformations of what is close by, the everyday.  Nonetheless, I have a few problems with Rejoicing (which are, more or less, also problems with his other writings on religion).

Continue reading

Becoming Inaccessible: A Touch of Castaneda

Becoming integral is a way of life.  It is the light touch cultivated in the art of becoming inaccessible…

I think often of Carlos Castaneda.

“The art of a hunter is to become inaccessible,” he [Don Juan] said.  “In the case of that blond girl it would’ve meant that you had to become a hunter and meet her sparingly.  Not the way you did.  You stayed with her day after day, until the only feeling that remained was boredom.  True?”
            I did not answer.  I felt I did not have to.  He was right.
“To be inaccessible means that you touch the world around you sparingly.  You don’t eat five quail; you eat one.  You don’t damage the plants just to make a barbecue pit.  You don’t expose yourself to the power of the wind unless it is mandatory.  You don’t use and squeeze people until they have shriveled to nothing, especially the people you love.”
—Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan (New York: Washington Square Press, 1991), p. 69. 

“But don’t overdo it,” he went on.  “The touch of warrior-travelers is very light, although it is cultivated.  The hand of a warrior-traveler begins as a heavy, gripping, iron hand but becomes like the hand of a ghost, a hand made of gossamer.  Warrior-travelers leave no marks, no tracks.  That’s the challenge of warrior-travelers.”
—Castaneda, Active Side of Infinity (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), p. 146.

struggle sans path: reflections upon moving

In the process of moving, I’ve come upon a small number of scraps of paper that give me pause, and I wonder whether I’ll keep the paper or consign it to recycling.  I’ve said some intolerably short goodbyes to some very old and dignified friends.  Adieu. 

The sequence with which I discover the scraps is, to my surprise, the most consistently important factor shaping my decision.  If the scrap is part of an interesting series, I’ll keep it.  Here is an example of a series of two…and I’m still waiting for the third.

“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” (Emerson). 

“It is provided in the essence of things that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary” (Whitman).