Graham Harman and other proponents of object-oriented ontology (OOO) follow Whitehead in taking up the task of articulating a speculative metaphysics, which is a relatively untimely task, situated amidst multifarious post-Kantian prohibitions against metaphysics. In particular, OOO follows Whitehead’s “ontological principle,” affirming the irreducibility of actual entities. The relationship between OOO and Whitehead looks mutually beneficial. OOO benefits by getting support for its metaphysical orientation toward entities, things, i.e., “objects.” [Does it need to be reiterated that this is a general sense of object as entity, not the modern sense of object in opposition to (or participation with) subject?] Whitehead benefits by getting a boost in popularity, making Whitehead more relevant and interesting for contemporary thought. Despite this opportunity for mutual benefit, both partners aren’t totally into it. Harman refers to Whitehead regularly (including in his latest, Immaterialism), acknowledging Whitehead’s unique contributions to metaphysics. How do Whiteheadians respond? Let’s face it. It’s not the mutual admiration club. Guess what, OOO? Process philosophers just aren’t that into you. Continue reading
Coexistentialism and the Unbearable
Intimacy of Ecological Emergency
Ecocritical Theory and Practice Series, Lexington Books, 2016
The philosophy of existentialism is undergoing an ecological renewal, as global warming, mass extinction, and other signs of the planetary scale of human actions are making it glaringly apparent that existence is always ecological coexistence. 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” (Deborah Bird Rose) or “coexistentialism” (Timothy Morton) is all about.
This book follows Rose, Morton, and many others (e.g., Jean-Luc Nancy, Peter Sloterdijk, and Luce Irigaray) who are currently taking up the styles of thinking conveyed in existentialism, renewing existentialist affirmations of experience, paradox, uncertainty, and ambiguity, and extending existentialism beyond humans to include attention to the uniqueness and strangeness of all beings—all humans and nonhumans woven into ecological coexistence. Along the way, 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.
“With refreshing style and intellectual forcefulness, Sam Mickey widens the scope of existentialism and shows how it offers important resources to address our urgent ecological situation. Here existentialism becomes coexistentialism, and through it we glimpse a chance to strengthen our existence together on a fragile planet. Make this book part of your coexistence!”
— Clayton Crockett, author of Deleuze Beyond Badiou and Radical Political Theology
“Is there an ecological style of engaging with things that aren’t me, yet share and even overlap with my being in some sense? The paradoxes and absurdities of existence have only become heightened as we have entered an ecological age, and it’s about time a writer committed to existentialism took up the challenge of working with those paradoxes. This book is up to speed with the ethical implications of our growing understanding of the symbiotic real and with what the author, quoting Björk, calls its necessary sense of ’emergency.’ In trenchant and engaging prose, not to mention deep engagements with philosophy, Sam Mickey lays it out for you.”
— Timothy Morton, author of Dark Ecology and Hyperobjects
Some people use affect theory to challenge the notion that religion is inextricably linked to belief and language, proposing instead that body and affect are more primary. It’s good to affirm bodies, feeling, emotions, affects, but that isn’t the way to do it. It’s a red herring, challenging a notion about belief that nobody really believes (i.e., the notion that religion is inextricably linked to language and belief). Continue reading
I’ll attend the Pacific division meeting of the American Philosophical Association later this week in San Francisco. Even though it’s only a division meeting (not national), it’s a massive event nonetheless. There are a few panels I’m very excited about, including one with Al Lingis and Tony Steinbock, focusing on Steinbock’s recent book, Moral Emotions, which is something like a sequel to his Phenomenology and Mysticism.
I’ll be presenting Friday evening in a panel about philosophy on the edge. Preview: I’ll say something about how coexistence in the Anthropocene is without center or edge. With the ongoing and inevitable erosion of anthropocentric subjectivity, countless beings are crowding into center stage. Everything is a center, being centered amidst multiplicities of centers with a circumference that is nowhere; but this could also be formulated by saying that everything is not a center, being on edge in a world whose center is nowhere and circumference everywhere. In some sense everything is both a center and an edge, but in another sense, everything is neither a center nor an edge. What this means it that coexistence in the planetary era is fundamentally ironic, ambiguous, and uncertain. My main point will be that this situation does not just call for humans to give up anthropocentrism. It calls for philosophers to give up philosophy, to give up the power of philosophy so that philosophy might become possible again, and still for the first time. Giving up power is about becoming vulnerable to intimate encounters outside of philosophy and outside of the occidental context of philosophy.
I’m thinking with Foucault here, specifically this remark he made in an interview during a stay at a Zen temple in Japan in 1978. “The crisis of Western thought is identical to the end of imperialism,” which is also “the end of the era of Western philosophy. Thus, if philosophy of the future exists, it must be born outside of Europe or equally born in consequence of meetings and impacts between Europe and non-Europe.” Adding some specificity to his comments, I want to make a couple of small incisions to open up some possibilities for a philosophy of the future. The incisions use the cutting edges of deconstruction and Buddhism, that is, the blades of the mohel and manjushri. There are a few different lines of thought to bring together here, at least three, including Keiji Nishitani’s work on the encounter between nihilism and emptiness (shunyata), the work of Robert Magliola, Jin Park, and others facilitating an encounter between Derrida and Nagarjuna, and Tim Morton’s invocations of Derrida and Nagarjuna in his dark ecology. The point is not to help solve any problems with some Buddhodeconstructive tag team. The point is to become vulnerable, weak and powerless. The point of the blades of the mohel and manjushri is this: surrender.
I find it useful to think with Hunter S. Thompson about a few things, especially fear, loathing, and drugs. This seems instructive for thinking about the status of psychedelics in New Religious Movements (NRMs). I’m interested in thinking about different kinds of fear and loathing that are experienced by practitioners of New Religious Movements who use psychedelic drugs, including an analysis of the psychedelic spirituality implicit in Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972), a cult classic among psychedelic enthusiasts. Like drugs, feelings of fear and loathing can have beneficial or harmful effects depending on the context. The systemic suppression of psychedelics perpetuates harmful cycles of fear and loathing, but in contexts of religious experiences, psychedelics can facilitate inspiring and integrative engagements with fear and loathing. Continue reading
I just returned from the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City. It was a massive event. Everything I experienced makes up only a tiny fraction of what was happening there. Nonetheless, it was easy to get a sense of some of the trends, themes, and issues that characterize religions today. My overall assessment is that, in many ways, religions today hold the same ambivalence that religions always have. Each tradition has some problems, but each also has much promise. There is dignity and disaster in every religion. What is unique in the 21st century is the planetary scale of religions. Whether they like it or not, religions are entering an epoch in which they must address the intertwining of humans with one another and with the finite planet. Continue reading
Starting tomorrow, the Parliament of the World’s Religions is meeting in Salt Lake City. This is the sixth such event since 1893. It is a massive gathering of religious scholars and practitioners (and scholar-practitioners) from around the world. The overall aim of the event is to facilitate interfaith dialogue. Recent meetings have become increasingly engaged in developing interreligious responses to contemporary social and ecological challenges. This year’s meeting emphasizes issues of income inequality, climate change, hate speech, war, violence, and the human rights and dignity of women. I’m not cynical about the capacity of religious perspectives to address those issues, but I’m not exactly optimistic either, just scrupulous.
I will be at the Parliament, presenting on a panel, “Hinduism and Ecology: The Sacred Activism of Sunderlal Bahuguna.” Bahuguna is still relatively unknown in the United States, although the Chipko movement, with which he is closely affiliated, is quite well-known among US environmentalists. Another ally of the Chipko, Vandana Shiva, will be at the Parliament. Bahuguna’s perspective overlaps with Shiva’s in many ways, and one could argue that Bahuguna was a crucial predecessor of Shiva, who is about 25 years younger than Bahuguna. Politics of influence aside, Bahuguna and Shiva both contribute much to the efforts to bring Gandhian notions of swaraj (self-rule; democracy) and sarvodaya (development; universal uplift) into an ecological context.
My panel includes excellent scholars of Hinduism and ecology, George James, Christopher Chapple, and Bidisha Malik. I think I’m the only one of us who hasn’t met Bahuguna. Nonetheless, I’ll have plenty to say about the philosophical principles operating in Bahuguna’s sacred activism, specifically his integration of Gandhian principles with ecology and Indian religions. I’ll also share some examples of my experiences teaching about Bahuguna through George James’ wonderful book, Ecology is Permanent Economy: The Activism and Environmental Philosophy of Sunderlal Bahuguna.