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.



The Beginning and End of Nature

When people talk about the end of nature, what exactly is this nature that has ended? It’s not like the whole universe imploded. Earth is still spinning. Nature isn’t the universe, and it’s not a planet. It’s nature. Nature is an idea, a word, a symbol, which is not to say that it is merely those things. Nature is also whatever reality people were referring to when they used the idea, word, or symbol of “nature.” That reality sufficiently degraded so as to indicate to many people that it has ended. There are still organisms, ecosystems, lakes, rivers, atmospheric conditions, roots, fruits, and all kinds of things, so what ended? What is the reality to which ideas of nature were pointing or in which symbols of nature were participating? An answer can be found by returning to the beginning, to the earliest appearances of the idea of nature.
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Renewable Deleuze

Philosophies are renewable resources. Deleuze’s philosophy is a case in point.  Theological and religious contexts have seen a renewal of Deleuze in recent years. Kristien Justaert drew out Deleuze’s contributions to liberation theology (Theology After Deleuze). Josh Ramey articulated the hermetic dark precursors to Deleuze’s philosophical spirituality (The Hermetic Deleuze), and Christopher Simpson staged an encounter between Deleuze and radical orthodoxy (Deleuze and Theology). I mentioned this a few years ago, referring to the emergence of a “New Deleuze.” The renewal continues…

Continuing the exhumation of the theological and religious resources contained in Deleuze’s corpus, Daniel Barber digs up Deleuze’s concept of immanence in support of a postsecularism that is opposed to transcendence yet open to the naming of God (Deleuze and the Naming of God). F. LeRon Shults digs up Deleuze’s atheistic and diabolic tendencies to provide theology with iconoclastic hammers (Iconoclastic Theology). Many of these books make interesting points about debates about secularism, esotericism, transcendence and immanence, institutional vs. lived religion, the death of God, theopolitical power, and more.

Shults facilitates perhaps the most predictable renewal of Deleuze. Drawing iconoclastic resources from an ostensibly atheistic thinker is like shooting fish in a barrel. Nonetheless, I appreciate that Shults is among few thinkers to apply his Deleuzian sense of theology and religion to ecological issues. In a recent issue of the journal Religions dedicated to religion and ecology in the Anthropocene, Shults describes how his atheistic stance takes position in the Anthropocene. Still, there seems to be something that’s just way too easy about the reading of Deleuze that Shults presents. For example, consider his reading of the Body without Organs (BwO).

In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze refers to a “glorious body,” the Body without Organs, which he describes as “a new dimension of the schizophrenic body, an organism without parts which operates entirely by insufflation, respiration, evaporation and fluid transmission.” Insufflation is the operation of the BwO. In the final pages of Iconoclastic Theology, Shults offers a rhetorical question, “‘Insufflation’ sounds scary; how will we hold together?” Subsequently, he reassures us to overcome our fear, but he is thereby offering a resolution to something that is not a problem (…a metonym for his offering of iconoclasm during an era entrenched in iconoclasm). Who is he addressing? Who is afraid of insufflation? Not Deleuzians, surely, and not religious practitioners, who would doubtless find the predicate “scary” to be a paltry approximation for the intensities traversing their immersion in spiritual flows (inspiration/expiration/respiration). Nobody is afraid of insufflation, not Deleuzians, not religious people, not consumers, who are currently insufflating Earth’s life, land, air, and water with incredible rapidity. The problem is not a fear of insufflation but, to the contrary, an excessively zealous insufflation that produces inflammation and thereby botches the fluid transmission of the Body without Organs.

Shults makes the diarrheal  suggestion that we “Let go. Release. Flow,” as if that is a sustainable way to maintain a BwO. He forgets about the importance of maintaining sufficient strata to wake up the next morning. That’s where the rest of us are, struggling to find strata amidst manic insufflation, and Deleuzian resources can support this struggle, and so can numerous contemporary theisms that have already been through the fires of iconoclasm and are blistering with wounds that ooze atheistic secretions (e.g., theisms in liberation theology, spiritual philosophy, postcolonial theology, feminist theology, eco-theology). Along those lines, Clayton Crockett and Catherine Keller are producing perhaps the most relevant readings of Deleuze today. Crockett’s works apply Deleuze’s philosophy to the task of articulating an Earth-based political theology, and Keller folds Deleuze’s philosophy together with theologies of becoming (process), feminism, liberation movements, postcolonialism, and ecology.

It’s still an open question: Who knows what a Deleuze can do? We need more experiments with this renewable resource, more trials in becoming with Deleuze, forging connections with Deleuze’s corpus that energize our engagements in planetary coexistence.

Whole Earth Thinking and Planetary Coexistence

It’s been about four months since I’ve posted anything here, mostly because of a demanding writing and teaching schedule interspersed with a couple of conferences and a move to a new apartment. In that time, I finished writing Whole Earth Thinking and Planetary Coexistence: Ecological Wisdom at the Intersection of Religion, Ecology, and Philosophy.

A hardback will come out this summer, and a paperback will follow in 2016. The book focuses on two areas of the environmental humanities: poststructuralist philosophy (via Deleuze and Guattari) and the field of religion and ecology (via Thomas Berry, Gary Snyder, et al.). It provides an accessible introduction to those areas of environmental humanities (for undergrads, generally interested readers, etc.), and it also indicates some strategies for synthesizing the complex chaosmos of Deleuze and Guattari with the religious cosmologies of people like Berry and Snyder. I consider how such a synthesis coordinates possibilities for ecological wisdom, which is an engaged wisdom oriented toward postsecular ecological democracy.

By “ecological wisdom,” I am referring to practices for multicultural and cross-disciplinary ways of knowing. Such practices can draw from many sources.  I consider sources in feminist epistemology, traditional ecological knowledge, environmental sciences, classical religious traditions, and the geophilosophy/ecosophy of Deleuze/Guattari. Practices of ecological wisdom energize human capacities for thinking through the challenges facing planetary modes of coexistence during an epoch marked by the inextricable intertwining of humans with planetary systems.

If “whole Earth thinking” sounds somewhat countercultural, you might be thinking of Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog. My work is in tension and alliance with the countercultural context of the Whole Earth Catalog. There was too much triumphalism and too many hasty dismissals of classical traditions in much of that countercultural milieu. Furthermore, Earth in that context was often seen as a material or biophysical ground for humans, whereas whole Earth thinking orients itself toward the mutual grounding/grounded/ungrounding relationships between humans and Earth, relationships that cannot be avoided in any struggle to coexist in the Anthropocene.

Animism for the Anthropocene: A Hyperobject-Oriented Analysis

[The following is a proposal for a paper in a panel on new materialism and its significance for religion, affect, and emotion in the Anthropocene.]

Articulating multifarious ways that agency is distributed across all things—human and nonhuman—various theoretical schools are emerging that move beyond the anthropocentrism for which affective agency is solely or most fully embodied in humans.  Including (but not limited to) new materialism, speculative realism, object-oriented ontology (OOO), and actor-network theory (ANT), each of these schools affirms the vibrant dynamics and unique capacities of nonhumans.  They are particularly timely insofar as they address the challenges of the emerging geological epoch, the Anthropocene—a time when human actions, magnified by technoscientific media, are so pervasively intertwined with Earth’s systems that it is becoming increasingly superfluous to attempt to neatly separate humans from nonhumans. Among these new schools, object-oriented approaches stand out for their provocative claim that adequate theories must focus on objects—things.  That contrasts starkly with more common theoretical orientations toward relations, processes, events, networks, biopower, and material conditions.

This paper provides an object-oriented account of affect in the Anthropocene, drawing specifically on Timothy Morton’s (hyper)object-oriented ontology and his claims that the Anthropocene is the age of ecology without nature and the age of animism without animism, that is, animism “under erasure” (sous rature).  To facilitate an exploratory engagement with animistic affects in the Anthropocene, this paper presents Morton’s conception of objects, elucidating his relationship with new materialism, speculative realism, and ANT, and indicating how one can develop an intimate feeling for a hyperobject like global climate change by attending to the lameness, weakness, and hypocrisy of coexistence in the Anthropocene.

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