Below you’ll find the summary and a few blurbs: Continue reading
The Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society started a blog recently: Seeing the Forest. With an international and interdisciplinary focus, the Center is launching the blog to extend the reach of the environmental humanities through social media (they also tweet). The blog accepts submissions from students, scholars, and professionals.
The environmental humanities are also extending their online presence through the new open-access journal Environmental Humanities. They are also accepting submissions.
I focus a lot of my work on research in environmental humanities as well as posthumanities and, for that matter, anything that queers the humanities. Having never been human, there’s never been a better time for the humanities.
The Posthumanities book series at the University of Minnesota Press keeps releasing terrific books. I finally got around to reading Mick Smith’s book, Against Ecological Sovereignty: Ethics, Biopolitics, and Saving the Natural World (2011). Making important contributions to political ecology, environmental ethics, and continental philosophy, Smith presents an approach to radical ecology grounded in a thorough critique of the concept of sovereignty.
Smith focuses extensively on Agamben’s analysis of biopolitics and the reduction of humans to “bare life,” which Smith relates to Heidegger’s analysis of the reduction of nature to Bestand (“standing reserve” or “resource”). Arendt, Bataille, Benjamin, Latour, Levinas, and Nancy also make frequent appearances, as Smith draws on their works to support his critique of sovereignty and his ethicopolitical vision of an open, diverse, and posthumanist “intimate ecology of responsibility” (167). Furthermore, in a refreshing tone, he does not propose a solution to the environmental crisis.
In any case, unlike the majority of people writing on the environment, I do not have a recipe for saving the natural world, a set of rules to follow, a list of guiding principles, or a favorite ideology or institutional form to promote as a solution. For before all this, we need to ask what “saving the natural world” might mean. And this requires, as I have argued, sustaining ethics, and politics, and ecology over and against sovereign power—the exercise of which reduces people to bare life and the more-than-human world to standing reserve. […] What we need are plural ways to imagine a world without sovereign power, without human dominion. (220)
Saving nature, saving the planet, saving Earth. These are usually just more exercises of sovereignty. To the extent that we should “save” some beings in the natural world (e.g., save the whales!), saving must take on a meaning that is not encumbered by sovereign power.
To save the whales is to free them from all claims of human sovereignty, to release them into their singularity, their being such as it is—whatever it is—quodlibet ens, and into flows of evolutionary time, of natural history, just as they release themselves into the flows of the world’s oceans. This “saving” is an ethicopolitical action. (103)
Although Smith is focusing primarily on criticizing human sovereignty over nature, he is clear that this does not mean replacing human sovereignty with the sovereignty of nature.
It is not a call to recognize the sovereignty of nature over all human activities, including ethics and politics. […] It is a political and ecological critique of sovereignty per se, both natural and political. The breadth and depth of this critique is why radical ecology is potentially the most radical form of politics, why it offers the most fundamental challenge to the established order of things. (107)
One highlight of the book is that Smith brings together multiple philosophers without ignoring their differences, incompatibilities, and contradictions. His use of Agamben is a good example: Smith continually draws on Agamben’s concepts and analyses while simultaneously criticizing Agamben’s anthropocentric or “hyperhumanist” tendencies (116). Another example: Smith offers a critique of Latour that ends up bringing Latour and Levinas together in a productive way.
In short, there are a lot of gems in Smith’s book. It’s inspired me to look deeper into Arendt’s work, which I haven’t spent much time with in quite a while. Overall, Against Ecological Sovereignty makes me like radical ecology more than I did before I read it. Continental philosophy and radical ecology are good for one another.
About a month ago, I finished reading Ian Bogost’s wonderful new book, Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. It’s a fun book and an excellent contribution to phenomenology, object-oriented ontology, speculative realism, posthumanities, and more. At some point, I’ll post some more comments on alien phenomenology (previous posts are here and here), but for now, I just want to catalog some quotations from the book (all emphases are in the text itself, and all brackets are mine). To the quotes themselves:
Just as eating oysters becomes gastronomically monotonous, so talking only about human behavior becomes intellectually monotonous. (132)
The philosophical subject must cease to be limited to humans and things that influence humans. Instead it must become everything, full stop. (10)
Everything whatsoever is like people on a subway, crunched together into uncomfortably intimate contact with strangers. (31)
In short, all things equally exist, yet they do not exist equally. (11)
Theories of being tend to be grandiose, but they need not be, because being is simple. Simple enough that it could be rendered via screen print on a trucker’s cap. I call it tiny ontology, precisely because it ought not demands a treatise or a tome. I don’t mean that the domain of being is small—quite the opposite, as I’ll soon explain. Rather, the basic ontological apparatus needed to describe existence ought to be as compact and unornamented as possible.
An alternative metaphor to the two-dimensional plane of flat ontology is that of spacelessness, of one-dimensionality. If any one being exists no less than any other, then instead of scattering such being all across the two-dimensional surface of flat ontology, we might also collapse them into the infinite density of a dot. Instead of the plane of flat ontology, I suggest the point of tiny ontology. It’s a dense mass of everything contained entirely—even as it’s spread about haphazardly like a mess or organized logically like a network. (21-22)
The density of being makes it promiscuous, always touching everything else, unconcerned with differentiation. Anything is thing enough to party. (24)
Within the black hole-like density of being, things undergo an expansion. The ontological equivalent of the Big Bang rests within every object. Being expands. (26)
The true alien recedes interminably even as it surrounds us completely. It is not hidden in the darkness of the outer cosmos or in the deep-sea shelf but in plain sight, everywhere, in everything. Mountain summits and gypsum beds, chile roasters and buckshot, micro-processors and ROM chips can no more communicate with us and one another than can Rescher’s extraterrestrial. It is an instructive and humbling sign. Speculative realism really does require speculation: benighted meandering in an exotic world of utterly incomprehensible objects. As philosophers, our job is to amplify the black noise of objects to make the resonant frequencies of the stuffs inside them hum in credibly satisfying ways. Our job is to write the speculative fictions of their processes, of their unit operations. Our job is to get our hands dirty with grease, juice, gunpowder, and gypsum. Our job is to go where everyone has gone before, but where few have bothered to linger.
I call this practice alien phenomenology. (34)
Instead of removing elements to achieve the elegance of simplicity, ontography adds (or simply leaves) elements to accomplish the realism of multitude. It is a practice of exploding the innards of things—be they words, intersections, shopping malls, or creatures. This “explosion” can be as figurative or as literal as you like, but it must above all reveal the hidden density of a unit. (58)
An ontograph is a landfill, not a Japanese garden. It shows how much rather than how little exists simultaneously, suspended in the dense meanwhile of being. (59)
[T]hings render one another in infinite chains of weaker and weaker correlation, each altering and distorting the last such that its sense is rendered nonsense. It’s not turtles all the way down, but metaphors. (84)
Like mechanics, philosophers ought to get their hands dirty. […] dirty with grease and panko bread crumbs and formaldehyde. I give the name carpentry to this practice of constructing artifacts as a philosophical practice. (92)
Like a space probe sent out to record, process, and report information, the alien phenomenologist’s carpentry seeks to capture and characterize an experience it can never fully understand, offering a rendering satisfactory enough to allow the artifact’s operator to gain some insight into an alien thing’s experience. (100)
For too long, philosophers have spun waste like a goldfish’s sphincter, rather than spinning yarn like a charka. (110)
Each thing remains alien to every other, operationally as well as physically. To wonder is to respect things as things in themselves. (131)
The act of wonder invites a detachment from ordinary logics, of which human logics are but one example. This is a necessary act in the method of alien phenomenology. […] Wonder is a way objects orient. (124)
Idealisms amount to undead ontologies, metaphysics in which nothing escapes the horrific rift from being, leaving behind a slug’s trail of identity politics. […] The return to realism in metaphysics is also a return to wonder, wonder unburdened by pretense or deception. (133)
Anything will do, so long as it reminds us of the awesome plentitude of the alien everyday. (134)