The following is something I wrote a while back that I have not had a chance to do anything with. I’m sharing it here simply because it will otherwise languish. It is a reflection on the political left and its failings in a changing global situation, a situation marked by inequality on a global scale, by increasing, if sometimes inchoate, demands for democracy — from the “color revolutions” of the post-Soviet world to the “Arab Spring” and beyond — and by a shift from a unipolar political economy to something more ambiguous and uncertain.
It is in part a reiteration of the argument against “economistic Marxism,” but it goes beyond that to articulate a revised vision of democracy that comes from the Peircian process-relational philosophy I have been developing on this blog (and in print). It is work in progress; comments are welcome.
I’ve just come across the earliest outline I wrote for the course I’m currently teaching (in its third incarnation), “Environmental Literature, Arts, and Media.” The course has also turned into a book project I’m working on, which will be a thematic primer to the environmental arts and humanities. Both course and book have changed shape so profoundly that this original outline is hardly visible in them. But I like this list of themes, so I thought I’d share it. Let me know if you think there’s anything important that I’ve missed.
Those of us who teach environmental studies — who teach impressionable young adults about the colossal challenges facing humanity in the coming decades, with the looming climate crisis, resource wars and (human and nonhuman) refugee crises, and mass extinction on a scale unseen for 66 million years — have to come up with ways to keep our students from losing all hope and sinking into a nihilistic abyss. More knowledge can sometimes just be debilitating. “Nothing to be done,” as Gogo and Didi remind each other while waiting for Godot.
Where do we find the hope that can complement our students’ new-found pessimism about the current human situation?
As the world’s refugee crisis builds — reminding us that much worse movements of people loom ahead, and much worse wars, as climate systems destabilize and the capitalist world-ecology unravels in the decades and centuries ahead — I can’t help asking myself what, if anything, philosophy can offer in response.
It depends on which philosophy, of course. But to take one of my favorites: C. S. Peirce’s whole philosophical work was an extended argument for an expanded understanding of reason. Reason, for Peirce, was rooted in human nature and in nature itself; it is a development of the very process of making meaning that is the essence of all living things (and, Peirce would say, all things living or not).
This paper thinks through the intersections of three developments: (1) the much debated “end of cinema” and its replacement by what has (lazily) been called “post-cinema”; (2) the future end of carbon capitalism and its replacement by something yet to be named; and (3) an upsurge in speculative philosophy that reconceptualizes sociality, materiality, and semiosis in novel and challenging ways.
Other talks from that workshop can be viewed there as well.
Now that Laudato Si, the Papal Encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home,” is available for all to read, the punditocracy can debate it to their hearts’ content. As the most far-reaching statement by the single largest (relatively united) religious denomination on the planet, it is likely to have an immense impact on global conversations around what is probably the single most important issue facing humanity — climate change and its accompanying human and ecological effects.
My initial thought upon reading it is that Pope Francis is signalling a redirection within the Catholic Church (as he has been doing all along, but not so explicitly around environmental concerns) and, at the same time, contributing importantly (if implicitly) toward the building of a broad-based alliance around the goals of the climate justice movement.
To have the world’s leading religious figure make a statement like this one — heavily anticipated and already leaked out in draft form — will be a game-changer. And a godsend (literally for some, figurally for most) to the climate justice community — which, after all, should be all of us.
One of the films that gets a lengthy treatment in my book Ecologies of the Moving Image is Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, about the death of Timothy Treadwell at the hands of a brown bear in Alaska. I characterized it there as a complex and nuanced film that provides a series of somewhat contradictory — but cognitively and affectively compelling — approaches to the human-animal boundary.
What I neglected to examine in any depth was Herzog’s nod to the Alutiiq Native population to help make his own case about that boundary. I should have done that. A film about relations between humans and bears in a part of the world where such relations have existed for centuries requires delving into what Latour and Stengers would call their “cosmopolitics” — the ways in which they have been shaped and continue to affect divergent forms of “naturecultural” coexistence beyond the “modern constitution” of Euro-American modes of thought and practice.
Filmmaker (and UVM graduate student) Finn Yarbrough took up this issue in a short paper for the course I’ve just finished teaching. The paper ranges insightfully from the film’s queerish gender subtext to Alutiiq shamanism. I’m sharing that paper as a guest post below, with Finn’s permission. — A.I.