Tag Archive: ecophilosophy


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A glimpse of Armillaria ostoyae, said to be the world’s largest organism (whatever that means)

Replying to me here, Graham Harman explains his objections to relational ontologies, arguing that they fail to make a distinction between the “two sorts of relations” in which an entity is involved. These are not “the famous ‘internal’ and ‘external’ relations,” but are what he “somewhat whimsically” calles the “domestic” and “foreign” relations of an object. (I like this distinction, though I’m not sure how it’s different from internal and external relations.)

GH: “Surely Adrian doesn’t want to claim that the cane toad is a set of all its relations? If Mars were five inches further along in its course than it currently is, would the cane toad be a different cane toad than it is now?”

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Seems someone else beat me to reviewing Bernd Herzogenrath’s anthology Deleuze/Guattari and Ecology for Deleuze Studies, and the reviews editor failed to tell me that (which he must have known for a few months now; I hope that’s not common practice for them). In any case, things like that happen, especially with academic journals that operate with little or no administrative support, as is the case with DS. I could send it to another journal, but DS is the leading venue for anglophone Deleuze scholarship and the book’s been out since late 2008, so I’ll just share it here, in its extended-length and hyperlinked (and thus ‘value-added’) version.

Incidentally, if anyone else would like a venue for online publishing of reviews related to Deleuze, eco/geophilosophy, and the like, I’m quite happy to make space available here for that. The print publication process, after all, takes time (and costs money), and journals are better used as venues for peer-reviewed scholarship, which also takes time, than for reviews, which are useful as soon as they’re written.

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cinema, ontology, ecology

I’m on my way this week to the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference in LA, where I’ll be presenting, in miniature, the ecocritical/ecophilosophical model of cinema that I’m developing in my book-in-progress. This “process-relational” model draws on Peirce, Whitehead, Deleuze, Bergson, Heidegger, and others, with inspirational nods to psychoanalysis, cognitive film theory (which, to be honest, is a little less inspirational, but to some extent inevitable), and individual theorists like Sean Cubitt, John Mullarkey, and Daniel Frampton. Its ecophilosophical basis is that it is primarily concerned with the relationship between cinema — as a technical medium, a thing in the world, and a form of human experience — and the ecologies within which humans are implicated and enmeshed.

Here’s one articulation of that model.

The starting point: Films, or moving images, move us. They take us on journeys (metaphorical or real) into film-worlds. In this sense, films, like all art forms, produce or “disclose” worlds. These worlds are different (according to medium-specific regularities) from the profilmic or extra-filmic world. They are, for one thing, more dynamic (visually-audially) and more synthetic, insofar as they enable a complex array of fragmentations, juxtapositions, and recombinations of elements, and thus for a condensation and multiplication of meanings.

One part of my analysis is of those film-worlds themselves; a second is of our experience of being drawn into those film-worlds; and a third is of the relationship between the film-worlds (as we experience them) and the extra-filmic world.

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The objects versus relations debate has revved up again over at Larval Subjects, in the commentary responding to Levi Bryant’s Questions about the possibility of non-correlationist ethics.

The debate, as I would describe it, circles around the following question: If we agree that traditional philosophy has been too centrally premised on the relationship between humans and the world at the expense of the world itself (with all its other things, beings, entities, relations, and whatnot), then is it better to promote a philosophy that focuses on objects, that is, not just on human subjects/objects but all objects, or one that focuses on relations between things (subjects, objects, networks, processes, whatever)? The first approach is taken by object-oriented philosophers like Bryant, Graham Harman, and others; the second by relationists, such as those influenced by Deleuze, Whitehead, Bergson, and Spinoza, among others (though the exact list depends on whom you ask; a few recent and recommendable books in this latter tradition are Steven Shaviro’s Without Criteria, John Protevi’s Political Affect, and Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter).

Since I’ve responded to Levi’s points on his blog, I’ll restrict myself here to addressing in greater depth the question raised by Levi, Scu, and anxiousmodernman (in their comments) about the politics of relationalism.

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Continuing from the previous post…

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“For Buddhism,” Clark writes, “the negative path of the destruction of illusion is inseparably linked to the positive path of an open, awakened, and compassionate response to a living, non-objectifiable reality, the ‘nature that is no nature.’’’

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John Clark’s recent article in Capitalism Nature Socialism, “On being none with nature: Nagarjuna and the ecology of emptiness,” has gotten my neurons firing in a productive way. Clark is a political philosopher whose book The Anarchist Moment had long ago excited me about the prospect of melding together a Daoist-flavored, but Murray Bookchin-inspired eco-anarchism with a Foucauldian critique of power. Clark abandoned his Bookchinian social ecology years ago, finding Bookchin’s project too limiting (though he still sees the need to periodically inveigh against it). But it’s good to see that he is still working on a socio-ecological project that continues to synthesize, deeply and thoroughly, from eastern as well as western traditions.

This particular piece is among the best attempts I’ve seen to apply Nagarjuna’s Madhyamaka (Madhyamika) philosophy to environmental ethics, and it raises issues of relevance to ecophilosophy, the relational/objectological debate that featured here a little while ago, and eco-social liberatory practice. Since the article is only available through a personal or institutional subscription to the journal, I’m cutting and pasting some favorite passages into this post, interspersed with comments recontextualizing Clark’s argument within the philosophical currents I’ve been exploring here — specifically, Deleuze, Derrida, Lacan/Zizek, and others. What follows isn’t an in-depth philosophical analysis, and there remain many issues one could try to work out in the relationship between these different thinkers and traditions. I just wish to point out some of the resonances here. (And, sympathizing with Tim Morton’s — that Deleuzian anti-Deleuzian’s ;-) — recent lament about Derrida’s burial beneath mountains of Deleuze, I’ll briefly touch on their compatibility here, at least in a cursory way. They are both, after all, “philosophers of difference” — as one might argue Nagarjuna is, too — but I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there remain large differences, no pun intended, between their philosophical projects.)

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Continuing from yesterday’s post on Graham Harman… (Warning: This post is long.)


Where Tool-Being presented a Heidegger flushed clean of his anthropocentrism, Prince of Networks takes Bruno Latour for a ride on a philosophical adventure toward a world not of actors and networks but of objects, pure if not so simple. The book’s first half provides a detailed, clear, entertaining, and precise exegesis of Latour’s metaphysics through an examination of his claims in four books: Irreductions, Science in Action, We Have Never Been Modern, and Pandora’s Hope. The second, slightly longer half investigates some philosophical problems his actor-network theory opens up; explores lengthy detours through Meillassoux (on relationism and correlationism), Whitehead, Husserl (immanent objectivity), speculative realism, and other by-ways; and ends with a detailed explication of Harman’s object-oriented philosophy, which, the argument goes, is made possible by Latour’s ‘flat ontology’ and deepened through Heidegger’s tool-being (with the aid of Zubiri and others), but which is ultimately Harman’s own. In effect, this is Harman building an all-star collective, enrolling Latour (who participates vicariously) and Heidegger (who’s too dead to tell us whether he’d go along with the project or not), with assistance from others, against the revolution by which Immanuel Kant installed humans at the philosophical center of everything.

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Just by linking Carl Sagan’s eloquent little Pale Blue Dot to the teachings of Gautama Buddha, James Ure’s Buddhist Blog brings out the buddhism inherent both in Sagan’s words and in the imagery of the Earth from space. That imagery (as I’ve discussed before here and here) is multivalent, but Sagan’s spin on it — the pale blue dot as “the aggregate of our joy and suffering” on which “everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives” — deepens its ability to carry useful meaning. That ability will one day exhaust itself, if not turn into its opposite, but for now I don’t think it has. “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled [. . .] the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner [. . .] Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.”

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Over the past several days I’ve gone from the cool wetness of Alaska’s southeast coast to the high dryness of north-central New Mexico. The first was pure holiday, accompanied by loved ones (including those who generously funded it) and featuring glaciers, salmon, a black bear (devouring one of the salmon), a ride on one of the most scenic train routes in the world, and the ambiguous eco-ethics of spending a week on a cruise ship (but I decided not to look such a gift horse too closely in the mouth). The second has been a kind of work vacation involving a week of conversations on the topic of science, nature, and religion, generously funded, hosted (and wined and dined — there’s even a book about their culinary tradition) by the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe.

The SAR has been funding anthropological research, hosting seminars and residencies, publishing books, and working alongside Native American artists to collect and preserve art and material culture for over a hundred years now. Its campus, a former artist’s colony called El Delirio and cheekily referred to as an “anthropologists’ resort,” is just outside downtown Santa Fe, which, at 7000 feet, is a deceptively uncitylike state capital; buildings are restricted to three stories and a limited range of variations on deep-cream-colored adobe (or adobe-style) architecture. The late summer days here heat up, albeit sweatlessly, but the mornings, evenings, and nights swell up invitingly into the big starry sky, with sweet summer smells of lush semi-desert vegetation (pinyon pine and juniper, cottonwood, fruit trees, yucca, Russian olive blossoms, cholla cactus), layers of soft cricket chirpings, and the occasional coyote chorus or quite (but communicative) prairie dog (see above) scurrying around in the grasses. The city is greener than I remember it from a brief visit in 1994, and it seems to be dealing with its water issues reasonably well (water being the limiting factor in these parts). It feels good to be in the southwest again (having visited this part of the country only briefly a few times since my fieldwork in Arizona in the mid-1990s).

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Paul Ennis has posted an interview with me over at Another Heidegger Blog. It follows a few great interviews with distinguished company — philosophers Graham Harman, Levi Bryant, and Lee Braver — and I hope it and the rest of the series generate productive cross-currents and conversations between philosophers, greens, and others.

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Meanwhile, I’m in Amsterdam for a meeting of the ISSRNC, an interdisciplinary association that’s been producing some very interesting conversations about the intersections of religion, nature, and culture — without taking any of those three terms for granted — since its inception just a few years ago. More on that soon.

But what a lovely city. Last night, as the sky was finally beginning to darken after 10 pm, the lanterns on the streets were aglow and the lights beneath the bridges reflected on the canals, all of it blanketed by the soft hum of people’s voices, and I could imagine myself enjoying the same scene in the fall, with red and orange leaves on the ground, and in the spring, with smells of blossoms in the air, and in a winter covered in snow, skaters lazily moving down the frozen canals. (I’m told, though, that the snow doesn’t stay around long any more when it does fall. Europe’s warming, too.)