Tag Archive: ecophilosophy


The philosophical movement increasingly known as Speculative Realism is starting to get attention in these parts of town (the town being Academe, or at least its digital suburbs, and these parts being its ecocritical/biocultural/animaphilic ghettoes). News about the forthcoming re.press anthology, The Speculative Turn: Continental Realism and Materialism, has been circulating for a few days now. The publisher’s blurb announces that

“Continental philosophy has entered a new period of ferment. The long deconstructionist era was followed with a period dominated by Deleuze, which has in turn evolved into a new situation still difficult to define. However, one common thread running through the new brand of continental positions is a renewed attention to materialist and realist options in philosophy. [...] All of [the authors represented] elaborate a positive ontology [...]. [...] the new currents of continental philosophy depart from the text-centered hermeneutic models of the past and engage in daring speculations about the nature of reality itself.”

Scu at Critical Animal posted several beginners’ questions to the movement on Friday, and both Levi Bryant, a.k.a. Larval Subjects, and Graham Harman, a.k.a. Dr. Zamalek posted responses Saturday (Bryant’s providing the more detailed and, for Harman, “perfectly” agreeable replies). The speed of their responses shouldn’t surprise us; Scu aptly begins his post with the phrase “For an intellectual movement that has such a strong internet presence”… Indeed they do, as Paul Ennis at anotherheideggerblog points out, calling them “the first truly digital” philosophical movement, for the extent of online conversation and open access publication that goes on in the SR milieu.

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Another Thomas Berry quote worth spending a bit of time with:

“Acceptance of the challenging aspect of the natural world is a primary condition for creative intimacy with the natural world. Without this opaque or even threatening aspect of the universe we would lose our greatest source of creative energy. This opposing element is as necessary for us as is the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us.” (The Great Work, p. 67)

Berry defines “the wild” as “the root of the authentic spontaneities of any being” (which sounds Deleuzian to me) and which is counterposed to a second constituent force in the universe, discipline or form. “The wild,” as my colleague Stephanie Kaza paraphrases in her review of The Great Work, “is the expansive force, the disciplined is the containing force, ‘bound into a single universe and expressed in every being in the universe’ (p. 52).”

I wonder how this dyadic understanding stacks up against the more monistic, Deleuzian-Spinozian (and Whiteheadian) views that see form-building, or morphogenesis, as part of the same process of spontaneous becoming (e.g. as developed by Manuel DeLanda in A New Philosophy of Society, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, and A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History). This could probably be boiled down into the question: can the two (the expansive and the containing, the Yin and the Yang) also be one (the Dao)? Is Deleuze/Guattari’s ‘desiring-production’ (connection, becoming, subjectivation) analogous to the Dao, as Deleuzian acupuncture theorist Mark Seem has suggested, with any perceived differences being only differences of emphasis — Deleuze focusing more on the open-ended possibilities of becoming, and Daoism focusing on the patterns by which that process of becoming works itself out in time and in space, territorializing and deterritorializing as it goes?

These are rhetorical questions, of course. It’s time to go hear what wisdom my friend Cate Sandilands and British lit crit Greg Garrard can impart about “Our Critical Challenges: What’s Next for Ecocriticism?” (I’m at the ASLE conference in Victoria, British Columbia. More on it soon.)

ThomasBerry.jpg

The tributes are starting to come in for Thomas Berry, Catholic ecotheologian (or “geologian,” as he sometimes referred to himself), scholar, and spiritual/deep ecological visionary, who passed away at age 94 yesterday. Berry is best known for books including The Dream of the Earth, The Universe Story (with physicist Brian Swimme), and The Great Work, in which he articulated the idea that the universe is not a collection of objects but a communion of subjects. Berry wrote:

“If the dynamics of the Universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the Earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and the seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the Universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture.”

A few of the more interesting tributes are from the National Catholic Reporter and Drew Dellinger, whose tribute to Thomas is shared on Gus DiZerega’s blog. But I’m sure there will be much more about him in the coming days.

Berry’s vision is completely in synch with the views I’ve described on this blog under the terms “immanentism,” “immanent naturalism,” et al. His passion and writing will continue to nourish many.

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Responding to a post on this blog, Kvond, a little while ago, raised the question of the relationship between Arne Naess, originator of “deep ecology,” and Spinoza – which made me think of the interesting if sporadic/uneven/episodic relationships between the main traditions of continental philosophy and environmental thought. A glance at the changing editions of Environmental Philosophy, a reader originally edited by Michael Zimmerman but now collectively edited and in its fourth edition, shows us how the place of continental philosophy has grown from barely a mention in the first two editions (1993, 1998) to an entire six-chapter section in the fourth. How that came to be is a story that has yet to be written, though a few brief accounts exist, such as Michael Zimmerman’s chapter in Rethinking Nature , comments scattered through Zimmerman’s Contesting Earth’s Future, and Bruce Foltz’s brief but excellent piece in John Protevi’s Dictionary of Continental Philosophy, which I discovered as I was wrapping up this post.

What follows is a highly selective and episodic overview of key moments in that unfolding relationship. But I start with a few caveats.

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One of the impressive recent efforts to bring the physical sciences and the social sciences and humanities back onto “consilient” speaking terms (to use E. O. Wilson’s terminology, though his own efforts at this have been unimpressive) is Wendy Wheeler’s The Whole Creature: Complexity, Biosemiotics and the Evolution of Culture. Wheeler is a humanist, an English lit specialist whose work emerges out of the Raymond Williams tradition of British cultural studies, and her foray into biosemiotics and complexity science is highly original and ambitious. She’s an editor at British Left-political cultural studies journal New Formations , having produced special issues on complexity and ecocriticism in recent years. Complexity research has been making some waves in sociological and cultural theory circles for a while now (e.g., in Theory Culture & Society), but biosemiotics is more of a newcomer on these intellectual (humanistic/culturological) shores. The book is blurbed by leading biosemiotician Jesper Hoffmeyer, author of, among other things, Signs of Meaning in the Universe (Indiana U. Press, 1996).

While I’ve only read parts of the book (and a few outtakes in other venues) and am not qualified to comment on its use of complexity theory or biosemiotics, it’s heartening to see Donald Favareau’s very favorable extended review, “Understanding Natural Constructivism” in Semiotica, which has been a leading venue for biosemiotic research and theory for several years. I strongly recommend it both as a summary of Wheeler’s book and as an introduction to biosemiotics.

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Green cultural studies

Cultural studies” refers to the study of cultural objects, meanings, and processes, and their production and use in contemporary society. It is an interdisciplinary field with a twin commitment to intellectual rigor and social relevance. While the “rigor” piece sometimes means “objectivity,” often it involves a questioning of the assumption that objectivity and subjectivity can be easily distinguished and kept separate; studying culture, in other words, is hardly possible without some level of engagement in culture, which raises ethical issues for those doing the studying. The “relevance” piece means an applicability to real-world situations – an applicability that often means critique but that also intends to promise action towards change for the better (which generally means toward the more democratic and socially just).

So what about green cultural studies? Even though not all “natural” environments are green (in arid countries their predominant color is arguably brown; in marine environments, blue; in arctic environments, white), “green” has generally come to signify a commitment to environmental/ecological politics. Its application to the study of culture is intended in this vein. “Green cultural studies” describes the study of cultural objects, meanings, and actions with an eye and ear for their implications for environmental politics, that is, for understanding and improving the relations between people and the places, landscapes, and multi-species ecological relations they find themselves enmeshed within.

The green political spectrum is a big tent. It includes biocentric or ecocentric deep ecologists, ecofeminists, social ecologists and bioregionalists, eco-socialists and eco-anarchists, environmental justice activists, anthropocentric pragmatists, and liberal and even conservative environmentalists (including those who favor market over state mechanisms, or who favor conservation of “traditional” cultural values and institutions alongside the conservation of ecological relations). Green politics overlaps with and engages in dialogue with numerous other political perspectives; likewise, green cultural studies has developed close, though frequently contested and contentious, links with feminism(s), socialism(s), postcolonialism(s), poststructuralism(s), critical race theory, queer and sexuality studies, and other perspectives within cultural theory and politics.

The emerging field of green cultural studies has poked its head in many places, including at conferences (such as Cultures and Environments, Nature Matters, the biennial ASLE conferences, and the Environment and Culture Caucus of the American Studies Association) and in journals of environmental studies (such as Ethics Place and Environment, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, Organization and Environment, The Trumpeter, Cultural Geographies, and Capitalism Nature Socialism) and of cultural studies (such as Cultural Studies, New Formations, and Topia). As a relatively new and poorly defined field, green cultural studies also overlaps significantly with ecocriticism and environmental communication.

Some representative texts in the field include:

Laurence Coupe’s The Green Studies Reader

William Cronon’s Uncommon Ground

Andrew Ross’s Strange Weather

Jhan Hochman’s Green Cultural Studies

Sean Cubitt’s Ecomedia

Tom Jagtenburg and David McKie’s Eco-Impacts and the Greening of Postmodernity

Julia Corbett’s Communicating Nature

and

Robert Cox’s Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere.

Or, Toward an eco-Buddhist-processualist cultural criticism

Note: This is work in progress and probably won’t be published for a while, and not in this form in any case. It comes from an attempt to theorize an ‘ecocritical’ understanding of culture that is in dialogue with the Marxist tradition of social and political analysis, Derridean poststructural philosophy, Buddhist psychology, and the psychoanalysis of Freud, Lacan, and Zizek, among others. I welcome comments.

For Fredric Jameson, it is history, understood in Marxian terms as a series of changing relationships among and between social groups and their systems of material production, that serves as a relatively stable ground or horizon against which the vicissitudes of human culture play their figure. For Derridean deconstruction (and other brands of poststructuralism), there is no ultimate ground, and textuality in its groundless infinite play is what shows us this most clearly. For the approach I’m working on, rooted in a more naturalistic understanding of the world than Derrida’s and a more ecological one than Jameson’s, there is similarly no ultimate ground, but there are relative grounds that can be found in the unfoldment of social and ecological relations. The hermeneutic I’m proposing doesn’t leave us errantly wandering among texts and discourses (as does deconstruction), but leaves us ethically responding to others (as many deconstructionists themselves do) among relations that are simultaneously material and biological (a la Marx and Darwin), discursive (a la culturalism), and imaginal-phantasmic (a la psychoanalysis).

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geophilosophy

The term “geophilosophy” is intended here in a nod both to Aldo Leopold’s idea of “Thinking like a mountain,” which I take as a provocation (what, or how, does a mountain think?) rather than a declaration of identity (“I’m the one who speaks for the mountain”) and, secondly, to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s ecophilosophizing. The latter can be found especially in A Thousand Plateaus and in the “Geophilosophy” chapter of their final work, What is Philosophy?. Mark Bonta and John Protevi provide a useful elaboration of Deleuze/Guattari’s views, while a growing number of other theorists draw from it in thinking about politics, society, and the human-nonhuman nexus.

More generally, geophilosophy is philosophy in and of the earth. To the extent that all our philosophizing, and all our culturing and politicking and religioning and art-making and languaging, emerges out of the effort to live with others in and on and with the earth, geophilosophy is everything, or at least the reflective and communicative part of everything. While much of that everything has heretofore (at least in recent times) been unconsciously geophilosophical, some of it is attempting to be conscious and reflective about it, and to get better at it.

The intent of this blog is to keep a finger on the pulse of at least some of the currents flowing in the direction of a better geophilosophy of living.

Several prominent Deleuzians are collected in Bernd Herzogenrath’s “Deleuze/Guattari and ecology.” The opening chapter is on the publisher’s web site.

rigpa meets anima…

Rigpa is the state of compassionate awareness that, according to Mahayana Buddhism, is the innermost nature of the mind. It is the primordial, nondual mind that shines through when unobscured; intelligent, cognizant, awake. “Empty in essence, cognizant in nature, unconfined in capacity.” Recognizing and dwelling within rigpa is the goal of Dzogchen practice (a kind of South/Central Asian relative or analogue of Zen meditation practice).

Anima suggests the state of animacy, animateness, animality, shared by all sentient beings. “Anima mundi” is the World-Soul that permeates and animates all things. “Animism,” both in its classical definition and in its revived and revalorized form (as used by anthropologists such as Nurit Bird-David and Tim Ingold and scholar of religion Graham Harvey), is belief and practice which recognizes the aliveness and “ensouledness” of all things. “Anima” is also Carl Jung’s term for the inner soul, the feminine part of the male self, though, by extension, I take this to mean the multifaceted diamond of animate soul within all things.

Where Rigpa meets Anima is where the empty, cognizant, unconfined essence of reflection meets the embodied, relational phenomenality of the world in its ceaseless becoming.