Tag Archive: eventology


Ecosophy-G

To the extent that ontological questions drive my recent writing (which includes Ecologies of the Moving Image, Ecologies of Identity, and a metaphysical manifesto-thriller called Why Objects Fly Out the Window), they are predominantly the following two:

  1. How do things enter into relation with other things?
  2. What happens (in the world) when they do?

In other words, I’m grappling with the nature of events, which I would define as new relational processes arising unpredictably from the encounter of previously unconnected processes.  View full article »

Just as the Haitian earthquake was followed by a welter of religious interpretations (fundamentalist Christians blaming sinful Haitians for it, Vodoun practitioners weighing in on the events, etc.), so the Japanese quake-tsunami-meltdown trilogy is offering evidence of humanity’s interpretive propensities.

You may have already seen the YouTube troll video satirizing right-wing Christian responses, which scandalized so many viewers that the young videomaker has apparently gone into hiding. I won’t link to it, since it doesn’t really deserve all the hits, but it’s easy enough to find. The gist of it is that “God is soooo great — we prayed for him to smite his enemies and there he did, smashing those godless Japanese to smithereens.” A lot of viewers couldn’t seem to tell the difference between satire and the real thing, which apparently follows Poe’s Law: one can’t satirize fundamentalist religion without it being taken by some as the real thing, because there are enough instances in which the real thing is as bad as that (Glenn Beck being only the tip of the iceberg).

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A few observations from the events of the last week or so:

(1) Tsunamis happen. When they do, in a globally media-connected world, they bring us all a little closer together. (Not all of us; those who don’t wish to be brought closer may drift further apart. But, to risk getting overly psychoanalytical, those who’ve had a reasonably loving upbringing, or those whose instincts and/or the influences they were exposed to helped them overcome a loveless upbringing, will drift closer together — because empathy works on, with, and through them, and the images and thoughts of tragedy resonate.) This is something new in human history, and it gives me cause for hope.

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More thoughts on Egypt

Max Forte at Zero Anthropology* has a perceptive assessment of what he takes to be a (Hillary) “Clinton doctrine,” which he describes as the U.S.

hedging [its] bets by keeping a foot in almost all camps, by maintaining contact with diverse sectors in a society critical to U.S. national security interests, emphasizing “stability” when regime survival seems possible, and then emphasizing “orderly transition” when change seems probable. It is a mixture of realism and opportunism and a desire to intervene without being seen to intervene, a low cost foreign policy that builds on established bases of military aid and support for civil society groups. By maintaining open and positive channels of communication (with Mubarak, the military, the April 6 Movement, El Baradei, and even the Muslim Brotherhood [long a working ally of the U.S.]) the U.S. made sure that no matter what resulted, it would remain in the picture as a continued player of importance. Viewed in this light, there is nothing contradictory about U.S. statements on Egypt.

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The affective resonance of Tahrir Square

My thoughts on the “affective contagion” of revolutionary events such as those in Tehran a year and a half ago, or those currently happening in Cairo, have always been somewhat undertheorized. Posthegemony‘s Jon Beasley-Murray points to an exhilarating piece written by his UBC colleague Gastón Gordillo on Resonance and the Egyptian Revolution that is helpful for thinking these things through.

Gordillo begins:

“What has coalesced as a powerful, unstoppable force on the streets of Egypt is resonance: the assertive collective empathy created by multitudes fighting for the control of space. Resonance is an intensely bodily, spatial, political affair, materialized in the masses of bodies coming together in the streets of Egyptian cities in the past thirteen days, clashing with the police, temporarily dispersed by teargas and bullets, and regrouping again like an relentless swarm to reclaim the streets, push the police back, and saturate space with a collective effervescence. Resonance is what gives life to this human rhizome and the source of its power. View full article »

Egypt & everywhere

With too little time to follow the events in Egypt closely, I can’t add much to what other blogs and news sources are saying except to point to a few sources I’ve been finding useful, and to connect them up to some themes and discussions this blog has featured.

Uprisings, revolutions, and sudden political realignments are perfect subjects for process-relational philosophical reflection. Their causes are always somewhat mysterious; historians may reconstruct the events that led up to them, and may come up with theories to account for them, but these almost always remain highly contestable. They are moments when suddenly much more is at stake than is normally the case.

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conversions

helix_nebula.jpg

What a lovely, touching post Tim Morton has written about his conversion to object-oriented ontology. Since my days of doing religious-studies fieldwork, I’ve always gotten ripples of that nameless mixture of joy, pleasure, and sad melancholy — that feeling of being existentially touched, even pierced — whenever I’ve been around people undergoing conversion experiences (whether they were rolling around on the floor during the Toronto Airport ‘Blessing’, or doing Stan Grof’s LSD-without-the-LSD holotropic breathwork). There’s something about the quality of being around someone who’s undergoing radical, life-changing shifts (or what seem that way at the moment) in their understanding, feeling, appreciation, sensibility, and state of consciousness all at once, which is what religious conversion amounts to. It doesn’t matter that I don’t share their conviction, or may not have any overlap with it at all; I can still relate to that piercedness, that sense of being throttled to the core and finding realignment from the bottom up. (Funny that my fingers keep wanting to spell that word “peircedness“…)

What I like about Tim’s note is the upfrontness by which intellectual conversion is acknowledged as religious in nature (though he doesn’t use that term per se). That doesn’t mean there isn’t a strong, and probably central, intellectual component to it; but it’s religious because it’s more than just intellectual. Conversion, at one and the same time, brings sudden comfort — the comfort of having “arrived home,” without having even known that one was away — and a radical transvaluation that involves a feeling of total openness and vulnerability, a stripping of the self to only the naked essentials, the things that really matter.

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offshore toxic event

The OTE keeps unfolding…

Does that thing (between 0:11 and 0:27) know what it is swimming through??

Here’s a good collection of some of the most memorable images (but what’s that awful music?):

Does Sarah McLaughlin improve things a little?

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cataclysmic eventology

Hiroshima mon amour (dir. Alain Resnais, 1959)

In my reply to kvond’s and Meg’s comments on the Event, I alluded to a quote from Derrida’s Cinders, which I thought would be worth posting, especially since I can’t find any reference to it online and I don’t have the book handy to check it.

“At what temperature do words burst into flame?

Is language itself what remains of a burning?

Are cinders all that’s left from the ringing at the origin of words?”

Derrida’s reference point is the Holocaust, but it’s also the entry into language, which resonates with Lacan’s notion of a gap between the Real and the Symbolic. Following up on Meg’s suggestion of petrification and Pompeii as western civilization’s perhaps archetypal reference point for volcanic/traumatic cataclysmic events, what’s left behind, and what Herzog dwells on in the films I mentioned, is the signature of the Event (though, in the case of La Soufriere, it’s a non-Event). Rather like a nuclear explosion that leaves its radioactive shadow splayed across everything, the traumatic event leaves everything askew, haunted by a spectre, or ringing with an inaudible sound, the meaning of which we can’t make out. The vacated city, the empty landscape, the city frozen in time, with its illegible ciphers, the Event we can never come back to, yet which we perpetually circle around. If the human disappearance from this planet is genuinely thinkable, Herzog is one of its most evocative thinkers.

But sometimes reading these fragments can only be done in still shots, not in movement images. Unlike Deleuze’s time-image, which is always an image of movement, these might be something more like a geological frozen-time-image, which is always an image of movement stilled, of time passed, and, as Barthes put it in Camera Lucida, ultimately an image of (one’s own) death.

La Jetée (dir. Chris Marker, 1962)

For all that I value the vibrant materiality of process-relational and vibrant-materialist ontologies, I still turn to Derrida (and Buddhism) to remind us of the resonant emptiness at the heart of things. Derrida and his followers (Caputo, Mark Taylor) groped toward an ethic, a call, a claim on us from within that emptiness; but for a pretty reliable method for hearing that call, we could do worse than to turn to Nagarjuna and the Buddhists.

Volcanic eruption films aren’t plentiful enough to make their own genre. Most of them fall into the disaster genre or the straight documentary video. Werner Herzog’s 1977 film La Soufrière, about the anticipated eruption in 1976 of an active volcano on the island of Guadeloupe, is different. Like his quasi-science-fictional films — Fata Morgana, Lessons of Darkness, Wild Blue Yonder — the film has a tone of tender and lyrical, apocalyptic beauty, a resignation in the face of what appears to be humanity’s passing. Like Aguirre, Heart of Glass, Grizzly Man, and several of his other films, it is also about the human encounter with an indifferent but powerful (capital-n) Nature.

The same elements that later appear in Lessons of Darkness (about the burning oil fields of Iraq), and in different permutations in several of his other films — moving vehicle and helicopter shots of a landscape emptied of humans, classical music including the Prelude to Act I of Wagner’s Parsifal, and the feeling of a waiting, as if something momentous is about to occur, or has already occurred, or both — is already present here, though without the cinematographic intensity of Lessons of Darkness. At times the film is like an archaeological dig through an abandoned city, or a devastated one (the town of Saint-Pierre in Martinique). At others it is about sheer contact — between the camera and the world — and about its embarrassed failure, the “inevitable catastrophe that did not take place.” This is the failure that, Herzog seems to be suggesting, haunts the cinema verité desire to be there when It, whatever It may be, happens.

Like most of Herzog’s films, La Soufrière blurs several sets of lines: between documentary and fiction (a line that Herzog prides himself on dissolving, though here he hews closer to the first pole than he usually does), between observation and performative enactment (meaning that his own persona is ever-present, which in this case includes taking his crew up to the caldera to poke their camera inside the steaming volcano, as if to dare nature to scald them with some smoke and ash), and between the hilarious and the deadly serious. The film highlights the barbed existential irony that when, in 1902, the inhabitants of neighboring Martinique were preparing to leave before an anticipated volcanic eruption, their governor persuaded them to stay; 30,000 died. Now, seventy-five years later, the inhabitants left (except for the few that Herzog’s crew finds and interviews, and of course, Herzog himself, attracted to the volcano like a moth to the flame). And the volcano… balked.

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