Tag Archive: geophilosophy


(This post spun off from the last, where I concluded by noting the increasing amount of debris out in the upper atmosphere. Somehow I couldn’t resist pulling that image into the vortex of ecopolitics and the objects-relations debate, which is carrying on at hyper tiling, Object-Oriented Philosophy, Larval Subjects, and elsewhere.)

Like the tail of a dog who, in his immersed excitedness at any signs of life, notices movement behind himself and lurches back to catch it, humanity’s material ecologies are wagging behind us in various ways: from reports of melting glaciers and impending crashes of the ocean’s fish stocks to images of the Pacific Trash Vortex, space junk accumulating in the atmosphere (anyone remember the rains of space debris on Max Headroom?), the mountains of e-waste accumulating around the world (which, in our future history, take over the terrestrial landscape around the time of Wall-E), and the repositories of toxic and radioactive waste that dot the landscape all around us, though we rarely see or think about them. Sooner or later, the trash will hit the fan, somewhere at least, if not everywhere at once.

Our social ecologies work the same way, with “blowback” to social injustice arriving in the form of terrorism and other forms of political violence. If, as I’ve argued before, it’s better to think in threes than in twos — with our material ecologies (“nature”) and social ecologies (“culture”) supplemented and filled in with mental or perceptual ecologies, the actual interactive dynamics out of which the material and the social, or the “objective” and the “subjective,” continually emerge — then what is blowback in the perceptual dimension?

That’s easy: it’s guilt, bad dreams, and the other affective undercurrents that plague our “unconscious.” These are our responses to the eyes of the world (human and nonhuman). It’s what makes us feel that things aren’t right. It’s the traumatic kernel of the Real, which Lacan (and, somewhat differently, Buddhism) place at the origin of the self, but which in a collective sense is coming back to haunt us globally. (I’ve made the case for a psychoanalytically inspired ecologization of Fredric Jameson’s political symptomatology of culture here and here.)

We misperceive the nature of the world for the same reasons that we misperceive the nature of the self. Every social (and linguistic) order interpellates its members somewhat differently, but, over the course of humanity’s long history, most such orders have incorporated into that process some sense of responsibility to more-than-human entities or processes. In whatever way they were conceived — as spirits or divinities, or in terms of synthetic narrative or conceptual metaphors (life-force, the Way, the path, the four directions, etc.) — these have generally borne a crucial connection to what we now understand as ecology. Modern western capitalism has fragmented these relations, setting us up individually in relation to the products of a seemingly limitless marketplace, but leaving us collectively ecologically rudderless. So even if scientists, the empirical authorities of the day, tell us we’re fouling our habitat, we haven’t really figured out how to respond to that, at least not at the global levels where many of the symptoms occur.

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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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I’m reading, and being very impressed by, John Protevi’s recent book Political Affect: Connecting the Social and the Somatic. The book brings together a lot of recent work on affect with the best of the cognitive sciences (embodied/embedded/distributive/enactive cognition), complexity and nonlinear dynamical systems theories, and a strong grounding in philosophy, from Aristotle to Kant to Deleuze and Guattari. Protevi’s main source of strength is Deleuzian theory, and here he draws very much on Manuel Delanda’s efforts to synthesize Deleuze with complexity theory (as did his very good co-authored book on Deleuze and Geophilosophy). But he also perceptively accounts for the strengths and weaknesses of these very differently rooted research/theoretical programs as he tries to build a synthesis out of them — one that would account for affect (and affective cognition) at multiple levels of the “body politic,” from the neurophysiological to the subjective/intersubjective and “up” to the civic, cultural, “populational” and societal. Chapter One is a gem of summative concision. I haven’t gotten yet to the case studies — Terry Schiavo, the Columbine high school massacre, and Hurricane Katrina — but having read his earlier writing on Katrina, I expect these will be good.

It’s the kind of book I would recommend for a reading group (graduate class or online cross-blog sort of thing). Others in that category might include Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (which I’ve so far only read bits and pieces of that have appeared elsewhere); John Mullarkey’s excellent, perhaps even field-defining Refractions of Reality: Philosophy and the Moving Image, which I recommend to anyone interested in film, the image, and philosophy; and Sean Esbjörn-Hargens’ and Michael E. Zimmerman’s Integral Ecology if only to see where they succeed and where they fail in synthesizing the various extant forms of ecophilosophy. I’ve yet to get to the latter book, and reviews I’ve seen have been mixed, which isn’t surprising given the authors’ almost devotional indebtedness to integral philosopher Ken Wilber (quite a shift from Zimmerman’s earlier Heideggerian/Continentalist work). But we need syntheses like it, so I expect the effort, even if flawed, to be valuable.