Tag Archive: immanence

The following are my notes from “Querying Natural Religion: Immanence, Gaia, and the Parliament of Lively Things.” (Live-blogging did not work, as we didn’t have a live internet connection.) These notes are followed by a brief set of post-event summary comments.

The setting: an airplane hangar of a hall in the Baltimore Convention Center. This made the audience of some 120 seem like a puny one.

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Imminently in Baltimore

Get ready for the lively parliament of immanent Gaianly agents…

Querying Natural Religion: Immanence, Gaia, and the Parliament of Lively Things” will take place this Saturday afternoon in the Baltimore Convention Center (right after Karen Armstrong’s plenary in the same room, on “The Science of Compassion”).

The revised speaker line-up is below. Unfortunately, Jane Bennett will not be able to present. And Bruno Latour cannot make it as respondent, but we hope to get a response from him in the special issue of the JSRNC (and/or book) that will be developed from the talks.

I plan to live-blog the proceedings as best as I can.

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The AAR panel responding to 2013 Holberg Prize winner Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures has now been scheduled. Information is as follows.



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“immanence is itself real, or reality itself. It is nothing other than reality in the making. But this reality is not reducible to actuality: what is actual may be rational, as Hegel claimed, but reality is also virtual, and it is with virtual singularities that philosophy is concerned. As a result, to think immanently is to render thought immanent to reality, to its chaotic becoming, its variations, and its vibrations. It amounts to constructing an image of thought that is not posited in advance, independently of the real itself, and orienting it from the start, but that grows from within the real, or Being.”

- Miguel de Beistegui, Immanence: Deleuze and Philosophy, p. 192


This beautifully photographed new BBC documentary, The Secret Life of Chaos, evocatively illustrates one way of thinking about immanence, i.e., the spontaneous emergence of beauty and complexity from natural process. Morphogenesis, self-organization, the collapse of Newtonian physics (into chaos/complexity theory, etc.), the “butterfly effect,” fractal geometry, delicious little biographical details about Alan Turing, Edward Lorenz, Benoit Mandelbrot, and others — it’s all there. Iraqi-born physicist-host Jim Al-Khalili gives us the enthusiasm and hipness of a newfangled (and perhaps more respectable) James Burke, and the music, from Arvo Part’s opening strains (“Spiegel im Spiegel”) to Satie, Steve Reich, Brian Eno, et al, adds a great deal to the pleasure of watching it. Nice work on BBC’s part.

The doc provides helpful tools for visualizing dynamic systems, which are part of what’s making it possible for science and culture, Latour’s two poles of the “modern constitution,” to work their way toward a rapprochement. What’s still missing is the integration of first-person subjectivity — mind as opposed to body — which biosemiotics (drawing on Peirce, von Uexkull, Bateson, Sebeok, et al), Whiteheadian process metaphysics, enactive cognitivism, and related schools of thought, help to get at. To actually bring these together into a successful and convincing synthesis — one that would put Newton, Descartes, and the rest fully into the past and put cognitive science on a much stronger footing (in my opinion) — will require a lot more work, of course. Philosophers in particular have their work cut out for them (as my recent exchange with Levi Bryant might suggest).

The Secret Life of Chaos is in six 10-minutes segments, but if you only have a few minutes to sample it now, watch the bit on feedback loops and the butterfly effect that begins this segement:


Incidentally, John Law’s post-Actor-Network-Theory After Method: Mess in Social Science Research, which I’ve mentioned positively a few times here recently, has now been made available at the fabulous ever expanding scholar-hipster’s online library aaaarg.org. A few of the missing social-science pieces I mentioned work their way into Law’s book…

Thanks to Integral Options Cafe for blogging about the BBC doc, which just premiered in the UK this past week.

after-thought: living immanently

After posting about “a year of immanence” a few days ago, it occurred to me that I could have called it “A year of living immanently.” And then I thought, What would that mean? Would it be living with one’s face to the wind, always in motion, responding to the flow of life, one’s heart beating in the cool air of open encounter? Living without calculation or manipulation?

Would it be, as Deleuze describes in “Immanence: A Life,” “a qualitative duration of consciousness without self,” “an absolute immediate consciousness whose very activity no longer refers to a being but is ceaselessly posed in a life”? Would it be living as pure poetry, art exhausted in the process of its artistry, with nothing left over and nothing to spare?

A life is everywhere, in all the moments that a given living subject goes through and that are measured by given lived objects: an immanent life carrying with it the events or singularities that are merely actualized in subjects and objects. This indefinite life does not itself have moments, close as they may be one to another, but only between-times [mean-times, des entre-temps], between-moments. It neither takes place nor follows, but presents the immensity of the empty time where one sees the event yet to come and already happened, in the absolute of an immediate consciousness.”

“Very young children all resemble one another and have hardly any individuality; but they have singularities, a smile, a gesture, a grimace — events which are not subjective characteristics. Small children, through all their sufferings and weaknesses, are infused with an immanent life that is pure power and even bliss [beatitude].*”


*from “Immanence: a life” (I’ve combined two translations, Millet’s and Hodges/Naormina’s)


Today, my last day in Amsterdam, I finally made it to the monument unveiled last year honoring Baruch de Spinoza. Since the talk I gave at the ISSRNC conference here was on immanence (specifically, Charles Taylor’s concept of the ‘immanent frame’ and William Connolly’s and others’ immanent naturalism), there was no way around visiting the eminent philosopher of immanence himself.

The bronze monument stands in front of the city hall and at the entrance to the old Jewish Quarter in which Spinoza grew up (he was born in Amsterdam to a family of Sephardic Jewish refugees from Spain). Spinoza’s back is to one the tree-lined canals floating to the Amstel, and a few feet away from him is an icosahedron, a 20-faced geometric form that refers to the geometrical method that informed his philosophy. The coat he is wearing features several birds — rose-ringed parakeets and sparrows, the former being bright green birds that are exotic to Amsterdam and that first settled in the nearby Vondelpark, the latter a diminishing native breed — and roses, which apparently symbolize Spinoza, whose name means “thorn” in Portuguese, but which to my mind also represent the love that infused his philosophical writings. A thorn in the side of authoritarians (the text on the base of the statue is a rather optimistic quote from Spinoza, “The purpose of the State is freedom”), Spinoza preached democracy, tolerance, freedom of thought and expression, a monism which he opposed to Cartesian mind-body dualism, and an immanent naturalism that equated nature with God, for which he was excommunicated from his synagogue and his books banned by the Catholic church. The Spinoza Monument Publication quotes his words in its dedication of the statue: “Gratitude or thankfulness is love’s desire or endeavor to do good to someone who has done us a service out of an equal love affect.”

Earlier this year, local artists along with the Amsterdam Spinoza Circle put on a series of events in his honor, including performances, installations, discussions, a series of posters exhibited around the city, and more, under the title My Name is Spinoza. I can’t think of a more appropriate place to do that than friendly, liberal, multicultural Amsterdam, which no matter how thoroughly humanized its nature may be, is a place that, with its famous tolerance for the virtues and vices of human nature, well reflects Spinoza’s sentiment that you can’t hate nature. That said, incidents of intolerance have marred the city’s and country’s reputation recently, but they seem, from my brief visit and the reading I’ve done while here, like exceptions to a general rule of getting along, parakeets and sparrows and all, infused by a love of knowledge and of life.

Spinoza has been rediscovered repeatedly, more recently by post-Marxist political theorists like Althusser, Deleuze, and Negri in the 1960s and 1870s, but also, as I’ve discussed here, by deep ecology founder Arne Naess and, a little later, by anti-Cartesian neuroscientist Antonio Damasio. While the world has caught up with him, to some degree, in its political liberalism, his non-Cartesianism represents, to many, the philosophical path not taken — until now, perhaps, as mind-body dualism winds its way down and is replaced by a more subtle understanding of how thinking, feeling, and bodily affects interact to produce the relations that constitute us.

More information about the monument can be found here. More detailed photographs can be seen here and here. And for eloquent Spinozist blogging, I recommend kvond’s Frames /sing.

happy solstice


Two revolutions are being marked this weekend. One of them is natural, cyclical, the revolution of the earth around the sun with the sun reaching its most northerly point (in closeness to the surface of the tilted planet we live on), standing still for a brief moment, and turning back to the south. The second is political: a periodic, and perhaps naturally recurring (since humans are natural), swelling of collective energy that’s gotten particularly concentrated this week at the nodal point of the “city of 72 nations,” Tehran (35 N latitude, 51 E longitude).

Phenomenologically speaking (in terms of how earth-bound humans experience it), it’s not the earth that goes around the sun; it’s the sun that comes closer and then recedes. The solstices mark the two end points, and northerly peoples traditionally — and as universally as anything religio-cultural — have found this to be the high point of the living year, the height of life’s potency in the dynamic interplay of birthing and deathing, Yanging (in the Chinese system) and Yining, expansion and contraction. (For southerly peoples it’s the opposite, a time of withdrawal, inwardness, contemplation, a time for telling stories about how to get through the winter, carrying the flame through the darkest nights. But winters aren’t as severe in the habitable south, on average, since there’s so much less of it than there is habitable north, and the southern tip of South America is only as far from the equator as the “Athens of the north,” Edinburgh.)

That height of expansion is something one can feel in a fairly obvious way in the wet and dark green hills of Vermont where I’ve spent the weekend. But with many people’s lives no longer dependent on a natural calendar these days — and with generations of separation, in many cases, from a time when that dependence was clearly marked in collective rituals — celebrating the solstice becomes an artificial activity, a personal option that realigns one’s identity with a turn ‘back’ (back in time, back to ‘nature’, back to reason, in a sense) but also marks one as part of a distinct minority, encompassable under the umbrella term ‘pagan.’

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I know it’s just that they’ve touched my inner goth, but these graveyard photographs really do express something of what I find most appealing about the idea of immanence — that death is in the midst of life, the two entwined like the dying branches encircling the face of living stone in Onkel Wart’s photograph:


or Stuck in Customs’ tree overtaking a Chinese gravestone:


or E3000′s Sub Specie Aeternitatis:


or moss covering the angelic human spirit rising above its nature-laden grave in Roberto Catalano’s The City of Falling Angels:


Materiality, cyclicality, the rising and the passing away, the return of life to earth, earth covering earth covering stone covering flesh covering memory. The best of ecological art, it seems to me, reminds us of our embeddedness within cycles of emergence, submergence, and re-emergence in new forms, all causally intertwined in dependent origination converging to and from this moment in which we act, the consequences of our acts rippling outwards through eternity. (No, neither Nietzsche nor Buddha preached a closed universe of fated predetermination, as each moment opens possibilities of new connections to be made. But for both there is an ethic of responsibility to those connections, and a solidarity underpinning them.)

Individually these photos are nothing special – we probably have dozens of our own like them in our photo albums. Their impact is more cumulative, so go to the site itself to see all forty.

Thanks to Integral Options for sharing these (and Neil Gaiman for inspiring the collection).

About this blog

An online space for environmental cultural theory, this weblog has two primary objectives:

(1) To communicate about issues at the intersection of ecological, political, and cultural thought and practice, especially at the interdisciplinary junctures forming in and around the fields of ecocriticism , green cultural studies, political ecology, environmental communication, ecophilosophy, and related areas (biosemiotics, geophilosophy, social nature, poststructuralist and liberation ecologies, zoontologies, urbanatures, animist liberation theologies — invent your own neologisms); and

(2) To contribute to the development of a non-dualist understanding of nature/culture, mind/body, spirit/matter, structure/agency, and worldly relations in general. Dualisms aren’t inherently bad, but these ones have become stultifying; they contribute to the log-jam in which environmental thinking has been caught for too long. To this end, the blog is interested in philosophies of process, ontologies of immanence and becoming, and epistemologies of participation, relation, and dialogue – that is, ways of understanding and acting that take ideas and practices, bodies and minds, subjects and objects, perceptions and representations, agency and structure, to be fundamentally inseparable, creative, and always in motion. The blog will be a place where non-dual mind (/body, subject/object) meets non-dual world (nature/culture), or where rigpa meets anima.

(For more on these topics, see the posts on immanence, immanent naturalism, rigpa and anima, geophilosophy, green cultural studies, between Continental and environmental philosophy, and the “P-R Theory 101″ links in the right-hand column.)

The blog aims to be a useful resource for scholars, graduate students, and the interested public. As the boundary between scholarship and the wider world of public thinking gets ever more more blurred thanks to digital technology, the distinction between lay and scholarly loses its cogency. The original idea was for the blog to serve as a forum for thinking in and around the Environmental Thought and Culture Graduate Concentration at the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont. The broadening described here is an outgrowth of that.

A blog, like an idea, is only successful to the extent that it germinates, grows, connects, and takes on a life of its own. This one began as one person’s (self-) prod to think out loud and to forge connections in thought, word, and image. To what extent it grows beyond that will become evident over time.

For a summary of the blog’s first year, see here; and of the second year, here.

This version updated (slightly) on December 9, 2010 (after the migration of the blog to WordPress).

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