Tag Archive: Stengers


The beatnik brotherhood

Graham Harman’s note reiterating his position that Whitehead, Latour, Deleuze, Bergson, and Simondon (among others) do not make up a coherent philosophical “lump” — “pack” or “tribe” might be more colorful terms here (if philosophers were cats, how herdable would they be?) — makes me want to clarify my own position on these thinkers.

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Thinking with Whitehead

Isabelle Stengers’s Thinking With Whitehead arrived in the mail today. The publication of the English translation of this tome, a long nine years after the French original, is a genuine Event in the world of process-relational philosophy (or whatever you’d like to name the “beatnik brotherhood,” as Harman calls it, of philosophers of immanence and becoming — a brother/sisterhood that Harman asserts does not constitute a counter-current to the hegemonic alliance of philosophies of essence, substance, and onto-theological transcendence, but that Deleuzians and others would like to think does).

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Since there isn’t much available in English about Philippe Descola’s writings on animism, I thought I would share a piece of the cosmopolitics argument I mentioned in my last post. It will appear, in modified form, in the concluding chapter of the SAR Press volume mentioned there. Most of the volume will consist of ethnographic case studies from around the world, but these will be informed by the theoretical conversations of the week we spent at the School of Advanced Research in Santa Fe.

Following this excerpt I have added some comments relating the ideas (discussed here) of Descola, Latour, and Stengers to some of the concepts I’ve been working with from Whitehead, Peirce, and the fields/discourses of biosemiotics and panpsychism. I haven’t seen these connections made (in this way, at least) in any of the literature by or on these authors, and I’m still working out these ideas myself, so that part is work-in-progress.

From animism to cosmopolitics

Animism, like the “primitive,” “pagan,” and “savage,” but also like “religion” itself, is a term has been used to classify cultural difference into a hierarchically valenced series: animists, for Edward Tylor and other evolutionists, were thought to have maintained a “lower” and more “primitive” conception of the universe, one peopled by spirits and with objects being ascribed human characteristics. In Tylor’s view, the animist “stage” of belief was followed by a polytheistic one, and in turn by a monotheistic one. This evolutionism has since been largely rejected, and more recently, a loose coterie of anthropologists and scholars of religion have reappropriated the term “animism” to mean something rather more interesting (Bird-David 1999; Descola 2005, 2006, 2009; Harvey 2006; Ingold 2000; Viveiros de Castro 1992, 2004). View full article »

prairiedog.jpg

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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