Tag Archive: sustainability


pleasures of the (un)sustainable

A propos yesterday’s post on transition culture and the Bataillian (versus Malthusian) thermodynamics of ecopolitics, the new issue of the Harvard Design Magazine, on “(Sustainability) + Pleasure,” turns out to be all over this topic.

Wendy Steiner’s “The Joy of Less” introduces it well, positing a sensualism that’s quite happy with the “pleasure economy” of an “age of surplus” and that locates its heroes and prophets among such figures as Walt Whitman, William James (with his redefinition of meaning as “feelings of excited significance”), and the sensibility of European modernists (Baudelaire’s flaneur, Breton’s surrealist vagrant, and Nabokov’s Lolita-loving Humbert Humbert) — as opposed to the rhetoric of sustainability, which “is all about limits on freedom and the thwarting of desire.” “The disconnect between sustainability and pleasure is profound,” she writes, but then goes on to point out the blurrings and conciliations of the two both in children’s culture (school ecology programs, Wall-E) and in the postmodernist arts of Pynchon, Delillo, Chadwick and Spector, and others.

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more on complex sustainabilities

The “Complex History” mentioned below was published on Archis.org, which also features an interesting essay on architecture’s “Counter-Histories of Sustainability”.

Meanwhile, on the eve of the Oscars it’s interesting to note that globe-trotting green architect Bill McDonough has been making inroads with the Hollywood eco-set, all the while losing some of his sheen as a world-saving superstar. Danielle Sacks wrote a long and very interesting, if not very complimentary, article for Fast Company recently on McDonough as the “Green Guru Gone Wrong.” I recommend reading the whole piece, along with the growing archive of reader comments. Sacks argues that McDonough’s flawed character has left behind a string of disappointments – disappointed clients, acolytes, Chinese villagers, et al. – even while his great ideas continue to thread their way around to some of the right places. For an antidote to Sacks’ iconoclasm, and to be reminded of how effectively he presents those ideas, see one of Bill’s videotaped talks on “cradle to cradle,” such as this one. (Thanks to Toby Miller’s Green Citizen blog for the Sacks/McDonough tip.)

Every grad student in environmental studies (and related areas) should be quizzed on this map: The Complex History of Sustainability. Departments could be evaluated based on how well they cover the spectrum portrayed in it… Within reason, of course — we don’t really need an eco-Nazi, a global warming conspiracy theorist, or even a libertarian transhumanist onboard. My question is: can this be made into a wiki-style collaborative, multi-dimensional, open-source work-in-progress?