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Space

Like atoms and galaxies, days are full of space.

What if the ways you take up this space—the pauses, transitions, and gaps between doings—shapes the world as much as the doings?* Do we fill the space with restless preoccupation? Death drive compulsions? Nervous uncertainty? Or curious delight at the poignancy of each thing?**

What if the redemption of the world depended on how we fill it, or allow it to be its own?

Ist möglicherweise ein Bild von außen und Baum

*the shared implication of affect theory, Buddhism, apophatic theology, Deleuzian cinepoetics, among others

**as Blake, Rumi, Whitehead, and others would advocate

One of the benefits of being a Cinepoetics fellow at the Freie Universität Berlin this year is that I was able to see a lot of films at last month’s Berlin International Film Festival, thanks to my Cinepoetics accreditation. (Another benefit is simply to be in Berlin, which is such a rich place for film, music, art, and theatre festivals, exhibitions of various kinds, and so much more. I’ll post something eventually about some of that.)

The Berlinale screens a tremendous diversity of films, from the popular to the experimental, with multiple themes every year. Of my favorites, these were three that stuck with me, for different reasons:

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My reflections on a year of full-scale war in Ukraine can be read here.

Among them:

Like Ukrainians in general, whose resistance to the Russian onslaught has been remarkable, President Volodymyr Zelensky has done wonders in so many ways. But one thing neither he nor his western supporters have succeeded at — as this New York Times analysis shows — is convincing the global South to support Ukraine in its struggle. Wartime emergencies call for military support, but diplomatic pressure on Russia also needs to increase, which means that Ukraine’s foreign policy must broaden.

There are no good reasons for postcolonial democracies like Lula’s Brazil and the ANC’s South Africa to remain “neutral” in an anti-imperialist, anti-colonial struggle. […] Zelensky and western supporters need to make clear that that’s what this is, and that no “tradition” of cold war “nonalignment” makes sense any more. We’re in a new world with new allies and new enemies, whose contours will increasingly be shaped by new conflicts. One of these — and one whose “war ecology” (to use Pierre Charbonnier’s astute phrase) shapes the nature of this conflict already — is that between fossil-fuel authoritarians (the likes of Putin and Trump) and climate-transitioning democracies (of whom the EU, Biden’s US, and Lula’s Brazil can be leaders).

It’s high time to shed the old lenses and shape a new global reality. In that, Ukraine can stand at the forefront.

Thinking further about the global climate precariat (and the ontology of climate trauma, etc.), I’ve been reading a set of books that try to articulate a “class politics” for the present eco-political conjuncture. In particular, Matthew Huber’s Climate Change as Class War: Building Socialism on a Warming Planet (Verso, 2022) and Bruno Latour’s and Nikolaj Schultz’s On the Emergence of an Ecological Class (Polity, 2023, Eng.) deserve to be read alongside each other as, at first blush, they seem to be about the same thing — the “class antagonism” of a world divided between climate “winners” and “losers.” On closer inspection, however, I think the two books are about different things occurring at different temporal scales, which makes them somewhat complementary. This post explains the difference and the complementarity.

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Television guitarist and songwriter Tom Verlaine has passed away. In his honor, I’m reposting something I wrote back in 2010, a version of which made it into Shadowing the Anthropocene. Much of it deals with the objects-versus-relations debate that was occupying the then very active “speculative realist” (“new materialist”) blogosphere. The first video captures Verlaine and band playing the classic “Marquee Moon” at a concert (long past their heyday) in 2005. Note that all these old posts are still available and searchable; see “Explore” and “Primer.”

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Slavoj Žižek has “belatedly” replied, in The Philosophical Salon, to some things I wrote in 2009 about his Lacanianism and his understanding (some would say misunderstanding) of Buddhism, and to other critiques of the latter.

In his reply, he later mistakes another author — of the blog And Now For Something Completely Different — for me, confusingly implicating me in a defense of D. T. Suzuki (among other things) where I had never attempted that.

For those interested in following up on this debate over Buddhism and its possible relations to Lacanian psychology, I would suggest the more complete version of my critique, which was published in my 2018 book Shadowing the Anthropocene (and which Žižek doesn’t seem to have read, so even though it’s open access, I will try to send him a copy of it). The critiques of Žižek feature in the sections “The Subject and the Subjectless” (pp. 185-193) and “Totality, or original hybridity?” (pp. 193-197), but there is plenty more reference both to Žižek and to Lacan in the second part of the book, which develops a Buddhist-inspired (and at times Lacanian-inspired) practice of process-relational “bodymindfulness.”

Regarding Žižek’s latest response, I don’t have much to add to what I’ve already written. I still think Žižek’s use of Buddhism as a foil for Lacanianism ends up reducing each to the other’s opposite in ways that miss the multiplicity of each, and especially of the two and a half thousand year tradition of Buddhist thinking and practice, with its many distinctive streams and sub-traditions.

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The New York Times’ Raymond Zhong summarizes the latest deliberations on the Anthropocene in an article called “For Planet Earth, This Might Be the Start of a New Age.”

The article features some good implicit sociology-of-science:

Like the zoologists who regulate the names of animal species or the astronomers who decide what counts as a planet, geology’s timekeepers work conservatively, by design. They set classifications that will be reflected in academic studies, museums and textbooks for generations to come.

And a few pieces of everyday wisdom a scientifically literate public should be able to recite, but most likely wouldn’t make it half-way through:

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To put things in the simplest terms possible:

The global climate precariat — all of those whose lives and communities are endangered by the storms, floods, droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, and wars produced or intensified by a destabilizing global climate system — are a vast segment of humanity. It is growing daily.

Together, the global precariat and its allies — activists motivated by compassion, fear, solidarity, or clearheaded reason, and everyday people working for social-ecological change — constitute what is potentially the largest political force on Earth. Together we could build a better, more just, and more sustainable world.

The only thing that is stopping us is the belief that walls, borders, weapons, armies, politicians, and/or gods will protect us at the expense of others. Those who spread the latter beliefs — politicians, media networks, think tanks, and the fossil capital that fuels them — are the enemies of reason, love, and humanity. They need to be fought with reason, love, and humanity.

It’s coming to the point where that fight needs to be made visible and unmistakable in everything we do.

Sculpture by Jason Decaires Taylor, see UnderwaterSculpture.com

The term “more-than-human” has become a popular way of designating the “nonhuman” within the environmental humanities. Other terms used include “other-than-human,” and much less frequently “unhuman” and “inhuman,” with the latter’s negative connotations upended (successfully or not) to read positively.

“More-than-human” was, to my knowledge, first used by David Abram in his 1996 ecophilosophical bestseller (inasmuch as ecophilosophy has bestsellers) The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World. This was a beautifully written book, more convincing in its phenomenological analysis of perception (the book’s first part) than of language (the second), but a provocative and rewarding read nonetheless.

Abram referred in the book to a “more-than-human world” and to “more-than-human worlds,” and also to a more-than-human “realm,” “matrix,” and “ecology,” but, notably, not to individual entities as “more-than-humans.” (He also used “nonhuman” a lot more often than any of those.) Yet the idea of “more-than-humans,” in the plural, took off, as its suggestion that such entities — everything that isn’t human — is somehow more or qualitatively better than humans was something that many in the ecohumanities liked, if only for its value as provocation.

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Indigenous intellectuals like Kim Tallbear see the current Anthropocene crisis (climate change, etc.) as a continuation and intensification of the kind of thing Indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans (among others) have experienced for centuries. Her thoughts for Indigenous People’s Day, shared on Tallbear’s Substack account, are well worth reading.

Describing a “radical hope” that might be available to us today, Tallbear writes:

In this moment, I see an opportunity for a sharpening of moral clarity across the land. The apocalypses that Indigenous and Black peoples have suffered for half a millennium are blossoming into settler state reckonings. That the violence and unsustainability of colonialism is now confronted by an ever wider number of people feels productive and ethically clarifying. We are more able to deny the genocide deniers, those who have denied our apocalypses while building their homes and farms, factories, institutions, and wealth upon stolen lands using stolen bodies and labour.

It is this “sharpening of moral clarity” that I believe we should all be pursuing today. How do we, each and together, support and contribute to the intensification of colonial, imperial relations that have captured the Earth in an unsustainable grip? How and from what positions can we resist doing that and work toward an alternative set of relations?

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Hearing the announcement of Bruno Latour‘s death earlier today, I remembered his visit to the Feverish World symposium, which I co-organized in 2018 in Burlington, Vermont. Despite his health (which was turning for the worse at the time), he participated gracefully in this strange mixture of conference, festival, and street event, and gave a great closing keynote speech.

Until his death, Latour was one of the most widely cited living social scientists and philosophers in the world. He was often all too casually dismissed as a “social constructionist,” despite the fact that he took science more seriously than almost anyone (he devoted his life to understanding it), and that if there was anything he deconstructed, it was the social. Instead, he was a “constructionist” in the best sense of the word (the Whiteheadian sense): he believed that every thing is constructed — that is, shaped and fabricated — by the labor of all of the relational elements that went into producing it. He believed that “facts” and “fetishes” were not necessarily opposed to each other, but that all things were on a spectrum between the two — “factishes” that were real yet invested with different degrees of mythical power.

But all of that was preamble to the work of restoring genuine dialogue between the realms “the moderns” have separated: especially between the arts, religion, and the sciences, and especially around those things — like climate change and looming ecological catastrophe — that our world seems least equipped to deal with despite having created them.

All of this, to my mind, is best represented by the exhibitions he co-curated: “Iconoclash: Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion, and Art” (2002), “Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy” (2005), “Reset Modernity!” (2016), and “Critical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth” (2020-21), which in their combined impact — as Latourian actor networks made up of artists, scientists, philosophers, and many objects of various kinds — have altered the landscape of contemporary thought more than anyone I can think of in the post-1988 climate change era (since the first major pronouncement of the reality of anthropogenic climate change).

Rest in peace, Bruno. All the debates and polemics you elicited were so very necessary.

Here he is with Rebecca Schwarz and me at Burlington’s Hen of the Wood restaurant:

Steal this book

Wiley’s sudden withdrawal of over 1,300 textbooks from the ProQuest Academic Complete database, which many universities subscribe to, in the days before or (in my university’s case) just after the beginning of the fall semester, seems unconscionable to me. It is consistent with the predatory behavior some other academic publishers have become known for.

To protest, I am making available the book that is mentioned in today’s Inside Higher Ed article on this topic. Nothing against the editors of that book, but as academics they are likely to make reasonable middle-class salaries from their institutions, while publishers profit from their labor. For your copy, go here or click on the image link below.

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