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Musical occasions

Music is an occasional topic on this blog (as shown in the Soundscape category). It was my first university discipline and love (when I was an undergrad at York’s wonderfully eclectic Music Department), still figures in my scholarly work from time to time (as in my work on Cape Breton Island and the Chernobyl Zone), and I continue to harbor thoughts of one day doing for music what Ecologies of the Moving Image did for cinema. Of course, the 130 year history of cinema is not the 130,000 year history of music, so an ecophilosophy of the latter will have to be a much different, and much more humble, affair.

What I haven’t done here is shared anything about the music I’ve made over the past 35 years. You can now get some of that over at Bandcamp, where I’ve recently updated my page to include things spanning a diversity of projects over the years: electronic and electroacoustic music made in the days before digital (some of it at York’s Electronic Music Studio), psychedelic and “oceanic” improvisational forays (including with my bandmates in the ethno-psych-Slavic-folk-thrash band Stalagmite Under a Naked Sky, a.k.a. Вапняки), avant-jazzy piano work (some of it utilizing alternate tuning systems in the vein of La Monte Young and Terry Riley, other pieces inspired more by Cecil Taylor, Matthew Shipp, Keith Jarrett, and modernist composers Dane Rudhyar and Aleksandr Scriabin), and even an album of choral work from the years when I conducted a Ukrainian choir in Toronto.

For those interested in the connection between music and philosophy, there’s a certain trajectory that tracks with the evolution of my ecophilosophical inclinations and obsessions: from the eco-apocalyptic and “mockalyptic” themes of the earlier albums (Storm Warning, Age of Aquariums, Resurrected Fields) to the “process-relational strategies” of the Pluto Descends trilogy. The latter is most evident, I think, in the intonational experimentalism of Distempered Landscapes and the chromatic abstraction of Mercury Rises.

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Or, Why Ukraine- and Russia- literacy should now be mandatory studies for every voting American

One could start with another question: Why are both the politics of climate change and politics in general so polarized these days? Political polarization, after all, remains the main complaint of Americans, and it has made it impossible to make progress on many fronts. (I’ll leave the climate change issue aside, though I’ve discussed it many times before on this blog; e.g., here, here, here.)

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Media+Environment, the new, open access, online, peer-reviewed journal of transnational and interdisciplinary ecomedia research published by the University of California Press, has launched its first issue and thematic stream, on “The States of Media+Environment.” The introduction can be read here. Articles can be accessed here.

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Opening access…

Janet Walker, Alenda Chang, and I talk about the open-access model we’ve chosen for Media+Environment journal, here on the University of California Press blog.

“OA is a bit like ‘the cloud.’ It may seem ethereal and free, but in reality it’s tangible and the subsidies have got to come from somewhere! We’re trying to figure this out…”

The first issue will feature provocations on the “States of Media+Environment” by Toby Miller, Yuriko Furuhata, Jennifer Gabrys, Nicole Starosielski, Sean Cubitt, Dale Hudson & Patricia Zimmerman, Sheldon Lu & Zhen Zhang. It’s coming very soon.

Media+Environment is an open-access, online, peer-reviewed journal of transnational and interdisciplinary ecomedia research. The journal seeks to foster dialogue within a fast-growing global community of researchers and creators working to understand and address the myriad ways that media and environments affect, inhabit, and constitute one another. Founded on the premise that media and environment is a crucial conjunction for our time, the journal encourages both traditional and multimodal forms of scholarship.

Here’s a hypothesis:

If the human community exists in some more or less unified form in 880 years (in the year 3000 by our calendar), that feat will have been accomplished, at least in part, in and through the emergence of an ecological religion.

What does this mean, and how could we test it?

Religion, defined anthropologically, is something like a system of symbols — encompassing creed (beliefs, tenets, and ideas about humans and the larger universe), code (deeply held values, ethical and behavioral norms), and cult (practices, rituals, and actions regularized into observable and repeatable patterns) — by which people, in a more or less structured community, actively locate themselves in a world of power, meaning, and value that transcends yet includes them. For simplicity’s sake, let’s consider these five things essential to “religion”: creed, code, cult, community, and transcendence.

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As people around the world prepare for Global Climate Strike Week (Sept. 20-27) and for the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City on Sept. 23, here are some thoughts and sources to help us think about what’s at stake, what’s possible, and what we can do. This blog may be updated as needed, so please revisit it periodically.

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So, here we are…

Wow, what a reaction the article described here has gotten… This version includes a follow-up comment below.

Jonathan Franzen’s “What If We Stopped Pretending?” articulates an important point about hope and hopelessness in the face of climate change.

Franzen suggests that an “all-out war on climate change” no longer makes sense because the scenario for overcoming climate change — and with it the catastrophes of massive dislocation and ecological as well as civilizational breakdown — relies on too many unlikely conditions being met: “that every one of the world’s major polluting countries institute draconian conservation measures, shut down much of its energy and transportation infrastructure, and completely retool its economy”; that the actions taken must happen “not only in every country but throughout every country” (in New York and in Texas); that the actions “be the right ones”; that “overwhelming numbers of human beings, including millions of government-hating Americans, need to accept high taxes and severe curtailment of their familiar life styles without revolting.” In other words, no more of Bush the Elder’s “The American way of life is not negotiable” (let alone of the quantum leaps backward taken by his Republican descendants since that statement of his at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit).

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Sobering up…

Peter Brannen’s Atlantic article “The Anthropocene is a Joke” provides a helpful cold shower for those who’ve gotten a little too drunk on the concept of the Anthropocene.

The entire article is worth reading. Here are a few snippets:

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I keep trying to rephrase the second piece of the “double insight” — or two ontological “twists” — around which the philosophical argument of Shadowing the Anthropocene (and Ecologies of the Moving Image) is woven.

The first insight is the process-relational one, which is at the core of both A. N. Whitehead’s metaphysics and many variations of Buddhism (in its idea of pratitya-samutpada). That one is easier to grasp, once you have some familiarity with either of those formulations. It has to do with the processual and relational nature of every event that makes up the universe.

The second is the semiotic insight. It is at the core of one of the two source traditions underlying the contemporary field of semiotics: the Peircian one. (The other one, Saussurian linguistics, should be set aside for our purposes, as it is unrelated and somewhat tangential in its goals.) What follows is another attempt to elucidate this second insight. Continue Reading »

A Guardian article making the rounds on social media argues that the mindfulness movement has become “the new capitalist spirituality” — “magical thinking on steroids,” which instead of overturning the “neoliberal order,” now “only serves to reinforce its destructive logic.”

This “McMindfulness,” as Ronald Purser calls it, has been “stripped of the teachings on ethics that accompanied it, as well as the liberating aim of dissolving attachment to a false sense of self while enacting compassion for all other beings.” So instead of “discussing how attention is monetised and manipulated by corporations such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple,” mindfulness advocates “locate the crisis in our minds.” As a result, any “potential for social or political transformation” is “neutered” with practitioners simply improving their ability to cope with “the toxic conditions that make them stressed in the first place,” while leaving those conditions intact and, in fact, strengthened.

None of this is a new argument — it’s been made repeatedly by scholars of religion, including Buddhists (Purser among them), as well as by social critics like Slavoj Zizek. But I want to consider it further, if only because I dedicate one third of Shadowing the Anthropocene to introducing a complete system of mindfulness practice. How does that form of mindfulness — or bodymindfulness, as Shadowing calls it — differ from the “McMindfulness” Purser and others criticize? I’ll try to explain that here.

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I originally presented a “primer” to process-relational philosophy on this blog back in 2010. A substantially updated version of it is part of my book, Shadowing the Anthropocene. Here it is as a stand-alone, 10-page PDF file.

This announcement is long past due… It’s for the new, open access, peer-reviewed international journal that I am co-editing with Alenda Chang and Janet Walker, through the University of California Press. It includes a call for submissions for two special issue “streams”: “Disaster Media” and “Mediating Art & Science.”

Media+Environment is an open access, online, peer-reviewed journal of transnational and interdisciplinary ecomedia research. The journal seeks to foster dialogue within a fast-growing global community of researchers and creators working to understand and address the myriad ways that media and environments affect, inhabit, and constitute one another. Founded on the premise that media and environment is a crucial conjunction for our time, the journal encourages both traditional and multimodal forms of scholarship. Read more here

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