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.

Continue Reading »

The work of Jean-Luc Godard, who passed away a couple of weeks ago through euthanasia at the age of 91, has always seemed to me to be about the possibilities of cinema as a form of thinking. Cinema’s combination of sound and image, constrained by the capacities of the medium but also evolving as those capacities have themselves evolved, presents possibilities for how we think about ourselves, the world, and the relationship between the two. This, for me, is the terrain within which Godard’s cinema was most innovative.

All of this became more clear to me after I read Gilles Deleuze’s writings on cinema, which essentially posit cinema as a form of thinking. (David Deamer’s recent Deleuze’s Cinema Books is a brilliant exegesis of Deleuze’s writings on the topic.) And as I write this now, I feel I want to extend Michel Foucault’s statement about how the twentieth century may come to be known as “Deleuzian” to say that cinema’s twenty-first century will come to be known as “Godardian.”

Continue Reading »

This post is the third in a series on the topic of Indigenous identity, universities, and processes of (re-)indigenization. Part 1 can be read here; Part 2, here. While the following is most relevant to the case of Vermont, I hope it can also contribute to a broader consideration of these issues.

Continue Reading »

Physicists tell us that spacetime is a unity, or at least a singular continuum or “manifold.” But those of us who inhabit it experience it in two distinct dimensions: extension, which we call “space,” and duration, which we call “time.” Extension enables our encounter with difference; duration, with change.

(As an aside: physicists conventionally speak of four dimensions, but this is a figure of speech that follows the understanding of space as “three-dimensional,” which isn’t borne by metaphysical scrutiny. Moving up, left, and forward at the same time is not three different movements along three dimensions, at least not dimensionally different in the ways that time is different. It is one and the same movement, with the directional coordinates merely providing a locational map across a mathematically measured space. By the same token, any movement is always movement in time, but we experience the temporal aspect differently than the spatial. So it’s really two dimensions.)

In any case, we never experience spacetime in its purity, except perhaps in mystical states. We always (otherwise) experience it as folded and enfolded, curved and pleated, rhythmed, layered, and textured.

We humans inhabit those folds and textures of spacetime in ways distinct from other creatures, and we’ve developed a variety of ways of doing that even among ourselves, incorporating sensory, technical, and cultural extensions of many kinds. But until recently our ways of inhabiting it have generally encompassed taking account of, and successfully co-inhabiting with, a lot of those other creatures.

Continue Reading »

Gaia Vince’s Guardian article “The Century of Climate Migration: Why We Need to Plan for the Great Upheaval,” adapted from her forthcoming book Nomad Century: How Climate Migration Will Reshape Our World, is a very good overview of the coming age of mass migrations. It’s also more or less what I’ve been arguing in my writing on climate change, migration, and “climate Pre-TSD” (pre-traumatic stress disorder).

It’s useful to have so much of the big picture assembled in a single, open-access newspaper article:

The coming migration will involve the world’s poorest fleeing deadly heatwaves and failed crops. It will also include the educated, the middle class, people who can no longer live where they planned because it’s impossible to get a mortgage or property insurance; because employment has moved elsewhere… [. . .]

In 2020, refugees around the world exceeded 100 million, tripling since 2010, and half were children. . . . In addition to these, 350 million people are undocumented worldwide, an astonishing 22 million in the US alone . . . Today, the 50 million climate-displaced people already outnumber those fleeing political persecution.

Continue Reading »

This post continues the ethical and political thinking I have shared in some of my eco-theoretical manifestos and asketological writings (including parts of Shadowing the Anthropocene). Its interest in ‘non-fascist life’ takes its lead from critical analysts of fascism including Wilhelm Reich, Erich Fromm, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and more recent writers like Natasha Lennard. This proposal has two parts, whose intersection I hope to merely suggest here.

1. Non-fascism

Fascism has been defined in many ways. Here I will define it psychologically, as the desire to submit to authoritarian power that would defeat and destroy feared otherness.

Something has been rejected, displaced, and demonized. It is a form of ‘otherness’ that could be racial, sexual, religious, national, ethnic, or some combination of these and/or others. It is perceived as profoundly and historically threatening to oneself and one’s community. It must be overcome. This can only be done by an authority, a constructed power, that requires submission. The fascist psyche is the one that willingly and eagerly submits to such authority.

Continue Reading »

Research on the usefulness of psychedelics for treating depression, anxiety, addiction, and post-traumatic stress has been growing steadily. (See here, here, here, and here for glimpses of it, and To the Best of Our Knowledge‘s recent exploration of it for a fascinating in-depth look at the topic.) I’d like to extrapolate from that research for thinking about ecocultural and climate trauma.

The recent New York Times Sunday Opinion cover piece “Taking the Magic Out of Magic Mushrooms” captures a debate brewing for years now between researchers who believe that the experiential effects of taking psychedelics — personally challenging and transformative experiences turned into life-shaping narratives — are central to their healing effects, and those who believe those experiences can be removed and the effects retained.

We could call these two camps the “experientialists” and the “biomedicalists.” For the former, any kind of pill that “rewires” the brain but does not involve some sort of memorable and transformative experience (like this one) is treating symptoms rather than causes. For the latter, the experiences are incidental by-products of what’s really going on, which is neurological, not experiential.

Continue Reading »

On the Ecocene, the Chthulucene, the Ecozoic, and other Holocene successor terms

The term “Anthropocene” has come to be accepted among many intellectuals as the best, or perhaps least worst, name for the geological present, when human activities have come to dominate the planet. It’s still debated among geologists, with “Holocene” or “Late Holocene” preferred by many (and left-leaning social scientists preferring Capitalocene, Technocene, or one of a series of others). But among humanists and popular writers concerned with environmental issues, the verdict can sometimes look as if it’s already in and the Anthropocene is here to stay.

The term’s valence is sometimes taken to be negative (“What a mess we’ve made of things!”), sometimes positive (“We are as gods,” as Stewart Brand has said, and may as well start acting like it), and most frequently a mix of the two (we’ve “ended nature” and are, for better or worse, in control of the wreckage). It rarely carries any assurance that things will continue indefinitely in the way they are going now. And its critics, by now, are legion.

The more optimistic among us like to speculate about a future that does better than the present.

Continue Reading »

While it’s easy to overuse the term “ecofascism,” applying it to things that don’t necessarily deserve it (the debate might be a little like the one I’ve been following over whether Putinist Russia qualifies as fascist), it’s important for anyone involved in environmental issues to have a sense of where the term does apply and how it reflects a longer tradition.

Anti-fascist theorist Shane Burley has produced a bibliography, shared on Twitter, that presents a solid and up-to-date starting point for getting this background (even if a few of its sources do occasionally overreach).

Continue Reading »

When your life takes you places. Or, on localism and the ambivalence of the green mobile intellectual

One of the paradoxes of environmental scholarship is that, for obvious reasons, many of us favor localism over globalism, community solutions over international policy crafting (though we obviously recognize the need for the latter), and living-in-place over a life spent on screens and in airports. Yet we work within an intellectual community that is effectively global — scholarly networks are that by their nature — and that beckons us to be that way in our daily lives, and not just in the background of our (never only) 9-to-5 professional interactions.

Living in northern Vermont (in Burlington over the long run, but partially and currently in the northeast Vermont town of Greensboro for personal/family reasons and because our permanent home is rented out), my family and I engage a lot with the lives around us, human and nonhuman. Most environmentalists would say that this is absolutely as it should be.

Continue Reading »

The Immanent Frame, the Social Science Research Council’s forum on religion, secularism, and the public sphere, is in the midst of publishing a series of responses to David Graeber’s and David Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything. My contribution, entitled “The Dawn of Everything Good?“, appeared last week. The series can be read here. The following comments build on those I’ve written there, so it’s recommended (though not essential) that you read those first.

The dawn of what, precisely?

One of the things I find interesting about The Dawn of Everything is that it’s never exactly clear what Graeber and Wengrow (henceforth, “G & W”) mean by their title. Do they intend their book to be the ultimate tell-all about the origins of everything? They claim that this isn’t what they’re doing, but those claims don’t always ring true. Or is it a reference to theories of “the dawn of everything,” including some of the very theories (or paradigms, really) that they critique? In that case the title should be accompanied by a question mark (“The Dawn of Everything?“). Or could it be a reference to their own hopes for the present moment — or for any moment (processual thinkers that they are) — that we have options we can choose from today that would make tomorrow a better day, less encumbered by trajectories inherited from the past?

Continue Reading »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

Skip to toolbar