Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Post of Links

A quick note, since the last time I did a post of links, I started using pocket as my cross-platform way of keeping up with links and webpages. As opposed to my old method, this means I am more likely to have what I want to link to. But it also means I am more likely to miss hat tips and other thank yous for these links. I apologize in advance if I forget any of you. (Also, it seems today is the day of book reviews)

Peter Gratton has a review of Hasna Sharp's Spinoza and the Politics of Renaturalization. Go read it. For those of you who do animal studies, Sharp's book is of real interest, even though Gratton doesn't get into depth about those issues in his review. My hope is to post a sort of targeted review of that part of Sharp's work. Regardless of how one comes about in agreeing or disagreeing with Sharp, it is a really smart book. Read the review, and then go read the book.

Malcolm Bull (of the recent Anti-Nietzsche) has a review of Stephen Gardiner's A Perfect Moral Storm in LRB. To give you a taste of some of the issues and questions that Bull explores in this piece:

These are in many respects valid arguments, but they miss the point that were it not for climate change, we would be giving even less thought to polar bears, or to the global poor, and would see little connection between our actions and their fate. As Peter Unger’s Living High and Letting Die showed, our customary moral intuitions barely extend to poor foreigners, let alone to their descendants, or to Arctic fauna. It is thanks to climate change that an entire body of political thought has emerged which positions our everyday actions in direct relation to their most distant consequences.

Nikolay Karkov reviews Pignarre and Stengers Capitalist Sorcery (full disclosure, Nikolay and I went to grad school together). I really appreciated that book, and Nikolay's review is solid and informative. He ends his review critiquing the eurocentric nature of parts of Capitalist Sorcery. If anything, he undersells that issue. While again deeply appreciating the book, there were several moments of jaw-dropping eurocentrism. To take one moment that Nikolay gestures toward, the authors quote (kinda) Audre Lorde. Specifically, they write: "Black American feminists have posed the question: 'Can the house of the master be dismantled with the master's tools?' (p. 108)". So, see the issue? Rather than actually quote and cite Audre Lorde, she becomes an rather strange subject position of "Black American feminists". And it isn't as if this book is opposed to quoting and citing people. Deleuze, Guattari, Starhawk, etc. all get cited as individuals. No one goes, "French philosophers have posed the question of desiring machines and multiplicity". There are other instances as well. But I also want to reiterate how much I generally like, appreciate, and have been inspired by this book.

Here is an interview (.pdf) with Kenyan philosopher Reginald M.J. Oduor about African philosophy and non-human animals. It is mostly opposed to the idea that animal issues play a significant role in African philosophy, but it is still pretty fascinating. For example, here is one point he makes, "In fact, in indigenous African thought, humans are not animals; rather, they are in a class of their own which is much higher than that of animals. As such, even the phrase “non-human animals” is alien to indigenous African thought."

Okay, I have to run here, but in response to recent discussion of the frontwoman of Against Me! (read this amazing post from HJM for more), here is one from Against Me!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Provocations for thinking ethically

So, a lot of preamble at the top. Feel free to drop to the next paragraph. I have been absurdly busy since coming home from the non-human turn conference, so I have a lot of posts here I still need to make about an event that feels forever ago in blogger time. On top of that I still have a few outstanding emails I need to respond to (which I will get to tomorrow, I promise). But in order to try and keep up with blogger time, I wanted to make this post now.

Cameron, over at his blog, has a really great post up on OOO and ethics. Read that first, along with the comments. Don't believe me that it is worth reading, here is a sample:
I accept all of this. I fully believe that I, as a being, inscribe actions and relations with ethical qualities when they do not inherently possess them. There is no ethical quality embedded in the act of eating flesh itself. But I live the life of a conscious being who experiences the world in a very specific way. I have known fear and terror. I have know pain. Cut with a knife, hit with a saw, scraping the skin off my legs in large, painful slabs. These are experiences that I have known. Science tells me that pigs experience the same sensations. Their skin is similar enough to ours that my father was able to replace his black plastic flesh with pig.
And so, knowing my own body and observing the pig, I want to prevent that pain, and more importantly, I don’t want that pig to die because someone wants a spicy breakfast patty from Burger King. I make those considerations first. As Bogost claims, metaphors are a useful tool in order to talk about experiences of the world that are totally opaque to us.
The pig is me.

Okay, and there is also a worthwhile follow up over at Levi's blog (which is more centered on political issues of the commons, which I can get behind). 

What follows are not specific responses to either Cameron or Levi (though they both deserve it). Furthermore, what follows are not fully formed arguments. They are instead thesis and hypothesis , declarations and concepts, in other words, provocations for thinking ethically. (and for people who have read my articles, seen my conference talks, and followed my blog, I repeat myself a lot. Sorry).

(1) We need to seriously come to grips with what we expect from ethics. Ethic is not secularized redemption, or a manuel for right and righteous living. Ethics is not a pathway for innocence. Rather, it is about how to live after innocence, how to exist in a fully post-lapsarian world. 

(2) A lot of critiques made against people who are trying to produce ethical arguments, or even lead ethical lives, is that they fail in actually being innocent. Thus, while there are many people who are sincerely interested in how do we eat if plants are ethically important, so many people immediately see such propositions as being uniquely a challenge to vegetarians and vegans. Why is that? Wouldn't such an argument concern all of us? It works because these challengers don't care about ethics, they care about innocence. In this case, universal guilt becomes the same as universal innocence, no behavior is condemned because all behavior is condemned. For those of us concerned about ethics (even and especially those who are actually and sincerely concerned about the question of the plant), such a path is no path at all, such a move is just more desire for innocence. Such a move is, again, a refusal of the ethical. Either way, it is what Tim Morton calls (following Hegel) the beautiful soul syndrome. 

(3) Ethos, if you remember, originally meant habit and habitat. It was what you did and where you lived. As its cognate ethology should remind you, it is behavior and character. 

(4) The practice of most continental ethicists is to refuse the normative nature of ethics. What tends to be promoted is a double bind of pure radicalism on the one hand, and a pure emptiness to any practical or pragmatic reality of doing ethics. Ethical actions become like the Supreme Court on pornography: We know the ethical when we see it. In this move the hard and rigorous work of ethical argumentation and philosophy is pushed to the side in favor of phenomenology and slogans: we are all infinitely responsible for the Absolute Other! Which doesn't even begin to answer how to figure out transplant donations, or responding to global warming while also improving quality of life, or what to eat when nothing is 'guilt-free'. We are so found of the word aporia, but we never talk about euporias. We are all so interested in blocked paths, we never talk about the plentiful path.  So does ethics need deconstruction and aporia? yes. Does ethics need constructivism and euporia? A thousand times yes! 

(5) This means ethics will need what Whitehead (in a discussion not really about ethics) would call abstraction (think what Deleuze and Guattari call the concept, or Althusser the problématique, or Foucault the historical a priori). Abstraction is not about being removed from the situation, but rather prehending the situation. Global warming is an abstraction, but it doesn't remove us from the situation. Ethics will need abstraction, and it will need (as Bennett puts it) mutually enabling instrumentalizations. Ethics will need calculations. 

(6) But it will also need its uncertainities, its incalculables. It will need, what Matt Calarco puts, as agnosticism. We need an openness to the idea that ethical claims can come from anywhere. As Matt puts it "that insects, dirt, hair, fingernails, ecosystems, and so on" can become beings we can have an ethical relationship to. 

(7) How to take seriously 4&5 with 6 is going to be the problem and burden of any metaethical project that takes seriously the lessons of the continental tradition (or, following Kennan Ferguson, what we can call the intercontinental tradition, taking in traditions like the American pragmatists, Whitehead and process philosophy, decolonial philosophy, American style queer and feminist traditions, the work of radical women of color, and so many others). Versions of 4&5--systems of rules and prescriptions of properly calculated impacts--have dominated the analytic versions of ethics. Meanwhile, 6, with its aporias and its agnosticism have so often dominated the continental tradition. 

(8) When we start thinking ethics in this broad based non-human turn--with its realisms (speculative and otherwise), with its object-oriented ontology, with its panpsychism, with its spinozism, with its vitalisms (dark, material, and otherwise), with its animal studies (critical, continental, queer, dark, feminist, and otherwise), with its posthumanities, so many new questions come out. Sometimes, many of these questions seem answered (at least partially), by these traditions. So, spinozism can provide answers of conatus that I find entirely unsatisfactory. 

(9) For me, ethics is not first philosophy. But nor is ontology, or metaphysics, or aesthetics, or rhetoric, or politics, or epistemology. All philosophy is second philosophies. Ontology isn't rhetoric, and aesthetics doesn't provide the base for political philosophy; rather, each field/question is both discrete and entirely enmeshed and entwined with all others. Of course, this means doing ethics (or ontology, or what have you) is even harder within this rejection of anthropocentrism and correlationism. This means if you are interested about what to do when it comes to plants, or animals, or desks, or iphones, or economies, or Scus, or anything, means we will actually have to do the work of ethics. 

(10) This point intentionally left blank.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

On a certain generalized anxiety, or, on Tim's presentation

Still at the Non-Human Turn. The conference has been great, but physically exhausting. I haven't slept well, and I was getting over a nasty infection right before coming here, and I think a lot of that is still anchoring me. Anyway, I went back to the hotel and crashed right after the conference yesterday, so I wasn't able to get any reflections up. I have things I want to say about all the plenaries yesterday, but I am going to do them in reverse order, starting with Tim (which you can find here, and I highly suggest it).

There is something about the nature of Tim's presentation that makes you (well, me) want to respond in kind. In a sort of fragmentary series of alliances and connections (also, I'm still not really awake).

Alien phenomenology creeps us out, it produces anxiety. It does this because it disturbs, fundamentally, that we are the center of the world, the universe, the cosmos, life. I was raised occasionally in the Unitarian Universialist church, and the idea of the interconnectedness of the world (the web of life) that is the UU creed is completely backwards. UUs find comfort from this, they find safety and connection. But to be interconnected--to be entangled and enmeshed--is profoundly anxiety producing. As Tim pointed out, we have mercury in our body, we strange chemicals in our bodies, we have CO2 in the atmosphere, etc etc. The waste products and the reproductive products of the world criss-cross through us and in us.

So, the meshwork of existence produces anxiety (and hell, Tim's presentation was an experiment to produce a moment of homeopathic anxiety). Anxiety, as Tim put it, is connecting. This is opposed, very much, to the security apparatus of American and international agencies and media. To tie this to my work on Butler, this is what it means to stay with our vulnerability and our precarity. Security recognizes our vulnerability and our anxiety, but demands that we run away from those conditions, that we try to protect and immunize ourselves. If you have read your Hobbes, the machine of the Levithan is created in order to respond to our anxiety about our shared vulnerability which produces a state of fundamental equality.  Equality is not easy to live in, oddly enough. Anyone who has read Ranciere understands this part of the hatred of democracy. Or the unease some of finds with ethics that extends to the non-human, which produce profound states of anxiety and huge autoimmune responses from many people (I was explaining to Steven Shaviro today some variation of my own historical feelings in that regard to panpsychism).

So, we need to figure out ways to stay with our anxiety and vulnerability. This requires, from Tim, magic.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Updates on non-humanness

So, it is clear that live-blogging is not really the energy I bring at conferences. Luckily, there are people that isn't true for.

Adrian has a run-down of Brian Massumi's talk and Q&A here, and a run-down of Erin Manning's talk and Q&A here.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Non-human turn stuff

I am going to try and do some live blogging here. I briefly met Tim Morton and Steve Shaviro. I am sitting here with Ben Woodward, and about to start listening to Brian Massumi talk about Animality and Abstraction (guess what my talk is about tomorrow? Oh yeah, animals and abstraction).

Okay, I might try to keep liveblogging, but I might also just decided to take notes on pen and paper, and not update. If so, more later.

Btw, the whole space of the conference is really amazing. Tim has some on this.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What Made Milwaukee Famous...

I am here at Milwaukee for the Non-Human Turn conference, which seems completely epic. I have been horribly remiss in trying to contact my fellow conference participants and seeing if they want to meet up, but hopefully I will have a chance to meet people here. If anyone else is at this conference, and want to say 'Hi' or meet up, drop me a quick note.

I won't go through everyone interesting that is here, but it is worth your time to go through the schedule. I will say that I am disappointed that I am presenting at a conflicting time with the panel that Adrian and Ben will be presenting at. Somehow I have been misreading the schedule, and just now realized I won't be able to see their panel. And while their panel looks thrilling, I suggest you skip it and come to mine. Seriously.

I am going to be talking about abstraction, animals, and assemblages. It will be about ethics--about constructivist ethics, about speculative pragmatic ethics, and about dark ethics--and why we have to get away from the phenomenological basis of continental ethics.

Hopefully I will be able to see some of you in person. For those that won't be here, you can follow the conference in the following ways:  Twitter hashtag: #c21nonhuman and live video streaming of plenary speakers.

And remember: What made Milwaukee famous, made a fool out of me.