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.