The question of ecological ethics and politics has been raised once again. I occasionally fear that our images of ecology and politics remain stills rather than cinematic motion pictures. This is largely because we still have a tendency to approach bodies as static or exclusively in terms of being bodies-of-inscription, passive passivities, contained, bound and finite in an absolute sense. Against this frozen stillness I want to discuss motion and rhythm, and the ways that bodies of all kinds generate their own spatiotemporal realities.In order to do so I’m going to move quixotically and in fractures through a section of text in EM Cioran’s The Book of Delusions, before moving onto more empirically grounded concerns that open the discussion onto the geological and political physiological consequences of survival in the Anthropocene. I don’t pretend that this post is exhaustive (it leaves questions of ethics underdeveloped) and consider it more of an approach to than a final statement on these problems.
Have you ever felt the beginning of motion, have you ever been tormented by the first departure of the world from itself? (p.59) 
‘Have you ever felt the beginning of motion’
The question presents itself as rhetorical: there is only the answer that Cioran knows you have to give; “no”. We are always already in motion. Motion doesn’t begin. A motion is always dependent on a prior motion, and always leads into another motion. Improvisational dance knows this well; so does nursing theory. The assessment of patient mobility is one of the most essential parts of a global assessment, and it is also one of the hardest elements of nursing practice; manual handling requires training and skilled decision making. We’re drifting though. There is no such thing as a singular motion. A hand moves; it moves away from the lap it had been resting on, it moves towards the cup it reaches out for. This same hand, without break, takes the cup and moves it to the mouth, which itself purses in preparation, the head leaning slightly into the cup, the salivary glands doing their work, the tongue rolling, the eyes moving from the hand to the cup to the face of the person seated opposite who is still deep in talking about whatever it is they are saying.
Step back: Can you feel it kicking? The hand is pressed to a swollen abdomen. Inside, a foetus is moving, is stretching out a leg against the membranes of the uterus; its heart is beating, has been beating, and before that, before there was a heart to speak of, when it was a mass of simple undifferentiated cells, it was a flurry of division, accumulation. Step further back: the welcoming of the spermatozoa into the warm membrane of the ovum; the race of the sperm to their target; the growth and release of that ovum; its descent from the ovaries, down the narrow pathway of the oviduct and into the warmth of the blood thickened uterus; the floating there, until that race is concluded. Whose motions are these? Do our first motions belong to us; and then, can we really separate my motion from my mother’s; does it pass on down the generations this way, retracing the evolutionary drift like a cinematic explosion played in reverse on the big screen, until we reach the first life forms, the first inorganic stirring of life; and why even place the limit there? Step backward even further, as far as the imagination permits: does the beginning of a motion, any given motion, not find itself as the ineluctable playing out of the first motions of the celestial gases, of the primal movements of what would eventually become matter?
These aren’t necessarily answerable nor is it necessary that we answer. The point is made: we have never felt the beginnings of a motion; never felt the beginnings of motion itself.
‘…have you ever been tormented by the first departure of the world from itself?’
This is an odd way of characterising motion; the departure of the world from itself. A departure is an exit, a going away from, a leave-taking. Motion is the world leaving itself. This suggests that the world, the world (singular) has space to move “into”; that it, Cioran is reproducing the Epicurean idea of matter and void. The world can take leave of itself only because there is void, emptiness, into which it can move. Motion means leaving the world (singular); it means the world taking leave of the world; cleaving itself from itself…the impossibility of monism. Motion means the world is no longer to be considered as One; it is at least Two, the world and the world. We can’t speak of the world (singular) then, but of worlds: the world that takes leave and the world that remains. Yet every motion is just such a leave taking; and so motion is the means by which multiplicity multiples itself. The cleaving is a proliferation. And the endlessness of motion implies the endlessness of void. No matter how many worlds are born, they can never fully occupy the emptiness. In the face of motion’s worlding, the void remains undiminished.
Of course, a departure is also a different approach, and what is motion if not a departing and an approaching? This raises the question of difference, of variation. We have seen this already in the plurification of the world. Behind every point of arrival, every specific being, every entity, every singularity, there is divergence and differentiation. Whatever thing is in motion is always the kind of thing that is moving away from and a moving towards, even where the “towards” is aimless, a digression, a drifting that has no target. That everything is in motion means that everything is a tension between a past and a future; that a thing is not coextensive with its presence. Cioran as postmetaphysical philosopher as well as anti-theological theologian .
Incidentally, although it is far from incidental, all this commotion about motion also tells us something else. If Cioran is right, if the motion of bodies in motion (what else is “in motion”?) does not exhaust the void then the void must be something other than space as it is usually conceived. Space is usually thought of as a container. I remember a lecture on Kant when I was an undergraduate; I had said, “but what if the absences at the heart of black holes aren’t ‘in space’, what if space formed around these absences?” and was met with blank looks. The lecturer told me that it didn’t make sense and moved on. But what if this is precisely the case: the void comes before space- space is what happens when bodies are in motion; it is a relation of bodies in motion to each other in motion. Before this motion, before the beginning of motion, there is no space. The movement of bodies has a spatialising effect. This is the core of a choreographic interpretation of ontology.
‘…have you ever been tormented by the first departure…’
Why should this plurification of the world be taken as a torment? There is undeniably the idea that motion is pain…bodies in motion are vulnerable bodies, it is precisely there being in motion that exposes them to, and as, suffering entities. This is not a discreet or episodic suffering, not the kind of suffering that might come about and depart again (not the suffering of injuries and accidents, such that Catherine Malabou has made so much of), but is much more like something that must be endured, something chronic, and, I use the word cautiously, essential. It is the very suffering of existence itself: duḥkha. Yet torment is also much more of a sensual term than anguish or suffering or pain: torment seems like the trials of the flesh. It is the suffering of bodies; it is bodies which suffer.
‘Have you ever touched the first pure shiver of motion, the prime ecstasy of becoming, the initial vortex of time?’
‘the prime ecstasy of becoming’
Becoming preferred over being: the chronic is equated to chronicity, to time, to the manner of existence that unfolds over time, that transforms itself in time, that is not static. Differentiation, plurification, can only be temporal actualities, actualisations, processes that occur, that happen. Motion is identified with becoming and so space and time, spatialisation and temporalisation, are summoned as the very ground of the torments of bodies in motion. Elsewhere Cioran will speak of a ‘fall into time’, but time can’t pre-exist the falling; to pre-exist the falling the falling body would have to exist in the void that is outside of time, that is not temporal, and somehow cross the threshold of the void into the realm of matter. By what means could it do so? This would amount to the exposure of the void as less than void, as merely the ante-chamber to matter. It must be that the fall into time is not a fall into something already there but a fall that produces that into which it falls and, thereby, conditions itself as falling.
The torment is an ecstasy: the prime ecstasy. Given what we have already said, to say that nothing can outdo the bliss of becoming is the same as to say that nothing can outdo the bliss of chronicity, of torment. Suffering is the height of our being, our truth, as it were.
‘the initial vortex of time’
This confirms that time and motion co-actualise: the beginning of motion is the beginning of time. Thus, the beginning of a (singular) motion is the beginning of a (singular) time. This is already to radicalise the temporal correlation in Heidegger’s account of Da-sein. If Dasein is temporal, and temporality refers to time, then time can only ever be own time, specifically my time. Yet here, the beginnings of becoming (the insubstantiation of substance? First there is substance and gradually, by plurification, it becomes nothing- by its very accumulation, it loses itself?) are linked to all manner of motions (plural). Thus, there is a plurality of time. Time is not an impoverished singularity; there are a multiplicity of temporalisations: everything “falls” into its own time. There is a time of the heart and a time of the sun, the time of this galaxy, and the time of this dividing amoeba (and so time also divides from itself).
The beginning of motion, of temporalisation and spatialisation, is the cause of suffering, of torment, which is itself a kind of bliss. Above we discussed plurification via Gnostic cosmology. The Gnostics can also come into play here. The Gnostics denigrate the body, all bodies, all corporeality. For them, materiality, and bodies are certainly often material (esp. our own and those we are most familiar with) is evil simply because the divine spark, the scintilla, which is fragments of the divine are trapped within it. Matter is the prison-house of a soul that is divine-debris. For many of the Gnostics, suffering results from the idiocy or malevolence of the demiurge (isn’t stupidity a more intuitively accurate image?) who has poorly fashioned materiality. Evil appears as a kind of structural error, a system-wide virus that cascades through all subsystems.
If bodies are bodies in motion, that is bodies that temporalise and spatialise, and this is why they suffer then we have a way to understand the error: the error is time and space. There is not just one time, and so not just one suffering, not just one death or extinction. What of the Gnostic laughing Christ? The body of Jesus suffers while the subtle body of the Christ exists through the backdoor, laughing above the Cross at man’s suffering. Mostly this is read as a kind of elision of the point of the crucifixion but what if it was simply a hermeneutical twist? Christ suffers, dies, becomes the dying God (“God is dead” is announced by Christ on the Cross who dies; Christ is an atheist, hence Nietzsche’s insistence that only Christ was Christian); the Gnostic’s Laughing Christ doesn’t undo this first Christ but enigmatically reveals that the suffering of the body is bliss, is ecstasy, is bursting with a kind of joy. Christ is, after all, a kind of self-giving gift, our murder of him is only part of the economy of exchange. The Gnostic Christ performs the ecstasy of becoming. What has this to do with the ‘vortex of time’? It’s simple: a vortex is an image of ecstasy, a whirlpool down which one might plunge, be buffeted, and eventually drown in. There is something here about the pleasure principle and jouissance, a morality tale: beware the joys of the body. There are more (and more critical) things to say about all this, but this isn’t the place.
“This is the feel of the first motion! Do we not, then, live as the source of motion, as the first bumping flip of the world? And does it not exist in our fever, that concentration of motion, the centering of becoming in our impetus?”
SO, against expectation…Cioran does tell us we feel the first motion. It is impossible. Except that as we have seen, every motion is the first motion and so every actualisation is a re-actualisation, a vortex and an ecstasy, an uncertainty, a swirling into and away from itself. This is to say, along with Deleuze, that we always find ourselves in the middle; and that bodies are always bodies in motion, already in motion, does not mean that they proceed by inertia. Each motion is the first motion which finds itself already in a history of motions; so to, each instant finds itself as fresh and autonomous, every epoch discovers itself as a new period that has ruptured from a previous history, or out of history itself, but neither the instant nor the epoch stands alone, outside of the vortex of time, times, swirling temporalities.
Cioran addresses the question to a human audience: to bodies that are material, organic, animate, male and female. Specifications, specifications. Could he say the same thing to a galaxy or a dust mite, that it lives as the source of motion? It’s hard to say, yet the foregoing almost demands it if he is to make any sense. Besides, that would simply be to go further with his own impious declaration. To live as the source of motion, and thus the origin of time and space and suffering is to be the unmoved mover, the prime ecstasy of the cosmos itself. Cioran’s heresy becomes apparent: he speaks of this “we”- men, humans, all possible bodies in motion?- as if “we” were God, or Gods. This is again a heresy, a Gnostic- particularly a Cathar- heresy that means that after the death of God, God is immanentised, made flesh not just in Christ’s incarnation but in the incarnation of all bodies.
We are the first bumping flip of the world– simply, the world’s turbulence that exists in our fever which is our ecstasy, our bliss, our suffering, which is itself a concentration in our momentum, our thrust, or our will. The “or” that oscillates between “thrust” and “will” is an intentional ambiguity that is the flipping between, the very siteless in-between that stretches across our passivity and activity.
‘He who has not felt how the world’s motion was gathering in him in a whirl, in whose bubbling unending and unknown worlds roam, will never understand why, after such moments, man becomes essentially an other, a being taken out of beings; likewise, nor will he understand how one single day containing such uninterrupted moments of lightning would be enough to consume his being completely.’
‘He who has not felt how the world’s motion was gathering in him in a whirl, in whose bubbling unending and unknown worlds roam, will never understand why, after such moments, man becomes essentially an other, a being taken out of beings’
So it is the world’s motion that gathers in me, that produces the turbulence. This shouldn’t be surprising; between myself and the world there is no unbridgeable gap- the flesh is the elemental entwining of all bodies to one another. When we feel the beginnings of a motion, a beginning that is itself a middle, an instant that can’t autonomise itself from a history, we feel our own motion which is the motion of the world. Bodies in motion spatialise and temporalise: they produce their own worlds in conjunction with those other bodies that are the unending and unknown worlds that roam through them. Why should this produce man as other, as a being taken out of beings? Because in the auto-generative world that is always being contaminated with other worlds (plurification, again), human consciousness is able to take itself as a departure, as a leave-taking and a moving-toward, a motile body. What is man other to in this if all beings are also bodies in motion? Man becomes other not to those beings out of which he has been taken but, and this is fundamental, from himself. Being taken out of being doesn’t mean being subtracted or removed from beings, ontologically isolated in an absolute way, rather it means becoming different from those other beings, occupying a different world. That Cioran indicates that we can feel this impossible feeling means that it takes no particular expertise; it is just feeling what is already there to be felt.
‘likewise, nor will he understand how one single day containing such uninterrupted moments of lightning would be enough to consume his being completely.’
To live in a constant understanding, or awareness, of this lightning (illumination- knowledge, gnosis; but also, the flash that cuts through and so reveals the darkness of the night sky) would consume his being completely. Cioran’s mysticism rears its head. To achieve gnosis and dispel ignorance, to know that we live as a body in motion, to never be able to forget that we are bodies and worlds unto ourselves, to live in the full knowledge of our endless departing, would exhaust us, expend us, leave us wasted: we would be extinguished, nothing left. Such gnosis, such illumination, would be fatal.
It is interesting to note that this is all by way of feeling. Understanding proceeds through feeling rather than intellect (recall Cioran elsewhere: the sensation must have denigrated itself to allow itself to become an idea). While the Gnostics despised the body and sought liberation from it, Cioran neither despises it nor seeks to be liberated from it. We are bodies in motion; nothing else (if there is such thing as soul, it is simply the motion of our motion). In a sense then, it is not the body that is dangerous, or “evil” as the Gnostics thought, but rather it is the wisdom of the body: sensibility. If we lived our embodiment to the full it would kill us: to inhabit the body fully is to die. There is an irony in this: we are our bodies without remainder, but we are not corpses. Except that this is precisely the point Cioran is making: we are indeed corpses; we don’t realise that fact in an uninterrupted manner until our corpses cease to be “animate”.
The idea is that Cioran has lived such a life, perhaps in the ecstasies of his insomnias- a state that Levinas puts down as passive but that is already more active than sleeping, already holds too tightly to the possibility of the turbulence of embodied gnosis. Perhaps this is why his next fragment opens:
––Only the angels can comfort me now.
Angels: beings of light, beings that pre-date this world; the world of matter, of time and space. Angels can’t be said to exist. To exist is to exist as a body; to be corporeal. Angels are beings of light, pure light, like the Seraphim that are seated by the throne of God and who one can’t look upon directly. Angels, in short, don’t exist: but reality isn’t limited to only that which exists. The angelic is thus another name for the incorporeal. In Stoic physics there are four classes of incorporeal, and we have already met two of them: place, sayables, void and time. Without being led down a discussion of Stoicism in general, the incorporeals subsist but they do so by subsisting on what exists. In other words, the incorporeals are dependent upon and never autonomise themselves from the corporeal.
Sextus Empiricus discusses one modality of this subsistence when he stated that ‘the coming-to-be of a qualified thing subsists according to a thing’s intrinsic suchness’. This coming-to-be, or becoming, of a thing is what subsists the thing itself. For instance, the coming-to-be or becoming of my body is not identical with my body at any particular phase of my physiological development (this would be static, and would make such development impossible), and nor is it entirely locatable in the reproductive coupling of my parents, their parents, and so on (back, perhaps, as far as we went above), although it is certainly dependent on both of these conditions, as well as host of others. My body is the qualified thing, the corporeal and thus existent thing; but the genesis and development of my body, its qualification, laid down by its “suchness” (we might prefer to think of genetics rather than essences), are non-existent: they subsist insubstantially.
Void is the incorporeal par excellence, being defined entirely through its lack of body. The void is simply whatever is not filled by body but which can be occupied by bodies without ever being exhausted. Void is thus not identical with bodies but depends upon its ability to extend hospitality to bodies, to be filled by bodies: thus, time is subsistent on bodies. The coming-to-be of my body is subsistent on the actuality of my body. Incorporeals have no body but are subsistent on bodies, and so we can talk of abstract machines like capitalism which has no body of its own but which nevertheless depends on a whole ensemble of bodies. When we don’t look at all the bodies and exchanges between bodies that compose capitalism we can still nonetheless speak about it and the same is true, contra Latour, of society: it is only when we dispense entirely with the ensembles and assemblages of bodies that compose capitalism or society that we are in trouble, that we are idealists.
We’re in a strange position then: capitalism and society are angelic, although no less is the “spectre” called communism.
-Only the angels can comfort me now.
What does he mean? Not capitalism and not society, perhaps nation? Cioran was a nationalist, after all. Simpler and more vaguely, only incorporeal things, subsistent things, things that are real but are neither empirical, material, nor corporeal can comfort him. He goes on: ‘these non-beings’… ‘my memories’ … ‘my angelic places’ (a tautology)…’my childhood’…’my melancholies’.
All these poetic remembrances are so many incorporeals, lacking bodies of their own but nonetheless somethings, nonetheless dependent on, subsistent on bodies. Specifically, the corporeality of the brain, an organ Cioran knew well in his later life if only through its decline.
‘––Although space resists us more greatly, more directly and more fatally, it is nonetheless a less essential problem to us than time.’
How does space resist us? By forbidding entry; by being too little or too much; the space of the arteries narrows, the space between my body and the oncoming car vanishes too quickly; the anorexic seeks to control the space they occupy to the point of disappearance and death. But time is the more essential problem. A problem, says Foucault, is something to be dwelled in, something to explore and move around in, something problemmatised and re-problemmatised; a problem is strategically approached, obsessively circled around, raked over and returned to; a problem is repeated, but never in the same light. Time is just such a problem, essential because we dwell in it and are returned to it more vividly and with more torment than space.
Space never becomes a problem of existence or personal relationship. The more we immerse ourselves within our ego, the more space loses its reality, because time persists in our consciousness, and when we have become essentials we move further and further away from time as we did from space’.
Against Cioran, space obviously becomes a problem of existence and of personal relationships. Existence: overcrowding, pollution, rising sea levels, housing. Personal relationship are implicated in all this but we also speak in embodied spatial metaphors about feeling “crowded”, having our “personal space invaded”, or finding a confrontational person as being “in your face”. Cioran would no doubt return that these are social and political rather than existential problems; they are solvable, at least in theory, whereas the problem of existence is an essential problem that no technique will vanquish and, for Cioran the mystic, it doesn’t matter what the dimensions of the room are to the one who slips into her own mind, the one who is more and more ego, more and more consciousness, more and more confined to the correlate of mind-world that the mystics believe obliterates the correlation. We transcend spatiality in our imaginations, but we can never transcend time…until we become “essentials”, some mysterious figure that might be a stand in for the sage, the yogi, the Buddha.
‘There are people and even cultures (the Egyptian) who perceive eternity as it is bound up with space, and who do not feel time and its relation to eternity. In their consciousness non-motion and the boundlessness of space exhaust the essential content of the world’.
Again time is linked to motion. Now space is linked to stasis, to non-motion. If bodies spatialise they do not temporalise until they are in motion; we have already seen that. I can’t speak to the validity of Cioran’s claim about the Egyptians but if the Egyptian culture stands is also a stand-in, like the essential but this time as a kind of non-essential, then for the Egyptians there is only stasis and the “boundlessness of space”: there is thus no change, no development, and no decline- neither birth nor death. This is a culture, a kind of field, that is immune to the angelic, knowing only the body; but it is a body as sculpture, as utter stasis, and so it is also a culture bereft of any understanding of departure, of the plurification and the choreographic sensibility of worlds. This “culture” is monolithic and permanent- a black iron prison, in Philip K. Dick’s phrase.
Space is not a problem because it is “too great an evidence” and because it “does not go through us”. Temporalities overlap, spaces merely intersect and partition. This rhythm overlaps with this one, they blur and forge, they are can’t be isolated, separated, but all the while they force our bodies to move to them, in accordance with them, gracefully or awkwardly; time is rhythmicity, a musicality. Perhaps this is why ‘
Time discloses music and music discloses time to us’.
We are ‘ill with time’ according to Cioran, and it is time that we ‘regret’ and this is because ‘It is absolutely impossible to get rid of time, without getting rid of life at the same time.’ This is reminiscent of Heidegger again: time is the dimension of existence. What lives does so as temporality. Cioran is no vitalist, but in reading him this way am I making a blunder into vitalism? I don’t think so. Life is what Cioran detests, although it is, he says, impossible to detest life (thus it is a bluff, or the repudiation of life is itself an expression of life: an auto-affection). If life and time are conjoined in some way then it is life that we are sick with, life that we regret: life is “the fall into time”, at least in human hands. Yet life is thus also what discloses music and music discloses life: life isn’t time but temporality which is temporalisation, rhythmicity, turbulent motion. Cioran thus tells us that life is whatever is in motion- certainly grounds for seeing inorganic life everywhere, almost to the point of absurdity…what is not in motion? The earth spins on its axis around a sun and the galaxy drifts aimlessly, even evolution is a process “in motion”: are these also “alive”? Certainly they are rhythms, impossible to say otherwise (the music of the stars; the dance of species), but to claim they are alive? A rock thrown by a human hand is in motion but it is not a motion that belongs to it; it is the temporary extension, temporary widening, of the motion of that hand, of the body to which that hand belongs. So the rock might lack its own motion, might not be alive, but the earth and the galaxy? No human force set them in motion.
So Cioran goes too far and we have to step back from him. What is essential in what he has revealed is the philosophical discovery that bodies don’t exist “in” space and time but that they generate their own spatiality and temporality. The question of time in-itself must itself be rephrased as a question of multiplicity rather than singularity. This insight has been repeated in our contemporary situation and has been backed by the evidence of the sciences.
Midway through writing this hazy post Adam Robert (knowledge-ecologies) posted a short piece on cognitive ethnography, Ecology and Time. In that post he linked to a paper that discusses how
the relationship between both physiology and the effects of body mass on the ability to resolve temporal features of the environment on fine timescales
via the quantification of temporal perception through the use of critical flicker testing . Quantifying the critical flicker fusion rate, a measure of the persistence of visual stimuli in a given subject, is a verified experimental procedure used in psychophysics. The latter term refers to the experimental field that seeks to empirically study the relationship between environmental stimuli and the phenomenal experience and observable behaviour of human and nonhuman animal test subjects. As the study points out organisms rely upon their capacity to ‘perceive and react to a dynamic environment’. As such temporal-perception and experience are absolutely necessary to the individual and evolutionary survival of organisms and points towards their pragmatic perceptual and metabolic coupling to the environment; the very conditions of ecological enmeshment. In the discussion of findings the authors of the study report that ‘body mass and metabolic rate act as important general constraints on this ability’ such that they show an essential
relationship between both physiology and the effects of body mass on the ability to resolve temporal features of the environment on fine timescales, hence linking sensory adaptations to fundamental constraints and trade-offs imposed on all organisms.
Physiology (as the inter- and intra-actions of bodies with themselves and environments) and body mass (spatial organisation; thickness of body-surfaces etc.) in the ability to perceive and experience bodies-in-motion. This is so in a way that does not simply come down to the ability to see movement but also in the fundamental capacity to carve out distinct “spatial and temporal niches” that we must understand in the same way as (and infolded on) ecological niches as a complex interactive system of coping-with and developing responsiveness to environmental entanglements. Part of the ability of organisms to generate temporalities comes from their ‘maneuverability’, pretty much a synonym of the capacity for being-in-motion. The authors of the study also point to communicative ecosystems that produce temporalities that are exclusive to (can only be shared by) members of the same or similar species, providing the example of bioluminescence in deep sea fish that requires a particular kind of sensory coupling to the environment. Given all this it comes as no surprise that Adam writes that
It is not just that nonhumans feel the same world in a different way, but that they actually generate different temporalities operating at multiple scales…The ecosystem, when viewed from this ontological perspective, is a dynamic and evolving zone of space-time generated in part by the activity of organisms.
In both particular bodies and in wider emergent ecosystems produced by the transcorporeal interpenetration and metabolic exchange we find that bodies-in-motion are not in space and time but that their activity, their very being–as-motion, carves out distinct spatiotemporal “niches”. Such niches can also be found within bodies. I immediately think of the mysterious integral ability of the heart to generate its own innate rhythm.
Elsewhere, and moving away from exclusively animal bodies, Levi Bryant reads Einstein’s theory of gravity as providing evidence
that space-time is not an indifferent milieu that is a given container in which entities are housed. In other words, spacetime is not something in which entities are contained. Rather, space-time arises from the mass of objects or machines. Space-time doesn’t pre-exist things, but rather arises from things. Second, Einstein shows that space-time is not homogeneous. The flow of time and the metric of space is not the same in all places. Rather, space-time has all sorts of lumps, contractions, dilations, and curvatures that differ from region to region. There are even space-times that are so powerfully curved that nothing can escape from them—black holes –effectively rendering them selfcontained space-times detached from other space-times. Einstein’s thesis is that there isn’t space-time, but rather space-times .
Thus Einstein already heralds in the sciences what a thinker like Cioran poetically weaves in philosophical terms: the end of the container metaphor. This is a radical shift in our conception of spacetime that move it not just away from the post-Kantian doxa of proclaiming space and time as transcendental cognitive impositions onto the world, it is also a twisting of our intuitive phenomenological experience of time and space. I recall suggesting a rather naive version of this account as an undergraduate in a lecture on Kant’s categories: I suggested that perhaps it wasn’t the case that black holes were “holes” in space and time but that they were themselves autonomous to the rest of space and time which were generated around them. My lecturer simply brushed the question aside, while my classmates may have felt only a twinge of embarrassment for me. I don’t tell this story to appear like the very clever young man who “knew it all along” (I clearly didn’t) but to emphasis the point that even countenancing such ideas as these can strike even a philosopher as silly. We just don’t think about time that way. Thus the idea is a revolution.
In Bryant’s version this is a occurs with all objects/machines. Thus there is a way to understand the choreographic rhythmicity of bodies-in-motion without having to rely on any language that risks smuggling vitalism onto the scene or that thinks the nonhuman only in terms of mammalian vertebrate animal life. To get even stranger, there is also a discourse on algorhythmics that approaches material-symbolic coupling in the machinic operation of computational network ecologies, or ‘ micro-temporal and molecular zones of the mediated technical environments’, in a similar manner . Likewise, we find that psychopathological states can also be thought in terms of their particular synchronisation or desynchronisation with the rhythm of the social milieu .
Thus whether we turn to the micro or the macro-scale, to the corporeal or metabolic emphasis, to the material or the phenomenological optic, it appears that there bodies are bodies in and as motion that are carving out distinct but interdependent (and thus ecological) rhythms. By using the term rhythm and rhythmicity I am explicitly invoking Deleuze and Guattari’s distinction between rhythm and meter:
It is well known that rhythm is not meter or cadence, even irregular meter or cadence: there is nothing less rhythmic than a military march. ‘ Meter, whether regular or not, assumes a coded form whose unit of measure may vary, but in a noncommunicating milieu, whereas rhythm is the Unequal or the Incommensurable that is always undergoing transcoding. Meter is dogmatic, but rhythm is critical; it ties together critical moments or ties itself up in passing from one milieu to another. It does not operate in a homogeneous space-time, but by heterogeneous blocks. It changes direction .
Meter is disciplinary whereas rhythm is the undisciplined; meter is coded whereas rhythm evades settled codification; meter imposes itself from above while rhythm gets into the sweat and murk of the dance. Meter attempts to contain rhythms that are uncontainable, improvisational, and, above all, “noncommunicating” (I can’t inhabit the rhythm a star, a swan or a sound wave). From this perspective ecosystems can be thought of as a kind of non-equilibrium symbiosis. Paraphrasing Deleuze his lecture on Kant we could say that the important thing is not to understand but as far as we can to take on the rhythms of specific ecologies.
As far as ethics and politics are concerned this can only mean that we have to mobilise within the rhythms that we can whilst attending to those rhythms that are generated by and interfered with by through our activity. We require a politics and an ethics that is not metric but rhythmic; this is to repeat Michael’s point that we need a politics and ethics that is simultaneously about whilst also being ecological. This returns us to the point of discussing Cioran in so hazy a way as this post opened with. To begin with me must be anti-theological on these matters by refusing to answer from anywhere but the position of being a body in motion among bodies in motion. In our discussions of ecologies, onto-cartographies, and so forth there is always a temptation for us to move from the ontological to the ethico-political register as if the two easily and automatically mapped one onto the other, even those who deny that politics determines ontology. How could it not when our politics and our ethics our part of our own idiosyncratic rhythms of various creaturely openings onto and engagements into and as part of those ecologies? My point here is that our ethics and politics must not be allowed to forget the inseparability of the spatial and the temporal dimensions, the corporeal and the incorporeal, in the rush to swap between our ontological, ethical and political performances. In being ecological we must develop an awareness of the spatiality (aesthetics) and the temporality (acceleration /deceleration) of our situation without privileging either term.
If Foucault could define power as the ability to conduct conduct then his vision was already choreographic, understood as the attempt to control the positions and dispositions of bodies in the phase space of their potential co-actualisations. Any ecological politics must be equally attuned to that phase space; that is, we mustn’t restrict our ecologistics to being an ecological actualism; our ethics must also be capable of rediscovering the ability of plural alien rhythms to synchronise with one another. We require an ecologistics that synchs with a suffering social body in order to assert an anarchoreography against the metric effects of power. Part of this is a concentration of our analyses in the domains of carnal ethics and the movement from the attention on biopolitics to an ecologically attuned political physiology. To return to the slogan at the heart of my own corporealism, whatever exists is a body. Thus our ethics must be full of pathos and our politics must be those that a Timpanaro would recognise as materialist and not angelic.
I refer to Timpanaro because as a Marxist he stood in his time as one of the only figures of that movement to commit himself to a thoroughgoing materialism that refused to remain an idealism by another name. In Timpanaro’s Marxism it is impossible to prioritise mind over matter or social processes and forces of production over the evolutionary and geological determinants of these artifacts. For Timpanaro it is impossible to consider oneself any kind of materialist if one’s analyses ignore these domains. The very historicity of a historical materialism is transformed by this outlook into the history of the radically inhuman geological and biological territorialisations of matter itself (and in this way seems consistent with Levi’s desire for a politics consistent with a Lucretian outlook). In his biogeosocial materialism Timparano declares that
materialism is much more than a gnoseological theory. Materialism entails also the recognition of man’s animality (superseded only in part by his species-specific sociality); it is also the radical negation of anthropocentrism and providentialism of any kind, and it is absolute atheism.Thus it represents a prise deposition with regard to man’s place in the world, with regard to the present and future ‘balance of power’ between man and nature, and with regard to man’s needs and his drive for happiness .
Although many have claimed that Timpanaro’s materialism is symptomatic of the bifurcation of nature (the biological is “prior” to the social; the physical is “prior” to the biological) and that this is played out in Timpanaro’s refusal to draw out practical consequences of our animality and our earth-boundedness , he is quite clear that there is no clear separation from one domain and the other insofar as what is “natural” in humanity is ‘ enriched and remoulded by the social and cultural environment’ so that while nature conditions and reconditions the cultural so to does the cultural condition and recondition the natural. Although Timparano thinks of this dialectic as asymmetrically in favour of the potency of nature (‘nature’s continual oppression of man’) it must be seen that any and all social and cultural environments that human activity manages to produce, as the incomplete and in process provisional outcomes of the very biophysical and geological/geographical prior determinants, are themselves to be considered “natural” outcomes. Under this view the old Marxian trope of man’ domination over man being based on man’s domination of nature is dissolved into a formula of univocity. Man is nature, even if he is not the whole of nature or its master and commander.
Against the claims that Timparano is just another chapter in the philosophies of the bifurcation of nature (subject here; “nature” out there) such as those of Raymond Williams it is important to recognise that the former’s materialism is an attempt to deploy the concept of nature against those who would seek to use it in order to naturalise present social and economic circumstances. This is a strategic deployment of nature that at once seeks to counter bourgeois apologists of capital and the Marxist idealism that sees humanity as radically separate from and in a position of (or possible position of) domination of the natural world. Part of this strategic deployment is the emphasis that nature’s priority amounts to its exteriority and irreducibility to thought. In other words, this is a realist materialism that, like contemporary speculative realism, affirms the mind-independent nature of reality and its hermeneutical interpretation via our active and pragmatic sensorimotor coupling with the environment. Under this view materialism is precisely the realism that philosophy that is not a “gnoseological” or epistemological theory about how we come to know nature but that presupposes that a physico-historicity that is the history of matter itself and thus a history that gives rise to the very possibility of the question of the relation and existence of the “human” and the “natural”. The claim that nature is not natural- that it is in fact a conceptual elaboration- is acknowledged by Timparano in his criticisms of ‘vulgar materialism’, ‘naive naturalism’ and racist ‘biocentrism’. It is in these ways that we can understand situation nature as fundamentally not a passive pure exteriority “over there” but that with which we are ultimately and always caught up in. My understanding of Timperano’s strategic weilding of the nomination “nature” makes explicit its status as a political and not exclusively scientific or even intuitive realm. Timparano is even explicit in formulating the strategic and contested sense of the notion of nature when he asks
Is a conception of nature as mere object of human labour exhaustive, or must nature not also be seen as a force which conditions, consumes, destroys man and in a long-term perspective – all humanity? (p.16).
This emphasis on nature as synonymous with the force of origin and extinction might mean it was possible to read nature as the ancestral and the anterior posteriori of thought that appear in the work of Quentin Meillassoux and Ray Brassier, respectively. Within such a reading of nature could only ever finally appear as precisely that with which thought can’t be correlated but what nonetheless conditions and obliterates it. Indeed, insofar as this materialism consider nature as at all something to be read it doesn’t do so via post-structuralist ideas of nature as a passive inscription surface but as something to be engaged with via pragmatic ‘experimental verification’ that intervenes through the ‘scientist’s activism’ in order to ‘make contact’ with the real (p.59-60). Scientific knowledge is not the result of disinterested procedures but objectivity must be understood as an embodied hermeneutic of the real. This register of the term “nature” is obviously not that which would accord with any environmentalist or romantic formulation of green nature. On the one hand it penetrates our bodies, our politics, our economics and our culture whilst on the other hand it is the very excess that outstrips us in either direction. Whatever this version of nature is it is fundamentally ecological insofar as it attempts to situate human and nonhuman bodies within, as and as responsive to ecological niches.
At the time Timparano was writing ecology was still a young science and was still fairly marginal and this might explain why it is mentioned only briefly in On materialism, and then only to be dismissed as a ‘reactionary ideology’ (p.15) when it ignores the history of labour and class society. Interestingly, considering our prior discussion of recent findings about the way animal bodies spatialise and temporalise, Timparano praises animal ethology for its dialectical disclosure of human animality and the ‘rudiments of “culture”‘ in other animals. We might thus suppose that Timparano would welcome the thought that spatio-temporalities were enfolded in physiology, a discovery much in agreement with his critique of psychoanalytic depth-interiority based on an insistence on the findings of psycho-physiological studies in empirical research. As such, Timparano’s Marxism already begins to reveal itself as a possible contribution to an ecologically attuned political physiology; a rhythmic appreciation of the linkages, enmeshing, interdependency and transcorporeality of human and nonhuman bodies in their widest historical context. If he is dismissive of ecology it is only to dismiss that version of ecology that wants to think in terms of the ecology of nature, the green ecology that would exclude the history of modes of production and therefore appear as a complete de-politicisation of ecological possibilities. To repeat then, Timparano’s strategic deployment of nature does three simultaneous things: first, it is an open avowal of nature as a political concept; secondly, it operates a limit concept to our delusions of epistemic grandeur; and thirdly, it allows us to open the path to a specifically Marxian (though not necessarily Marxist) politics of onto-specificity in regards to synchronisation across the radical plurification of rhythms that has already departed from what one writer has called the Green Cartesianism of environmental critique .
The implications of these considerations to a politics for/within the Anthropocene can be seen in the way the traditional binaries of nature/culture has already begun to collapse under their weight. In the Anthropocene we require a kind of politics that does not confine itself to discussions of political economy, class struggle, identity, the body, the environment and so on, as if it were a matter of choosing between these pre-assembled and always autonomous spheres. Each of these is really one among a proliferation of cultures, cultures moreover that can’t maintain the barriers of idealism that have been set up to jealously protect them from one another: within the Anthropocene everything is always already cross-contaminated and, indeed this is almost its definition, contaminated especially by the inhuman action and consequences of human designed and deployed grey ecologies of agriculture, industry, information, finance, the semiosphere and so on. Part of this means that the development of a political physiology would explore not only the coupling of our physiological systems to various other ecologies and what effects this has in terms of our practices, our thought, and our affectivity but it would also mean understanding how that coupling deeply effects those other ecologies.
This is why I have spoken of political physiology forming part of an ecologistics. It involves an understanding of logistics that stresses the polyvalence of a word that is disputed to be rooted in the French for “lodging” or the Greek for either “reason” or “responsible for accounting”. Taken together we might think of an ecologistics as the praxis that corresponds to our responsibility for accounting for our way of cohabiting in, with and alongside other spatiotempolisations, or bodies. Logistics is precisely that practice that attempts such an accounting of the organisation of the multiplicity of forces, processes, signs, and bodies that accords to the idea of the onto-specificity of a given situation. When the dawn opens on the Anthropocene- when nature as exteriority and reappears as historicity and interiority- the thought of our place in various ecosystems necessarily extends to our place in the largest ecosystem of all: Earth itself, a body that we find ourselves desperate to leave just as we discover our terrible responsibility for its fate. Yet if ecologistics means anything then it means the tracing of the particular logistical networks, synchronising with their peculiar rhythmicities, in order to account for and to take up our position of responsibility by doing the work of assembling the Earth. That we can only do this through localised efforts is clear from the intimate and domestic connotations of the thought of cohabitation.
Finally then, and in keeping with my previous posts on secularisation, it might be time to embrace the Christian ethic of stewardship of an Earth that, like every other body in existence, is hurtling towards its own extinction. Bodies-in-motion are always moving towards their own destruction in such a way that their destruction is already assured. If we are to become stewards of the Earth it is not to save it or to preserve it as we exist in the paradoxical state of being survivors of a catastrophe is already happening. Our task is first of all harm reduction and, as the logical conclusion of that, to rebuild the Earth, to produce an Earth 2.0: a new Earth in the absence of a new heaven. The Anthropocene is thus the very material condition of the revelation we have received about our place in the pluriform (dis)order of things, the very source of our being post-apocalyptic. All of this means paying particular attention to the vulnerable fragility of things and to renouncing and challenging the various political ideologies and practices that still maintain the myth of invulnerability- the myth of immortality and transcendence. To paraphrase the theological Douglas F. Ottati we must become stewards of the Earth as the finite ground of bodies-in-motion because the world is a commonwealth of interdependent creatures in common dependence on the empty space of God, the open opening that is the very flesh of worlds.
Given that you end off with the modified stewardship view – what do you make of Mick Smith’s arguments in Against Ecological Sovereignty on this topic? He rails, in a fairly novel way, against it. I’d be very curious to hear/read your views.
I haven’t read that yet so I couldn’t really comment. My view on stewardship is provisional and I’m putting it out there partly as a provocation. If his concern is with the idea that stewardship is often associated with (oh let’s be nice and good and green and not really change anything but just take care to recycle etc) then that isn’t anything like what I’m talking about. For me Stewardship in the absence of God means assuming the position of an “impossible” responsibility.
In Genesis it states that “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”
But for us there is neither God nor Eden. So how do we read this? Nature isn’t given to man to dress and to keep (to cultivate and conserve) but the species, because of its destructive impact in generating the Anthropocene, must place it-self such a relation to nature as one of responsibility as ourselves natural beings. Perhaps stewardship is just the wrong word for our assumption of responsibility for the vulnerability of Earth-bound beings.
I’ll need to look into Smith’s arguments to answer further than that. I do know that he is in favour of direct action and other radical strategies. As an anarchist I wouldn’t disagree and would even contend that the kind of stewardship I have in mind would require us to be revolutionaries in the old fashioned sense.
In fact, to take a guess at Smith’s argument based on his title… I would say that I agree entirely that we lack any “Ecological Sovereignty” (as an anarchist I am quite ideologically against sovereignty) but that we are nonetheless in a position of “sovereign” responsibility.
My sense is that his concern is with the fact that we don’t occupy any place from which to steward things. That view fires up the “anthropological machine” (which he borrows from Agamben) by, however subtly or nuanced we try to finesse it, trying to draw out some view of humans as stewards over non-humans. His theology isn’t always spot on – but whose is?
That does seem to be a problem. In my post on Faith in the Empty Space of God I think I may deal with that question somewhat. The death of God leaves an empty space and it is in the way that a space is might be opened for stewardship. The empty space reveals the open that had formerly been occluded by the conceptual totality of the divine- but with it’s self-emptying and immolation that occlusion is lifted (one sense of the apocalyptic unveiling of what was “present”- if shrouded in God’s shadow- but hidden from view.
If stewardship is defined as a relation to ‘optical machine constructed in a series of mirrors in which man, looking at himself, sees his own image always already deformed in the features of an ape’ (Agameben) then it would be part of the optical machine, yes. Our relation to non-humans would be one where we looked to them to find our own distinct ontological destiny was to protect and guard over the “land and the animals”. Yet such narcissism would remain anthropocentric and would fail to be ecological and to think the ecological.
I don’t think the stewardship I’m talking about falls into that narcissism. I specifically chose the quote from the theologian Otatti that I did because it had clear resonances in its language (“commonwealth”; “interdependent being” etc) with the language of Latour. Obviously choice of language doesn’t get one out of human narcissism alone (after all, use of language is part of our narcissism) but I had hoped it would point the way to understanding that this post-Christian, or Christian atheist, or whatever, understanding of stewardship departs from the Christian one where the world is at once man’s property and his mirror.
In fact it is almost precisely because we don’t occupy a place from which to steward things that it becomes possible. Isn’t this the logic of responsibility after deconstruction? The place of responsibility is one that has to be auto-posited.
Rather than the anthropological machine- which I see as merely a subset of the machine of epistemic meaning production that nihilism destroys- we find our ecological relation to nonhumans (animals and caves, lakes and clouds and so forth) precisely in what Merleau-Ponty talked about as our “strange kinship” with them that is predicated on our naked embodiment and the way one body (qua flesh) is finally inseparable from another.
After the death of God “stewardship” can’t remain the conservative ethic of the properties relation of all things to God, through which the anthropological machine would have to operate as the image of the human it generates is only ever a ‘a ceaselessly updated decision’ (Agamben) that really begins and ends with man’s relation to God.
Stewardship after God is the annulling of that relationship. This kind of stewardship would be predicated on the declaration that given that God is dead “nothing belongs to God” and, it follows from this, that humanity has no dominion over the Earth. We have no right to act and we can’t recognise nonhumans as in any sense mirrors of ourselves.
If I can shift registers, I also detect in these fears regarding the reactivation of the anthropological machine a kind of fear of responsibility or a refusal to take it up.
It occurs to me that if stewardship is stripped of its strictly theological character and is thus secularised as a kind of empty space of responsibility for the Earth then when we scan the terrestrial landscape we have to ask who exactly is going to stand in that place if not us? And the related question- the question directly related to the consequence of the Anthropocene- who is accountable for the damage done to human-nonhuman ecologies? The answer both proffers and constructs its own answer: humanity. It is both obscene and absurd to suggest that any other species- or the Earth itself- will step into fulfil this role. For one thing, ecological science hasn’t accepted the idea that ecosystems move towards and try to maintain/return to equilibrium for some time. If anything, we could argue that the renunciation of responsibility in favour of some idea that the Earth and ecosystems are self-correcting is a displacement of responsibility onto the blind agential capacities of that Earth and those ecosystem.
Adam Curtis, in All watched over by machines of loving grace (a three part documentary), traces a history in which the idea of the self-correcting ecosystem is a “machine fantasy” based on the radical simplification of ecological entanglements in early computer models of green ecosystems. I think that this illustrates how our responsibility gets radically reinterpreted as the responsibility of the Earth to itself that specifically recalls Descartes animal-machines. In other words, this disavowal of stewardship might actually amount to a commitment to a Green Cartesianism, a somatophobic denial that we’ve done anything and that we might be responsible for anything.
An example of this (after searching for some way to access any of Smith’s argument) would be where Smith claims that
‘To save the whales is to free them from all claims of human sovereignty, to release them into their singularity, their being such as it is—whatever it is—quodlibet ens, and into flows of evolutionary time, of natural history, just as they release themselves into the flows of the world’s oceans. This “saving” is an ethicopolitical action. (103)
I’m not convinced by this. Yes, okay so the whales should be free from human sovereignty. Yet this ontological liberation is not much good to them if its amounts to a liberation into an evolutionary time drastically cut short because of nonhuman agencies involved in the human reoraganisation of matter, such as with the Fukushima disaster that has incredibly high levels of radiological pollutants into the ocean. What good is this saving to the whale that dies from radiation poisoning?
Right, so a freedom from human sovereignty but one that does not obliterate human responsibility. I realise its unfair to pick a quote from a book I haven’t read to criticise its author…but that is all I can do until I get a copy and have the time to read it.
I realise as well that what I’m talking about might not be stewardship.
I think I could keep going with this reply but my 5 year old has just come home and decided it would be a good idea to run a bath for his lego mini-figures. Rather than free him from my adult authority I think I better go supervise 😉
I’m a bit leery of taking too literally the idea of a space/void left by the so called death of God as there never was any such Author-ity present, but rather just many individuals using (and therefore adapting/bricolaging) speech(and other)-acts to manipulate (as human-critters we cannot do other than manipulate) their environs, so we may have changes in rhetoric/techniques (we always do) but no actual gap that I can see.
There is no actual gap- the gap is simply the absence of the transcendental signifier. When I refer to that empty space I’m talking about not seeking to fill it in with new idealisms/master discourses but in allowing the plurality of bodies, discourses, habitats and all that is entangled in the mesh-work of ecological coexistence.
very good, just wanted that to be clear to avoid ghost-stories as History, don’t have the Bifo/Guatarri book anymore but he has a nice bit there about how we cover over the ever emerging (buzzing blooming) multiplicities with our still-life abstractions/generalizations which is relevant I think, but also vital to underscore ethics in terms of who is doing what to whom and what we are going to do about it…
Quick comment for clarity, I’m definitely in favour of any call for the end of sovereignty…Im just not sure that it means what it seems to mean for Smith (at least in that extract).
Reblogged this on alien ecologies and commented:
Another apocalypse on the fly from Arran James!