Concepts adequate to the times?

In the infinite circulation of perspectives that is base communication — the exchange of exchange — is generically determining. To free concepts from their equivocal functions in the machine of filiative, subjectivating hyper-capitalist rationality and production we might work on theme via their counters and supplements.

From beautiful mind of Mckenzie Wark:

Now that the world most of us have known is ending, it might be time to pay more attention to the experience of those whose world has already ended — indigenous peoples. Depending on how you count it, there may be three hundred million or more indigenous people still on the planet. Most are survivors of colonialism. Like the rest of us they now have to find forms of life for enduring the Anthropocene.

Creating a relation to indigenous thought and practice is no simple task. The discipline whose job that is — anthropology — is implicated in various colonial projects. There’s are certain self-aware schools of thought within anthropology that know this and have various ways of counter-acting the discipline’s own imperial form. An open question might be how those approaches themselves might adapt, or be adaptable to, life in the Anthropocene.

Which brings us to Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s Cannibal Metaphysics (Univocal, 2014). This is an anthropology on a mission to decolonize thought. It is an anthropology of the concept, although not, as we shall see, so much of the practices from which concepts might be substituted. It might also be a kind of experimental metaphysics, or field geo-philosophy, with an ironic distance from the modern world that is its “natural” home…

Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus offered an anthropological post-structuralism of flat multiplicities rather than hierarchical totalities, one which collapsed the strata of language and world into one. This meshed with their refusal of any theory of desire as lack. Desire becomes desiring-production. It’s a monism that refuses any culture-nature divide. It’s a baroque multiplicity rather than romantic organic totality or Enlightenment atomization. Amerindian myth may have a special role to play in such a project. “Perspectivism — duality as multiplicity — is what dialectics — duality as unity — has to negate in order to impose itself as universal law.” (118)

Viveiros: “So the question is not to unveil the naked truth about production supposedly concealed under the hypocritical cover of exchange and reciprocity but, rather, to free these concepts from their equivocal functions in the machine of filiative, subjectivating production by presenting them with their (counter-) natural element, which is becoming. Exchange, then, is the infinite circulation of perspectives — exchange of exchange, metamorphosis of metamorphosis, perspective on perspective: again, becoming.” The slippage here is that becoming has only a symbolic dimension. This is a monism achieved by sacrificing any other materiality.

Anti-Oedipus, as is well known, is a text that grows out of the failure of the revolution of 1968. Instead of which we got the “neoliberal plague” (97) and “the mystical nuptials of Capital and Earth.” (97) Here it might be worth revisiting Lévi-Strauss’ distinction between hot and cool societies, which Viveiros mentions in passing. (146) The hot societies of the over-developed world really are a thermodynamics without equilibrium, using the potential energy of class antagonism or colonial exploitation, or what Jason Moore calls cheap land, cheap food, and indeed cheap nature.

This question is taken up in a more recent text, co-authored by Déborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, The Ends of the World (Polity, 2017), which takes as its starting point “changes in the planet’s thermodynamic regime.” (1) These might include climate disruption, ocean acidification, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss, nitrogen and phosphorous cycle rifts — in short, the Anthropocene, where we find out that “everything is thermodynamics at bottom.” (14)

How does it feel to be human now? To be a human interpellated by this event of the Anthropocene? With its slow violence (Rob Nixon), it’s weird hyperobjects (Timothy Morton), it’s coming barbarism (Isabelle Stengers), where dystopias become doxa, where there is, as Günther Anders put it when confronting the nuclear age: an absence of the future? It is hard enough to know how to feel when someone dies, let alone when a world dies.

The thing about the Anthropocene is that “although it began with us, it will end without us…” (5) To even think it is to find oneself in a space of myth as well as science. “The semiotic regime of myth, perfectly indifferent to the empirical truth or falsity of its contents, comes into play whenever the relation between humans as such and the most general conditions of existence imposes itself as a problem for reason.”

Bruno Latour has suggested that since humans are at war with the planet, it might be better if that war was officially declared, so that negotiations for peace could begin. [[ see also here ]] For Latour, Gaia is a common world, one that is perhaps divine but is not a God. More like a hyperobject. It is not transcendent and is not an arbiter. There is no God-proposition that can steady the partition between nature and the human. These are further consequences, one might suggest, of Nietzsche’s observation that God is dead. So then is the distinctiveness of the human, that liminal category between animal and angel, as Giorgio Agamben notes. But so too also is the whole separation of human from world. This, for Latour, points to the end of the modern conceit of an exteriority of the human to nature, and the dual constitution that separated the politics of the former from the science of the latter. It is “the multiple organ failure of the cosmopolitical government (nomos) of the Moderns.” (86)

“… the relation between humanity and world can begin to be thought as the relation connecting the one side of a Möbius strip to another…” (113) This might require a quite different concept and a myth, adequate to the times. “There are many worlds in the World.” (120) That plurality might include ways of thinking and acting on a “political ecology of deceleration.” (114)


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