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Laruelle

With regards to my last post Jeremy at Struggles Forever has provided an important reminder:

[T]he conception of Nature as a container, in my opinion, conveys the wrong message. Containers delimit and define boundaries. They serve as a ground for the things that occupy them. My fear – perhaps unjustified – is that defining Nature as the new container for everything (as opposed to the dualistic containers of Nature/Culture) – no matter how open and undefined that container is depicted – will lead to an interest in defining the boundaries of the container. Nature becomes the new standard by which we measure everything. Again, this is not what Michael and Levi intend, but without a great deal of conceptual work to reconfigure the notion of Nature (as well as the idea of a container), there is a very real risk of misinterpretation in talking about Nature as a container. I prefer, instead, to think of existence as a continuous process of composition where beings come together in complex ways to build relations, form new beings, and construct new ways of existing. In this conception (and I believe that Michael and Levi share it), there are no containers, no boundaries, and no grounds except those which are constructed – always historical, always contingent, and never totalizing.

Jeremy is correct to assume I share his rejection of the ‘container view’ of Nature. ‘Nature’ does not contain processes, flows and entities. Particular entities, systems, relations and flows comprise, generate and emerge as Nature. My point here is only that even at the most general level of reference I do not want to suggest that we use the concept of Nature to indicate entities are contained within it. Perhaps a better way to integrate talk about about the immanent emergence of reality with a poetics of nature, then, would be to assert that everything is of Nature. In this sense ‘Nature’ is conceived as an immanent plane or matrix. Individuated entities are not understood to be contained within Nature but always already compose and partake in it. Much like an individual wave or eddy is also always part of the ocean or river. The universe is a generative system composed of emergent fields, assemblages, elements and forces, and only ever gives birth to other open systems. And we don’t know enough about cosmological limits, or if boundary thinking is even generally appropriate to thinking about the nature of space-time, and there is certainly no indication that space-time does anything other than endogenously evolve and afford (rather than contain) novel developments. Of course, a lot more can be said about properties and tendencies of Nature but that is not within the scope of the present post.

The key organizing principle here is emergence: the process of emanating space-time generation. Nature in this universalizing sense is synonymous with Being, or perhaps ‘matter/energy’. There is no one thing that is Nature or Being or matter, but rather all things exist as beings, or are natural and material-energetic. Each of these terms act as generalizing semantic operators that in turn (at least with regards to Nature and matter) evoke a series of associations to actually existing particulates. So what I am trying to suggest is that may (or may not) be a poetics of Nature that can be usefully appropriated and developed as a means to provoke and stimulate certain strains of social imagination useful to the project of cultivating more sense-able and cognitively sophisticated (note:; for me cognition includes emotion and intellection) and attuned embodied subjectivities. Again, I think all these nuances must be foregrounded, so I thank my friend Jeremy for the opportunity to do that.

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Mostly Green, by Michael Bizeau

Mostly Green, by Michael Bizeau

Levi Bryant has a interesting post up on Heidegger (here), wherein he moves from a damn fine summary of ‘equipmentality’ to a discussion of cognitive blindness (although without reference to the massive amounts of empirical research being done in this area outside of the humanities), to a powerful statement about the need to think and write against the biases and shortcomings of distinction-making or symbolic differentiation, to an important statement about the use and limits of reflexivity.

What I enjoyed most about Bryant’s post is how well he drove home the point about the selectivity of human awareness, and how more integrative (cross-disciplinary and multi-methodological) approaches to knowing and considering are required if we want to have adequate understandings of particular social and political situations. If we are to activate a practical awareness of complex dynamics we have to attend to as many causally implicated systems and processes at the various scales as are available to us. ‘Availability’, thus, being an issue of how our cognitive-sensory capacities encounter things and how our instruments and theoretical tools help us disclose the myriad of objects, assemblages, systems and flows existing within the field/context of our inquiry. Enter Heidegger.

Of course, much of what Bryant suggests in his post is typical of what you will find circulating within most developed anthropology programs. There has been much ado in anthro about Donna Haraway’s work on “situated knowledges” and Clifford Geertz’s work on the need for “thick description”, among other theoretical advances that attempt to traverse categorical purity and methodological fetishes, and anthropology generally attempts to offer a “4-field approach” to knowledge generation that makes ample use of linguistic, materialist, cognitive, and historical methods in the search for comprehensive descriptions and analytical insight. What is important, then, in terms of Bryant’s post, is that he is specifically addressing philosophers. By marshalling the pragmaticist aspects of Heidegger’s thought Bryant successfully contrasts the tendency of so-called “detached philosophers” to get caught up/distracted in categorical concerns and contemplative specularity at the expense of appreciating the “everydayness” and practical engagements of our being-in-the-world. Initial disclosure of an ontological world is always a non-thetic and “pre-reflective” disclosure (as first-order ‘structural’ relation). And I argue, in a related sense, that contemplative ‘specularity’ (as second-order ‘epistemic’ relation) is, as Laruelle and others have suggested, a key feature of the philosophical miscontrual of radical immanence. In other words, philosophical speculation has a tendency to gloss over the practical situatedness (dare I say ecological materiality?) of being and knowing in favor of creating marked and highly abstract distinctions leading to a variety of metaphysical confusions. Enter Wittgenstein.

Moreover, it seems to me the effect of working from an appreciation of situated knowing (viz. fundamental ecologicality or radical immanence) would be substantial for those pursuing speculative thought. From a worldly and embedded, or what I have called elsewhere creaturely, praxis-oriented philosophical approach scientific/empirical knowing (as mode) and knowledge (as product) can be recognized for what it is: an extension of a more general human ‘know-how’, but also for how it is enacted, co-constructed and socially/ecologically generated. Human knowledge is produced from embodied and embedded ‘know-how’, and is at its core about pragmatic coping (‘coping-with’) in the wider field of beings, forces, powers and becomings.

To be sure, I don’t follow Heidegger in everything he had to say about “at-handedness”, preferring instead to appreciate and emphasize the autonomy of entities endowed with capacities to affect, intervene, interfere and “appear” in the co-disclosing enactment of ‘worlds’ or situations (with our ‘being-with’ as fundamental), but his more pragmatic leanings are highly instructive. As human beings, our involvement in the world is not initially ours, because these everyday activities, or ways of understanding, are always already part of a shared way of going about everyday life. And knowing takes place in this context: it emerges from background conditions, or the plane of consistent and structured practical action. ‘Being’ is only insofar as contingency is produced as cosmos, as a wilderness teeming with flora, fauna and all sorts of mutant assemblages thereof.