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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the-practice-turn-in-contemporary-theoryIt is through action and interaction within practices that mind, rationality and knowledge are constituted and social life is organized, reproduced and transformed. During the past two decades, practice theory has emerged as a potent challenger to prevalent ways of thinking about human life and sociality, which have until now focused either on individual minds and actions or social structures, systems and discourses. The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory is the first volume to bring together philosophers, sociologists and scholars of science to explore the significance of practices in human life.

The essays focus on three overall themes: the character and establishment of social order, the psychological basis of human activity and contemporary posthumanist challenges. Philosophers such as Wittgenstein and Heidegger who have been influential in the shaping of practice theory are also discussed. In examining these themes and thinkers the essays document how practice theory stands opposed to prominent modes of thought such as individualism, intellectualism, structuralism, systems theory, and many strains of humanism and poststructuralism.

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“Once upon a time there was a world full of meaning, focused by exemplary figures in the form of gods and heroes, saints and sinners. How did we lose them, or, might they still be around, in the form of modern day masters, in fields like sports, music, craft and cooking. Are these masters able to inspire us and bring back a sense of wonder?”

Being in the World is a documentary film by young filmmaker Tao Ruspoll exploring human beings ability, through the mastery of physical, intellectual and creative skills, to find meaning in the world. Some of the most renowned philosophers take viewers on a gripping journey to meet modern day masters – people who not only have learned to respond in a sensitive way to the requirements of their craft, but have also gathered their communities in ways that our technological age threatens to make obsolete.

The film includes interviews with Hubert Dreyfus, Charles Taylor, Albert Borgmann, Mark Wrathall, Taylor Carman, John Haugeland, Iain Thomson, and Sean Kelly.

Tao Ruspoli graduated with a degree in philosophy from UC Berkeley in 1998. The first philosophy course he took was called “Existentialism in Literature and Filme” taught by professor Hubert Dreyfus. This course inspired Tao to become a filmmaker and he went on to take all of Dreyfus’ courses, all of which had tremendous influence on him and his outlook on the world.

Ten years after graduating, Tao returned to Berkeley to revisit Dreyfus and was inspired to make Being in the World, as an attempt to bring these profound philisophical ideas to a non-academic audience. Dreyfus introduced Tao to all of his students who had now become well-known professors in their own right—from Sean Kelly at Harvard to Mark Wrathall at UC Riverside, as well as Taylor Carman, Iain Thomson, John Haugeland, and several others. Tao and his team traveled to meet and interview each of these professors and then researched and found masters in different fields who best illustrated their ideas.

Discognition: A lecture by Steven Shaviro
Friday, 24 May 2013, 2-4 pm, Ardmore House, Belfield, UCD

Cognitivist and representationalist theories of mind continually find themselves confronted with elements that they can neither subsume nor exclude, but can only regard as supplemental. I argue that these supplemental elements are in fact the primordial forms of sentience, and that they are preconditions for — without being thereby reducible to — any sort of cognition or representation whatsoever. Organisms are affective before they are cognitive, because they are systems for accumulating and dissipating energy, before they are systems for processing information. Where cognitive science and philosophy of mind have tended to assume that affect serves cognition, we

should rather see cognition as a belated and occasional consequence of a more basic affectivity. There are important philosophical precedents for this line of argument. For Kant, aesthetic judgments arise from singular intuitions for which there is no adequate concept. For Whitehead, primordial “feeling” takes the form of “a ‘valuation up’ or a ‘valuation down’” that precedes, and determines, any sort of cognition or conceptualization. For Wittgenstein, while inner sensation “is not a something,” it is also “not a nothing either.” All these approaches point to a primordial form of sentience that is nonintentional, noncorrelational, and anoetic; and that is best described, in a positive sense, as autistic, affective, and aesthetic.



Steven Shaviro is the DeRoy Professor of English at Wayne State University. He is the author of The Cinematic Body (1993), Doom Patrols: A Theoretical Fiction About Postmodernism (1997), Connected, Or, What It Means To Live in the Network Society (2003), Without Criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics (2009), and Post-Cinematic Affect (2010). His work in progress involves studies of speculative realism, of post-continuity styles in contemporary cinema, of music videos, and of recent science fiction and horror fiction. He blogs at The Pinocchio Theory

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