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What is a human? An ape stumbling quite stupidly through a world threatening to collapse. An organism that considers itself to be thriving. It has done quite well in its own estimation. It has colonised almost everywhere on earth. It transforms things, environments. It makes the uninhabitable into habitation, environment into home, Earth into World. All that is coming to a close. In the midst of ecological breakdown we are being reduced to nothing- to jabbering madmen, survivors staring into the eyes of their own corpses.

We are told that by 2100 the planet could be 6C hotter than it is today. There is a 10% chance. This is not a negligible figure. Such a rise in average global temperatures will deliver a mass extinction- a great biotic die-off. The organic survivors of this catastrophe will face collapsing civil and material infrastructures, food poverty, severe shortages of drinking water, an increase in violence and psychopathology, and the prospect of a life that is nasty brutal and short. This is the merest and most cursory picture of what will become of these little humans.

HP Lovecraft gave us a glimpse at what such a world would be like in his story Till A’ the Seas. In that story we join a nameless man who serves as our anonymous human perspective on the inexorable dying of an Earth that is plunging into the sun. From the narrator’s perspective it is

as if the planet meant to return to that source whence it was snatched, aeons ago, through the accidents of cosmic growth’ (Lovecraft & Barlow).

It is as if the Earth itself were invested with some residue of consciousness, or if not consciousness then a desire to set right this ‘accident’. The expansion of the universe and the formation of the celestial bodies is construed as a cosmic disequilibrium so great and distressing that the Earth wills to set it right. Lovecraft’s narrator speaks of the Earth’s movement into the furnace of the sun’s thermonuclear ferocity as if it were a familial scene: the sun is conceived of as the ‘fiery parent’, and so the Earth must be positioned as child who has been separated, indeed ‘snatched’ away from the maternal embrace. The bonds of attachment resemble some invocation of a natural order beyond the merely material order. The Earth cast as the victim of a kidnapping that is identical to the formation of the solar system, the sun as the parent who welcomes the child’s return. Our very existence is a sideshow to this great cosmic Oedipal drama, an unimportant irritant like a bruise sustained by a kidnap victim bundled into the back of a van.

Along with this weird family scene that seems to mock our human families and the self-importance of the myths and structures founded upon them, is the idea of the Earth returning to its preferred state. The preferred state of the Earth is its own non-existence.

Lovecraft’s resolute materialism conveys itself in the trappings of a lunatic mythologisation, but this time not that of Cthullu or the Old One’s. Instead we are given something more akin to theosophical or gnostic superstitions: the Earth has a soul with desires. And yet we must pay attention to the “as if” that operates as to suspend such a concrete interpretation. The Earth has no soul and no desire and no will of its own, although it seems to. Beneath such seeming then is a blind and senseless drive- The Earth is blindly driving towards its own destruction as if it were a return to some state of equilibrium. It is hard not to think of Freud speaking of the death drive as a primitive inhuman urge subtending individuated organic entities to return to the state of inorganic “quiescence” prior to the emergence of life.

Regardless of whether or not Lovecraft or we as his readers believe in an actually existing death drive is irrelevant. The sense of horror is already given over to us. The “as if” secures it in our minds: the only way to cognize the Earth being swallowed into the sun is to imagine it blindly enacting an absolutely inhuman suicide. In this context the Earth becomes the Planet that operates according to its own geologic that has absolutely nothing to do with human enterprise, ingenuity or invention. In this setting our death is like the death of a parasite on a supremely more important host. The Planet is the Dark Gaia that neither knows we are here nor would care if it were even capable of doing so. We aren’t its victims or its puppets but the totally insignificant biotic fauna that happens to populate its scorched epidermal layers: tics on the skin of the Planet, burnt to a cinder, forgotten.

For all the horror of the cosmic indifference of planetary suicide, the story is packed with more immediately material and proximal terror. Take the description of the slow unfolding of the catastrophic temporality that we are already caught within:

The ever-present heat, as Earth drew nearer to the sun, withered and killed with pitiless rays. It had not come at once; long aeons had gone before any could feel the change. And all through those first ages man’s adaptable form had followed the slow mutation and modelled itself to fit the more and more torrid air. Then the day had come when men could bear their hot cities but ill, and a gradual recession began, slow yet deliberate. Those towns and settlements closest to the equator had been first, of course, but later there were others. Man, softened and exhausted, could cope no longer with the ruthlessly mounting heat. It seared him as he was, and evolution was too slow to mould new resistances in him (Lovecraft & Barlow).

It is this “ever-present heat” that leads the narrator to speculate on the possibility of the Earth’s secret suicidal drive- an inhuman and totally impersonal suicide, having nothing to do with psychologies or moralities whatsoever. It is as if the narrator shares in the story’s protagonist’s heat derangement as the last man at the end of things. Lovecraft describes this heating world perfectly, and despite the form it appears in it describes the consequences and gives some sense of the world we face. Or that our descendants face.

Lovecraft tells us that cities are abandoned when chronic sickness sets in, that wars would rage, that agriculture would fail due to arid lands, and that, after a migration to the artic regions, mankind will succumb to a universal insanity, complete with new cults and prophesies and human sacrifices as the museums are reclaimed by a wilderness that smothers out the last remnants of Enlightenment and civilisation. Finally, it is the boiling away of the oceans, at first a balmy succour that gives rise to improved agricultural conditions, that does for humanity. We drown in thirst.

It is as if Lovecraft were himself the possessor of a terrible prophetic power. To imagine the New England writer of weird tales huddling in his New York apartment, plagued by visions of the end of humanity as the temperature rose slowly around it to suffocate it- as the temperature rises to suffocate us. In this most material of horrors there is no need to invoke an Old One as the Old Ones are the Earth and Sun themselves.

Lovecraft’s climate of horror becomes a horror of the climate.

As ever Lovecraft makes use of his technique of describing that which defies description. For me this technique resembles nothing so much as the panic stricken survivor who cannot believe what has happened and yet nonetheless must desperately try to parse traumatic events. This stammering contradiction is the result of a brain that demands that things must make sense and that these things cannot make sense all at once. For the senseless to make sense is to destroy the navigational schemas that constitute the safe banality of our worlds and usher in an ontological lunacy that belongs to the order of the real itself.  So he stammers, or rather draws us on, an unbelieving witness nonetheless speaking from a detached position of cool certainty:

It cannot be described, this awesome chain of events that depopulated the whole Earth; the range is too tremendous for any to picture or encompass. Of the people of Earth’s fortunate ages, billions of years before, only a few prophets and madmen could have conceived that which was to come—could have grasped visions of the still, dead lands, and long-empty sea-beds. The rest would have doubted . . . doubted alike the shadow of change upon the planet and the shadow of doom upon the race. For man has always thought himself the immortal master of natural things. . . .(Lovecraft and Barstow)

Our narrator existing after the end of the world freely admits he cannot fulfil the role of the one in the world-without-us. Lovecraft positions himself as the prophet or the madman seated comfortably in the “fortunate ages” of the civilisation. It invites us to ask whether we are still within the boundaries of that fortunate age, or whether we have stepped out into the beginning of the desolation. The narrator continues, giving us the valuation of humanity that is typical of Lovecraftian fictions:

And now at last the Earth was dead. The final, pitiful survivor had perished. All the teeming billions; the slow aeons; the empires and civilizations of mankind were summed up in this poor twisted form—and how titanically meaningless it all had been! Now indeed had come an end and climax to all the efforts of humanity—how monstrous and incredible a climax in the eyes of those poor complacent fools of the prosperous days! Not ever again would the planet know the thunderous tramping of human millions—or even the crawling of lizards and the buzz of insects, for they, too, had gone. Now was come the reign of sapless branches and endless fields of tough grasses. Earth, like its cold, imperturbable moon, was given over to silence and blackness forever (Lovecraft and Barstow) .

Is this a piece of speculative writing? a prophetic vision? a message sent back from the future? or is Lovecraft himself a bearer of the dark potency of some primal schizophrenic hyperstitional invocation? Is the narrator of “Til A’the Seas” in fact some alien intelligence- machinic or extra-terrestrial- recording the final endnotes in the history of the human race? Are we privy to these concluding lines as a torture? or as a warning, a kind of “brace for impact”? Is Lovecraft little more than the recording device of some analogue to Uatu the Watcher? Even that last comic suggestion would still inspire only the nervous laughter of minds pulled towards the notion that in this short story they are reading the actual obituary of their species. “The humans died, and it didn’t matter”.

Either way, reading this story undoubtedly inspires an uncanny sense of both foreboding and resignation. Here it is all to come, and already happened. Time- the basic coordinate of human existence- lies mutilated. What happens to the mind when time and space are wrenched from it?

And here we are somewhere in the middle of a process we cannot hope to reverse, despite all our arrogance. So much of this slowly unravelling doom is already here in the present day, and so much of what is not yet here is here already as if in latency- as if waiting to pounce. The catastrophe has already happened, it is just unevenly distributed.

Of course in Lovecraft’s story, co-written with anthropologist, the catastrophe isn’t caused by humans or by capitalism. He would not be interested in the masochistic narcissism of “The Anthropocene”, and despite his romantic anti-capitalism one couldn’t really see Lovecraft going in for talk of a Capitalocene either. The speculative moment of Lovecraft’s tale- that the Earth is making a suicide bid according to an involuntary terrestrial death drive- can be restated in more deflated terms: here is a concept of nature that is wildly indifferent, and hostile to human life because of it.  It is nature that destroys us.

At the outset I asked what is a human? It is an ape that can

 see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend the boundlessly complex cosmos…’ (From Beyond).

Curiously, Lovecraft’s writing reveals that the function of horror is to expose human beings to images and scenarios that might drive them insane in the hopes of this providing a therapeutic function against nature. To borrow a phrase from Frederic Jameson it is as if Lovecraft’s fiction operated as a “homeopathic expropriation”: an immersion into the primordial chaos of matter to better prepare us to survive the latent threat of insanity contained within it- or at least to mitigate the impact on collision of its furious demolitions.

As a rigorous materialist Lovecraft knows that humans are apes and that apes are part of nature. Yet nature is set up as a malignant force operating against the human, working towards its own extinction and dragging us down into fiery destruction with it. If Lovecraft will elsewhere maintain that humans are hardly any better he nonetheless sets up a kind partition between humanity and nature. The schism cannot be healed. One will destroy the other, or the other will destroy the one.

And the final verdict of mankind’s fate, given in the closing line:

a broken figure that lay in the slime.

Amidst all this, cries go out that we must

Save the Earth.

Save the Whales.

Save the Children.

Salvation and redemption: our last and most desperate religious sentiments.

—-

HP Lovecraft and RH Barlow, “Till ‘A The Seas”. Here.

WILD ECOLOGIES - Featured post #2: Here Bill Rose summarizes and interprets 
Guattari's 'ecosophy' as it is laid out in the book and elsewhere, 
on the way to a quasi-anarchic approach to becoming.

Guattari’s Eco-Logic

by Bill Rose

A strategy that bypasses politics as usual is required of us if the biosphere is to survive; a strategy that isn’t reducible to social-environmental reforms but goes down deeper and spreads far wider than any party or player could take us. The object of concern turns out to be not an object at all but relationships held together by systemic interactions forming a field whose limits only seem to expand or shrink.

This field is precisely what needs to be put into question: the borders, the shape, the constitution of our setting are due for a rethinking. This problem has been creeping up on us for too long now and it is time to fashion the tools required to relate to our environment, society, others, and ourselves in non-destructive ways. The Three Ecologies by Felix Guattari provides a good place to start on this daunting task (though it is probably already underway on some level) for a number of reasons but uniquely because it is a short and accessible work of around 25 pages. The areas of concern in the project of transforming relationships at a fundamental level (crucially without falling into social utopian planning) are plainly laid out in three easy pieces:

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In his 1979 book The Postmodern Condition, Jean Francois Lyotard famously described the coming age of postmodernism as a the dissolution of grand narratives, that is, overarching schemes or horizons of thought that move the unifies social forces. “…it is possible,” he wrote, “that these narratives are already no longer the principal driving force behind interest in acquiring knowledge.”[1] From then on, postmodernism became a buzzword, bound up in a nebulous array of definition, counter-definition, debate, celebration, and disgust. It found its application rapidly in the worlds of art, literature, and architecture: postmodern allowed the creator to step outside the conditions of progress and time itself, blending effortlessly the old and the new, the high-brow and the low-brow, the abstract with the concrete.

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The Postmodern Condition is name-checked endlessly, yet something that seems to be repeatedly glossed over is that fact that the argument put forward by Lyotard is a discourse grounded in techno-scientific development, or more properly, an analysis of a new mode of organization emerging from within a new techno-economic paradigm[2] – that of the rise of computing power, and the regime of post-industrial capitalism that it empowered. This is clear from the book’s opening paragraph:

Our working hypothesis is that the status of knowledge is altered as societies enter what is known as the postindustrial age and cultures enter what is known as the postmodern age. This transition has been under way since at least the end of the 1950s, which for Europe marks the completion of reconstruction. The pace is faster or slower depending on the country, and within countries it varies according to the sector of activity: the general situation is one of temporal disjunction which makes sketching an overview difficult. A portion of the description would necessarily be conjectural. At any rate, we know that it is unwise to put too much faith in futurology.[3]

By pointing to the 1950s as the moments in which postmodernism began its ascendancy, Lyotard is grounding his discourse in the development of the information theory and systems thinking, both interrelated byproducts of World War 2 era scientific research. In the models advanced by these theories, the lines demarcating man and machine – and nature by extension – collapse into an array of feedback loops, distributed flows, and emergent patterns following shifts from equilibria to disequilibria and back again. From one perspective these developments point towards the possibilities of new ethical formations – such was the work, for example, of Gregory Bateson, among others. Yet the sciences were born in the hull of the so-called military-industrial complex, and it was to the twin powers of war and industry and they have largely remained coupled. In elliptical fashion, Lyotard acknowledges this historical composition: coupling “society” to ‘postindustrialization’ and cultural to “postmodernism”, he argues that the “decline of narrative can be seen as an effect of the blossoming of techniques since the Second World War, which has shifted the emphasis from ends of actions to its means; it can also be seen as an effect of the redeployment of advanced liberal capitalism after its retreat under the protection of Keynesianism…”[4]

Neither of these trajectories, in fact, is capable of being separated from one another. As the history traced in Philip Mirowski’s difficult – yet essential – Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science[5] illustrates, the theories that became neoliberal capitalism were themselves honed in the military’s think-tanks alongside research into cybernetics, game theory, operations research and systems analysis, as well as the correlated evolutions in computer technology necessitated by the war effort and the demands of the rising Cold War. These trajectories broke upon unto the international stage in 1972, when the crisis of the dollar’s imminent devaluation led President Nixon (under the advice of Chicago School economist Milton Friedman) to remove the US currency from its gold standard, thereby undermining the worldwide monetary order and demolishing the international regulatory scheme arranged by the post-war Bretton Woods institutions. The result was the dizzying explosion of finance markets: without gold, global interest rates were no longer fixed, and became instead free-floating and flexible. Computerized marketplaces proliferated, opening spaces where futures contracts could be traded across a variety of international currencies. The rise of finance economies around these trading hubs played directly into the evaporating of industrial bases of the dominant world economies, and aided by dynamic modelizations and enhanced communication techniques made possible by information technologies, vast transnational supply chains cris-crossed the globe. No longer did corporations have to kowtow to the regulatory and taxation demands of the state and the costly worker protections of the unions – they now had the freedom to move anywhere in the world, seeking out the lowest possible costs for production. Under the reorganization of global economic systems through neoliberal governmentality and computerization, the largest narrative of them all – that of the state – was repurposed into something else, awash in the dizzying logistics of electronic flow and uneven planes of development.

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A: Proletkult

Can we be infrapunks, builders of tiny bits of a structure of another life?[1]

I. Living in Shadows

Last month I made the trip from Louisville to Frankfort, Kentucky’s state capitol, to attend an annual rally protesting the destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining. A coal industry favorite, this process of extraction involves the rapid deforestation of the landscape, followed by the blasting apart of the surface layer rocks, defined as “overburden,” which is then most commonly moved into an adjacent valley. The coal removal can now take place, with excavator digging deep pits into the truncated mountain; when this particular mine is fully emptied out, it becomes the dumping site for the next overburden removal. It continues like this, large paths of ruined forest snaking through the Appalachian mountain country.

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The environmental and social impact is immense and negative. The process of blasting dumps pulverized rock, dirt, and chemicals into the air, blanketing any towns or property that happen to be near the mining site. The processes of deforestation and the dumping of overburden in the valleys, where streams and rivers make their way through the landscape, obstructs the functioning of the regional ecosystems. The streams that aren’t cut off fill with minerals and chemical run-offs; aquatic biodiversity collapses and the toxins find their ways into the water table. The rates of pulmonary disease, physical deformities and birth defects, cancer, and heart disease are skyrocketing amongst the local populations. The purpose of this entire process, coal, is shipped across the country and burned for energy; as the third most common energy source – and perhaps the dirtiest – it accounts for the majority of America’s c02 emissions. The machine eating away at the Appalachian Mountains, and the eco and social systems that inhabit these spaces, is plugged directly into what we call the Anthropocene.

Shivering the winter weather, the rally moved through downtown Frankfort, ending on the steps of the Capitol building where speakers, many from the devastated regions, analyzed the multilayered crisis this paradigm has ushered in. Their talks were militant: one speaker spoke in the plain, familiar language of the everyday about dismantling the state’s current power structure, embodied by a senator with a thirty year tenure in office and enough dark money paths to keep investigative journalists spinning in circles for ages.[2] She linked the reality of this dysfunctional representation to the environmental degradation triggered by strip mining, and connected this further to her own experiences and those of others in Kentucky’s Harlan Country, where the coal industry sucks up not only natural resources but regional job markets. Like so many other places across America, Harlan County – once the site of the legendary 1973 “Brookside Strike”[3] – is an experimental neoliberal laboratory for living suspended between a dying ecosystem and a collapsing economy. Another speaker followed a similar route, emphasizing the need in movement building to connect the disparate strands between a varieties of struggles: no isolation between the fights for racial justice and economic equality, between environmentalism and the crisis of governance. This is the truth of being on the left in age of the Anthropocene: there can be no radical struggle that doesn’t hold the ecological as the foundation of its horizon.

As the Situationists once said, “Our ideas are in everybody’s minds.”

How could such a required transformation take place? The career politicians have posed vague solutions such as carbon capture storage; attempts to legislate plans such of these, perversely, have produced incentives and tax breaks for coal extraction to continue.[4] Going wide view, the efforts of cap-and-trade, originally the brainchild of conservative bureaucrat C. Boyden Gray, have done little to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions; other environmental regulations have amounted to little more than reshuffling the deck of cards without any long-term impact. For all intents and purposes there is no compatibility between the current global economic paradigm and living conscious of the Anthropocene.

Mike Davis, best known for his outstanding work on global poverty in The Planet of the Slums,[5] attempts to unify the questions of labor and ecology in a vision of the urban environment as the place to prototype sustainable futures. He draws our attention to the development of the postmodern metropolis through the anti-democratic regimes and investment luring, resulting not only in our ecologically unsustainable infrastructure, but also a rampant “growth of peripheral slums and informal employment, the privatization of public space, low-intensity warfare between police and subsistence criminals, and bunkering of the wealthy in sterilized historical centers or walled suburbs.”[6] The point he is stressing is that today, more than ever, the spatial is the political (or, as Metahaven would have it, the ‘personal is geopolitical’). In my home state this is illustrated by the fact that the parceling out of public infrastructure is part of the same machine as the crisis of representation in the capital, along with the corporations that profit, the coal they extract, they carbon they dump into the atmosphere, the think-tanks that whitewash the effects, the money spent lobbying to carve up more public space…

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“I have been vacillating between depression and acceptance of where we are, both as victims – fragile human beings – and as perpetrators: We are the species responsible for altering the climate system of the planet we inhabit to the point of possibly driving ourselves extinct, in addition to the 150-200 species we are already driving extinct. Can you relate to this grieving process?”

http://dahrjamail.net/mourning-our-planet-climate-scientists-share-their-grieving-process

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Notes towards an emancipatory ecologistics? * What would be required of us cognitively, technically, and practically in our attempts to alter our ways of existing for more adaptive modes?

Bruno Latour, from ‘To modernize or to ecologize? That’s the Question’ (1998):

In the new regime, everything is complicated and every decision demands caution and prudence. One can never go straight or fast. It is impossible to go on without circumspection and without modesty. We now know, for example, that if it is necessary to take account of everything along the length of a river, we will not succeed with a hierarchised system that might give the impression, on paper, of being a wonderful science with wonderful feedback loops but which will not generate new political life. To obtain a stirring up of politics, you have to add uncertainty so that the actors, who until now knew what a river could and could not tolerate, begin to entertain sufficient doubts. The word ‘doubt’ is in fact inadequate, since it gives the impression of scepticism, whereas it is more a case of enquiry, research and experimentation. In short, it is a collective experimentation on the possible associations between things and people without any of these entities being used, from now on, as a simple means by the others.

Political ecology, as we have now understood it, is not defined by taking account of nature, but by the different career now taken by all objects. A planner for the local agricultural authority, an irrigator, a fisherman or a concessionaire for drinking water used to know the needs of water. They could guarantee its form by assuming its limits and being ignorant of all the ins and outs. The big difference between the present and the previous situation does not lie in the fact that, before, we did not know about rivers and now we are concerned about them, but in the fact that we can no longer delimit the ins and outs of this river as an object. Its career as an object no longer has the same form if each stream, each meander, each source and each copse must serve both as an end and a means for those claiming to manage them.

At the risk of doing a little philosophising, we could say that the ontological forms of the river have changed. There are, literally speaking, no more things. This expression has nothing to do with a sentimentalism of Mother Earth, with the merging of the fisherman, kingfisher and fish. It only designates the uncertain, dishevelled character of the entities taken into account by the smallest river contract or the smallest management plan. Nor does the expression refer to the inevitable complexity of natural milieux and human–environment interactions, for the new relationships are no more complex than the old ones (if they were, no science, management or politics could be done on their behalf, as Florian Charvolin [1993] demonstrated so well). It solely refers to the obligation to be prepared to take account of other participants who may appear unforeseen, or disappear as if by magic, and who all aspire to take part in the ‘kingdom of ends’ by suddenly combining the relationships of the local and global. In order to monitor these quasiobjects, it is therefore necessary to invent new procedures capable of managing these arrivals and departures, these ends and these means — procedures that are completely different from those used in the past to manage things.

In fact, to summarise this argument, it would have to be said that ecology has nothing to do with taking account of nature, its own interests or goals, but that it is rather another way of considering everything. ‘Ecologising’ a question, an object or datum, does not mean putting it back into context and giving it an ecosystem. It means setting it in opposition, term for term, to another activity, pursued for three centuries and which is known, for want of a better term, as ‘modernisation.’.

Everywhere we have ‘modernised’ we must now ‘ecologise.’ This slogan obviously remains ambiguous and even false, if we think of ecology as a complete system of relationships, as if it were only a matter of taking everything into account. But it becomes profoundly apposite if we use the term ecology by applying to it the principle of selection defined above and by referring it to the Kantian principle for the justification of the green regime.

‘Ecologising’ means creating the procedures that make it possible to follow a network of quasi-objects whose relations of subordination remain uncertain and which thus require a new form of political activity adapted to following them.

SOURCE: http://bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/73-7TH-CITY-GB.pdf

world-headed-for-irreversible-climate-change-iea

On Matters of Concern:
Ontological Politics, Ecology, and the Anthropo(s)cene

Adrian Ivakhiv 

Ontology is in; epistemology is out. The question is no longer how we know what we know, but what is: what are the fundamental constituents of the universe, what is their nature, how do they relate and differ, and so on. Ontology, furthermore, is political. Or so a certain glean of the intellectual and philosophical landscape might suggest. Ontology has become an issue (again) among philosophers, anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, science and technology scholars, and others, in a way that it has not been for perhaps a century.

This paper arises from an entanglement of conversations in ecologically informed philosophy. Most specifically, it emerged from debates within the movement of “speculative realism” around the subspecies of that genre known as Object-Oriented Ontology (“OOO”) and its defense of an ontology of objects rather than processes. More broadly, the paper attends to conversations in the “ontopolitical” milieu of contemporary social, cultural, and environmental theory, a milieu in which posthumanism, critical animal studies, actor-network theory, assemblage theory, critical realism, agential realism, nonrepresentational theory, enactive and embodied cognitivism, post-phenomenology, multispecies ethnography, integral ecology, and various forms of “new materialism,” “geophilosophy,” and “cosmopolitics” fashion themselves as intellectual responses to the predicament indicated by such terms as the ecocrisis, the climate crisis, and the Anthropocene.

One of the lines of debate to which this paper responds is that between those who believe we have lost a sense for the objects that make up the world and those who believe that what we need is a more nuanced account of processes, both those encompassing human-nonhuman relations today and those encompassing all dimensions of the knowable universe. Object- oriented philosophers, like Graham Harman (2005, 2009, 2011), Levi Bryant (2011, 2014), Ian Bogost (2012), and Timothy Morton (2013), begin from the premise that the best description of the world is one that attends closely to the objects that make it up. This is their “realism” more broadly, and their “objectivism” more specifically. While this premise sounds, at first blush, not unlike phenomenologist Edmund Husserl’s call “back to the things themselves,” the difference is that Husserl approached those “things” through the human perception of them—to which Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, and others added an emphasis on interpretation, language, discourse, embodiment, decision, and other contextual determinants of human experience. Object-oriented philosophers are more interested in decentering human perception and experience, so that it is no more valued in principle than any other kind of experience. In part, this is out of a desire to account for a world that, as Bryant (2010, par. 1) has put it, “far from reducing the number of existing objects as alleged by reductive materialisms, has actually experienced a promiscuous proliferation and multiplication of objects of all sorts.”

This desire to acknowledge the proliferation of objects is a valuable step for philosophers insofar as it returns us to a concern for the world, and not merely for humanity. Yet it is important to recognize that this proliferation results, in large part, from the tremendous proliferation of commodities in a capitalist world-economy—the most productive economy the world has seen, whose productivity relies on the extraction of substances from their processual relations to produce things that appear to have no such relations—objects that are simply there, for us to admire, desire, purchase, and use. The “objectivity” of these objects is a product of a set of relations; it is illusory, or partial in any case, to the extent that these objects are not simply objects as such, but that they, for all their specificity, arise out of certain kinds of processes (extractive, productive), give rise to others (consumptive, waste-producing), and entangle their owners in relational ecologies that are morally imbued, materially generative, and dramatic in their effects on the world that is passed on to future generations.

The approach I advocate in what follows shares object-oriented philosophers’ goal of a metaphysical realism, but approaches it from a direction that is in some respects the polar opposite. It begins from the premise that, in an ultimate sense, there are no objects, only events, and that what defines those events is a relational encounter in which subjectivity is central. This does not mean that it begins as a “revolt against substance,” for the world of relational process is as substantive as any world of objects can be. It begins, however, from the subjective encounter. It begins, following Alfred North Whitehead (1933), Martin Heidegger (1962), Bruno Latour (2003), and Isabelle Stengers (1997), from matters of concern, and it does this because it is such matters that we are always in the midst of. It begins with a refusal to extricate the “knowing self” or “subject” from the relations that constitute it. This article proposes an evocation of what a “process-relational” ontology entails at its phenomenological and hermeneutic outset: a beginning from matters of concern, yet a beginning that allows a reaching outward to others who are similarly bound up—openly and not deterministically—within their own matters of concern.

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