Tag Archives: ecology

Survival, in the sense Desert suggests it to me, is something completely different, for in it any social group or kin network, as it attempts to live on, cannot draw significant lines of difference (of identification, therefore) between itself and others. It melts into a humanity collectively resisting death. Needless to say this is something entirely different than the revolutionary process as it has been imagined and attempted. There is no future to plan for, only a present to survive in, and that is the implosion of politics as we have known it- Alejandro de Acosta, Green Nihilism or Cosmic Pessimism.

The wilderness of unknowing

In the short text Green Nihilism or Cosmic Pessimism we see a step towards the development of a speculative and survivalist anarchism. The author of the text states that Desert, a pessimistic essay on the catastrophic future, was dismissed by most anarchists who read it as being entirely depressing. The same author holds out little hope for their own writing, predicting that it will be met with ‘revulsion’ by most readers. I regularly describe myself as an anarchist…so what do I mean? How can anarchism sit with post-nihilist praxis without retaining an attachment to one of those 19th century ideologies that would serve only to blinker us to the present and to the conditions now being born… the wasteland of the future?

‘Green nihilism’  really gets going when it sits Desert alongside Eugene Thacker’s In the dust of this planet in order to discuss the unpredictability and the unknowability of the real:

As Desert invokes the present and coming anarchy and chaos, it admits the weirdness of the future (for our inherited thought patterns and political maps, at least); when Dust of this Planet gestures to the weirdness and unthinkability of the world, it invokes the current and coming biological, geological, and climatological chaos of the planet.

As the Alejandro de Acosta, author of Green Nihilism, notes there is a slippage, a movement, a reciprocity between these two positions. One takes climate science as the lens by which to know the world whilst also asserting that any linear continuation of the present coordinates of understanding and anticipating the world are in the process of being shattered; the other reveals the world-without-us that Thacker names the Planet and this corresponds to a non-image of the world in itself in its withdrawn and inaccessible state, a name that stands only to represent our cognitive inability to penetrate the real all the way down. Our scientific discourses capture aspects of the Planet and freeze into an image- what we might call the Scientific Image of the Earth- that is made accessible for human endeavors and finally must be shackled to such. We generate scientific knowledge always for ourselves, to maximise our capacities, to make better interventions into the materiality of the flesh, so we can power our machines, extract ore from the crust, sail across oceans or fly between continents or escape the atmosphere of our little blue and green speck, and, of course, to make life both easier with labour saving technologies, and harder with their consistent meshing as part of the machinic interfaces of capitalism. So we measure, we record, we make an impression of the environment and the ecologies we are structurally and existentially involved in the processes of coping with, and in doing so produce all our fields of knowledge, chief among them, in terms of our access to the matters of materiality, being the natural sciences.

Thacker names this Earth the ‘designation we have given something’ that reveals itself to thought by way of the scientific method. It corresponds to an anthropocentric view of the real and to a strong anthropic principle that states that the cosmos necessarily had to give rise to the kind of creatures that could make such observations and recordings. In the language of the moribund speculative realism this Manifest Image belongs to a variety of correlationism: being and thought, the structure of things and the means to access them, coincide and must always be taken as part of  mutual circularity from which nothing is excluded in principle. The strong anthropic principle holds that “Observers are necessary to bring the Universe into being”- the presence of the observer and the presence of the real are logically coextensive. Thacker counters that there is also the Planet

By necessity there are characteristic that are not accounted for, that are not measured, and that remain hidden and occulted…this remainder, perhaps, is the “Planet” (Thacker, 7).

The Planet as remainder is both the excessive and the residue that denies the supremacy of the observer and proclaims that the Planet is neither for-us or for-itself but “occult”, an abyssic dimension that refuses us knowledge- it is the world passed over into silence, that about which we cannot speak. It is what Michael has called the wilderness of being and which is characterised by its autonomy from the low-res improvisational field work of human cognition and is marked by ‘spaciousness, ‘wildness’ (precariousness, chaos)’ and partial knowability. Impersonal, anonymous, appearing on the horizon like the inverse image of God derived from mystical negative theology, except that this is still a register of the real that we have contact with, simply it is a dimension that can’t be described or made to appear to phenomenality. With Michael’s wilderness we have the sense of the fullness, the density, the complexity and richness of entanglement that images of a truly wild green space conjure in our imagination; but the term ‘remainder’ is altogether more stark, more austere, and distinctly less vibrant. In fact the Planet is the obliteration of all terrestrial horizons- there is nothing here that could form the horizontal limit for a finite subjectivity. The Planet is dispenses with subjects and objects.

There is a sense in which the remainder, a concept we could unpack almost endlessly, can be framed against the wild-ness of wilderness as the gleaming whiteness of the skeleton beneath the flesh of the soft knowable and experiential organic body. The skeleton, that physical memento mori, speaks of a durability that exceeds our soft tissues, our sensuality , and opens us up to coming-undone of our illusions, reveals the temporary aggregation of the ensemble of our body, which is our being, and so to the existential territories that coagulate into our worlds. The Planet serves in our cognitive matrix embodied in synaptic operations and text on the page and screen as an exercise in the coming-to-be of ourselves and our worlds, the passing-away of ourselves and our worlds, and thus recalls the carnal, machinic, and ontological vulnerabilities of both. It short, the Planet outlasts us, came before us, and exists beneath us, without us, in abject indifference to us (as such it could be called evil: what is evil except absolute indifference?).

If Thacker’s work goes towards an atheist mysticism this isn’t simply an inheritance of philosophical pessimists like Schopenhauer and Cioran; it is because humanity is still a “theological animal”, thanks to our heuristics for building representations of the world, and even more than this it is because the real itself is, to mutate a mystical term, a wilderness of unknowing. This is the planetary and cosmological ecology of the real: a ruined vibrant darkness; an austere wilderness. No one lives here. No one survives.

WILD ECOLOGIES - Featured Post #3: Edmund Berger with an in-depth 
analysis of Guattari's 'ecosophy' and possible points of connection, 
overlap and divergence from anarchist thought.  


How does one begin to broach the question of linkage, passage, and reflexivity to be found in the theories and practices of anarchism, the radical post-psychoanalysis of Felix Guattari, and the ontological framework that has been ushered in the necessity of acknowledging the forces that we label “the Anthropocene”? The overlaps between each are undeniable: in was ecological concerns that late in his life Guattari turned his mind to; the field that his work is commonly situated – the school of post-structuralism – is often affiliated with anarchism of the so-called “post-left” variety. That Guattari was closely aligned with the Italian Autonomia, which the post-left anarchists owe much of their discourse to, is no passing coincidence. We can also note the presence of “green anarchism” under the post-left label, alongside the controversial, anti-civilizational stance espoused by anarcho-primitivism. Yet we can see clearly that this triad of eco-ontology, Guattari, and anarchism have yet to really have the dialogue that they deserve.

On even a surface level reading the commonalities between each point is immediately clear: none points to a resolving synthesis in thought or being. The Anthropocene has brought us full circle and pried open what was also present but shunted aside by the progress of the West – that civilization and nature are not separate, and that civilization and culture exist entangled in the complex web of the ecology itself, defined as it is by various states of emergence. Anarchism, regardless of which of the many monikers it adapts, is at its core a program that is constantly evading and contesting the centralizing and homogenizing forms of the state itself. Guattari, meanwhile, shifts these focuses to the levels of individuals and group’s subjecthood, looking to move from fixed and stable states to ones far from equilibrium. Keeping in tune with the manner in which each point in this triad presents itself as an ongoing unfolding, this essay will attempt no resolute synthesis. I am more concerned in this moment with simply tracing out a constellation of convergences and patterns, looking for possibilities of a minor politics for the Anthropocene.

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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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Adam Robbert bringing the Foucault and Deleuze eco-style: 

For Foucault, then, the nonhuman impresses itself onto anthropic space through the production of laws and regulations, the production of material infrastructures that manipulate human behavior and perception, and the enforcement of practices that condition human beings. In Foucault’s understanding, the human is always born into a larger historical condition that is not of the same kind as any one person’s individual experience, an experience that is, to an indeterminate degree, an effect of historical trends rather a starting point for historical evaluation. 

Similarly, for Deleuze, nonhuman forces already act on the inside of human experience. Here all knowing is an inter-species effort; multiple species are always on the inside of anthropomorphic space, undermining it from within. The Kantian transcendental subject is for Deleuze a complex and multiple collective of diverging syntheses of cognition and perception. If Foucault initiates a move from the transcendental a priori to the historical a priori then Deleuze initiates a similar movement—from an historical a priori to an ecological a priori. Crucially, the enfolding of divergent species into human cognition marks not just an ecological basis for all human thought—a mark that suggests that all human thought is dependent on a multiplicity of nonhumans living and dying on the inside of human subjectivity—but more cosmically that human cognition is a higher dimensional enfolding of spacetime itself, a synthesis that makes the vastness of the cosmos thinkable to the human mind.

What I like about Adam’s framing of F & D here is his seemless demonstration of how each of these Frenchies are already thinking ecologically in their appeals to structure and materiality, without having explicitly stated as such. Reading Adam’s post (here) reminds me exactly why the work of these two gents is so near and dear to me: each attempts to think about the structural dynamics embodied in material relations of power, subjectivity and episteme in an ecological manner.

I cannot stress enough how important it seems to me to find ways of operationalizing the insight that nonhuman forces always already act on the “inside” of human experience, as the non-human-in-human – the dark flesh conditioning and positioning hominid experience. Experiencing bodies are complex multiplicities of synthesizing assemblage – higher dimensional enfoldings of space-time…

“[M]an and nature are not like two opposite terms confronting each other – not even in the sense of bipolar opposites within a relationship of causation, ideation, or expression (cause and effect, subject and object, etc); rather they are one and the same essential reality, the producer-product” (Anti-Oedipus, p. 4-5).


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.



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.