Identity, Immanence, and Inanimate Events








Here are some excerpts from our Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts panel on identity and environmental ethics.

Audio in previous EC post here:

Christine Skolnik (DePaul)
From “FEAR and Loathing in Affective Neuroscience”

Theories and Nonhuman Sentiments:
Turning back to my abstract and addressing the all caps “FEAR” in the title, I raise the challenge of de-centering human affect as a touchstone of ethical thought. While reviewing Jaak Panksepp’s Affective Neurosience:The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions for this paper, I was positively provoked by his earnest attempt to define emotions apart from human experience and identity. As his work, focusing on animal emotions, constructs FEAR and RAGE (for example), as affective categories that in various senses precede human identity and experience, it creates a conduit between affective neuroscience and philosophical/critical affect theory (Brian Massumi’s work, for example). When we can begin to think and speak about affect without necessarily attaching it to human identity or species identity, we can also begin to move beyond anthropocentric value systems based on reified human emotional experience. I focus here on the term “reified”—the assumption that our emotions are natural, and that unmediated emotions are somehow a compass for ethical behavior. I don’t believe that they are. In fact I think that the opposite is true in many cases.

Anthony Paul Smith (La Salle)
From “Creatural Resistance: The Labour of Job and Ecological Niche Theory”

The concept of niche is a good example where the philosopher goes wrong with his vision, where the attention he gives is determined by his philosophical faith, allowing him to cast derision on the unthinking scientist, and so he may see the niche as the old philosophical idea of balance. Or take the theologian, with his own faithful attention, who may see in the niche nothing but an ontology of violence. In truth, neither balance nor ontological violence is required by the concept of the niche when it is placed in the immanental posture and extended to thought itself. The concept of the niche has to be thought through the concept of the never-living rather than in the dialectic of life and death that both the philosopher and the theologian persist in thinking through. What the niche concept does point to is a generic posture of all living organisms. Not that of violence, if by violence one mean Greek agon or of the violence committed again the hostage, but of immanental struggle in the World as separate form the notion of a “whole.” Each community is a stranger to the biosphere in so far as it can be identified as a community and if it plays its part in the functioning of the whole it does so without some kind of intentionality. The biosphere simply is the various community-identities functioning within the same n-dimensional space.

Guy Zimmerman (Irvine)
From “Tragic Drama and the Liturgical Force of Metal”

Two recent explosions, Fukushima and facebook, underscore the relevance of metallurgy to our historical moment. While Fukushima is analytical, based on the act of splitting, facebook is connective, an emergent social media that has arisen from a vast meshwork of electronic interconnectivity laid down over the preceding decades and centuries. Infused with the paradoxes of subjectivity, Fukushima is metallurgy given form as toxic opponent; facebook the (ironic) form of metal as curative savior. Together these two comprise the halves of an assertoric subject, a pharmacological subject that stands in opposition to the common sense version of the subject as something “apodictic,” or solid and impermeable. [ . . . ] While expressions of the forge continue to structure the ongoing emergence of the human species and abet our re-making of the geo-sphere, metallurgy has thus conditioned our inner lives as well. Through us, metal has long been thinking its own capacities – for tensile strength and electrical conduction, for sharpness in weaponry and tools, for expressive use in crafts and arts etc. – into actuality. Into the future, our world will be defined by the continuous flow of information along metallic circuits that supplement and, increasingly, obviate human thought. And while, through us, metal continues to actualize its capacities, we must be on guard lest our own capacities become increasingly reduced and attenuated in the direction of a lack-based, self-negating quietude.


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