Graham Harman: An Ontology of Forces and Actions

By S. C. Hickman at dark ecologies. A close, productive reading of Harman here I think. CS

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Instead of exiling objects to the natural sciences (with the usual mixed emotions of condescension and fear), philosophy must reawaken its lost talent for unleashing the enfolded forces trapped in the things themselves. It is my belief that this will have to be the central concern of twenty-first-century philosophy.1

Philosophy as an engineering project or reclamation? Forces that must be awakened, brought to bare on the issues of our age, a revolution in those withdrawn and sleeping entities that seem to be forever waiting for something to happen. Is this the Philosopher as Hermes awakening the sleepers, or a software developer calling the hidden algorithms of some program awaiting its secret instructions. As I was revisiting Graham Harman’s early Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects it struck me again that his work is not so much about objects as it is about those invisible forces locked away from direct…

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The Sustainability Delusion?

year-of-the-monkey-2016

 

Here is the position “paper” I delivered earlier this month at the Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA) conference, After Biopolitics.  The paper tile is “Vegans Mock Humans Who Don’t Eat Gods.” Thank you so much to Tim Morton, Randy Honold, all the organizers, and all the participants for a great conference.  (See below the call for next year).

The human species is a set that defines itself through multiple and diverse acts of self-reflection. Among these acts is regarding ourselves in other species, though we also see through, or don’t see through, our misconceptions of ourselves and others. One technology we tend to elide, of late, is the comparison of humans and gods. We’re embarrassed by the association. If self-definition is multiple and diverse, however, why would we dismiss a category of non-human beings by which many human beings define themselves?

And maybe we protest too much. I wonder if we don’t secretly carry a torch for gods. Whether or not humans are particularly creative or destructive, many of us still feel inspired, at times, and at other times, possessed. Gods, archetypes, ghosts, emotions, and unconscious drives—I don’t meant to collapse these species into one another, but I do see common threads—alien invasion, alien intimacy, alien birth. (Thank you Dirk Felleman at synthetic zero for suggesting gods as emotions.) Few of us would deny that we have unconscious drives, but if so, then, could it be that we are still attached to gods?

Is belief in the reversibility of global warming and an infinitely sustainable society like belief in a coherent god? (This is Stoekl in Pettman’s Human Error). I think it is. Some of us are credulous in this sense. But sustainability, like balance, need not be universal. We don’t have to be Modern, monotheistic, or dogmatic in our attachments. Self-defining “right action,” including cultivating good habits and “gracious relationships” (thank you Bill Jordan at Environmental Prospect), may have some intrinsic value and broader influence.

CS

P.S. I really like the trope of gods as tools or machines. I find it genuinely persuasive and productive. Gods, demi-gods, and idols are surely products of metallurgy and alchemy.  I do believe we fashion gods. But this doesn’t preclude the possibility that we are tool-making tools, also fashioned, by industrious monkey gods (for example).

Call for Papers: Society for Literature, Science, and the Arts.  Atalanta, November 3 – 6, 2016.  Creativity.

 

 

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Bringing Interdisciplinary Sources to the Table: Urban College Writers Meet Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac

By Susan Jacobs, DePaul University

As a writing instructor at DePaul University, I find Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac an excellent tool for interdisciplinary learning. Most of our students live and study in Chicago’s gritty/glittering urban setting. We have access to innovative conservation efforts within multiple disciplines. In the midst of Daniel Burnham’s 19th century concrete grid, we have urban farms, environmentally-oriented social media, and multiple green architectural and commercial efforts.

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Chicago City Grid

Some scholars would argue that interdisciplinary studies creates thinkers with broad awareness but shallow comprehension. I would argue that interdisciplinarity creates adaptable, innovative members of thinking communities.

I’ve taught the Almanac several times, and I’ve learned that finding primary resources in our urban setting demonstrates that everything is connected. As students learn about their urban biotic community, they open up to Leopold’s key ideas. I take shameless advantage of new sources that pop up—cultural exhibits, social media, organic food trucks, no-waste restaurants, and vertical gardens. Pairing urban resources with Leopold helps me keep up with students’ quickly shifting interests.

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A rooftop herb garden supplies a local bakery.

A typical freshman writing class will have a mix of majors including English, Computer Science, Digital Media, History, Biology, and Commerce. Engaging varied interests requires finding course material that inspires individual thinking within the context of academic discourse.

Continue reading at Building a Land Ethic: A blog for out Thinking Community  here.

 

 

 

 

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New Contact Info

Hi all,

We’d love to hear from you.  Please contact us at environmentalcritique@gmail.com.

Your friendly co-editors, Randall Honold and Christine Skolnik.

tree

Image source: https://twitter.com/leaninorg/status/354618955354234881

 

 

 

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Impudent Suggestion: Human, Specious, Self-consious

ACMIf the human is defined by ways of knowing and communicating, and particularly by self-consciousness, how would we define a set of humanoid creatures (including jazz musicians) who know and communicate in unconventional modes, and who are self-consciousness about this, in contrast to other human beings who categorically deny such forms of communication.  And if “the species” were to “evolve” beyond a conventional human capacity to recognize such forms of communication, would it become something other than human? I’m not suggesting evolution from a place of superiority over other creatures; rather I’m imagining a kind of switch-back through which humans can be reconciled with other animals.  Also, I would like to suggest that all humans communicate in various non-conventional ways, but that some individuals and groups suspect alternative modes, some are certain of them, and some vehemently deny them. It’s the spectrum of self-consciousness that interests me here.

In conjunction with eccentric modes of communication, we might imagine a wide-spread shift toward consciousness of consciousness as mind/brain very widely distributed over space, time, embarrassed etc. (Judith Butler).  A self-conscious hyperconsciousness (Timothy Morton).  Something like a universal mind, but not with the spiritual baggage of that term (Om), or something like VALIS, but not tethered to external agency or the culture of science fiction (PKD).

I don’t imagine such self-consciousness emerging as a set of rapid genetic mutations, but as a form of genetic expression, regulated by environmental factors and internal chemicals, though that’s a specious distinction.   When we reflect on the fundamentals of ecology, physiology, or the mass media (more than a decade after the decade of the brain), we should take for granted that brain chemistry is affected by the environment.

Neuroplasticity refers not only to changes in brain function but changes in the rate of change.  (My source here is Reuven Feuerstein, an Israeli psychologist who changed the IQ’s of traumatized children, decades before “the decade.”)  So perhaps we might see a change, a sea change, in the rate of change of self-consciousnesses about non-conventional communication. Certainly language and technology could be part of the mechanism of change, but the effect might be something quite different from either, as we know it.

While I don’t see human beings as a savior species or transformer gods, I do think human consciousness could be raised rapidly, and with salutary effects. And I fantasize that animals and plants are helping us to figure it out, as charismatic species colonize the Internet and vegetation seems to be advancing on various fronts (Richard Doyle). Climate change may not be reversible and sustainability may be a fantasy, but perhaps cultivating “gracious relationships” (William Jordan III) has some intrinsic and lasting value.

Image: Afro-Cuban Messengers, from Culturebox.

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Calling Cthulhu Lovecraft @ 125

EC loves weird fiction . . .

synthetic zero

“H.P. Lovecraft’s influence on pop culture has exploded in recent years. But why? Erik Davis is a cultural critic and the author of the essay, “Calling Cthulhu: H.P. Lovecraft’s Magickal Realism.” He fell under Lovecraft’s spell as a teenager.

Dean Lockwood talks about the important role that sound plays in creating the cosmic horror of Lovecraft’s work.

Philosopher Eugene Thacker talks about how Lovecraft used science to speculate about the nature of reality in his short story, “From Beyond.”

H.P. Lovecraft may have been a great writer, but he was also, undeniably, a racist. This pretty much ruins him for a lof of readers, and writers. In fact, therre’s curretnly a petition before the World Fantasy Award, protesting the organization’s award statue, which is a bust of Lovecraft.  Gemma Files is a Canadian horror writer and one of the people who has a problem with Lovecraft because of his racism.

Think that it’s too…

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Exploring the Nature of Diversity in Chicago

by Eoin O’Neill

Author details: Dr. Eoin O’Neill is a tenured Lecturer in Environmental Policy at University College Dublin and is visiting at DePaul University for the Autumn Quarter, hosted by the Department of Environmental Science and Studies.

Whilst visiting at DePaul and as an urban dweller in Chicago, I’m somewhat unusual; I don’t have a car and can be seen with my wife walking the streets at all hours pushing a large red buggy, which we have been told is a rather ‘awesome stroller’ and ‘like a red Cadillac’. While it takes us longer to get everywhere, walking allows for an intimate acquaintance with hidden nooks of Chicago that I may otherwise never have seen. It also allows for time to reflect and appreciate the diversity to be found within and between its neighbourhoods.

As I walk (or sometimes travel elevated on the ‘L’), I often wonder whether the difference in the types of ‘nature’, crudely assessed in terms of observable trees/vegetation, experienced by people in various neighbourhoods is in anyway attributable to some form of interplay between environment and cultural factors. On one of our walks, for example, one moves across an invisible boundary and the intensely green and manicured grass verges, the street trees, shrubs and flowers in a highly maintained urban setting give way to a relatively un-manicured urban environment, and a different cultural influence clearly apparent along the streetscape.  Whilst the type of ‘nature’ on the street is visibly different, seemingly limited to occasional window boxes and less well maintained street planting (with different biodiversity potential), I wonder whether the influence of culture is a significant factor influencing how communities express environmental preferences or appreciate nature; or whether the manner in which nature is revealed locally is predominantly resource driven? Or maybe they are inextricably linked with both having an influence in combination.

To my untrained eye, culture does not seem to be a hugely significant factor; however, the impact of the distribution of financial resources is visibly a significant influencing factor on the type of nature evident in parts of Chicago.  Some neighbourhoods look like they are entering into a period of significant transition (or transformation).  Extreme examples include extensive areas of abandoned or derelict homes and lots etc. with a less structured nature re-emerging apparent in some neighborhoods (see http://57thandnormal.com/ – although this is a drastic case).  I imagine that neighhorhoods losing their sense of urbanity might generate negative feelings and a sense of uncertainty for residents in an otherwise regulated urban setting.  Such feelings may come from recollections of experiences attached to the place as it was; and perhaps from efforts to exclude, and avoid, risky aspects of ‘authentic’ nature from the regulated environment.  Moreover, the emergence of multi-generations of urban dwellers (a global phenomenon) has probably increased the level of disconnect between people and nature.

These ‘abandoned’ parts of the Chicago urban landscapes (see also, for example, http://abandonedchicago.tumblr.com/) are in a state of flux – sufficiently managed to avoid emergence of much of a sense of wilderness; but at the opposite end of a spectrum that might be signified by Grove at al. ‘ecology of prestige’.  However, it seems that some new ideas are emerging within the policy community about using this change to bring about prospects for a more purposeful yet beneficial experience of such nature for affected residents.  Whilst thinking about Green Infrastructure solutions (such as rain gardens, urban agriculture, parks etc.) is not unusual, with some examples apparent as I walk around, perhaps the systemic thinking being applied by participants in the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative, to (amongst other efforts) strategically coordinate repurposing of parcels of vacant land to better manage stormwater is innovative.  (I recently attended a meeting of this group, in an observer capacity.  The collaborative model in this case comprising c. 30 stakeholder agencies and non-profits looks like it may be worthy of replication beyond Chicago.)

 Pilsen

An improved ‘vacant’ lot in Pilsen generating ecosystem services.

From a policy perspective such circumstances present opportunities for such innovations; however, the period during which an individual’s neighborhood becomes re-defined is at least socially disruptive and a ‘messy’ experience for residents who have to live through the transition.  But perhaps other places can learn from these experiences.

Sticking to the water-related theme, the newly developed (and developing) riverside walk along the Chicago River provides a pleasant break from the immediate hazard walking alongside city traffic and the stop-start of pedestrian crossings, generating feelings of relaxation as noise levels are abated at the lower level of the water.  Similarly the walk alongside the lakeshore gives an even greater access to an unbroken, authentic, and sometimes wild vista.  Alternatively, the recently opened Bloomingdale Trail, developed on a former rail line, provides an enjoyable elevated perspective within the urban environment.  However its appearance differs from my expectations with the trail being a concrete pavement rather than a beaten path.

Trail

A section of the Bloomingdale Trail passing Bucktown

More generally, and apparent to me no matter where I walk, is the extensive amount of street-trees, bringing with them various environmental benefits in addition to well-established wellbeing and stress-reduction benefits, which must surely be welcomed by most city residents.  On the other hand, and as a consequence, the lack of any green planting on most back-alleys and laneways off main streets provides a harsh setting, especially against the backdrop of tall buildings with limited direct sunlight.

I must admit that my reflections are influenced by my background, where there is a much more homogenous society (predominantly white and of Irish and European origin), and limited evidence of any significant contemporary non-European cultural influences imprinting itself on the Irish landscape so far, of which I am aware.  The pie chart below portrays the ethnic or cultural background of all people (Irish and non-Irish) resident in Ireland at the time of the most recent census (2011).

Chart

Source: Central Statistics Office 2011. Available from www.cso.ie  Accessed 10/29/2015.

Maybe the scale of the City of Chicago, being just under three times larger (by population) than Dublin, and with a far more extensive and vastly more culturally diverse and populous metropolitan region, means the landscape in all its guises is reflective of the environmental preferences of its various constituent communities.  Somewhat contrary to my elementary musings here, some recent findings from New York (Grove et al. 2014), suggest that socio-economic factors alone are not sufficient to explain which neighborhoods have the most exposure to nature (assessed by vegetative cover measured by tree canopy and lawns).  Perhaps this type of analysis may be an important consideration when advocating for green infrastructure and ecological restoration initiatives more widely across Chicago in the future.  Indeed the Great Rivers Chicago initiative (GreatRiversChicago.com) seems to be a good example of engaging with communities to establish their preferences for a better relationship with, and improved access to, an aspect of nature.

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Attendees and facilitators at the Great Rivers Chicago public open-house meeting at the Ping Tom Memorial Park Fieldhouse in Chinatown (10/28/2015).

 

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to enjoy my walks around the city and its neighborhoods.

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