Timothy LeCain | “A Thousand Dead Snow Geese: The Matter of the Non-Human in the Age of Humans”
See video of LeCain’s informative and moving talk here.
See video of LeCain’s informative and moving talk here.
by Lea PinksyWe brought on 6 exceptional Chicago artists to work on this project. We met with a rep from the Chicago chapter of Audubon who gave us a thorough orientation and a comprehensive list of threatened birds in six categories designated by habitat. Each artist was given a habitat, chose a few birds, and collaborated on the design.They are completing the painting work now. The artists are Chris Silva, Anthony Lewellen, Andrea Jablonski, Ruben Aguirre, Tyrue Slang Jones, and Cheri Charlton.Here are some photos.The birds you see include:Tree Swallow, Baltimore Oriole, Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, Hooded Merganser, Mallard, and Wood Duck, Black Crowned Night Heron, Black Cormorant, and a few more.
the poetry of animals all around us
Source: Sew a Few More Stitches of Life
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.
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.
If 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.
Having done some time in the history of rhetoric, I have a double vision of the term “species.” In common parlance it means something like an essential difference; at other moments it meant something like the opposite—appearance, or form—to look at. This is similar to the paradox of substance, as intrinsic (the old matter) and peripheral (a pedestal). I don’t mean to juxtapose these two meanings of “species” as an OED-fetishist, but to take my inspiration for reflecting on species from the idea of “looking at,” and to consider if we might consider how we might appear to other species.
The human is a set that defines itself, plays itself, through collective and diverse acts of self-definition. Part of that play is a theory of human mind, inextricably bound up with language; our mind (they say) is categorically different. But this awareness of difference comes about through observing other species. How we look at other species is a central act. We are a species that regards other species and tends to conclude that it is exceptional.
This reminds me of Levi Bryant’s remarkable diagrams in The Democracy of Objects (20 – 22). Here we are objects regarding ourselves as subjects regarding objects. To me the names of the categories aren’t as significant as our acts of seeing ourselves as categorically different, though, given “subjectivity,” being seeing objects seems a much needed corrective.
If other species have a “theory of mind” based on their experience of themselves, as they look at others, and if those theories of mind overlap with our theory of mind, could we keep drawing Venn diagrams until we arrived at a huge ring species of consciousness? Might we then come round to a new notion of species as appearance or apparent difference? And could we imagine inquiring how other species regard us?
Image source: The KING, the MICE and the CHEESE
“Theory of mind” credit to Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth, Baboon Metaphysics: the Evolution of a Social Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).
See another oblique Environmental Critique references to their thesis here.
And more about Object Oriented Ontology here.