Poetry, from Me?

How could I let myself stray so far from friends
born of such intense passion?
Severed by choice of one world to another
so suddenly.
And retreat right back as the ebb came
all too predictably.

Leaving friends behind of another world,
strangers no longer, but placed away.
The wave came and gone, and perhaps back again.
To immerse in its flow and perhaps lost again.

To those who fought the lull and remained steadfast
I humbly apologize.
For I am not from this world but took a test spin
Sticking around for thrill and camaraderie.
Not so desperate or in need of assistance,
I fled along with the many to comfort.

Worlds apart no longer feigns excuse,
on first breach their borders broke for good.
To surge forth again of course.
But to stay close for better or worse…

Worldly Angst: Tim Morton’s The Ecological Thought

There is no more pressing concern that can be addressed right now than global warming. Think about it. Our planet has the very rare quality of having just the right temperature for H2O to abound in three different states of matter. We earthlings are a privileged bunch. Thinking beyond earth and into stars, galaxies, and other planets inspires wonder (or wonder inspires thinking towards the sky), but, also, right here on this planet matter/energy has found a way to loop and grow and evolve into what we call life. Writing and speaking this way can stop us in our tracks and make us stare out in astonishment, but it also can provide cover against seeing what is right in front of us and forget where we are. Where we are historically is in the funky position of being unable to think past certain concepts stringing us along a ruinous path; ruinous for us and our environment. But I contend that part of solution is blurring the lines between ‘us’ and ‘environment’. Thinking about ecology instead of Nature is to think a forward moving coexistence instead of a detachment.

Tim Morton’s The Ecological Thought (Harvard University Press, 2010) presents a way to rethink our notions of ’nature’, ’life’, and even ’world’ in a way that allows us to respond to the breakdowns in complex systems honestly and think through them both realistically and fantastically. His ’Eco Thought’ is timely in that it wrests Nature from its status as a “place over yonder” one can ignore by
resuming Cultural pursuits or visit on a hike in the woods and injects it directly into us. It is timeless in that it does the critical-textual work of marking out the beginning of a new era.

We never achieved a break from Nature as human beings in civilization but conceptually and in language. Blending and bewildering conceptual oppositions like Nature-Culture flows seamlessly from paragraph to paragraph for Morton, spreading virally throughout the book. Indeed, his concept of the ’mesh’ blurs even matter and life in a non-vitalism making room for the terrifying inside us and outside of us. What we call life is just matter/energy flowing in an interconnected mesh, “[t]his flow has been ongoing since DNA started its random mutations. Evolution is mutagenic. It isn’t linear or progressive.” (p.43) Eliminating our secure position as humans or even life-forms and unsettling our false pretenses to independence from “the rest” puts our ideas into extreme doubt. This isn’t to convince you that you are not alive but that you, I, and we are not the culmination of anything in time but instead a presently contained mutation with no end.

This can feel like one big negation of reality, and Morton even writes: “Negativity might even be more ecological than positivity is. A truly scientific attitude means not believing everything you think.” (p.16) Yet this profoundly weird nothing that follows us along subverting all attempts at transcendence and identification is not to “put us in our place” in bare existence. It is to reject the distance implied in delineating place to show that everything is interconnected but not in a completed whole. The holes found everywhere in the w-hole prevent a world from asserting itself. No safe haven is given by taking sides in the traditional divisions used to clarify problems of the being of the world like Mind and Matter. The strangeness of connectivity without coherence undermines all efforts to make sense of the world by carving it up into well-ordered sections. Negation has gone viral; the hole is quickly found in both areas.

“The ecological crisis makes us aware of how interdependent everything is. This has resulted in a creepy sensation that there is literally no world anymore. We have gained Google Earth but lost the world. “World” here means a location, a background, against which our actions become significant.” (p.31)

Its as if globalization and our dominance of the planet has left no where to go – no setting or stage from which one can say “this is where I am”. Sweeping the basis for meaning away can be a dreadful thought, and Morton’s only consolation “to the tear in the real [is]… [i]f it has always been there, it’s not so bad, is it?” (p.31) His concept of the mesh accommodates differences in time and location; it is only in this historical moment when the planet is under domination by such a concentrated system that we feel the anxiety of losing our home.

Thinking past this loss of world and coming up with new concepts for this purpose means leaving behind the world as a container and even the universe of physicists. The act of creating concepts is a philosophical exercise in the vein of Delueze and Guattari and the ecological thought is precisely a conceptual way of imagining a mode of being within language that gets through a physical-ecological problem. This involves mystical and spiritual revival but in a way that does not imagine other more perfect worlds, ordering them with respect to our mortal inferiority. Heck, it doesn’t even encourage the reader to focus on the real world exactly:

“…what we think of as “imagination” is just an after-image, an extrapolation we make when we notice people using language… do we have a sense of *world* in our heads, a background against which we can operate?” (p.88)

The Wittgensteinian move is to recognizing the limitations of language and get us to think the world beyond it without bringing along the messy metaphysics carried over from language, but Morton contends that even the world is stuck within those linguistic limits. The difference of conceptual relations spills into reality whether we discourse or not: cleaning up our language and speaking of the world outside of it will do us no good. We’d do better to think in terms of ecology, instead of forms of *life*.

Ecology evokes environment, life, and science so that we are encouraged to internalize the methods of scientific inquiry yet also avoid miring ourselves too much in its technical terminology. The mesh permits their inter-connectivity without ordering them centrally or referring a word to its ’thing out there’ identically. If we are going to properly deal with the climate we need sound, trustworthy science to compliment a radical shift in (for lack of a better word) consciousness through concepts. This is the difficult work of thinking the tangled concepts in a style that paves the way for an ecological existence. This existence is fraught with uncertainty and anxiety but this need not and cannot result in the desperate groping for a harmony that we mistakenly perceive to have lost.

The rapid firing of conceptual distinctions and mind-numbing dodging and weaving in Morton’s book does well in mirroring the swirling confusion of the crisis gripping our planet. It also makes the arguments hard to follow. He makes the paradoxical character of these ideas explicit: “[a]lthough there is no absolute, definite “inside” or “outside” of beings, we cannot get along without these concepts either. The mesh is highly paradoxical.” (p.39) Another big concept of his is ’the strange stranger’ in which “there is no way to maintain the strangeness of things.” (p.41) But Morton scores a clear hit by concentrating on Capitalism and its co-optive logic. The distortion that Capitalism employs in the commodifying of everything from sexual bodies to food production proliferates without individual assent and even encourages rage against itself – as long as dissent can be useful in making a sale. The disorienting groundlessness of ecological philosophy is one particularly poignant method of isolating the ideology putting us all at risk in Capitalism. It gives us a more sharpened mind for evading the snares of Capitalist logic, which thrives on individualizing terror. That terror exists beyond any of us humans and beyond the world, yet Capitalism thrives by enclosing it within individual minds. An ecological mind doesn’t reactively leap into a communal-nationalist passion in its rejection of individuals though. This remains attached to the concept by simplifying the negation. The ecological thought utilizes the form of radical collectives rather than communities of abstraction.

“So along with the political radicalisms that seek to create new forms of collectivities out of the crisis of climate disruption, there must also be a rigorous and remorseless theoretical radicalism that opens our minds to where we are, about the fact that we’re here.” (p.104)

At the same time, the void of intense personal practices found in the likes of meditation are never fully divorced in the mushy interconnection of the mesh. They even allow us to organize ourselves otherwise than the stable routines demanded on us by Capitalism. Individuals joined together in collectives exert a form of relating to each other that is neither Individualist nor Holistic.

Morton’s ecological thought (but is it his anymore?) is an honest work of the thought needed to act responsibly towards not just people but things. Things like chemicals, trees, mountains, etc. are given better treatment by ecological thinking than by a domineering Nature one must repeatedly affirm they are a “part of”. Not even the world is a whole to be a part of. This paves the way for a more stylistic existence that attends to the field of interaction in and out of language. This radical concept is an intriguing development in urgent times.

Ontology Apolitics

There’s a debate that keeps on coming up over ontology and politics in the blog world loosely centered around the space that object-oriented ontology has opened up. Levi Bryant and now Ian Bogost insist that ontology and politics are separate, that things really are and interact before any thing becomes political. There’s the bare materialism of objects moving and colliding hither and the politically charged objects, which exist as well, thither. One’s ontology doesn’t have anything to say about politics until a politicizing act takes place or a thing transforms into a thing of political consequences. Or else, a political entity must be created neglecting the ontological dimension. The big point is that every-thing cannot be political, it must become so.

My question on this is: if ontology is apolitical, why must it repeatedly say so? This need not be because of some fault of OOO but the level of political discourse or misconceptions. I’m beginning to think that if politics is not everywhere and composed of everything, then the notion of the political must be transformed. Politics is a word that gets thrown around far beyond its etymological origins of the business or management of a *city* – ’polis’. Invoking politics for me stirs people up to answer the question “what is to be done?” and look ahead into the future, which might be a utopian vision or just organizing in a small collective project. If politics is not personal or if all states and flows of things do not count as “politics” then a new concept is needed to get over this nagging debate. I think Ian Bogost could be hinting at this at the end of his piece when he writes “there’s something apolitical about political discourse.”

In this globalize world, where it has become easy to feel that ’everything is interconnected’ and one’s daily routines have a stabilizing effect on systemic operations, perhaps what is needed in social debates on rightness and virtue is *less* politicizing and more emphasis on material processes. I never liked the term “social justice”. This is about “Justice” which is and always has been about more than social convention or interpretation (though these socially available discourses always filter it’s discussion). Anyone should be able to hold simultaneously that Justice can (and maybe should) go farther than politics and that some things exist whether we contemplate them or not and have gigantic effects on us.

The way global warming has been turned into another chip in the culture wars and the dominating presence of money in political lobbying are examples of problems that make the term ’politics’ inadequate. The problems traditionally addressed by political representatives are not getting the proper attention they deserve. This helps explain why roughly half the people in the country do not vote for the president and congress’s approval rating is under 10%. Action meant merely on maximizing one’s effect on the field and pushing for change materially are often subsumed under the banner of “political persuasions”. Maybe the better term moving forward could be something like “ideals”, if the stigma of the materialism/idealism divide is treated as an obstacle to get over. I regularly and unflinchingly invoke concepts like “Justice” and “Right” without having anything in mind like policy, bills, and laws; its about encouraging action by any means necessary – political or not.

I think we could learn a lot from Foucault’s method of problematization: beginning with a problem, a mystery, a query to engage in rather than a polemics. Politics in America these days is practically a scripted spectacle of polemics where the voter-audience takes sides and keeps a score of the points won with rhetoric. Ideals are easily captured by politicians (need I write it? “Hope” “Change”), but this is precisely when we should be skeptical and protective of our ideals from politics and politicians. We need new subjectivities and Foucault’s genealogy of the subject has much to offer and not be content with those subjectivities presently seem “realistic”.

I don’t think I have to take sides on which is more real: material things or ideal things; just like American politics does not force me to take the side of the left-liberal or the right-conservative. This is what’s cool about flat ontology. Object-oriented ontology lets me think this way and I thank the likes of Bryant, Bogost, and Morton for creating this debate. Though they might not agree with me and I’m not sure OOO is the right direction to take, the debate is much better than the usual ones and that means A Lot. Perhaps we need to rethink this frustrating concept called politics.

Larval Ethics

To Begin With:
“Is it possible to form a community of strangers without identity and to still really have a community?”
-Levi Bryant
A Series of Further Questions of Mine:
The logic of identification – grouping individuals inside a boundary: if a community is named, does the naming inevitably produce another? Is the identification of the many under one name a antagonistic move? Or can the delicately crafted negotiation of inclusion/exclusion prevent such measures of paranoia and aggression?
If the blame for violence comes from the other group, would sympathies sway to the side of the non-aggressor? Or must both communities share the blame for structuring the relationship in such a way as to bring about this confrontation? Is there even such a thing as an ’aggressor community’ and a ’victim community’?
Regarding the Occupy Movement:
Can there be a name to identify with, whose transcendence never goes beyond the actions and immanent spatial “being there”, so that the attachment to the identity doesn’t generate violence?
Should violence be avoided or should the conflict be deemed “inevitable” and take the strategy towards clearly presenting the other as the violent aggressor?
How can strangers with diverse views get along together without dissolving in the face of external attack and misrepresentation without a title?
And Now:
Levi Bryant has been kicking ass in his blog Larval Subjects lately. Thinking ethics with realism and materialism in mind has the difficult task of avoiding the reification of particular social norms and describing ethical relationships physically. The overriding concern as I take it is to preserve an ethics towards others that includes strangers and the environment as opposed to just familiar faces and abstract symbols of attachment. Such a code that allows for an ethical commitment through symbolic allegiance often maintains one’s comfortable place and closes off the surprise of the coming of the other. This encounter with the stranger occurs at boundaries that separate them from me or my local territory from another’s – thinking spatially that is. So the ethical decision becomes one of letting the other cross into my comfort zone or abandoning my comfort zone for the strangeness of another’s. The ethical decision always made in the indefinite present must be undecided at the arrival of the strange thing that intrudes upon the casual movement of my routine affairs.
Bryant writes:
“A distinction implies boundary between inside and outside. The problem is that a boundary belongs to neither the inside nor the outside. Boundaries belong to both insides and outsides. This entails that boundaries are undecidable for any system. The real world consequence of this is that every system that attempts to form an identity (a self, a transcendence, an essence, etc) encounters an undecidable boundary between inside and outside that renders identity fraught from within.”
There is a lot of Derrida whisperings here that I am willing to acknowledge and appreciate. The question of ethical relationships becomes obscured when the task goes beyond deconstruction and on to a *mobilization* of something Deleuze & Guatarri might call a war machine (which may or may not have violent warfare as its object). Movement building that seeks a construction as its object: can this be done ethically by sticking merely to a proximal closeness of physical encounters and/or an abstract symbol with which one can identify? Would a movement be forced into a violent hegemony with a transcendent rationality of ’us vs. them’ by identifying with a name and claiming a territory for itself? Does the anxiety created by forming a solid identity doom them all to an aggressive hostility to the other?
I’m bombarding you (reader) with questions because I don’t really have an answer. But I think these are the right questions and I’ll go on speculating about them.
Ultimately I think, continuing in a Derridean manner, that these questions are unanswerable at the textual level, they must be worked out in the moment – the moment that forever eludes the writer and reader. It is in these tenuous moments that the flickering of attitudes, allegiances, and beliefs must play out. The outcomes that a carefully planned theory can never actualize completely but tries to prepare us for and teach us to think about is the scene of ethics. Coming up against the borders of who we are, who is included, what is the goal, how can ‘x’ be accommodated, etc. are matters of tactics and strategy when the growth and survival of a thing is at stake among hostiles. We all unquestionably bring our theoretical commitments along with us into the strategic/tactical discussion. But the decisions to go this way or the other, the collective movement forging along all the while, is not the direct result of the positions delineated in these discussions and often go completely off the expected course. The chaotic uncertainty of the occurrence frequently makes the best laid plans fail. Bringing up strategy and tactics highlights the difficulties of making ethical decisions when placed in the context of a survival game, complete with hostile strangers (enemies) and tentative alliances.
What alters ethical dilemmas into matters of strategy and tactics or what obscures the welcoming of the stranger is often a community with a shared understanding that differs drastically from another’s. One’s finger can be firmly pointed at the symbols conforming people into blind faith when they get in the way of mutual agreements. At this point whether or not subscribing to the name is a net benefit at all. The commitment to an abstraction can make matters worse, as Nationalism and Fascism have terrifyingly demonstrated. To organize and link people up into a single force carries risks. But if we are to forgo this option, preexisting forces without remorse will walk all over us and continue to reinforce a path towards oblivion. Perhaps there is a way to ethically forge a collective from disparate places and work on a better world without dogmatic labeling. I honestly don’t know. Would collectives be enough to halt a seemingly uninterruptible system backed by guns, jets, drones, and spyware?
Whatever the case, I think we should let tactics blend into our ethics.

Lightning Thoughts on Hannah Arendt: On Revolution

Novelty and freedom (as in freedom found in a city or isonomy) for revolution. The beginning, the foundation: desire for something new by way of radically inventive action. Revolution must contain a difference that transcends a negative criticism (dialectical necessity) and breaks away from the very framework of the (+,-) opposition available. Must utilize negative criticism for positive change, avoiding the traps of reintegration of the negative back into the (altered) whole and outright suppression; a new body. Will general assemblies, town-halls, and councils be forever a “new” organizational body if a history is done of them? What makes them novel if they keep recurring?

The need for a change, a break from dominant political power scheme must not be prepared by a scientific necessity, theoretical program, or seen as a moment in a cycle of history. This pushes the past onto the future when predicting the future is so very hard and un-absolute. History should be conceived as a story, not a formula. History (the past) is not a science. This would repeat the power structure of the past without a courage to discriminate against one’s present circumstance.

The impulse to the eternal, to find the truth or God, an origin or an enduring principle uncover-able in all things; this must be handled in a paradoxical way so as to promote action. For the action element requires its supplement (theory) to be non-totalizing and non-absorbing if the action is to break with the prevailing hegemony. Action can reflect the current of theories, mirror their principle movement and structure as they are written, delivered/received. For the act to be new (not totally brand-new – this gives rise to necessity/freedom debacle) but challenging and foundational (new in context to an intolerable present), theory must be obscure and open to interpretation, non-predictive and inconclusive as to next steps, i.e. ’the difference of EVERY moment’ ’the novelty common to ALL acts’.

Violence of state beginnings, the myth of violent (law-giving) birth

State “peace-keeping” force too strong (really this time), need revolution from within without ’non-violent’ principle to limit and divide in two (binary logic). Confrontation to show we’re serious, but violence must be reversed and made unambiguous.

Must establish a model for Political decision making within a critical community that simultaneously critiques surrounding powers limiting its free expression while checking power grabbing within itself. (It does not matter that it’s outcomes don’t restructure the greater world attacking it; for should the revolutionary energy become an army of the poor or slaves and so seek to cut off the head and start over in the name of “freedom”, the other surrounding powers to this country (whichever it may be) would be able to carve it up for their own purposes on the larger international scene. (Total Global revolution of communists theory understand this) A power vacuum would ensue that would lead to another great terror, seeing how the rage of the oppressed and poor would only destroy and not create a new nation. Power grabbing corrupts.)
Would it be this bad though today as it was in the French Revolution? Egypt, Tunisia and others??? have shown regime change is possible from a revolutionary uprising… Is regime change enough? What is the goal, Democracy? Who has that?
The constitutional, nation/community building exercise of revolutions though that draws people together under threat of a common enemy to make decisions as a body: this can create a new will. It will antagonize the dominant powers they reject as defunct and unresponsive to their needs/desires, but without a direct military assault. A confrontation and struggle on land yes, but a replacement for the current national leaders would only lead to more destruction. The power structure as it is is not fought over but rejected on their size and inescapability. There will be battles, but as a weak power seeking a new world inside of one that inflicts such misery, the critical community challenges power as well as creates new political bodies. A generator of critique that can also critique itself: exposing the top of power as well as safeguarding its own participants from climbing the ladder of power that only corrupts. Not in the traditional constitution making process of revolutions that limits public government’s infringement on individuals (Arendt), but an opening of a space for group empowerment. This is no pep-rally for self-esteem though, this is collective consensus reaching on actions that have genuine effects on power establishments. The constitutional “we the people” founded a nation, but this other “we” (other) is not so clearly designated. The members I speak of may come and go, the body is not written and bounded by written laws that set universal limits. A law commands it’s people to act within guidelines but the principles here are more like a heightened awareness for power checking and the stubbornness to challenge all power – critique. A negative sentiment that is against a lot, but the positive thing it is for is in the making – it is the sum of the relations forged by the struggle.
With no goal for power, no object of desire like a demand, this novel “we” disrupts and shakes the ground that corruption stands on without appropriating that ground and building anything on top of it. “We” cannot be accommodated, for nobody is sure WHAT we want (there is no object), and the inherent tendencies for power that characterize all groups and their members are checked in open discussion. A constitution is foregone in place of regular assemblies where transparency is demanded and all can voice their concerns/criticisms of both the enemy (as many-faced as the “we” – capitalism is not the only thing) and the process for the assembly/satellite groups. The critique goes both ways, within and outside, ensuring (or trying to) that power-over is deflected. All this body can do is grow or be crushed by existing forces; but it is radically different from those forces.
Some internal critiques: without the energy, the momentum, the intense wave of outrage fueling a movement, will the critique become attacks on each other? Without the space to argue in public and have the opportunity to convince each other, will our differences fester and lead to hostile camps vying for control? Are the space (territory) and the critique both required? What will compel the masses to keep coming?