Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

OOO and Racism 2

A commenter writes:

“And so here is where I go ‘what about the signifier’ and seem like some kind of linguist. How do you explain the appearance of racism as a concept internal to racist discourse?”

Well, we're gonna have to talk about the concept of “in” (as in internal) and “discourse” and “the” (as in “the signifier”) if we're really going to do this. Discourse isn't really just about words and language isn't really just about words either. And neither are signifiers. (I done studied too much Foucault and Derrida!) So “in” is a bit suspect. And equating discourse and signifier, etc. And I'm too into deconstruction to be that keen on “the” signifier, as if we all knew what signifiers were in advance...

And it seems a bit circular. Racism is intrinsically “internal to racist discourse.” Unless the commenter is in fact saying that even mentioning racism is racist, in which case there's no hope! There might be a cynical reason version of this statement as well as an obvious right-wing reactionary version, the latter of which is just trying to shut people up. 

Sure, the concept of race itself is indeed racist, that's the whole point you can make with the tools I showed you in the previous post. That's why Darwin wrote The Descent of Man, as it happens. Agassiz had done this incredibly insidious and persistent (to this day) categorization of humans into the dreaded Causasian, Mongoloid etc. Sexual selection, which is why I'm white with slightly reddish facial hair, is never teleological. Positing some telos after the fact just is exactly racism. And speciesism. 

And: it seems to me the question might be coming from a performatted division between language and things that I just can't accept--we need to do an awful lot of work to get near talking about distinctions that way. 

But, I'm in a talkative mood! So here's the very very quick answer: 

It's not a problem at all. Racist language is language that performs what I argued in the previous post: it closes the gap between ontic and ontological in such a way as to privilege a certain appearance. 

Think about default Enlightenment period sexism. There is a marked and an unmarked gender, such that everyone is a Man, some of whom are women. The unmarked gender is a mythical substance underlying appearances altogether--aka the transcendental signifier, aka the logos as in logocentrism. 

Or when someone goes “I don't have an accent.” That's like saying a trumpet note doesn't have a timbre. It's strictly impossible not to have one. But if you think your way of sounding is the “real” or “official” way you may say such a thing. 

Or the “one drop” racism that used to buttress the “Three fifths of a person” statement in the Constitution. Like if just one of your ancestors had non-white skin, you are not white. 

Or “All lives matter” as the racist response to Black Lives Matter. In this sense, saying it's racist to bring up race and racism is, of precisely the OOO sense, that some kind of gap between appearing and being is being sealed over. 

Pretty much everything you learned from deconstruction, but slightly pulled in the direction of ontology, not that Derrida doesn't start that himself--that's OOO compatible.

Fred Moten is doing some incredible things in this domain. 

Professor Morton, How Do You Explain Racism and Speciesism?

Someone on Twitter asks:

“Is racism/speciesism a phenomenal/ontic equivocation or is it a hyperobject? No one seems to know what it is these days.”

I have in fact been writing about just this in Dark Ecology. How do we think a concept such as species without speciesism or racism? That is precisely the trick. That concept is deeply contaminated by Aristotelian teleology speak: ducks are for swimming, Greeks are for enslaving barbarians, etc...

Racism and speciesism have to do with closing the irreducible gap between data and things. Or, if you prefer, between the ontic and the ontological. Or, if you prefer, between what you can point to and what things actually are.

There is an irreducible gap between little me, Tim Morton, and me as a member of the human species. We can detect this gap by thinking about global warming data. My starting my car doesn't cause global warming at all: it's statistically meaningless. And of course, I never intend to harm Earth. But billions of car startings do cause global warming! There is a weird gap between me and human me.

This is odd, because we've been trained (scientism, Sesame Street) to think of ourselves as human. And we think this human as beyond or behind our race, gender, class etc. In other words, we think the human as a thing that stays constantly present underneath appearances.

The normal species concept is deeply metaphysical and onto-theological. And racism is where you color this concept a certain specific ontic color. Speciesism is where you say that yes, Tim Moton, this guy right here, is human, all the way through.

Have you ever seen Brighton rock? It's a pink minty candy tube with a word or phrase inscribed all the way through. Speciesism is where you think you are like that with "human" written all the way through.

But this is not biologically correct. Because this is not ontologically correct.

Here's the book:

There is such a thing as the human. But human need not be something that is ontically given: we can't see it or touch it or designate it as present in some way (as whiteness or not-blackness et cetera). There is no obvious, constantly present positive content to the human...Racism exists when one fills out the gap between what one can see (beings starting engines and shoveling coal) and what this human thing is: the human considered as a species, that is, as a hyperobject, a massively distributed physical entity of which I am and am not a member, simultaneously...The racist effectively erases the gap, implicitly reacting against Hume and Kant did to reality. Since their age we have thought it sensible that there is some kind of irreducible rift between what a thing is and how it appears, such that science handles data, not actual things.


The Darwinian concept of species is precisely not the Aristotelian one where you can tell teleologically what species are for: ducks are for swimming, Greeks are for enslaving barbarians… Since species in this sense fails to coincide with me, an actual human being as opposed to a pencil or a duck, the concept of species isn't speciesist. Like the racist, the speciesist fills out the gap between phenomenon and thing with a special paste: the fantasy of an easy-to-identify content. That sort of content is what one is incapable of seeing, yet there are ducks and spoonbills, which are not humans.

Racism and speciesism in their modern forms are desperate and violent attempts to fill out the irreducible void between what is given and what is...

George Osborne, This Is Now Personal

“We must eliminate the deficit by 2020.”

= My brother Steve will be kicked out of the nice shared house he's in and forced to live in what is still a Foucauldian prison for mentally ill people, aka “24 hour care.”

Because living in the nice house has to do with housing benefits. And the Conservatives are determined to wipe those out.

Steve has schizophrenia and is a world class genius drummer.

On Radio 4 Today: “The plan to eliminate the deficit is a tough self-imposed goal.” Self-imposed? Oh, how horrible for him. And, more to the point, why--since it does nothing nice for the economy whatsoever? 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Come to My Lecture in Vilnius

On Saturday, November 28 (this Saturday!).


At the CAC (Center for Contemporary Art). 6pm. Details here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Ingrid Luquet-Gad and I Talk Hyperobjects, Ontology, Ecology in Paris

This was just such a great, great conversation. But as you can see, Ingrid Luquet-Gad, writing for Les Inrocks, takes it a lot further. It makes me so happy that one can be a philosopher and a writer for journals and magazines with the reach and scope of the ones she works for. There are so many good aspects of the dialogue I may write another post but for now, enjoy it. For me it's nice even if nothing else that someone made something out of my jet lagged dribbling...

Someone super au fait both with Derrida and with speculative realism (studying with Meillassoux!): now that's a combination I can identify with...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

You Can Preorder Dark Ecology

Nice one!

This Is How Fascism Begins a fascinating, clownish-seeming display of thuggery. Most theories of the rise of Hitler for instance (Thelweit, Cannetti), argue this. It's a certain kind of aesthetic display that you can't take your mind off. Deleuze and Guattari sum up: the behavior was so in your face and outrageous, no one could believe it was really happening. Like, the newscasters there are hypnotized, no? And rendered impotent with language about “sides” and “objectivity.”

The correct response is immediately to get rid of the fascist pest.

And it isn't just Trump, non-Americans. Like now it's okay for Jeb Bush to say that only Christians should be allowed to immigrate...and Rubio says appalling things, and they all say appalling things. To get nominated for president by their base.

To repeat: yes, this is one of many fascist threat displays. And it's not isolated to Trump.

See, look:

On Thursday, the House voted to add more requirements to what is already an arduous process. Even worse was Jeb Bush's suggestion that perhaps refugees should have to prove that they're Christian, or Donald Trump saying we might have "no choice" but to shut down mosques. Marco Rubio went one step further, saying "it's about closing down any place" where "radicals are being inspired." (Succinct Huffington)

One Tactic in a Time of Terror: Think

Well, this is good isn't it? One of the best things you can do, ever, is decelerate. And this was Derrida's instruction to his graduate students. And now, thanks to smart people refusing to give up their minds, you can read this in a major French pop culture publication:

« La tolérance est d’abord une charité », précise d’emblée Derrida. A ce titre, la tolérance est toujours déjà de la côté du raison du plus fort et du côté de la souveraineté. La tolérance est « le bon visage de la souveraineté qui, depuis sa hauteur, signifie à l’autre : je te laisse vitre, tu n’est pas insupportable, je te laisse une place chez moi, mais ne l’oublie pas, je suis chez moi ». A l’inverse, et comme son pôle contraire, ce serait l’hospitalité qu’il faudrait appeler de ses vœux. Et l’auteur de rappeler que l’expression « seuil de tolérance », en France, a été employée afin de restreindre l’immigration par François Mitterand : à partir d’un certain « seuil » donc, l’assimilation ne pourrait se faire : la tolérance est une hospitalité conditionnelle et circonstanciée, en quelque sorte une permission accordée à l’autre de survivre.

Or l”hospitalité inconditionnelle est la condition éthique de toute politique, bien qu’elle ne puisse pas être politique elle-même, se révélant vite impossible à vivre et à organiser concrètement...   (Ingrid Luquet-Gad, Les Inrocks, November 21)

This is all about Derrida and Habermas talking about 9/11. There is a more than uncanny feeling of repetition right now. And somehow the acceleration of the internet is amplifying this.

One of the big problems with contemporary media space is that the oppressiveness of the social sphere and the instagram speed give you very little wiggle room. Philosophy gives you some wiggle room.

And...How extraordinary, I've been thinking about the exact same thing:

 Friend vs enemy gets us nowhere near where guest and host gets us. Carl Schmitt became this unquestioned font of wisdom about ten years ago, among some of the neo-christian sort of philosophers, and he stages politics as friend versus enemy. 
I was just talking with David Clark (one of my awesome Derridean friends) about this. I found it really, really oppressive in 2005 when everyone in my neck of the woods was citing Agamben and then Žižek on Carl Schmitt. Having to cite them. Terry Shiavo was lying in hospital on a life support machine and the Republicans were refusing to let the husband turn the machine off. Pope John Paul II was insisting on a “culture of life” and so was George W. Bush. Somehow all these things went together in a nasty knot. 

Then there's the fact that, with any luck, I'm going to be talking with Rosi Braidotti in Paris in December. She also has an allergic reaction to this sort of friend/enemy language. 

One of Les Inrocks' journalists was killed last week at the death metal show. 

I just found out that my friend Shawna's friend was also killed there. 

"Precision Agricultural Technology"

An interesting Australian show (thanks Dirk). In New Zealand a few years ago I was given a tour around a highly automated farm, operated by just one guy, and sometimes his son...The bulls had monitors attached to their testicles to ascertain which ones were fertile and which could be used for some other purpose, i.e. slaughtered. The monitors talked to gps systems that told the farmer, Stuart, where they were. There was a rain-producing machine that could be dialed remotely to rain in all kinds of different ways.

Stuart violently objected to the proposed wind farms on his horizon.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

AAA Livestream

Click HERE.

That Denver AAA Anthropocene Panel

It's called Force and Power and the page is here.

Anthropologists with Phone Cameras

Cymene Howe, who has organized the panel at AAA that I'm on this afternoon, has sent me some videos made by some of the panelists. Very interesting. In particular, I'm haunted by how the juxtaposition of visuals and sound works almost like an earlier form of musique concrete. I'm thinking in particular of the work of Luc Ferrari, which sometimes I like a lot.

And then there's the utterly silent undulation of trash bags, like a sinisterly motile mountain range.

And the footage of New York City, a walk that reveals some “climate phenomena” as the video puts it. Including products in a shop window--nice...and the detritus of a superstorm.

I think we are in full on Arcades mode here, aren't we?

It's very significant, all this. It's as if we are all trying to dream what is happening. Which is awesome. Anthropocene information delivery has been good at eroding our ability to fantasize, one of the great bonuses (or plagues, if you are Žižek) of modern times. Control society and neoliberalism might lock this fantasizing into an illusory present, preventing it from opening up a more profound future. Anthropocene information delivery mode is quite often a way of reinforcing this specious present--I'm adapting here a phrase from psychology (we perceive events happening within 0.1 of a second of one another as simultaneous).

Or as Cooper puts it in Interstellar, “Now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”

It's going to take fantasies of wormhole proportions to allow us to traverse ecological information space.

I'm interested in the quietness of these videos. It enables dreaming, and somehow indicates the vast looming hyperobject in its absence...

I'm putting all my effort into thinking all this right now. Major, major book project imminent. Will tell you more in good time. But just know it is mega...not because of me...

4pm! Be there! I wonder, is it streaming? It's in Denver...

Friday, November 20, 2015

And You May Find Yourself Living in an Age of Mass Extinction

Everything you want to know about what and where this talk is, and how easy it is to get into it without having to convince anyone that you are pure, is right here. All they want you to do is RSVP (email link on page).

New York here I come!

Here Comes Cthonic Live (embed)

What I got up to yesterday evening...

Here Comes Another Talk (NYC!)

“And You May Find Yourself Living in an Age of Mass Extinction,” ISCP, New York, January 12, 2016, 6pm.