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

Friday, February 5, 2016

Why Not 1784?

Why are some humanists so very concerned not to date the Anthropocene when the atmospheric and geology people proposed dating it?

For instance, one suggested date is the beginnings of a certain phase of European colonialism, which some put at about 1610. (Which I don't particularly understand in any case, but that's another conversation.)

But this isn't about what's the most big bad nasty thing that humans did to other humans (and there are plenty of other candidates). And of course, those actions did something to nonhumans--creating monocultures, moving nonhumans around Earth either deliberately or accidentally (breadfruit, squirrels).

I'm going to say something now, and some of you are going to think this means I don't care about postcolonial theory or worse.

That's not enough. That doesn't significantly change Earth's crust. Stratigraphy is the science of defining layers in Earth's crust.

And certainly this is not about when some humans started planning or imagining bad things. Francis Bacon's violent language about mining, or something like that. Again, if you want to look for the first “bad ecological thing planned” you might need to go a way further back than that. What about medieval fantasies about the spice islands, which in the end generated the East India Company? Roman, or Greek, or Babylonian colonial propaganda? What about Platonic nihilism? Or reductionism of any kind? Or domestication of animals?

If we go on like that, we are only going to end up with the Fall version 2.0.

So we'd still be on a mission from agricultural-age religion, which might be a problem in itself. This has to do with “Something went wrong in our being, something exactly there and then, and this something is a twist in the fabric of things, a twist often called evil.” We're talking about hyperobjects. We're talking about massively distributed physical stuff here, which can't be pinned down. Evil corporations? We summon them into being and buy their stuff. Americans? Everyone wants air conditioning. Colonial expansion? Agricultural logistics are all about that and those logistics didn't just emerge in Mesopotamia, suspiciously the very region where the Garden of Eden is located.

The trouble, in part, is that for ever we humanists have been treating imagining and planning as on a par with doing and acting. (Oh dear, now you think I have an “unquestioned binary” between imagining and doing or whatever. I've read Of Grammatology and I consider myself a Derridean, very much so. We're in a different sort of domain here, where I'm simply saying that imagining that what I'm doing right now is sucking a lollipop doesn't account for the fact that I'm typing a sentence. I'm pretty sure my old office mate Jacques would in fact agree. He's not a nominalist. And even a nominalist would probably agree.)

It's because of the default correlationist mode we've all accepted for two hundred years, which often ends up in a gravity well where we are quibbling about labels. It's very very hard for us to see this, but Anthropocene isn't a label exactly like that. It's not in the domain of “We [the human subject, human history, human economic relations, human will, human Dasein...] get to decide what counts as real, and these decisions are of course political, so we should first and foremost decide what counts as real according to our particular politics.”

Can you see how this might be said in a mode that's part of the problem? And that it will end up with arguing about exactly the most politically progressive record store label, for the millionth time? Rather than, say, mentioning polar bears?

And thus that there's a politics of trying to fantasize about jumping to a level where you can see and analyze everyone else's politics? It's called cynical reason and it's designed to exclude polar bears.

In the bigger picture, the scientific date isn't about finding fault with (a particular group of) humans for human-on-human violence (which is real and part of the picture) and human-on-nonhuman violent ideas or plans (which is of course also part of the picture).

This is about depositing layers of carbon compounds in Earth's crust. To do that in such a way as to create a powerful stratigraphic signal, you need to be mining coal with steam engines.

Could we just listen to that, for a moment? Could we just reflect as to why we are surprised/shocked/outraged, and whether that might be a little bit our problem or maybe even a lot our problem?

It's as bad as global warming denial I'm so sorry to say. It has the same discursive format. Something doesn't fit our world so we deem it unreal or evil, badly intended, part of a conspiracy.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Paris Talk on Monday

It's for this, Façonner l'Avenir. At the École des Arts Déco.

Am I Being Seduced by a Not Necessarily Human Sexuality Vortex

...or am I just trying to interpret this song?

This song is about interpreting songs. Sounds so innocent when you put it that way, no?

I just love how this is a narrative, a special kind called noir, where the narrator is paranoid that she or he is half creating (at least) what is happening. Narratives can't say everything all at once, which tells you about how you can't access all of a thing all at once.

The full ambiguity of the aesthetic experience on display here. Which is how OOO objects appear in general, so you have been warned :)

Adrián Villar Rojas

While I was in Stockholm last year I saw his work, and about ten minutes after falling in love with it I heard that he was a big fan of my stuff. Go figure! He does all kinds of amazing things, ecological things, and this is one of them.

After All These Years

BBC, you really do need not to pronounce names in ways that resemble the following:

“Hello, my name's Barrack O'Bama, proprietor of O'Bama's Turf Cutting. And this is my friend, Shed McNeill.”

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Britain, the Texas of Europe

1. Slightly isolated part of a continent.
2. Used to be someone else's.
3. Oil.
4. Weird blend of politeness and coerciveness. (Texans even more polite--yes that's right--shock horror.)
5. Ornery defiance.
6. Rather resolutely right wing.
7. Believing weird stuff (eg austerity).
8. Everything referred back to simulated state identity. British strawberries, Texan boots, cowboys, the monarchy...rodeos...
9. Always thinking about separating from Europe.
10. Would hate to be described in terms of something else in a phrase such as "Britain, the Texas of Europe."
11. Would be better as part of Mexico/France.

Keep going folks!

12. Mega wealth discrepancies.
13. Surprisingly broken infrastructure.
14. Tax and the lack thereof.
15. Punishment formats and beliefs.

Take it from a Brit who lives in Texas.

Where the analogy falls apart:
Food. Despite what it says about itself Britain is not Texas in that regard. This is where my stomach lucks out.

Irrational and Violent

Imagine if you're from Maine and you move to California. Imagine that for some reason welfare/benefits are different in CA -- which in some cases they are.

Imagine there's a CA rule that you can only get the benefits you got in Maine, at the Maine dollar amount.

Imagine how that couldn't even be suggested, because of the rules that govern a federation such as the USA.

Now consider that the Conservative Party of Britain is proposing only giving benefits at the amount an "immigrant" (aka someone from somewhere else in Europe) could expect from their state of origin.

Imagine you are an intrinsically brilliant person from say Lithuania who can speak three languages fluently.

Imagine how this proposal makes you feel.

Britain, the Texas of Europe, busy sawing itself off the tree that allows it to think of itself as somewhat high up and covered in leaves.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Michael Marder on Censorship

Michael Marder with a very powerful piece on censorship in Israel. Loyalty oaths may eventually be involved.

I remember in Colorado where all employees of CU had to sign a loyalty oath. Luckily I didn't have to, there was a loophole for foreigners, which I was at that point. The thing being, you weren't allowed to be a communist and employed by the state.

You Can Entangle Temporal Parts well as entangling two things that are spatially separated!

A particle will behave according to its state in the future. And not because of some underlying system to which the entanglement of temporal parts can be reduced.

If that isn't beginning to convince you that time is in the aesthetic dimension I don't know what is.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Petroleum Manga

A wonderful review of a wonderful book by wonderful dark ecological Marina Zurkow. I put something in about plexiglass chairs.

Those petroleum manga are amazing because everything from sex toys to cellophane is made of something fossil fuelly.

Blankets and Manifestos and Björk and Kara Thompson

At first Björk and I were thinking of making her manifesto with me into a flag, and then a blanket, rather than printed on paper. Like maybe black velvet-like with blue and green thread. We liked the blanket idea because you could wrap it around yourself all cozy like and sensuous and you wouldn't be able to see all of it all at once (OOO!). Also, Björk thought that the collision of ancient and modern tech (blankets with email looking like email) would be awesome and I agreed.

So we got pretty keen on this blanket idea, and at once we started this blankie-off where we exchanged many many wordless emails with paintings and images of people with blankets. I sent Linus and Moomintroll and Björk sent Leonora Carrington, and it went on for some time hahaha...She won :)

Maybe one day...For now, here's Kara Thompson, who used to study at my previous job in California, with a great piece about blankets. So cool for me and Björk that she talks about them as media!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Oh Dear

So...It's that time of year when we have to record our activities as scholars at my job. And it turns out (I didn't know this until just now) that:

I did 26 lectures, presentations and conference type things.

I published 26 essays. (That's even more than I had thought.)

(Of cours I remember that I published 2 books.)

This on top of normal teaching (2 classes per term) and normal service (inside and outside school on committees, writing reports and so on).

Could this be why sometimes I feel like I'm just going to fall over asleep?


Nip the STEM in the Bud

According to recent research schizophrenic brains prune more neurons more aggressively than other brains.

And this explains 1.25% of schizophrenia, on the authors' own admission. One point two five percent.

A few months before that, it's that schizophrenics have too many neuronal connections.

Or it's a parasitic worm.


And in the news article, the university PR department's retweet that this is a huge mega breakthrough. Allowing the actual scientists the wiggle room for the “batteries not included” disclaimer that it isn't one (so give us more funding). Adding up to a nice truthsome package.

And this sort of thing is why “humanities is in decline”? STEM on the rise? STEM called STEM?

The stem of anything simply can't be blind computation and the stem of learning can't be training how to be a much less good calculator than the app in my phone. And the result of all that machination, and machination funding, can't be leaving 98.75% of my brother's condition unexplained.

You know what? I'm making a late breaking new years' resolution.

1.25%? Until neuroscience can explain what schizophrenia actually is—and this will, ahem, require proving that it exists—I'm not going to believe another word it says (I was already down to about 10%). And write a little note to whatever media outlet delivers an irksome scientistic factoid as The Truth.

At least theoretical physicists have the good grace to admit that they are entangled with the patterns in data they are paid to find and think about. Which is why a huge majority of them are now concerned that we don't actually know s*** about reality.

In the mid 90s I was sitting next to a neuropharmacologist on a plane, and I was desperate about my schizophrenic brother, and he was telling me all about olanzapine (drug for people with schizophrenia). And I was so ready to believe what I later realized was just a snake oil pitch.

“This new miracle fact/drug will explain everything (away). Relax!” Once you've heard it 678436742 times you start to get a little bit exasperated.

The first peoples did a much better job of defining what we call schizophrenia. You hear the voice of ancestors or spirits more than others? You need to go to shaman camp!

Even the early agrilogisticals did a better job. You hear the voice of god, maybe you should be the king's astrologer or whatever.

Can these new guys even explain what a hallucination is? And can they make a clear distinction between one and a “normal” thought?

The media: “Since the dawn of time, man [deliberate] has been investigating schizophrenia, an ancient illness...”

No “he” hasn't. It was invented in the later nineteenth century. Read a book. Meanwhile my brother is still suffering.

(Incidentally, talking of man, and this needs a subsequent post, I need to tell you what happened when I went through my nth training at my new job on how to interview people, aka how not to be a complete sexist or racist or ask people about their religion etc. It involves a chemistry professor who “Just didn't understand why it's always the men who are obviously better candidates for our jobs” and a computer science professor so angry that he stormed out of the room red faced. And me, the ranking humanist in the room, doing my best hard Paddingtonian stares. And the brave psychology professor who convened the meeting doing her best to teach the stats on how questions can distort interviews to men who were acting mostly like schoolboys being punished. It's 2016 folks! And they say humanities is dead and STEM, etc etc etc ack.)

The MRI machine is the most expensive light show in history. “People played jazz on little wraparound touch sensitive sheets while listening to jazz on headphones. We saw lights on a display. This means that when you play jazz, our machine lights up. [DISCLAIMER: which came first is still, for some reason, inexplicable, by us.]” Wow. I must skin up immediately. This is cosmic.

Meanwhile, my kids spend the weekend doing computational tasks so onerous that most parents at their state schools end up doing those for them anyway. And it's not enough just to calculate. You have to present your calculations in boutique form. Decorate that meaningless cake! Or else! Which results in using computational prosthetics, so no one learns even computation.

Recently my 11-year-old daughter had to do a scale model of her bedroom. The rich kids came in on the Monday with plastic models that daddy's architecture firm had printed using a 3D printer--just input the numbers and hit return. One kid had been bought an iPod Touch simply to simulate the flat screen TV in her bedroom. The 3D printed model had been scaled to the iPod Touch! Simple. Plug in the ratio between the real TV and the iPod Touch. Then scale the model around that. Click. STEM.

The poor kids came in with drawings on paper. How do you think they felt?

Forget the fact that most of the universe appears to be dark matter and dark energy and that we still can't really explain what the heck is happening in the double slit experiment. We're talking about having so little idea of what a mind is, we can't even explain 98.75% of schizophrenia on our own admission, yet we get funded and the humanities scholars who might have helped out get ignored and unfunded. Might it not be surprising that they are a little bit lost and peeved right now?

Let's get back to how things should be:

You let humanists figure out what the f*** schizophrenia is, or isn't. Then you pay attention. Then you go and do some nice research to find out some more about stuff based on what you heard us say, okay?

Humanists need to learn about science and start getting out of their bunkers. Yes. But the reason for the bunkers needs to be addressed. The “third culture” vibe (Brockman) needs to be stopped.

You've got years and years and years to learn how to compute. It's a fun hobby for all. Maybe if you took the time to think a bit beforehand, you wouldn't rush into research (and funding research) that explains a statistically almost meaningless sliver of a major, horrifying (in our world) mental condition, then have the PR department feed it to news outlets conditioned to act as if it were the Truth.

Science does appearance. Engineering does how to manipulate appearance. We do reality. Nip the STEM in the bud.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Quick Subscendence Video

This is me at Sonic Acts last year. I begin to explain why subscendence is such a good idea...

Timothy Morton: Subscendence from Sonic Acts on Vimeo.

Of Course You can Do Something about Hyperobjects

Objects can't touch ontologically doesn't mean “You can't do anything about something politically.” Far from it. Almost the opposite, in a way, as I'll show here.

And actually it doesn't mean “You can't touch a stick of deodorant.” Of course you can.

Of course you can do something about global warming, a hyperobject. You can “touch” it. You can for instance reduce carbon emissions. Wow, you think I'm arguing there's nothing we can do about global warming?!

Ontologically withdrawn doesn’t mean that you can’t touch something ontically. Withdrawn means “not reducible to anything else.” And as I'm going to show this is really really good for anyone who wants to dismantle a thing.

Just changing labels really doesn’t help. For instance, someone recently worried about hyperobjects in the terms outlined above has suggested the term “situation.” “Situations” can touch each other and we can touch them (unlike, for some reason, hyperobjects). But “situation” is a diluted and vague label—I’m afraid it doesn’t yet rise to the level of “concept” so I can’t address it that way.

Various clues hint at a not so hidden agenda: the worry (this is an essay about the drug war as a “situation”) is coming from a Deleuzianism that's a bit cross, as it can be sometimes, that there’s a new way of thinking about things (OOO).

The main clue is that situation seems most like assemblage (the use of the neologism “assemblic” in the title of this particular essay is a clue).

OOO is much nicer than that, because “assemblage” is a reductionist concept.

The assemblage concept is saying that big things are just loose aggregates of smaller things. The very things we want to describe aren't actually described--they're reduced, which isn't the same thing. Happy nihilism, a philosophical tool of neoliberalism (aka agrilogistics 9.0) is really pleased that largely distributed things might only be loose affiliations of small things, because it means that they don't really exist, so you can do anything. For instance, if a  meadow is just a bunch of other things, you can argue that it doesn't really exist and build a parking lot on “it.” Deterritorial assemblage logic is pretty much how a lot of neoliberal logic works. There was perhaps a utopian moment for this logic when it sounded so fresh and different from the previous subversive logics, but we're way past that now in an age of corporate tax inversion, conceptual artists dictating Putin's foreign policy, and everything BP. 

OOO is saying that groups of things are also things that exist equally with their parts. There is an ontological gap between whole and parts.

But this in turn means that we have an awful lot more political wiggle room than we thought. Far from being disempowering, it's just about the most liberating ontological concept we've come up with in quite a while.

It actually gives us a really powerful political conceptual and tactical tool, because it means that the whole is always less than the sum of its parts (I invented this term subscendence to describe it). This is an incredibly counterintuitive idea (because we've been brainwashing each other for ever) but in the end it's a very easy to understand overturning of millennia of holist beliefs about sets (that wholes are bigger than the sums of their parts) that is really just a monotheism reteweet (and thus part of the problem). Dominic Boyer and I are talking about it in our book Hyposubjects.

There are plenty of political tactics outlined in Hyperobjects already, which circle around subscendence without directly naming it (sorry! Can't think everything all at once!). 

I think maybe that we are scared of naming big things precisely because we're still retweeting monotheism. We are hobbling our ability to cope with the entities we've unleashed. We think that if you name it, you've made it into a Thing (capital T), and that means a bit bad scary holistic being that lords it over its parts. This says more about our idea (or rather precritical assumptions) about sets than it does about things in the world. It gives rise to a paranoid, precisely “anti-Oedipal” (aka still relating to and caught up in the Oedipal, which is to say agrilogistical, dynamic!) style of engagement. Showing your behind to the political father (Barthes) means you think there is a father on a throne. 

You have swapped the holist tactic of substituting one god for another to the still-holist tactic of mooning a god.

The hyperobject concept and the subscendence that it implies give you something really toothsome and handy to hang on to and so they're ever so much better for tactical reasons than situation. Situation is more like a cloudy, slightly inverted version of the monotheist holism. We are caught (as the examples in the essay show) in various “situations” at which we throw up our hands, sinners in the hands of a cloudy god.

So behind the Deleuzianism there's something else. It's good old correlationism. A situation is anthropocentrically scaled. It's just a matter of changing your attitude, from using the term as a smoke screen behind which you can throw up your hands (“I'm in this situation, what can I do?”) to starting a needle exchange (for instance--the example is the drug war). If it's that easy, then there's nothing there apart from how you decide it to be. So your politics is mostly about getting the label right, rather than trying to work with reality. 

As Blake would say, I want a wiry bounding line. Determinacy means you can see your enemy clearly.