Aviary Notes on Creatural Immanence (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

The book’s first chapters triangulate philosophy, theology, ecology; its later chapters undo this triangulation; they supplement and radicalize. The book self-consciously creates the space for its reading, not between or beyond philosophy, theology, ecology, but already torturously active among them. It is a book that actively resists argument. Instead it is a book to be worked with and through. Thankfully it teaches you how to read it. It has an idiom that is more intimate, closer to you than you first thought. “Ecologists are able to take people into a field and show them the teeming drama of what seemed hidden before. I will do the same now for this theory of nature” (217). Its scope is defined and chimerical: it opens onto itself. And it takes further reading.

For now I can offer only one short tribute to the book.  One of the things it does is express a non-dialectical mode of reading (of course not just reading) that is elemental. This is captured succinctly in its references to Islamic thought. Though limited and often filtered through Jambet, these citations (Sijistani, Tusi, Ikhwan al-safa) prove instructive. During a previous book event here, I complained about the way continental philosophy typically engages Islam, whether as dangerous cipher or narrative foil. Even those who do neither (Agamben, some Derrida) tend finally to flirt with identity/difference. Postcolonial remains, even after the postmodern and the postsecular. But this book does none of this. In part this is a function of Anthony’s Laruelle, on which I can’t yet directly comment beyond observing that here we can immediately see the fruits of democracy (of) thought. To think a theory of nature with through against simple materials: this shows us how we might keep reading in the interim, before rereading Anthony’s book. So this is only a note of gratitude, to have demonstrated (exemplum) how to bring materials together, have each affect the other, build something singular.

The conclusion includes two “exquisite ethical examples” of creaturely fabulation (220). One is Francis of Assisi, in his declaration of the brotherhood of all creation. This is not meant as allegory but as a true sharing in the likeness of a gift to Christ. The other example is Epistle 22 of the Ikhwan al-safa, in their Case of the Animals versus Man Before the King of the Jinn. These examples show a messianic movement in traditions of philosophical theology toward a non-thetic form of transcendence in God or nature. It gestures toward constituents of thought.

Francis makes peace between wolf and villager and travels crusading to Egypt to convert the Sultan; “Wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds,” he says, and the birds listen patiently. But unlike the monk sermonizing to a feathered audience, his contemporary Farid al-Din Attar himself was made privy to the language of the birds, and deciphers and transcribes their own quest. I know Anthony’s interest in Attar’s less known Book of Suffering, its poetic entanglement with and protesting refusal of theodicy. But here it is Attar’s Mantiq al-tayr, the story of a host of vicious birds led by the wise Hoopoe and searching for their King through successive valleys of desolation and trial, which destabilizes Francis’ sermon by reversing the roles of teacher and student/guide and adherent. From a narrative standpoint (& with Hamid Dabashi), we can describe the mobile (airborne) tradition of Islamic feathered fables as variously logocentric, nomocentric, theo-erotic, under the various pressures and conditions of their development; and didactically, Attar’s allegory through vales/veils of revelation and concealment sinks the mystic into annihilation. But reading Attar with Anthony and Laruelle makes recognition of these allegories itself something natural, material to be folded back onto itself in a theory of nature. For finally in the moment of revelation, arriving at the summit of Mount Qaf, the birds flock round to the radiant face of their long-sought Sovereign, and see — themselves. King Simorgh is Si-morgh, Thirtybirds, the remaining feathered kin who suffered through the valleys in the shadow of caprice and refused the base excuses they would otherwise offer to themselves and to each other.

Themselves, the Simorgh of the World — with awe
They gazed, and dared at last to comprehend
They were the Simorgh and the journey’s end.
They see the Simorgh — at themselves they stare.
And see a second Simorgh standing there;
They look at both and see the two are one,
That this is that, that this, the goal is won.
They ask (but silently; they make no sound)
The meaning of these mysteries that confound
Their puzzled ignorance — how is it true
That “we” is not distinguished here from “you”?
And silently their shining lord replies:
“I am a mirror set before your eyes,
And all who come before my splendour see
Themselves, their own unique reality…

In Dabashi’s phrase, this is “the specter of Simorgh in the speculum of their own imagination.” But with Anthony, this conclusion is not a kind of naturalism. Nor is it the future of illusion laid bare, the curtain drawn back on Turkish puppet and hunchbacked dwarf. This is how Anthony’s book helps us read. In place of apologetics or recursive justifications, the tain of the mirror.

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