Below you will find a long review essay on three relatively recent books in Object-Oriented Ontology as they attempt to engage with ecology and ecological concerns (you may also download it as a PDF if you prefer). For those who read the essay, you will see that I am very critical of these works. The review was originally commissioned for an academic journal. This journal differs from other in its review policies in that reviews are sent out for peer review. The two reports I received from readers were very enthusiastic and recommended the review be published with some minor corrections. One reviewer actually suggested that the review was too forgiving and thought I should be even more critical. When I made my revisions I didn’t act on that suggestion, as I felt the piece was already harsh and, for the few who would read it, would already be controversial as is.
I was excited to publish the review and had spent a great deal of time on it. However, after the initial peer review stage the two main editors also take a pass at the reviews. Both ultimately disagreed strongly with the readers and made a number of suggestions and demands. This process lasted through two rounds and ultimately I felt they were asking me to change the piece so substantially that it was no longer a tolerable situation. Though I disagree strongly with them, I am thankful for some of their comments and respect their commitment to their standards. However, I am criticizing very powerful figures in the broad field of environmental humanities not because I think it is a good career move, but because I believe in the criticism. As I explained to the editors when I decided to withdraw the piece, I am not really rewarded for publishing work at my institution and am provided very little support for research and writing and as such I see no reason to compromise on what I do decide to publish much as they refuse to compromise.
Some of what I put forward at the end of the piece is forming the basis for a new project on ecology and colonialism, which includes a reading of Aldo Leopold’s “land ethic” through the work of Frantz Fanon.
On the Use and Abuse of Objects for the Environmental Humanities: Recent Books in Object-Oriented Ontology and Ecotheory
Anthony Paul Smith, Department of Religion & Theology, La Salle University, United States
This review essay examines three recent works of ecotheory, Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory beyond Green(edited by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen), Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman, and Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, all of which attempt to make use and deepen the philosophical project of object-oriented ontology (OOO). After an overview of the place of OOO within contemporary philosophy and its general principles, the essay posits that there is a unidirectional relationship between OOO and ecotheory (inclusive of scientific ecology). Since the practitioners of OOO discussed in this essay all claim that their work is philosophically realist in orientation, this failure to engage and mutate their philosophical work according to scientific ecology bears witness to the inability to fully break from anthropocentrism. At a deeper level this failure acts as a symptom for a wider failure to break from the colonial episteme that goes unexamined by OOO. Making use of Hortense Spillers’s conception of “pornotroping”, the essay offers a reading of various author appeals to love, erotics, and sadomasochism that argues this same colonial episteme of anti-Blackness structures OOO’s understanding of the object. While presenting a general critique of OOO’s interventions into ecotheory, the essay also calls for a deeper engagement and centering of scholarship in Black Studies and Queer Studies, particularly from an Afro-pessimist and anti-social perspective. Continue reading “On the Use and Abuse of Objects for the Environmental Humanities: Recent Books in Object-Oriented Ontology and Ecotheory”
Vivid thoughts of disaster and apocalyptic dreams have haunted him since childhood. It began at the level of the personal. A mother and child in a car. Continue reading “Since Childhood”
Hannah Strømmen and Thomas Lynch are organizing a conference at Chichester University entitled “RADICAL/IZED RELIGION: Religion as a Resource for Political Theory and Practice” that may be of interest to readers of the blog. The keynotes for the conference are Torkel Brekke, S. Sayyid (whose Recalling the Caliphate was the focus of an AUFS book event), Yvonne Sherwood, andØyvind Strømmen. I have copied the CFP below, but you can check out the conference website for more information about the keynotes and scope. Continue reading “CFP: RADICAL/IZED RELIGION: Religion as a Resource for Political Theory and Practice”
Wake up, check the weather, and dress appropriately. People do it everyday. Sure, some climates, like that in the UK, are unpredictable and change throughout the day. That 20% of rain means it’ll probably rain at some point and that’s what the expandable umbrella tucked in the bottom of a bag is for. There is no way the weather will pass without affecting those who live under its regime, so the rain will soak some, the sun will burn others, pollen will enflame the nasal passages, and so on. There is not much one can do, in the end, to escape the weather.
For some time this is how I have related to politics. It’s probably a bit too pastoral an image for some and it certainly is not heroic. But it does capture something of the reality. I get online in the mornings, no longer muttering fuck after months of intense therapy to confront and accept my anxiety, and I read the posts of those who know. Everyone appears to know what’s probably going to happen, or why it happened, or what we should to stop it. It would be interesting if it wasn’t so pathetic. Knowing is important; knowing is power. I think of this scene in that (admittedly rather poor) documentary about Negri where he looks at a picture of his younger self behind bars in some Italian dock (as if placing defendants in a cage isn’t prejudicial). He says that, speaking of his merit, he never lost the intelligence (a word he settles on after rejecting the word “hope”) to understand everything that was happening to him, despite the contradictions. That intelligence is not on display on social media chatter about the state of politics. My own understanding is perhaps idiosyncratic, but I have no less faith in my intelligence for knowledge than any of the intelligent people I follow. The energy to speculate may be lacking. Frankly it feels like it might make me ever stupider if I expended it.
So, I treat it like the weather. My anger hasn’t gone away, but it’s anger at the storm blowing out of paradise. And how do you fight a storm? You weather it, learn to escape it, to find places of refuge, to shelter others from its violence with your own body. But the time to affect the climate for good, to change the weather, is long past.
Content Notice: I use some sexually explicit language and sometimes use vulgar slang below. If you would prefer not to see such language then please skip this post. – APS
It is always awkward to give the (nearly) last word to one who rightly passes for a CIS-gender, straight man. It is perhaps even more awkward for the man who accepts the ontological shame of being such a man, rightly or wrongly. But it is a man’s world, as the song goes, even if all us such men know—and fear—that it would be nothing without a woman. James Brown’s lyric isn’t quite right. The truth is that we fear that we, our very selves, would be nothing without a woman. We would no longer be a he, but an unrecognized it. Without a woman defined in relation to a man this big, hard phallus that we fuck1 with is just a bit of insignificant and embarrassingly useless flesh.2 So as I have been given the truly terrible honor of providing the last of our responses to Linn Marie Tonstad’s provocative, challenging, clear-headed, and often beautiful God and Difference: The Trinity, Sexuality, and the Transformation of Finitude, I’m struck with the embarrassment of being caught with my dick out. I’m reminded of my own nothingness, the own abyss of my personhood, the lie I’ve been brought up believing regarding my own identity. Even though I am thankful for being invited to read and respond at all. Such things truly are a grace for me.
That said, despite the confessional performances that often accompany those, like myself, who rightly pass as CIS-gender, straight men (and—my God—I’m white too!), such a nothingness bothers me very little. Though I speak with forked-tongue—or is it just pierced?—there is a freedom that comes from recognizing such a core of nothingness, a freedom that comes from giving up hope of finding anyway out of the phallic bind of being born this way (or rather, raised to believe I was born this way). When I read Tonstad exhort us to practice theology in a way that moves “from dick-sucking to clit-licking in touching God’s transcendence” I found myself thinking of the lyrics to Danny Brown’s “I Will”, a celebratory and graphic ode to clit-licking by someone whose body can’t be anything but queer in the world even as he too passes as a CIS-gender, straight man. There is a part of me that wants to read these lyrics as providing a kind of queering of theological practice for those born into these bodies and raised into these desires, but it is job season and I fear that already the honesty and impropriety required to speak of our sexuality and one’s hope or not in the Christian trinitarian God has me wanting to talk about this only behind closed doors, hidden deep in a valley, with one (or—hell—two or three or wherever the spirit leads) who share what can’t be shared with others. Continue reading “Our Hope Is Nothing”
On a Pages file stored in the cloud there is a list of the books I have read going back eleven years. Since coming to Philadelphia and being confronted with an ignorance as deep as America itself, a concerted effort was made to increase the number of women and non-white men read. If this was something written concerning achievement then the numbers would be given, but this isn’t one of those bits of self-aggrandizement. Instead, any success that was made brought something else to the fore. When a white male author appeared it was the most white male author possible. Thousands of pages of Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle series, mostly as a way to think through the possibility of a fatherhood that is not desired personally, but one is also an other. Read in secret, in a secret house, in a city by the sea. Where no one, save one, could see. The whiteness of pure white given voice in the pink flesh of those who lack melanin. Continue reading “Honesty and Privilege”
I can no longer make it through the nights. This is different from insomnia. I’ve had that, though mine always seemed to be about a certain kind of missing out. As if the fact of sleep meant I wasn’t out drinking or dancing or wasn’t up reading or writing. Staying up all night then kept me up the next night or I would sleep during the day when I should be out writing and reading. The worst of this was during my doctoral work. Something about the demands of a job, the demands of a certain shared sociality of employment, pretty much ended my insomnia. Now, no matter how late I go to sleep, I wake up too early. If I have a particularly bad dream then it might be 3am. If not, then it’s usually no later than 6. I wake up tired. Deeply unhappy. My pillow contorted into a lump that I have aggressively dug my head into. Nothing like the images of sleeping people on TV. Their head and shoulders comfortably lying on the soft down or synthetic petroleum-based something or other. They look so good at sleeping. They look so good. Continue reading “Sleepless”