Why Ecology cannot be without Nature

08May10

Timothy Morton’s Ecology without Nature is a fairly disappointing text. In many ways it reads like notes on postmodern theory which vaguely concern nature or, more specifically the aesthetics of nature. As Paul has noted here Morton’s classification of nature leaves something to be desired as he calls nature transcendental (14) and furthermore that nature is by its nature juridical and normative (via the use of natural).

Morton’s text does not seem to do much work beyond the posthumanities which has been done better by others and it would seem that a  serious aesthetic engagement with nature should address how aesthetic concerns override nature as that which we are in and made of. The recent struggle over constructing an offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound is a perfect example of over aestheticizing nature. The construction was resisted primarily on aesthetic grounds  simply because the swinging blades would disturb the view of wealthy landowners. The construction was also fought by local tribes as potentially threatening burial sites. The primary opposition collapses aesthetic concerns with anti-industrialization creating a false choice between developing clean power and preserving nature. This choice relies on the natural versus the unnatural.

The divide between the natural and the unnatural is rooted in the denaturalization of thought where the emergence of thought itself may be purported to be the advent of such a split. Thought is not however a de-naturalized or denaturalizing event, it is nature’s attempt to become an object to itself. Simply put thought is still natural.

This very split however, orbiting the advent of thought, is subsumed under the dual treatment of Pierre Hadot – between the Promethean and the Orphic, between nature as that which we tie to the rack and that which we deify. This division is self evident even in cultural examples as brainless as Cameron’s Avatar where the Promethean and the Orphic battle one another.

As long as nature ocillates between transcendence and substance (and is neglected as process) as it is doomed to be according to Morton, there is no chance of understanding the posthumanaties without the specter of anthrocentrism.

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3 Responses to “Why Ecology cannot be without Nature”

  1. Hi. I’m glad you looked at EwN. I do have one question though:

    I can’t be claiming that something I don’t believe exists is transcendental—can I?

  2. 2 Ben Woodard

    Sorry, wrote that in a rush. My issue was with the way nature was classified as a transcendental thing, as either an essence or a substance or as a transcendental thing in a materialist mask. I think there were points in EwN where I was uncertain the difference between nature and nature as it has traditionally been presented. I think we agree on the fact that the difference between the thinking self and nature is problematic and that the two dominant ways nature has been presented (Hadot designates them Orphic and Promethean) presupposes that we stand apart to think it.
    I think this gap has more to do with the privileging of thought (and freedom) over nature then thinking nature as having some separateness (perhaps epistemological and not ontological).
    I think holding on to a concept of nature is important specifically for the sciences where they needs to be (unless one remains in a Humeianism) real mechanisms (as Bhaskar puts it) that is, either things or forces that are accountability for the possibility of things coming to be in the universe.


  1. 1 Naught Thought on Morton « PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR

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