Branching off from last time here the idea is to discuss the human animal relation and how it relates to the question of race. As Zakiyyah Iman Jackson discusses in the introduction to her book Becoming Human many materialist and post-humanities defenses of the human relies upon raising animals up to the level of generic humanness without questioning whether this generic or universal human is simply a repetition of the western european male of neo-liberalist discourse. But it isn’t about repeating this critique but wondering about what grounds could serve as even the beginnings of a replacement.

As Jackson points out the placing of humans and animals on an ontological continuity does nothing to stop the hierarchy of the purported capacities of the races on the earth. Furthermore the common mode of anti-anthrocentrism in contemporary theory has limited stakes other than as a form of self-sacrifice in the name of future species…to ‘let nature heal itself, and let something else evolve.’

Continue reading ‘Colonial Ends/Ends of Life (pt2)’

Recently I did two overlapping talks (one in Brussels one online) on the question of the ends of life (genocide, apocalypse, extinction) and how this relates to the philosophy and history of biology (thinking about ends in terms of goals or thinking life teleologically in the overarching sense in that life is defined by having either local or future-oriented goals). Looking at the past few entries on Sylvia Wynter’s work the connection to the history of colonialism should be relatively straight-forward – namely the question of the definition of the human (especially if it is a narrow definition that thinks it is a universal definition) is central to the various disasters of European expansion.

We have a tangle of problems concerning how, and whether to, define the human vis a vis the history of biology and its theological and colonial inheritances both implicit and explicit:

-life as fundamentally intentional/goal oriented and whether this is founded about spirit or reason (as defined according to the Judeo-Christian tradition)

-human life as radically or not radically different from animal life (esp leading up to and immediately after Darwin’s On the Origin of Species) and how this in turn plays into race

-the question of whether the human is better defined as a historical or technological being over and above relying on a particular form of life or particular biological form.

-the question of recasting human animal comparisons in light of anthropogenic climate change and planetary extinction and the ‘we’ of the human that causes/faces extinction

Continue reading ‘Colonial Ends/Ends of Life (pt 1)’

Wynter’s various essays (often touching on Fanon and Cesaire among others) makes a case that the stage of human life that we still have not properly understood is that of the human as narrative and as a narrative making being. This follows from Cesaire’s science of the word. She concludes her essay on the sociogenic principle via Cesaire:

“It is such a new science that Fanon’s fellow Martinican, the
Negritude poet, essayist, and political activist, Aime Cesaire, coming
from the same lived experience of being both Man and its liminal
Other, had called for in 1946. In a conference paper, delivered that
year entitled Poetry and Knowledge, Cesaire, after pointing out that
the natural sciences, for all their triumphs with respect to the kind of
knowledge able to make the natural worlds predictable, had
nevertheless remained “half-starved” because of their inability to
make our human worlds intelligible, then proposed that, in the same
way as the “new Cartesian algebra had permitted the construction of
theoretical physics,” so too “the word promises to be an algebraic
equation that makes the world intelligible,” one able to provide us
with the basis of a new “theoretical and heedless science that poetry
could already give an approximate notion of.” A science, therefore,
in which the “study of words” would come to condition “the study
of nature” (Cesaire, 1946/1990: xxix).

And yet after immediately after this paragraph Wynter discusses Cesaire’s work in relation to the theoretical dreams of thinkers such as Chalmer’s search for psychophysical laws and Nagel’s objective phenomenology (both are also quoted alongside Fanon at the opening of the essay). All three thinkers as Wynter places them are interested in generalizing conscious experience in a mix of scientific, historical, and philosophical claims. But it is not clear in Wynter’s text which of these take the lead or forms the ground of her human as narrative being or human being as praxis. Wynter seems interested in the co-implication of epistemology and history in terms of certain groups being overrepresented as universal.

Continue reading ‘Sociogeny and Biology (pt 2)’

Jumping off from last time here I am going to make some notes about the history of biology as it concerns the relation of Darwin and Lamarck and how this applies to the social or theoretical uptake of evolutionary theory.

Sylvia Wynter’s “Towards the Sociogenic Principle: Fanon, The Puzzle of Conscious Experience, of “Identity” What it’s Like to be “Black” takes a comment from Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks in which he describes sociogeny as beyond onto- and phylogenesis.

Here Fanon is riffing of off Freud’s rather extensive reliance upon the biogenetic law associated most strongly with Ernst Haeckle and Lamarck but existing in numerous older forms – also called the Meckle-Serres law and with roots in Lorenz Oken and other romantic scientists and naturphilosophen. In its most basic form it is stated as the development of the individual member of the species exhibiting all the stages of its whole history of development as a species (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny).

Continue reading ‘The Sociogenic and Decolonial Biology (pt 1)’

Envelop/e

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There is a particularly odd aspect to the transition from the gothic to the modern, from familial ruins and rotting lineages (themselves already transplanted from their old world haunts across the sea) to the leakiness of the mind and the blurriness of the landscape. This is in some sense at least the beginning of the weird though without being overtly engaged in its materialism per se. From Dracula’s castle, to the house of usher, to the shunned house there is still a haunting of a different sort between the last two.

Mike Flanagan’s recent The Haunting of Bly Manor based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw as well as “The Certain Romance of Old Clothes” operates in the not yet material swamp of this leakiness and blurriness. But I want to say James’ tales are less about the constant question of the unreliable narrator, the question of realism, then it is about the cost of externalizing one’s mind and of attempting at the same time to internalize it ‘against’ the world. There is no neutral ground where the flow between the mind and the world is adequately bricked up – rather one is at risk of either being too deeply tucked away in a memory (and hence possessed by it) or seeing ghosts and traces of other people’s lives everywhere.

Continue reading ‘Envelop/e’

In Sylvia Wynter’s “Unsettling Coloniality…” she suggests that discourses on the progress of the figure of the human (but in the name of Man) remain too eurocentric – that the so-called progress of ‘human’ civilization from Man 1 (theological and social from the Renaissance to the 18th century) to Man 2 (bio-centric and economic begining in the mid to late 18th century). In particular Wynter shows how contact with non-Europeans by the conquistadors (for example) generated a crisis in terms of the relation between humans as rational and humans as god-fearing – a debate over whether the Aztecs were rational or not – whether they could be enslaved or whether they could be saved.

The shift to Man 2 Wynter says is precipated by the economization of the colonial project over and above its empire building (the driving engine shifting to the bourgeoise and industrial order of the late 18th and 19th century). In particular Wynter points to the racist discourse in Darwin’s The Descent of Man in which he spends the first 200 pages or so leveling the distinctions between humans and animals but always suggests that the so-called lesser developed people are closer to animals than Victorian englishmen are.

Wynter argues that such bio-centrism gets in the way of actually having a concept of human which she seems to suggest (though the weight of her conclusion is not completely clear to me) that we need ultimately a normative/narrative definition of the human. If there is some hope in decolonizing biology it seems that it is important to understand how this form of biocentrism happened and what the history of biology can tell us about the choices of certain biological theories for social and political reasons.

Continue reading ‘Overrepresentation and Eugenical ‘Man’’

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

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Lots of Hammer Horror films could be on here (high concept, good actors, really British) but this is the one that I watch repeatedly. The film is a procedural detective story in many ways, slowly analyzing artifacts while we know what is happening but are totally fascinated by the odd cosmic presentation of the theme of reincarnation. Based on Bram Stoker’s The Jewel  of Seven Stars.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

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Extended slow and quiet creepiness which falls in the territory of potential gaslighting as well as suggesting multiple sub-genres (haunted house, vampire) that don’t quite fit which is not a confusion but adds to the general sense of eeriness.

Don’t Look Now (1973)

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Worth it for the editing alone. More of a thriller than a horror film on the face of it but the temporal weirdness, sisters who talk to the dead, and the ending would seem to push it into the horror genre. Based on a story by Daphne de Maurier.

Cemetery Man (1994)

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I’m not generally a fan of horror comedies but this film is too weird and amazing. A British/French/Italian mix, it focuses on a graveyard keeper who has to constantly kill and rebury the dead but when his lover dies things get weird…a proper philosophical zombie movie based on the book Dellamorte Dellamore.

Martin (1976)

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Before Byzantium or Only Lovers Left Alive, George Romero (of Night of the Living Dead Fame) made an either slimmer version of the vampire film. As a film where an awkward teenager who can’t fit it convinces himself he is a vampire to justify his behavior, it invokes a great mix of creepiness and unwanted pity.

Black Christmas (1974)

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The case is often made that Black Christmas the title of first slasher (though some try to point back to Peeping Tom) but it definitely beats Haloween’s claim to the title. Incredibly effective first person shots and a strangely compelling lack of murderous justification.

The Devils (1971)

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A priest is called to investigate a convent and things get weird real quick….psychadelic exorcism orgy

The Loved Ones (2009)

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The only horror film favorite that really teeters into ‘torture porn’ territory but since so much of the focus is on the killer princess (pictured above) this falls by the way side. The incredibly creepy performances and simplicity of the film makes it memorable.

Carnival of Souls (1962)

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Beautiful strange dream like horror.

The Wickerman (1973)

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The most famous example of ‘folk horror’ (muted tones, strange customs, isolated locations very British). A police offer thinks Christianity will protect him…

Please Don’t Deliver Us From Evil (1970)

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Very difficult to find but amazing film where two young girls in the countryside jointly marry satan and then ruin everyone’s lives.

Splinter (2008)

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Fungal zombie horror with a locked room kind of setting. Worth it just for the creature effects.

Kill List (2011)

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Genre-blending horror that goes that mixes crime thriller, drama, and folk horror. My favorite horror film of the 2000s


Rot and decay and compost bring us back to the beginning of living things through the end of living things (and to fungus too). The continuity of nature again isn’t harmonious and large chunks of nature (like the fungal) were long treated as not worthy of study or care.

Merlin Sheldrake’s new book goes into this in quite some detail as does other texts by figures such as Anna Tsing and Nicholas Money. Bergson notably called mushrooms the aborted children of the plant world. As agents of rot mushroom are of course weirdly more recognized by their above ground protrusions (sexual organs) and less acknowledged as massively distributive systems (connecting other species and making soil out of more solid inorganic material and decomposing organics).

In part because fungus lives beneath the earth and just above it they have particularly complex relationships with insects in particular – and there is the prevailing theory that hallucinogens in fungus evolved to deter insects from eating them. Though some mycologists like Sheldrake say this is not too convincing as it does not appear to work so well though many species of fungus evolved it independently.

Continue reading ‘Dispatches to Massia – This Compost’

Moynihan’s book sets out to be a hypergeneaology. Classical genealogy questions the fundamental structures of human history that claim to be the result of rational arguments – ‘capitalism is widespread and robust because it works so well’ (Marx says no) – ‘western civilization is so advanced because we have mastered our own minds (Freud says no) – ‘everyone has a stable sexual identity’ (Foucault says hold on a sec). In general genealogy is about see what is taken to be reasonable, good, or dominant as being the result of contingent history – as also with Nietzsche Christian morality is not necessarily better than other forms its just worked really well for justifying the domination of others but it pretends to be more advanced or more reasonable.

While classical geneaology then sets up a counter narrative using different reasons and vaules to show the historical contingency of the dominant structures of human life, Moynihan’s hypergeneaology is an almost paranoid extension of this – rather than looking for better explanations it is just a wild version of always looking deeper for stranger and stranger causes in place of reasons – the deeper rather than the better.

Continue reading ‘Dispatches to Massia – Cervical Prospectus’

There’s a particularly weird but important episode in the history of biology which involves the picture above. If I could have been in massia in person the idea would have been to do some paper crafts to try and make this comparison (between a vertebrate and an invertebrate easily to visualize). In 1830, spurred on by a paper by some younger biologists, the anatomist Geofrroy St Hilare suggested that there was a one body plan for all animals, there was a limited number of parts that were simply rearranged to make each animal. Geoffroy argued that this ‘unity of plan’ meant that there were no extreme differences between the so-called kingdoms of animals, the divisions between mammals and reptiles or vertebrates and invertebrates (spined and spineless) were not ‘real’, they were just our way of classifying the arrangements of parts.

Continue reading ‘Dispatches to Massia – Tentacular Life’



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