This past weekend was the memorial service for Jan Ritsema: director, performer, publisher, and social engineer extraordinaire who founded PAF (performing arts forum) – a convent turned art residency that is now collectively cared for nestled in the French countryside. Jan often talked about PAF like self imposed exposure therapy: ‘I don’t like people, or nature, or work, but I did this to myself!’

It is often difficult to convince others of why PAF is worth the trip or at least worth going to without sounding like an evangelist or an outdated hippy. It is tricky to explain why a building, filled with semi-tumultuous groups of people, can feel like something radical on its own.

Continue reading ‘Every scheme, all at once, forever’

Previously I made a list of some of my favorite horror films (with some of them being less known). Below are a few of the best horror films from the last two years.

Probably my favorite horror film which is not really scary but creepy and unsettling – it is about a group of women dealing with aging and house that seems to change the deeper go inside it.

Continue reading ‘Horror films for Halloween’

Remembering Alina

Roberto Matta ‘The Unthinkable’

In August of 2015 Alina Poppa and myself along with several others present at PAF (the Performing Arts Forum) toyed with the idea of a film and text series that would emphasize the mind altering and horrific aspects of mathematics. We created an incomplete list, watching the first film Triangle, and then the idea was set on a shelf and half-forgotten. At the time, I do not think that I realized that the idea was not a mere curiosity for us, but that, especially for Alina and myself, that it was in fact a core concept for us both, namely, that there was something radically alien about the formal and the ways in which it bridged the domains of thought and body, especially in terms of navigation, horizon, and understanding thought in its radically minimalist dimension.

Continue reading ‘Formal Extremities’

The image of Charles Darwin is buried under tons of both saint-making and vilification. In addition the peculiarities of his life, the massive shifts within his profession, and the vastly different interpretations of his work immediately after and long after the publication of The Origin in 1859.

Darwin was an unofficial naturalist when he set out on the Beagle and returned and worked for almost a decade before publishing his most famous book. The Origin was in his own view a bit of a rush job as he wanted to take more time on his ‘big species book’ but news of Alfred Russell Wallace’s similar theory of evolution prompted him to speed up matters.

The method of presentation of Darwin’s book is at odds with the textbook picture of him as having a eureka moment in the Galapagos islands and ‘discovering’ evolution. Nor can Darwin be easily folded into the ranks of either empiricism, mechanism, or materialism (understanding that those terms were starting to have a particular meaning in biology at the time. Darwin was a naturalist who became a theory-laden empiricist in part by hijacking the rhetorical modes of natural theology and analogical comparisons within common knowledge (especially animal breeding and training).

Continue reading ‘What did Darwin do?’

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

31Oct20

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’’



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