Freed Nature pt. 3: Lively things?


JJ Cohen has addressed some related issues here. Another story which came out the same time as this piece about ecological damage leading to epidemics.

Spinoza is amenable to ecology because his nature is a collection of things all vying for power, everything is interconnected and equally important. Yet, for the concept of mind, that power’s efficacy is rooted in the mind of God. This connection holds to the end of The Ethics (despite Sharp’s protestations that God drops away in place of nature) whereas for Schelling God is a personality, a mad self lacerating creature, not the measure of thought. Thought exists because of extension for Schelling, it is parallel to substance (though for Schelling substance is secondary to an agon of forces) only methodologically because we are caught in thought but being precedes thought for Schelling. In this sense God is a metaphor which can easily be ditched in Schelling’s system. But for Spinoza it seems that god is the metric of all thought.

If nature is being (or worse for any sense of humanism unprethinkable being) it points to the fact that we have no idea what nature is we do not even know to what degree we don’t know what nature is. Ecological thinking at least tells us that nature is made of things that relate to one another. But the more common views of nature over reduce or over expand but always anchoring back in the human: nature is a set of things we can use or nature is a set of things we should worship. These tendencies of viewing nature (Promethean and Orphic as Pierre Hadot puts it) can be combined in a vague aesthetic: nature is equated with the view, or the landscape. We take what we need and leave enough of nature to look pretty, and/or to remind us that nature is there for the taking.

One of the epigraphs in Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter is the following quote from Spinoza:

“It is never we who affirm or deny something of a thing: it is the thing itself that affirms or denies something of itself in us.” Bennett is interested in what matter does or, more specifically, what matter does politically without human over-coding. Bennett is more open and more cautious than many other new materialists. Partially because she describes her approach as a kind of strategic anthropomorphism. But, as I argued in my paper at the Nonhuman Turn, this can push agency on top of responsibility – the connectivity of the world and its ontological flatness can leave one in the middle, but a middle where thought creeps everywhere and there is no force-of-thought in Laruelle’s phrasing, there is no push from the real as thinking and the real flow in a flood plan of ‘politics’ which becomes nothing more than asserting a relevance to everything if only to say it is relevant. Christian Thorne pointed out many of these issue here. To which Levi responded here.

The central seems to be: is there a direct line from ontology to politics? And if there is a connection, should that ontological connection be the means (or the privileged means) for pursuing politics? While I think it’s necessary to lay out ones ontological and metaphysical commitments, to then pursue politics not merely in light of those but as necessarily following from those, seems to equate ontology with metaphysics as well being with existence. That equation also carries with it an authority of thought which seems unlimited and ill conceived (especially if one merely chucks epistemology out the window. Part of the issue here is epistemology has been taken to be a project in which everything becomes about the ‘how of the I’ or ‘how does the I know X?’ This shouldn’t (though arguably it often has) led to deeper and deeper explorations of the fiction of the subject instead of seeing how such fictions of the self, or agency of the human, is possible in a natural world.

In this regard I find Hasana Sharp’s celebration of Spinoza’s naturalism problematic. While one could have a metaphysics and/or ontology that arguably tried to make politics impossible (think of a kind of anti-Mieville writing a story in which government sponsored philosophers attempt to create a philosophy that would quell rebellion though this would require a public that deeply cared for philosophy) this wouldn’t actually make them impossible but could serve as a form of ideology. However, the opposite case is ill critiqued: for instance whether one is (as Alexander Galloway recently put it on facebook) a line of flight Deleuzian or a society of control Deleuzian there is still, I would argue, too much liberative potential it seems is given to ontology if it is from there that the ‘politics-to-come’ or the ‘opening up’ comes from. Though there are endless variations of these ontologies.

In the end, the problem stems from getting from the weirdness and agency of human thought to a political program without merely pulling back into thought thinking itself thereby chopping off the efficacy of the real (more in the Laruellian sense then any other, that which makes actualities and thought possible, that which constructs without intentionality might be one way of putting it). Rationality (or at least the appearance of rationality to ourselves) creates a kind of responsibility which is less a call to the other nor is it something that puts the human above (ontologically) any thing or its vibrancy, but the human capacity to damage alone should be proof that the world is not flat nor can be it made so without obliterating time, negativity, desire, or complicity.


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