“What are we even doing here?”: A Response to Katerina Kolozova (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

Katerina’s research is fantastic for the way it brings Marxist analysis, gender theory, and Laruelle’s non-philosophy together. One of the things that brings us together in our thinking is the focus on pain or suffering as the condition for thinking. I appreciated the her response to my book and the way in which it thinks with the ideas in the book, taking them up and placing them within a context that is entirely hers as the material and energy of this book mixes with the material and energy of her reading of Marx (readers may also be interested in her more formal review of the text in the recent Identities). As I read her remarks it reminded me of one of the challenges I encountered early on in my research. Simply put, and to plagiarize Aristotle, nature is said in many ways. One of the things I hoped to do in the book–and this is where that “tripartite theory of nature” mentioned by Liam does its work–is to unpack the various ways nature is said and to locate what may be useful in those varieties for making thought itself ecological. The way in which Marx,as Katerina shows us in summary fashion, slides from a kind of “realist” conception of nature to a “constructivist” conception is not a sign of incoherence, but a sign of the very perversity of nature. Nature is both the physical realm that we have no control over and the ways in which we construct and modify nature.

Marx’s philosophy has been formative for me since my first undergraduate experience of reading first The German Ideology and then a course with the inimitable Bill Martin at DePaul University. So it is with some surprise that Katerina’s post brings to my attention the lack of any real engagement with Marx as such in the book. This may be for a few reasons, perhaps foremost amongst them that Marx’s philosophy of nature was never put forward with the same clarity or intentionality as his philosophy of man and society. But it also has to do with the ways in which Marx’s philosophy has been abused by those who see in his thought a sign of the need for self-mastery: Marx the carnivore, the industrialist, the Hegelian, and the climate engineer. That reading of Marx is complicated in Katerina’s own attempts at the radicalization of his thought via Laruelle’s non-Marxism, and in a slightly more ecological register by John Bellamy Foster’s Marx’s Ecology. But what is important in both of these attempts to save Marx from a certain (trans)humanist self-sufficiency is the question that it allows Marx’s philosophy to pose to us in an ecological register: what are we even doing here?

While I want to affirm in a relative way the driving force behind “nature” becoming “man for man”, it is also clear that what is implied there is a certain destruction of biodiversity. Haven’t we, after all, been trying to turn nature into man for the past two centuries and isn’t that what has brought us to the everyday disaster that is climate change? So in asking what are we even doing here, I mean to focus on the question of the construction of the human itself. The human is social being, Marx tells us, and that idea opens up to all sorts of forms of thinking and acting beyond the liberal subject. It implies that we are never not our social existence, that all the various Robinsonades of what a natural-economic human in isolation are always artificial, for no Robinson ever springs out of the head of Zeus. However, many Marxist have thought this social in isolation from the natural, creating a rather damaging separation of the two. Are human beings here to protect themselves as social beings against nature? Or is that view not damaging? Shouldn’t we instead be thinking of the human as creatural being? That’s what I suggest in the book and I see it as a widening of the species-being of the human past pure familial solidarity. In some ways it is more rational than the rationality that sees in nearly the rest of non-human nature nothing particularly special. Other animals, these folks will claim, are not norm producing animals and so can make no demands upon us. But an expanded sort of rationality, one that is able to say nature in many ways, demands that our basis for solidarity not be abstractions that support the already hegemonic way of viewing the environment, but abstractions that allow for what is lived but not immediate to consciousness. The pain of animals, the degradation of vegetation, and the fury of climate.

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One Response to ““What are we even doing here?”: A Response to Katerina Kolozova (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)”

  1. Alex Says:

    Amazing post.

    But an expanded sort of rationality, one that is able to say nature in many ways, demands that our basis for solidarity not be abstractions that support the already hegemonic way of viewing the environment, but abstractions that allow for what is lived but not immediate to consciousness. The pain of animals, the degradation of vegetation, and the fury of climate.

    Hear, hear.


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