“We still don’t know if it is a joke or not”: Final Reflections on A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event

“Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety.” – James Baldwin, “Faulkner and Desegregation”

At the end of this book event I wanted to offer a final reflection. It isn’t clear to me if such a work is a token of my gratitude or an imposition that people read yet more of my words. But I hope here to express my gratitude for all the care each of the respondents showed in their posts. Anyone who has ever published knows that it is an event laden with anxiety. Will they hate it? Will they mock me? Will they understand me? Will anyone even read it?! So to be read in such a kind way by so many friends was truly humbling and I am thankful to all of them for taking time to pay me this honor. Perhaps more importantly were the challenges that they put forward to me. These remind me again of the perversity of nature as present in our thinking. Nothing is ever finished, nothing is ever done, but neither does nothing need to be finished or done. So I can go about the work of thinking again and again, with the knowledge of a kind of salvation given in the secret that there is nothing to save. Only, instead, is there a World to breakup and in that breakup we may find a kind of fidelity to the earth, a kind of uncovering of the earth that lies beneath the World, and upon that earth we may find each other and the grace that exists there even amidst the violence that will remain. Read the rest of this entry »

Collapse Is the Name for the Collision Between Economy and Ecology: A Response to Joshua Ramey (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

Allow me, in the stumbling attempt to respond to Joshua’s difficult provocation to just for a moment put on my best Rust Cohle mask. To stay outside of Carcosa for just a moment, even though the World is already Carcosa, I want to push it off for a moment through a pessimistic fabulation. I was a child when green consciousness first took hold of me. The first Earth Day and shows like Captain Planet made very clear to me the precarity of living on this planet, to say nothing of the general anxiety I had about geopolitics after I first became aware of the massive violence being held back by even more violence. That anxiety was first fostered when I saw the word “coup” on TV and watched tanks rolling through Moscow. I understood that this country was like ours and yet it was radically transforming. I didn’t understand much more than that, but the very fact that such a radical transformation could take place frightened me. Then it cemented when my step-father was sent to Kuwait during the First Gulf War and I watched every night as the green light of night-vision cameras captured the reigning down of death upon Baghdad and as they trumped up the threat of Scud missiles killing “our boys”, that is, my step-father.

I was born, like everyone, into a violent and stupid World.

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Metaphor and the Ecological Transfer of Energy: A Reply to Adam Kotsko (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

Adam’s post brings to the fore a question I was asked repeatedly when I would present papers based off my research or when I would go in for the doctoral annual review process. More than once I was surprised to find a theologian ask, “but isn’t your use of ecology just metaphorical?” I always wanted to say back, “Is your discussion of the Trinity or work on the bodily resurrection just metaphorical?” And, as Adam rightly deduces, my suggestion that it isn’t a mere metaphor has nothing really to do with the current trend in theory to prostrate before some chosen science or as Laruelle sums up the history leading to this moment: “After the reading of philosophical texts (Derrida), of Marxist texts on history (Althusser), of Freud (Lacan), and then of the Human Sciences (Foucault), the interpretation of great mathematical texts is invited to take up the baton. It is decidedly the case that here, philosophy (and in particular, French philosophy) falls back into its habitual, pusillanimous mistakes, refusing to experiment with philosophy itself in its being, rather than just its objects, languages, and intra-philosophical becomings. This philosophical immobilization by way of history (as obligatory as ever, if often denied) is consummated, paradoxically, in a philosophy ‘without history’ (Althusser and Badiou). A philosophy that ends up as a lazy queen, who hitches her carriage up to a pack of scientists, and can only get going by riding in the wake of the history of sciences (Anti-Badiou, p. ix).” This is a strange continuation of what is perhaps most damning in Continental philosophy where students used to be encouraged to spend their life explicating Heidegger (a figure to whom, like Adam, I find I keep returning to), but are now encouraged to dedicate their intellectual talents to explicating the science that gets everything right. My attempt at a unified theory is a failure if that is what the engagement with ecology ends up being just as much as if it were a mere metaphor. Read the rest of this entry »

“Jail Was Heat”; Or, From the Empty Space of the Secular to the Generic Time of Suffering: A Response to Alex Dubilet (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

Alex’s focus on the question of the secular that runs throughout Ecologies of Thought brings out a question of the relationship between naturalism and secularism. To get at that I want to spend a little time engaging with the work of Christian critics of the secular, before I lay out the framework from which a fuller exposition of the generic secular would have to arise. Even when I had more sympathy for John Milbank’s project I was always stuck with the theocentric misanthropy (and assuredly this involves a kind of misogyny) present in the opening to Theology & Social Theory: “Once, there was no ‘secular’. And the secular was not latent, waiting to fill more space with the steam of the ‘purely human’, when the pressure of the sacred was relaxed.” You may not see it, but I remember when I first read this passage I couldn’t help but think, upon first reading in 2005, of “the steam of the purely human” alongside of Agent Smith’s remarks about the stink of human beings. Later on, when I began to give more attention to theories that attended to anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles, I began to think of the human steam as the pressure cookers that are prison cells or the open cages before the sun on Guantanamo or the holds of ships that human beings hide in when trying to escape one space for another or the tiny apartments that the poor throughout the world cram themselves into after working too many hours on too many days. Read the rest of this entry »

“If my Beloved would raise the veils/you’d see only the pious at the tavern”: A Response to Basit Iqbal (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

It is interesting, though it says something in part about the abstract nature of Ecologies of Thought, that one could not really craft a bestiary of my book. I really am less concerned with the relationship of what ecology normally studies, and more interested in using ecology’s concepts to think thought. But that thought is always, I claim, creatural. I make this claim knowing that there is a whole host of literature that I should be engaging with and that this concept is not without its problems. But I prefer it to the simply human because of the ways it stretches theological engagement to its limits (to Francis and Attar, harbingers of a kind of apocalyptic) and because the ways it emphasizes a common set of capacities to finite entities (creatures are not the creator). Of course, in this way, I am following many of the thinkers of finitude like Heidegger (who I will pick up again in my response to Adam), but in reality I picked up this notion from, of all people, St. Thomas and felt it a more radical version was found in Francis and Ikhwan al-safa. But both the “Brethren of Purity” and Francis are only engaged with towards the end of the book and are not given the amount of space they should (perhaps that remains for me to write)Basit’s response touches on this relationship with Islam in the book and I wanted to spend my response reflecting on that relationship a little more. But as I do so, I want to emphasize, as his post also hints at, that I don’t see a “we” and an “I” when I reflect upon Islam, any more than I do when I reflect upon Christianity, secularism, or paganism (these terms, of course, being said in many ways). But I also am aware of a separation between my “I” and these three domains or forms of life. Read the rest of this entry »

Two New Journals

As I continue to think through my responses to the excellent latest posts on A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature, I thought that I should point readers to two new journal ventures. The first is a reviews journal that comes out of the Society for Contemporary Thought and the Islamicate World.

The other is a student-run journal coming out of UWO’s Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism. The journal, named Chiasma, features a number of strong articles touching on themes that AUFS readers will be interested in (the range present between Eileen Joy’s article on hope and Roland Boer’s discussion of Kautsky speaks to the openness of the journal’s focus). Of special interest, however, may be the two articles on Laruelle (one that connects his work up with Audre Lorde) and a short piece by Laruelle himself on deconstruction.

Also, as a side note, NDPR just posted a very strong review of Principles of Non-Philosophy(translated by Nicola Rubczak and myself).

The Defiance of Baselessness and Mutation: A Reply to Daniel Colucciello Barber (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

In our society there are individuals, found often amongst black youth, who are told that their dissatisfaction with the World is unreasonable and expressive of their defiance. Is it unsurprising that a group of people subjected to the long lingering effects of social death constitutive of the World would seek to defy that World? That they would seek to end it through the overburdening of its space and time with niche spaces that, to the World, look only like death but for the moment they can be sustained are experienced as a moment of the lived-without-life? I want to frame my response to Dan in reference to the singular suffering expressive of the primary antagonism of anti-black racism, in part because Dan has helped introduce to my a number of important authors on this problem and because Dan and I both share a sense that thought must respond to suffering. The problem of suffering–and do not let the coldness of this term lull you into thinking that the problem of suffering isn’t a crying out that we hear–is what I hear behind Dan’s question to me: “Is the “non” about the enactment of baselessness, which can also be enacted in the neighborhood philosophy claims to possess, or is the “non“ about finding a different use for philosophy?” This question, if it is to matter, must regard something more than a question regarding Laruelle or Meillassoux or debates in philosophy proper. This question, for it does matter, is one regarding what kind of weapon non-philosophy may be. Not just in the hands of Laruelle, and it is in a very serious way a weapon for him, but as a weapon that another may learn to use (albeit in some small way, but smallness matters in an ecology of thought) for the overturning of the World. Read the rest of this entry »

All we are saying is give war a chance; Or, the strange peace of an ecology of thought: A Response to James Stanescu (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

When Scu says that he doesn’t know anything about Laruelle or theology, I want to say, with him, “but here you are!” My hope and my fear is that this book doesn’t really fit comfortably into any disciplinary mold so one shouldn’t need to know anything about Laruelle (because the book isn’t a book on Laruelle properly) or theology (because the book isn’t a book of theology properly) or any of the other disciplines engaged with (ecology, philosophy) in order to engage and spend time with the text itself. And I love what Scu says about the lattice structure of first philosophies becoming second philosophies and think that this vision of the book fits well with that description. There is really nothing in Scu’s post that I don’t resonate with and so in my response I will pull a little bit from our short discussion in the comments where certain aspects of a self-criticism emerged.

Scu picks up on a part of the book I wrote later in its development, the discussion of Laruelle and ecology. This fits within a general section where I am trying to attend to certain differences between Laruelle’s own deployment of non-philosophy and my own use. So, Laruelle, for example, expresses a clear suspicion regarding ecology because of the way it may be used to harass man and the ways in which its metaphysics has remained unexamined. I try to show in this discussion of the undulatory wave that ecosystems are far more “wave-like” than “particle-like” when you understand them from the perspective of the ecosystem instead of the more macroscopic question of species (though, species too are “wave-like” when understand from a certain timescale, something I try to engage with in the book when discussing biodiversity). When Laruelle is modified in this way I think he gives us a better sense than Latour or Morton for how philosophy/theology/theory can engage with science and particularly the science of ecology when it comes to the question of nature. But this discussion of the ocean brings us again to the question of the relation between a peace and the non-normative figures so often invoked in the book and to which Scu adds the figure of the pirate. Read the rest of this entry »

Theological Creep(s) and Ending the Unhappy Tyranny of the Natural King: A Response to Marika Rose (A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature Book Event)

Marika’s wonderfully playful engagement with Ecologies of Thought made my day in the midst of meetings from 9am-7pm and the slow creep of a head cold. I’ve been struggling since then to find an adequate way to respond and worry that despite her valorization of my Pumba-like playing in the mud this response will only sully the joyful passions present in her original post. Marika is one of the few Christian (rightly passing) theologians whom I feel pays attention and really listens to the deep criticisms of Christian theology present in my work and others. Her own attempts to think a real failure, one without cunning, as something like a Christianity worth thinking is part of a long line of Protestant theologians who are willing to let Christianity die for the sake of humanity. It was for that reason that I suggested her when trying to think of a “proper” Christian theologian who may want to respond to the work. And what grace she has given me here. A real testament to what in theology may engage with work like mine without erasing the antagonism, without needing to make it safe through some nefarious Barthian poetics of Christian hospitality or through the directly violent colonialism of Radical Orthodoxy/Ressourcement theology. I don’t know what exactly what name it may go under, perhaps simply a dirty or impure theology, one that refuses to say it is anything else but theology without making excuses for its friends.
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“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. Read the rest of this entry »

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