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.
But it is also true that I am at times making claims that are more empirical and at other times making more speculative claims. The remarks about the requirement of nutrition for thinking is true and supported by a number of studies that bear on social justice issues (so, for example, this suggests one explanation that black children children tend to do more poorly on standardized tests since urban black communities tend to be forced to subsist in food deserts). Whereas the remark that books are dead and provide a kind of energy for living thought is clearly more speculative. This speculative nature does not require we approach it like a “mere metaphor”, though it does mean it is revisable and open to criticism. Without falling into the same sense of superiority such a reading may provide, I think that the work of Franco Moretti shows one possible way of mapping or modelling such an ecology relation in texts. In a sense all history of the reception of books is a natural history, the ways in which those texts have continued to animate thought though they are themselves dead. But we could also consider Derrida’s trace, for the energy that the dead provide is always a trace of what came before. Granted, I am taking the broad definition of energy (“the ability to do work”) at face value here, but I could imagine more empirically minded scholars finding a way to measure the ways in which ideas are at work in ecosystems (and indeed I know that such projects are under way and have tried to provide a philosophical framework for that work in an article on affective ecology). Some of the relationships I mention will not be significant at the level of measurement, though we shouldn’t confuse all science with simple measurement and despite the probable insignificance of some of the relations it seems to me increasingly important that scientific ecology begin to take more seriously the realm of ideas in ecosystem functioning. I don’t know if I wrote a book that many ecologists will find themselves reading or will ever want to read, but this sort of impact was one of my sincere hopes for the book even knowing its improbability.
It’s that seriousness I try to model myself in the various readings of other thinkers found in the text. Adam brings up one figure that recurs throughout the text, Heidegger, and he suggests I don’t give him the credit he is due. I think that’s a fair criticism. And though I am glad to see figures named other than Laruelle in his response, I also recognize that the readings I provide of various figures in the book are often truncated. I say in the book that I tend to use names like Heidegger as an index for a wider field of thought beyond the individual and so while, through my reading his actual texts, I began to see Heidegger’s engagement with science as far more serious than many are willing to grant, I also think that the Heidegger-field is guilty of a certain scapegoating of science and reveling in an ignorance of science in favor of doing the “real work”. So my focus on the Fundamental Concepts was less concerned with husking away the dross of poor interpretation, and instead looking at the ways in which Heidegger as a particularly dominant ecosystem (of) thought could be transformed. And the main thing, it seemed to me, that needed to be transformed was the way in which the World came to stand in for nature, to create a system of valuing various forms of being in a hierarchy, and not the ecological kind that Liam pointed us towards before, but the all-too-theological kind that is often haunting the fascist roots of political theology.
But the engagement with Heidegger was, for me, just as surprising as the engagement with Thomas. Over the years of research I kept finding myself reading Heidegger, even though I rarely agreed with him. And his work had a profound impact on the shape of the end of the book. The work at the end of the text has not been brought in the course of the book event and I think that may owe to its incredibly speculative and perhaps hermetic form. But part of the claim of the book is that nature is not an ecological concept (so, here and just about only here, I agree with Tim Morton). Ecology does not study nature, it studies ecosystems, but what ecology tells us about ecosystems may have consequences for how we understand nature philosophically and theologically. This is why I attempt to make the unified theory of philosophical theology and ecology (and, though I focus on a particular “hard” science, Laruelle talks about unified theories of philosophy and religion, ethics, art, etc., all of those “regional forms of knowing” may be at play).
I once jokingly described the book as a decent into madness. It begins innocently enough with an overview of the various relations of ecology, philosophy, and theology. I lay these out as a clear and defensible typology that I think may actually be useful for mainstream environmental ethics and eco-theology. I then move to the methodological section where I explicate Laruelle. I am proud to say that I think this was, at the time of its writing and publication, the fullest explication of Laruelle’s non-philosophy, though it owed much to earlier works by John Ó Maoilearca (aka Mullarkey) and Ray Brassier. From there the book moves into the reading of certain ecological concepts “as if” they were already doing philosophical and theological work and didn’t need to be re-inscribed within already-existing philosophical and theological paradigms that would disempower ecology. I am proud of this section, especially the section on niches which others seem to also glob onto, but it is certainly risky, both in terms of the potential to not be philosophically or theologically respectable and in terms of looking like crackpot science. The final section, however, is the attempt to develop the theory of nature and it does so by separating nature from the World (in Heidegger’s sense, but also in the Abrahamic sense) and thinking nature using Heidegger’s four-fold as a way to place disparate ecosystems (of) thought. Not exactly his most popular concept and surely a great risk lies there for misinterpretation. But did allow for me to think more freely than if I had simply been a Heideggerian or simply been trying to explicate ecology as the new Master.
And here, at the end, I want to speak a word in defense of a certain kind of metaphor. For what the Derrida’s and Deleuze’s (who, with Guattari, refused to call their use of anything “mere metaphor”, saying “We don’t believe in metaphors”) freeing up of philosophy did for me was allow for the transfer of energy. In the original sense of metaphor we find a meaning that is more exact and very different from the usually pejorative sense given it, as it literally means “bearing” something “between”, a “transfer”. In this sense of metaphor we find something already ecological at work, one that will lead into our response to Joshua’s discussion of economics and ecology. For nothing is a mere metaphor, not even the slur that acts as a metaphor when someone asks, “Isn’t that just a metaphor?” For they are confusing the A and B in relation with the C of metaphor itself. But, if we are able to think it is because of this transfer of energy, this ability to do (intellectual) work within a wider ecosystem. If I may be allowed a kind of nod to Good Friday and Easter Sunday, there is something about the death inherent in metaphor that leads to a kind of epekeinaphor or a carrying something beyond death as if that was all there was.