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Superconversations Day 14: Rachael Rakes responds to Pedro Neves Marques, "Look Above, The Sky is Falling: Humanity before and after the end of the world"


In Praise of Sameness

Photograph: World Catastrophe 1330×880 Wallpaper

When considering the end of the world, we ought to think in practical terms. As Pedro Neves Marques points out, many have seen apocalyptic ends already, throughout history, before modernity and after. And as Christian Parenti suggests in his theory of “catastrophic convergence,” there are already many societies in the world experiencing climate change-influenced war and massacres, in which droughts coupled with austerity measures can be significant catalysts for civil war.

Humans have always changed the environment. Many of the current scientific arguments about how far back to date the Anthropocene elude the more critical question of how the most recent and destructive changes are taking place, as well as its scale and direction. But this discussion, rather than remaining a debate within the field of geology, has emerged in a public realm, which has discursively linked it to climate change, and also radioactivity, overfishing, deforestation, soil erosion, habitat loss, toxification, and so on. This could be useful. If these human-led realities can manage to remain connected to the discussion of the Anthropocene, the latter has the potential to become a shorthand not simply for the historical presence of humans on the globe but also for the ecological destruction driven by Capitalism: we don’t need new terms, but new definitions.

As Neves Marques suggests, practically speaking, the Cartesian duality and the conservationist ideology it supports are culpable remnants of modernism that we need to burn in order to move forward. Environmentalism—conceived as a project of saving a disconnected but lovable nature—displaces urgency, thus allowing for further planetary destruction. But humans are not unnatural. Marxist scholar Jason Moore suggests, the term Oikeios to better conceptualize the dialectic between human and non-human nature. Within it, the rest of nature is brought into the whole of human activity. Nature becomes “the matrix within which human activity unfolds, and the field upon which historical agency operates.” Donna Haraway (via Scott Gilbert) demonstrates this symbiosis from a biological perspective, with the formulation that “we are all lichens.” No animal—and least of all a human—can be considered individual because of its reliance on and mutual exchange of symbiotic microrganisms. Our most fundamental existence is codependent.

One way of attempting to philosophize ourselves out of the Anthropocene has been to try to consider ourselves objects and others. These turns in realism represent a capitulation to all of that which will survive us—our inert creations, our archives, our infrastructures, our garbage. It is a resignation to the inability of humanity to survive, and a validation of the object as the sole locus of value—especially of lasting value. This of course neatly resembles the art market’s obsessions, as evidenced by the unkillable fascination with the objet trouvé in contemporary art.

It always comes back to the human. We need to not be Cartesian about ourselves, either. Even animism might not go far enough beyond correlationism to be useful in this. However, Neves Marques’s proposal that the conception be reversed, that everything be made human instead of finding ontologies for objects in our still and ever stratifying minds, is pragmatism I can get behind.

But why not go further into this ubiquito-humanism? Neves Marques writes that, “from the perspective of the earth, humanity looks increasingly like the problem.” This inference, of a problem/solution dichotomy halts movement towards fixing the future. At present mankind is driving the metabolism of the earth, destructively, but they haven’t always been, and won’t always be. But, for the moment, humanity is both problem and solution, and the power to alter the earth’s systems remains multidirectional. And of course, we’re only trying to save ourselves here. Pretending otherwise will get us nowhere.

Here are a few questions:

  • Can artistic collaboration or collectivity be useful in reconceiving humanity in the Anthropocene?
  • What non-apocalyptic freedoms can thinking through the anthropocene afford?
  • How can we transmit symbiosis culturally?
  • Does Venice being almost underwater make this more prescient?
  • Is this an opportunity to break down the individual?

Rachael Rakes is an editor for the Brooklyn Rail, Programmer at Large at Film Society of Lincoln Center, and a consultant for Verso Books.

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My conjecture would be that, despite the danger of correlationism, animism can be nevertheless a powerful procedure to “break down the individual.” We just mustn’t fall in the trap of reifying animism as the real thing. We have to think of animism as animation, i.e. as a hyperbolic, temporary actualization of a virtual space of connections embedded in and inspired by the shared reality we live in. Let’s hear Isabelle Stengers on that topic:

Reclaiming animism does not mean, then, that we have ever been animist. Nobody has ever been animist because one is never animist “in general,” only in terms of assemblages that generate metamorphic transformation in our capacity to affect and be affected—and also to feel, think, and imagine. Animism may, however, be a name for reclaiming these assemblages, since it lures us into feeling that their efficacy is not ours to claim. Against the insistent poisoned passion of dismembering and demystifying, it affirms that which they all require in order not to enslave us: that we are not alone in the world.

I’m not sure if I want to subscribe to the speculative position that everything is human (even though it is a welcoming alternative to the position that everything is an object), but I like the angle under which problems are tackled here, the claim that the apocalypse has probably already taken place and we are living in its aftermath (see Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects), the need for overcoming multiculturalism towards multinaturalism and cosmopolitism etc. Nevertheless, I doubt that the project of confronting various, possibly incompatible ontologies with each other in order to break out of capitalist totalitarianism etc. etc. is radical enough in order to engage not only with different ontological versions of the world, but with its disappearance and the extinction of the human.

To summarize this with some questions:

  • How does the multinaturalist project deal with the problems of radical contingency and the horizon of extinction (not only of mankind, but possibly also of humanity)? (Elie Ayache, Meillassoux, Colebrook)
  • Can and should we think of animism as animation rather than as a belief or a real feature of a world? (Stengers, da Castro)
  • What is meant by “sameness” in the title of Rachael’s response? Who can help us to differentiate it from individuality? (Levinas)
  • How can we promote a more powerful critique of environmentalism that imposes itself as the most prominent and at the same time the most devastating form of engaging with the “super wicked problem” (Morton) we are facing (Rachael: humans trying to solve the problem they are constantly producing)?

@samir_sellami I very much appreciate, among the many parts of your excellent response, you bringing in Stegner on animism, and of the power of that “luring.” Luring, of course, is the thing that environmentalism does not do. The essential fragmentation of environmentalism that had made it so counterproductive is so totally bound up in an inherited philosophy that many here have taken on the project of breaking away from. I do sincerely wonder if the general conceptual byproduct of new realisms might in fact be able to help combat this (vaguely and rather optimistically speaking).


@Rakes, Accelerationism is one byproduct of these new realisms. Let’s hope that ferocity of reactionary attitudes of those resistant to change doesn’t recuperate its form while discarding its content and its transformative potentials in the garbage bin (of history).

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The notion that humanity could think its way out of the bewildering array of unforgiving chemical chain reactions put into catastrophic effect over 100 years ago strikes me as a pernicious brand of ‘hopeful-ism’. ‘Fixing the future’ is in no way in the cards due to the intractable trajectory of chemistry coupled with the nihilistic neoliberal agenda. As Mark Hamill so elegantly said ‘the future is now’, we actually don’t have the requisite timescales to effect the state of the j-curving situation. We cannot fix the future with possible technologies which may come down the pike, only that which we currently have, and as far as I can tell, there is nothing that will counteract the spewing (by the gigatonage) of greenhouse gasses on which modernities utterly depend. The neoliberal agenda of infinite growth utilizing finite standing reserve ad infinitum is a feedback loop which will only accelerate in the closing hours of habitability of the Earth. I also hesitate to endorse solutions like Hawking’s (to leave the Earth), because we would only take nihilism with us, which with the infinite expanse of space could alter, however it would still involve the absolute domination of global technology over humanity. While I would welcome some positive solutions to this dilemma, the question must absolutely be posed with the state of apocalyptic nihilism as the fundamental ground.

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”They dream it and they’re going to sing it”. Judith Vander, Shoshone Ghost Dance Religion: Poetry Songs and Great Basin Context, 1997.

“Look Above, the Sky is Falling” wants to immerse, really, in a poetics. It will ally ‘geo-engineering’ as one in a line up of culprits, together with ‘radioactive oceans’ and carcinogenic polymers…” Quaint, superfluous “mankind” will dream of a deep space of future colonialism while species die, even as he is consuming himself. (Anthropophagia-- but the Tropicalistas wanted to eat culture, to claim it as one, against the inhumane State…) Impassioned, concerned, we are excoriated: ‘that is to say, humanity can no longer be taken as the solution to anything’. Still with respect to the attempt to correlate the ‘human’ with ‘multi-naturalism, who will intervene around definitions of what is human, in order to exclude badness, from whatever solutions to the problems of overpopulation and resource depletion? Is there a bliss-enclosure in South America, among the Yanomami or the Cashinawa? As I write, I play with a copper bracelet I bought at the standing stones of Avebury, at the gift shop. It was meant to cure aches by transfer from the local magic. Yet who may speak for these Yanomani or these Cashinawa? They may shop at Wal-Mart. Neves Marques suggests “to speak of worlds other than ours is not a case of difference in cultures, but difference in natures.” For whom is ‘ours’ ? Am I a Yanomami person? The same as, or no? What does it mean to speak of differences ‘in natures” ? Who can address this topic? Who writes who? Gayatri Spivak: “The world actually writes itself with the many-leveled, unfixable intricacy and openness of the work of literature.” Hans Arp: “Human qualities migrate through light and shadow… like flames and waves the dead and the living course through this world…”

Look up-sky falling: binaries-mourning // garbage-morass // shell-midden // bitch-agent // forced-bulb // lacerate-last// precinct-bitches // captcha-clemency // alienation-silencio // precinct-survival// night- mare // rapture-lot // dumpsters-singing //TSA-gates // scanner-receipts // despoiling-seas //macrobiotic-superphagia // Tesco-Tesla // Versace-largesse // hymning-psychopaths //melamine-subway // laboratory-sorrows // skulls-light // Beulah-Land // stoners-laugh// probiotics-sham//care-cages// pain-trade//genocide-tell // hope-other//. Are we stuck in the mud? Artist [Samara Golden][1] reflects on her installation at Frieze this year: “When I was really young there was a deep idealism in this country, one that was very critical of capitalist ideals as a route to happiness. Civil rights, nonviolent action, a deep hope for humankind—these were things that existed in my own idea of the world. In our current culture it seems like those ideals are quickly muddied, manipulated, and clouded over by the idea that success and money are more powerful than anything. I’m not being very articulate about it at the moment. The piece is just trying to open a door to this conversation, to give those thoughts a place to sit and be.”

What if you take the premise seriously, that the native cosmogony is righteous? What do you do to take back your land? What do you do to take back your soul? What do you do to take back your community? Leslie Marmon Silko’s monumental novel Almanac of the Dead from that even-now-mythic era of the early nineties, inspires research. The novel turns on the discovery of some supposedly ancient and authentic texts. The narrator has doubts. But are they? Authentic? Real? What did they prophecy? How could they be used? “This did not seem to be the ‘key’ to anything except one old woman’s madness.” The texts are nothing, or are they…? It still could matter that, but even then… the narrator pauses, and suddenly, with irony and sorrow, the affective landscape of desolation in the dark back rooms of Tucson and Phoenix imaginatively charges. “Quetzacoatl gathered the bones of the dead and sprinkled them with his own blood, and humanity was reborn.” (Silko, Almanac of the Dead,1991.)

Here we are together reading as the supercommunity. As we read we are standing, we are walking, we are moving among the dead. The dead are speaking to us, murmuring. With biblical Ezekiel in another valley of the bones, I wonder, “Shall these bones live?” And the bones are beginning to come to life. But how, by what action? The supercommunity gathers them and sprinkles them with its own ‘blood’, which is none other than its present live literature, these words we write together to each other now: this is our circulation, this is our heartbeat and our animas. Ghost Dance songs come into being, first by dreaming. As Judith Vander recalls, “In Great Basin myth there were no dividing lines in nature. Animals, plants, and rocks were all ‘people’. That is, they all spoke one language.’ Mario Ibarra, Jr. and Karla Diaz call out ‘slanguage‘ http://slanguagestudio.com/about/ Every writer and every artist, in this fashion, faces that fragment of a song, the bit of text, scrawled on a roadside concrete barrier, or in a dark bar at noon, on a not-even-trying-to-be-authentic cocktail napkin; or in Nature: Climate Change, to account from the paleo-microclimatologists in Greenland, scans the data on carbon sequestration in 900 BCE. Recognizing and reconnoitering these fragments, these are our DNA, these knowledges are in our bones, are our ghosts. As literature they are not just in us, these bits of dust, they constitute ‘us’. What do we make of ourselves? Are we the supercommunity no more than evidence or testimony from a dream or dreams dreamt by a narrator’s blind grandmother, now passed? Does consciousness of other cosmogonies itself bring into the social reality a ‘poetics of relation’ while reading the “Apocalypis” ? Are we going to dream it and then we are going to sing it? What song are we going to sing?


Are you thinking of something like transcendental (or ontological) nihilism, Brassier-style?

“from the perspective of the earth, humanity looks increasingly like the problem.”

There is also a third way, as always, and there is a difference between a problem and a fuckup. We humans, as a concept, have fucked up. The last one or two centuries saw humans trying very hard to establish themselves as a truth. Didn’t work that well - if we accept that the planet as a whole is in a shitty state. It is very much so in my humble opinion.

I found some relieve in Steven Shaviro’s “No Speed Limit”, in which he makes a strong case for an accelerationist aesthetic, which in his case ultimately leads to the transformation (or abandonment) of the idea of human and as well as

But they conclude that “we just have to make the most of the life we have.” Both materially and affectively, they develop an ethos of abundance, generosity, and self-cultivation, even in the face of terror and dispossession. This is, finally, what we must learn to accelerate.

There are strong developments at the edges of the humanities subsumed under the term ‘non-human turn’, to support such a development. Although I personally have a hard time to connect to most of the particularly male writers. I prefer [Rosi Braidotti’s The Posthuman][3] in this context much more.
I would love to return to the animism thing here and shine a light on [Nurit Bird‐David’s “Animism” Revisited][4]. She represents animism as relational epistemology - which is very beautiful.

As humans we know we know nothing - we should by now. Not only did all of our achievements in science turn up to not hold in the last century, we also fucked up the planet in the process. If we could get rid of the idea of human and accept ourselves not as one, but as a vital part of a [network][5], that would help a lot.

It is not about solving the human problem. It’s about accepting that we made a mistake. It’s about how to apologize and go on from here. It is a pretty hard thing to apologize, harder then solving a problem. It is also very hard to imagine ourselves as non-human togetherness. This is where artist practice should kick in.

That’s that.

ps: had to remove some links, find the urls attached below.

3: polity.co.uk/book.asp?ref=9780745641584
4: jstor.org/stable/10.1086/200061?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
5: zero-books.net/books/networkologies

Only from the myopic perspective of humanity or within what Sellars has called the language of the manifest image of the man in the world that earth can be assumed to have a perspective. in fact because earth does not and cannot have a perspective, and because we are not only stuck in our perspectival ways of seeing the world but even project it on inanimate worlds like the earth, that we have driven the world, the earth, or whatever to its current state. saving earth requires us to maybe abandon this perspective and its resulting manifest image.

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Samir— maybe! I guess I 'm saying something like, it’s an ethically charged moment when one invokes ‘native’ cosmogonies. I think, if these are to be referred to, it’s important to take them on many levels besides value in argument .

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It is my opinion that the 6th mass extinction event which we are currently witnessing started with the emergence of homo sapiens in Africa some 500 000 years ago. This emergence also saw the beginning of human induced habitat change, the clearing of land, the migration of people to other places. Sure it took 500 000 years to get to the position we currently find ourselves in and sure it has been exacerbated by mass industrialisation, capitalism and technological advances of the past 100 years but I still think there is a good argument to say that the boundary point was the very first emergence of humans who sought to control their environment.

I have done a fair amount of reading on the Holocene event which we are in the midst of and it is hard not to be pessimistic at the outcome, it is hard to see where the change that is need will come from, it is hard to determine if it is already to late. The earth systems which maintain homeostasis have already started to react to the changes caused by humanity. Current research suggests that we will see an increase in volcanism, super storms, earthquakes. One interesting claim is that atmospheric changes in levels of CO2 could actually created volcanoes. Its interesting but at this stage just a claim.

Others have discussed what is needed to bring about a change in how people perceive themselves in relation to this crisis and the earth. I think that James Lovelock’s Hypothesis 'Gaia" is an interesting hypothesis which should be revisited. A hypothesis that suggests that the earth is a living entity, and which current earth science research does in some ways support, a earth which can heal itself. It is also interesting to note that Bolivia did give rights to " mother earth".

Current scientific research is also uncovering that humanity in recent times has under estimate the cognitive and emotional capacity of other animals which share our planet, and also that plants have a network of roots and fungus which they use to communicate. Science is showing us that we are not so unique among the other life forms which share this beautiful planet. I do think that these new ideas will help form a new paradigm in which we are not so much masters of the world but fellow passengers. This change in awareness I believe is already starting to permeate more then just the “hippies” and " tree huggers" and will bring about new practices which align with this knowledge. One example is the increase in veganism in many western cultures.

In all my reading on the 6th mass extinction and the many topics which it encompasses there is one group who offer valuable ideas about how to live in the world at this time of crisis, of climate change and pressure on resources - " The simplicity Institute", I post the link for others who maybe interested. http://simplicityinstitute.org


“Multi-naturalism” freaks me out because the word is rooted in ‘naturalism’. And this starts up the usual old series of binaries. As soon as phrases like ‘Amerindian cosmogonies’ are taken up as binary contrasts to ‘evolutionary theory’ – it’s like we’ve already lost our own battle with ourselves in which we are trying to get rid of our bad selves, our idea of ‘human’, in favor of something X in ‘nature’. In Neves Marquez’s text, I read of the Amerindian’s ‘creation myths, which are themselves a negative of Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin’s evolution of the species.” … Does this point need some expansion? Perhaps an aggregate of mythologies, of which the present text gives no differentiation beyond the mention of one or two origin myths, can give rise to an image, like a rough print, from an evolutionary ‘negative’?

re: link — perhaps the sky is falling a different time ? Marx’s locomotive of history, meets Benjamins brake on the train of history, maybe the cyclical time of the ‘decolonial-class-struggle’ of ‘sumak kawsay’ or ‘buen vivir’ is returning … or maybe we are in time of the ‘first history man’ as posed in the end of mad max fury road since 1492 as my ‘last chance’ student ‘war boys and grrls’ told me as they dreamt of V8 cars and huffing chrome for real.

4 different times…

how do we struggle with and for multinatures ? It isn’t just going to happen. Perhaps that should be the orientation of the discussion ?

what might be the animism, or multinatures of global hikikomorri ?