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Superconversations Day 25: Thomas Elliott responds to Lesley Green, "The Changing of the Gods of Reason"


#1

SUPERCONVERSATIONS DAY 25: THOMAS ELLIOTT RESPONDS TO LESLEY GREEN, “THE CHANGING OF THE GODS OF REASON: CECIL JOHN RHODES, KAROO FRACKING, AND THE DECOLONIZING OF THE ANTHROPOCENE

Deus Obscūritās Rationis Ad Perpetuum

Frantz Fanon

“…True liberation is not that pseudo-independence in which ministers having a limited responsibility hobnob with an economy dominated by the colonial pact. True liberation is the total destruction of the colonial system, from the pre-eminence of the language of the oppressor and ‘departmentalization,’ to the customs union that in reality maintains the former colonized in the meshes of culture, of the fashion, and of the images of the colonialist…” (Fanon, 1967) [My emphasis]

The palpable absence of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes ruthlessly holding-sway in absentia over the campus of the University of Cape Town will linger on in a disturbing epistemic hauntology. No amount of symbolic micturition or lobbing handfuls of shit will exorcise the ghosts of colonialist ratiocination, which the statue of the malignantly narcissistic Rhodes drearily embodied. The traces of the specters of Rhodes will be unconsciously reproduced within the antagonistic field of knowledge production for the foreseeable future because of the brutal domination of the colonized mind in ‘post-independence’ Africa by multifarious capitalocentric-rationalist tropes which transcend linguistic representation. “The colonizer did not stop at the conquest of the pre-capitalist relations of production…the cultural superstructure was also a major target of assault in order to bring about a new collective consciousness and individual psychological habits favorable to the advance of the violent installation of the capitalist economy.” (Onoge, 1986) [My emphasis] These capitalocentric-rationalist specters-under-erasure will continuously lurk about underneath the topologies of regimes-of-knowledge which are condemned to operate within encysted webs of textualities (the ‘warp and weft’ of linguistic human cognition as such). This cognitive state-of-the-situation radically structured the mentation of the victims of colonialism (and of course their colonizers), which they covertly translate into the future via the ‘transmission of language’ during the critical era in cognitive development.

The production of knowledge is a function of an existential Wille-zur-Macht in any anthropocentric context, an accumulation of power over one’s environment, a forcing being to become open for the human being with the apparatus of language (for the express purpose of setting-upon and ordering material into a standing-reserve). The inexorable dialectics between the un-represent-able Real within the represent-able state-of-the-situation and the Fiction of textual figurations which are accessible to human beings structure human world-pictures (or myths/traditions/ideologies). Any idea-set which aspires in its linguistic composition toward ‘completeness and coherence’ is always already a priori fictive because of the infinite infinities of multiples of information, which cannot be broached in any meaningful linguistic fashion by the radically finite machination of human intellect. Whether ‘knowledge’ in this sense is structured by the colonialist/rationalist/positivist modernities’ modus operandi of capitalocentric necropolitical ‘cashing in’ on the violently appropriated labor of dispossessed bodies and culturally vacated minds, or the ‘spiritual’ ontologisms of atavistic, aboriginal revenant epistemologies; ratiocination of any kind structurally requires kyriarchal architectonics which twist back on themselves (despite the variable onticolinguistic modalities of environmental input datum).

The dead gods and goddesses which structured the world-pictures of the pre-colonial era (now ‘neocolonized’ by neoliberalism) cannot be re-reified in toto without the covert infestation of these creeping structural aporetics, which are cryptically cloned within cultural-structural reproduction as such. The project of resurrecting the fundamentally fragmentary ontologisms of the colonized is as if one was attempting to reconstruct the phonology of a thoroughly dead language with no living speakers. Those born today and for several generations hence will be affected by the reproduction of the hegemonic systems of knowledge production which became transparent during previous generations under colonialism, which fundamentally require the ‘axiomatics of imperialism in order to construct itself.’(Spivak, 1990) Even if the condition of ‘post independence’ neocolonialism weren’t structured by conditions of the imposition of linguistic technologies of modernist Reason, they would use logocentric models for the extraction of created meaning from the roiling mass of radically incomprehensible incomplete multiplicities chaotically extending into the Void (which formally resists ontologization). Language itself will disseminate any possible construction because of the hidden impasses which are within rationalist power-discourses and aboriginal epistemologies both, whose common radix is the same dialogic between an inaccessible Real and textual Fiction. There is no escape from the web-of-signification even if a decentering of ‘ontological’ colonization and regimes of knowledge production were possible. The intersectional coupling of cryptological colonialist semio-systems and vectorial neoliberal technological en-framing instantiates their own auto-structuring, resulting in the auto-deconstructive ‘transvaluation of values’. In cases where human beings use language of any kind to understand the logics of their respective worlds, this self-dehiscence organically unfolds from within, and doesn’t favor one set of structures over another, but succumbs to the same entropy.

Green asks “How much more useful would ontologies like these [‘decentered aboriginal epistemologies’] be in finding, forming, and living a geo-story that gives life beyond the Anthropocene?” (Green, 2015) The semio-sign ‘Anthropocene’ has grown in usage after emerging in the scientific literature in 2000 CE. (Zylinska, 2014) It is a term currently being critically engaged by geologists, who on the whole tend to prefer the designation of ‘Holocene’, the geological era starting with the terminus of the ‘Pleistocene’ in 11,700 BP. (Zylinska, 2014) As a theoretical gesture it is perhaps more useful to designate another ‘imperative term’ for a ‘minimal ethics’ geared toward how one should behave in light of the catastrophic and unpredictable nature of global climate change (which is only increasing in geometric complexity and destructiveness). (Zylinska, 2014) “The global warming problem is rooted in the historical patterns of capitalist development as these are manifested by the contributions of developed capitalist countries to global greenhouse emissions.” (Vlachou, 2000)

This grave and radically unprecedented ‘planetary crisis’ is the direct result of capitalist accumulation, which is the antagonistic grounding condition of the global phenomenon of conflicting postmodern carbon-modernities (structuring the inescapable feedback loop of global climate change). The crisis isn’t tied to human being-there as such, but instead the global autotelic nihilism of neoliberal capitalism’s ‘infinite growth’ and the history of industrial capital’s inherently colonialist ‘increase in energy usage, deforestation, and changing land use.’ (Vlachou, 2000) Shouldn’t the nomination for the catastrophic evental epoch of global climate change be ‘capitalo’ rather than ‘anthropo’ for critical usage? How could human beings decolonize their minds when neoliberalism radically structures human identities and the seemingly bleak future of organic life on Earth? In the absence of remediation of the geological-agental consequences of the nihilistic cycle of consumption and pollution upon which capitalocentrism utterly depends, how could new worlds emerge? Is it enough to spirit away statues, or is something more radical demanded?

Works Cited

Fanon, F. (1967). Decolonization and Independence. In Toward the African Revolution: Political Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Green, L. (2015). The Changing of the Gods of Eeason: Cecil John Rhodes, Karoo Fracking, and the Decolonizing of the Anthropocene. New York: e-flux.
Onoge, O. (1986). Towards a Marxist Sociology of African Literature. In G. Gugelberger (Ed.), Marxism and African Literature. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press.
Vlachou, A. (2000). The Economics of Global Warming: A Critical Assessment. Rethinking Marxism, 12(4), 90-116.
Spivak, G. (1990). The Post-colonial Critic. In S. Harasym (Ed.), The Post-colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, Dialogues. New York: Routledge.
Zylinska, J. (2014). Minimal Ethics for the Anthropocene. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Open Humanities Press.

Thomas Elliott is an artist, musician and independent researcher based in Detroit, Michigan and is currently a Certificate Student in Social & Political Thought at The New Centre for Research & Practice.


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This grave and radically unprecedented ‘planetary crisis’ is the direct result of capitalist accumulation, which is the antagonistic grounding condition of the global phenomenon of conflicting postmodern carbon-modernities (structuring the inescapable feedback loop of global climate change). The crisis isn’t tied to human being-there as such, but instead the global autotelic nihilism of neoliberal capitalism’s ‘infinite growth’ and the history of industrial capital’s inherently colonialist ‘increase in energy usage, deforestation, and changing land use.’ (Vlachou, 2000) Shouldn’t the nomination for the catastrophic evental epoch of global climate change be ‘capitalo’ rather than ‘anthropo’ for critical usage? How could human beings decolonize their minds when neoliberalism radically structures human identities and the seemingly bleak future of organic life on Earth? In the absence of remediation of the geological-agental consequences of the nihilistic cycle of consumption and pollution upon which capitalocentrism utterly depends, how could new worlds emerge? Is it enough to spirit away statues, or is something more radical demanded?

But isn’t “anthropo” rather apt in a way? Our anthropocentrism has played a major role in how we produce, distribute, and consume under the neoliberal order, and probably still would have under other systems if we hadn’t begun to question the centrality of the human, opting instead for object/cyborg/companion species-oriented ontologies. Heidegger provides some basis for thinking beyond anthropocentrism but I’m not sure he goes quite far enough, as Derrida noticed in “Of Spirit”, for instance.


#3

The J-curve in consumption and concomitant emissions which structured GCC happened with industrial production, whose engine is capital accumulation. Humans and our near ancestors existed on Earth for nearly 1.2 Ma prior to the J-curve, if it were ‘anthropo’ wouldn’t you have to include all of 1.2M years? Whereas the relevant time for human activity to become a nihilistic geological agent is only over the last two hundred years, thus ‘capitalo’ or possibly ‘industrialo’. There may be no way to think beyond the human from an inexorably anthropological context. No one could go far enough, but Heidegger provided keys to give shape to the structure of the problem, even if it is ultimately futile, as the fight against GCC appears to be, itself. Here however I fall into the ‘critic’s paradox’, where I have to be both strident in my critique and not inspire total hopelessness, which I am afraid I typically do.


#4

Ah the gods of reason, so worshiped and glorified. The gods of reason are only part of the Pantheon. It is the other more chthonian gods that throws us for a loop, the ones roaming the groves or in this case the bush. The shit on the statue from the shanty dwellings may hold the key. What if another set of African gods could join this chorus, rather than framing everything in Marxist vs. Capitalist terms imported from Europe? Education going the way of U.S. universities from palaces of learning to trade schools is not the answer. What about a genuine look into the roots of African spiritual and ritual practices. What about an African goddess being placed on Rhodes empty pedestal? The three women dancing seemed like a good place to start. There may be hidden gems in the shit. Transforming the university into a palace of learning probing the depths of African culture and spirituality might be a nice change. A look at some of these nature gods and goddesses, rooted in the land, not a bad place to begin. Ann McCoy Yale school of Drama