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Superconversations Day 45: Manuel Correa responds to Déborah Danowski & Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, "Is There Any World to Come?"


#1

SUPERCONVERSATIONS DAY 45: MANUEL CORREA RESPONDS TO DÉBORAH DANOWSKI & EDUARDO VIVEIROS de CASTRO, “IS THERE ANY WORLD TO COME?

#Us without the world, or the world without us?

Paolo Uccello, The hunt in the forest, 1470.

For Viveiros de Castro and Danowski, the scenario is proposed by Amerindian cosmologies (Aikewara, Yawanawa, Yanomami): “The myth’s action takes place in a time in which ‘nothing yet was, but people already existed’. In effect, in these cosmogonies, humans are the precursors of everything, often transforming themselves into flora and fauna, canoes and rivers.

What we could call the natural world, or ‘world’ for short, is for Amazonian peoples a multiplicity of intricately connected multiplicities. Animal species and other species are conceived as so many kinds of ‘people’ or ‘peoples’—that is, as political entities. It is not ‘the jaguar’ that is ‘human’; it is individual jaguars that take on a subjective dimension (more or less pertinent according to the practical context of interaction) when they are perceived as having a society ‘behind’ them, a collective political alterity. To be sure, we too – by which we mean we Westerners, a concept that includes, through mere convention, Brazilians of European descent – think, or would like to think that we think, that it is only possible to be human in society, that man is a political animal etc. But Amerindians think that there are many more societies (and therefore also humans) between heaven and earth than have been dreamt by our philosophy and anthropology.

While Viveiros de Castro and Danowski’s colorful conclusion might encourage us to find the specific through our encounter with the other, these “undreamt” societies and their interactions with one another have been rigorously studied in the West by the 19th century discipline of ecology. Ecology had enormous trouble in its early years to achieve a worldview resonant with Viveiros de Castro and Danowski’s Amerindians; Westerners were too invested in the discrete and digital to be able to grasp that the world was in fact an ecosystem articulated by the relationships of a myriad of natural objects -fauna, flora, etc-, fragile and changing, riven in appearance, but immanent to the core… then:

. . . on Christmas Eve of 1968, when the Apollo 8 went around the dark side of the moon and emerged to see, for the first time in human history, not a sunrise or a moonrise but an earthrise, and in that brilliant moment of illumination we realized that the earth was not this infinite flat sphere, but in fact a blue planet, as the astronauts famously said: “veiled in cloud, floating in the velvet void of space.” That moment sparked a rebooting of the human imagination, and since then, much has changed. You can’t necessarily point to that moment as being the cause of any of these changes, but it created a whole new sense of the environment. Before the moon shot, getting people to stop throwing garbage out of the window of a car was considered a great environmental victory. Nobody spoke of biodiversity, nobody spoke of the biosphere, nobody had any conscious sense that there was an interwoven, interconnected web of life that surrounded the planet, nobody was aware of the fragility of the planet.
– Wade Davis

Representation

To consider our difficulty of conceiving the world as an extended topological surface which includes us, we will refer to the digital conception of the world as a group of discrete entities, as it is palpable in early European painting. In Paulo Uccello’s The Hunt in the Forest (1470), we can note without doubt that the painter saw each individual hunting dog at different times and collaged his drawings to form a composition. Each figure appears to float, decreasing in size via perspective, but never altering the topological surfaces that surround it. When an early Renaissance painter depicted a face, he was prey to his cognitive bias: “this is a nose” so he painted a nose, then a mouth, then eyes. In later painting, figures like Diego Velasquez were conscious that those divisions were in fact imaginary, and that in order to naturalistically depict a face, one must abandon them and instead favor the rendering of undivided surfaces.

Natural objects as subjected to alterity

Traditionally, in our Western mytho-philosophical tradition, we conceived the world as an agglomeration of differences into a unifying structure that excludes us, (or conveniently places us at the apex of its pyramid). Natural objects are, like other humans, subject to alterity. If we accept this proposal, we can then either perceive X natural object as different/ equal / distant. To follow Tzvetan Todorov’s logic: Perceiving tortoises as Other immediately introduces axiological value judgements (i.e: Are tortoises equal to me or inferior?). Perceiving them as equal leads to in-difference, whilst perceiving them as inferior leads to value superimposition (we assume our control over them.)

Genesis 1:28. And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living animal that moveth upon the earth.

Can we truly embrace the great lesson of ecology, namely, that we are part of a complex array of vulnerable systems, without sparking another reboot in our imaginary cosmogonies? Is representation partly to blame for presenting the world as a digital rendering (everything in it is discreet and divided) instead of a tableaux formed by a multiplicity of topological surfaces that overlap and alter our perception?

Manuel Correa is an artist and filmmaker from Colombia. He is the director of the upcoming documentary #artoffline


#2

In your contrast of Uccello and Velazquez, you advocate for analog surface vs digital objects (digital in the sense of discrete, vs continuous). That is, we need a singular functionalist approach, but we should also have an idea of how to create stable objects: which are cut out of the topological surface, isolated by a useful act of violence.

Isn’t being a person precisely having such a degree of independence from the world, as well as an intense sensitivity? I.e. the creation of a membrane, a bounding wall, and the imposition of a neural hierarchy over matter? (Raymond Ruyer writes on absolute (undivided) and relative surfaces, but he allows for the relative (divided) surfaces; why do you want to drop the digital?


I think that there’s an impreciseness in Viveiros de Castro and Danowski’s use of the word “human” and “peoples” which makes their text zing a little more. I think the legal term “persons” or “individuals” are much more appropriate than the biological descriptor human or the sociocultural one “peoples.” To say that “non-humans are humans” is surprising, but to say that “non-humans are persons” is more easy to think through. In other words, not all persons are humans.

Conversely, we might ask, are all humans are persons? In Chinese—to be a person is called zuoren, which also can imply being tactful and polite, or more strongly, being moral/righteous/just—but you can talk about someone’s zuoren or weiren, their person-being, it’s an activity that can be evaluated just like their skiing, though much more important. It’s kind of like being a mensch—you don’t just get to be one, it’s a laudatory term that is also revocable.

“you’re not a person,” is a pretty typical insult— It’s the inverse of the common insult, “You’re an animal.” We can take issue with that prejudice against animals, but I think that the idea of a person as an achievement rather than a given, as something that is handed to you on a biological platter. This has to do with my response to Hong and Chen: anti-fundamentalist/anti-essentialist critique directly entails that we have to build character—because we’re constructed. By definition, we ought to be persons; persons are what we ought to be.

And the places where we ask those questions are not only in relation to animism, but also to the question of whether a corporation can be a person, as in Citizens United.


#3

Dear David, Thanks for your comment.

I find that the fundamental problem is that we desire permanent separation from the world, but even our toughs are a fundamental part of nature, we are but natural objects situated in an undivided topological mesh we can´t escape. Creating divisions might be useful in so far as it promotes cognitive processing of the world, but we must remember that these divisions are always virtual. So a particular functionalist model must be sought after that allows for processing the riven but re-incorporating it into an analog surface. Personhood is similar in that sense: we divide ourselves from the other in order to process what it is that we believe constitute us.

Can zuoren be an axiomatic value judgement imposed on the other’s membrane to attempt a process of mutual recognition? (I recognize what I esteem as good qualities on the other, so therefore he must be a zuoren). Then again, the “You are an animal” insult leads us to the big issue: Why are we unable to reincorporate ourselves (mentally) into a system that we are part of?


#4

I understand better now; I didn’t understand why, after a conventional severing process (of creating an relatively contained self-identity by severing from an environment), we had to “remember” our origins or belonging in this single fabric, but your point about the insult “you are an animal” clarified the point: without a reliable mechanism for reintegration, there’s no way to intuit how your actions will affect the fabric you’re part of. * textile metaphors *


#5

Textiles Hmn, I wish Tai Smith was here! but anyways. in response to Manuel, yes we are caused by nature but we should not be logically bound by it. these virtualities we are capable of constructing can and do have real material impact on the natural world. so emphasizing the primacy of nature or virtual is limiting and needs to be questioned.


#6

Manuel,
So happy you are quoting the old testament and its implications on our neurolinguistic ancient rudimentary programming . Also really feel for the questions you pose after the quote.

Since a real wile ago been thinking about this exactly. Maybe because being a women had made me suspect the Bible and its old tales of ribs, apples and guilty temptresses. I had started my search against the narrative of male superiority so long ago, still remembering the book on magic ( a dictionary) I got 40 years ago and how there I read for the first time about Paracelsus and the Cordoba University of the XII-XIII centuries and of many traditions considered heretic and sinful. Of course finding amazing relations of complicity between women and snakes and other sorts of so called esoteric and oriental cosmogonies plus alchemist and astrologers etc etc, maybe because women where closer to animals as Baudelaire points out suspecting our connection to our Cats specially and Dog pets. I just recall how, earlier in the academic year, Rosi Braidotti came to lecture at college and the theme came up again. Of course some women, a lot of this issues about the Anthropocence and its miss behaviours, are just more of androcentric problematics. They seem almost too detached from what it is that we, women, think, perceive or feel. Talking about being women as in physical and cultural ways, but specially as physical, I am not going to enter here about post-feminist queer claims about women as constructions etc etc… There is tones of issues yet to be equalised around the subservience of women to patriarchal societies to be now trying to decompose women identity even before we reach maturity for the previous urgent claims.
Women are the witches, the animals, the friends of the snakes and the mammal animal that gives birth and bleeds, just like the rest of that separated and spoiled nature that we are talking about.