Previously, I had outlined thoughts about current happenings and the implications of resilience to enframe not only human but non-human subjectivity into a state-sanctioned political apparatus. This line of enquiry is based on the writings of Bruce Braun, Marc Neocleous, among others and represents current thought in geography and political studies. I’m interested to add two other voices to this discussion – Timothy Morton’s recent publication “Hyperobjects; Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World” and Tim Ingold’s “Perspectives of the Environment”. Both of these works take different approaches to resilience. In fact, one might say each dismisses the very idea of resilience for the benefit of a larger and more complex understanding of the environment.
For both Morton and Ingold the issue at hand is not the demise and destruction of the planet but our very particularly anthropocentric concern with it. And both authors, in different ways, attempt to illuminate a non-human, post-human or, non-anthropocentric (as I say anthro-eccentric) path around this slippery issue.
In Hyperobjects; philosophy and ecology after the end of the World Morton makes exciting and provocative insights towards breaking free from anthropocentrism. To sum it up rather bluntly, Morton uses a rereading of Heidegger’s writings on tool-use to reinvestigate the subjectivity of objects and in particular for Morton – hyperobjects. Hyperobjects are admittedly difficult to describe but in general, I feel it’s safe to say that they are objects, systems or collections of systems that are so large, stick and viscous that they operate outside or human language and philosophy (planets, planetary phenomenon, the “environment”). For Morton the presence of hyperobjects, or our awakening to their presence present us with all kinds of problems. Primarily they “abolish the idea of the possibility of metalanguage that could account for things while remaining uncontaminated by them” and secondly they have brought about the “end of the world…” a, time when the “concept of world” is no longer operational. But they also provide us with a possible way around, a method to rethink our currently world-less status.
For Morton it as much a problem of thought, language and philosophy as it is about ecological “problems.” We are simply under-equipped in every way to even think fully about the environment, it’s no wonder that we can’t summon ourselves to action.
“Hyperobjects provoke irreductionist thinking, that is, they present us with scalar dilemmas in which ontotheological statements about which thing is the most real (ecosystem, world, environment, or conversely individual) becomes impossible.” [Morton, 19] And further:
“Hyperobjects, have dispensed with two hundred years of careful correlationist calibration. The panic and denial of right-wing absurdity about global warming are understandable. Hyperobjects pose numerous threats to individualism, nationalism, anti-intellectualism, racism, speciesism, anthropocentrism, you name it. Possibly even capitalism itself.” [Morton, 21]
For Morton we should all come to the realization (and quickly) that the perception of ecological crisis indicates not only our potential physical destruction (via storm, fire, or drought) but the metaphysical evaporation of our “world.”
“The ultimate environmentalist argument would be to drop the concepts of Nature and World, to cease identifying with them, to swear allegiance to coexistence with non-humans without at world, without some nihilistic Noah’s Ark… the world as such – not just a specific idea of world but world in its entirety – has evaporated. Or rather, we are realizing that we never had it in the first place [Morton, 100].”
Global events make it no longer possible for us (humans) to consider ourselves as outside of nature much less “masters” of it. The only path open to us full-throated sublimation into the environment. It’s almost a zen like, all-in-one and one with all… kind of state.
“Without a world, there are simply a number of unique beings (farmers, dogs, irises, pencils, LED’s and so on) to whom I owe an obligation through the simple fact that existence is coexistence… what remains without a world is intimacy [Morton, 125].”
And this is the key point. Our worldlessness is an invitation to escape the anthropocentric traps of environmentalism. And at the end of “world” all we have left is intimacy. It’s nice.
Excitingly, and I don’t know if these two Tims have read each other, this is not altogether different from Tim Ingold’s description of “dwelling in the world” that he outlines in “The Perception of the Environment.” Tim Ingold is a social anthropologist and in “Perspectives of the Environment seeks to illustrate ways in which the human animal constructs and dwells within their surroundings. His work is cross cultural, cross species, and he borrows at times from multiple cultural and philosophical figures, not surprisingly Heidegger and Uexkull.
Two chapters in this work seem most relevant to this discussion: “Globes and Spheres; The topology of environmentalism” and “Building, Dwelling, Living; How animals and people make themselves at home in the world.” In Globes and Spheres Tim investigates an idea that
“what may be call the global outlook may tell us something important about the modern conception of the environment as a world which, far from being the ambience of our dwelling, is turned in upon itself so that we who once stood at its center became first circumferential and are finally expelled from it altogether. In other words, I am suggesting that the notion of a global environment, far from marking humanities integration into the world, signals the culmination of a process of separation [Ingold, 209].”
Ingold, though using different sources and different terminology is outlining precisely the same “end of world” condition that Morton has indicated above. Despite all of our interest and rhetoric to the contrary, current language and conceptual frameworks for discussing earth-scaled environmental phenomenon continue to divorce ourselves from the system. As we saw with T. Morton, this is at once deeply problematic and yet potentially relieving. And much like Morton, Ingold suggests a strategy (interestingly also borrowed from Heidegger) that is maybe not Intimacy exactly, but “dwelling.”
Architecture actually comes into the conversation here as a mode that differentiates “building” from “dwelling.” Quoting from Heidegger’s essay “Building, Dwelling, Thinking” Ingold asserts that the Old English word buan is the etymological root for both to build, to dwell and to be. Thus “I dwell, you dwell” is identical to “I’am, You are”. To dwell, at one point was not only used to describe a sense of habitation in a particular structure but it “encompassed the whole manner in which one lives one’s life on earth. [Ingold, 185]” And building is a “process that is continually going on, for as long as people dwell in an environment [Ingold, 188].”
But, so what of resilience? While neither author makes any direct statements towards resiliency in these particular publications I think we can safely surmise that they would dismiss the presupposition of resilience on the grounds of its anthropocentric bias and the assumed ecological crisis.
Resiliency, as we discussed in the previous post, (at least in its coopted use from ecology into the architecture, planning and urbanism sphere) assumes a condition of crisis or disaster. It warns of incoming dangers and recommends preparedness of the unknowable but inevitable catastrophe that’s looming out just beyond the horizon. In reading Morton and Ingold we can see that not only is any physical eventuality of our own making (we are of the world, the world is of ourselves – inextricably intertwined) but the idea of a crisis is ours as well. As Morton points out, our “world” is a temporal event. Its a chance period of relatively stable climatic conditions and low volcanic activity, and in the 13.8 billion years of the universe a rather short period at that.
If we strip the panic, guilt and anthropocentrism out of resiliency I would argue that we’re left with something very close to both, or either “intimacy” or “dwelling.” Let’s change the conversation from hardening, enforcing and preserving and learn (relearn) how to dwell intimately in the world.
Tim Ingold, “The perception of the Environment.” Routledge Press; New York and Abingdon, Oxon, 2000 and reprinted 2008.
Timothy Morton, “Hyperobjects; Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World.” University of Minnesota Press; Minneapolis, London, 2013.