August 2017

I once had an encounter with Stacy Alaimo.  It was years ago.  She had kindly invited me to speak of my philosophy at University of Texas, Arlington.  I don’t know what phase it was in; whether I was in the object-oriented phase, or whether I’d entered the machine-oriented phase.  I don’t know that it matter.  I had written about her trans-corporeality on the blog here, under the title of “porous bodies” (which would later grow into the idea of bodily pleats).  As I was fielding questions, something about the relationship of our thought came up.  I gave a very utilitarian interpretation of her claims in Bodily Natures, amounting to the thesis that since our bodies are dependent on the bodies of other beings, we should attend to them.  It was something to that effect.  My memory is unclear.  She looked at me in consternation and said something like “that’s not at all what I mean.”

How long ago was all of this?  I don’t know.  It was years ago.  And for these many years I’ve thought of that moment.  What could she have meant, I’ve wondered?  What was all of that about?  I was truly traumatized by this moment.  Here was one of my heroes, someone who’s work has so much influenced my own thought, someone who has taught me so much, reproaching me.  What was she speaking about?  I was pulled to a complete stop, to a bifurcation point.  Cecily and I have spoken about this on many occasions on one evening or another even though she wasn’t in my life when this happened, though not always in these words, ever since.

For the last couple of years I think Stacy was making a point about values.  I don’t wish to put words in her mouth, so I’ll say that this was my response to this encounter.  My gloss on Stacy’s trans-corporeality was about use.  I had comprehended atoms, minerals, microbes, animals, and all the rest in terms of their use to our bodies.  This, I think, was what Stacy objected to.  This subordination of everything to use.

In the time that’s passed since this encounter, I’ve thought endlessly about the ontological status of values, but also the many different wastelands that we live in.  The anthropocene is not just the transformation of what I call the “earth” into a wasteland, but it has also been the transformation of values into a wasteland.  This latter wasteland, this wasteland of values, has been something that’s been going on for a long time.  I wish I had a better word than “values”.  But what is this wasteland of values?  It’s a wasteland that reduces the valuable to that which serves a purpose or a use.  Everything must be for the sake of profit or health or political justice or any number of things.  So many other values have become dim, have become indiscernible, as a result.  There is beautyrarity, singularity, friendship, knowledge that is for the sake of nothing other than mere curiosity (not even Heidegger could honor this one), love, conversation, and all the rest.  We can scarcely discern these things anymore…  To such a degree that increasingly we live to work, rather than working to work.  What a shameful ethos.  One radical gesture we can redeem today is all those values that are “valueless”.  We can strive to refuse that which has to have a purpose, instead loving it for its singularity, for its irreplaceability, whether it be the mantis shrimp or a neighborhood or a particular species of orchid.  We can refuse, at long last, all eschatology and teleology, and live life for living.  We can strive to create oases everywhere that would refuse economic and utilitarian reasoning, instead valuing that which is valuable in itself, rather than that which is valuable for the sake of something else or which is subordinate.  We can refuse the wasteland.

I feel as if I’m always in search of metaphors as machines for working through what I’m trying to think.  A metaphor is no mere ornamental device, no mere parergon; though Derrida taught us that the supplement of parerga are far more significant than they might first appear.  Nor are metaphors useful descriptive devices that allow us to pedagogically explain concepts to others.  No, metaphors are sparks of thought and lines of flight that move faster than thought.  We become, I think, enmeshed in our metaphors and other than we were as a result of the larval transformations they force us to undergo.  Metaphors initiate vectors of becoming, pleating thought in unexpected ways.  And as a result, there is always a danger in metaphor as you don’t know where they will ultimately take you.  One day you wake up in New Orleans and say to yourself, “everything is a machine!”  You’re not sure why this thought occurred to you or where it came from.  Yet as a consequence you spend the next few years reconceptualizing all of being in terms of machines.  “If I say that all is a machine, then how am I now to conceive of human made technologies?”  “In what way is life a machine or pedagogy or a book or a theory?”  “If all things are machines, then this theory I am developing is itself a machine.  How am I to think the relationship between this theory, which is itself a machine, and all of the other machines it attempts to comprehend?”  “Is this machine a horrifying, imperial machine?”

An entire adventure is initiated with this metaphor , with this improbable thought, and in the end you’re transformed as a result of it.  You don’t know whether it will turn out well or where it will ultimately take you; and for this reason metaphors are dangerous.  Another morning you wake up and suddenly everything is a pleat or a fold.  Now, suddenly, you’re in a different universe of being.  What does it mean to conceive of all of being as a form of pleating or as a form of origami?  What is the logic of the pleat, of the fold?  What is the subject when conceived as a pleat?  How about objects?  What sort of origami is knowledge, or ethics, or politics?  Now everything must be reworked, but that’s not so bad because even reworking is a form of origami:  you fold what you thought before into the adventure that this new pleat is taking you on and in the process it becomes something other than it was.

read on!


Here’s the text (English and Russian) of my recent interview with PPh:  Pop-Philosophy.