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.