While enjoying balmy & hospitable weather in the East coast — yesterday, while doing a lunchtime lecture on The Tempest at the Harmonie Club in Manhattan, I suggested that we were living the play’s Mediterranean or Bermudan climate, for a few happy post-tornado days — I read this fine post on the idea of “wilderness” in contemporary philosophy. Some really good stuff on the consequences of intellectual flattening, placing humans “amongst beings” rather than hierarchically atop any Great Chain or other vertical structure. Building off Tim Morton’s “dark ecology,” it proposes a “dark enlightenment” —
This doesn’t spell the end of enlightenment, but calls, rather, for a “dark enlightenment”, where we recognize the manner in which we are entangled. Absent this, we are doomed to poorly understand the assemblages within which we find ourselves and to attend to the strange strangers that exceed our expectations. We are doomed to what Deleuze-Bergson referred to as “badly analyzed composites”. Classical enlightenment was premised on an infantile and narcissistic fantasy of the world as a screen for human intentions where we can go so far as to place Jules Verne-like technologies at the core of the earth to manipulate the tectonic plates themselves, thereby enjoying sovereign power over the greatest forces of nature itself. Dark enlightenment recognizes the Lucretian swerve that haunts being such that we exist in an aleatory universe where we are amongst without being sovereigns.
I’m thinking two things about this post, and perhaps about all the OOO-excitement in general.
First, the radical democratic / Latourian moves in which we’re asking for a flatter, more inclusive politics and conceptual space makes a great deal of sense to me, and I wonder how far we can follow it. Surely it carries risks, most especially the risk of incomprehension. That might be fine — no one says the world has to make sense to human brains, and there’s a great deal to be said for what old Tom P. calls “mindless pleasures.” I also wonder about the felt human experience of a wilderness-world, the painful and physical touch “to the skin,” in Shakespeare’s phrase. There’s a fundamental and challenging tension between visions of “multilateralism of agencies” and the subjective physical experience of the human body. Of course our singular bodies aren’t really very singular — lots of viral and bacterial & DNA-replication networks inside the skin bag — but I still wonder how far we can go toward really dispersing the self, or whether our heroic efforts at making the world endlessly plural aren’t themselves struggling against a basic positioned-ness that won’t every really go away, even as we conclude it’s illusory.
I also wonder if the great line I grabbed for the title of this post comes from a reading of Joseph Conrad or just sounds as if it does. I keep wanting to think about these things through literary as well as philosophical lenses — Pynchon and Borges and Dickinson and Shakespeare as well as Whitehead and Delueze and Morton and Latour. That might just be my own laziness & not-knowing Whitehead especially.
Good food for thinking, in any case.