In this essay, which draws on his book Dark Ecology, For a Logic of Coexistence, Timothy Morton — who originally coined the term dark ecology — explains what dark ecology is. He also argues how agrilogistics underpins our ecological crisis and our view of the world.
Lighten up: dark ecology does not mean heavy or bleak; it is strangely light.
“Progress means: humanity emerges from its spellbound state no longer under the spell of progress as well, itself nature, by becoming aware of its own indigenousness to nature and by halting the mastery over nature through which nature continues its mastery”. — Theodor Adorno
“Dark is dangerous. You can’t see anything in the dark, you’re afraid. Don’t move, you might fall. Most of all, don’t go into the forest. And so we have internalized this horror of the dark”. — Hélène Cixous
The ecological era we find ourselves in — whether we like it or not, and whether we recognise it or not — makes necessary a searching revaluation of philosophy, politics and art. The very idea of being ‘in’ an era is in question. We are ‘in’ the Anthropocene, but that era is also ‘in’ a moment of far longer duration.
What is the present? How can it be thought? What is presence? Ecological awareness forces us to think and feel at multiple scales, scales that disorient normative concepts such as ‘present’, ‘life’, ‘human’, ‘nature’, ‘thing’, ‘thought’ and ‘logic’. I shall argue there are layers of attunement to ecological reality more accurate than what is habitual in the media, in the academy and in society at large.
These attunement structures are necessarily weird, a precise term that we shall explore in depth. Weirdness involves the hermeneutical knowingness belonging to the practices that the Humanities maintain. The attunement, which I call ecognosis, implies a practical yet highly nonstandard vision of what ecological politics could be. In part ecognosis involves realising that nonhumans are installed at profound levels of the human — not just biologically and socially but in the very structure of thought and logic. Coexisting with these nonhumans is ecological thought, art, ethics and politics.
We can trace the ecological crisis to a logistical ‘programme’ that has been running unquestioned since the Neolithic. Ecological reality requires an awareness that at first has the characteristics of tragic melancholy and negativity, concerning coexisting inextricably with a host of entities that surround and penetrate us; but which evolves paradoxically into an anarchic, comedic sense of coexistence. Ecological awareness has the form of a loop. In this loop we become aware of ourselves as a species—a task far more difficult than it superficially appears. We also grow familiar with a logistics of human social, psychic and philosophical space, a twelve-thousand-year set of procedures that resulted in the very global warming that it was designed to fend off. The logistics represses a paradoxical realm of human– nonhuman relations. The realm contains trickster-like beings that have a loop form, which is why ecological phenomena and awareness have a loop form. The growing familiarity with this state of affairs is a manifestation of dark ecology. Dark ecology begins in darkness as depression. It traverses darkness as ontological mystery. It ends as dark sweetness.
The Arctic Russian town of Nikel looks horrifying at first, like something out of Tarkovsky’s Stalker, only on bad acid. A forest devastated by a nickel smelting factory. Soviet buildings stark and bleak. Mounds of garbage sitting on hills of slag. A solitary tree, last of the pines destroyed by the sulphur dioxide. We were a small group of musicians, artists and writers. We had travelled there in late 2014 to start a three- year art and research project called Dark Ecology.
Then Nikel becomes rather sad and melancholic. A collection of broken things. Past things. Garages repurposed as homes. Broken metal structures in which people are living. Holding on to things for no reason. Peeling paint tells stories of decisions and indecisions and non-decisions.
And then for some strange reason it becomes warm. There is a Palace of Culture, full of wonderful kitschy communist art, Terry Gilliam sculpture-like lampshades, hauntingly luminous pale blues, pinks and yellows, the building grooving as hard as a Tibetan stupa. And on the outskirts the reality of death is so explicit. It’s a charnel ground almost identical to the one on Mount Kailash, another very friendly place where offerings (or are they huge piles of garbage?) litter the space at the top and nuns meditate in a land strewn with bits of corpses like an emergency room. People are dying, or are they going to live, or are they already dead? There is a lot of blood, severing and severed limbs. A lot of care.
It’s even a little bit funny. A drag queen poses for a photographer outside a metallic building. Some kind of joy is here. The demons and ghosts aren’t demons or ghosts. They are faeries and sprites.
What is dark ecology? It is ecological awareness, dark- depressing. Yet ecological awareness is also dark-uncanny. And strangely it is dark-sweet. Nihilism is always number one in the charts these days. We usually don’t get past the first darkness, and that’s if we even care.
What thinks dark ecology? Ecognosis, a riddle. Ecognosis is like knowing, but more like letting-be-known. It is something like coexisting. It is like becoming accustomed to something strange, yet it is also becoming accustomed to strangeness that doesn’t become less strange through acclimation. Ecognosis is like a knowing that knows itself. Knowing in a loop; a weird knowing. Weird from the Old Norse, urth, meaning twisted, in a loop. The Norns entwine the web of fate with itself; Urðr is one of the Norns. The term weird can mean causal: the spool of fate is winding. The less well-known noun weird means destiny or magical power, and by extension the wielders of that power, the Fates or Norns. In this sense weird is connected with worth, not the noun but the verb, which has to do with happening or becoming.
Weird: a turn or twist or loop, a turn of events. The milk turned sour. She had a funny turn. That weather was a strange turn-up for the book. Yet weird can also mean strange of appearance. That storm cloud looks so weird. She is acting weird. The milk smells weird. Global weirding.
In the term weird there flickers a dark pathway between causality and the aesthetic dimension, between doing and appearing, a pathway that dominant Western philosophy has blocked and suppressed. Now the thing about seeming is that seeming is never quite as it seems. Appearance is always strange.
Though the web of fate is so often invoked in tragedy, that default agricultural mode, words such as weird and faerie evoke the animistic world within the concept of the web of fate itself. We Mesopotamians have never left the Dreaming. So little have we moved that even when we thought we were awakening we had simply gathered more tools for understanding that this was in fact a lucid dream, even better than before.
Ecological awareness is weird: it has a twisted, looping form. Since there is no limit to the scope of ecological beings (biosphere, Solar System) we can infer that all things have a loop form. Ecological awareness is a loop because human interference has a loop form, because ecological and biological systems are loops. And ultimately this is because to exist at all is to assume the form of a loop. The loop form of beings means we live in a universe of finitude and fragility, a world in which objects are suffused and surrounded by mysterious hermeneutical clouds of unknowing. It means that the politics of coexistence are always contingent, brittle and flawed, so that in the thinking of interdependence at least one being must be missing.
What kind of weirdness are we talking about? Weird weirdness. Weird means strange of appearance; weirdness means the turning of causality. There are many kinds of loops. There are positive feedback loops that escalate the potency of the system in which they are operating. Antibiotics versus bacteria. Farmers versus soil, creating the Dust Bowl in the Midwestern United States in the 1930s. Such loops are common in human ‘command and control’ approaches to environmental management and they result in damage to the ecosystem. Some of them are unintended: consider the decimation of bees in the second decade of the twenty-first century brought on by the use of pesticides that drastically curtail pollination. Such unintended consequences are weirdly weird in the sense that they are uncanny, unexpected fallout from the myth of progress: for every seeming forward motion of the drill bit there is a backwards gyration, an asymmetrical contrary motion.
Then there are the negative feedback loops that cool down the intensity of positive feedback loops. Think of thermostats and James Lovelock’s Gaia. There are phasing loops. We encounter them in beings such as global warming, beings that are temporally smeared in such a way that they come in and out of phase with human temporality.
Yet there is another loop, the dark-ecological loop. Ecognosis is a strange loop. A strange loop is a loop in which two levels that appear utterly separate flip into one another. Consider the dichotomy between moving and being still. In Lewis Carroll’s haunting story, Alice tries to leave the Looking Glass House. She sets off through the front garden yet she finds herself returning to the front door via that very movement. A strange loop is weirdly weird: a turn of events that has an uncanny appearance. And this defines emerging ecological awareness occurring to ‘civilized’ people at this moment.
The Anthropocene is the moment at which we humans begin to realise that the correct way to understand ourselves as a species is as a hyperobject. This is a truly non-racist and non-speciesist way of thinking species, which otherwise is a problematically teleological concept: ducks are for swimming, Greeks are for enslaving non-Greeks...that’s the traditional Aristotelian mode in which we think species. In a twisted way it’s fortunate that the Anthropocene happened, because it enables us to drop the teleology yet preserve the notion of species, upgraded from something that we can point to directly (these beings rather than those beings). The Anthropocene enables us to think at Earth magnitude. Unless we try this, unless we endeavour to think the concept species differently, which is to say think humankind as a planetary totality without the soppy and oppressive universalism and difference erasure that usually implies, we will have ceded an entire scale—the scale of the biosphere, no less—to truly hubristic technocracy, whose ‘Just let us try this’ rhetoric masks the fact that when you ‘try’ something at a general enough level of a system, you are not trying but doing and changing, for good.
The concept of species, upgraded from the absurd teleological and metaphysical concepts of old, is not anthropocentric at all. Because it is via this concept, which is open, porous, flickering, distant from what is given to my perception, that the human is decisively deracinated from its pampered, ostensibly privileged place set apart from all other beings.
Anthropocene’ is the first fully anti-anthropocentric concept.
The Anthropocene is an anti-anthropocentric concept because it enables us to think the human species not as an ontically given thing I can point to, but as a hyperobject that is real yet inaccessible. Computational power has enabled us to think and visualise things that are ungraspable by our senses or by our quotidian experience. We live on more timescales than we can grasp.
We are faced with the task of thinking at temporal and spatial scales that are unfamiliar, even monstrously gigantic. Perhaps this is why we imagine such horrors as nuclear radiation in mythological terms. Take Godzilla, who appears to have grown as awareness of hyperobjects such as global warming has taken hold. Having started at a relatively huge fifty metres, by 2014 he had grown to a whopping one hundred and fifty metres tall. Earth magnitude is bigger than we thought, even if we have seen the NASA ‘Earthrise’ photos, which now look like charming and simplistic relics of an age in which human hubris was still mostly unnoticed; relics of, precisely, a ‘space age’ that evaporates in the age of giant nonhuman places. We have gone from having ‘the whole world in our hands’ and ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’ to realising that the whole world, including ‘little’ us, is in the vice-like death grip of a gigantic entity—ourselves as the human species. This uncanny sense of existing on more than one scale at once has nothing to do with the pathos of cradling a beautiful blue ball in the void.
Global warming is a symptom of industrialisation and industrialisation is a symptom of massively accelerated agriculture. Of what is this acceleration a symptom? We could say that it was capitalism, but that would be circular: accelerating agriculture and subsequent industrialisation are symptoms of capitalism, not to mention existing forms of communism. So we are looking for the problem of which these things are symptoms. What is it? Why, if so influential, is it so hard to point to?
Two reasons: it is everywhere, and it is taboo to mention it. You could be labelled a primitivist even for bringing it up. Yet foundational Axial (agricultural) Age stories narrate the origin of religion as the beginning of agricultural time: an origin in sin. The texts are almost shockingly explicit, so it’s strange we don’t think to read them that way. Pretty much out loud, they say that religion as such (was there ‘religion’ beforehand?) was founded in and as impiety. We witness the extraordinary spectacle of ‘religion’ itself talking about itself as a reflective, reflexive loop of sin and salvation, with escalating positive feedback loops. Like agriculture.
There’s a monster in the dark mirror and you are a cone in one of its eyes. When you are sufficiently creeped out by the human species you see something even bigger than the Anthropocene looming in the background, hiding in plain sight. What on Earth is this structure that looms even larger than the age of steam and oil? Isn’t it enough that we have to deal with cars and drills? It is the machine that is agriculture as such, a machine that predates Industrial Age machinery. Before the web of fate began to be woven on a power loom, machinery was already whirring away.
The term agrilogistics names a specific logistics of agriculture that arose in the Fertile Crescent and that is still plowing ahead. Logistics, because it is a technical, planned, and perfectly logical approach to built space. Logistics, because it proceeds without stepping back and rethinking the logic. A viral logistics, eventually requiring steam engines and industry to feed its proliferation.
Agrilogistics: an agricultural programme so successful that it now dominates agricultural techniques planet-wide. The programme creates a hyperobject, global agriculture: the granddaddy hyperobject, the first one made by humans, and one that has sired many more. Toxic from the beginning to humans and other lifeforms, it operates blindly like a computer program.
Agrilogistics promises to eliminate fear, anxiety and contradiction—social, physical and ontological—by establishing thin rigid boundaries between human and nonhuman worlds and by reducing existence to sheer quantity. Though toxic it has been wildly successful because the program is deeply compelling. Agrilogistics is the smoking gun behind the (literally) smoking gun responsible for the Sixth Mass Extinction Event.
The humanistic analytical tools we currently possess are not capable of functioning at a scale appropriate to agrilogistics because they are themselves compromised products of agrilogistics. The nature–culture split we persist in using is the result of a nature–agriculture split (colo, cultum pertains to growing crops). This split is a product of agrilogistical subroutines, establishing the necessarily violent and arbitrary difference between itself and what it ‘conquers’ or delimits. Differences aside the confusions and endlessly granular distinctions arising therefrom remain well within agrilogistical conceptual space.
Agrilogistics arose as follows. About 12,500 years ago a climate shift experienced by hunter-gatherers as a catastrophe pushed humans to find a solution to their fear concerning where the next meal was coming from. It was the very end of an Ice Age, the tail end of a glacial period. A drought lasting more than a thousand years compelled humans to travel farther. It happened that in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia, barley and wheat were growing wild beneath the trees. The same can be said for rice growing in China, corn, squash and beans growing in America, and sorghum and yam in Africa. Significantly, the taro of New Guinea is hard to harvest and low in protein, not to mention hard to plant (you have to plant taro one by one), and so the farmers in the highlands never ‘advanced’ from hunter- gathering. The taro cannot be broadcast. Incidentally, so many terms from agrilogistics have become terms in media (field among them), not to mention the development of that very significant medium, writing. How we write and what we write and what we think about writing can be found within agrilogistics.
Humans in Mesopotamia established villages with granaries. The storage and selection of grain pushed the harvested plants to evolve. Humans selected grain for its tastiness, ease of harvesting and other criteria favoured by the agrilogistical program. Scaled up the evolutionary pressure was substantial. Nine thousand years ago humans began to domesticate animals to mitigate seasonal variations in game, a modification to the agrilogistical programme that kept it in existence. Several agrilogistical millennia later, domesticated animals far outweigh (literally again) the number of non-domesticated ones. Humans represent roughly 32% of vertebrate biomass. The other 65% is creatures we keep to eat. Vertebrate wildlife counts for less than 3%. The term cattle speaks to this immensity and to a too-easy ontology humming away in its background.
Miserable social conditions were the almost immediate consequence of the inception of agrilogistics yet the virus persisted like an earworm or a chair, no matter how destructive to the humans who had devised it. Private property emerged based on settled ownership and use of land, a certain house and so on. This provided the nonhuman basis of the contemporary concept of self no matter how much we want to think ourselves out of that. Agrilogistics led rapidly to patriarchy, the impoverishment of all but a very few, a massive and rigid social hierarchy, and feedback loops of human–nonhuman interaction such as epidemics.
The human hyperobject (the human as geophysical species) became a machine for the generation of hyperobjects. Precisely because of the sharp imbalance between the ‘civilisation’ concept and actually existing social space (which was never fully human), agrilogistics itself having produced this difference, ‘civilisations’ (the human structures of agrilogistical retreat) are inherently fragile.
Three axioms provide the logical structure of agrilogistics:
(1) The Law of Noncontradiction is inviolable.
(2) Existing means being constantly present.
(3) Existing is always better than any quality of existing.
We begin with Axiom (1). There is no good reason for it. There are plenty of ways to violate this law, otherwise we wouldn’t need a rule. This means that Axiom (1) is a prescriptive statement disguised as a descriptive one. Formulated rightly Axiom (1) states, Thou shalt not violate the Law of Noncontradiction. Axiom (1) works by excluding (undomesticated) lifeforms that aren’t part of your agrilogistical project. These lifeforms are now defined as pests if they scuttle about or weeds if they appear to the human eye to be inanimate and static. Such categories are highly unstable and extremely difficult to manage.
Axiom (1) also results in the persistent charm of the Easy Think Substance. Agrilogistical ontology, formalised by Aristotle, supposes a being to consist of a bland lump of whatever decorated with accidents. It’s the Easy Think Substance because it resembles what comes out of an Easy Bake Oven, a children’s toy. Some kind of brown featureless lump emerges, which one subsequently decorates with sprinkles.
The lump ontology evoked in Axiom (1) implies Axiom (2): to exist is to be constantly present, or the metaphysics of presence. Correctly identified by deconstruction as inimical to thinking future coexistence, the metaphysics of presence is intimately bound up with the history of global warming. Here is the field, I can plough it, sow it with this or that or nothing, farm cattle, yet it remains constantly the same. The entire system is construed as constantly present, rigidly bounded, separated from nonhuman systems. This appearance of hard separation belies the obvious existence of beings who show up ironically to maintain it. Consider the cats and their helpful culling of rodents chewing at the corn. The ambiguous status of cats is not quite the ‘companion species’ Haraway thinks through human coexistence with dogs. Within agrilogistical social space cats stand for the ontological ambiguity of lifeforms and indeed of things at all. Cats are a neighbour species. Too many concepts are implied in the notion of ‘companion’. The penetrating gaze of a cat is used as the gaze of the extra-terrestrial alien because cats are the intra-terrestrial alien.
The agrilogistical engineer must strive to ignore the cats as best as he (underline he) can. If that doesn’t work he is obliged to kick them upstairs into deity status. Meanwhile he asserts instead that he could plant anything in this agrilogistical field and that underneath it remains the same field. A field is a substance underlying its accidents: cats happen, rodents happen, even wheat happens; the slate can always be wiped clean. Agrilogistical space is a war against the accidental. Weeds and pests are nasty accidents to minimise or eliminate.
Agrilogistical existing means being there in a totally uncomplicated sense. No matter what the appearances might be, essence lives on. Ontologically as much as socially, agrilogistics is immiseration. Appearance is of no consequence. What matters is knowing where your next meal is coming from no matter what the appearances are. Without paying too much attention to the cats, you have broken things down to pure simplicity and are ready for Axiom (3):
(3) Existing is always better than any quality of existing.
Actually we need to give it its properly anthropocentric form:
(3) Human existing is always better than any quality of existing.
Axiom (3) generates an Easy Think Ethics to match the Easy Think Substance, a default utilitarianism hardwired into agrilogistical space. The Easy Think quality is evident in how the philosophy teacher in Stoppard’s Darkside describes the minimal condition of happiness: being alive instead of dead. Since existing is better than anything, more existing must be what we Mesopotamians should aim for. Compared with the injunction to flee from death and eventually even from the mention of death, everything else is just accidental. No matter whether I am hungrier or sicker or more oppressed, underlying these phenomena my brethren and I constantly regenerate, which is to say we refuse to allow for death. Success: humans now consume about 40 percent of Earth’s productivity. The globalisation of agrilogistics and its consequent global warming have exposed the flaws in this default utilitarianism, with the consequence that solutions to global warming simply cannot run along the lines of this style of thought.
The Philosopher Derek Parfit observes that under sufficient spatiotemporal pressure Easy Think Ethics fails. Parfit was trying to think about what to do with pollution, radioactive materials and the human species. Imagine trillions of humans, spread throughout the galaxy. Exotic addresses aside all the humans are living at what Parfit calls the bad level, not far from Agamben’s idea of bare life. Trillions of nearly dead people, trillions of beings like the Musselmäner in the concentration camps, zombies totally resigned to their fate. This will always be absurdly better than billions of humans living in a state of bliss. Because more people is better than happier people. Because bliss is an accident, and existing is a substance. Easy Think Ethics. Let’s colonise space—that’ll solve our problem! Let’s double down! Now we know that it doesn’t even take trillions of humans spread throughout the Galaxy to see the glaring flaw in agrilogistics. It only takes a few billion operating under agrilogistical algorithms at Earth magnitude.
To avoid the consequences of the last global warming, humans devised a logistics that has resulted in global warming.
The concept Nature isn’t only untrue; it’s responsible for global warming! Nature is defined within agrilogistics as a harmonious periodic cycling. Conveniently for agrilogistics, Nature arose at the start of the geological period we call the Holocene, a period marked by stable Earth system fluctuations. One might argue that Nature is an illusion created by an accidental collaboration between the Holocene and agrilogistics: unconscious, and therefore liable to be repeated and prolonged like a zombie stumbling forwards. Like Oedipus meeting his father on the crossroads, the cross between the Holocene and agrilogistics has been fatally unconscious.
Nature is best imagined as the feudal societies imagined it, a pleasingly harmonious periodic cycling embodied in the cycle of the seasons, enabling regular anxiety-free prediction of the future. Carbon dioxide fluctuated in a harmonious-seeming cycle for 12,000 years—until it didn’t. We Mesopotamians took this coincidence to be a fact about our world, and called it Nature. The smooth predictability allowed us to sustain the illusion. Think of how when we think of nonhumans we reminisce nostalgically for a less deviant-seeming moment within agrilogistics, such as fantasies of a feudal worldview: cyclic seasons, regular rhythms, tradition. This is just how agrilogistics feels—at first. The ecological value of the term Nature is dangerously overrated, because Nature isn’t just a term—it’s something that happened to human built space, demarcating human systems from Earth systems. Nature as such is a twelve-thousand-year-old human product, geological as well as discursive. Its wavy elegance was eventually revealed as inherently contingent and violent, as when in a seizure one’s brain waves become smooth. Wash-rinse-repeat the agrilogistics and suddenly we reach a tipping point.
The Anthropocene doesn’t destroy Nature. The Anthropocene is Nature in its toxic nightmare form. Nature is the latent form of the Anthropocene waiting to emerge as catastrophe.
Let’s now explore another key term, the arche-lithic, a primordial relatedness of humans and nonhumans that has never evaporated. Bruno Latour argues that we have never been modern. But perhaps we have never been Neolithic. And in turn this means that the Palaeolithic, adore it or demonise it, is also a concept that represses the shimmering of the arche-lithic within the very agrilogistical structures that strive to block it completely. We Mesopotamians never left the hunter-gathering mind.
What is required to remember is that this is a weird essentialism.
Earth isn’t just a blank sheet for the projection of human desire: the desire loop is predicated on entities (Earth, coral, clouds) that also exist in loop form in relation to one another and in relation to humans. We are going to have to rethink what a thing is. We require a Difficult Think Thing. That I claim humans exist and made the Anthropocene by drilling into rock does indeed make me an essentialist. However, if we must attune to the Difficult Think Thing, such a thing wouldn’t cleave to the Law of Noncontradiction, agrilogistical Axiom (1). Which in turn implies that while beings are what they are (essentialism) they are not constantly present. Demonstrating this would constitute a weird essentialism in the lineage of Luce Irigaray, whose project has been to break the Law of Noncontradiction so as to liberate beings from patriarchy.
As a performance of not seeming an idiot in theory class one is obliged to convey something like, ‘Well of course, I’m not an essentialist’ (make disgusted face here). Compare the ridicule that greets the idea of creating social spaces that are not agrilogistical (so not traditionally capitalist, communist or feudal). Such reactions are themselves agrilogistical. Both assume that to have a politics is to have a one-size-fits-all Easy Think concept. If you don’t, you are called a primitivist or an anarchist, both derogatory terms, and deemed unserious. Or you want to regress to some utopian state that ‘we couldn’t possibly even imagine’. ‘Of course, I’m not advocating that we actually try a social space that includes nonhumans in a noncoercive and nonutilitarian mode.’ Or its inverse, ridiculing ‘civilisation’: insisting that humans should ‘return’ to a pre-agrilogistical existence (John Zerzan, archivist of the Unabomber Ted Kaczinski). ‘Eliminate the evil loops of the human stain. Anyone with prosthetic devices such as glasses is suspect.’ Once one has deconstructed civilisation into agrilogistical retreat it is tempting to think this way. But imagine the Year Zero violence of actually trying to get rid of intellectuality, reflection, desire, whatever we think is a source of evil, so we can feel right and properly ecological. The assertion that this problem has something to do with ‘domestication’—which is how Zerzan and others frame it—avoids the genuine agrilogistical problem. ‘Domestication’ is a term from some kind of fall narrative: once upon a time, we let things be wild, but then we took some into our homes and unleashed evil. Neanderthals lived in homes. Primates make beds of leaves. Dogs were fused with humans hundreds of thousands of years ago. ‘Domestication’ is a canard that is itself agrilogistical, straight out of a theistic fall narrative.
The question of origins is complicated by the way in which that question is contaminated in advance by agrilogistics. We need to figure out how we fell for it, in order not to keep retweeting it. What seems to be the case is that a default paranoia about existing—an ontological uncertainty —was covered over as a survival mechanism, and the compelling, almost addictive qualities of that mechanism of covering-over has provided enough ontological comfort, until very recently, so as to go unexamined.
To think in this new-old way, we will need to restructure logic. Nietzsche argues that logic itself is ‘the residue of a metaphor’. Despite the concept of logic ‘as bony, foursquare, and transposable as a die’, logic is saturated with fossilised social directives. Hegel had an inkling of this when he distinguished between logic and thinking, that is to say between the mind’s movement and the manipulation of preformatted thoughts. Nietzsche asserts that language is caught up in the caste system—and let’s not forget that that system is a direct product of agrilogistics. With uncanny insight, Nietzsche himself seems to confirm this when he then asserts that logic as such is a symptom of caste hierarchies. Without doubt, these hierarchies oppress most humans. The human caste system, itself a product of agrilogistics, sits on top of a fundamental caste distinction between humans and nonhumans, a founding distinction wired into the implicit logic of agrilogistics.
Recall, furthermore, that some of the most common words for thinking and apprehension—gather, glean—derive from agriculture. What is required is no less than a logic that is otherwise than agrilogistical. A logic that is fully eco-logical. If you want ecological things to exist—ecological things like humans, meadows, frogs and the biosphere—you have to allow them to violate the logical ‘Law’ of Noncontradiction and its niece, the Law of the Excluded Middle. If we don’t, then it won’t be possible to explain the existence of vague, heap-like beings such as lifeforms and ecosystems, because they are not entirely self-identical.
According to the rigid agrilogistical logic format, there is no single, independent, definable point at which a meadow (for example) stops being a meadow. So there are no meadows. They might as well be car parks waiting to happen. And since by the same logic there are no car parks either, it doesn’t really matter if I build one on this meadow. Can you begin to see how the logical Law of Noncontradiction enables me to eliminate ecological beings both in thought and in actual physical reality? The Law of Noncontradiction was formulated by Aristotle, in section Gamma of his Metaphysics. It’s strange that we still carry this old law around in our heads, never thinking to prove it formally. According to the Law of Noncontradiction, being true means not contradicting yourself. You can’t say p and not-p at the very same time. You can’t say a meadow is a meadow and is not a meadow. Yet this is what is required, unless you want meadows not to exist.
First peoples don’t live in holistic harmony without anxiety; they coexist anxiously in fragile, flawed clusters among other beings such as axes and horses, rain and spectres, without a father sky god or god-king. Yet because anxiety is still readily available—because agrilogistics has far from eliminated it— the divergence is an unstable, impermanent construct. We glimpse the space of the arche-lithic, not some tragically lost Palaeolithic. The arche-lithic is a possibility space that flickers continually within, around, beneath and to the side of the periods we have artificially demarcated as Neolithic and Palaeolithic. The arche-lithic is not the past.
The arche-lithic mind is immersed in a non-totalisable host of patterns that cannot be bounded in advance: lifeforms, ghosts, phantasms, zombies, visions, tricksters, masks. The idea that we might be deceived is intrinsic to the agrilogistical virus. The possibility of pretence haunts arche-lithic ‘cultures’ of magic as a structurally necessary component of that culture: ‘The real skill of the practitioner [of magic] lies not in skilled concealment but in the skilled revelation of skilled concealment.’ (I must put ‘culture’ in quotation marks because the term is hopelessly agrilogistical.) Skepticism and faith might not be enemies in every social configuration. In arche-lithic space they might be weirdly intertwined.
There is an ontological reason why the play of magic involves epistemological panic giving rise to hermeneutical spirals of belief and disbelief. The dance of concealing and revealing happens because reality as such just does have a magical, flickering aspect. It is as if there is an irreducible, story-like hermeneutical web that plays around and within all things. An irreducible uncertainty, not because things are unreal, but because they are real.
What the Law of Noncontradiction polices most is the profound ambiguity and causal force of the aesthetic dimension. The aesthetic has been kept safe from something that looks too much like telepathic influence, though that is strictly what it is if telepathy is just passion at a distance. Right now, visualise the Mona Lisa in the Louvre — see what I mean? Something not in your ontic vicinity is exerting causal pressure on you. So the aesthetic and its beauties are policed and purged of the ‘enthusiastic’, buzzy, vibratory (Greek, enthuein) energies that shimmer around its fringe, forever turning beauty into something slightly strange, even ‘disgusting’ (at least at the edges) insofar as it can’t shake off its material embodiment, shuddery, rich, affective and effective.
This telepathic Force-like zone of nonhuman energy keeps nuzzling at the edge of modern thought and culture, as if with enough relaxed religious inhibitions and enough enjoyable products humans default to the arche-lithic.
There is something profound and perhaps disturbing about the aesthetic–causal dimension. And about life: ‘life’ is not the opposite of death. The homology between cancer cells and embryo growth bears this out. The only difference is that an embryo becomes shapely through another death process, apoptosis: the dying-away of superfluous cells. There is no final resting spot: there is always something excessive about the pattern. Life is an ambiguous spectral ‘undead’ quivering between two types of death: the machination of the death drive and the dissolution of physical objects.
And going down a level, this is because of the structure of how things are. Being and appearing are deeply, inextricably intertwined, yet different. This means that beings are themselves strange loops, the very loops that ecological awareness reminds us of. Much philosophical and cultural muscle has been put into getting rid of these loops, which are often decried as narcissistic, because they are self-relating, self-referential. But what is required for caring for nonhumans is precisely an extension of what is called narcissism! So attacking narcissism is something dark ecology won’t do: ‘What is called non-narcissism is in general but the economy of a much more welcoming, hospitable narcissism...without a movement of narcissistic reappropriation, the relation to the other would be absolutely destroyed, it would be destroyed in advance’ (Derrida).
We have to accept the disturbing excess of the aesthetic dimension as an intrinsic part of everything in the universe, and indeed as the part that has to do with causality itself.
We think that existence means solid, constant, present existence. It is based on the fantasy that all the parts of me are me: that if you scoop out a piece of me, it has Tim Morton inscribed all over it and within it, just as sticks of English Brighton rock contain a pink word all the way through their deliciously pepperminty tubes. This is not the case. All entities just are what they are, which means that they are never quite as they seem. They are rippling with nothingness. A thing is a strange loop like a Möbius strip, which in topology is called a non-orientable surface. A non-orientable surface lacks an intrinsic back or front, up or down, inside or outside. Yet a Möbius strip is a unique topological object: not a square; not a triangle. Not just a lump of whateverness, or a false abstraction from some goop of oneness. When you trace your finger along a Möbius strip you find yourself weirdly flipping around to another side—which turns out to be the same side. The moment when that happens cannot be detected. The twist is everywhere along the strip. Likewise beings are intrinsically twisted into appearance, but the twist can’t be located anywhere.
So things are like the ouroboros, the self-swallowing snake. The Norse myth is pertinent: when Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent, stops sucking its own tail this is the beginning of Ragnarok, the apocalyptic battle. Agrilogistics has been a constant process of trying to un-loop the loop form of things. Finally to rid of the world of weirdness is impossible, as is devising a metalanguage that would slay self-reference forever. Violent threats can be made: ‘Anyone who denies the law of non-contradiction should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned.’ You are either with us or against us. Torture isn’t an argument any more than kicking a pebble is, and the threat of torture is no way to display intelligence, let alone proof. The violence of the threat is in proportion to the impossibility of actually ridding the world of contradiction. Beating and burning, something done to cattle and corn, witches and weeds, is not the same as thinking and arguing. Still, in the margins of agrilogistical thought, we cannot but detect the disturbingly soft rustling of the arche-lithic and its serpentine beings. Beings inherently fragile, like logical systems that contain necessary flaws, like the hamartia of a tragic hero.
The modern upgrade of the Cadmus myth is the idea of progress, for instance, the idea that we have transcended our material conditions. I’m Harold and the Purple Crayon, ‘I am the lizard king, / I can do anything’, ‘I’m the Decider, goo-goo-ga-joob.’ (Harold and the Purple Crayon is a US children’s character who can draw whatever he likes with his crayon in the void. Say he is drowning: he can draw a boat.) But if things are nonorientable surfaces, philosophy had better get out of the mastery business and into the allergy medicine business. We need philosophical medicine so as not to have allergic reactions before we mow the allergens down and build a parking lot. To remain in indecision.
The more philosophy attunes to ecognosis the more it makes contact with nonhuman beings, one of which is ecognosis itself. The world it discovers is nonsensical yet perfectly logical, and that is funny: the sight of something maniacally deviating from itself in a desperate attempt to be itself should remind us of Bergson’s definition of what makes us laugh. And this is because, in a sense, to say ‘Being is suffused with appearing’ is the same as saying being is laughing with appearance. Ants and eagles cause philosophy to get off its high horse and smile, maybe even laugh. The name of this laughter is ecognosis. You begin to smile with your mouth closed. To close the mouth in Greek is muein, whence the term mystery, the exact opposite of mystification.
We find this ecological smile within in the horror, disgust, shame and guilt of ecological awareness itself, because strangely, that joy is the possibility condition for all the other, more reified forms of ecological awareness. It goes like this. We have guilt because we can have shame. We have shame because we can have horror. We have horror because we can have depression. We have depression because we can have sadness. We have sadness because we can have longing. We have longing because we can have joy. Find the joy without pushing away the depression, for depression is accurate.
We live in a reality determined by a one-size-fits-all window of time, a window determined by some humans’ attempts to master anxieties about where their next meal was coming from. As Agrilogistical Axiom (3) states, the logistics of this time window imply that existing is better than any quality of existing. So it’s always better to have billions of people living near to misery, than even millions living in a state of permanent ecstasy. Because of this logic industrial machines were created. The small rigid time tunnel now engulfs a vast amount of Earth’s surface and is directly responsible for much global warming. It’s a depressive solution to anxiety: cone your attention down to about a year—maybe five years if you really plan ‘ahead’. One of the most awful things about depression is that your time window collapses to a diameter of a few minutes into the past and a few minutes into the future. Your intellect is literally killing little you by trying to survive. Like a violent allergic reaction, or spraying pesticides.
We live in a world of objectified depression. So do all the other lifeforms, who didn’t ask to be sucked into the grey concrete time tunnel. No wonder then that we find mass extinction depressing and uncanny.
Let’s have more time tunnels of different sizes. Let’s not have a one-size-fits-all time tunnel. Let’s get a bit playful. Which also means, let’s not have a one-size-fits-all politics. We need a politics that includes what appears least political—laughter, the playful, even the silly. We need a multiplicity of different political systems. We need to think of them as toy-like: playful and half-broken things that connect humans and nonhumans with one another. We can never get it perfect. There is no final, correct form that isn’t a toy. There is no one toy to rule them all. And toys aren’t exclusively human or for humans. We don’t have to get back to a mythical time of need as opposed to want. That binary is an agrilogistical artefact, which means that not everything about consumerism is bad, ecologically speaking. There are some ecological chemicals in consumerism, because consumerism provides an ethical pathway for relating to nonhuman beings for no particular reason (that is, for aesthetic reasons). The ecological future is going to be about more playful pleasure for no reason, not less. Think about it this way. I recently switched my power provider to 100% wind. For the first few days I felt efficient and virtuous and pure, until I realised that what was really the case now was that I could have a rave in every single room of my house and do no harm to Earth. Efficiency and sustainability, which is how we talk to ourselves about ecological action, are just artefacts of our oil economy version of agrilogistics. Change the energy system, and all that changes.
Lighten up: dark ecology does not mean heavy or bleak; it is strangely light. Lifeforms play (‘This is a bite and this is not a bite’), because play is structural to reality, because things shimmer. A disturbing imbalance and fragility haunts this play in order for it to be play. This is why play isn’t just candy or glue but structural to reality. If you think of (agrilogistical) civilization as normative you have already decided that it is inevitable, and this means that you have decided that agrilogistical retreat is the only way to move across Earth.
The trouble with consumerism isn’t that it sends us into an evil loop of addiction. The trouble is that consumerism is not nearly pleasurable enough. The possibility space that enables consumerism contains far more pleasures. Consumerism has a secret side that Marxism is loath to perceive, as Marxism too is caught in the agrilogistical division between need and want. Consumerism is a way of relating to at least one other thing that isn’t me. A thing is how I fantasise it. And yet...I fantasise, not onto a blank screen, but onto an actually existing thing, and in any case my fantasy itself is an independent thing. This thing eludes my grasp even as it appears clearly. You are what you eat. Doesn’t the mantra of consumerism (concocted by Feuerbach and Brillat-Savarin, almost simultaneously) put identity in a loop? Doesn’t this formula hide in plain sight something more than (human) desire? That the reason-to-buy is also a relation to an inaccessible yet appearing entity, to wit, what you eat? I imagine what I eat gives me luxury, or freedom, or knowledge. Yet there I am, eating an apple. I coexist. This can’t be! The formula for consumerism kat’ exochēn is underwritten by ecology! What a fantastic loop that is. Once we discover that what is called subjectivity is a cleaned, stripped, devastated version of something much vaguer and more spectral that includes the abjection that the idea of subject is meant to repress, then we are in the phenomenological space of ecological awareness. It is at first horrifying (to white patriarchy), because ecological awareness means noticing that you are profoundly covered in, surrounded by and permeated by all kinds of entities that are not you. That horror then becomes strangely ridiculous, like watching someone trying to escape the inevitable. This sense of the ridiculous is the first hint that at its deepest, ecological awareness has some kind of laughter in it. The laughter of ridicule subsides into a melancholic laughter in which we curate all the nonhumans that surround and permeate us without knowing exactly why, a bit like Wall E, the robot in an ethereal, goth-y realm of (other people’s) toys, like J.F. Sebastian’s apartment in Blade Runner. This not- knowing-why becomes beautiful and we sense the ungraspability of things. This sense in turn leads to a kind of joy. Abjection has been transfigured into what Irigaray calls nearness, a pure givenness in which something is so near that one cannot have it — a fact that obviously also applies to one’s ‘self’.
This interview has also been published as part of Living Earth – Field Notes from Dark Ecology Project 2014 – 2016. The publication is available at www.sonicacts.com/shop.
Photo: A whale bone on top of the hill overlooking Nikel. The bone was left there when the nearby museum closed down. Photo by Rosa Menkman, 2015.
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