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February 27 2020

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got-lost-in-stereo:

I feel this even more deeply with each passing semester

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“Version 1.0 of a Field Guide for More-Than-Human Politics” by Anab Jain of Superflux in “Calling for a More-Than-Human Politics

This is my first attempt at assembling a Field Guide for the practice of a ‘more-than-human politics’, the start of an A/B styled manifesto that shifts our perspectives from human-centred to more-than-human worlds. This shift in perspective is not about deleting the A list, but rather, to view the B list simultaneously as an extension, a provocation, a calling. For this Field Guide, I am drawing connections between the scholarly works of Anna Tsing, Donna Haraway, Bruno Latour, Anne Galloway, as well as Tim Ingold, Robin Kimmerer, Vandana Shiva, Ursula Le Guin, Dorian Sagan, Kim Stanley Robinson and so many more.

Fixing → Caring

I start by moving away from the techno-deterministic pull of the language around ‘fixing’ and instead urge the use of ‘caring’. And here I don’t mean fixing as in fix-a-broken-website or fix-my-bike, but more in a ‘democracy is broken, no, your app will not fix it’ sort of way. Forever invoking Cedric Price, ‘Technology is the answer, but what is the question?’. When we foreground the idea of care, it inherently embodies ideas of fixing, building, making — everything necessary to-take-care-of that particular thing, person, tree, insect, bird, animal, us, them, everyone.

Planning → Gardening

Numerous people from architects to permaculturists have advocated the move from top down ‘planning’, towards the nurturing practice of gardening, when we design cities. For me this is exemplified by Chandigarh, the only city in India planned by Le Corbusier, which is highly regarded for its architectural genius, but is apparently a nightmare to live in. A top-down grid plan for a country and a people who do not live by such fixed rules, but rather have a rich history of continually adapting private, semi-public and public spaces to suit their communal needs. The most successful cities and public spaces in India are the ones where people have been able to carve out their own spaces — around banyan trees, tea stalls and at the thresholds of narrow streets. Almost like how a permaculturist might go about planting her farm.

Systems → Assemblages; Nodes → Knots

Social theorist Manuel Delanda adopted the term ‘assemblage’ to argue that social bodies on all scales are best analysed through their individual components. Like all theories, Delanda’s work has since found several critiques. However, I am particularly drawn to Anna Tsing’s use of the words ‘assemblages’ and ‘knots’ instead. When Tsing talks about assemblages she invites us to consider the open-ended and deeply entangled histories in the evolution of humans and non-humans. Assemblages are diverse, indeterminate and precarious. Our journeys through assemblages are drawn in numerous, ever-changing knots, rather than static nodes. Such a perspective brings me back to the film ‘Everything Connects to Everything Else’ and Tega Brain’s essay about the futility of the ‘systems-view’. Acknowledging the entanglements without the desire to have the ‘full overview’, keeps us open to surprising possibilities, which I find very hopeful.

Innovation → Resurgence

Innovation is a tricky one, unfortunately, co-opted by the association-of-move-fast-and-break-things as (infinite) growth, addition and mutation. Innovation fixates on new; different; change. On the other hand, ‘resurgence’ (renewing, restoring, regenerating) focuses less on endless growth and more on cyclical forms of nurturing, growing, dying and renewing. Anna Tsing writes about resurgence in the context of multispecies interdependence: “Disturbances, human and otherwise, knock out multispecies assemblages — yet liveable ecologies come back. After a forest fire, seedlings sprout in the ashes, and, with time, another forest may grow up in the burn. The regrowing forest is an example of what I am calling resurgence. […] Resurgence is the work of many organisms, negotiating across differences, to forge assemblages of multispecies livability in the midst of disturbance.”

Extinction → Precarity

Whilst the big headlines focus on the fact that we are currently in the midst of a sixth geological extinction event, and could lead to the extinction of the human species, along with many other species, I want to find other conceptual tools that might help us move forward. Not because I don’t believe that extinction could be one rather convincing, plausible future, but because I want to explore alternate proposals for working with the challenges we face. The philosophical construct of considering ‘life as precarious’ foregrounds both life and death. It focuses on how human existence is deeply interdependent with other life and therefore necessitates the need for ‘care of others’, the need for ‘being vulnerable to others’ and the need to put ‘unpredictable encounters at the centre of things’. Rather than consider a singular endpoint such as extinction, could we instead explore the possibility of life without stability, to begin with, and see where we arrive?

Global → Terrestrial; Producing → Engendering

I have never been a fan of ‘global’. And I haven’t ever been able to put my finger on what it is that unsettles me about that word (maybe it brings flashbacks of watching news on the one and only Indian national channel, Doordarshan, as newsreaders kept using the word ‘global’ in reference to North America, Europe and Australia — as if the others — Africa and Asia for instance, were outside of the ‘global.’)

Anyways, for these two frames, I am taken by Latour’s idea of ‘terrestrial’ as a move towards post-human exceptionalism. His proposal explores the possibility of ‘de-centring the human’, and acknowledging that we are in constant interaction with other beings and natural phenomena. And more importantly, a demand on the geo-social: each human activity has to be considered along with the impact it will have on the planet.

In the same frame, Latour proposes a move from ‘production’ towards more interrogative processes of questioning the ways in which things are brought to the world: existence, survival, reproducing, giving birth and losing territory. A process of engendering.

The Anthropocene → The Dithering

The Anthropocene continues to be the endearing term used — popular, specifically in academic bubbles. However, several scholars in recent history have challenged and critiqued the term ‘Anthropocene’. For instance, Jessie Beier writes how ‘one of the most troubling things about the Anthropocene is the sheer number of people it fails to trouble’. In Against the Anthropocene, T. J. Demos argues that the “Anthropocene terminology works ideologically in support of a neoliberal financialization of nature, anthropocentric political economy, and endorsement of geoengineering as the preferred — but likely disastrous — method of approaching climate change.”

So, I am reminded of Haraway’s proposal to reconsider the term Anthropocene: “We, human people everywhere, must address intense, systemic urgencies; yet, so far, as Kim Stanley Robinson put it in 2312, we are living in times of “The Dithering”, a “state of indecisive agitation.” Perhaps the Dithering is a more apt name than either the Anthropocene or Capitalocene! The Dithering will be written into earth’s rocky strata, indeed already is written into earth’s mineralized layers. Symchthonic ones don’t dither; they compose and decompose, which are both dangerous and promising practices. To say the least, human hegemony is not a symchthonic affair.”

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