Levi Bryant’s “Wilderness Ontology” and Heidegger’s Hut in the Black Forest

The Idea of the Perpetual Forest, 1923

Levi Bryant has recently posted an entry on what he (poorly) terms “wilderness ontology.”  He seems aware of the confusion inherent in the choice of words, but clings to the phrase regardless:

Admittedly, the signifier “wilderness” doesn’t quite get at the concept of “wilderness ontology” I’m trying to articulate because it seems to oppose civilization and nature, the human and the natural. Nonetheless, I like the poetic resonances of the term and can’t bring myself to abandon it despite the confusion it invites.

Always building on the latest thoughts that he’s enshrined with a blog entry, the “poetic resonances” Bryant speaks of here probably have something to do with his recent post on “The Poetics of Philosophy.”  And though we might allow Bryant to wax rhapsodic with his terminology, his following exposition of the concept proves to be disappointingly prosaic.

As an ontological concept, “wilderness” should not be taken to signify the opposition between civilization and nature, but rather two distinct ontological orientations: the vertical ontologies of humanist, correlationist thought where being is a correlate of thought versus posthumanist orientations of thought advocated by flat ontologies or immanence. In a “wilderness ontology”, humans are not sovereigns of being, but are among beings with no particularly privileged place.

Not a difficult concept.  This is your typical anti-anthropocentric fare.  Humans are just one sort of being amongst a multiplicity of beings, etc.  Fairly predictable.  But just how comprehensive is this “wilderness”? What exactly can it be said to “contain”? What constitutes its “parts”?

Civilization is a part of the wilderness. Culture is a part of the wilderness. Nature is a part of the wilderness. The subject is a part of the wilderness. The difference is that there is, in a wilderness ontology, no categorical distinction between the natural and the cultural, the human and the natural.

All categorical distinctions, even between apparently oppositional terms, evaporate in this seemingly all-inclusive ontological zone.  In this sense, Bryant’s “wilderness” would seem to be, as Hegel said of Schelling’s Absolute, “the night in which all cows appear to be black.”  The usefulness of this concept seems fairly limited, however.  In fact, it’s hard to distinguish its position from Naessian deep ecology.

Martin Heidegger embracing the new regime, above the "X" mark

Luckily, Michael helped explicate the concept in a bit more depth in a comment on my blog, elaborating on it a bit further.  Now of course he doesn’t claim to speak on Bryant’s behalf, but I think Michael’s explanation is telling of the general notion of a “wilderness ontology,” its intellectual sources, and its implications:

I’m not sure of your familiarity with Heidegger, but the issues Levi brings up in the post you dislike follows loosely from the early Heideggerian attempt at tracing out a “fundamental ontology”. “Wilderness” in this sense, then, is a metaphor for the spaciousness and ‘wild’, unpredictable, uncontrollable and only partially knowable of Being.

The nuance would be that ‘Being’ does not signify an absolute or “All’, but is a term meant to prompt us to reconsider the nature of the fundamental background condition which allows or occasions beings (actual entities) as such to bedisclosed.

And, for me, the process and ‘need’ for reconsidering the raw nature of reality is a decidedly cosmo-political one. Without an ontographic imagination and exploration how are we to know and therefore utilize or adapt to the nature of power, agency and change?

For me the notion of “the wilderness of being” evokes an ecological and anarchic sensibility that I believe is at the core of material and existential life. In fact, investigating the world through via wild-thinking (or wilderness ontology) is essential for a pragmatic rethinking of everything hitherto assumed by our sick societies.

My response to this explanation was as follows:

I’m actually very familiar with Heidegger, for better or for worse. I’m of that school that, along with Adorno, believes that his philosophy is fascist to the core. But I’ve still read all of Being and Time and his later essays on poetry, dwelling, the world-picture, and “the turn,” etc. His Introduction to Metaphysics is probably my favorite work by him, because it’s his most Aristotelian.

The idea of a “wilderness-ontology,” Heidegger’s pathways leading from his hut up in the Black Forest out into thick of the woods, from which he could always search for “the clearing” in which beings disclose themselves — all these metaphors can be very easily traced to Nazi ecological thought. Knowing fully well the dangers of such accusations, I say this with complete seriousness. The Germanic naturalist fetishization of nature, the Nazi concept of the perpetual forest Dauerwald as the sort of Ursprung of the Teutonic spirit, this is the source for Heidegger’s early “fundamental ontology.” It is even more so the world of Heldegger’s late ontology, long after the swastika lapels came off his jacket, the antihumanist neo-Romantic reverence for nature that is also evoked by Bryant’s “wilderness.”

An excellent essay documenting the influence of “green” politics within the NSDAP can be found here.  It implicates top leaders of German fascism like Walther Darré, Fritz Todt, Alwin Seifert and Rudolf Hess in the project for Nazi environmental protectionism.  This was closely rooted in concepts like “blood and soil,” and so on.

Walther Darré standing in front of a placard that reads "Blood and Soil"

33 thoughts on “Levi Bryant’s “Wilderness Ontology” and Heidegger’s Hut in the Black Forest

  1. Ross,

    A few issues:

    1. Humans are just one sort of being among a multiplicity of beings. We are of this world in the same way as moss or a beetle is of this world. This doesn’t mean we are devoid of special talents and significance. Only that our talents are generated and enacted within a complex but thoroughly natural matrix of extensive and intensive properties. We are amazing animals, no doubt about it. But just because we have developed frontal lobes, social techne and symbol manipulating capacities doesn’t mean we are ontologically different.

    2. The sort of ‘wilderness thinking’ I support is not simply based on metaphors but evokes and enacts the literal and empirical sense of the term. Our planet is a vast ecological niche with wild (untamable) processes and entities. And as we emerge from this generative matrix of material-energetic (ecological) potencies we find ourselves thrown into a dark and tangled reality. This sometime obscure, sometimes illuminated field of possibilities (forces and affordances) is literally a wilderness full of objects, flows, agencies, complexes and differential powers. And we are literally animals coping and adapting to these ‘forces’ through whatever means available. We are, as it were, necessary explorers in the wilderness of being. That is to say, being as such – as the totality of distributed beings and the possibility spaces between them – is fundamentally ecological.

    For me, this is not an ontological-metaphysical (onto-theological) statement; it is an ontic statement subject to empirical investigation. For me, metaphysics is a purely speculative project secondary to the more pragmatic practice of investigating the ontic conditions of human praxis. And so I think ‘wilderness thinking’ can bring us down to earth (and out from within the fog of our various transcendentalist and metaphysical fantasies) and compel us to stop interpreting and reifying the dynamic character of nature and start living it.

    To be sure, the nature/culture binary is illusory Ross. It is part of a pre-modernist schema predicated on the solipsistic fantasies of a species that believed itself to be the offspring of Gods, and then later reconfigured by proto-modernists as part of self-validating ‘humanism’.

    Let me ask you, what is outside of nature? Can you identity one tangible aspect of human life that is entirely or purely cultural? I strongly doubt it. Every thing, every experience, every utterance, every symbol is composed of the same cosmological properties which occasion reality. Thus, all consequential and therefore meaningful action takes place on the same plane of immanence.

    And if I choose to operationalize the notion of wilderness in order to frame my ontographic endeavors in this context I do so because for pragmatic and poetic reasons (listed above).

    Like Dante stopping at the cusp of a dark forest, I seek to orient myself to the reality in which I find myself as a means of engaging the all too human tasks I have chosen.

    3. Heidegger was indeed a Nazi bastard. And his philosophy, arguably, does have affinities to fascist modes of thinking. But these facts do not define the totality of his thought and conceptual achievements. As discerning thinkers we can take what is of value in Heidegger and discard the rest. It’s never an all or nothing affair. Were Sartre and Merleau-Ponty fascists? No. They were communists. But they were also heavily influenced by Heidegger. Same with Derrida, Dreyfus and countless others.

    Heidegger is a major influence on my thought but I’m not a fascist (or at least I don’t think I am).

    Alternatively, were Emerson or Thoreau fascists? Nope. But they were quintessential wilderness thinkers.

    The link between fascist thought and ecological thought is not causal but incidental. Realist ecological thought flows from the confluence of embodied experience and the methods and ideology of particular sciences and humanities – if it is generated at all.

    • Michael,

      1. I’ve said this elsewhere, in various places, but I reject ontological thinking (especially in the vein inspired by Heidegger) as unhistorical. Its concept of “historicity” attempts to freeze the inherent fluidity of historical time by assimilating its to the existential structures of presentistic being, and thus dilutes the richer and more dynamic understanding of the world as historical and the qualitative changes brought upon by the forces of world-history.

      In terms of our connection to nature, no one will deny humanity’s origins in the natural world, out of a long evolutionary process of biology. Yet the reason why I say that the nature/culture split is real is that it has become real, through a process of historical alienation. The moment that humanity becomes self-conscious, achieves systematic thought, and instrumental rationality — as well as begins to repress its more natural instinctual drives — humanity begins to differentiate itself from nature. At first this alienation is minimal, as even in primitive agricultural societies one remains tied quite immediately to the natural rhythms and cycles of existence.

      Once human society becomes increasingly denaturalized, once its interaction with the nature from whence it sprang becomes more and more mediated through social processes and the built environment of towns and cities (artifice), the alienation rises to the level of consciousness. I believe that historically this took place most noticeably after the Scientific Revolution and capitalist rationality/intellectualization began to disenchant nature of its mysterious properties, such that the early Romantics began to feel a profound sense of estrangement and distancing from nature. Since then, this consciousness has gone through a variety of ideological mutations, all the way into the present.

      That is why I affirm the division between nature and culture, not as an absolute, insurmountable opposition, but as one which has arisen historically and might be historically overcome. Human beings themselves cannot be called wholly “unnatural.” Our bodies are the outcome of hundreds of millions of years of natural biological evolution. But the world which we create for ourselves, and with which we are more immediately familiar than “original” nature, cannot be said to be entirely “natural.” There is something about a skyscraper that is profoundly unnatural, with its ferro-concrete frame and huge glass facades. The anthills and honeycombs of Levi’s example pale in comparison to these designed artifacts, being as they are the creations of the unconscious social instincts of ants and bees.

      2. I agree that the world is composed of a variety of distributed forces, entities, networks, energies, and existential spontaneity. There are, of course, regularities and rhythms to this distributions that can be understood, whether as the “natural laws” of physics or as biospheric tendencies. Within this sublime order of calm predictability, there are of course also countervailing forces that are extremely chaotic, disruptive, and destructive, abiding by their own sets of laws, which can radically reshape the distribution of natural entities. It is not, of course, this fragile equilibrium hanging delicately in the balance. If that were the case, species extinction and environmental transformations would be impossible.

      Nevertheless, human society has displayed an increasingly marked ability to affect the total environment of the Earth. While every biological organism seeks to exploit its environment in order to survive and perpetuate itself, humanity is able to do so on an unparalleled level. Particularly following the advent of capitalism, the rate of revolutionary technological innovations has accelerated at an astonishing pace. Our ability to extract natural resources, whether from the bottom of the ocean or buried beneath layers of Siberian permafrost, is astounding. We can shear off the sides of mountains with dynamite, drill tunnels and subterranean underpasses, redirect the course of rivers, and create artificial lakes. And while this happens in a hyperexploitative, individual, and anarchistic fashion under capitalism, such monumental forces of production and environmental transformation could be directed to literally reshape the globe according to human need and taste. Humanity would have to attain a more complete mastery over its own form of social organization, such that it could self-consciously exert its energies in the most sustainable, and yet efficient, ways. I dare say that we could even enhance nature, not only for our own sake, but for nature’s sake as well.

      3. I agree that Heidegger’s thought has many facets and that one cannot uniformly label them all as fascist. I believe that much of his romantic emphasis on the “poetry” of being, “pathways” through the forest searching for “the clearing” in which beings unconceal themselves, these concepts have dangerously völkisch undertones. The simplicity of wisdom, Heidegger’s anti-intellectualism, setting itself apart from the “idle talk” of the “they” (those alien, overly-verbose Jewish cosmopolitan types), all this is extremely problematic. The problem is that many of his successors, even if they espoused different political ideologies, carried over these mute fascisms from Heidegger’s unique spin on phenomenological thought. The concept of a “wilderness” in which all beings are entangled, bound up, and which through struggle manifest themselves, this bears too much similarity to the kinds of speeches he delivered to young Nazi volunteers during his (brief) career as the rector of Freiburg.

      • Here we go. These are really interesting statements, Ross. If I didn’t make it clear enough earlier (I didn’t), I want to say that I appreciate your thinking in these areas, though maybe not so much your tone and the personalization of your attacks (at least that is how I am perceiving them), but we can differ on this point. Despite this, I am looking forward to really digging into your longer paper. A few comments on these issues:

        I appreciate your affirmation of the nature/culture split as being “real” and I follow you in maintaining that we must investigate the split as being a real one (the nature/culture distinction may be perceived in different ways, but there are good grounds for holding onto the difference between the two). As you know, I am exploring these areas as well, with particular regards to how humans are transforming the ecological condition of the planet. Here, as before, I want to discuss where we left off in our previous exchange, namely to address the singularity of terms like “modernism” and “capitalism.” This is a complex issue because, as you say, we should attend to the homogenizing effect of capital and industrial social relations, and yet I still would like to maintain that modernity and capitalism arrive in different places in different ways, and that these differences are substantial in terms of their ecological and social effects. I would differentiate this from saying that capitalism is innately multiple, simply because I don’t think capitalism is innately anything, even if there are some general characteristics we might attribute to it.

        Capitalism in Japan, for example, is very different from capitalism in America, which is different from capitalism in my own home country of Sweden etc. I find such differences to be important as they relate to policy decisions. These decisions, as we both know, are not simply re-organizations of social relations, but are, in a concrete way, transforming the ecosphere (currently in very negative ways). A more specific example: Japan is still debating its relations to nuclear power despite recent events, Germany, on the other hand, has committed to dismantling their nuclear powers plants by I think 2020 (at least that is their goal). I’m not weighing in on the complexity of the nuclear power debate, but I am saying that centralized sources of energy (like nuclear) have enormous impacts on the environment, and, while we are still talking about “modernity” and “capital” at large, I want to again maintain the multiplicity of its manifestations. I’m not sure you would necessarily disagree with me here, but your emphasis seems to be on a more unitary description of what I see as varied events, so I want to push you in that direction a little more. I’m also open to the possibility that we are simply discussing these issues at different levels, where on one capitalism is homogenizing everywhere, and on other, is actually producing a variety of differences and is employed in different ways.

        On another point, I find the nature/culture split to be mirrored in the human/animal discourse. The problems seem to be the same, with good reasons for suggesting that humans are “just another animal” and also something radically different. Here I think our major point of discussion would be where we situate the emergence of “culture” and humanity’s “alienation from nature.” My reading of genetics, evolution, and ecological dynamics, is such that I would want to say that biological evolution is always already a cultural and historically contingent process, long before what we call “history” and “culture” in a human sense emerge. I am greatly persuaded by the work of Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins on this point. Here we encounter biology being thought on two historical levels: the first being that the evolutionary process is historical to begin with, the second being that our knowledge of evolutionary processes is culturally conditioned (here we can point, as you have, to the German connection between evolution and eugenics, or to Haeckel’s original commitments to a scientifically managed society in accordance with his original perception of “ecology,” as he saw it when he coined the term). This is why I am arguing that we need more than just a natural ecology (which is always already a social ecology) and also need something like a knowledge ecology to describe the two-fold historical nature of evolution, but thats another story.

        With regards to history and ontology, I am curious to know what you think of Whitehead’s cosmology, if you have had the time to encounter it. I generally agree with you that ontology poses problems for thinking historically, and in that sense Whitehead and OOO have been exceptions to my usual non-ontological emphasis (which for me is a more recent development). I am curious about Whitehead in this context because, while he is definitely doing speculative philosophy and positing a very broad cosmology, it seems that his account of the cosmos may not contradict your sentiment that ontology “dilutes the richer and more dynamic understanding of the world as historical and the qualitative changes brought upon by the forces of world-history.” Maybe you are speaking here only in reference to Heidegger, but I am nonetheless curious. On these last points I find Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers very helpful, specifically in The Politics of Nature and in Cosmopolitics, respectively (sorry I can’t seem to ever figure out how to add italics in these things). I’ve become very interested in how to think history, politics, and ontology at the same time. Linking these three to ecology is more or less my central aim.

      • I’m not sure if you saw my reply on my other post to this question, but I’ll repost part of it here:

        While I’m familiar with the thesis of “multiple modernities,” I reject it insofar as posits modernity itself as innately multiple. The reason why modernity presents itself in such multiform manifestations is that the traditional cultures, associations, and institutions that modernity encounters are multiple, disparate, and heterogeneous. Though some commonalities across societies at this stage of existence can be found, many of these societies lived in relative isolation from one another, such that a change in the social structure of one would not necessarily affect the social customs and traditions of another. Precapitalist, premodern traditions were incredibly rich in their variety, peculiar customs, practices, and rituals. Once these traditional societies begin to come under the fold of capitalist modernity, these preexisting peculiar institutions are each moulded and modified in their own separate ways. This is why Marx was able to say in the Manifesto that through global commodity exchange on the world market, capital “remakes the world in its own image” — without then having to commit himself to the thesis that everywhere in all parts of the world things are the same.

        Modernity in itself exerts a homogenizing influence, creating unique sense of time-consciousness, synchronizing society according to the tick of a uniform clock. It also has a tendency rationalize and intellectualize phenomena of the natural and social worlds, and to thereby “disenchant” them of their mysterious properties. I view most attempts to “reenchant” the world by resurrecting past paganisms, Eastern mysticism, or even some inchoate unitarianism to be a reactionary and anti-modern development, symptomatic of modernity but not identical with it. This also accounts for modernity’s generally secularizing and desacralizing effect, and along with it reactionary religious movements trying to combat its irreligious trajectory. Fanatical religious fundamentalism, no matter what the creed, is a development peculiar to modernity for this reason.

        This is how I would account for the variance in capitalist relations in different countries that have come under its influence. The preexisting conditions in each country were vastly different depending on the precapitalist social forms and cultural influences they inherited, and so while the capitalism generally tends to make social dynamics and relations the same in all countries such that a change in one affects all the others (this is its “globalizing” feature), there will be a marked difference between individual national manifestations of capitalism based on what it was that was already there when capitalism began to modify it. For example, with Japan, its famous cultural emphasis on warrior honor was preserved even after the country was forcibly demilitarized after World War II, finding a niche within high-level business professions. Hence the famous number of cases of ritual (warrior) suicide recorded amongst Japanese businessmen who felt he had failed or been “defeated.” In America and the more Calvinized sections of Western Europe, Weber’s “Protestant ethic” of worldly asceticism helped lead not only to the conditions for primitive accumulation, but for a long time continued to place a strong emphasis on involvement in worldly affairs and business ventures.

        So in short, I would say that the various manifestations of capitalism or modernity around the world is not necessarily a sign of their multiple natures. Rather, capitalism and modernity exerted their uniform, homogenizing influence in zones that were multifarious in their conditions. Many preexisting social values, norms, and cultural peculiarities survive the influence of capitalism and modernity (albeit in an extremely modified form) and continue to be reflected in the different legal structures of different municipalities, regions, nations, and continents. I would go further and say that there is an underlying core or essence to capitalism (specifically, the need for value to valorize itself in commodity or money exchange) that endures even as there are major surface reconfigurations of capital’s social constitution. To use the language of metaphysics, this allows there to be a perduring substance undergirding classical high-liberal capitalism, monopoly capitalism toward the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, Fordist capitalism from the Great Depression to the Oil Crisis of 1973-1975, and neoliberal capitalism or “flexible accumulation” from that point until the present. It is what makes all of these different “phases” of capitalism still essentially capitalist, modifications of a fundamental form.

        Whitehead, from the little I’ve read of him, at least accounts for the centrality of process in the constitution of the universe. This allows processual fluctuations in time to radically alter the material conditions in which events take place. I am not sure if he demarcates the qualitative difference between natural history (cosmic physical processes like the formation of planets and solar systems, biological processes like evolution, events like catastrophe or cataclysmic reconfiguration) and human history (social processes like modes of production, major events like societal collapse or revolution). If so, I would find his account of reality much more sufficient to the task of thinking through historical change than most of the ontologists or phenomenologists who tend to collapse the messiness of history into the smooth contours of Being.

      • Hi Ross,

        Yes I did see your previous statements, those are the ones I was referring to with regards to your conception of modernity and capitalism. The only main difference we have in this discussion, I think, is that you see modernity as a sort of unity encountering multiple cultures or context, whereas I see the multiplicity on both sides: modernity as multiple encountering multiple cultures. I think each interpretation has validity.

      • The reason I see both capitalism and modernity (as you know, I regard them as relatively coterminous) as a unitary phenomenon is that its fundamental logic is everywhere the same. Capitalism exists wherever commodities are the dominant form of products produced by society. Unlike goods that are consumed directly by the person who produced them, commodities are meant to be alienated from the producer and circulated throughout society, until its value is realized through a purchase. Labor under capitalism becomes sold as a commodity itself, of a unique sort that adds value to already-valuable products. The goal of capital in any of its forms, as money or commodities or as undistilled capital itself (as in investments), is to valorize itself through the process of production and then have its supervaluated value realized through the process of circulation. No matter what surface peculiarities may exist, whatever local or national laws may obtain (regarding production and commerce), whatever buyer-habits or seller-tendencies, this logic is everywhere the same.

        “Modernity,” which as I’ve said is the temporal register of capitalism, is thus also a unitary phenomenon. That is to say, it has its own logic. This logic of social evolution, with its transformative effects, was earliest (and best) theorized by the sociologists Emile Durkheim and especially Max Weber. Now, this logic was vulgarized in a stagist form by mid-century social theorists like Talcott Parsons et al., who hypostatized the European experience of modernization as the model after which all other modernizations would be patterned. This version of the theory of modernization thus rightly succumbs to criticisms of Eurocentrism and the idea that it conflates modernization with Westernization. The modernization theorists felt that the rest of the world would necessarily follow the same model as the West. And so they integrated into their theory of “the modern” many traits that were accidental to traditional European society. What they failed to recognize was that modernity, which truly did have a unitary logic in terms of its revolutionary elements (secularization, rationalizaton, liberalization, urbanization), had just as convulsive and disruptive effects on traditional European society as it would later have on the rest of the world. Modernization in Europe was a severe and brutalizing process, grinding longstanding traditions and institutions into dust.

        The lesson is that capitalism and modernization could have originated anywhere, and is not peculiarly Western, but that it simply happened to originate there, due to a variety of historical factors that facilitated primitive accumulation — a Calvinist ethic of worldly asceticism, a displaced agrarian labor force, and a huge gold-surplus for money-capital imported from the New World and silver mines in Germany.

      • ROSS: I’ve said this elsewhere, in various places, but I reject ontological thinking (especially in the vein inspired by Heidegger) as unhistorical. Its concept of “historicity” attempts to freeze the inherent fluidity of historical time by assimilating its to the existential structures of presentistic being, and thus dilutes the richer and more dynamic understanding of the world as historical and the qualitative changes brought upon by the forces of world-history.

        MICHAEL: You must not have had too much exposure to Bergson or Whitehead or Deleuze for that matter. Those guys have very “fluid”, diachronistic visions of the world. It’s true that Heidegger drew some strange and abstract conclusions from his investigations, many of which I do not support, but his interrogation of ‘the meaning of being’ was groundbreaking – and I believe the only starting point for a properly reflexive theoretical deliberation of existence.

        And, related to comments I have made elsewhere, I think you go too far in assuming you can simply “reject ontological thinking” Ross. All belief systems, including Marxist ideologies, have at their conceptual core ontological commitments. All schematic thought, worldviews and paradigms necessarily operationalize certain basic assumptions. If you are not interested in investigating those assumptions and beliefs by engaging in thinking about ontology, or more fundamental, doing ontography then those guiding assumptions about the structure of the world will remain unexamined and taint everything you think.

        In terms of the “forces of world-history”, I have developed my own ecological realist orientation which holds process, transitions, events and assemblages as fundamental features of the real world, and rejects the primacy of the existential analytic (correlationism) in favor of an (re)evolutionary, participatory, communialistic focus.

        ROSS: In terms of our connection to nature, no one will deny humanity’s origins in the natural world, out of a long evolutionary process of biology. Yet the reason why I say that the nature/culture split is real is that it has become real, through a process of historical alienation. The moment that humanity becomes self-conscious, achieves systematic thought, and instrumental rationality — as well as begins to repress its more natural instinctual drives — humanity begins to differentiate itself from nature. At first this alienation is minimal, as even in primitive agricultural societies one remains tied quite immediately to the natural rhythms and cycles of existence.

        Once human society becomes increasingly denaturalized, once its interaction with the nature from whence it sprang becomes more and more mediated through social processes and the built environment of towns and cities (artifice), the alienation rises to the level of consciousness. I believe that historically this took place most noticeably after the Scientific Revolution and capitalist rationality/intellectualization began to disenchant nature of its mysterious properties, such that the early Romantics began to feel a profound sense of estrangement and distancing from nature. Since then, this consciousness has gone through a variety of ideological mutations, all the way into the present.

        That is why I affirm the division between nature and culture, not as an absolute, insurmountable opposition, but as one which has arisen historically and might be historically overcome. Human beings themselves cannot be called wholly “unnatural.” Our bodies are the outcome of hundreds of millions of years of natural biological evolution. But the world which we create for ourselves, and with which we are more immediately familiar than “original” nature, cannot be said to be entirely “natural.” There is something about a skyscraper that is profoundly unnatural, with its ferro-concrete frame and huge glass facades. The anthills and honeycombs of Levi’s example pale in comparison to these designed artifacts, being as they are the creations of the unconscious social instincts of ants and bees.

        MICHAEL: That’s all well and, for the most part, historically accurate, but in the last instance not at all a defensible position in light of contemporary science. Nor does the promotion of such a binary follow from a thorough-going investigation of our being-in-the-world. There is no-thing in existence which is un-natural. Everything is composed of the known cosmological elements and forces. The ‘wilderness’ of being is an immanent matrix which generates the full range of potencies we call reality. Anthills, beaver dams, bird songs, chimpanzee tools are expressions of material assemblages and intensive properties no less than primate sweat lodges, kula rings, international banking systems, pornography and skyscrapers. Ants do “design” hills, beavers do “design” dams, birds do “design” songs, etc. Bower-bird culture, for example, is just as expressive, interpersonal and natural as any human culture. The full litany of existing objects, assemblages and expressive properties in existence are ‘Natural’ occurrences. The differences between humans and non-humans are only results of differences in the extensive and intensive properties of their composite substantiality as existing in relation.

        That said, we can also step back and appreciate the truth of your statements. Humans have fundamentally changed the ecological composition of the planet. And we have indeed alienated ourselves in disastrous ways. But we have not alienated ourselves from “Nature” in any ontological sense. What we have done, however, is organized our realities in ways that not only disrupt the functionality inherent in non-human ecological systems (as if that wasn’t dangerous and insane enough), but also distance us mentally and aesthetically from being able to sense and experience those systems in an adaptive manner. Alienation is a problem of intimation not metaphysical rupture. And it remains a problem whether or not we subscribe to any particular proto-modernist, romantic, theistic, or normative variations of the subject/object, culture/nature binary.

        And, significantly, to continue to perpetuate such binaries would to reproduce and reinforce the kind of alienated modes of being, consciousness and, yes, ontologies we seek to overcome. It is the kinds of ideations which posit a split between “nature” and “culture” that facilitate both our maladaptive domination (“sovereignty”) of ecosystems and our maddening fantasies of separation.

        ROSS: I agree that the world is composed of a variety of distributed forces, entities, networks, energies, and existential spontaneity. There are, of course, regularities and rhythms to this distributions that can be understood, whether as the “natural laws” of physics or as biospheric tendencies. Within this sublime order of calm predictability, there are of course also countervailing forces that are extremely chaotic, disruptive, and destructive, abiding by their own sets of laws, which can radically reshape the distribution of natural entities. It is not, of course, this fragile equilibrium hanging delicately in the balance. If that were the case, species extinction and environmental transformations would be impossible.

        MICHAEL: Agreed Ross. The cosmos is a dark and relentless (and ‘wild’?) place with chaos and order swirling inside us and around every galactic fold. Adapting to both the “regularity” and the “spontaneity” of the affective forces of reality is the core imperative of sentient beings.

        ROSS: [H]uman society has displayed an increasingly marked ability to affect the total environment of the Earth. While every biological organism seeks to exploit its environment in order to survive and perpetuate itself, humanity is able to do so on an unparalleled level.

        MICHAEL: Yes, we certainly are talented primates. We’re especially good at hording and killing.

        ROSSL: Particularly following the advent of capitalism, the rate of revolutionary technological innovations has accelerated at an astonishing pace. Our ability to extract natural resources, whether from the bottom of the ocean or buried beneath layers of Siberian permafrost, is astounding. We can shear off the sides of mountains with dynamite, drill tunnels and subterranean underpasses, redirect the course of rivers, and create artificial lakes. And while this happens in a hyperexploitative, individual, and anarchistic fashion under capitalism, such monumental forces of production and environmental transformation could be directed to literally reshape the globe according to human need and taste. Humanity would have to attain a more complete mastery over its own form of social organization, such that it could self-consciously exert its energies in the most sustainable, and yet efficient, ways. I dare say that we could even enhance nature, not only for our own sake, but for nature’s sake as well.

        MICHAEL: Without wanting to be interpreted as being a complete jerk-off, let me say that I find your assessment of humanity’s “progress” sad. In an age where over 50 industrial toxins can be detected in the breast milk of every new mother in North America, where much of the world’s fresh water sources are being either depleted or irreparably polluted, where childhood obesity is on average 300% more prevalent, where global warming is rapidly accelerating beyond any kind of control, etc., etc., I find it hard to believe anyone as smart as you can still support the under-critical Marxist article of faith in (post)modern technology. The myth of unrelenting progress is alive and well with you then?

        Sure, we could direct all our technological innovations towards building more just and efficient subsistence systems, systems where societies are organized to maximize the allocation of resources and social solidarity, but not without first brutalizing the historically evolved and entrenched life-ways of so many people all over the planet. What you are implying is a total reorganization of human life around a technocratic machination of existing ecologies and territories based on a culturally specific instrumental rationality. This sort of undertaking would forcibly penetrate all aspects of other people’s mental and material lives, presumably without their consent. I couldn’t possibly think of a more monstrous, degrading and life-destroying endeavor.

        Again, humans are only one kind of entity within a vast parliament of things, flows and forces. We would do well to set aside our violent interrogations and understand deeper the wilderness of being with all its beings and learn to adapt to it in more mutually supportive ways. Notions such as “mastery” and “enhancement” are the buzzwords and keystones of mentalities that seek to dominate, control and impose not liberate, reconcile and co-create.

        ROSS: I agree that Heidegger’s thought has many facets and that one cannot uniformly label them all as fascist. I believe that much of his romantic emphasis on the “poetry” of being, “pathways” through the forest searching for “the clearing” in which beings unconceal themselves, these concepts have dangerously völkisch undertones. The simplicity of wisdom, Heidegger’s anti-intellectualism, setting itself apart from the “idle talk” of the “they” (those alien, overly-verbose Jewish cosmopolitan types), all this is extremely problematic. The problem is that many of his successors, even if they espoused different political ideologies, carried over these mute fascisms from Heidegger’s unique spin on phenomenological thought.

        MICHAEL: To some extent I can see your point Ross, but, again, Heidegger’s thought can be worked several different ways, and not all of them are fascistic. I think you only read him through the Nazi lens, whereas I choose to read him through the ecological lens. There is nothing inherent in talking about ‘the clearing’ and ‘pathways’ that makes it dangerous. It is all a matter of how you deploy such thought and, more importantly, for what ends.

        I’m not going to defend Heidegger the person Ross. He is indefensible. I only disagree with you about what his thinking can possibly do.

        ROSS: The concept of a “wilderness” in which all beings are entangled, bound up, and which through struggle manifest themselves, this bears too much similarity to the kinds of speeches he delivered to young Nazi volunteers during his (brief) career as the rector of Freiburg.

        MICHAEL: I sympathize with why you would rail against this then. But let us not give in to the Nazis. Let us not allow those monsters of history and flesh foreclose thought and the possibility of meaning because we are disgusted or afraid. Let us reclaim and eradicate their power over us. Let us chose exactitude in the face of the Real instead: because if being is fundamentally ecological, and ontology is simply an abstracted formalism of empirical investigations of ontic reality, then the notion of ‘the wilderness of being’ is entirely appropriate to the practical task of exploring, adapting and getting along in a world such as ours. The cosmos is quite literally a wild matrix of forces, flows, beings, possibility-spaces and becomings. And understanding just how this is so is indispensible.

      • Ross,

        Despite any connections between certain aspects of Heidegger’s thought and that of Germanic voelkisch or ‘fascist’ ideas, somehow I think Heidegger’s thought lends itself more to conceptualizing the radical freedom of being rather than any strict regimentation of it. Heidegger was perhaps enamoured of those aspects of the Nazi party that praised struggle, implicit nature worship, and bent for simplicity in speech and interaction, because they spoke to his own ruminations of being and his thought, but I wouldn’t call those aspects fascist, or necessarily ways along the way to fascism, and so I wouldn’t be so quick to say his philosophy is fascist to the core, no less to call him a fascist. The type of thought he espouses, I believe, calls for continual engagement and re-engagement with Being – be it in an ontological or ontic, and indeed in both senses.

        Forgive me if I am in any way mistaken in saying this, but your own close affinity with Marxist thought has, I think, heavily influenced your rather cursory condemnation of Heidegger’s philosophy as fascist, or in your later comment, as voelkisch (and the two are not as easily complimentary and interconnected as you appear to imply here) – to a point that it seems more ideologically motivated than a real grappling with his thought and its application to, well, the world, and what that would look like.

        However, all this being said, I would go beyond Michael in saying that the man Heidegger can be excused. If we can’t judge the philosophy on the man or his historical context, we can’t judge the man purely based on his own engagements in life, especially when they, and he in them, were not as completely one-sided as his philosophy wasn’t as well. It’s both a poor argument to denounce his philosophy based on it’s comparisons to ‘fascist’ thought, as well to try and attempt to reclaim the philosophy from those who partake in the former by denouncing the man.

        I have until this point been primarily on the side of Heidegger, and will only mention in passing that the idea of “wilderness-ontology” is intriguing. You’re responses, up until your treatment of Heidegger, to Michael’s reply deserve, and indeed have gotten proper thought. The ensuing debate has been a fascinating read. I look forward to your response to this, if any are forthcoming.

        Dan

  2. Michael wrote: “The link between fascist thought and ecological thought is not causal but incidental. Realist ecological thought flows from the confluence of embodied experience and the methods and ideology of particular sciences and humanities – if it is generated at all.”

    You should have started with statement like this, Ross. There main be a link between Heidegger and fascism, but to throw Bryant in with that mix (even if just by association with your use of imagery) is irresponsible and embarrassing to me. I think your being reactionary and it seems to be hobbling your critical thinking.

  3. “We are amazing animals, no doubt about it. But just because we have developed frontal lobes, social techne and symbol manipulating capacities doesn’t mean we are ontologically different.”

    You seem to state this as a kind of a given, understood fact, Michael. But it is not give at all, and not obvious my any means. You state axiomatically what is in fact in need of rigorous demonstration. Humans aren’t ontologically different only after you have demonstrated that your ontology (according to which you classify beings) is correct. Assuming what needs to be proved is a big logical sin, you know? But, of course, these are just oppressive rules that “epistemological policemen” enforce, right?

  4. Sorry about the spelling issues in the previous comment.

    Ross, I don’t think it’s fair to say “Nazis were into X” and “Levi Bryant is into X” therefore “Levi Bryant is a Nazi” – I hope that wasn’t what you were trying to say.

    I do agree with you vis-a-vis the “night in which all cows are black” – if everything is black, then nothing is black, i.e. if every being is ontologically the same as every other being, then it is impossible to discern any ontological difference between beings (I don’t think Heidegger was a ‘flat ontologist’) and therefore there is no reason to speak of sameness as there is no other against which this sameness can be seen. This is a very basic Hegelian (and generally philosophical point), it seems. In other words, sameness assumes difference, if everything is the same, nothing is the same because there is no conceptual way of grasping either sameness or difference. Flat ontology is only conceivable as an opposite of bumpy ontology, horizontal – only as an opposite of vertical, right – only as an opposite of left, immanence – only as an opposite of transcendence and so on.

    Again, unless a satisfactory answer is given to the question ‘how do you know that this is the case?’ all of this is pretty useless. If I said ‘humans are ontologically special’ and Michael said ‘humans aren’t ontologically special’ – how do we decide who is correct and who is not? Arm wrestling? Shouting? Inevitably the question will become ‘how do we know anything? how can we argue about positions? what is a correct view and what is an incorrect view? etc etc. But this is epistemology and no one wants to go there.

    A world in which all views are correct is not just like ‘the night in which all cows are black’ but more like the world in which all propositions are simultaneously true and false.

    As for the usefulness of concepts as tool, having almost finished a long book on slavery in the US, I have to say that the concept that some humans are less human than others was very useful in ante bellum South, very useful indeed.

    • Evgeni,

      Levi Bryant isn’t a Nazi, to be sure, but I’m saying that there is a great deal of overlap between Heidegger’s early fundamental ontology and even his later ontology of searching through pathways in the dark forest and Levi’s bizarre, undifferentiated, and underdeveloped notion of a “wilderness ontology.” And Heidegger’s own conceptions of this untamed wilderness of being can be clearly traced back to Nazi ecology, with its veneration of the beasts of the forest, the midnight Teutonic rituals carried out amidst the trees by torchlight, waiting under the sign of Siegfried or Emperor Barbarossa. The reverence for nature and non-human animal beings in general was part and parcel of the Nazis’ rejection of the Enlightenment in favor of myth, part of their antihumanist vision of the world.

      Dwelling in the hut of Heidegger’s Black Forest, outside of which pathways lead through darkened spaces where the Being of beings are entangled and concealed, searching to find “the clearing” in which beings allow themselves to be revealed — all this bears a resemblance to Levi’s wilderness ontology. With one crucial exception, however. It seems that Levi doesn’t even want the light of the clearing to pierce the forest canopy of leaves. Rather, he is calling for a “dark enlightenment” (“dark” seems to be a fashionable adjective within OOO) where, in Levi’s words, “we recognize the manner in which we are entangled.”

      As a defender of the legacy of the Enlightenment (though I acknowledge its problems and limits), I would respond to Bryant’s call for a recognition of the ways in which we are entangled by saying that it is the duty of Enlightenment to disentangle us from the heteronomous structures of nature and social oppression. Only in this fashion can humanity achieve freedom. And we have successfully shielded ourselves from many of the immediate constraints of nature. Though weather and natural cycles continue to impact human society in a variety of ways, we have invented means by which to minimize, if not circumvent, many of these unwelcome intrusions of nature. Larger problems like global warming might loom, but this is an effect of the expanded scale on which society operates under capitalism.

      To want to return to a world or even a way of conceptualizing the world that consigns us to this eternal entanglement, prevented from releasing ourselves from bondage through our cunning and artifice, would be insanity. Bryant’s call for a “dark enlightenment” strikes me as more of a call for a return to a new “dark age,” to ironically paraphrase Lovecraft.

  5. Evgeni,

    Good point.

    Here is what I carelessly passed off as an argument for the aforementioned claim:

    We are of this world in the same way as moss or a beetle is of this world… [O]ur talents are generated and enacted within a complex but thoroughly natural matrix of extensive and intensive properties.

    Without providing details (which, or course are important) what I presupposing was the readers awareness of the massive amounts of scientific elucidating the physical, chemical, biological and social basis for animal functioning. If you doubt the evidence which argues that we are organic and interdependent compositions just like other creatures – as opposed to metaphysically special beings, ontological independent from our ecological matrix – then I would simply point you to the vast literature in ethology, anthropology, and neurobiology that suggests otherwise. Or, I could just remind you that you came from your mother’s vagina (hence “thoroughly natural matrix”)?

    And for the record (kept safely tucked away by the grand judges of the transcendental argument tribunals in the sky, of course [joking]), I fully admit there are ways to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ arguments in the context of philosophy (within both #1 and #2 as discussed below). My claim is that all language games can only be judged using immanent criteria – which include not only semantic structures but also a whole gambit of additional cognitive, emotional and social elements which complicate and implicate rule-following procedures through non-linear influences. In less pretentious terms, speech-acts, persuasion, and communicative action exceed (but include) any particular forms of logic if only because of the embodied, enacted and ecological character of hominid communication. But notice I wrote ‘particular forms’? Because, as I suggested to Pete below, there are broad species-wide (still immanent and not universal) cognitive capacities.

  6. “If I said ‘humans are ontologically special’ and Michael said ‘humans aren’t ontologically special’ – how do we decide who is correct and who is not?”

    Empirical investigation, falsification and the socially constructed “verification” of a community of people who use similar methodologies.

    • Can you explain to me how you will empirically investigate ontological status? Or any status for that matter?

  7. “If you doubt the evidence which argues that we are organic and interdependent compositions just like other creatures – as opposed to metaphysically special beings, ontological independent from our ecological matrix – then I would simply point you to the vast literature in ethology, anthropology, and neurobiology that suggests otherwise.”

    No offense, but since then did ethology, anthropology, and neurobiology became authorities on ONTOLOGY? I agree with everything you wrote but one thing – it says nothing about ONTOLOGY – since ontology is a philosophical take on the kind of being(s). That we are part of the world (that I came out of my mother’s vagina, as you put it), says nothing about my ontological, but only my biological status. As a “creature” I am as part of “nature” as my dog or my favorite bacteria, but how does it follow that we have the same ontological status?

    • The nuance comes from the following position (shared in the original response to Ross):

      “That is to say, being as such – as the totality of distributed beings and the possibility spaces between them – is fundamentally ecological.

      For me, this is not an ontological-metaphysical (onto-theological) statement; it is an ontic statement subject to empirical investigation. For me, metaphysics is a purely speculative project secondary to the more pragmatic practice of investigating the ontic conditions of human praxis.”

      For me ontology is a secondary activity to ontography. Thus the ontological can only be inferred from the ontic. I’m no metaphysician. I’m an old fashion empiricist.

      This, incidentally, is precisely why I favor the notion of a wilderness of being as opposed to the wholly inadequate notion of “Being-as-such”, which is, as you and Ross point out, like painting everything black.

      • Why do you need ontology at all? As an empiricist, ontology is complete and utter nonsense (and for very good reasons, as you know). That’s my problem with your statements (some of which I simple don’t understand, so I’m keeping in the shallow end and asking questions about your terminology). All jargon aside, I’m totally with you on the issues of biology, neuroscience and so on. But saying that, for example, we are all biologically the same (just for example) is not the same as saying we are all ontologically the same – yes or no?

        Now, even saying something like “We are all one” is problematic and it’s an old philosophical puzzle, whatever that oneness consists of/in.

        I hesitate to go any further simple because I don’t get why you need either ontology or ontography or any other philosophical concept or word…

  8. Outside of that what you are species of language games, poetic resonances and symbolic inventions deployed as a means to persuade and illicit reactions and behaviors through local gestural conventions.

  9. Come to my blog, if you want Nazi analogies.

    A dog can be taught to follow verbal commands, given by a human being. The dog can’t learn the commands, without human contact. Another dog will not teach a dog to sit on command.

    Because of having a mixed diet, human beings can change an environment, without being there physically.

  10. Looks like Michael/Adam epigones had a little meeting with their Master and decided that it is uncool to participate on this blog. Or empirically established that we are of lower ontological status. Plus, did you know why Bryant’s no longer ‘discussing things with you’?

    @joepdx i’ve long given up discussion with him. When someone calls you a Nazi because you talk about ecology he’s jumped the shark.

    How pathetic? Surely this is not at all what you meant, but distorting what others are saying is Bryant expertise. He’s given up because you were pointing out his contradictory nonsense, but now it is apparently because of this very post. Sadness all around.

    • Eugene,

      No offense, but since then did ethology, anthropology, and neurobiology became authorities on ONTOLOGY? I agree with everything you wrote but one thing – it says nothing about ONTOLOGY – since ontology is a philosophical take on the kind of being(s).

      Who said those disciplines are “authorities” on anything other than their own objects of study? Not I. But what these disciplines can provide is a range of data particular to their methodologies and narratives. These pools of data can then inform our ontographic projects. Ontology is simply an abstracted map, or model of the actual ontic territory. And ontography is the transdisciplinary, multi-methodological investigation of the territory, or wilderness of being. Thus the ontological can only be inferred from the ontic.

      Obviously I mutate the notion of ontology a bit here to fit my own theoretical orientation, but what is important for me is process and practice of investigating reality (ontography) not the derivative theories (ontologies) we might settle on. As Jane Bennett suggests, ontologies can be understood as “onto-stories” – necessary fictions of the realist persuasion. And certain onto-stories are useful if they afford us a fresh view of things or help us create ruptures in dominating systems, or assist with the generation of new practices and lines of thought.

      That we are part of the world (that I came out of my mother’s vagina, as you put it), says nothing about my ontological, but only my biological status. As a “creature” I am as part of “nature” as my dog or my favorite bacteria, but how does it follow that we have the same ontological status?

      Vagina emergence says important things about your ontological status: namely, that you are both generated and finite beings, and the same accessible way.

      It follows in the sense that you are both temporal assemblages operating under the same broad cosmological conditions, and vulnerable to the same affective forces and material constraints (so-called “laws of nature”). That is, you and your dog are beings which exist on a material-energetic plane in the same manner that other beings exist. You are both equally “real”

      So, you may be biologically different in terms of possessing different genes and phenotypical expressions, but ontologically the same in your composite nature, vulnerability/accessibility and temporal finitude.

      This, incidentally, is precisely why I favor the notion of a wilderness of being as opposed to the wholly inadequate notion of “Being-as-such”, which is, as you and Ross point out, like painting everything black.

      Why do you need ontology at all? As an empiricist, ontology is complete and utter nonsense (and for very good reasons, as you know). That’s my problem with your statements (some of which I simple don’t understand, so I’m keeping in the shallow end and asking questions about your terminology). All jargon aside, I’m totally with you on the issues of biology, neuroscience and so on. But saying that, for example, we are all biologically the same (just for example) is not the same as saying we are all ontologically the same – yes or no?

      I disagree, because it seems very sensible to attempt to cultivate a radically reflexive and pre-ideological understanding of being and beings, lest you unwittingly take up an already metaphysically laden schema, such as “empiricism” or “rationalism”, to make sense of the world. ALL belief systems function based on an implicit ontology with guiding metaphysical assumptions. So why wouldn’t you want to be more reflexive and attempt to make your ontology explicit instead of letting yourself be content to prioritize your thoughts with an implicit metaphysical posture?

      If we can make our always-present ontologies more explicit then we can work with them to identify pernicious biases and begin to orient ourselves to certain pre-conceptual actually existing conditionalities. Ontography is about reflexively investigating the nature of experience and the world and making our metaphysics (ontologies) explicit enough to overcome.

      Looks like Michael/Adam epigones had a little meeting with their Master and decided that it is uncool to participate on this blog. Or empirically established that we are of lower ontological status.

      My first reaction to this comment was to tell you to go fuck yourself, but than I allowed myself the privilege to accept the fact that you must just be tragically ill-informed. I’m not a “follower” of Levi Bryant. And if you knew anything at all about me, or my history in the theory-blogosphere you’d know that Levi and I have had some serious philosophical and personal disagreements in the not too distant past. I have no masters and I do not shy away from confrontation or discussion. Ever.

      And for the record, I really appreciate most of Ross’ perspectives and would willingly participate on this blog at any time on any topic.

      It’s probably not good practice to ascribe positions and/or sentiments to people you know little about Eugene. If you want to know more about me go to my website: archivefire.net – otherwise be respectful.

  11. Hold that please, Ross. I have no idea what Evgeni is talking about, and, as soon as I am not away from my computer I should like to respond more thoroughly. I think this has been a good conversation, even if we disagree about some things.

    Evgeni- please don’t imply me in anything that you say, it is not representative.

    • Sorry, just posted it. But you’re an entirely innocent party. I think what Evgeni was saying was that an epigone of you and Michael (Joe Clement) was conferring with Levi on Twitter on why he’s stopped talking to me.

    • Adam, my bad. I shouldn’t have lumped you with Michael. Ross is correct though that i have hard time with apostrophes. It seemed that you and Michael were so much in line on everything that your mutual silence appeared orchestrated. My apologies again. I do know that Bryant tends to mobilise his supporters via private emails in which he does not hold back in making slanderous accusations and more. When the great SR/OOO movement gets its first history, I hope to share a stack of emails from him to me and other folks that prove my point.

      • I’m sure Michael and I have points of agreement and points of disagreement. I did appreciate his comments on wilderness ontology, and, I also liked Bryant’s post on the same. Generally, I do appreciate what Bryant writes, and I am also looking forward to his forthcoming book, which will give me a better sense of where I agree and disagree with him. Again, my interest comes from the type of research I do, which although it has a central locus and aim, is also somewhat of a bricolage (to reference Ross’s comments), I think this is common in people who are studying ecology- it tends to attract (require?) a transdisciplinary attitude (I have thought quite a bit about the pros and cons of breadth vs. speciality, its always a tightrope).

        I have to admit, I’m not sure I really understand the history you all have with Bryant (perhaps different but similar histories?) I’ve been online with my site for 4 or 5 months I think, so I missed most of where this comes from. Nevertheless, I am probably never going to spend the time waging through correspondences to “figure it out” as I am more interested in simply thinking, writing, and sharing online with the cordial and interested. Ross, our engagements are helpful and interesting, however, I will probably avoid further contact if those discussions continue to slide into gossip and a certain clique-ish attitude.

        Best,

        Adam

      • Adam,

        You’re right to not want to get caught up in all the pettiness and personal vendettas of the theory internet. To this point, if I may say so, you have handled yourself with quite a bit more calmness and respectability than Bryant has, whenever he has been seriously engaged.

        In terms of the personal histories of these “feuds,” if they can be called such, I think it’s fair for me to say that Pete Wolfendale, Reid Kane, Evgeni Pavlov, and I have each had our run-ins with Levi. It’s different in each case, of course. For Evgeni and I, when we’ve pressed him hard about apparent contradictions in his philosophizing, argued that he’s misinterpreted Marx, or suggested that his thought is unsystematic and given to flights of fancy — Bryant is prone to outright hostility with us. He has compared both Evgeni and I (in separate incidents) personally with Rush Limbaugh, called Evgeni “one of the most notorious and unfair trolls of the theory blogosphere,” accused me of “hate speech,” and called my rhetoric “Stalinist” (though I highly doubt he knows what he’s talking about). Needless to say, we’re no longer welcome at his blog, even though I certainly would never begrudge him for wanting to comment on my own.

        With Reid and Pete it’s been quite different, as far as I could tell. Each of them have engaged in heated debates with Levi (and Pete also with Harman), but ones which were slightly more polite, patient, and less polemical than Evgeni or I. After some initial sound and fury, however, from what I can tell each of them were dealt with by a strange sort of non-engagement. Their criticisms were softly acknowledged, but then largely ignored as Bryant & company continued on their merry metaphysical way.

        This is all I will say of the “gossip” and personal histories of these debates. Really, I wouldn’t mind continuing to engage in dialogue in a calm and professional manner with Bryant if he weren’t so quick to ban me. You and Michael seem to have both a bit thicker skin than Levi, and since you identify with some of his platforms, I believe that more valuable discussion can result from a dialogue between his positions and positions that are critical of him. In my experience, a theory is much more worthy of consideration if it has been subjected to the fire of outside criticism and learned from it. With that said, I find both you and Michael intellectually honest and open enough to continue a friendly dialogue.

        I am also especially interested in continuing to talk with you and Michael because of your engagement with the subject of nature and ecology, something I’ve written about at length coming from a position that is quite distinct from Morton’s or Bryant’s.

  12. Pingback: A Clarification on Why Levi Bryant has Really “Given up Talking to Me” « The Charnel-House

  13. ‘I hope to share a stack of emails from him to me and other folks that prove my point.’

    Creepy!

    ‘With Reid and Pete it’s been quite different, as far as I could tell. Each of them have engaged in heated debates with Levi (and Pete also with Harman), but ones which were slightly more polite, patient, and less polemical than Evgeni or I.’

    @Adam – As you can see from this it is perhaps better to stay away from these debates. I’ve argued before that the whole Perverse Egal. attitude seems to be a complicated trolling of Bryant especially but also Harman. It’s full of peronal invective and can barely be considered philosophy. The critiques are always basic (Evgeni never shows us his work and just says ‘Kant said it so it must be true!’). When they are not telling themselves how much smarter or awesomer they are than Bryant on Twitter they spend their days waiting to mock Harman’s posts about kittens.

    Welcome to creepy world they inhabit.

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