The following is taken from a response I wrote to Adam Robbert’s recent post on his blog,“Six Common Problems in Thinking Nature-Culture Interactions.” If you would like to read another interesting response to the article, check out Matthew David Segall’s reply here, “Towards an Eco-Ontology.” My Adornian opposition to ontologies of any sort remains unchanged, and while this doubtless complicates any attempt at discourse I might have with the OOO approach, I still think that some fruitful dialogue might be taken from this discussion.
A very interesting reflection on the old problem of the nature-culture relationship. Your points are thorough, calm, and considered — and I will say that none of them fall prey to the kind of pernicious metaphysical proclamations I sometimes see being issued out of the OOO blogosphere. Seeing your measured comments on my blog, it is little surprise to see that you are equally measured and reasonable in writing posts for your own blog.
In any case, I, like Matthew, also appreciate some of the thinkers you brought into constellation with one another. Ellul and Mumford are among my favorite critics of technology, though I prefer their insights as filtered through and appropriated by Horkheimer, Adorno, and Marcuse. For this reason, along with my general Marxist inclinations, the most important point you highlighted (in my opinion) was the third, considering the effects of capitalism and globalization on the relationship between humanity and nature. For me, capitalism, globalization, and modernity are all coterminous — globalization is simply a spatial register for capitalism’s inherently expansionary logic, while the time-consciousness of modernity is merely capitalism’s temporal register.
I would argue, viewing the problem historically, that the problem of humanity’s alienation from nature — the widening chasm between Nature and Culture, even if they be inextricably intertwined — arose historically. That is to say, although humanity’s self-distinction as a society distinguishable from nature arrived fairly early, with the project of agriculture and primitive domestication, the estrangement of humanity from nature only rose to the level of consciousness with the advent of capitalism. Only after the Enlightenment’s thorough disenchantment of nature, the coldly rationalizing and technicizing logic of capitalism, even in the eighteenth century, only after this point do we see writers like Schiller, Holderlin, Schelling, and Hegel writing of the problem of humanity’s alienation from nature. Marx rationalized the Romantic thinkers’ thoughts on the matter in his Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.
This bleeds into your second point, where you talk about the problem of nature being one that nature considered as an entity unto itself must also be thought alongside the various ideological conceptions of nature arrived at by society through history. This is why I, in my own writings on the subject, have referred to nature as a fundamentally social problem. That is to say, one can look back through history at the way that humanity has conceived of nature, in its various iterations through the ages, and see that the way that nature has presented itself to us largely depends on the social constitution of a particular epoch. This is not to fall into the idealistic fantasy that nature has no existence apart from our conception of it, but rather to admit that while nature might have its own objective rhythms and regularities, it is not some sort of Kantian Ding-an-Sich, and the way that we conceptualize nature has much to do with how it appears to us as a problem. Oppositely, this would suggest that our way of thinking has much to do with the objective relations of whatever mode of production prevails throughout society at a given time, such that there is a quite real divide between Nature and Culture that has arisen historically. This means that we cannot overcome the problem simply by “reconceptualizing” it, but rather only through a fundamental transformation of our social structure.
Regarding the “pluriverse” and multiple conceptions of nature that you discuss in the fourth part, I thus believe that it is collapsible into the second part, since the multiple manifestations of nature arise historically as part of the social being of mankind. But I’m fully on board with you, also, on the facile attempt to dismiss the real opposition between nature and culture by simply saying that they are wholly intermingled with one another.
If you would like to read my own musings on the subjects, in a rather long essay that is due to be published in the upcoming SR journal Thinking Nature, edited by Ben Woodard and Timothy Morton, you can check it out on my blog. It’s much more detailed than the point-by-point reaction I give here, and I think you might be interested in taking a glance at it.