Thinking Nature, a Speculative Realist Journal, Volume 1 Released

Thomas Cole's "A Tornado in the Wilderness" (1835)

Volume 1 of the Speculative Realist journal Thinking Nature is finally out.  Though I do not consider myself part of the Speculative Realist movement and have on several occasions been extremely critical of it, the content of my article was deemed relevant enough that it warranted inclusion in the journal.  My essay, “Man and Nature,” posted on this blog already, is written from a thoroughly Marxist perspective.  In any case, the other accepted submissions are listed below:

Volume 1


/1/ – What did the Early Heidegger Think about Nature? – Paul Ennis

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/2/ – Being and Counting: Speculative Materialism and the Threshold of the Given – David Lindsay

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/3/ – Unthinking Nature: Transcendental Realism, Neo-Vitalism and the Metaphysical Unconscious in Outline – Michael Austin

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/4/ – Philosophies of Nature in the Differentials of Iain Hamilton Grant and Ray Brassier – Himanshu Damle

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/5/ – Ecological Necessity – Tom Sparrow

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/6/ – Six Myths of Interdisciplinarity – Ted Toadvine

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/7/ – Some Notes Towards a Philosophy of Non-Life – Timothy Morton

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/8/ – Towards a Philosophy of (Dejected) Nature – Ben Woodard

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/9/ – Man and Nature – Ross Wolfe

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A Concrete Illustration of the Völkisch Undertones of Nazi Ecologism

Heidegger in the Black Forest

The following text is a translation of an address that Heidegger gave to his students commemorating the tenth anniversary of the the “heroic” death of Albert Leo Schlageter, a young German student at Freiburg who was executed by firing squad in 1923 for attempting to sabotage elements of the French occupation army in the Ruhr.  After the Nazis’ rise to power, Schlageter was immortalized as a patriot and a hero, celebrated for his noble sacrifice.  Throughout, Heidegger appeals to the notion of the Volk, singing maudlin hymns to the notions of courage and the will, to struggle and sacrifice.  But also notice Heidegger’s pastoral references to the natural landscape of surrounding Freiburg as he tries to stir up feelings of one’s ties to “blood and soil.”  All this is part and parcel of Nazi ecologism.


(May 26, 1933)

In the midst of our work, during a short break in our lectures, let us remember the Freiburg student Albert Leo Schlageter, a young German hero who a decade ago died the most difficult and the greatest death of all.

Let us honor him by reflecting, for a moment, upon his death in order that this death may help us to understand our lives.

Albert Leo Schlageter (1894-1923)

Schlageter died the most difficult of all deaths. Not in the front line as the leader of his field artillery battery, not in the tumult of an attack, and not in a grim defensive action — no, he stood defenseless before the French rifles.

But he stood and bore the most difficult thing a man can bear.

Yet even this could have been borne with a final rush of jubilation, had a victory been won and the greatness of the awakening nation shone forth.

Instead — darkness, humiliation, and betrayal.

And so, in his most difficult hour, he had also to achieve the greatest thing of which man is capable. Alone, drawing on his own inner strength, he had to place before his soul an image of the future awakening of the Volk to honor and greatness so that he could die believing in this future.

Whence this clarity of heart, which allowed him to envision what was greatest and most remote?

Student of Freiburg! German student! When on your hikes and outings you set foot in the mountains, forests, and valleys of this Black Forest, the home of this hero, experience this and know: the mountains among which the young farmer’s son grew up are of primitive stone, of granite.

They have long been at work hardening the will.

The autumn sun of the Black Forest bathes the mountain ranges and forests in the most glorious clear light. It has long nourished clarity of the heart.

As he stood defenseless facing the rifles, the hero’s inner gaze soared above the muzzles to the daylight and mountains of his home that he might die for the German people and its Reich with the Alemannic countryside before his eyes.

With a hard will and a clear heart, Albert Leo Schlageter died his death, the most difficult and the greatest of all.

Student of Freiburg, let the strength of this hero’s native mountains flow into your will!

Student of Freiburg, let the strength of the autumn sun of this hero’s native valley shine into your heart!

Preserve both within you and carry them, hardness of will and clarity of heart, to your comrades at the German universities.

Schlageter walked these grounds as a student. But Freiburg could not hold him for long. He was compelled to go to the Baltic; he was compelled to go to Upper Silesia; he was compelled to go to the Ruhr.

He was not permitted to escape his destiny so that he could die the most difficult and greatest of all deaths with a hard will and a clear heart.

We honor the hero and raise our arms in silent greeting.

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"