A Clarification on Why Levi Bryant has Really “Given up Talking to Me”

As Evgeni pointed out a couple posts ago, Levi Bryant is misrepresenting his reasons for no longer engaging with me on the blogosphere.  Yesterday, one of Levi’s followers on twitter, Joe Clement, alerted Bryant to an article that might support his “wilderness ontology” thesis against the criticisms I leveled at it two days ago:

@onticologist This seems highly relevant to your discussion with Mr. Ross about non-human agency vis-a-vis politicshttp://bit.ly/mvkRDX

However, on Levi’s twitter page Bryant indicated that he was no longer interested in talking to me, suggesting that it had something to do with my post exposing some of the origins of Heidegger’s ontological meditations on the environment in Nazi ecology.

@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

Of course, I never called Bryant a Nazi.  The real reason that Bryant chose to stop talking to me is decidedly more embarrassing, as he expressed it to me in an e-mail from May 27, about a week before I even posted the article about the fascist fetishization of nature:


Between your highly insulting and patronizing comment about my education (http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2011/05/25/dark-objects/#comment-50541) on my blog and your post mocking my work and scholarship on your blog yesterday I’ve decided to cease discussion with you.



I dealt with this little incident of crybabyism in a separate post, “On Hurt Feelings: The Case of Levi Bryant’s Missing Sense of Humor.”  But this wasn’t the first time that Bryant had banned me from his blog.  Back on April 13, I received an e-mail from Levi informing me that he wasn’t going to post my comments over at his blog anymore.  We had just previously been debating the question of the Left’s role in critiquing vs. “producing” ideology.  His reason for banning me? He explained:


I have opted to no longer post your comments.  I do not approve of how you have both interacted with the other participants on my blog and with me.  You have engaged in a monologue rather than a dialogue that has been rather disdainful to other positions equally informed by Marxist thought.  Moreover, over at your blog you have hosted discussion with one of the most well known trolls of the theory blogosphere, Evgeni Pavlov, who has spent years attacking me online, suggesting that I know nothing about Marx (I have quite an extensive background) and shooting spitwads from afar.  This calls into question the genuineness of your interactions.  Ergo I choose not to make my blog a platform for your interactions.

After repeatedly asking him to be reasonable and pleading my case with Bryant, he continued to respond:

I banned you from my blog for hate speech.

Let me get this straight, Ross.  You came into my living room, made ugly slurs about women, homosexuals, african-americans and environmentalists and then proceeded to host a snark fest on your own blog with one of the most belligerent and unfair trolls in the theory blogosphere, all the while mocking the bonafides and earnestness of the Marxists that participate in that living room, and you believe that ****you**** are being persecuted because others don’t care to continue discussion with you or host you in their living room?  Yes, yes, you’re so oppressed that others don’t care to carry on discussion with a pompous, insulting, homophobic, sexist, racist, know-it-all who wishes to pontificate to everyone else without bothering to listen.  Once again, good luck with your revolution.  Somehow I think you’ll have a hard go of it if you continue to engage in this religious fundamentalist, belligerent, behavior that refuses to listen and honor others with dignity.  Pardon me, I have to get back to body building, hormone injections, and hair color treatments in between worshipping neo-pagan gods.

And finally, he explicitly compared me to Rush Limbaugh, which seems to be one of his signature terms of abuse:

You presented these emancipatory political movements in extremely ugly and stereotypical terms worthy of Rush Limbaugh.  The fact that you continue to portray these vibrant and diverse movements in this reductive light only confirms the point.  Nor was I alone in evaluating your remarks in those terms.  A variety of others responded along similar lines.  You might think you’re providing relevant commentary, yet micro-fascist sensibilities immediately exclude themselves from discussion.  Your form of Marxism seems not to have learned anything from the last one hundred years of political theory and thought on these matters, repeating the worst tendencies of Stalinist sensibility and general disdain for life.  There’s nothing critical about your critical theory.  It is religious fundamentalism through and through.

So let’s tally things up, shall we? Bryant compared me personally to Rush Limbaugh, accused me of “hate speech,” and then claimed that I repeated “the worst tendencies of Stalinist sensibility.”  As for me, I merely pointed out that many of the motifs of his “wilderness ontology” can be seen as reflecting Heidegger’s late ontology of “pathways” in the Black Forest, searching for the “clearing.”  And then I further pointed out how this was symptomatic of some of the prevailing tendencies of Nazi ecology.  That’s all I did.

Bryant didn’t appreciate that I was pointing out specific places in which he was contradicting himself.  My comments stood in the way of his rather careless philosophical improv act, and called him in for accountability.  That’s why he doesn’t want to talk to me anymore.

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"

On Hurt Feelings: The Case of Levi Bryant’s Missing Sense of Humor

Levi Bryant, humorless "onticologist"

I know that it’s usually in bad taste to publish a private e-mail correspondence with another individual over the internet, but in this case I feel it’s fairly harmless.  Over at Levi Bryant’s blog, Larval Subjects, I was engaging in an interesting discussion between Levi and Michael from Archive Fire.  You can see one of my comments on this thread, as well as Michael’s favorable citation of some of the points I make.  Anyway, sometime yesterday, I added another comment on the entry regarding the debate between Spinoza and Leibniz on actualism vs. possibilism (although Spinoza was dead when Leibniz’s major metaphysical writings began to appear).

After several hours, I saw that new comments had been updated for the post, and so I checked to see if Levi or Michael had responded to anything I’d written.  Much to my dismay, I discovered that my comment was nowhere to be found.  I tried leaving another one, asking what had happened, but this one likewise disappeared after a few minutes.  Concerned, I contacted Levi through e-mail:

[E-mails deleted out of respect for Levi Bryant’s privacy]

Basically, Levi told me that he felt insulted by a comment I’d left the day before, and that, coupled with my satyric post on SR/OOO, he’s decided to cease discussion with me.  My reply to him was that the sendup of SR/OOO was aimed at the movement in general, and that he shouldn’t take it as a personal affront.  I also encouraged him to develop a better sense of humor about things generally and himself in particular.

So far, I haven’t received any further response.  This isn’t the first time this has happened, either.  Back in the ides of April, I published a somewhat lengthier (though similarly fraught) exchange between Levi and me that had resulted from a heated debate on the subject of Marxism on his own blog.  He accused me at that point of “hate speech.”  After some further conversation through e-mail (following the correspondence posted in that entry), I explained myself more thoroughly.  Levi eventually came to his senses and invited me back to comment on his blog.

Now again, it’s his right to exclude certain individuals from posting or commenting on his blog if he wants to.  I just think it’s a shame that he allows his feelings to be so easily hurt, or that he takes an obviously satyrical manifesto directed at a general movement and interprets it as a personal attack.  It’s really too bad that he can’t have a little better sense of humor about this, and have a laugh along with everyone else.

By contrast, the responses I received from the author of the blog ktismatics and Joseph Weissman of Fractal Ontology were unambiguously supportive.  Even the e-mail I received, from Nick Srnicek of Speculative Heresy, was polite and largely understanding:

[A polite and good-natured e-mail deleted out of respect for Nick Srnicek’s privacy]

If this means an end to my participation on Larval Subjects, then so be it.  It’s just sort of sad that it had to be over such a petty matter.