My Review of Polly Robert’s ‘Grieving with the Animals’ up at The High Window Press

It’s been a while since I posted anything. I just can’t seem to find the time despite a multitude of things I’d love to write & post, owing to my recent indulgence into an MA in English Literary Studies at Exeter University. My studies are mycorrhizally fruitful, bringing me up-to-yet uncharted insights. The future of this blog will no doubt benefit from them, eventually.

For now, & belatedly, I have a review I wrote & which I really should have posted 2 weeks ago when it was published by the amiable David Cooke, editor of The High Window. My thanks to him, as ever, for publishing this review. You’ll need to scroll a bit down the page, here: to find my review, but of course, take some time to read the others.

Here are the D & W page for Polly & her website:

I have an essay on Willa Cather’s My Antonia, which, when I receive my mark, I will post. As a little insight, it regards the exchange (& my identification) of a desiccated mushroom, which I have linked to Americanization in the early 20th Century & Gift Exchange, as expressed by the French anthropologist Marcel Mauss.


Ecology of Kyne

I am currently reading Frank Herbert’s Dune. I am not an inveterate science fiction reader, despite always feeling pulled to sci-fi themes. I have been particularly affected by the death of the Imperial Majesty’s Planetolgist, & planetary ecologist of Arrakis, Liet-Kyne. The Baron Harkonnen realizing Kyne’s betrayal forces him adrift into the unforgiving density of Arrakis’s terrain, without a stillsuit, (a specialized suit designed by the native Fremen of Arrakis, which traps the body’s moisture, making it drinkable), an essential tool for survival in the waterless landscape. Exposed to the unforgiving environment, his fate is to be killed by the planet he has made it his life’s work to turn into a verdant utopia. Remind you of anyone.

In his death throes, deluded, Kyne is visited by a mental projection of his father, a memory transfigured into a tangible form, on the periphery of his life, nagging him with quotations from his childhood, on the knowledge needed to begin Arrakis’ transformation into a biosphere gravid with life; his father’s presence as figuratively obvious as his dying.

The mélange (or spice) Arrakis is rich in, means it has become the principal political-battleground of elite families vying for control of the mining rights. Why it is in the interest of this economical model of production for Arrakis to remain a desert, I am not certain. It is likely that the Harkonnen’s who had been in control & seek to control mining rights again, simply found no cause (owing to their nefarious nature) to ameliorate the native population. Before Duke Leto Atreides is betrayed & bumped-off, he makes it clear that he wishes to veer from this course & cure Arrakis.  

Seeing the potential for Arrakis reveals how fortunate it is to live in an ecologically balanced environment, where natural elements buoy life, allowing it to flourish, & how chaotic life is without them. Something may survive in such insensitive environments, but there is no quality to such an existence.

The scale of complexity necessary to transform Arrakis reveals certain flaws, which lead to the breakdown of ecosystems. The planetary ecologist must foresee these flaws. Kyne has “a thought spread across his mind – clear, distinct: The real wealth of a planet is in its landscape, how we take part in that basic source of civilization – agriculture.” Our own circumstance is analogous: agriculture was an important developmental factor in the history of our planet. Agriculture is an essential civilizing factor. We don’t civilize it through cultivation, we are rather civilized by it in the same way that people in the Dune universe are manipulated by the spice; it establishes a source of currency & a subsistence on which culture can be built. If were to lose our minds & pollute all our sources of food, we would soon see how civilizing an influence crops have on us. Agriculture’s properties make it too attractive a prospect for human beings to ignore. What is farmed survives by making itself attractive, like the petals & scent of a flower attract butterflies or bees. Wheat made itself attractive by growing abundantly, being cultivated easily & providing a reciprocal crop on which to plan for the future. Agriculture brings ubiquitous sustenance, on which a large coagulation of people can flourish. Spice is harvested & the leader who controls this is most powerful. In ancient times grain was hoarded by kings & queens as a source of income & power, just like spice is. Spice is rare in the universe but abundant on Arrakis; it is a crop that makes itself attractive through its properties. The relationship is reciprocal. Something gives & in return is propagated & in its propagation a process can begin, in this case, a culture.

Arrakis is a blank slate as far as establishing an environment goes. “‘To the working planetologist, his most important tools are human beings, his father said. ‘You must cultivate ecological literacy among the people. That’s why I’ve created this entirely new form of ecological notation.’” He goes on to explain “‘We must do a thing on Arrakis never before attempted for an entire planet…We must use man as a constructive ecological force – inserting adapted terraform life: a planet here, an animal there, a man in that place – to transform the water cycle, to build a new kind of landscape.’” We can begin to see the scale of complexity emerge. There is a foundation, the ‘ecological notation’, an information conditioned into the native generations to come.

It seems an obvious point, but the individual (either being or thing) as an assemblage is essential to the creation & maintaining of an environment. Each individual item to its place, in the process to becoming part of ‘a planet’s life…a vast, tightly interwoven fabric.’  Moreover, a population that understands ecology through a short hand “notation” is less likely to fail in the upkeep of a planet. Arrakis has only pockets of hardy, scattered bands of people who know only survival. They cannot be utilized to their full potential if scattered; they are everything to a planet’s potential, which the ecologist with such bold designs must utilize. Those that misunderstand Arrakis’ natives, do not see that they all share a common goal: the flourishing of their planet.

This ‘ecological notation’ is information. Information is key to everything any conscious being does, as we are beginning to realize (as James Gleick’s The Information eruditely expounds). I take this notation Kyne’s father speaks of, to be a measuring device, allowing the planetologist & the population to undercut complexities & short cut to the snowballing of life into ever more simple, functioning & thus functional units, every member of the populace can use to their & the planet’s advantage.  

Part of the conditioning must be a fusing of ‘Religion and law among our masses’ so that ‘an act of disobedience must be a sin and require religious penalties.’ which ‘will have the benefit of bringing both greater disobedience and greater bravery. We must not depend so much on the bravery of individuals, you see, as upon the bravery of a whole population.’ This is to be fused into the conditioning of the populace through the ‘ecological notation.’ In the way that church propaganda installed fear & obedience by telling people ‘God is watching, so you better behave’, keeping people attached to the church, so a tactic of Arrakis’ religion & law, will be to attach people through these same principles. There is no mention of government in this system, only religion & law, but nothing of a literature or code of ethics. This is noteworthy as I think it is evidence that the ecological notation is to be a learned trait through ancestral, mythic consciousness; an oral tradition.  The sin spoken of, will, given the conditioning, not occur. Should it do so, the trigger mechanism of religion & law fused together, will step in to remedy the error.

However, Kyne’s father, it seems to me, wishes to establish a society without religion or law as phenomena in themselves, as nouns an individual or group of natives can point at, talk about & ultimately dichotomize enough to disagree upon; they cannot become anything other than what is. What feeds into & stabilizes this, is the impossibility of individuality, & out of this there will be no room for the populace to separate themselves from natural phenomena & nature as space & time. Not being able to point at nature without pointing at themselves, in that is stable kinship with the environment, which cannot lead to taking-it-for-granted. As a consequence, the slow dearth of the planet from reckless over-consumption is avoided. As Kyne’s father says, “‘Men and their works have been a disease on the surface of their planets before now,’ his father said. ‘Nature tends to compensate for diseases, to remove or encapsulate them, to incorporate them into the system in her own way.’ He continues, stating: “ ‘The historical system of mutual pillage and extortion stops here on Arrakis…You cannot go on forever stealing what you need without regard to those who come after. The physical qualities of a planet are written into its economic and political record. We have the record in front of us and our course is obvious.’”

Interestingly, Kynes father wants to, in his manipulation of Arrakis, ‘achieve the stature of a natural phenomenon’. Tacit in this, is that man is not part of nature. This is worth considering, as the indigenous Fremen of Arrakis have already evolved to survive the planet’s harsh environment. Creating a bounteous, vegetative environment, we might logically deduce, is unnatural, or rather counter-intuitive.  It begs the question, if such a bare subsistence livelihood is natural, how come a more fruitful, easier standard of living, can be realized despite the scarcity of resources available? This is because of information & the will for human beings to progress from disorder into greater forms of order, to make life easier regardless of past & current hardships. We are nature’s consciousness witnessing itself. A disease is natural even if it destroys its habitat. The irony of making Arrakis bountiful, is that it will increase the population, thus requiring reflexes in the consciousness of the people, to countervail abuses of the planet.  It begs the question whether a cancer is natural or unnatural? Everything that lives want its environment to work more efficiently for them.

What Kyne’s father must avoid at all cost is a populace that could one day propose a pastoral literature out of its religion, law & ecology. To write pastoral literature, as Terry Gifford outlines in Pastoral, is to propose (whether romantically or practically) a return-to, or retreat-to, a golden age —an Arcadia or Eden. If a culture is not thriving under its present circumstances, it must look backward, or take pains toward a better future. The worst of these is to admit defeat & cherish a mythic past through artifice—it has taken 2 millennia for literature to surmount this. It is suggested then, in the artifice of the pastoral, that the utopias of natural golden ages, when the world groaned with abundance, have been lost to history & memory. However the pastoral is artificial, it cannot be historical. Kyne’s & his father must surmount this hurdle before it can ever take root. It must be stamped out by conditioning, by a source of conditioned notation (or information) which incorrigibly leaves out any diversification of subject matter for a populace to consider. Can there be anything to learn for such a society? Gifford, summarizing Gary Snyder’s thinking, explains “that culture is nature, that our art is our natural way of thinking ourselves back into the natural world from which much of our previous culture has alienated us.” Kyne’s father must best hindsight, & can do so by learning from the failures of other civilizations; other civilizations we can suspect have made mistakes akin to those we ourselves are making. Synder outlines the necessary paradigm as follows: ‘Consciousness, mind, imagination and language are fundamentally wild. “Wild” as in wild ecosystems – richly interconnected, interdependent, and incredibly complex. Diverse, ancient, and full of information.’ This could have come from Kyne’s father himself. What we have is not separate disciplines in tension but ecological artifice as the existential meaning of a people’s conscience, without them having anything else, nor needing any other paradigm for being.

To establish a utopia is to contextualize repression in a way similar to religion: the people must exist within the principles of the paradigm. If the planet is the religion & law, the culture & the nature, then the consequence is harmonized living.  

Everything is information, & it may be argued that it is clarifying information & finding loopholes in redundancy that not only produce greater complexity, but also greater stability. Think of rudimentary stone tools found in the Gona River of the Awash Valley, carbon dated to 2.5 million years, one of the Oldowan people using a stone crafted (if crudely) to break open bone to suck out the marrow. Here is an example of something very simple, requiring insight, to utilize an abundant material to obtain another, better source of nourishment, encouraging more complex environmental interaction & inevitably, a more complex agent within the environment. Information snowballs into greater complexity. The tool’s usefulness is in the effectiveness, which is discovered through more detailed knowledge on how to manipulate the properties of available materials. Complexity breeds simplicity & thus utility for the handler, leading to trajectories of progress.   

Kyne’s father understands this, thus an additional meaning of his ‘ecological notation’. Kyne’s father needed to create an economic shorthand to propound his plans into a set of precepts that will have lasting consequences. I consider this as his effort to skip over some evolutionary points, necessary to establish a planet; such as those we see in the evolution of stone tool making. In this way Kyne’s father will create a population that limits the errors that other planets’ populations have made. We don’t need to learn to make a stone tool in order to be able to make a modern tool. There is a form of notational shorthand that is part & parcel of receiving knowledge down the assembly line of history. Kyne’s father seems to want to jump ahead of this, & he can: his people don’t need to evolve their abilities to survive or make tools, they only need to be indoctrinated into a habitual realization that being & nature are indistinguishable.

There is a criticism Kyne’s father may be overlooking: it may be essential to evolution that mistakes are made if only to be learned from. Perhaps this is the origin of God’s testing of man, & therefore the planetologist’s reason for allowing religion in society.

The climate crisis moves slowly in relation to human time spans. In geological time it is a blip.  There is time, owing to the foreshadowing of certain events within the elapsing crisis, to make alterations to avert catastrophe. While it is not a given that the realizations will be noted & action taken, nor even that after action is taken & crisis averted, the population won’t simply return to old habits. Nevertheless, mistakes have unfolded, & this offers something smooth-sailing through utopian constructs, cannot offer. Of course, this is only problematic in the inception of the utopia, otherwise, should the mechanism to avoid the need for mistakes work, it will become perfunctory.  

Later in the book, Jessica & Paul are shown a pool filled by wind-traps that are just one of a handful of large water reserves dotted across Arrakis. This devotion is the populace putting Kyne’s father’s work into action. Jessica soliloquizes ‘They’re in league with the future…They have their mountain to climb. This is the scientist’s dream…and these simple people, these peasants, are filled with it.’ She realizes that Paul must follow the hand of the ecologist that guided the people to this goal. The future is essential to Kyne’s father’s plan. Without a response to the necessities of future generations, the struggle to establish a populace indistinguishable from their environment, becomes increasingly difficult.

What arises from this chapter, for me, are the foundational principles for revitalizing a desert planet (or a planet becoming aware of its fragility), & the scale of complexity from a principle notation to a shared ecological consciousness & stable attitude that cannot be reckless with resources,. From the context of our planet, on the crossroads of ecological breakdown, or radical change, there is something key to be learned: an implanted information, which brings being, nature, law, science, biome, religion, literature & art under one noun, is essential. What that noun is, is immaterial. For everything to be as important as anything else, for all the things aforementioned to be experientially what is, is all that matters. One phenomena integrated into the mindset of the populace. I suppose now is as good a time as any.

Two poems ‘Brixham Triptych’ & ‘Nightmare in a Hyperobject’ up as ‘Supplementary’ over @The High Window

Thanks to David Cooke for taking these two very different, very new poems; one written in December while I was in Brixham over Christmas & the other written only a week or so ago. Accompanying the poems are a few hundred words of explanatory prose on the hyperobject, a term I use in the poem Nightmare in a Hyperobject, an eco-poem borrowing terms from contemporary ecological philosophy. All can be read here.

Learning the art of not-taking-for-granted

(More untidy, preliminary insights from reading Heidegger. )

Taking a thing for granted is complex. There is an art to not taking something for granted. Being in the world is firmly established, as we interact with other things, tools or technologies, in order to provide the balance needed to be alive, we don’t exactly sense ourselves doing this, it just happens; there is something a priori, a fore-knowing conditioned into how we go about being & interacting in & with the world. For Heidegger we fall prey to the world, & “falling prey to the world means being absorbed in being-with-one-another as it is guided by idle talk, curiosity and ambiguity.” (Being & Time) For Heidegger in order to be in the world we must be tranquilized with it to some extent, there must be barriers to staunch us so that in our everyday mode we function as a unit. “Idle talk and ambiguity, having-seen-everything and having-understood-everything, develop the supposition that the disclosedness of Dasein thus available and prevalent could guarantee to Dasein the certainty, genuineness, and fullness of all the possibilities of its being.” (Being & Time) What this means is that there must be a mechanism for a status quo to be maintained, a default mode of being, which is being ontically. Ontic being is a conditioned being, it is how we exist day by day, but it does not preclude other ways of being, it allows for them by being ontic, everyday. “This tranquillization in inauthentic being, however, does not seduce one into stagnation and inactivity, but drives one to uninhibited “busyness”. Being entangled in the “world” does not somehow come to rest.”  

Conditioning must be taught & learned, nevertheless (to varying degrees of proficiency owing to undeniably cultural factors, which I don’t wish to go into here) we assume someone is there for a new born child when they come into the world, to help them get started, as Father John Misty sings in Pure Comedy “we emerge half formed and hope who ever greets us on the other end, is kind enough, to fill us in” Although his error here is giving the agency of perception of hope to an unborn, who we can only assume has no such pre-established, potential bias. It may be that not asking for our births, not having to solicit parents, we inevitably become takers-for-granted. The system works, we are entangled & tranquillized in by our conditioning.

It is self-evident that we must eat, sleep, work, defecate, consume, procreate, watch TV, check Facebook, take selfies, talk with friends, love our family. This is being, ontically. The qualia of things, their inherent “handiness” (Heidegger) & shown-ness, their apophansis is something learned, but in essence, speaking from the stage in human development currently reached, taken for granted. But something incredible still happens regardless of how perceptive we are about that which is taken for granted.

We take them for granted up to a certain point: when things run smoothly & provide for us, we don’t need to think about why they are the way they are or how they do what they do. We take little note of our sewage system till a fatberg or concreteberg blocks them & we suffer blockages that interfere with our senses through stinks we are unaccustomed to. We understand the relevance of something in their failure. Knowing the relevance of something we confront the

substance it carries forward into our everyday. Heidegger says of relevance: “The totality of relevance reveals itself as the categorical whole of possibility of the connection of things at hand. But the “unity” too, of manifold presence, nature, is discoverable only on the basis of the disclosedness of one of its possibilities.” (Being & Time) The blockage of sewers alerts us to the excretive function of our being, which must be handled; just as the throw-away culture that leads to landfills is an ever present reminder of our waste potential. We see our nature come to the fore as a problem to be solved, for the course of which to be changed in the failure of something.

Ontological being is in no way superior to ontic being: “Being is always the being of a being.” (Heidegger) Ontic being takes a decent chunk of what it is about being that seems insignificant but which, once investigated, has a profound impact on what it means to be a being.

Biological processes happen to us, & we know instinctively that we must keep the body nourished & only when we note failures of the body, do we really note how our body feels; as in noting the failure of a structure that carries waste away we note that we waste. You are very aware of your head when you have a headache, but once it is gone, you return to taking your head for granted. We take a thing or process for granted because it works especially well.

Only that which works exceptionally well can be taken for granted. There is a wonderful irony to this: it is very difficult to appreciate something when you cannot perceive it for being too close to you. Heidegger explains:

The concept of meaning includes the formal framework of what necessarily belongs to what interpretation that understands articulates. Meaning, structured by fore-having, fore-sight, and fore-conception, is the upon which of the project in terms of which something becomes intelligible.

Heidegger Being & Time

“Meaning is that wherein the intelligibility of something maintains itself” (Being & Time)

Only we can be provided with a meaningful existence & provide that existence through our own efforts. Ontic being, being everyday, is certainly not so much less meaningful for not being ontological, but I would contest that it is not as intense. When we endeavor to develop our ontological sensation of the world, the attunement of our thoughts, perception, intuition & our proprioceptive responses become amplified because we are aware of awareness, & moreover, aware of the art of not-taking-for-granted. We perceive at once the necessary ontic functions while  we perform them.

Heidegger cannot begin to get into being without first qualifying that there are these distinctions that while not exactly apart, are distinct owing to the quality of experience that comes with choosing to look ontologically. To be ontological we must look beyond the a priori ontic mechanism that works well enough to in some regard pull the wool over our eyes, so that we do not reveal distinctions about ourselves, to ourselves. Heidegger, explaining Dasein (being presence):

Dasein is a being that does not simply occur among other beings. Rather it is ontically distinguished by the fact that in its being this being is concerned about its very being. Thus it is constitutive of the being of Dasein to have, in its very being, a relation of being to this being. And this in turn means that Dasein understands itself in its being [Sein] in some way and with some explicitness. It is proper to this being that it be disclosed to itself with and through its being. Understanding of being is itself a determination of being of Dasein.

Heidegger, Being & Time

In tandem with ontic being is the inevitability of taking being one step further ahead of the ontic. In its preliminary development, ontology was religious, it was cave painting, hand prints in ochre. This nascent becoming aware of our being, like a baby first recognizing its own body in a mirror, became religious & then philosophical, scientific & so on (for the sake of brevity).

Psychology has gone some way to getting us to be more open with ourselves, to be ontologically mended through the thinking of our emotions. We take notes in real time to determine patterns of behavior that we might switch them at our will rather than leaving the switching to the ontic, instinctual whim.

There is an art to not taking things for granted. It is somehow becoming perceptive of that which is indivisible because it works so well, that we come to be experts in a field or create aesthetically. For ontic being, words are something spoken because we do so. But for ontological being, they can be used to express poems. The poet can never take words for granted, else how could they be poets? An architect cannot possibly take a material, or shape for granted. 

A poet must listen to language, in hearing language there is heard, more than revelations of the shape of sound, more than the significance of showing, more than intelligibility & access to meaning, even more than feeling, because all this & more coalesces, which is a whole not being greater than the sum of its parts, but each of the parts being greater than the sum of the whole (Morton); the intensity with which the distinctions of the parts are felt to be intrinsic to each other is the only way good poems can be written. It all must come meaningfully together to avoid the shortcomings of an ontic use of language, which while important, is just a tool. Language must mean more than expressiveness to a poet, or else poetry stagnates. We cannot have a poet like JH Prynne or Roy Fisher, even a poet like Michael Symmons Roberts, if poetry is to be only a matter of being perfectly intelligible. Language & the distinct necessities that constitute any artistic practice, must not take what allows for it in its manifest potential, for granted. There is no ontic art as such: as soon as we create anything we are immediately transferred into the ontological & what gorgeous intensities await us there. God should be proud & grateful to us for creating him, to paraphrase the poet Rawcliffe from Burgess’s Enderby novels.

Finally, the question stands: does the ontological become ontic, in that the everyday becomes experienced as purely ontological? Sort of. A pure ontological existence, I assume, would be too overwhelming & though I don’t believe society would collapse in any sense, it may, become something like the failure of the society of Alphas in Brave New World, where the difficultly became a matter of the orientation of people on the same wave length into a stable hierarchical order, so processes get done: we need people who perform functions that make society stable. But therein lies a conundrum. Who decides? Well we all can, if we choose to reconfigure how we perceive the efforts of people in different roles in society & how we compensate them. This is pretty obvious & telling when we consider how useless footballers are & how much they are paid compared to the team of men who must descend into a sewer to clear a fatberg, which is of an importance far in excess of a footballers role in society. The irony isn’t missed. A footballer has not taken the ball, nor their body or training for granted & yet it is likely the man who cleans the sewer would rather be anything other than the clearer of his own kinds’ detritus & ordure.

How can the man who cleans out the sewer be ontological about/in their role? Society’s habits as to scales of importance is in desperate need of an overall. With this switch of insight an inveterate ontological perceptiveness can arise & bring with it immense benefit to our sense of meaning & the purpose with which humanity goes forward.

Metaphor to Magnify

Metaphor to magnify

This may be a bit rambling, it may chime, but this is a semi-riff-with-structured-argument on a number of books (provided at the end) I have read in the past month (except Being & Time, which I am currently reading, but which has featured in good measure in Morton’s & Harman’s books). I hope it provokes some discussion.

Metaphor has extensive reach in how we perceive reality. That’s quite a bold, counter-intuitive assumption, isn’t it? Well yes, or not. Stopping, considering, it seems remote that a device, which uses another thing to point at a thing, indirectly, can’t possibly extend downward in such a perforating manner, to the core of perceiving a [the?] reality of things (maybe that’ll prove to be taking things a little far). But maybe metaphor is one (of potentially numerous) mad method for doing so.

Metaphor has taken a bit of a haymaker since Pound’s Imagiste Manifesto, especially the 4th criteria:  To present an image. We are not a school of painters, but we believe that poetry should render particulars exactly and not deal in vague generalities, however magnificent and sonorous. It is for this reason that we oppose the cosmic poet, who seems to us to shirk the real difficulties of his art. I have always taken this to be a contributing factor in the shrugging off of figurative language, as if simile, metonym, personification or the like were a taint on the gracile sheen of a thing chosen for its already rendered, veneered perfection. But that seems to me problematic. It sort of embodies the assumption of a surface-reality exclusivity & moreover that things are in & of themselves without any capacity to affect each other. I have no quarrel with direct perception & the artistic validity direct focus on stuff for stuff-sake, is one I find admirable & can & often do subscribe to in my own poetry & gandering at the world.

Graham Harman is a contemporary philosopher in the “New Theory of Everything” OOO, which stands for Object Oriented Ontology. His friend & fellow OOO enthusiast, Timothy Morton expresses ontology as “the how of what” which is pretty succinct, but accurate.

The justification of OOO’s necessity is complicated, but the actual action needed to live by its tenets is pretty easy: respect inanimate things as you would animate things. Why? Well, when you do, you come to more rendered considerations of the reason-for, & what-will-happen-if of creating something. As Morton likes to highlight in his book Hyperobjects (:enormous entities stretched across time & space, non-local, viscous, affecting; global warming, being an often used example) if we’d thought in such a way earlier in our civilizing capacity (hindsight not really helpful here), we’d have been more cautious in our plastic usage, more ready to outline the potential negative feedback loop it would initialize; realize sooner it takes the potential rise & fall of cultures to degrade. Same with nuclear fission, yes, it powers our homes, provides comfort, concludes our ancient fear of night, but it has also affected the ecological imbalance of the world, penetrating the ecosystem, leaving lasting damage 24,000 from now in the form of plutonium-239 “Gamma rays shoot out of” (Morton) through its lifetime & iodine-129 which will still appear in the sediments for future archaeologists to discover 15 million years from now.

These examples show how our rash progressive nature is acted upon without proper interrogation of the lasting effects.

This is becoming increasingly incontestable in the context we find ourselves in: we are actually, seriously debating altering the geological period as we exist through the tipping point of our effect on the ecological system. There is no going back on what we have done—we are in the Anthropocene; (elegantly treated in Simon L. Lewis & Mark A. Maslin’s recent book The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene, a text worthy of everybody’s attention.)

In his book Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything Harman lays out some of the “principles of OOO”, number 1 being: “All objects must be given equal attention, whether they be human, non-human, natural, cultural, real or fictional.” How so? Well, easy. Look at the effects of pollution, the examples of which are numerous. As Morton explains, we live in “a world in which there is no away” because when you begin to treat even a typical process as a thing (object), then something always has an effect, we get “context explosions” which Morton articulates better than I can in an article titled Subscendence:

The thing about ecological contexts is that you can’t draw a line around them in advance, because ecology is profoundly about interdependence. The biosphere depends on earth’s magnetic shield to protect lifeforms from solar rays, and this depends on the way earth’s iron core is spinning, and that depends on how the earth formed in the early stages of the solar system, and so on. We are dealing with a potential infinity of entities on a potential infinity of scales—there is no way to ascertain whether the pleroma of beings has an end point, at least not in advance. Ecological awareness just is this context explosion.

This all ties in with metaphor & how it gets at the substance of stuffs. Kenneth Burke highlights that “etymologically ‘substance’ is a scenic word. A person’s or a thing’s sub-stance would be something that stands beneath or supports the person or thing.”(Burke: The Paradox of Substance) Because of the “context explosion” affecting things with things, in the context of an [the] environment we can see that sub-stance of reality is the propping of things by things. “The leg bone’s connected to the toxic waste dump” (Morton).

Harman breaks down an essay by the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset, in one of his chapters. Harman thinks the essay a “neglected masterpiece in the realist tradition of philosophy.” Harman’s extolling the virtue of Ortega’s essay is due to how Ortega pinches shut the gap jacked by Kant, who saw phenomena (everything we are “able to encounter, perceive, use, think about”) as irreconcilable with noumena, which we are unable to access directly. A thing [being] is ultimately ungraspable (something, which Heidegger when to great lengths to remedy). The repercussion for OOO is that objects become (potentially & demonstrably: people are clearly not making adequate alterations to veer away from planetary catastrophe despite the evidence) insignificant, they are unworthy of attention unless they attract us through a conditioned pleasantness: a flower’s scent, a beautiful object, fashion, cute animals; while ugly animals, weeds, algae, lichen, fungi are not as clearly represented as beautiful in & of themselves & thus of a lower degree of importance. This perpetuated bias is of little use to OOO.

Ortega’s great insight is that “there is nothing we can make an object of cognition, nothing that can exist for us unless it becomes an image, a concept, an idea—unless, that is, it stops being what it is in order to become a shadow or an outline of itself.” This happens often when a scientist tries to explain (turn into metaphor) to a layman what would otherwise be an equation, or complex technical process only an expert would normally understand. This may be considered a belittling of the thing, but actually, in the context of a scientist informing a layman, the reach of the idea is expanded, the context explodes into language rather than confined to a specialized jargon. Carlo Rovelli, is a fine example of a physicist who captures the poetry of his profession & articulates its merits, through metaphor to a wider audience; I wish I had his book Seven Brief Lessons on Physics to hand for examples, but I left it in Korea.

Music is another example. The musician writes the music & then reads it. To the average person the written music is unintelligible, it could say anything. The musician transforms the jargon of written music into something accessible to anyone, on top of which value can be obtained. Imagine if music was a mystery in the Eleusian register?

What the metaphor provides is a similar access. This is because art does something spectacular, something data & empiricism struggles with: it aestheticizes the thing, making it accessible. Ortega qualifies this: “Notice I am not saying that a work of art reveals the secret of life and being to us; what I do say is that a work of art affords the peculiar pleasure we call esthetic by making it seem that the inwardness of things, their executant reality, is opened to us.”

This is my qualification for beginning this essay as I did. It helps give perceptual context to the quality of objects.

Metaphor I consider to be a magnification of sorts. Magnifying is to make the small larger, what metaphoring does is remove the insignificance of a thing & make it more significant, this has repercussions across all things, because of the proximity-making effect taking note enough to transform has. Metaphoring provides adjectival comparatives & superlatives a whole new reason to be. Think of looking into a petri-dish & then looking at a Hubble photograph of the observable universe. Two scales that resemble each other. The result: a conversation on scale, which in turn provides a context that oscillates between the macro & micro.

The performance of likening something to another thing[s] introduces us into the equation because it is only through the agency of a being (something like Heidegger’s Dasein) that the transubstantiation of stuffs into stuffs can become a force for understanding a closer knit relation we have with things. We come closer to objects in the act of likening them, because OOO brings us into an akin proximity with anything whatsoever: you are not so much indistinguishable from things, nor are you as or less important, only that by seeing them as accessible they become important tools, with a reduced likelihood they’ll be taken for granted. The bacteria, nor the cells or DNA in your body is not human, but they are the constitutive factors that allows you to be human; love your bacteria.

Ortega goes on to clarify that “the esthetic object and the metaphorical object are the same, or rather that metaphor is the elementary esthetic object, the beautiful cell.” [my italics] A cockroach is no replacement for a doctor, but that doesn’t mean the cockroach should be afforded less right to exist, otherwise what sort of repercussions on being-responsibility can that have? Where is the demarcation & why make it, how even? Who gets to say? Look around you. Essentially the swatting of a cockroach can produce the deleterious fixation of consumerism: both actions are thinking one effect has no effect on anything else.

To metaphor well, the properties of things can be listed & parallels founded on the evidence of their likeness, which intensifies both, bringing us into contact with the textures, uses, degrees of scale, shape & form of the thing being likened. (Degrees of scale is something I really want to talk about now, but will leave for a treatment all of its own.)

Take Alice Oswald’s metaphor in her poem Sisyphus from Woods etc. where she has the “thundercloud shaking its blue wolf’s head” & immediately both objects, though dissimilar in their structure & motive enhance each other through their puissance, texture & shape. We recognize immediately both objects as powerful, so they complement each other regardless of their dissimilitude. The properties of each are irreconcilable except through the aesthetic binding in the magnifying metaphor.

Metaphor allows us to interrogate the thing & in our interrogation we integrate ourselves, enabling dissimilarities to coalesce through aestheticism. This is why Morton analyzing Plato, arrives at the conclusion that “art is demonic: it emanates from some unseen (or even unseeable) beyond in the sense that I am not in charge of it and can’t quite perceive it directly, in front of me, constantly present.” (Morton, Being Ecological)

Metaphor is a telling phenomenon, it not only enhances aesthetic effect, it enables the restructuring of jargon accessible to a minority, to be opened to a majority. This is akin to the move away from the sacerdotal securing of knowledge for itself to control others, to the information age where we carry the whole history of human thought in a small, easily accessible, easily manipulated device. Whatever the problems the contemporary world spumes up from its well of complexity, I think we are more provided for & prepared to formulate solutions under the current paradigm than at any other period in history. Go forth & metaphor.


Burke, K. (1989). On Symbols and Society, ed by Joseph R. Gusfield. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Harman, G. (2018). Object Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. Great Britain: Pelican Books.

Heidegger, M. (2010). Being & Time. trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: State University of New York Press, Albany.

Lewis, S. L & Maslin, M. A. (2018). The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene. Great Britain: Pelican Books

Morton, T. (2018). Being Ecological. Great Britain: Pelican Books.

Morton, T. (2013). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis, London: The University of Minnesota Press.

Morton, T. (October 2017). Subscendence. e-flux journal #85.

Oswald, A. (2007). Woods etc. London: Faber & Faber.

Bright & early she goes to Hyeopjae Beach (before dawn)

Bright & early she goes to Hyeopjae Beach (before dawn)

…The deplorable amount of rubbish
—balled up paper cups with mushy fag butts

& phlegm | a gondae ajeossi in expensive pastel golf clothes
stood outside the 7/11 smoking 1 fag after

another | never finishing a whole one
before dropping it in front of him to smolder & stink |

or dropping it into the dregs of his sweet mix-coffee
—gobs fat globes of spit beside the fags

which pools | enough to wash a bird.
“Welcome to Hyeopjae beach”

dawn on a Saturday in mid-August.
It hasn’t rained enough already

& the humidity makes vegetation look narcoleptic
—small tee-pees of sesame drying on pavements |

which usually starts about the beginning of September
—you know what this means | don’t you?

Regardless…The air salty as fish n’ chips.
I’ll swim in the ocean | just float

like a plastic bag resembling a jelly fish |
think myself granular like shoals of anchovy bursting apart

—I am a singing bowl’s hum | an ornate paper fan
with herons landing in cool water painted on one side

—a parasol released into the wind |
a school boy infatuation | erasing equations |

close as can be to weightless
—I think nothing for a while…

Until…The eschatological battery of Pansori
—a dramatic finale of worlds in the purse of an old lady.

“It’s easier to remember pain
than it is to remember a scent…”

The end in sight…

Last night, i went with a friend to the beach.
The few squid boats that sailed out were returning early, around 8ish.
We’d found a low bench outside the perimeters of society’s light & with a bottle of soju, a box of kimchi & veggie pancake, talked our tired into something productive & admired the uncommon sight of a few printed constellations.

We somehow got onto conspiracy theories & my friend, not knowing much about them, asked “why do they believe in such things.” Being Korean she’s had little exposure to what is, to my mind, a very Western phenomenon.

i outlined (roughly) Foucault’s power-knowledge: holding & creating the codes & keys to knowledge; there is no power without knowledge.
But, what is the control conspiracy theorists have? It is that they know something important, have tirelessly awakened to something we don’t understand, or more accurately can’t see as it is “hidden in plain sight”. They do what they do for our benefit, turning them into a conduit of truth— they’re on a moral track; fulfilling a duty to the survival of open, free society.

Going off the subject it dawned on me how erroneous we are to assume problems, with such wide reaching, immense scales can have any end in sight.

Let’s say for instance that every system of governance, politics, philosophy, religion,ideology is in itself a timeline, plotted, deterministically, in progress, towards a fateful moment in the lives of the collective that follow it & by extension (through survival of the fittest) compelling everyone else to fall in line to this track, seeing the benefit (as the adherent or faithful would see it).

Isn’t this ridiculous? It brings into sharp focus all our reasons behind why we cherish ideas, why they become personal, character shaping.
i’d say a good many people believe that what is an all encompassing process for them, seeing as, in reality, it exits in tandem with other processes, means it is unlikely there is a singular destiny. Numerous processes, always in motion together, has been the vital matter of man. Ideologies conflict with ideologies.

Our history, our ideas, are not necessarily a process of trial & error to eventually discover suitable methods for going forward to some fateful day when everything is corrected to a set of tracked demarcations. We have no destiny.
Things happened, but not for a reason.

Even peace is an ideology. There will never be peace. Never. Nor will there be a day where evil triumphs & nothing but war fills the world.
The liberal, the conservative, republican or democratic agenda will never win over an entire population. The likes of dystopian fiction will never be realized in their total form.
i’ll go ahead & wager the same for ecological issues, the world won’t end with a bang or whimper, it’ll hobble on, inconceivable moments of change may occur, but what ever volume of human content stubbornly rises against the back hand of its own stupidity, will adapt & humankind will plod on, forgetting, then becoming the mythopoeic madmen we all are, at heart & do best with our easy hearsay.

What does it mean to realize this?
For me, this is not about persuading anyone. This will not enlighten you.
i once believed, years ago, that the logical end (all evil would need to play out for this to happen) of humanity’s crises, was to just end up fully, organically understanding good; this was the only method of living that made sense. There is no waste in good, except the loss of bad.
Evil, corruption, always sacrifice something, create hardships & pain, which is wasted energy.
If there is peace & prosperity, would we really be more human by denying our coarser, more violent natures? i don’t know if this is cogent or an easy thing for good people to accept, i doubt it.
i know for me, this realization of no end in sight, emancipates me from the track of that end.
i can, with George Saunders, be free to just like everything; or not so much like, as accept it being outside my influence yet remaining within my control; if only the control is an alteration of the context of my capacity to influence. This comes frightfully close to sounding like ignorance of the difference between right & wrong, but in reality is it is a realization of limits.

Would i end world hunger, the deaths of children, the slavery of teenage girls if it meant i had to kill a single man, even a room full of evil men with the click of a lever? Sure. Sorry fellas, you’re for the chop.
However, that is a foolish thought experiment & life just isn’t that simple. The exception to the rule seldom becomes the rule.

Why this public act initiates me into some personal collusion with myself, i don’t know, it feels necessary somehow; sort of like the symbolic act of cutting the Gordian knot.
i think Wallace Stevens’ final line from his poem Parochial Theme “Piece the world together, boys, but not with your hands.” sums up what i am trying to say here. To build something with your hands means an end in sight, the mental world is always going to get revised & emotions are not built with your hands.
Oddly, i’ve never been happier with chaos. The next step is deciding what that means— i suspect, it doesn’t mean anything other than i am finally human.