Future Lit

‘Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom – poets, visionaries – realists of a larger reality.’

‘Right now, we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximise corporate profit and advertising revenue is not the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship.’

& dat is nog maar ‘t begin van de speech van Ursula K. Le Guin op 19-11-2014 – lees de rest:

en,nl,quotations,reading matter | December 20, 2014 | 0:52 | comments (0) |

Dark Ecology, attempt at a reading list

eflyer_Dark Ecology_9-12 October 2014

Initially I had the idea to make a short reading list for the Dark Ecology project. A couple of articles, a few interviews, maybe an online lecture that together offer an introduction to the theme. A bit like a syllabus for a graduate seminar. But the journey is not conceived as a graduate seminar, and I’m not a professor teaching a course. Therefore instead of a syllabus, I have made an overview of some of the theories, ideas, philosophical directions and books that have guided my thinking for ‘Dark Ecology’. It’s not exhaustive – and probably anyone can think of an important book or a theoretical approach that’s dearly missing from this overview. The overview contains pointers to books and online resources, and is ‘spiced’ up with a few provocative or informative quotes from the mentioned books.

Timothy Morton: Dark Ecology

We have indeed borrowed the term ‘Dark Ecology’ from the work of Timothy Morton. Over the past couple of years he has written a number of books outlining an ‘Ecological Thought’ that has no use for the Romantic notion of ‘Nature’. He begins to explain this idea in Ecology without Nature (2007) – a book which is also about art and ‘environmental aesthetics. In The Ecological Thought (2010) he shows that the ‘ecological thought’ is not nice and green and a celebration of all things natural, but that to really think the interconnectedness of all forms of life and all things (the ‘mesh’), is dark. ‘Dark ecology puts hesitation, uncertainty, irony, and thoughtfulness back into ecological thinking. The form of dark ecology is that of noir film. The noir narrator begins investigating a supposedly external situation, from a supposedly neutral point of view, only to discover that she or he is implicated in it. The point of view of the narrator herself becomes stained with desire. There is no metaposition from which we can make ecological pronouncements. Ironically, this applies in particular to the sunny, affirmative rhetoric of environmental ideology. A more honest ecological art would linger in the shadowy world of irony and difference. …The ecological thought includes negativity and irony, ugliness and horror.’ In Realist Magic (2013) Morton sides with Object Oriented Ontology, and particularly with the ideas of the American philosopher Graham Harman, to further explain how we can conceive of the world. He continues this trajectory in Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (2014). In this book he explains what a hyperobject is (global warming is an hyperobject), and what the ‘end of the world’ means for philosophy. Here are three quotes from this last book: ‘But there is no “away” after the end of the world. It would make more sense to design in a dark ecological way, admitting our coexistence with toxic substances we have created and exploited.’ And: ‘Hyperobjects are directly responsible for what I call the end of the world, rendering both denialism and apocalyptic environmentalism obsolete.’ And: ‘For what comes into view for humans at this moment is precisely the end of the world, brought about by the encroachment of hyperobjects, one of which is assuredly Earth itself, and its geological cycles demand a geophilosophy that doesn’t think simply in terms of human events and human significance.’ And as I am busy quoting, here’s another long one from Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World that partly summarises Morton’s philosophy: ‘There are objects: cinnamon, microwaves, interstellar particles and scarecrows. There is nothing underneath objects. Or, better, there is not even nothing underneath them. There is no such thing as space independent of objects (happily contemporary physics agrees). What is called Universe is a large object that contains objects such as black holes and racing pigeons. Likewise there is no such thing as an environment: wherever we look for it, we find all kinds of objects—biomes, ecosystems, hedges, gutters and human flesh. In a similar sense, there is no such thing as Nature. I’ve seen penguins, plutonium, pollution and pollen. But I’ve never seen Nature (I capitalize the word to reinforce a sense of its deceptive artificiality).’

Morton’s Realist Magic is available online: http://openhumanitiespress.org/realist-magic.html. Through Morton’s blog you can also find a number of his lectures and seminars: http://ecologywithoutnature.blogspot.com/, his youtube-page with lectures is here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZzyz52s2D6f8uRF0EmOaZw

Bruno Latour: Politics of Nature (2004) and AIME (2013)
in his book Politics of Nature (2004) Bruno Latour also defines an ecology without the notion of ‘Nature’. In this book he states ‘if “nature” is what makes it possible to recapitulate the hierarchy of beings in a single ordered series, political ecology is always manifested, in practice, by the destruction of the idea of nature.’ (p. 25). The idea of nature that political ecology has to let go of is the result of a political division that puts the indisputable and objective on one side, and the subjective and disputable things on the other. According to Latour, we have to escape from that division to be able to make a common world. The issue is rather to find out how humans are ever more and ever more intimately attached to a panoply of non-human natures. This idea is – for me – the core of the Dark Ecology project. Latour’s most recent book – and webplatform – An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (2013) is an ambitious attempt how to compose such a common world. It starts from this cue: ‘Not so long ago, the project that would have seen modernization spread over the whole planet came up against unexpected opposition from the planet itself. Should we give up, deny the problem, or grit our teeth and hope for a miracle? Alternatively we could inquire into what this modern project has meant so as to find out how it can be begun again on a new footing.’ It’s not an easy book, as it challenges you to conceive differently of a lot of ideas that have guided western thought since Modern times. The English webplatform of AIME is accessible at http://www.modesofexistence.org/, a lot of Latour’s articles and video lectures are available at http://www.bruno-latour.fr/

Michel Serres: Times of Crisis (2009) and Biogea (2012)

Times of Crisis is a short book by Michel Serres explaining his ideas of the new relationship between humans and the world, which leads to a new science and a new society. The English translation is from 2014, the French original from 2009. He writes: ‘The term anthropocene means nothing else: we used to think of ourselves as the individual or collective subjects of a passive object, the world. Reversal: we become the objects of the new subject Biogea.’ (p. 47) And: ‘An immense era of our history is ending; furthermore, the time of our hominescence begins. Our past will not help us much to dialogue with our new Biogean partner, whose immanence requires a new science, new behaviors and another society.’ (p. 48) Biogea could be seen as Serres’ autobiography. He focuses on the relationship between Earth and human, and how the Earth speaks to the human. It is an almost novelistic account of his idea of ‘biogea’. It is interesting and highly readable – unless you can’t stand Serres’ particular mix of autobiography, poetry, myth, science and philosophy. Info on Times of Crisis: http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/times-of-crisis-9781623564346/, and on Biogea: http://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/biogea

OOO – Object-Oriented Ontology
The ideas of several other ‘OOO’-philosophers and theorists – apart from Timothy Morton – are also relevant in relation to Dark Ecology. OOO posits a world that does not prioritise the human perspective, and philosophically attempts to take into account a world prior to humans. I particularly like the work of Graham Harman, for instance Guerrilla Metaphysics (2005), Prince of Networks (2009), and Weird Realism (2012). There is a plethora of OOO-related discussions online, as many of the OOO-philosophers blog regularly and passionately. The publications by Urbanomic, particularly the issues of their magazine Collapse, are an excellent starting point if you have missed it all: http://www.urbanomic.com/publications.php

Elizabeth Ellsworth & Jamie Kruse: Making the Geologic Now (2012)
A collection of theoretical text with examples from art and design, this book is definitely an inspiration for thinking about the convergence of the human and the geologic, and about art for the Antropocene. Ellsworth & Kruse are http://www.smudgestudio.org/, and they run the blog Friends of the Pleistocene: https://fopnews.wordpress.com/. An interview with them on nuclear waste and the vastness of geologic time can be found here: http://bombmagazine.org/article/1000109/jamie-kruse-and-elizabeth-ellsworth. You can download Making the Geologic Now at: http://punctumbooks.com/titles/making-the-geologic-now/, or consult the interactive webbook: http://geologicnow.com/.

Jan Zalasiewicz & others: ‘The Anthropocene, A new Epoch of Geological Time?’ (2011)
The idea of the Antropocene has very quickly gained a lot of support. Here is one of the definite scientific articles outlining why we should indeed conceive of the Antropocene as a new geological era: http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1938/835.full

Laurence Smith: The New North (2011)
In the past few years quite a number of books describe the Earth from a future perspective. Alan Weisman’s The World without Us (2007) is a journalistic account of what the world will look like without human presence. Jan Zalasiewics’ The Earth After Us (2008) describes what legacy humans leave in the rock, from the viewpoint of an alien civilisation one hundred million year in the future – it’s also a way of explaining what geology is doing. In The New North geographer Laurence Smith describes the Arctic in 2050, and how global warming will affect its economy and geopolitics. In Smith’ account Kirkenes becomes a major hub in the economic network. Two reviews: http://www.newstatesman.com/books/2011/03/natural-resources-world-global & http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsereviewofbooks/2012/09/01/book-review-the-new-north-our-world-in-2050/.

Arie Altena: Kirkenes – Nikel – Zapolyarny – Murmansk, (2013)
My own travelogue and report of the short 2013 journey to Kirkenes, Nikel, Zapolyarny and Murmansk: http://ariealt.home.xs4all.nl/2013/dark_ecology/kirkenes_nikel_murmansk.html

Arie Altena

art,en,quotations,reading matter,research | October 6, 2014 | 11:40 | comments (0) |

Jarry & cycling

… ik zie dat OMC ‘t citeert – & ik vind ‘t een klassieker:

“Jarry was no Bois de Boulogne buff. He belonged to the avant-garde community of writers and artists. For these people cycling was more than just a pleasure, and a cycle ride could be just as beautiful or radical as a poem or a painting. They were often passionate cyclists, undaunted by Paris traffic, and many of them enjoyed the sweaty pleasures of strenuous long distance riding. They saw the bicycle as a liberator, a machine to extend the potentialities of the human being. Jarry described it as an ‘external skeleton’ which allows mankind to outstrip the process of biological evolution.”

— Alfred Jarry: a Cyclist on the Wild Side by Jim McGurn

cycling,en,nl,quotations,reading matter | April 27, 2012 | 13:53 | comments (0) |

As writers we can’t control the real world

As writers we can’t control the real world. At best we can observe it actively. We can control the internal tensions of the aesthetic objects of our making. Any of the “commercial writing tricks” to control reader reaction are a waste of time because they are attempts to control the real world, which is impossible, and distracts from the time spent controlling internal tensions which – while they do not control audience reaction – are the workable points at which it is moored.

Samuel Delaney, in “Quarks”, 1969/1970, p. 32 in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw. Notes on the Language of Scienve Fiction, Revised edition, Wesleyan UP, 2009.

en,quotations,reading matter,ubiscribe,writing | February 28, 2011 | 21:17 | comments (0) |

The Return of Meaning

Gleick’s book has an epilogue entitled “The Return of Meaning,” expressing the concerns of people who feel alienated from the prevailing scientific culture. The enormous success of information theory came from Shannon’s decision to separate information from meaning. His central dogma, “Meaning is irrelevant,” declared that information could be handled with greater freedom if it was treated as a mathematical abstraction independent of meaning. The consequence of this freedom is the flood of information in which we are drowning. The immense size of modern databases gives us a feeling of meaninglessness. Information in such quantities reminds us of Borges’s library extending infinitely in all directions. It is our task as humans to bring meaning back into this wasteland. As finite creatures who think and feel, we can create islands of meaning in the sea of information.

Freeman Dyson, recensie van James Gleick’s The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood 2011.


en,nl,quotations,research,ubiscribe | February 27, 2011 | 12:46 | comments (0) |

“… data of a saleable kind.”

A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind. (Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, 1962)

McLuhan, altijd goed voor een pakkend citaat – (of wat je er in leest ook is wat hij op het oog had?) Deze vond ik gisteren lezend in Coupland’s McLuhan-biografie.

en,nl,quotations,research,ubiscribe | February 25, 2011 | 15:19 | comments (0) |


“When movement converges into its taking-form, or when thought converges into words, very little potential for creative expression remains. This is not to suggest that language cannot express creatively. It means that to remain post- iteratively creative, language must continue to express itself in a realm where thought remains prearticulated, where concepts continue to evolve. We must conceive of language as the eternal return of expression in the making.” (Erin Manning, Relationscapes, MIT Press, 2009, p.8)

(Ben ik het hier nu mee eens, of juist hartgrondig oneens? Geredeneerd vanuit Whitehead, knik ik. Komt het via Deleuze, raak ik geïrriteerd).

en,quotations,reading matter | November 12, 2010 | 13:54 | comments (0) |

iPad? Powerbook!

“One of the most surprising advantages to reading on an iPad is the ability to read without having to hold the book in your hands. After years of wrestling with books which won’t lay down flat at the dining table, it’s been a great pleasure to put my iPad in front of me and only have to use one finger to advance a page. This is also true in bed, where it takes at least two hands (if not three) to read a hardback book-one or two to hold the book and another to turn the page.”

Said Bob Stein. No he didn’t. He said it in 1995 about his Powerbook. From the Feed-archives: http://www.feedmag.com/templates/old_article.php3?a_id=1230

Conventions and difficulty

Just reading a bunch of reviews and essays I come across this in a London Review of Books essay on computer games by John Lanchester:

“Northrop Frye once observed that all conventions, as conventions, are more or less insane; Stanley Cavell once pointed out that the conventions of cinema are just as arbitrary as those of opera. Both those observations are brought to mind by video games, which are full, overfull, of exactly that kind of arbitrary convention. Many of these conventions make the game more difficult. Gaming is a much more resistant, frustrating medium than its cultural competitors. Older media have largely abandoned the idea that difficulty is a virtue; if I had to name one high-cultural notion that had died in my adult lifetime, it would be the idea that difficulty is artistically desirable. It’s a bit of an irony that difficulty thrives in the newest medium of all – and it’s not by accident, either. One of the most common complaints regular gamers make in reviewing new offerings is that they are too easy. (It would be nice if a little bit of that leaked over into the book world.)”


I’m not sure if I totally agree with this (but I’m not a gamer), but as a quote I like it.

art,en,quotations,reading matter | January 30, 2009 | 0:30 | comments (0) |

Paul Fournel: Need for the Bike

There is so much to say about this little book by cyclist, writer, publisher and OULIPO-member Paul Fournel, that I do not know where to begin. It is perfect. It captures what riding the bike is about, in just a few works, a few sentences he describes the essential.

Why, you ask, gather all these data about rides, how far and how fast, measured by computers and GPS-devices, when you need just a few well chosen words that condense the reality of it. (Ezra Pound: ‘Dichten’ is condensare).

I recognize almost everything in Fournel’s ‘need for the bike’. Which, I guess, is a way to say I am a cyclist like him. (Only I think he’s way faster, more competitive, I never did any sports prior to buying a racing bike when I was 30, I am a late-comer).

Just a few quotes — in English (the translation is by Allan Stoekl, the book is published by the University of Nebraska Press):

“Bike speed requires you to be selective about what you see, you reconstruct what you sense, In that way you get to the essential. Your gaze brushes over the title of a book or a cover, a newspaper catches your eye, you glimpse a potential gift in a window, a new bread in a bakery. That’s the proper speed of my gaze. It’s a writer’s speed, a speed that filters and does a preliminary selection.” (p. 44/45)

“As soon as I knew how to ride I grasped the idea of a greater world. When I left tot do a circuit, everything inside the circuit was ‘home’.” (p. 63)

“Road maps for me are dream machines. I like to read them as if they’re adventure stories. When I drive my car I use them to find the shortest route, to find the long roads where cities join, roads that don’t go through the country. As a bike rider I use them for everything else. If I know an area, every centimeter on the map is a landscape laid out for me. If I don’t know it yet, every centimeter is an imagined landscape that I will explore.” (p. 79)

For me maps are dream machines too. And there is the reason why I still use maps, and do not have a GPS device — though I am fascinated by how these technologies change one’s relation toward space, landscape and dreaming. I find it impossible to dream while staring at Google maps and Google Earth.

Should I write an essay on that?

(Btw: thanks to Alex Myers for bringing this book to my attention)

Paul Fournel is here: http://www.paulfournel.com/.

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