Monday, April 22, 2013

A Reflection: Re-collecting some emerging ideas from the Ecologies of the Inhuman Symposium

Perhaps it’s my longing for summer weather that moves me in this way, but when I think about how to offer a reflection on the recent Ecologies of the Inhuman Symposium, I remember a different kind of reflecting. I imagine myself on a boat staring into the water. It’s an experience I recollect from past boat rides on a lazy river in northern Michigan. I gaze into calm ripples, sun overhead and down below - warmth and light reflecting back, touching me. I can see myself shimmering below myself, a face on a moving surface. Reflecting is a transformative collaboration - bending light-liquid on (sur)faces. But as I write this, I’m not on a boat and I am not looking into the water.  I must turn my attention to another kind of reflecting. Transformative and collaborative in its own way, this reflecting is a re-collecting and re-membering.  And, as James Smith, Steve Mentz, and Eileen Joy all noted, it is also a bit watery; there is a flow, a floating, even a foundering involved in reflecting on our inhuman enmeshments.

Each of the ten presenters who participated in the symposium offered dazzling reflections on what it means to be a part of vast ecologies where other things exist with and not for humans. How can we think about song, for example, as something that makes an instrument of a human body - a provocative question posed by Alan Montroso. Ian Bogost, during the discussion portion of the symposium, challenged us to think beyond human-centric metaphysics and seriously consider alternatives - toast ontology and chair ontology. Thinking such inclusivity, such shared agency, can be unsettling. What becomes of the human in inhuman ecologies?

It takes creativity and even bravery to contemplate our more than human entanglements within what Valerie Allen called a “nin-human” world.  It can feel, as Steve Mentz explained, like we are going down with the ship, sinking in oceans of ontologies. Again, I imagine myself in a boat cast upon the water, though this time when I look into the moving surface, it does not offer up a shimmering face - maybe no face at all. It is all motion, all turning and churning.  And the water does not stay outside the boat - it splashes, pours, invades, engulfs. And I do not stay inside the boat. Adding splashing to splashes, my movements are barely perceptible to the watery-world. It’s a harrowing scene to imagine but this is not the shipwreck Mentz envisions.  Instead, his shipwreck - our shipwreck - is how we already live in an inhuman world, already engulfed, always submerged in more than human realities. The overall sense of the symposium was not despairing but hopeful, wonder-ful, daring.  

As I re-collect - bring together again - with notes, memories, and audio files, what emerges for me is a sense of the importance of creative and collaborative modes of thinking about and imagining diverse ecologies. Anne Harris challenged us to consider poems, prayers and songs as modes of doing carpentry – ways of exploring our always more than human entanglements, and so I’ve decided to craft a shipwreck song. It is a re-membering and reimagining of a disorienting, recreating kind of immersion, a re-collection of images and ideas that surfaced during each of the ten presentations and the question and answer period that followed.  Tangled together and not in exacting order…

Shipwreck song.
Brief trips to the surface.

Shivering woman, tattered clothes, very near a green man and lamborghini-bull in asshole-orange going down with the ship.

Antony rallies, parasite-song through dead lips. Flood-force, two-face.

Revolving-revolution, time-tide coming in again: the re/creation of tree-tree, more tree than Deleuze and Guattari.

Fathom-full form-ing, an ontology of toast.

Text/urized measurements, cut-maker. Man-keel, keeling-over.

Not despair but something like ecstasy. A shipwreck song-sung prayer: we are cloud-like, up-depths with down-air.

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