Monday, November 7, 2011

Building bridges: philosophy and waste

“It is almost as if philosophy — and most of all the great, deep, constructive philosophy — obeyed a single impulse: to get away from the place of carrion, stench, putrefaction. And just because of this distance, which gains its depth from that most wretched place, philosophy is no doubt in perennial danger of itself becoming just as thin, untrue, and wretched.” (Adorno, “Metaphysics and Materialism”)
I have been out of town for the past few days, attending the most wonderful conference I have been to: Building Bridges - philosophy and waste. Originally scheduled to be held on the campus of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, it ended up being (for the better) at a small art space in downtown Carbondale. Over the next few days, I will talk about what I learned from this conference, one replete with intimate discussions about aesthetics, privacy, activism, human cognition, communities, metaphysics, and anarchy...Adorno would have been proud. As I have come to appreciate, the role of any critical thought, such as in philosophy, must be to stimulate action, both of the self, and in the other. We cannot expound on discussions about being and ethics without changing ourselves and our presence in the world.

I will discuss the papers presented (including mine), the discussions had, and how my imagination has been opened to consider far more than what I have so far in my discussions about trash, waste, materialism, ethics, and environmental justice. I am hopeful that your imagination will be piqued and provoked, and that you, too, will be driven to act after you have pondered. For today, I leave with the motivation of the conference, written by the most brilliant Nick Smaligo, a philosopher who is more a spirit, an energy, a force, than a human.
Today, we “know” that “there is no away.” Reflecting on the concept of the “away,” and tracing its impossibility, leads to what Timothy Morton calls “the ecological thought”: that all beings (and not just living ones) exist in a mesh, where no divisions can be strictly upheld.  The thought is a moment of enlightenment, of consciousness raising, that corrodes the phenomenal boundaries and holes that shape our world.
Nevertheless, we still act as if there is an “away” —  a place where thought need not go, where things lose their thingness and blend together into quiet, motionless nothing; a black hole from which no effects can escape, and thus no thoughts need enter.

This is likely a major form of repression today: we must subdue our knowledge of the interconnectedness of all beings in order to participate in a lifeworld which is built on the idea that we can “get away from the place of carrion,” etc. And, clearly, this repressed is returning in the material forms of ecological crises, an Anthropocene age where our activity returns to shake the ground on which we act. The psychic forms in which this repressed is returning are perhaps even harder to detect.
Conference flyer
Nick Smaligo

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