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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The ontological coconut revolution

Arriving in Zoncoantla, La Pitaya, Xalapa, Veracruz. Going through troubled times and preparing my course at the Universidad de Veracruz on Latour's project Enquête sur les modes d'existence (EME). Having very preliminary thoughts based on my latest reading on sythetic biology (see DIYbio Montréal, Call for films on synth biology, Edible batteries, The biocoding hub). There would be no ready made Great Outdoors if everything can be recoded, revamped, recombined, re-aggregated, recomposed, renegotiated. Polemos - dispute, negotiation, conflict of alliances - doesn't stop anywhere short of the standing fact (this is one of the main theses in our updating of Heraclitean theses in the
book and in the forthcoming ADCS article). The ontological question - as the ecologists feel in their practice - becomes an ethics and a politics of our interaction with (everything) non-human (around us and within us). Our action then cannot be guided by simple self-interest, because there is no such a ready-made instance as the self. Selves are crafted parts of the Outdoors (that are indoors). The alliance around the self can be resilient though. It is not enough, though, to pick up the self - or the individual body. There are many individual bodies (and many selves), many microbiota, many populations that become part of one's life.

What is there to be preserved - or rather sponsored - and why? The reasons for choosing reflect a choice of ethical views. For instance, to be classical: maximize utility, or craft a (natural) contract - to use Serres' term, exercise virtues such as prudence, courage and generosity - the one's Plutarch's Circe made clear guide animals. In other words, ethical alternatives in a trans-human community. Or rather, politics guided by desire - but then, desires are already ecological, they arise from within alliances as nothing is in itself an actant or a network. In fact, all sorts of artifices can be used to craft an alliance - including the seductive beauty of a butterfly's wings. One could consider most funded preservation campaigns to be attached to cis-heterossexual conceptions of the living things - what I call the Noachian image of the fauna, where animal could enter the ark in cis-hetero couples. Queer ecology, as I see it, attempts to build up another alliance, another image of the living things that can affect the ecology of the subjectivity and people's impact on the non-human world. In other words, it does political ecology.

I was watching a film about the coconut revolution in the Bougainville Island. The island is now part of Papua New Guinea, but as an autonomous region within the country. Back in the 80s, they broke away with PNG to preserve an alliance with trees, fields and rivers that provided their lifeline. These actants managed to survive by being important to the human community (in the way they happened to live). They were part of an alliance between humans and nonhumans fighting a battle. A war between natures. A war between technologies. Ontology is not landscape contemplation from somewhere fixed - in the same way politics is not what we do given what nature presents us. Ontology is as active as ethics picture actants - and politics is therefore about crafting something else from what is found (in the Great Outdoors).

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