“My book in progress, tentatively titled The Blackness of Space Between Matter and Meaning, argues that key Black Atlantic literary, visual, and philosophical texts generate a critical praxis of humanity, paradigms of relationality, and modes of embodiment that alternately expose, alter, or reject the nexus of ‘race’ and ‘species’ discourse in Western science and philosophy. Reading the existential predicament of modern racial blackness through and against the human-animal distinction in Western philosophy and science reveals not only the mutual imbrication of ‘race’ and ‘species’ in Western thought but also invites a reconsideration of the extent to which exigencies of racialization have preconditioned and prefigured modern discourses governing the nonhuman. Ultimately, The Blackness of Space reveals the pernicious peculiarity of both prevailing foundational conceptions of ‘the human’ rooted in Renaissance and Enlightenment humanism and current ‘multiculturalist’ alternatives. What emerges from this questioning is an emphatically queer sense of being/knowing/feeling human, one that necessarily disrupts the foundations of the current hegemonic mode of the Human.”
This week’s EMC readings include Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology (1895) and Beyond the PleasurePrinciple (1920).This week we begin our shift from looking at configurations of the organism in the works of Natural History to how the organism is configured within various philosophical projects; often with the purpose of onto-epistemological modeling. Along with Freud, we will also be looking at the works of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Deleuze.
Part of my reason for including Freud among these thinkers was his use of “the organism” as a model for understanding the ego’s relation to the external (both as world and as stimuli) as well internal (where the stimuli is a frenetic, unmediated degree of intensity which is nonetheless more “commensurate with the system’s method of working than the stimuli which stream in from the external world” (28)). In fact, in the opening pages of BPP, he cites the 1873 work of G.T. Feschner, Einige Ideen zur Schöpfungs und Entwickelungsgeschichte der Organismen (something like Some Ideas on the Creation and Evolution of Organisms).
“A snail [Helix pomatia] is placed on a rubber ball which, because it is floating on water, can slide freely past beneath the snail. The snail’s shell is held in place by a clamp. The snail is thereby free to crawl and also stays in the same place. If one places a small stick at the foot of the snail, it will crawl up on it. But if one strikes the snail from one to three times a second with it, the snail will turn away. However, if the blows are repeated four or more times a second, the snail begins to crawl on the stick. In the snail’s environment, a stick that moves back and forth four or more times a second must be at rest. We can conclude from this that the perception time of the snail takes place at a speed of between three and four moments a second. This has a result that all processes of motion take place much more quickly in the snail’s environment than they do in our own. Even the snail’s own movements do not seem slower to it than ours do to us” (72).
I’m currently reading through Georges Cuvier’s 1813 Essay on the Theory of the Earthand I love these plates from Robert Jameson, who also wrote the prefaces to the third and fourth English editions of the text.
Front piece for Cuvier’s Essay on the Theory of the Earth (1813)
This week’s EMC meeting was on Marie François Xavier Bichat (1771-1802) and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). It was also my week to present and I had a lot of fun with these texts, building on our conversations from previous classes and trying to draw some connections to last year’s discussions.
This year, the EcoMaterialisms Collective is working through a three-part nexus: histories and theories of the organism in the fall, of ecologies in the winter, and of cosmologies in the spring. Every now and then I’ll post my reflections to the week’s readings along with what those readings were: