Romantic Circles Blog

The ecological thought—introductory

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Hi everyone—Tim Morton here. I was asked to start blogging here on ecological issues, and I'm delighted to accept the invitation. I'm actually working on a book right now called The Ecological Thought. It's kind of the prequel to Ecology without Nature. I mean this in a rigorous way—not just the fact that the first book implies a view that I outline more deeply in the second one. I mean that in a rigorous sense, this “ecological thought” weirdly creeps up on you from the future. The best I can compare it to is Shelley's idea of poetry, that it's like a shadow from the future that somehow looms into the world of the present (A Defence of Poetry). Anyway, stay tuned.

Here's a good question for starters: am I an ecocritic? I fancy that what I'm doing is ecological literary criticism, but I'm not sure it's ecocriticism. Already I don't belong on this blog! Ecology without Nature argues that in order to have ecology, you have to give up Nature.

Lots of people don't like this idea. It's like I'm stealing their toy. I recently had an interesting conversation with Donna Haraway about it—of all people she was the very last I would have suspected of worrying about me stealing the Nature toy. But she was.

Her argument was basically about "worlding"—ideas and practices constitute "worlds" not just ideas; people do things in these worlds and create values in them, etc. (You will see if you've read my book that the "worlding" idea itself recursively falls prey to my "hand Nature over" gambit!) I thought of a good answer, but I was too scared to say: "The Nazis had lots of ideas, and those ideas constituted a world. If your argument is valid, we should have allowed the Nazis to have their world and should not have intervened in the Holocaust, etc." Preserving an idea because it makes a world for you isn't that great, I think. (Not even because it's good or even useful, mind you.) I'm sure there was a whole wild world of witch ducking stools too.

Anyway...

I thought this blog would be a good place to do mini close readings that point the way towards the ecological thought—so expect some riffs in search of an album, some organs without bodies. First up: to whom are we speaking when we say "Hello"? (With a little help from Coleridge.)

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I wanted to comment briefly

I wanted to comment briefly on “world” and “worlding.” The term Heidegger uses often in such cases is Umwelt. He is borrowing this idea of world from Jacob von Uekull who invented the word Umwelt to describe the world of animals (in contrast to the world of humans). See Uexkull’s “Stroll through the worlds of animals and men” and Heidegger on Uexkull in Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics. I find it interesting that animals show up (via Uexkull and his Umwelt term) just as we make the move to try to distinguish our zone from that of nature.

As for connecting worlding to the Holocaust, this is something Gorgio Agamben does in his recent(ish) book The Open. The links are too complex to summarize here but much of it comes down to a) how Heidegger and how National Socialism both used Umwelt as a weapon rather than an opportunity to think difference and b) as Heidegger himself admits the animal world is not “something inferior or that it is at a lower level in comparison with human Dasein. On the contrary, life is a domain which possesses a wealth of being-open, of which the human world may know nothing at all.” This “wealth of being-open” which remains inaccessible seems to be an *opportunity* rather using Umwelt to shut down non-human worlding.

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