Flat ecology is one mode in the praxis of an eco-aesthetics of intra-action, whose goal is creating performances in which agencies and heterogeneous bodies, both nonhuman and human, are free to experiment with mod(e)ifying and being modified by one another. In the context of posthuman eco-aesthetics, flat ecology is a setting up of the analytical conditions necessary for these bodily intra-actions to happen.
The main theme of this chapter is to outline what kind of group dynamics exist in a posthuman world (relational ontology), how to learn to engage with these groupings (epistemology), and how to support their formation and maintenance (ethico-politics). This Part in particular is concerned with locating the possibilities that lie in-between the boundary-making projects mapped in Part I. As such, analytics of the possible can be best imagined as a performance of positioning amongst the apparatuses. This positioning implies an experimentation along the edges of possibilities of the apparatuses, where possible meets the virtual (excluded possibilities), and where other possibilities may come to be. Analytics as positioning/situating relates to and stems from feminist politics of location and feminist critical epistemologies. Situatedness is a primary condition for an eco-oriented performance, since it needs to respond and account for local effects on the bodies.
Analytics of the possible contains components of ontology and epistemology, as well as of political philosophy. However, its primary dimension is ‘ethico-political’ and ‘ethico-aesthetic’ (Guattari, 1995), it is a general ethos of a ‘worlding project’ (Haraway, 2008). Ecologies are not already there, ecologies must be performed. Flat ecology is thus about a positioning within a power field, diagramming and scoring possibilities that can be enacted, having in mind posthuman justice, which is at odds with modern, capitalist, colonialist, and imperialist world-making projects that perpetuate domination of life.
An ‘ecosophy’, or ecological pragmatics, has to envisage a possibility of living together with others, with special place given to earth others. However, any ecosophy must be aware that it is only one of a multiplicity of ontologies, or worldings at work in this world, forged and practised from various social and extra-social positions. Ecological praxis, of which analysis is one mode, therefore does not aim for objectivity, rationality, or truth, but for a meeting among multiple heterogeneous worldings. Flat ecology is thus not a system of inter-connected concepts that shapes a coherent theory or methodology, but a “machinic assemblage of desire” (DG, 1987: 22) that moves through and against the gridded presents shaped by social forms of domination. What this machinery desires is a re-settlement of forces especially along the dramatic culture―nature rifts that presently map the social field and its surroundings.
Flat ecology is therefore not ‘out there’, it is a performative laying out of a plane of possibilities for the emergence of posthuman worldings in common. Following Guattari and Deleuze, i take the view that this operation of thought implies a radical immanence to earth, a mode of art and philosophy which re-asserts a belonging to milieu. DG say that to do philosophy or art is to “set out” a plane of immanence, that is “populated” by concepts, percepts and affects1. A plane of immanence is “an unlimited One-All, an ‘Omnitudo’ that includes all the concepts on one and the same plane” (DG, 1994: 35). Thinking is a double movement of “the creation of concepts and the laying out of a plane” (ibid.: 36). The plane of immanence is “the horizon of events” (ibid.: 38), whereas concept is “the contour, the configuration, the constellation of an event to come” (ibid.: 32). The nexus between the plane and the concepts is the subject, the “conceptual persona” who produces concepts. The creation of concepts, the movement of the plane, and the persona form an “infinite movement”, in which “thinking and being are one and the same” (ibid.: 38). It is not a question of correspondence or reflexivity between a subject and an object, as a plane of immanence is immanent only to itself (its ‘territory’), yet it is affected by “the not-external outside and the not-internal inside”, ‘the earth’ (ibid.: 60). “[T]hinking is a relationship between territory and the earth” (ibid.: 85). Deleuze and Guattari thus pose a task of their ‘geophilosophy’, which i see as consonant to eco-oriented artistic practice.
On the one side, thought/being can be folded upon themselves, surveying their territory and establishing a sovereign control upon it, thus moving from earth to territory (‘reterritorialisation’) (ibid.: 86). However, thought/being can also be oriented toward nonthought/nonbeing, writing or doing ‘for’ of ‘before’ the earth (ibid.: 109). This is the orientation of a posthuman ecology, from territory to the earth, what DG call a movement of ‘deterritorialisation’ (ibid.: 86), meeting the ‘not-external’ and ‘not-internal’ difference.
In radical immanence, there “is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together” (DG, 1983: 2). Radical immanence is not a web of life in which things hang together in balance, instead it is an asymmetrical process of enfolding between the earth and the planes of immanence that populate it. Flat ontology as a plane of immanence can be described in these terms:
flat ontology argues that all entities are on equal ontological footing and that no entity, whether artificial or natural, symbolic or physical, possesses greater ontological dignity than other objects. While indeed some objects might influence the collectives to which they belong to a greater extent than others, it doesn’t follow from this that these objects are more real than others. (Bryant, 2011: 246)
In a flat ontology, there are no categories, such as species or genera, rather what we have are “unique, singular individuals, differing in spatiotemporal scale but not in ontological status” (DeLanda, 2002:46). This does not mean that a flat ontology is a sea of continuous calm or that everything matters equally. Far from a flow of one-same, immanent or flat ontology is an ontology of generative difference. For Deleuze:
the essential in univocity is not that Being is said in a single and same sense, but that it is said, in a single and same sense, of all its individuating differences or intrinsic modalities. … It is ‘equal’ for all, but they themselves are not themselves equal. (Deleuze, in Bryant, 2011: 269)
World as a flat ontology is a univocality of differentiations that produce discontinuities between territories2. Following Levi Bryant’s ‘ontic principle’, “‘to be’ is to make or produce difference” (Bryant, 2011: 263). This is the ontological component of an ecology, whereas an ecological praxis is the problem of rendering justice to the immanence of differentiation.
Flat ecology is thus a mode of performativity that begins naturalcultural assemblages of difference. It is important to set out a relation between radical immanence and a critique of the logic of dualism. Setting out a plane of radical immanence is not a matter of moving from ‘here’ to ‘there’. Ecological praxis is a matter of a multitude of molecular shifts or quantum leaps3. These movements from ‘this’ to ‘there’ are, in the quantum spirit of electrons, dis/continuous leaps between the humanist present and more-than-human ecologies. Acts of posthuman eco-aesthetics are thus “strangely stationary, in place” (DG, 1983: 131). Posthuman ecology works outside the modern narratives of progress, overcoming. This is because ‘we’ are already ‘there’, in a posthuman continuum, ontologically speaking. However, the dynamics of radical immanence is currently subjugated by other practices. A posthuman continuum of differentiation needs to be (re)affirmed through mental, social and nonhuman ecologies.
Rick Dolphijn, following Deleuze, envisages art as an “affirmative and creative act” of “occupation” (2015: 194). This gesture is not about “occupying ‘something’ (an outside object)” but affording “‘to be occupied with something’ (the revelation of a world)” (Dolphijn, 2015: 194). Eco-aesthetics of intra-action is not about producing a world, but “dismantling” what constrains us to be occupied with “‘anotherness’ which was always already there” (2015: 196). This is an immanent occupation that amounts to a decolonisation of the domination of the same, in favour of affirmation of “absolute and ultimate Difference” (Deleuze, in Dolphijn, 2015: 191). This work consists in deterritorialising the constituted planes of modernity, and creating the conditions to occupy “nature by heart, by will and by chance” (Dolphijn, 2015: 197). Becoming occupied by difference is “an intense love” (ibid.: 191), that for Spinoza from whom Dolphin draws upon, is the highest degree of knowledge and spiritual life. To ‘learn to love’ difference begins with a “summoning” (DG, 1994: 181) of anotherness. How to enact or be enacted by these summonings is the key problem of the posthuman eco-aesthetics of intra-action.
Posthuman art consists in actions of radical imagination that are rooted in the here-now, in the present everydayness, but that defamiliarise the conditions of labour, love and play through performative quantum ruptures. It is a transversal practice between the actual, the possible and the constituent outside of social apparatuses of production: the inhuman. This practice thus requires a certain parlance in the language of the apparatus that violently occupy us (ontology of the present), but at the same time, and entangled with this mode, it demands a posthumanist imagination. Posthuman eco-aesthetics needs to see and speak (at least) double. Here i learn from the concept of ‘double vision’ as developed in the work of Black feminist author, Patricia Hill Collins. According to Collins, black women who work as servants in white households have the position of both ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’, they are “outsiders within”, which gives them a “special standpoint” or epistemic position (Collins, 1986). I wish to render homage to this crucial insight, and to transpose it in a posthumanist practice, to indicate a seeing that is minoritarian in the sense of seeing the inside of social apparatuses and at the same time sensing and accounting for what they exclude and suppress. This double vision is a transversal vision that speaks through the possible, but is oriented towards the suppressed, unspeakable external-inside and internal-outside. It learns this ethos from the politics of possibility (Gibson-Graham, 2006), but is a politics of im/possibility. In posthuman terms, it is a situatedness along the ‘teetering’ edges “on the cusp of stability and instability, of possibility and impossibility” (Barad, 2012b: 40). These areas of im/possibility are frontiers where the biopolitical appropriation of life operates, and also where impossibility exists. Im/possibility here should be understood as the creative freedom of life, exuberant difference before and beyond possibilities of the here-now.
Posthuman eco-aesthetics can begin to be imagined through Karen Barad’s agential realism (2003, 2007). Agential realism is an ethical ontological epistemology (‘ethico-onto-epistemology’) that depicts the dynamics of being and knowing through a radical re-conceptualisation of agency and its interactivity. This section will focus on the immediate implications of agential realism for the plane of immanence of eco-aesthetic praxis.
Barad proposes a flat ontology (although she doesn’t use this term) that reworks the relationships between thought and matter, and discourse and materiality, into ‘intra-active’ dynamics of ‘entanglement’ of mattering and meaning. “Matter and meaning are not separate elements. … Mattering is simultaneously a matter of substance and significance.” (Barad, 2007: 3). Through this horizontal ontology, Barad sets up a plane of ‘posthumanist performativity’ (ibid.: 136-7). In a posthuman dynamics of mattering―meaning, “knowing, thinking, measuring, theorising, and observing are material practices of intra‒acting within and as part of the world” (ibid.: 90). The major consequence of posthumanist performativity is that “there is no unambiguous way to differentiate between the ‘object’ and ‘agencies of observation’. No inherent/Cartesian subject‒object distinction exists” (ibid.: 114). Distinctions are not inherent because agential realism does not recognise the separatedness of things. Differences are being continuously performed by matter in its ‘intra-active dynamics’. Art or philosophy therefore participate in this differential mattering, but they are not anymore simply cultural or discursive, they are ‘material-discursive entanglements’. In a posthumanist continuum, “concepts are specific material arrangements” (ibid.: 196) that make difference in the mattering of the earth.
Posthumanist performativity is radically different from representationalist epistemologies, grounded in a territorial distinction between language and matter, “representationalism is the belief in the ontological distinctions between representations and that which they purport to represent” (Barad, 2007: 46)4. In a performative posthumanist ontology, there is no ontological rift between sign and body. Science studies scholar Andrew Pickering calls this posthumanist performance “the mangle of practice”, which he describes as a ‘dance of agency’ between humans and matter. “[T]he contours of material and social agency are mangled in practice” (Pickering, 1995: 23). Causality and signification are profoundly entangled and co-constitutive of each other. This continuum of indistinction between ontology and epistemology is what Barad calls ‘onto-epistemology’. Practices of being and meaning-making cannot be separated from each other.
Barad’s performative onto-epistemology holds important potential for traversing the modern quandary of representation in environmental thought, politics, and eco-aesthetics. It provides a different perspective on one of the unsolvable problems of green politics and eco-art, that of the representation of nature. In the modern world-view, it is assumed that natural-others lie outside language, and that the only means of interacting with these others is through representation. I will take environmental law as an example, since it is one of social practices explicitly concerned with bridging the gap. Lawyer Christopher Stone in his landmark article “Should Trees Have Legal Standing?” (1972) speculated on how earth others could become part of the human legal system. Stone acknowledges that, amongst the numerous problems, the crucial one lies in the difficulty of knowing what a forest ‘needs’ or ‘wants’. Even if “natural objects can communicate their wants (needs) to us, and in ways that are not terribly ambiguous” (1972: 471), Stone maintains that it is ‘we’ that ultimately need to represent nature’s interests in the court of law. With this gesture, Stone opened a crack in the sovereign plane of humanity, yet the process of imagining how nature can occupy law, or art, is still very much open.
Ecofeminism provides another insight. In ecofeminist analysis, natural others are understood as subjugated, oppressed, or subaltern, and therefore do not have the right to speak. Critical and radical thinkers have variously attempted to bring the viewpoints of the marginalised to the fore. Deleuze, who was himself thinking through this problem, claimed in a conversation with Michel Foucault that:
those who act and struggle are no longer represented [by the intellectuals or unions] … there is no more representation; there’s only action – theoretical action and practical action which serve as relays and form networks. (1977b: 206-7)
In this statement, Deleuze seems to be vocalising a performative ontology resonant with Barad’s agential realism. However, feminist and postcolonial scholar Gayatri Spivak provides an important counterpoint. Gayatri Spivak criticises Deleuze’s point and asserts that “the subaltern cannot speak” for herself. Spivak did not mean that subaltern does not have a voice, but that it cannot speak within the discourse set up by the dominant Subject. Spivak concludes that “representation has not withered away” (ibid.: 308), and asks for another “image of thought” (ibid.). Spivak follows Derrida to imagine a thought based on ‘appealing to’ or ‘calling’ the ‘quite-other’ (ibid.: 294). Spivak’s argument is important for understanding the relationship between postulating a performative ontology and an ethico-political practice in the context of capitalist and colonial representation. Representation is strongly correlated with modern logic of dualism and taking someone else’s voice is one of the first gestures of appropriation. Quite different from this is creating contexts where another can choose to respond or remain silent.
Risks of representation turning into domination are high, but silence is even more untenable. In a naturalcultural context, Astrida Neimanis sees this as a “can’t but must” imperative. Neimanis proposes fostering “representation without representationalism”, “[t]he kind of representation … concerned with the urgent need to advocate for the interests of others (non-humans, in this case), but also with the risk of capture and appropriation” (2015). Neimanis concludes that we “must represent in the name of these [natural] ‘citizens,’ even as we also commodify and misrepresent them” (2015). The point is therefore not to refute representation altogether, but to release the subaltern from the grip of representationalism. Catriona Sandilands suggests that nature should be recognised as intrinsically ‘unrepresentable’ and ‘unknowable’, but another necessary task is to “[bring] nature into democratic discourse in a way that opens up the possibility of our remembering our lack” (Sandilands, 1999: 193). While recognising this discursive ‘lack’, the “failure of representation” could affirmatively lead into “the development of an ethical relation to the Otherness of the Other, to nature, to the Real” (Sandilands, 1999: 181). Catriona Sandilands and Astrida Neimanis situate what could be viewed as a posthumanist proposal in relation to the established territories of power. It is crucial to refuse representationalism as a mode of appropriation of the Other, but creating naturalcultural entanglements may imply resorting to methods of representation, which imply risks of re-appropriation.
Posthuman eco-aesthetics thus faces a twofold task: to perform critique of representational apparatuses that produce rifts between words and things, and to affirm practices of immanent material-discursive performativity. It may be correct to assert ontologically that life proceeds through immanence, that words are not separate from things, but it is also necessary to recognise that many mangles of matter and meaning operate as if discourse were separate from bodies. This is the logic of despotic axiomatics which abstracts the co-constitution of matter and meaning into a grid of generalised equivalence. Posthuman practices thus necessarily proceed through frictions and barriers of representationalist apparatuses. However through the lens of flat ontology, these aesthetic practices can see the co-constitutive dynamics of discursive practices and the earth.
Posthuman eco-aesthetics thus desires to participate in what Vicki Kirby has called the ‘literacy’ of Nature (2011). Kirby reworks Derrida’s theorem that there is “no outside of text”, usually taken as a claim towards radical linguisticism and anti-naturalism, into a posthumanist claim that there is “no outside to Nature” (2011: x). Nature “reads and writes itself” (ibid.:xi), and human agency or “originary humanicity” is part of this natural literacy or expressivity. This literacy runs through our genes, as well as through earth’s geological strata. Humans are but nature’s marks, and they scribble upon nature as well. Kirby’s ‘consubstantiality’ of thought and matter, human agency and materiality, is thus a transversal setting up of a plane of a common literacy in which humans can engage in ‘natural convers(at)ions’ (ibid.). This is a corresponding claim to DG’s understanding of art as a general cosmic inscription, which humans take part in (Grosz, 2009). How to learn this wider literacy and expressivity and how to join these ‘natural convers(at)ions’ is a desire of posthuman eco-aesthetics of intra-action.
- DG distinguish between plane of consistency and concept-creation as tasks of philosophy, and plane of composition and thinking through affects and percepts as the domain of art (ibid.: 65-6). This distinction is a difference of degree, indeed they can “slip into each other” (DG, 1994: 66), thus i will merge two modalities of setting the plane.
- This understanding is different from universalist claims that begin from the premise that universe is one unified entity and that ‘everything is interconnected’ (e.g., in deep or spiritual ecology).
- This physical phenomenon has in popular culture come to signify a massive jump or change. From the point of view of physics, this vision is entirely wrong, since quantum leap is effectively the tiniest of jumps. However, there is a certain truth in this over-dramatisation of quantum leap. Through these minuscule performative acts electrons enact a universe that is radically diverse from the modern mechanistic physics. Quantum leap happens when an electron jumps from one to another energetic level in an atom. Crucially, the leap happens in a ‘discontinuous’ fashion, “not from here-now to there-then” as in a smooth Newtonian universe. Instead, “the electron is initially at one energy level and then it is at another without having been anywhere in between! A quantum leap is a discontinuous movement.” [original emphasis] (Barad, 2012b: 39). Thus, quantum leap is a molecular move that changes so to say everything, the very fabric of modernity. To make quantum leaps on molar level, i.e. in everyday life on the scale of human bodies, is the agential plane of posthuman eco-aesthetics of becoming, as i will expand further.
- Representationalism is also a theory in cognitive science, by which mental representations are the only means of knowledge about the world. Here i am opposing representation as eqauted to linguistic constructionism in the humanities.