Particulate arising from study

Month: January, 2015

Klein vs. Klein -> Queer perspectives on ecology

These themes culminate in the last full chapter of the book, “The Right to Regenerate”, in which Klein draws parallels between her own fraught attempts to conceive a child amid the stress of modern urban life, and humanity’s wider inability to value nature or emulate its gift for life. “As a culture,” she claims, “we do a very poor job of protecting, valuing, or even noticing fertility—not just among humans but across life’s spectrum.” This conviction leads her to ask: Is “it even possible to be a real environmentalist if you d[on]’t have kids?” While many environmentalists in fact fall into a similar, opposite, trap by morally abjuring natalism, this argument of Klein’s expresses reproductive futurism—a myopic focus on producing (proper) children and thus a (proper) future for humanity—a politics of the baby’s face.

Reproductive futurism devalues the queer and the now, including the potential desire to refuse to reproduce—or at least, to have a conversation about how and what is reproduced. It denies the intrinsic and equal worth of, as minor Klein puts it, “exiles from nature.” Major Klein’s reproductive futurism leaves the private form of the family largely unquestioned, the essentialism of the term “Mother Earth” almost unscathed, and the primacy of “fertility” intact.

Major Klein’s reproductive futurism also reflects a romanticism hinging on a “natural” life-domain somehow separate from capitalism. But capitalism is not, unfortunately, purely a logic of “short-term economic growth” that has been imposed by some (predominantly) middle-aged white men upon a separate, rich biotic world whose fundamental logic is long-term growth, circular regeneration, or life. In fact, in so many ways both capital and reactionary thought are premised on forms of “regeneration”; from razing public housing under the guise of “urban renewal,” to “right-to-life” activists opposing abortion, to the UN-led “carbon offset” forests that Klein critiques, where indigenous people are driven from their homes so that industrial activity elsewhere can be counted as “sustainable.” Capitalism is not something antithetical to nature but, to steal a phrase from Jason Moore, a way of organizing nature. Nature cannot express, in any unsullied way, what we are fighting for. We cannot simply affirm life, but must always ask: What forms of life? For whom?

Again, there is a minor Klein who is on the cusp of exploring such a “monstrous” conception of a nature by naming a “kinship of the infertile,” which we read as solidarity with non-reproductive lifeforms. This Klein’s openness to the complex desires of the dispossessed—including the desire for consumption, collective luxury, safety, “development,” and freedom from “shitty” work—show an occasional attunement to the already technological, entangled, human-nonhuman character of nature: a cyborg Earth. Recognizing the cyborg Earth does not condemn us to technofixes like geoengineering, but instead decenters maternity and makes room for the “unnatural,” the technological, and the nonfertile among the “we” coming into being in the struggles in Blockadia.

Cyborg Earth is not a foregone concession to evil technoscience but a site of struggles over the “commons” just like any other. A cyborg everything-ism reorients us towards practices that repurpose existing technologies and organisations of nature through bricolage—the art of making do with what is at hand. The minor Klein hints at a more hybrid, anti-austerity sensibility of this kind, that does not recoil from these “monstrous” entanglements of human, nonhuman, and technological natures. This Klein is doubtful about her desire for pregnancy and implies that if ecological crisis changes everything, surely it changes the institution of the family too. Disappointingly, the priority of incorporating a non-reproductive politics into the “regenerative” struggles of anticapitalism vanishes at the very moment in the narrative when Klein, at last, conceives a viable baby.

– an excerpt from the Out of the Wood collective’s review on Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, over at the New Inquiry. Please do read the whole piece. It is perhaps the best analysis on contemporary ecological thought that I’ve encountered, and happily avoids the whole lite/bright/dark green categorizations.


Upcoming Talk at Theorizing the Web

Below is my early abstract for Theorizing the Web, a very progressive conference that will take place here in NYC from the 17-18 of April. My talk will be a brief summation of the research I conducted for my MA thesis, with all the art junk scrubbed from it. If it interests you, I hope you’ll come or tune in over the livestream. (Hit me up afterwards for the art junk bits, if that’s your thing).

Techno-Autism: Confronting the Ableist Ideals in Media Criticism

After many years of hype and celebration concerning the Internet’s capacity to foster novel and enriching forms of sociality, many critics of recent years have described a converse, disabling effect on the rise. Autism, with its preference for indirect communication and seeming withdrawal from the vibrancy of embodied social exchange, has been frequently invoked as a metaphor to describe the tenor of digital sociality. In the work of Sherry Turkle or Anne Balsamo, for example, one finds the assumption that human relationality as a whole is becoming problematically autistic as more and more of it is mediated through technologies that defer the demands for immediacy in time, place, and attention that otherwise characterize face-to-face conversation. This condemnation by way of analogy to a disability, however, invites careful reflection on the ableist assumptions that underlie this concern. What unexamined ideals underpin our definitions of human sociality and mediation, and what is the cost of their defence?

Focusing specifically on the relational challenges and alternatives autism brings to bear on models of interpersonal communication, this paper traces the historical and contemporary intersections of relational impairments, networked communication, and forms virtual reality. Using a disability studies approach, this discussion details the often conflicting demands of feminist and disability studies media scholarship, suggesting that early debates about the role of the body in VR and digital communications often served to exclude people with relational impairments from a foundational idea of human ethics. This paper will also provide a parallel account of autistic online communication, illustrating how autistic media, whether literally or metaphorically understood, still provide ways of successfully relating and building communities even if the aesthetics and grammars of these forms of communication are not immediately legible to outsiders as such.

As media alter the forms and meanings of social contact, producing revisions to long-held social norms, there is an opportunity to make the defensibly human a more inclusive category. By acknowledging the merit of a plurality of human communicative capacities, media criticism can stand to be more descriptive rather than reactionary. If the Internet is “making us autistic,” then perhaps there is much to be learned through productive exchange, in considering this form of relationality as different but not necessarily diminished way of being human.