Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Monday, August 28, 2017

My Reply to Dipesh Chakrabarty

Dipesh wrote yesterday to the anthropologists Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer, and me, about the Houston events. Dipesh, if you don't know him, is the author of a very very powerful essay called “The Climate of History,” one of the very first texts to deal full on with the Anthropocene from a humanities perspective.

There's a lot of emotion here in Houston, mostly it's a toxic cocktail of boredom and fear. There's a lot to say, so expect more. But I thought this might work well for the blog:

[Dear Dipesh]

For me this situation is a great example of how my ability to understand things massively outstrips my ability to cope with them …

One of the less pleasant aspects is the way the situation engages people’s narcissistic sadism (“look at the stupid fools over there”), magnified by cynical reason (“they are so ideologically deluded compared with me”). It has been spectacularized on the TV as Cymene and Dominic and I were discussing yesterday, in a podcast, and this means people find it hard to see the event as ongoing (some people are asking “how was the hurricane?” as if “it” was over already), and in particular, the more leftish intellectually inclined ones are making sure to press the guilt button rather than the thought button (“now you know what it’s like for non-white non-Texan non-stupid-idiots…”).

We intellectuals are not stupid: we know the phenomenology of guilt is a bad photocopy of the phenomenology of thought, so it’s much cheaper to press that button. Unfortunately of course, guilt is an artifact of agricultural age religion, and is designed specifically to prevent humans from thinking and operating on a collective level.

So that’s pretty unpleasant. On Twitter, a white Norwegian literary theory teacher just Nordsplained things for me (new word!), somewhat forgetful of Statoil’s funding of his job.

But it’s nowhere near as unpleasant as not having a house, which I still have, by virtue of living at high altitude for Houston, aka 1 meter above sea level (joke estimate)!

1 comment:

Bill Benzon said...

You know, Tim, it seems to me that sometimes guilt is a sort of "tax" we levy on ourselves for a deliberate transgression, whether of commission or omission. We know that we really should do that thing, but don't want to; or that we shouldn't do it, but are going to anyhow. So we do what we want and accept guilt as the tax we pay for doing what we want.