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Revision: The End of Outside

bluish's picture

The End of Outside: Reconciling Connection

Bruno Latour set before me a daunting task; his high concepts and references made it difficult for me to parse through the essay. The call is bold but nuanced: to revolutionize our ideas of the self in order to confront ecological doom. In lead with LeGuin, Latour stresses the implications of clinging to the subject-object relationship. The sciences have lead us to envision the world as our endless field of investigation, but this has caused a dangerous shift in the way we view ourselves; we are no longer enmeshed in this world but esoterically acting on it. Just as we must see others as parts of our collective human experience, we must also review what it means to analyze, to experiment with, and to investigate this world-- this is our collective ecological experience.

In LeGuins short story, Osden is characterized by otherness. The rest of the team is fixated on examining his behavior in the hopes of “figuring him out.” Through constant prodding, surveillance, and diagnosis, the scientists further alienate Osden. Michel Foucault claims that this process of examination and rehabilitation is actually the primordial form of power exaction, and that through this process, one is able to objectify the subject. He goes on to explain how the social sciences have indoctrinated us to think about what is normal and abnormal. We search for the source of contamination, the speck of toxicity, and think of contextual clues that could have lead to the abnormality. This social manifestation of pity is then exacted through rehabilitation (Foucault 171). The idea that we can analyze, test, and then reform and reshape beings in order to better appease our conceptions of order is a microchasm for the ways in which we view the earth. Latour uses the term “geostory” to reference our experience here. He explains,

“The prefix ‘geo’ in geostory does not stand for the return to nature, us for the return of object and subject back to the ground… they had both believed it possible to escape: one by deanimation, the other by overanimation” (16).

By maintaining this age-old paradigm of subjectivity and objectivity, we blind ourselves to so many of Gaia’s complexities.

The Enlightenment period brought with it a radical new earth-view, one which stressed critical interpretation and the endlessness of science. The “self-overcoming” view of humanity has only encouraged science to depart from the ground. Nietzsche first introduced me to this idea:

"When the ruling caste constantly looks afar and looks down upon subjects and instruments and just as constantly practices obedience and command, keeping down and keeping at a distance-- that other, more mysterious pathos could not have grown up either-- the craving for an ever new widening of distances within the soul itself, the development of ever higher, rarer, more remote, further-stretching, more comprehensive states-- in brief, simply the enhancement of the type of "man," the continual "self-overcoming of man," to use a moral formula in a supra-moral sense" (Nietzsche, Kauffman 257).

But then Elizabeth Kolbert circles back:

"This capacity predates modernity, though, of course, modernity is its fullest expression. Indeed, this capacity is probably indistinguishable from the qualities that made us human to begin with: our restlessness, our creativity, our ability to cooperate to solve problems and complicated tasks" (Kolbert 266).

Both of these claims make clear this idea that humanity can reach and pull and pick as far as the imagination will allow, but in doing so, we have created a cavernous and gaping rift between ourselves and our grounding. In the name of scientific inquiry, we have lost the complexities of this ecological experience.

My aim in this revision, is truly to call for a re-seeing of science. The dangers of distance have rendered us incapable of tackling ecological problems. The allusion of an outside allows us to confront issues of sustainability as if there is some possibility of repair without foundational metamorphosis. I realize that this is large, but I wish to leave with something small: Grass. We spoke so much about grass in our final classes. I haven’t been walking on the grass anymore. Never have I believed that discussion and awareness could radicalize communal action, but I have proven myself wrong. It was nearly comedic how much time we spent talking about grass, but something shook me just enough-- more so that ever, I think. The sweet coupling of persistent discussion and ideological texts not only shifted my world-view, but changed my behavior. And this-- this is the crazy thing to me. This is the hopeful thing to me. If we can pair self-investigation with the journey to ecological intelligence, then I think we will see a radical shift in the way environmental work is done. There is no distant observer, no isolated subject, science must confront itself. We must come to terms with the reality that we are participating in a world-matrix of exchanges and collisions; thinking ecologically means seeing ourselves as porous and metamorphosing and deeply enmeshed in Gaia’s moods. From here, I believe the work can begin. 





Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. The Foucault Reader. Ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon, 1984. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Trans. Walter Arnold. Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1989. Print.

Latour, Bruno.  "Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene." New Literary History 45, 1 (Winter 2014): 1-18.

LeGuin, Ursula. "Vaster than Empires, and More Slow." The Wind's Twelve Quarters: Short Stories.  New York: Harper and Row, 1975. 148-178.