asli-k Annotations

Describe the main literatures that the text draws on and contributes to.

Saturday, August 17, 2019 - 4:37am

This article mainly draws from multispecies anthropology and the body of work on the social contract, to which it also contributes. It is also a contribution to the literature on the Anthropocene, on the nature/culture divide, anthropocentrism, etc. I would also argue that this article contributes to science fiction studies, as a reading of Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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What three (or more) quotes capture the critical import of the text?

Saturday, August 17, 2019 - 4:28am

"Le Guin’s likening of science fiction to lying is, of course, a provocation aimed at challenging what we think of as empirical. It encourages us to broaden our understanding of the relationship between (science) fiction and reality as a means of gaining insight into our current condition." (51)

"For Deleuze and Guattari, the zone of indiscernibility describes an abstract process whereby new concepts are engendered through the intermixing of components from existing concepts. But in their discussion of “becoming animal” in A Thousand Plateaus the zone of indiscernibility takes on a more tangible, physical sense as it is used to characterize a process of mutual informing between humans and animals, whereby (sub)qualities pass between the two to produce an effect beyond comparison or mimesis (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 274). As Erinn Gilson (2007) notes, becoming animal is about a becoming with in which something new emerges. In this sense, it is helpful to think of the zone of indiscernibility in terms of what Gilbert Simondon (2017) calls the space of “associated milieu,” which is a site of provisional structuring of an emergent functional coherence across entities of different orders of magnitude. Importantly, a zone of indiscernibility does not link categories of being but rather processes of becoming to elicit novel, unanticipated becomings. " (51)

"Tchaikovsky’s novel is an epic, multi-generational, and multispecies tale that I read as forging a conceptual zone of indiscernibility between science fiction and multispecies anthropology in a way that advances the political stakes of the latter. Specifically, I argue that it challenges received notions of human and nature in Western political theory while working to imagine a culture and politics adequate to a technologically forged multispecies society. At the same time, I suggest that Tchaikovsky asks us to imagine a zone of indiscernibility in tangible terms as a space multispecies alliance." (52)

"Multispecies ethnography, like much science fiction, also experiments with different modes of storytelling as it explores “how “the human” has been formed and transformed amid encounters with multiple species of plants, animals, fungi, and microbes” (Kirksey et al. 2014). In so doing, it seeks to redefine what the human is, putting emphasis on the idea of the human as co-constituted in a web of organic and technological relations, in order to understand what the “human is becoming.” For both post-apocalyptic science fiction and multispecies ethnography then, nature is neither a given nor constant. It is, rather, a force of ontological indeterminacy and potential that is inseparable from the industrial processes that have remade the planet over the past centuries." (52–53)

"When the political scientist Bruce Jennings (2016) revisits these texts to develop a political theory for ecological governance adequate to crises of the Anthropocene, one of his central concerns is reinterpreting the state of nature in social contract theory. Jennings argues that, for the authors mentioned above, nature is a “philosophical device” used to establish the necessity and justification for a social order, and should not be confused with an empirical argument concerning the natural world as such. It is a way of conjuring a pre-social condition, prior to the influence of social conventions so as to enable a claim about an underlying human nature that necessitates the formation of society (Hobbes [1651] 1968), establishes an inalienable right to property (Locke [1689] 1980), or provides the spirit for the general will of popular sovereignty (Rousseau [1762] 2012). Not surprisingly, since the attention in these arguments is on the human condition and human nature, everything non-human gets short shrift." (53)

"Working from the premise that the state of nature in social contract theory provides the philosophical underpinnings for contemporary liberal capitalist society, Jennings argues that any ecological fix to our current conditions requires rethinking its assumptions. We need to debug our philosophical OS, or operating system, as it were. Specifically, Jennings views our current environmental crisis as an effect of our hyper-individualistic interpretation of the essential human rights of life, liberty, and happiness stipulated in social contract theory. The result, he argues, is a “social contract of consumption” (19) under which citizens have exchanged active citizenship and freedom of sovereignty for the promise of material affluence at the expense of the environment. In his attempt to remediate this reading, Jennings reinterprets the advent of society not as an exit from a state of nature and correlate emergence of a binary nature-culture schema but rather as the establishment of a “cocreative dialectical interplay” (54) between nature and culture." (54)

"The question is: how will the spiders deal with a potentially ruthless and efficient force with whom it is unable even to communicate? Clearly, we (human readers) think, the ant and spider confrontation will become a total war, the only possible outcome of which will be the annihilation of one side or the other. Indeed, this is also how the struggle initially unfolds, with the spiders seemingly destined to lose an epic battle and face extinction. Tchaikovsky surprises us, however, by mobilizing the theme of interconnection toward an unanticipated resolution of the conflict. We are led to understand that the spiders perceive the ant problem not as humans would, that is, as involving a lesser being and enemy that must be destroyed for self-preservation. Rather, the spiders see the ants as a species from which they can learn and benefit. Accordingly, they approach the ants as a challenge of communicating across species. Ultimately, the spiders are able to interpret and intervene in the ant communication system. This allows them to reprogram the ant colony, diverting it from mindless conquering to functions that become integral and beneficial for the spider civilization. The term Tchaikovsky employs here is “use” but he qualifies the meaning so as to relieve it of any exploitative connotations. Use is better understood as opening something up to a crosspollinating relationship of mutual becoming within a zone of indiscernibility. Such a zone sets up a field of resonance across difference in which difference is maintained as a generative potential. " (62)

"Whereas the humans impulsively turn to genocide, the spiders overcome their unease toward the humans and envision the possibility of a human/spider multispecies society. They seek an alliance founded not on the art of reason but on the empathy of kinship, expansively defined, to reach across species and recognize “likeness” at a microbiological level. " (64)

"Jennings’ commitment to thinking from a human perspective while maintaining a nature-culture division for the sake of its dialectic brings him to stop short of extending pity to the general will of a multispecies sociality and ecological governance. By contrast, Tchaikovsky asks us to imagine the possibility of ontological movement outside a nature-culture/technology dialectic. Both the spiders and the humans in the story blur the boundaries between nature and technology. " (66)

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