What are members of ASLEC-ANZ postgrad community reading? Find our recommendations here!

The Spell of the Sensous by David Abram
Politics of Nature: How to bring the Sciences by Bruno Latour

The Spell of the Sensous recommended by annenna

51LAabdhZOL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous is a sublimely beautiful reflection on the anima of our interconnections with nature. Abram develops a thesis that our humanity is embodied through interspecies and material communion, “in contact and conviviality with what is not human” by drawing upon a variety of sources, including: native South East Asian, Australian Aboriginal, North American First Nations and other indigenous understandings of place; Ancient Greek philosophy; and phenomenology, particularly of Merleau-Ponty and Heidegger.

This book champions a renewed Romanticism—an immersive and passionate being and becoming with the world—that could compensate for the blindspots of the dominant cerebral and abstract understandings of the environment that the enlightenment and industrial revolution have provisioned us with.

,p.Abram’s is sensitised to the impact of certain technological mediations including the written word. He is not opposed to complex technology but emphasises the need to “renew our acquaintance with the sensuous world in which our techniques and technologies are all rooted”. Perhaps most important for an ecological poetics, an ecocritical orientation, is Abram’s extensive reflections on expression and the means of human expression: the oral and written word and their different roles in enabling and hindering, for example, certain ways of being and being in relation with the landscape, and certain ways of handing on stories in the world.

I love this book because it makes philosophy accessible to a wide audience, and opens up the possibility for a more material—if I could dare say—less romanticised Romanticism to be developed as a very important pathway for engaging our full humanity in the effort to appreciate and defend the integrity of our ecological systems on Earth.

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The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy recommended by annenna

514TWFVQ96L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Bruno Latour’s Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy is disorienting, puzzling and stimulating. Latour’s project is about building new transversal categories that cut across conventional understanding, so a key part of that project is to unhinge us from our complacent received wisdom understandings of reality, and to present that reality in a new, uncanny way.

Latour is insistent and urgent that ontologies that separate the material world from the human political world are a problem because they make objects (actants) mute, which deprives the so-called “natural world” of speech and actancy. He presents a new framework that calls for scientists to act as “speech prostheses” and bring the “speech” of such objects to the public realm, that is, to use their expertise regarding objects for advocacy, rather than be the disinterested observers that they have learned to be. According to Latour, the tools of the laboratory can make evident the actancy of such objects, as well as their irregularities. It is such messiness, such inability to be easily categorised, that reveals the political standing of these objects. It reveals their otherness, their remainder, their inability to be definitively known by scientific inquiry.

Personally, I am still not sure about whether I agree it is important for objects to have political standing in order for an environmental ethics to be adequate. I am still figuring out that one. However I find this book very stimulating and generative of creative response, so I recommend it even if you don’t end up comprehending or agreeing with its argument.

For example, quotes such as these provide much to muse over: “The barbarian is indeed, as Aristotle claimed, someone who is ignorant of representative assemblies or who acts, out of prejudice, to limit their importance and scope; someone who claims indisputable power through which he short-circuits the slow work of representation. Far from calling this acquisition into question, I claim on the contrary to be extending it, naming the extension of speech to nonhumans Civilization, and finally solving the problem of representation that rendered democracy powerless as soon as it was invented, because of the counterinvention of Science…Restored to civil life, demobilized humans and nonhumans can shed the old garments that marked them as subjects and objects, in order to participate jointly in the Republic” (Latour 2004, p. 7).

For an introduction to Bruno Latour’s work and the terminology of actor network theory see Graham Harman’s open access book Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics

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