On Monday morning I will be defending my thesis for Rhode Island School of Design's brand new MA program in Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies alongside four other women who have been part of this inaugural cohort.
For those interested...my paper is basically a manifesto, a call to develop and deploy all manner of creative tactics that can challenge and subvert any and all "logics" that allow for exploitation, oppression, and destruction of the Earth and its inhabitants.
It's about undoing undue dualism and the joy of paradox. I plan to post the whole project on-line as soon as possible. Meanwhile, here is a short summary:
AN INTRICATE ENSEMBLE: THE ART-SCIENCE OF AN ECOLOGICAL IMAGINARY FOR THE ANTHROPOCENE EPOCH
Some early-to-mid-20th century avant-garde artistic movements, notably Dadaism and Surrealism, came out of a wholesale rejection of a “logic” based in European Enlightenment philosophy that could result not only in the slaughter of billions during World War I, but in the destruction and enslavement of people and the other-than-human world in the name of a “progress” from which the most powerful disproportionately benefit. Declaring the right to determine what should be considered an acceptable reality, the Dadaists and Surrealists developed methods by which to tap into the “irrational” – techniques including collaboration, improvisation, and chance operations.
Approximately 200 years prior to the Surrealists, the Romantic Naturalists also expressed misgivings about the mechanistic, positivist, dualist modes of thought their countrymen had been bringing to prominence in Europe since the dawn of Scientific Revolution – humans (some far more than others) were coming to see themselves as separate from, and superior to, an externalized conception of “nature.” Science, heralded as an unbiased form of inquiry based on “natural” laws, was being used to justify hierarchy, competition, and exploitation. The Romantic Naturalists countered with the view that sustained appreciation of the qualitative does not diminish the value of the quantitative; in fact, sensations that transcend reason and logic may provide an ethical basis from which to develop fairer and more just social and ecological frameworks.
Today, in a spirit akin to that of the Romantic Naturalists, Dadaists, and Surrealists, paradigm-challenging artists and philosophers are working to bring about an “ecological imaginary”…the view that, to quote feminist-philosopher Karen Barad on the central lesson of quantum physicist Niels Bohr, <<"we are a part of the nature that we seek to understand">>.
Work emerging from fields related to the Environmental Humanities invites science to examine a paradox inherent within itself: science’s esteemed objective stance, while undeniably useful as a mindset for the purposes of research, by distancing the observer from that which is being observed, tends to reinforce an impression that humans and nature are inherently separate.
While science can, and very often does, provide elegant evidence that “we are a part of the nature that we seek to understand,” supplementary qualitative practices may help to instill in its adherents a sense of what this feels like in practice; the arts are particularly well-equipped to foster experiences of the sublime. Vacillating between – or the simultaneous holding of – states of objectivity and subjectivity, individuality and collectivity, direction and improvisation – may be of use in the collaborative formation of an ecological imaginary, a constructive image of oikos, our shared home, regardless of one’s primary discipline.
Dualisms and paradoxes abound, but we do not need to remain bound to them. It is possible to imagine an “intricate ensemble” in which beings and/or constructs can exist as separate and together <