HUGGING MONSTERS

The anthropocentrism that looks out on the world and says “we did this!” – including the more tolerable kind that looks out on the so-called Anthropocene and sadly mutters “we did this” – denies the significance of the other-than human in the world’s emergence.  The closer we look, the more we find that we never act alone: every small gesture is a generation of the collective.  Every small gesture is already cooked in a cauldron of many spoons, stirred by things whose names we can pronounce, and other things that are not quite nameable.  Every small gesture is already a compost heap of a million critters.  The “human” is a carnival of nonhuman doings; it is, to use Karen Barad’s term, a posthumanist performativity that shapes the world, allocates agency, and troubles boundaries.  Like dust.

We are fundamentally porous and promiscuous.  This is the world we live in – a carnival of the unexpected, of the irregular, the grotesque, or monstrous bodies – where the hard and cold lines that distinguish you from me, us from trees, trees from economics, and economics from whale shit are blurry, leaky and wet.  our own bodies are populated by trillions of other bacterial cells in their own becomings, but these cells do not live “on” you, or with you, or through you.  They are you: they are necessary to your body’s ongoing survival.  You couldn’t be human without these alien entanglements that breach the fences between you and your environment.  These overlapping bodies, pressed together in this strange material world characterised by a “horrifying kind of intimacy,” make it impossible to make a once-and-for-all cut between where I stop and where you begin, or where life stops and death triumphs, or where matter gallops forward and mind allegedly tugs on the reins.  It is in this sense we are monsters.  We are one and many.  You are only yourself through others.

Is this a way of easing oneself out of responsibility for, say, the impact of industrial activity on climate and environmental well-being? No, it is a way of deepening it – because to so summarily assign blame and pin an entire upholstery of multiple events to a single factor, or an essential substrate working behind the scenes, is to further distance ourselves from the world’s happenings and – intentions notwithstanding – reduce the world to separable parts where our technological mastery is its main driver.  It is to strip matter of its own desire, will, intention, and movement so that it doesn’t present an impediment to our concerns.

Bayo Akomolafe, These Wilds Beyond Our Fences.