My critical animal work, and, more lately, my ecocritical and posthumanist work, has suffered from one giant fault–one you’re thinking of, I hope–namely its inconsideration of the way this work can intersect with matters of race and gender and class. I’m a bitter enemy of the human, blah blah blah, but the ‘human’ I’m going after has tended to be one that looks a lot like me, if less nerdy, with all my historical advantages. My current work on VIKINGS AND HERITAGE is trying to fix that, but in the meantime, presented with one last chance to revise an ecocriticism essay, I took the opportunity to nudge it in the directions of what I care about now. The NOT ITALICIZED TEXT marks the new material:
The line cannot be between medieval and modern or superstition and science but rather between acceptances of material immanence and a faith in immaterial transcendence, and, by extension, a belief in clear lines between decisive agents and mere objects. Augustine, Swammerdam, Pasteur, and their many inheritors all insist on transcendence, their own especially, continuing to enable, for example, the belief that some humans are more agential and some base, bestial, instinctual, deserving only mastery. To repurpose Cary Wolfe, who himself draws on Gayatri Spivak’s critique of humanism, “We all, human and nonhuman alike, have a stake in the discourse and institution of speciesism,” and anti-materialism, “because the discourse of speciesism [anti-materialism]…can be used to mark any social other” for mere use, domination, or violent regimes of control.
Even or especially when insisting that others should not be treated like objects, anti-materialists more or less wittingly continue to draw a line around themselves and their God to call themselves subjects, while declaring whatever remains outside an object. The border must be understood as grammatical, per Nietzsche’s famous critique in Twilight of the Idols of “the metaphysics of language,” which, he argues, persists in differentiating between a “doer and doing” and asserting some “will as the cause,” or, more simply, classifying things into clear subjects and predicates, between a matter that needs something or someone to make it happen, and matter whose operations cannot be neatly sorted into effect and external cause, object and external subject. The end of Nietzsche’s critique is well known: “I am afraid that we are not rid of God because we still have faith in grammar.”
Maybe this is unbearably cute or pretentious or whatever. I’m at that stage of revision where one just can’t tell anymore. Still, I’m increasingly convinced of two things: that the new materialist ecocriticisms urgently need to figure out some way to use their critique of the agent/object distinction to critique racism and they need to draw on the critics of racism to do so.
If I’m screwing this up, feel encouraged to tell me so, however you see fit, at the latest when you review the book.