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Category Archives: Posthumanism

Harry T Dyer – The Conversation UK

Posted: August 11, 2017 at 6:06 pm

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Dr Harry T Dyer is a digital sociologist and lecturer in education at the University of East Anglia.

Harry joined UEA as a lecturer after successfully completing his PhD with UEA in the Department of Education and Lifelong Learning. He has a broad academic background, with degrees in linguistics and social science research methods, as well as his ongoing research in online identity presentation.

Harrys current research is in the emerging field of Digital Sociology, in which he looks at how social media platform design affects identity presentation and social interaction. His research proposes a new theoretical framework through which to consider the relationship between platform design and user that results in unique but bound identity performances.

Harry has taught on a range of courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level, including courses on research methodology, social theory, media and education, and research ethics. Given his broad academic background, Harrys research and teaching interests are equally expansive, and include education, digital sociology, identity theory, social theory, science and technology studies, research methodology, ethics, sociolinguistics, posthumanism, poststructuralism, and media.

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Cyborg anthropology – Wikipedia

Posted: July 12, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Cyborg anthropology is a discipline that studies the interaction between humanity and technology from an anthropological perspective. The discipline is relatively new, but offers novel insights on new technological advances and their effect on culture and society.

Donna Haraways 1985 “”A Cyborg Manifesto” was the first widely-read academic text to explore the philosophical and sociological ramifications of the cyborg.[1] A sub-focus group within the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting in 1992 presented a paper entitled “Cyborg Anthropology”, which cites Haraway’s “Manifesto”. The group described cyborg anthropology as the study of how humans define humanness in relationship to machines, as well as the study of science and technology as activities that can shape and be shaped by culture. This includes studying the ways that all people, including those who are not scientific experts, talk about and conceptualize technology.[2] The sub-group was very closely related to STS and the Society for the Social Studies of Science.[3] More recently, Amber Case has been responsible for explicating the concept of Cyborg Anthropology to the general public.[4] She believes that a key aspect of cyborg anthropology is the study of networks of information among humans and technology.[5]

Many academics have helped develop cyborg anthropology, and many more who haven’t heard the term still conduct research that may be considered cyborg anthropology. Amber Case likes to tell people that the actual number of self-described cyborg anthropologists is “about seven”.[6]The Cyborg Anthropology Wiki, overseen by Case, aims to make the discipline as accessible as possible, even to people who do not have a background in anthropology.

Cyborg anthropology uses traditional methods of anthropological research like ethnography and participant observation, accompanied by statistics, historical research, and interviews. By nature it is a multidisciplinary study; cyborg anthropology can include aspects of Science and Technology Studies, cybernetics, feminist theory, and more.

The object of study for cyborg anthropology is the cyborg. Originally coined in a 1960 paper about space exploration, the term is short for cybernetic organism.[7] A cyborg is traditionally defined as a system with both organic and inorganic parts. In the narrowest sense of the word, cyborgs are people with machinated body parts. These cyborg parts may be restorative technologies that help a body function where the organic system has failed, like pacemakers, insulin pumps, and bionic limbs, or enhanced technologies that improve the human body beyond its natural state.[8] In the broadest sense, all human interactions with technology could qualify as a cyborg. Most cyborg anthropologists lean towards the latter view of the cyborg; some, like Amber Case, even claim that humans are already cyborgs because people’s daily life and sense of self is so intertwined with technology.[5] Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” suggests that technology like virtual avatars, artificial insemination, sexual reassignment surgery, and artificial intelligence might make dichotomies of sex and gender irrelevant, even nonexistent. She goes on to say that other human distinctions (like life and death, human and machine, virtual and real) may similarly disappear in the wake of the cyborg.[1]

Digital anthropology is concerned with how digital advances are changing how people live their lives, as well as consequent changes to how anthropologists do ethnography and to a lesser extent how digital technology can be used to represent and undertake research.[9] Cyborg anthropology also looks at disciplines like genetics and nanotechnology, which are not strictly digital. Cybernetics/informatics covers the range of cyborg advances better than the label digital.

Questions of subjectivity, agency, actors, and structures have always been of interest in social and cultural anthropology. In cyborg anthropology the question of what type of cybernetic system constitutes an actor/subject becomes all the more important. Is it the actual technology that acts on humanity (the Internet), the general techno-culture (Silicon Valley), government sanctions (net neutrality), specific innovative humans (Steve Jobs), or some type of combination of these elements? Some academics believe that only humans have agency and technology is an object humans act upon, while others argue that humans have no agency and culture is entirely shaped by material and technological conditions. Actor-network theory (ANT), proposed by Bruno Latour, is a theory that helps scholars understand how these elements work together to shape techno-cultural phenomena. Latour suggests that actors and the subjects they act on are parts of larger networks of mutual interaction and feedback loops. Humans and technology both have the agency to shape one another.[10] ANT best describes the way cyborg anthropology approaches the relationship between humans and technology.[11]

Researchers like Kathleen Richardson have conducted ethnographic research on the humans who build and interact with artificial intelligence.[12] Recently, Stuart Geiger, a PhD student at University of California, Berkeley suggested that robots may be capable of creating a culture of their own, which researchers could study with ethnographic methods. Anthropologists react to Geiger with skepticism because, according to Geiger, they believe that culture is specific to living creatures and ethnography limited to human subjects.[13]

The most basic definition of anthropology is the study of humans.[14] However, cyborgs, by definition, describe something that is not entirely an organic human. Moreover, limiting a discipline to the study of humans may be difficult the more that technology allows humans to transcend the normal conditions of organic life. The prospect of a posthuman condition calls into question the nature and necessity of a field focused on studying humans.

Techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufekci argues that any symbolic expression of ourselves, even the most ancient cave painting, can be considered “posthuman” because it exists outside of our physical bodies. To her, this means that the human and the “posthuman” have always existed alongside one another, and anthropology has always concerned itself with the posthuman as well as the human.[15] Neil L. Whitehead and Michael Welsch point out that the concern that posthumanism will decenter the human in anthropology ignores the discipline’s long history of engaging with the unhuman (like spirits and demons that humans believe in) and the culturally “subhuman” (like marginalized groups within a society).[15]

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Cyborg anthropology – Wikipedia

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Gabriel S De Anda | Writer

Posted: July 5, 2017 at 9:03 am

Everything has been said, but not everything has been said superbly, and even if it had been, everything must be said freshly over and over again. Paul Horgan

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The times they are a-changing, especially in the realm of self-publishing.Acres of verbiage have been expended on the pros and cons of authors doing it for themselves.We will have to content ourselves here with saying, Not all tomes produced in this fashion are valueless. Heres one worthy candidate: Cherubimbo (Xlibris, trade paper, $19.99, 190 pages, ISBN 978-1-4628-4731-0) by Gabriel S. de Anda. With prior publication credits in several respectable zines, these stories come pre-vetted by an editorial acumen that is so often absent in other DIY productions. A practicing lawyer, de Anda infuses a couple of pieces with stefnal legal expertise, in the vein of Charles Harness. Time travel offers him lots of room for playful speculation, particularly in the emotionally resonant 1969. And some colorful posthumanism informs My Year To Be A Horse. De Andas touch is solid yet light-hearted, a winning one-two punch.

Paul Di Filippo 2013

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Here are a two more books by Gabriel S. de Anda.

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Gabriel S De Anda | Writer

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Super Sad True Love Story – Wikipedia

Posted: July 3, 2017 at 8:04 am

Super Sad True Love Story is the third novel by American writer Gary Shteyngart.[1] The novel takes place in a near-future dystopian New York where life is dominated by media and retail.

The son of a Russian immigrant, protagonist Leonard (Lenny) Abramov, a middle-aged, middle class, otherwise unremarkable man whose mentality is still in the past century, falls madly in love with Eunice Park, a young Korean-American struggling with materialism and the pressures of her traditional Korean family. The chapters alternate between profuse diary entries from the old-fashioned Lenny and Eunice’s biting e-mail correspondence on her “GlobalTeens” account. In the background of what appears to be a love story that oscillates between superficiality and despair, a grim political situation unravels. America is on the brink of economic collapse, threatened by its Chinese creditors. In the meantime, the totalitarian Bipartisan government’s main mission is to encourage and promote consumerism while eliminating political dissidents.[2]

The novel won the Salon Book Award (Fiction, 2010) and the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize (2011). It was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year (Fiction & Poetry, 2010), New York Times bestseller (Fiction, 2010), and Amazon’s Best Books of the Month in August 2010. It was named one of the best books of the year by numerous publications, including The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, O:The Oprah Magazine, Maureen Corrigan of NPR, and Slate.[3] The literary critic Raymond Malewitz has recently published an article on “digital posthumanism” in the novel in the journal Arizona Quarterly.[4]

Ben Stiller and Media Rights Capital are producing a TV series for Showtime.[5]

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Posthumanism | Literature in a Wired World Wiki | Fandom …

Posted: June 29, 2017 at 11:06 am

What is Posthumanism?Edit

According to the Oxford English Dictionary:

1. post-humanism: A system of thought formulated in reaction to the basic tenets of humanism, esp. its focus on humanity rather than the divine or supernatural

2. posthumanism: The idea that humanity can be transformed, transcended, or eliminated either by technological advances or the evolutionary processl artistic, scientific, or philosophical practice which also reflects this belief

…to find more information on this history of the word Posthumanism, click HERE

N. Katherine Hayles was born in St. Louis Missouri on December 16, 1943. She attended Rochester Institute of Technology where she earned a B.S. in Chemistry. She then attended the California Institute of Technology and earned a M.S. in Chemistry as well. In 1977, she went to the University of Rochester and earned a Ph.D. in English Literature.

N. Katherine Hayles is popular critic of posthumanism. She is most known for being the author of “How We Became Posthuman”. She believes that although we can put our intellect into another machine, we still need to keep in mind who we are and that our information is not completely transferable– we still need the use of our own bodies. She has become a critic to many believers of posthumanism who believe the body acts as a piece of hardware just as any other computer.

thumb|316px|left|Interview with N. Katherine Hayles by Stacey Cochran

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Hayles’ paper on posthumanism intertwine with one another as Hayles believes in a “Separation between body and mind is a consequence of historical change rather than what must inevitably happen as part of their materialized life.” As we progress further into a new age of humans slowly developing into an android-like state (people getting prosthesis to help them function better) we are not going against humanity but simply flowing with the tides of history. With this kind of change, we are brought with the question: what makes us human? In DADES the only method to determine who is a human and android is by one concept: empathy. Some of the humans follow a religion known as Mercerism which is based on empathy. By utilizing an empathy box, it links them to other humans as they take upon the obstacles that Mercer faces as a cohesive unit. We are brought upon a concept of how humans, identify ourselves as individuals and as members of a group through Mercerism by being able to feel empathy towards each other. The novel toys with the concept of expanding this group to the few existing animals on Earth, and even androids. These androids are advanced to the point where it is only possible to determine whether or not one is human or android by a test involving empathy. When the bountyhunter in DADES, Deckard, has to retire these androids, he begins to ponder if he in fact is human. He believes that if being human is the ability to feel empathy, then how can he truly be human without feeling empathy when he retires the androids. In order to expand the definition of human to androids, Hayles and Dick both believe that a new mixture of man and machine must occur to fulfill this expanded category to androids. A mixture of machine and man are already amongst us (as shown in one group’s presentation of a man with a robot eyeball) and many already have robotic arms/legs etc.

Bladerunner is a movie based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric sheep. The film did not fare well in box offices, but has since become a classic. Some may say the film needed time to catch on but it is used in classrooms all around the United States to teach about posthumanism.

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Shelley Jackson was born in the Phillippines in 1963. Jackson attended Stanford undergraduate and Brown for her M.F.A. in creative writing. While at Brown Jackson was inspired to create her first hypertext fiction titled, Patchwork Girl. This work at the time was the best selling CD for electronic litterature and is considered a cornerstone in starting the electronic litterature movement. Jackson is currently teaching in The New School in New York City.

Similar to These Waves of Girls, “My Body” is a Hypertext Fiction that explores a young girl’s memories of childhood and growing up. Many of the memories involve stories relating to growing up, sexuality, and body development. This hypertext fiction maps out different parts of a woman’s body for readers to click and to discover the author’s inner thoughts.

To navigate for yourself click HERE

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Posthumanism | Literature in a Wired World Wiki | Fandom …

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Human Geography Master’s celebrates 25 years – University of Bristol

Posted: June 25, 2017 at 2:03 pm

2017 marks a quarter century for one of the UKs leading Masters programs in Human Geography at the University of Bristol.

To celebrate, the School is launching a newly designed information booklet that features the art and images from past and present staff and postgraduate students.

Well known and respected within the field, the Masters in Human Geography: Society and Space programme in the School of Geographical Sciences has been at the forefront of contemporary human geographical postgraduate research and education since its inception in 1992.

The programme began as a collaboration between the Department of Geography (as it was called then) and the then School of Advanced Urban Studies (now part of the School of Policy Studies). It was started under the leadership of Professor Sir Nigel Thrift, then a professor of Human Geography at Bristol, and today an Honorary Doctorate and Emeritus Professor with the School of Geographical Studies.

Under Sir Nigel, the Society and Space program rapidly became a world leader in delivering innovative and cutting edge theoretical and critical research in contemporary human geography. The programme aimed to provide then, and continues to do so today, a thorough understanding of the theoretical debates around issues of society and space, and how these translate into practical research agendas and the formation of critical politics and policy. Teaching continues to be based around topic specific modules, seminars, and research dissertations, some of which, every year, go on to be published in leading academic journals.

Famously, the Society and Space programme, as it is known throughout the discipline of human geography, became associated with the development of non-representational theory. Non-representational theory (NRT) has transformed, sometimes controversially, many conceptual and empirical landscapes within cultural and political human geography, and is now almost indelibly associated with human geography research at Bristol. So strong has been the legacy of the course with NRT that the programme will also be the subject of analysis in a forthcoming book on non-representational theory (with Routledges Key Ideas in Geography series) by 2006 graduate of the program, Paul Simpson.

Given its history, the MSc programme is known for training a very high number of students who go on to study PhDs at Bristol and elsewhere. Early graduates of the course, and critical exponents of NRT, have made their names and careers from research inaugurated on the program. Leaders in the field of Human Geography like John Wylie, Beth Greenough, Emma Roe, James Ash, and Nick Gill are all alumni of the MSc.

Owain Jones, an early graduate, and now Professor of Environmental Humanities at Bath Spa, commented on his experience with Society and Space: I can say without any exaggeration that doing the course was a life transforming and enhancing experience (as university postgraduate education should be). I did not do an academic degree [prior to Society and Space] but an arts practice based degree, so the MSc really marked my conversion to academia and to geography.

Today, the focus on non-representational theory has morphed and matured into a demanding, deep curriculum that encompasses topics ranging from affect, technology, and biopolitics, to posthumanism and experimental methodologies, to decolonial and postcolonial geographies, to post-development, political ecology, and hermeneutics. ESRC accredited, the course offers qualitative and quantitative training, and is also a regular contributor to the SWDTP and the University of Bristols Doctoral College. Every year we are pleased to welcome ESRC funded 1+3 students keen to study contemporary issues of society and space as they translate into practical research agendas and critical, innovative analyses of the present.

2016 saw the launch of a course blog which features articles written by current students and staff. As part of their course, all students contribute accessible synopses of their research dissertation ideas to the blog.

If you would like to learn more about Society and Space, please do visit our blog, download the web ready booklet, send enquiries to geog-pgadmis@bristol.ac.uk or feel free to contact the course director, Naomi Millner, herself a graduate of the program.

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Epigenetic Television: The Penetrating Love of Orphan Black – lareviewofbooks

Posted: June 9, 2017 at 1:08 pm

JUNE 9, 2017

DURING THE FIFTH and final season of Orphan Black (premiering June 10, 2017), I will offer regular responses to the seriess episodes via the LARB blog, BLARB. These will not be episode recaps or reviews; these short essays will assume that readers have already been viewers and will examine the show for some of its subtler suggestions about sexuality and gender, intertextuality and genre, and science and posthumanism. The following excerpt from Editing the Soul: Science and Fiction in the Genome Age (Penn State University Press, October 2017) emphasizes scenes from season two and doubles as a preface to the kinds of questions I anticipate exploring during season five, which I lay out further at the end of the piece.

At its best, Orphan Black is one of the most thorough explications of the epigenetic tension between genes and environment ever to appear on screen or page. Beyond the quality of its writing, acting, and post-production, the foundation of the shows success is its alignment of feminist, queer, and even post-secular critiques against a too-easy biotechnological corporatism. At the same time, it maintains considerable open-mindedness about the positive potential of genetic research and new medical technologies. Embodying an intertextual consciousness that has become a predominant trait of genetic fiction, this TV serial builds not only on major works by Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, and Aldous Huxley, but also lesser-known, more recent novels like Pamela Sargents Cloned Lives (1976). In the process, it demonstrates how genetic influence is both very real and yet only part of what shapes human destinies. Perhaps most strikingly, it asks how love may be described by biology but still exceed it, suggesting that this prospect depends on defying religious fundamentalisms and global capitalisms mutual complicity in human objectification.

The shows alternate-history premise is that a combination of US corporate and government interests began secret experimentation with reproductive human cloning soon after the 1975 Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA, long before Dolly the sheeps birth announcement in 1997 and just as bioethicists, government watchdogs, and most scientists were beginning to think it possible. The resulting children are now adults, but not all are aware of their origins. In the first two seasons, viewers are invited to identify with three clones in particular: Sarah, initially a negligent mother prone to disappear for a year at a time and to make ends meet selling drugs, a habit patiently resisted by Felix, her gay stepbrother; Alison, an obsessively organized suburban soccer mom with two adopted children and a chubby, always-snooping husband, Donnie; and Cosima, whose doctoral work in genetics allows her a unique perspective on the activities of the shows Dyad Institute, even as her dreadlocks and lesbian self-discovery land her in a relationship with a woman revealed to be one of its top scientists, Delphine. Then there is Helena, the Ukrainian avenging angel hell-bent on murdering her sestras. Helena has been brainwashed by a religious cult, the Proletheans, that raised her to believe her clone sisters are the demonic copies of her original source material, and much of the early plot turns on her decisions about whom to believe. As it turns out, Alison and Cosima are aware of the threat, having already been in contact with other clones like Beth Childs, the police detective whose suicide Sarah witnesses in the pilots opening scene and whose identity she assumes in an attempt to access the womans bank account. To say that complications ensue vastly understates Orphan Blacks intricacies, and only determined viewers can stay cognizant that all of these characters are played by a single shape-shifting actress, Tatiana Maslany. This is to say nothing of the male clones who emerge in the shows third season or of additional developments in seasons four and five.

Season two is especially evocative in its exploration of the relationships between literal and figurative children and parents, the latter of whom sometimes suffer from divine pretensions. I examine it here as a microcosm of the entire shows interest in the dialogue between creators and creatures, a 21st-century expansion on the relationships between Frankenstein and his monster and between Moreau and the Beast Folk. One of two highly paternalistic figures in the shows first two seasons, Dr. Leekie is a corporate geneticist whose dystopian role is intimated by his first name, Aldous. This technoenthusiast has developed his own sense of morality, and his TED Talkstyle sales pitches are steeped in transcendent rhetoric. In season one, he recruits Cosima to a lab at the Dyad Institute, at first condescending to her as a junior researcher, but soon realizing that she is not intimidated by his fame and that her dissertation on the epigenetic influence on clone cells has prepared her to grasp the significance of his efforts toward patenting transgenic embryonic stem cells, an allusion to Huxleys novel and its hybrid-species experiments. It is not coincidental that Cosima first encounters Leekie as he is promoting Neolution, a cult-like posthumanist movement. Offering his listeners the possibility of replacing their current visual ability with infrared, x-ray, and ultraviolet capacities, he enthuses, Plato would have thought we were gods. In season two, he waxes similarly poetic before potential investors at a fundraising party for Dyad: To combine is to create; to engineer, divine, he declaims. This is humanity pursuing divinity not with humility but via high-tech mimicry, a pulse-pounding ideology that denies the inevitability of death and views genetics and other cutting-edge sciences as tools for elevating the species into a mystical invulnerability.

If Leekies language exploits religious rhetoric for technocapitalist purposes, the shows other major cult uses biotechnology to serve religious ends. The Proletheans are a group of seemingly low-tech traditionalists living on what appears to be a self-sustaining communal farm. However, their exceedingly modest dress code and decorum mask a heavy investment in the tools of artificial insemination and genetic modification. As Henrik Johanssen explains of the effort to use his sperm, Helenas eggs, and as many brood mare women as possible to expand his clan, Mans work is Gods work, as long as you do it in his name. His public prayer is equally revealing; he informs God, We are your instruments in the war for creation. But Johanssen does not just rely on apocalyptic biblical allusions and militant, paternalistic rhetoric. Beyond the extremist stereotype, he also possesses some attractive characteristics. Like Leekie, Johanssen is awed by genetic biology, embracing its findings as revelations rather than threats to his faith, even if he is similarly overconfident of his ability to control life. Played by Peter Outerbridge, the same actor who helped create the more sympathetic researcher David Sandstrom in another Canadian television show about genetics, ReGenesis, this sexist is blind in his convictions. Yet we also see him leading a childrens story time with genuine charm, amusingly adapting Shelleys novel to create the same happy ending he expects to foster in real life. His creation pursued him with a terrible vengeance, because the doctor had never shown his creation any love, Johanssen tells his enrapt young audience. And so when they finally came face to face, they sat down, and they had a great big bowl of iceberg cream!

Unfortunately for the storyteller, his own ending cannot be sugarcoated, and ultimately, the audience is not sorry. Johanssen never learns one of Orphan Blacks (and much genetic fictions) foundational lessons: love is antithetical to use. The unquestioning patriarchy of Prolethean culture may allow him effectively to take Helena as a second wife, remove her eggs, inseminate them, and then place the embryos in her womb and in that of his daughter; however, it is no coincidence that the show portrays him adapting the same tools to impregnate women as he does cattle they are no less experimental beasts than the humanized animals in Wellss novel. Appropriately, when Helena finally escapes her bedroom prison and overcomes Johanssen (with his daughters help), he finds himself strapped into the same stirrups he used to access his patients wombs. Tied in place, he panics as he senses the clones intentions. Marshaling the farm husbandry implements he had used on her, Helena gleefully asks how far his interest in human-animal hybridity goes: Would you like horse baby? Cow baby? The last we hear of the Prolethean leader is a terrified scream as she shoves the lengthy insemination device through the upper reaches of his anal canal. Helenas triumph is as appalling as it is just, and it represents the rawest form of Orphan Blacks feminist rejection of the patriarchal technoreligious manipulation that Wells imagined a century earlier.

Beyond its shock value, two further elements of this scene deserve attention. First, however brutal Helenas actions, they are motivated by a defense of her babies, as she calls them. While less conscious of social expectations than the other female clones, Helena embodies a childlike innocence that is matched only by her fierce instinct to protect the vulnerable. At the end of the scene featuring Johanssens Frankenstein adaptation, for instance, she observes one of the Prolethean women disciplining a distracted child with needless cruelty. Pinioning her against a wall, Helena informs the woman that she will be gutted like a fish if she does something similar again. Second, the phallic shape of Helenas vengeance against Henrik is not just a clever device for transfixing the audience. By utilizing his own artificial insemination stick, she turns his penetrative power back upon him, creating the most painful of ouroboros images. There is nothing pretty about the outcome, but its reversal of mens violence against women is riveting. A woman raised by a cult to believe that she and her sisters are abominations a commonly decontextualized biblical translation routinely leveled at LGBTQ individuals and sprinkled across the series, starting with the fourth episode of season one rejects their ideology, turns their violence upon them, and departs to defend her true family. It is no mistake that the scenes denouement lingers on Helenas face as she looks back on the burning Prolethean farmhouse. Like Frankensteins creature departing the burning cottage where he had learned to read but was ultimately rejected, Helena is thoroughly disillusioned with her early mentors.

This is far from the only moment in which Orphan Black redeploys a phallic signifier in order to illustrate the non-utilitarian nature of authentic love and its sexual expression. Not all of these scenes are so serious: when Alisons husband proves impotent with a jackhammer, for instance, the results are comical. Failing to break the concrete in their garage under which they will (repeatedly) bury the accidentally murdered Leekie, Donnie hands her the gas-powered battering ram, scoffing at the notion that she might do better. Alison breaks through the surface immediately and turns to him with a smirk, and their eventual success in completing the unconventional interment proves an aphrodisiac. Orphan Blacks references to phallic power often anticipate violence, though. One of the most emotionally intense sequences in the shows history comes in season twos fourth episode when Sarah slips into the condo of Dyads new leader, her clone sister Rachel, who was raised by the corporation after the disappearance of her early childhood parents, Ethan and Susan Duncan. Eventually caught by one of Dyads hired guns, Sarah is forced into an all-glass shower enclosure and handcuffed to the overhead fixture. After sharpening his razor, the henchman begins an excruciatingly slow process of cutting her throat. The shows avenging angel answers her prayers, however: Helena bangs into the apartment, still wearing the exceedingly modest wedding dress supplied by the Proletheans, and promptly dispatches Rachels thug. But this is hardly good news to Sarah, as she now shrinks from what she fears will be a new assailant, given that she had shot Helena the last time they met. The camera lingers over Helenas hip-high, upturned knife blade as she approaches, but instead of finishing the male torturers violence, Helena shocks her sister into convulsive tears, falling onto Sarahs breast like an exhausted child seeking a mothers comfort. As Jill Lepore noted well before the climactic fight scenes at the end of season four, the shows go-to wound is the puncture: the act of penetration. That pattern makes its embraces all the more poignant.

This scene is so moving not just because of the way Sarah escapes the razor wielded by Rachels minion, but also because Helena declines to turn the knife on her sister. If the point were not sharp enough, it is repeated in the next episode when Sarah convinces Helena to put down a sniper rifle rather than giving Rachel what she too might seem to deserve. Looking through the glass wall of an adjacent skyscraper, Sarah and Helena see their lingerie-clad sister straddling Paul Dierden, who replaces the henchman dispatched by Helena in the previous episode. Significantly, he is not allowed to enjoy the sexual services he provides, earning a slap when he reaches for Rachel. The show reverses but also reaches beyond a form of sexual objectification usually applied to women: Rachel commands him not to kiss her, to be still as she pleasures herself, but remains entirely unaware that Helenas crosshairs rest on her skull. Sarah steps into her sisters line of sight, determined not to let Helena shoot, and the snipers initial response again demonstrates Orphan Blacks stress on loves distinction from use. You only want to use me, Helena accuses Sarah. But her sestra proves convincing, seemingly discovering the truth of her words even as she utters them: No, thats not true. You saved my life. Youre my sister. Helena, I thought I killed you. I couldnt tell anybody what I lost. Reenacting the shower scene of the previous episode, Helena surrenders a different pointed weapon, hoping once again what experience has taught her to doubt that love might not be delusory. There is nothing weak, passive, or sentimental about this choice. On the contrary, Orphan Black reaches beyond the thrillers stereotypical boundaries to demonstrate that an even greater power can imbue acts of mercy than of violence.

Taken together, scenes like these represent Orphan Blacks feminist and often queerly inflected rejection of the corporate, utilitarian power driving a simplistic genetic determinism, whether it is being used to fuel religious fundamentalism or biological reductionism. It is not enough for Helena merely to take revenge, whether on Sarah or Rachel in these scenes or on Siobhan in season three: what she wants is genuine acceptance. Only hope in the possibility of loving and being loved is capable of making a trained killer trust a woman who had previously stabbed and shot her, and it is one of many places in which the show demonstrates a sober hopefulness about individual agency, yet without disregarding biological influence. Not only does Helena grow immensely in her capacity to believe in others though not without serious relapses but Sarah becomes far more responsible, Alison far less self-centered, and Cosima far more willing to accept others help. In these ways, Orphan Black insists that environment not only can make radically different characters of virtually the same genetic material, but also that individuals can learn to make profoundly different choices from those to which they are predisposed, even when a corporation claims ownership of their DNA.

In the months since composing Editing the Soul, I have enjoyed conversations with several of Orphan Blacks creators, taught the first season as a course text, and organized several conference panels on the show. These discussions have heightened my interest in its final season and especially the following questions, which I expect to pursue in subsequent articles in this LARB series:

Everett Hamner is an associate professor of English at Western Illinois University and the author of Editing the Soul: Science and Fiction in the Genome Age (Penn State University Press, AnthropoScene series, forthcoming October 2017).

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The Ghost in the Ghost – lareviewofbooks

Posted: April 19, 2017 at 9:54 am

APRIL 17, 2017

FREUD TOLD US that one of the most unsettling effects for human ontology is to be confronted by a machine that comes to life. In this, he was but echoing what was already a century-long anxiety about the limits and definitions of the human since the beginning of the machine age. Rupert Sanderss new film Ghost in the Shell, based on the 1995 cult classic anime of the same name by Mamoru Oshii, based on the manga by Shirow Masamune, and following a long line of cinematic cyber-fiction from Blade Runner to Ex Machina, extends this apprehension about the animation of the inanimate and asks all of the expected (and, dare I say, tired) questions: What makes a human human? Is consciousness the same as the soul? Is there a ghost in the machine? Is artificial intelligence an enhancement or an erasure of the human? What happens to the human element when the brain gets reduced to a series of electrical impulses, and, conversely, along a more sentimental line, can machines have feelings, too?

Raising these questions has become a convention of the cyber-fiction genre; so, too, has the deployment of femininity and racial otherness as gratuitous and exotic titillation. Reviews of Sanderss film have already noted the voyeuristic pleasures afforded by a naked Scarlett Johansson, who plays Major Motoko Kusanagi, an augmented cybernetic cop who is not shy about exposing her wholly synthetic body. Many have chided the movie for its appropriative uses of Asiatic things and persons as exotic decor, and all seem to agree that the casting of Johansson as Kusanagi was a form of commercial whitewashing, if not downright whiteface. But a film like Ghost in the Shell should raise questions for us about the relationship between surface and embodiment, especially what that relationship really entails for raced and gendered subjects.

Ghost in the Shell, along with the genre of cyberpunk with its techno-Orientalism, itself a reboot of 19th-century Orientalism, gives us the opportunity to consider an alternative logic of American racial embodiment. Dichotomies like authenticity versus artificiality, interiority versus surface, ghost versus shell, organic humanness versus synthetic assemblage simply do not help us address the uncanny materialization of race and gender. The peculiar thing about Asiatic femininity in the Western racial imagination is that it has never needed the biological or the natural to achieve a full, sensorial, agile, and vivid presence:

The conflation of Asiatic femininity and artificiality reaches from Plato through Oscar Wilde and can be seen in Art Nouveau, French Symbolism, all the way up to wide-ranging versions in the 21st century. Asiatic femininity has always been prosthetic. The dream of the yellow woman subsumes a dream about the inorganic. She is an (if not the) original cyborg.

It is easy to mourn the loss of humanity in a figure like this or, conversely, to celebrate its triumphant posthumanism, but it is much harder and, I would argue, much more urgent to dwell with the discomfort of undeniable human alterity, a figure who does not let us forget that the human has always been embroiled with the inhuman well before the threat of the modern machine. In this light, racial logic as this strange embodiment-that-is-also-not-enfleshment haunts Ghost in the Shell, playing itself out compulsively on the surfaces of the film: in the flickering holograms of the mise-en-scne, on the hygienic surfaces of the Frankensteinian lab, and on the skin of our heroine. It is not a coincidence that the most visually arresting and most philosophically suggestive element in the film is the Majors epidermis: an arresting combination of resilient matter and willful transparency; seamed yet seamless; a unified collation of fragmented and variegated nudes; a bareness that is also armor. The Majors supra-human and sartorial skin exemplifies pure impenetrable technology, but it also carries the unseen, porous, and fractured history of human labor, by which I do not mean the delicate hands of her scientist-surgeon creator but the laboring race-body underlying the slave logic of the cyborg. Thus the very surface of Johansson/Majors white, inorganic, impeccable, and implacable skin, precisely as cladding, enacts, counterintuitively, a deep dive into Asiatic femininity. She is the 21st-century technological shell encasing the traumatic kernel of Euro-American imperialism and racial history. (Let us not forget that the Major is the product/daughter of an American industrial giant heralding high-tech progress in a corporate conglomerate-state called Japan.)

If one of the global inhuman humans that emerged out of Western imperial history was the Chinese coolie (a male laboring body mythologized as infinitely capable of enduring pain, mechanical, an ideal laborer), and if one of the other inhuman human figures arising out of the 19th century was the Oriental woman (a female, decorative, disposable toy for leisure), then we can think of the Major as the merging of both: a body of labor and numb endurance, but also a smooth beauty that bears the lines of its own wreckage, a delicacy that is also impermeable and insensate. Throughout most of the film, the protagonist played by Johansson is simply named the Major; Sanders suppresses for most of the film the original anime characters full (and explicitly Japanese) name. This may abet the whitewashing, but it also has the opposite effect of punching up the big reveal at the end the disclosure that Majors white body has been playing host to Kusanagis Japanese brain by fulfilling a racial logic that has been implicit all along.

In the original anime series, the most chilling philosophic proposition is not that machines and cyborgs can be hijacked but that human consciousness can be hacked. In Sanderss film version, the pathos of the human as vulnerable-yet-mechanical is augmented by precisely the spectral evocation of Asiatic femininity, the imaginary engine that switches between the thingness of persons and the personness of things. The film may tell a cautionary tale about how people have been turned into things; consider this memorable line spoken to our cyborg heroine: They did not save your life; they stole it. But the history of Orientalism in the West is not just a history of objectification but also a history of personification: the making of personness out of things. This Non-Person, normally seen as outside of modernity and opposite to organic human individualism, actually embodies a forgotten genealogy about the coming together of life and nonlife, labor and style, which conditions the modern conceit of humanness.

As the scientists in Ghost in the Shell keep telling us, the Major is the great hope, the success story, the Eve for the future. Repeatedly touted as unique, though we discover the opposite, the Major stands as a singularity that is serial: a shell born out of many other shells. When the Major looks into the face of a geisha-robot-assassin in a barely disguised mirror scene, her comrade Batou (Pilou Asbk) is quick to assure her of a distinction, You are not like that. But we suspect that what is being disavowed here is precisely the complex and messy interpenetrations of race, gender, and machine. Being a cyborg and a hybrid being, the Major is exactly like the robot: Asiatic, other, alien. And this condition of otherness is, paradoxically, the alibi for, and the residue of, her humanity. Race and femininity are the supplements that enable this toggle between the human and the inhuman to emerge.

We have arrived at a double-edged sword: racial and gender differences entail a history of profound dehumanization; at the same time, they have also provided the most powerful and affective agents for humanizing the dreams of synthetic inventions.

What is inside the machine? The yellow woman: the ghost within the ghost. The biographical revelation at the end of Ghost in the Shell is but a literalization of this insight. This is also why the Asiatic woman can play double roles: simultaneously atavistic (the geisha, the slave girl) and futuristic (the automaton, the cyborg). The artificiality of Asiatic femininity is the ancient dream that feeds the machine in the heart of modernity.

Anne Anlin Cheng is professor of English and director of American Studies at Princeton University.She is the author ofThe Melancholy of Race: Psychoanalysis, Assimilation, and Hidden GriefandSecond Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface.

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Screen/Print #52: Shela Sheikh Searches for New Political Vocabularies in ‘And Now: Architecture Against a Developer … – Archinect

Posted: April 10, 2017 at 2:38 am

On November 8, 2016 Donald Trump won the US Presidential election. Just under a month later, the US Army Corps of Engineers temporarily halted the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline following large protests heavily covered by the media. These events frame Shela Sheikhs essay Translating Geontologies, which contends with an emerging (or at least, for some, a newly visible) political landscape marked by an insidious violence that is more often than not environmental and affecting the bodies of racialized subjects.

First published in the issue And Nowof theAvery Review, Sheikhs essay considers Elizabeth Povinellis conception of geontology, or the regulation of distinctions between Life and Death/Extinction/Nonlife under late liberal governancea sort of updated version of Foucauldian biopolitics. Sheikh, following Povinelli, questions how to make struggles against environmental dispossession, in particular those of indigenous communities, legible and visible without either reducing them into a broad, global image of indigeneity or retreating into a complicit silence. In short, the essay interrogates the efficacy of our current political vocabularies, asserting the need for, and imagining the contours of, a new political language and praxis. Months after the essay was written, the Trump administration announced that construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline was moving forward, proving the urgency of this line of inquiry into the co-constitution of social, political, colonialist and ecological violences.

Translating Geontologies will be included in the forthcoming bookan expansion of the journal issueAnd Now: Architecture Against a Developer Presidency (Essays on the Occasion of Trumps Inauguration). The volume, which is edited by James Graham, Alissa Anderson, Caitlin Blanchfield, Jordan H. Carver, Jacob Moore, and Isabelle Kirkham-Lewitt, explores potential roles for architecture during the administration of a self-proclaimed Builder-in-Chief. How is architecture already complicit in neoliberal forms of governance? In the displacement and dispossession of peoples? For the editors, Naming these complicities and the injustices they perpetuate is a first step toward addressing them

The 52nd iteration of Archinects recurring series Screen/Print, recently expanded to include books alongside journals and magazines, features Translating Geologies.

Translating Geographies

ByShela Sheikh

November 8, 2016: Donald Trump wins the US presidential election. December 4, 2016: The US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would temporarily halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to allow for an environmental impact review. Undoubtedly, these two dates mark events, the effects of which have resonated globally. In contrast to the former, the latter provided a moment of hope, a glimpse of effective alliance-building on a national and international scale that will need to be carried forward in the coming months and beyonda moment of effective, indigenous-led environmental protest. This protest did more than simply reject the Dakota Access Pipeline. Rather, in its rhetoric of protection, it sought to lay the groundwork for a future that has been precipitously threatened by Trumps open support for the pipeline and drilling for oil across US national parks, not to mention his private investments in the project and his public denial of the scientific facts of environmental violence and climate change.

Fig 1: Sitting Bull with protectors in Canon Ball, ND. Photograph by Joe Brusky.

But neither of these events came out of nowhere and as such are to be distinguished from a more philosophical definition of event, as marking an unprecedented rupture. Behind each is a long accumulation of grievances that allowed them to unfold. In the former case, speculation is rife regarding the persuasion of the electorate; behind the latter lies decades of what the anthropologist Elizabeth A. Povinelli names quasi-events, which often elude our apprehension as ethical and political demands but which at times achieve the status of events through their amplification by the media. As we have seen in the case of Standing Rock, despite the initial lack of coverage by mainstream media, the campaign was exemplary in its garnering of both national and international support. These quasi-events take the form of dispersed violence, patterns of uneventful dispossession, or what Rob Nixon names slow violencetypically not even perceived as violence, attritional and of delayed effects, an insidious violence that is more often than not environmental and affecting the bodies of racialized subjects.

For many, the present moment calls for a new language: a new political praxis that entails effective communication on a municipal, national, and international level, through forums that would involve speaking with one another through antagonism and about uncomfortable matters. What, then, of our critical lexicon? What new terms are needed? What currency do the academic terms currently at our disposal, above all in the Euro-Western academy, hold? What formations of power and governmentality might we be overlooking?

If alliances across national borders between seemingly independent strugglesexemplified in the support for the water protectors at Standing Rockare necessary not only for the achievement of short-term goals but also for the building of public consciousness regarding those struggles interconnectedness, then so, too, are alliances across disciplinary borders. For a start, as is applicable to mobilizations like the one at Standing Rock, as Rob Nixon and others have suggested, North American environmentalism and post/decolonial/indigenous studies must join forces, making way for what has been termed postcolonial ecologies. In their accounting for the manners in which certain bodies are culturally and politically constructed as disposable or sacrificeable, above all in the context of climate and environmental violence, scholars of postcolonial studies teach us valuable lessons. These lessons are all the more urgent in the context of the unabashedly racist, xenophobic, and misogynist rhetoric unleashed during the entirety of the Trump presidential campaign.the present moment calls for a new language: a new political praxis that entails effective communication on a municipal, national, and international level

Likewise, key figures in indigenous studies and anthropology (notably Povinelli and Glen Sean Coulthard) have made use of postcolonial theory to expose the cunning of state-sanctioned, late liberal politics of recognition and multiculturalism in governing difference and maintaining structures of subjugation beneath the veneer of rights and reconciliation. This work also points to an imperative to examine not simply primitive accumulation but also original accumulationthe dispossession of indigenous or Aboriginal land. Here, the resulting extermination of life and lifeworlds functions, once again, through the mechanisms that render certain bodies and forms of life sacrificeableexposed to the abovementioned quasi-events at best, genocide at worst. And it is precisely this eventfulness and legal categorization of various intensities of violencetheir visibility and assignability, as well as their extricability from environmental violencethat is at stake here.

The work of postcolonial ecology is already well under way, and it is becoming all too clear that this must be supplemented by decolonial, indigenous, and feminist critiques of Anthropocene discourse, as well as of the attendant posthumanism that seeks to counter the Anthropocene industrys prevailing anthropocentrism. But even beyond this, as William E. Connolly articulates in his forthcoming Facing the Planetary: Entangled Humanism and the Politics of Swarming, additional borders require dismantling: the aggregate of postcolonial ecology in and of itself is not enough. Rather, this must dialogue more forcefully than ever before with eco-movements and with new practitioners of earth sciences. In other words, the lessons learned from the anti-colonial or anti-imperial ecological struggles that have taken place outside the old capitalist centers and in depressed urban areas within them demand to be translated into what Connolly names a cross-regional pluralist assemblage, one that presses states, corporations, churches, universities, and the like from inside and outside simultaneously. Furthermore, for such lessons to be effective in our contemporary climate, attention must be paid to the geological. While a partial response to this can be located in something like geographer Kathryn Yusoffs theorizations of geologic life within the geological epoch of the Anthropocene, the recent work of anthropologist Elizabeth A. Povinelli is particularly useful here. Though she may not explicitly use the term postcolonial ecology, Povinelli implicitly offers much for a necessarily postcolonial conceptualization of eco-movements and eco-activism (above all where each is concerned with aesthetic strategies and creative practices), precisely in her foregrounding of the relationship between Life and Nonlife, the biological and the geological, biopower and geontopower, under the conditions of settler late liberalism.

Fig 2: Elizabeth A. Povinellis Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism. Published by Duke University Press, 2016.

Povinellis latest book, Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism, was published in September 2016, simultaneous to the growing mobilization against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Recapitulating earlier presentations on the same topic, Geontologies at once forms the third part of Povinellis trilogy on late liberalism (which includes the Empire of Love [2006] and Economies of Abandonment [2011]) and also revisits her reflections on governance in settler late liberalism begun in her 1993 book Labors Lot. Geontologies is a dense work that resists being described in telegraphic terms, based as it is in dazzling and far-reaching theoretical and philosophical readings. But Povinellis key concepts of geontology and geontopower are an invaluable contribution to our much-needed critical lexicon, evoked above, and reading her work from this perspective suggests that the concepts and modes of engagement presented in Geontologies, though firmly rooted in the experience and particular governance of Australian late-settler liberalism, demand to be taken up and translated in other contexts. When Povinelli speaks of late liberalism in Geontologies, she is specifically referring to the strategies of power that took shape in the late 1960s and early 1970s that exposed the emerging politics of recognition and open markets as methods of conserving liberal governance and the accumulation of value for dominant classes and social groups rather than as means to ameliorate social and economic injustices (169). In her earlier Economies of Abandonment, she elucidates the way that late liberalism refers to a strategy for governing the challenge of postcolonial and new social movements, with Geontologies demonstrating how this governing takes place precisely through the management of the perceived relationship between the biological and the geological. Despite this specificity, the offerings of Geontologies call to be translated, both geographically and conceptually, and provide a lens through which to read the protests surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline or other instances in North America, where the residues of settler colonialism persist, even ifcruciallythis persistence is often denied. critical theorists struggle to maintain a difference between all forms of Life and the category of Nonlife

As a consequence of attempts to grapple with the reality and concept of the Anthropocene in recent years, ontology, as Povinelli notes, has reemerged as a central problem across disciplines: philosophy, anthropology, literary and cultural studies, as well as science and technology studies, for a start (14). Hence the rise of posthumanistand, we might add, more-than-human or multispeciespolitics and theory. But critical theorists struggle to maintain a difference between all forms of Life and the category of Nonlife, with the crumbling ontological distinctions between biological, geological, and meteorological existents opening up onto the proliferation of new object ontologies (new materialisms, speculative realisms, and object-oriented ontologies) (14). A posthuman critique is giving way to a post-life critique, being to assemblage, and biopower to geontopower (14). This might not sound like news to readers who follow these theoretical debates, but what is novel about Povinellis analysisand indeed what makes it so prescient for the United States context with which we beganis the mode through which geontopower is analyzed, or, rather, the manner through which the experience of geontopower is framed and narrated, made visible.

Let us rewind a little

In the wake of the events of 9/11, the crash of financial markets, and the ongoing, spectacular manifestations of Anthropogenic climate change (all visible crises), much of critical thought has, understandably, focused on sovereignty and the relationship between biopolitics and biosecuritya manner of thought that includes variations such as necropolitics, thanatopolitics, neuropolitics, and so on. But as Povinelli argues, this focus has obscured the systematic re-orientation of biosecurity around geo-security and meteoro-security: the social and ecological effects of climate change (19). This is not to say that biopolitics should be entirely replaced by geontopower but rather that biopolitics, as Kathryn Yusoff has shown, is increasingly subtended by geology (14) and geontopower. Thus, our preoccupation with the image of power working through lifea preoccupation that perhaps doubles as a typical definition of biopoliticshas, in fact, obscured the revelation of formation that is fundamental to but hidden by the concept of biopower (4). This newly revealed formation is what Povinelli terms geontological power or geontopower. Unlike biopower, geontopower does not operate through the governance of life and the tactics of death but is rather a set of discourses, affects, and tactics used in late liberalism to maintain or shape the coming relationship of the distinction between Life and Nonlife (4). The terms geontology and geontopower thus intensify the contrasting components of nonlife (geos) and being (ontology) currently at play in the late liberal governance of difference and markets (5).

To return to my evocation of translatability: central to Geontologies, and indeed to Povinellis broader practice as an anthropologist, is the specific rootedness of her work in the fragile coastal ecosystem of Northern Territory of Australia and the allegiances staked with my Indigenous friends and colleagues (13). The concept of geontopower presented in Povinellis text arises first and foremost from the perspective of the Karrabing Collective, a grassroots, supermajority indigenous alternative media collective and social project of which Povinelli is a member. The work of the Karrabing Collective emerges from and elucidates the experience of the massive neoliberal reorganization of the Australian governance of Indigenous life (24) and the slow, dispersed accumulations of toxic sovereignties (27) against the backdrop of, among other things, indigenous land rights claims over mining leases. Geontologies is structured around the Karrabings engagement with various modes of existence, often referred to as Dreaming or totemic formationsa rock and mineral formation; a set of bones and fossils; an estuarine creek; a fog formation; and a set of rock weirs and sea reefsas well as their desire to maintain them, and their challenges to the states violation, desecration, or misrecognition of each respective formation.

Film still from Wutharr: Saltwater Dreams by the Karrabing Film Collective, 2016. Courtesy of the Karrabing Film Collective.

Here, it is not humansper sethat have exerted such a malignant force on the meteorological, geological, and biological dimension of the earth but only some forms of human sociality (13)just as it is not humansper sewho bear the brunt of this or of Anthropocenic climate change. Hence the critiques of Anthropocene discourse and the inadequacy of the Anthropos as a universalizing species paradigm: taking the general category of the human as a framing device conceals the distinctions between those people who drive the fossil-fuel economy and those who dont, between those populations engaged in colonial-slash-imperial agendas and those on the receiving end. But just when we attempt to distinguish between different modes of inhabiting the planet in order to identify those culpable, we find that our gaze cannot remain localized. From the Northern Territory or Dakota, we must look further afield (Povinellis metaphor moves between the telescope and binoculars): following the flows of toxic industries and their by-products means stretching the local across seeping transits, suspended between the local and the globalhereish, to use Povinellis term (13).

If the task, as articulated by Nixon, is to render the grievances of slow violence legibleto find forms through which to aestheticize and narrate the quasi-events of, for instance, environmental dispossessionthen in the case of geontopower, it is preciselythroughthe late liberal governance of difference and markets that geontology can be best revealed. This late liberal model of governance works only insofar as the distinctions between the vital and inert, Life and Death/Extinction or Nonlife are maintained (9). And here, the lessons offered by the settler colonial Australian context are in many ways applicable to the United States. Geontology and geontopower, for Povinelli, are conceptsmeant to help make visiblethe figural tactics of late liberalism as a long-standing biontological orientation and distribution of power crumbles, losing its efficacy as a self-evident backdrop to reason (56, emphasis modified). More specifically, just as necropolitics, openly operating in colonial Africa, subsequentlyrevealed its shapein Europe, so geontopower has long operated openly in settler late liberalism and been insinuated in the ordinary operations of its governance of difference and markets (5). To quote Povinelli at length:

All sorts of liberalisms seem to evidence a biopolitical stain, from settler colonialism to developmental liberalism to full-on neoliberalism. But something is causing these statements to be irrevocably read and experienced through a new drama, not the drama of life and death, but a form of death that begins and ends in Nonlifenamely the extinction of humans, biological life, and, as it is often put, the planet itselfwhich takes us to a time before the life and death of individuals and species, a time of the geos, of soulnessness.(89)

Industrial capital depends upon the separation between forms of existence in order to implement certain forms of extractionRecalling the question of lexicon that we began with, for Povinelli, the termsgeontologyandgeontopowerare intended to highlightthe difficulty in finding a critical languageto account for the moment in which a form of power long self-evident in certain regimes of settler late liberalismis becoming visible globally (5, my emphasis).

Let me be clear: it is neither my intention here either to carelessly reduce the specificity of the Australian settler late liberalism from which Povinelli writes to the system of governance of the United States, nor to make such a crude move as to put forward a blanket, global conception of indigeneity and indigenous lifeworlds, and thus to betray the very specificity ofPovinellis work that I am here celebrating, even if my gesture is to stress its partial translatability. Rather, my point is to emphasize the potential usefulness of Povinellis analytics and vocabulary in the context of the impending populism and even nativism of the United States and to stress that the still all-too-tangible residues of North American settler colonialism (as well as what decolonial thinkers would term coloniality) not be left out of our myriad political conversation. As Povinelli herself stresses in a recent discussion about settler colonialism in Palestine, the identity of settler indigenous populations is a conscious, visible part of everyday national politics in Canada and Australia, while in the United States this is far from the case.

To clarify yet another aspect of translatability (and in allusion to the postcolonial or indigenous ecology signaled earlier), it is precisely through a colonial mind-set that late liberalismand indeed liberalism of all sorts across the globe, not to mention capitalism more generally and the impending Republican administrationreacts so violently to maintain the distinction between Life and Nonlife and to police and to manage those whose lifeworlds presume otherwise. Industrial capitalthough one could also refer to something like the Dakota Access Pipeline more specificallydepends upon the separation between forms of existence in order to implement certain forms of extraction (20). In the context of settler liberalism, the belief that Nonlife acts in ways only available to Life must be contained in the brackets of the impossible if not the absurd (21) and the attribution of aninabilityof various colonized people to differentiate the kinds of things that have agency, subjectivity, and intentionality of the sort that emerges with life has been the grounds for casting them into a premodern mentality and a postrecognition difference (5).

Povinellis concept of geontologies provides a timely addition to current theorizations and diagnoses of power and governance, between human and nonhuman, Life and Nonlife, in the settler colonial context of both Australia and the United States. But it is Povinellis book, in its architectural framework (each chapter derives from a vignette, a narrative of the Karrabings analytics and engagement with respective forms of Dreaming), itself derivative of her anthropology of the otherwise, that provides most currency for the political tasks that lie aheadabove all where this concerns the move from academia to (postcolonially informed) socially engaged praxis and back again. For while the mobilizations at Standing Rock drew a staggering number of gestures of solidarity (in situ or otherwise), from an academic perspective, the warnings posed by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in her seminal 1988 essay, Can the Subaltern Speak? prove as prescient as ever, albeit relating to different forms of subaltern. Beyond the Indian subaltern woman who is at the center of Spivaks original essay, we now see the dangers of mis-representing and speaking for not only indigenous subjects, whose worldviews/lifeworlds often remain stubbornly (and productively, one might add) untranslatable or incommensurable with the prevailing mind-set of both late liberalism and neoliberalism but also nature itself, or the nonhuman more generally. In other words, the conundrum remains as to whether any form of representation, however well-intentioned, necessarily involves at least some form of colonization: a rendering passive or mute. Hence the necessity of vigilance when faced with the impossible necessity, to use Astrida Neimaniss term, ofengaging withthose who more often than not bear the brunt of the slow violence and quasi-events with which we began.

Against this kind of colonization, Povinellis intention is not to represent anyone, let alone to allow the nonhuman modes of existence to speak (26). Rather, we might say that she aims to stand with rather than speak for, and she situates the genesis of her claims in the effects of late liberal forces moving through that part of our lives that we [Povinelli and the Karrabing collective] have lived together (23). Such an approach provides a useful point of orientation for those of us who find ourselves caught in the discomforting space between, as Neimanis puts it, a representationalist rock and a hard place of complicit silence.Geontologies, writtenwithPovinellis indigenous colleagues-slash-family, provides just one example of the vital work being done by scholars and activists across the globe, as the Mtis scholar and artist Zoe Todd puts it, to decolonize and Indigenize the non-Indigenous intellectual contexts that currently shape public intellectual discourse (including, Todd adds, the discourse of the Anthropocene).

Film still from Wutharr: Saltwater Dreams by the Karrabing Film Collective, 2016. Courtesy of the Karrabing Film Collective.

How, then, might this project of making visible proceed? One possibility can be found in the films created by the Karrabing collective itself. As Povinelli notes, the various forms of critique that have attempted to tackle the theoretical challenges inherent to this age of the Anthropocenequestions of multiple ontologies, the difference between Life and Nonlife, our coming post-extinction worldhave tended to lag behind fiction (14). The aesthetic objects that are the Karrabings films operate through an improvisational realism or improvisational realization. As much an art of living as an artistic style, the genre, if we can call it this, seeks to manifest reality (a realization) through a mixture of fact and fiction, reality and realism (86) that makes visible or illuminates the quasi-events that occur within the cramped space in which my indigenous colleagues are forced to maneuver as they attempt to keep relevant their critical analytics and practices of existence (6). But this making visiblethis translation or rendering legible across registersoperates precisely through a certain illegibility or incomprehensibility: a stubborn resistance that explicitly rejects the representations from withoutthe demand for a certain (global) (self-)image of indigeneity, or indeed the demand of the anthropological imaginarythrough which authentic indigeneity is managed, marketed, and circulated. As such, read through the polysemy of translation, the productive paradox here is that this filmmaking practice is effective in its revealing the functioning of geontopower precisely through its partial untranslatability and incommensurability Rather than providing a representation of their lives, the films are intended as a means of self-organization and analysis, revealing new forms of collective indigenous agency precisely in relation to various Dreaming formations. Crucially, the films function as a constantly improvisational response to the suffocating state management of such relations.

Despite the increasing solidification of global borders, epitomized by the rhetoric of the Trump campaign, members of the Karrabing Collective have nonetheless recently been able to acquire passports in order to travel to participate in international screenings and discussions. But beyond this, platforms running supplementary to mainstream media (evoking Nancy Frasers subaltern counter-publics, here digital) provide crucial means for the virtual translation of what, as evoked above, functions precisely through a certain level of stubborn opacity. Explicitly rejecting state forms of land tenure and the politics of recognition, with membership that elides blood ties, the composition of the Karrabing Collective resonates with the gestures of solidarity from the diverse constituencies who traveled to Standing Rockgestures made in the face of the United States mainstream medias attempts to reduce the claims and representational practices of indigenous struggle (their attempts to communicate) to mere incommunicable noise. While the Karrabing Collectives practice elucidates and narrates the dispersed quasi-events brought about by toxic sovereignty and geontopower, this elucidation is far from a straightforward translation. Nonetheless, there is an urgency to translate geontology across todays multiple and overlapping crises, especially as these pertain to colonial or imperial debris: (settler-)colonialisms ongoing effects of ruination.

Sheila Sheikh is a lecturer at the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London, where she convenes the MA Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy. Prior to this, Sheikh was research fellow and publications coordinator on the ERC-funded Forensic Architecture project based in the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths. She is currently working on a book about the phenomenon of the martyr video-testimony, read through the lens of deconstruction; and a multi-platform research project around colonialism, botany, and the politics of the soil. As part of the latter, Sheikh is co-editing, with Ros Gray, a special issue ofThird Texttitled The Wretched Earth: Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions.

For a version of this text with endnotes, please head over here.

Screen/Print is an experiment in translation across media, featuring a close-up digital look at printed architectural writing. Divorcing content from the physical page, the series lends a new perspective to nuanced architectural thought.

For this issue, we featured “Translating Geontologies” fromAnd Now: Architecture Against a Developer Presidency (Essays on the Occasion of Trumps Inauguration)

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Screen/Print #52: Shela Sheikh Searches for New Political Vocabularies in ‘And Now: Architecture Against a Developer … – Archinect

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Screen/Print #52: Sheila Sheikh Searches for New Political Vocabularies in ‘And Now: Architecture Against a … – Archinect

Posted: April 7, 2017 at 8:50 pm

On November 8, 2016 Donald Trump won the US Presidential election. Just under a month later, the US Army Corps of Engineers temporarily halted the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline following large protests heavily covered by the media. These events frame Shela Sheikhs essay Translating Geontologies, which contends with an emerging (or at least, for some, a newly visible) political landscape marked by an insidious violence that is more often than not environmental and affecting the bodies of racialized subjects.

First published in the issue And Nowof theAvery Review, Sheikhs essay considers Elizabeth Povinellis conception of geontology, or the regulation of distinctions between Life and Death/Extinction/Nonlife under late liberal governancea sort of updated version of Foucauldian biopolitics. Sheikh, following Povinelli, questions how to make struggles against environmental dispossession, in particular those of indigenous communities, legible and visible without either reducing them into a broad, global image of indigeneity or retreating into a complicit silence. In short, the essay interrogates the efficacy of our current political vocabularies, asserting the need for, and imagining the contours of, a new political language and praxis. Months after the essay was written, the Trump administration announced that construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline was moving forward, proving the urgency of this line of inquiry into the co-constitution of social, political, colonialist and ecological violences.

Translating Geontologies will be included in the forthcoming bookan expansion of the journal issueAnd Now: Architecture Against a Developer Presidency (Essays on the Occasion of Trumps Inauguration). The volume, which is edited by James Graham, Alissa Anderson, Caitlin Blanchfield, Jordan H. Carver, Jacob Moore, and Isabelle Kirkham-Lewitt, explores potential roles for architecture during the administration of a self-proclaimed Builder-in-Chief. How is architecture already complicit in neoliberal forms of governance? In the displacement and dispossession of peoples? For the editors, Naming these complicities and the injustices they perpetuate is a first step toward addressing them

The 52nd iteration of Archinects recurring series Screen/Print, recently expanded to include books alongside journals and magazines, features Translating Geologies.

Translating Geographies

ByShela Sheikh

November 8, 2016: Donald Trump wins the US presidential election. December 4, 2016: The US Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would temporarily halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota to allow for an environmental impact review. Undoubtedly, these two dates mark events, the effects of which have resonated globally. In contrast to the former, the latter provided a moment of hope, a glimpse of effective alliance-building on a national and international scale that will need to be carried forward in the coming months and beyonda moment of effective, indigenous-led environmental protest. This protest did more than simply reject the Dakota Access Pipeline. Rather, in its rhetoric of protection, it sought to lay the groundwork for a future that has been precipitously threatened by Trumps open support for the pipeline and drilling for oil across US national parks, not to mention his private investments in the project and his public denial of the scientific facts of environmental violence and climate change.

Fig 1: Sitting Bull with protectors in Canon Ball, ND. Photograph by Joe Brusky.

But neither of these events came out of nowhere and as such are to be distinguished from a more philosophical definition of event, as marking an unprecedented rupture. Behind each is a long accumulation of grievances that allowed them to unfold. In the former case, speculation is rife regarding the persuasion of the electorate; behind the latter lies decades of what the anthropologist Elizabeth A. Povinelli names quasi-events, which often elude our apprehension as ethical and political demands but which at times achieve the status of events through their amplification by the media. As we have seen in the case of Standing Rock, despite the initial lack of coverage by mainstream media, the campaign was exemplary in its garnering of both national and international support. These quasi-events take the form of dispersed violence, patterns of uneventful dispossession, or what Rob Nixon names slow violencetypically not even perceived as violence, attritional and of delayed effects, an insidious violence that is more often than not environmental and affecting the bodies of racialized subjects.

For many, the present moment calls for a new language: a new political praxis that entails effective communication on a municipal, national, and international level, through forums that would involve speaking with one another through antagonism and about uncomfortable matters. What, then, of our critical lexicon? What new terms are needed? What currency do the academic terms currently at our disposal, above all in the Euro-Western academy, hold? What formations of power and governmentality might we be overlooking?

If alliances across national borders between seemingly independent strugglesexemplified in the support for the water protectors at Standing Rockare necessary not only for the achievement of short-term goals but also for the building of public consciousness regarding those struggles interconnectedness, then so, too, are alliances across disciplinary borders. For a start, as is applicable to mobilizations like the one at Standing Rock, as Rob Nixon and others have suggested, North American environmentalism and post/decolonial/indigenous studies must join forces, making way for what has been termed postcolonial ecologies. In their accounting for the manners in which certain bodies are culturally and politically constructed as disposable or sacrificeable, above all in the context of climate and environmental violence, scholars of postcolonial studies teach us valuable lessons. These lessons are all the more urgent in the context of the unabashedly racist, xenophobic, and misogynist rhetoric unleashed during the entirety of the Trump presidential campaign.the present moment calls for a new language: a new political praxis that entails effective communication on a municipal, national, and international level

Likewise, key figures in indigenous studies and anthropology (notably Povinelli and Glen Sean Coulthard) have made use of postcolonial theory to expose the cunning of state-sanctioned, late liberal politics of recognition and multiculturalism in governing difference and maintaining structures of subjugation beneath the veneer of rights and reconciliation. This work also points to an imperative to examine not simply primitive accumulation but also original accumulationthe dispossession of indigenous or Aboriginal land. Here, the resulting extermination of life and lifeworlds functions, once again, through the mechanisms that render certain bodies and forms of life sacrificeableexposed to the abovementioned quasi-events at best, genocide at worst. And it is precisely this eventfulness and legal categorization of various intensities of violencetheir visibility and assignability, as well as their extricability from environmental violencethat is at stake here.

The work of postcolonial ecology is already well under way, and it is becoming all too clear that this must be supplemented by decolonial, indigenous, and feminist critiques of Anthropocene discourse, as well as of the attendant posthumanism that seeks to counter the Anthropocene industrys prevailing anthropocentrism. But even beyond this, as William E. Connolly articulates in his forthcoming Facing the Planetary: Entangled Humanism and the Politics of Swarming, additional borders require dismantling: the aggregate of postcolonial ecology in and of itself is not enough. Rather, this must dialogue more forcefully than ever before with eco-movements and with new practitioners of earth sciences. In other words, the lessons learned from the anti-colonial or anti-imperial ecological struggles that have taken place outside the old capitalist centers and in depressed urban areas within them demand to be translated into what Connolly names a cross-regional pluralist assemblage, one that presses states, corporations, churches, universities, and the like from inside and outside simultaneously. Furthermore, for such lessons to be effective in our contemporary climate, attention must be paid to the geological. While a partial response to this can be located in something like geographer Kathryn Yusoffs theorizations of geologic life within the geological epoch of the Anthropocene, the recent work of anthropologist Elizabeth A. Povinelli is particularly useful here. Though she may not explicitly use the term postcolonial ecology, Povinelli implicitly offers much for a necessarily postcolonial conceptualization of eco-movements and eco-activism (above all where each is concerned with aesthetic strategies and creative practices), precisely in her foregrounding of the relationship between Life and Nonlife, the biological and the geological, biopower and geontopower, under the conditions of settler late liberalism.

Fig 2: Elizabeth A. Povinellis Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism. Published by Duke University Press, 2016.

Povinellis latest book, Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism, was published in September 2016, simultaneous to the growing mobilization against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Recapitulating earlier presentations on the same topic, Geontologies at once forms the third part of Povinellis trilogy on late liberalism (which includes the Empire of Love [2006] and Economies of Abandonment [2011]) and also revisits her reflections on governance in settler late liberalism begun in her 1993 book Labors Lot. Geontologies is a dense work that resists being described in telegraphic terms, based as it is in dazzling and far-reaching theoretical and philosophical readings. But Povinellis key concepts of geontology and geontopower are an invaluable contribution to our much-needed critical lexicon, evoked above, and reading her work from this perspective suggests that the concepts and modes of engagement presented in Geontologies, though firmly rooted in the experience and particular governance of Australian late-settler liberalism, demand to be taken up and translated in other contexts. When Povinelli speaks of late liberalism in Geontologies, she is specifically referring to the strategies of power that took shape in the late 1960s and early 1970s that exposed the emerging politics of recognition and open markets as methods of conserving liberal governance and the accumulation of value for dominant classes and social groups rather than as means to ameliorate social and economic injustices (169). In her earlier Economies of Abandonment, she elucidates the way that late liberalism refers to a strategy for governing the challenge of postcolonial and new social movements, with Geontologies demonstrating how this governing takes place precisely through the management of the perceived relationship between the biological and the geological. Despite this specificity, the offerings of Geontologies call to be translated, both geographically and conceptually, and provide a lens through which to read the protests surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline or other instances in North America, where the residues of settler colonialism persist, even ifcruciallythis persistence is often denied. critical theorists struggle to maintain a difference between all forms of Life and the category of Nonlife

As a consequence of attempts to grapple with the reality and concept of the Anthropocene in recent years, ontology, as Povinelli notes, has reemerged as a central problem across disciplines: philosophy, anthropology, literary and cultural studies, as well as science and technology studies, for a start (14). Hence the rise of posthumanistand, we might add, more-than-human or multispeciespolitics and theory. But critical theorists struggle to maintain a difference between all forms of Life and the category of Nonlife, with the crumbling ontological distinctions between biological, geological, and meteorological existents opening up onto the proliferation of new object ontologies (new materialisms, speculative realisms, and object-oriented ontologies) (14). A posthuman critique is giving way to a post-life critique, being to assemblage, and biopower to geontopower (14). This might not sound like news to readers who follow these theoretical debates, but what is novel about Povinellis analysisand indeed what makes it so prescient for the United States context with which we beganis the mode through which geontopower is analyzed, or, rather, the manner through which the experience of geontopower is framed and narrated, made visible.

Let us rewind a little

In the wake of the events of 9/11, the crash of financial markets, and the ongoing, spectacular manifestations of Anthropogenic climate change (all visible crises), much of critical thought has, understandably, focused on sovereignty and the relationship between biopolitics and biosecuritya manner of thought that includes variations such as necropolitics, thanatopolitics, neuropolitics, and so on. But as Povinelli argues, this focus has obscured the systematic re-orientation of biosecurity around geo-security and meteoro-security: the social and ecological effects of climate change (19). This is not to say that biopolitics should be entirely replaced by geontopower but rather that biopolitics, as Kathryn Yusoff has shown, is increasingly subtended by geology (14) and geontopower. Thus, our preoccupation with the image of power working through lifea preoccupation that perhaps doubles as a typical definition of biopoliticshas, in fact, obscured the revelation of formation that is fundamental to but hidden by the concept of biopower (4). This newly revealed formation is what Povinelli terms geontological power or geontopower. Unlike biopower, geontopower does not operate through the governance of life and the tactics of death but is rather a set of discourses, affects, and tactics used in late liberalism to maintain or shape the coming relationship of the distinction between Life and Nonlife (4). The terms geontology and geontopower thus intensify the contrasting components of nonlife (geos) and being (ontology) currently at play in the late liberal governance of difference and markets (5).

To return to my evocation of translatability: central to Geontologies, and indeed to Povinellis broader practice as an anthropologist, is the specific rootedness of her work in the fragile coastal ecosystem of Northern Territory of Australia and the allegiances staked with my Indigenous friends and colleagues (13). The concept of geontopower presented in Povinellis text arises first and foremost from the perspective of the Karrabing Collective, a grassroots, supermajority indigenous alternative media collective and social project of which Povinelli is a member. The work of the Karrabing Collective emerges from and elucidates the experience of the massive neoliberal reorganization of the Australian governance of Indigenous life (24) and the slow, dispersed accumulations of toxic sovereignties (27) against the backdrop of, among other things, indigenous land rights claims over mining leases. Geontologies is structured around the Karrabings engagement with various modes of existence, often referred to as Dreaming or totemic formationsa rock and mineral formation; a set of bones and fossils; an estuarine creek; a fog formation; and a set of rock weirs and sea reefsas well as their desire to maintain them, and their challenges to the states violation, desecration, or misrecognition of each respective formation.

Film still from Wutharr: Saltwater Dreams by the Karrabing Film Collective, 2016. Courtesy of the Karrabing Film Collective.

Here, it is not humansper sethat have exerted such a malignant force on the meteorological, geological, and biological dimension of the earth but only some forms of human sociality (13)just as it is not humansper sewho bear the brunt of this or of Anthropocenic climate change. Hence the critiques of Anthropocene discourse and the inadequacy of the Anthropos as a universalizing species paradigm: taking the general category of the human as a framing device conceals the distinctions between those people who drive the fossil-fuel economy and those who dont, between those populations engaged in colonial-slash-imperial agendas and those on the receiving end. But just when we attempt to distinguish between different modes of inhabiting the planet in order to identify those culpable, we find that our gaze cannot remain localized. From the Northern Territory or Dakota, we must look further afield (Povinellis metaphor moves between the telescope and binoculars): following the flows of toxic industries and their by-products means stretching the local across seeping transits, suspended between the local and the globalhereish, to use Povinellis term (13).

If the task, as articulated by Nixon, is to render the grievances of slow violence legibleto find forms through which to aestheticize and narrate the quasi-events of, for instance, environmental dispossessionthen in the case of geontopower, it is preciselythroughthe late liberal governance of difference and markets that geontology can be best revealed. This late liberal model of governance works only insofar as the distinctions between the vital and inert, Life and Death/Extinction or Nonlife are maintained (9). And here, the lessons offered by the settler colonial Australian context are in many ways applicable to the United States. Geontology and geontopower, for Povinelli, are conceptsmeant to help make visiblethe figural tactics of late liberalism as a long-standing biontological orientation and distribution of power crumbles, losing its efficacy as a self-evident backdrop to reason (56, emphasis modified). More specifically, just as necropolitics, openly operating in colonial Africa, subsequentlyrevealed its shapein Europe, so geontopower has long operated openly in settler late liberalism and been insinuated in the ordinary operations of its governance of difference and markets (5). To quote Povinelli at length:

All sorts of liberalisms seem to evidence a biopolitical stain, from settler colonialism to developmental liberalism to full-on neoliberalism. But something is causing these statements to be irrevocably read and experienced through a new drama, not the drama of life and death, but a form of death that begins and ends in Nonlifenamely the extinction of humans, biological life, and, as it is often put, the planet itselfwhich takes us to a time before the life and death of individuals and species, a time of the geos, of soulnessness.(89)

Industrial capital depends upon the separation between forms of existence in order to implement certain forms of extractionRecalling the question of lexicon that we began with, for Povinelli, the termsgeontologyandgeontopowerare intended to highlightthe difficulty in finding a critical languageto account for the moment in which a form of power long self-evident in certain regimes of settler late liberalismis becoming visible globally (5, my emphasis).

Let me be clear: it is neither my intention here either to carelessly reduce the specificity of the Australian settler late liberalism from which Povinelli writes to the system of governance of the United States, nor to make such a crude move as to put forward a blanket, global conception of indigeneity and indigenous lifeworlds, and thus to betray the very specificity ofPovinellis work that I am here celebrating, even if my gesture is to stress its partial translatability. Rather, my point is to emphasize the potential usefulness of Povinellis analytics and vocabulary in the context of the impending populism and even nativism of the United States and to stress that the still all-too-tangible residues of North American settler colonialism (as well as what decolonial thinkers would term coloniality) not be left out of our myriad political conversation. As Povinelli herself stresses in a recent discussion about settler colonialism in Palestine, the identity of settler indigenous populations is a conscious, visible part of everyday national politics in Canada and Australia, while in the United States this is far from the case.

To clarify yet another aspect of translatability (and in allusion to the postcolonial or indigenous ecology signaled earlier), it is precisely through a colonial mind-set that late liberalismand indeed liberalism of all sorts across the globe, not to mention capitalism more generally and the impending Republican administrationreacts so violently to maintain the distinction between Life and Nonlife and to police and to manage those whose lifeworlds presume otherwise. Industrial capitalthough one could also refer to something like the Dakota Access Pipeline more specificallydepends upon the separation between forms of existence in order to implement certain forms of extraction (20). In the context of settler liberalism, the belief that Nonlife acts in ways only available to Life must be contained in the brackets of the impossible if not the absurd (21) and the attribution of aninabilityof various colonized people to differentiate the kinds of things that have agency, subjectivity, and intentionality of the sort that emerges with life has been the grounds for casting them into a premodern mentality and a postrecognition difference (5).

Povinellis concept of geontologies provides a timely addition to current theorizations and diagnoses of power and governance, between human and nonhuman, Life and Nonlife, in the settler colonial context of both Australia and the United States. But it is Povinellis book, in its architectural framework (each chapter derives from a vignette, a narrative of the Karrabings analytics and engagement with respective forms of Dreaming), itself derivative of her anthropology of the otherwise, that provides most currency for the political tasks that lie aheadabove all where this concerns the move from academia to (postcolonially informed) socially engaged praxis and back again. For while the mobilizations at Standing Rock drew a staggering number of gestures of solidarity (in situ or otherwise), from an academic perspective, the warnings posed by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak in her seminal 1988 essay, Can the Subaltern Speak? prove as prescient as ever, albeit relating to different forms of subaltern. Beyond the Indian subaltern woman who is at the center of Spivaks original essay, we now see the dangers of mis-representing and speaking for not only indigenous subjects, whose worldviews/lifeworlds often remain stubbornly (and productively, one might add) untranslatable or incommensurable with the prevailing mind-set of both late liberalism and neoliberalism but also nature itself, or the nonhuman more generally. In other words, the conundrum remains as to whether any form of representation, however well-intentioned, necessarily involves at least some form of colonization: a rendering passive or mute. Hence the necessity of vigilance when faced with the impossible necessity, to use Astrida Neimaniss term, ofengaging withthose who more often than not bear the brunt of the slow violence and quasi-events with which we began.

Against this kind of colonization, Povinellis intention is not to represent anyone, let alone to allow the nonhuman modes of existence to speak (26). Rather, we might say that she aims to stand with rather than speak for, and she situates the genesis of her claims in the effects of late liberal forces moving through that part of our lives that we [Povinelli and the Karrabing collective] have lived together (23). Such an approach provides a useful point of orientation for those of us who find ourselves caught in the discomforting space between, as Neimanis puts it, a representationalist rock and a hard place of complicit silence.Geontologies, writtenwithPovinellis indigenous colleagues-slash-family, provides just one example of the vital work being done by scholars and activists across the globe, as the Mtis scholar and artist Zoe Todd puts it, to decolonize and Indigenize the non-Indigenous intellectual contexts that currently shape public intellectual discourse (including, Todd adds, the discourse of the Anthropocene).

Film still from Wutharr: Saltwater Dreams by the Karrabing Film Collective, 2016. Courtesy of the Karrabing Film Collective.

How, then, might this project of making visible proceed? One possibility can be found in the films created by the Karrabing collective itself. As Povinelli notes, the various forms of critique that have attempted to tackle the theoretical challenges inherent to this age of the Anthropocenequestions of multiple ontologies, the difference between Life and Nonlife, our coming post-extinction worldhave tended to lag behind fiction (14). The aesthetic objects that are the Karrabings films operate through an improvisational realism or improvisational realization. As much an art of living as an artistic style, the genre, if we can call it this, seeks to manifest reality (a realization) through a mixture of fact and fiction, reality and realism (86) that makes visible or illuminates the quasi-events that occur within the cramped space in which my indigenous colleagues are forced to maneuver as they attempt to keep relevant their critical analytics and practices of existence (6). But this making visiblethis translation or rendering legible across registersoperates precisely through a certain illegibility or incomprehensibility: a stubborn resistance that explicitly rejects the representations from withoutthe demand for a certain (global) (self-)image of indigeneity, or indeed the demand of the anthropological imaginarythrough which authentic indigeneity is managed, marketed, and circulated. As such, read through the polysemy of translation, the productive paradox here is that this filmmaking practice is effective in its revealing the functioning of geontopower precisely through its partial untranslatability and incommensurability Rather than providing a representation of their lives, the films are intended as a means of self-organization and analysis, revealing new forms of collective indigenous agency precisely in relation to various Dreaming formations. Crucially, the films function as a constantly improvisational response to the suffocating state management of such relations.

Despite the increasing solidification of global borders, epitomized by the rhetoric of the Trump campaign, members of the Karrabing Collective have nonetheless recently been able to acquire passports in order to travel to participate in international screenings and discussions. But beyond this, platforms running supplementary to mainstream media (evoking Nancy Frasers subaltern counter-publics, here digital) provide crucial means for the virtual translation of what, as evoked above, functions precisely through a certain level of stubborn opacity. Explicitly rejecting state forms of land tenure and the politics of recognition, with membership that elides blood ties, the composition of the Karrabing Collective resonates with the gestures of solidarity from the diverse constituencies who traveled to Standing Rockgestures made in the face of the United States mainstream medias attempts to reduce the claims and representational practices of indigenous struggle (their attempts to communicate) to mere incommunicable noise. While the Karrabing Collectives practice elucidates and narrates the dispersed quasi-events brought about by toxic sovereignty and geontopower, this elucidation is far from a straightforward translation. Nonetheless, there is an urgency to translate geontology across todays multiple and overlapping crises, especially as these pertain to colonial or imperial debris: (settler-)colonialisms ongoing effects of ruination.

Sheila Sheikh is a lecturer at the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London, where she convenes the MA Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy. Prior to this, Sheikh was research fellow and publications coordinator on the ERC-funded Forensic Architecture project based in the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths. She is currently working on a book about the phenomenon of the martyr video-testimony, read through the lens of deconstruction; and a multi-platform research project around colonialism, botany, and the politics of the soil. As part of the latter, Sheikh is co-editing, with Ros Gray, a special issue ofThird Texttitled The Wretched Earth: Botanical Conflicts and Artistic Interventions.

For a version of this text with endnotes, please head over here.

Screen/Print is an experiment in translation across media, featuring a close-up digital look at printed architectural writing. Divorcing content from the physical page, the series lends a new perspective to nuanced architectural thought.

For this issue, we featured “Translating Geontologies” fromAnd Now: Architecture Against a Developer Presidency (Essays on the Occasion of Trumps Inauguration)

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Screen/Print #52: Sheila Sheikh Searches for New Political Vocabularies in ‘And Now: Architecture Against a … – Archinect

Posted in Posthumanism | Comments Off on Screen/Print #52: Sheila Sheikh Searches for New Political Vocabularies in ‘And Now: Architecture Against a … – Archinect

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