19 Slices
Medium 9780253013958

19 Mindful New Materialisms: Buddhist Roots for Material Ecocriticism’s Flourishing

Serenella Iovino Indiana University Press ePub

Greta Gaard

IT IS SATURDAY-MORNING yoga class at the Minneapolis Midtown YWCA. A diverse group of practitioners assembles, varying in ages, genders, classes, races, sexualities, and nationalities, all gathered to practice an hour of mindful yoga. In Pali (the language of the Buddha), “yoga” means “to join” or “to unite,” and its practice involves joining attention to movements involving the body, the breath, the mind, and the larger interconnectedness of all beings. We begin with sun salutation and end in a position familiar to those who have seen the most common depictions of the Buddha, seated in yogic meditation. Joining body ecology with spirit ecology, we bring our attention to the breath, a flow of matter that is exchanged among our many bodies in this enclosed room, and beyond this room as well. Breath is one of the many “flows” that illustrate our interbeing and invite us to embark on a journey of mindfulness wherein the illusion of a separate self is revealed.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253013958

5 The Ecology of Colors: Goethe’s Materialist Optics and Ecological Posthumanism

Serenella Iovino Indiana University Press ePub

Heather I. Sullivan

The primary goal of this chapter is to unsettle our basic assumptions regarding nature as a “place” separate from the human realm and to posit it instead as natural-cultural processes continually occurring all around, through, and in us. With the ecology of colors, I therefore explore nature in terms of dynamic material and informational exchanges. There is no doubt that the scenic places traditionally viewed as “nature” are rapidly being transformed—destroyed, developed, logged, mined, polluted. Yet bounded places are not the trope here. Instead, nature is unbounded by material ecocriticism and reconfigured in an inclusive, natural-cultural sense of energy and light, that is, of optical colors emerging from the solar input into the biosphere. In this view, the sensory perception of living beings functions as the site of natural-cultural interfaces. The visual, auditory, tactile, taste, and smell sensory processes are bodily interactions with our material environment that guide our actions. Locating “nature” in this small-scale process-oriented view requires tracing the patterns of our perceptions and processing of the elements without the subject-object dichotomy. The ecology of colors highlights the reciprocity of our bodily materiality with energy forms, discursive information, and the other-than-human materiality of many species, or the “mesh,” as Timothy Morton describes it. The vast yet often overlooked extinction of species ongoing today and the impacts of our “risk society” producing unknown quantities of chemical substances flowing through all biotic and abiotic forms in the biosphere require, literally, an eye-opening process or enhanced perception. With the “ecology of color” and light, I work toward an increased awareness of natural-cultural processes through sensory attentiveness to our ecological immersion in the material world.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253013958

4 Natural Play, Natural Metaphor, and Natural Stories: Biosemiotic Realism

Serenella Iovino Indiana University Press ePub

Wendy Wheeler

It seems a strange thing, when one comes to ponder over it, that a sign should leave its interpreter to supply a part of its meaning; but the explanation of the phenomenon lies in the fact that the entire universe,—not merely the universe of existents, but all that wider universe, embracing the universe of existents as a part, the universe which we are all accustomed to refer to as “the truth,”—that all this universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs.

—Charles Sanders Peirce, “The Basis of Pragmaticism in the Normative
Sciences”

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs . . . because we have a prior commitment . . . to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but . . . that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations. . . . Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253013958

2 Limits of Agency: Notes on the Material Turn from a Systems-Theoretical Perspective

Serenella Iovino Indiana University Press ePub

Hannes Bergthaller

If those arrangements were to disappear as they appeared, if some event of which we can at the moment do no more than sense the possibility—without knowing either what its form will be or what it promises—were to cause them to crumble, as the ground of classical thought did, at the end of the eighteenth century, then one can certainly wager that man would be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.

—Michel Foucault, The Order of Things

The buck stops here!

—Harry Truman

If one had to choose an epigraph for the new materialisms, one could do worse than settle for the closing lines of The Order of Things. The new materialist thought takes as a given the “crumbling” of the conceptual foundations of modern humanism that Foucault anticipated; its intellectual project is a redescription of the world that dissolves the singular figure of the human subject, distinguished by unique properties (soul, reason, mind, free will, or intentionality), into the dense web of material relations in which all beings are enmeshed. This move cuts two ways. On the one hand, the new materialists point out that human beings are far less sovereign than the humanist tradition would have us believe; on the other, they insist that matter is much more than the inert res extensa of old-style materialism, that it is endowed with many of the same qualities that were formerly seen as exclusive to human beings: complex self-organization, reflexivity, consciousness, and the capacity to act spontaneously, that is, in a manner not reducible to external determination. This insight can be summed up by saying that matter has agency. Agency, the new materialists argue, is emergent and distributed—that is, it is not the property of concrete, isolable entities, but manifests itself only as distributed throughout the networks in which these entities are embedded.

See All Chapters
Medium 9780253013958

8 Painful Material Realities, Tragedy, Ecophobia

Serenella Iovino Indiana University Press ePub

Simon C. Estok

THE BIOLOGICAL, CHEMICAL, and material bases of human ontology constitute central sites of investigation and theoretical comment for material ecocriticisms. If we understand pain as a fundamental part of human ontology, then we must also understand that theorizing matter profits from understanding the importance of relationships among cultural representations of pain, matter, and environment. Building on “a field that defines itself by a neologism (ecocriticism), based on another neologism (ecology)” (7), as Middlebury Shakespearean ecocritic Dan Brayton has recently described ecocriticism, material ecocriticisms seek both to further complicate and to further define what it is that ecocriticism pursues and how. For a movement such as ecocriticism, which has sought, from its inaugural moments, to cross disciplinary boundaries, to avoid intellectual isolationism and hermeneutic sequestration, and to connect with and affect the material world, engaging with new and evolving theories about matter is fundamental and vital—indeed, it is surprising that these theories and developments came so late in ecocriticism’s history. Out of the welter of books and articles that have recently appeared relating to material ecocriticisms, human bodies have reappeared as the site and source of concerns about our changing relationships with the material world. These bodies are often a site of beleaguerment from a threatening “outside.” They are, in Iovino and Oppermann’s terms, “material narratives” about the way human corporeality is dangerously entangled within a complex of discourses and material agents that determine its very being. Because imagining a menacing alterity of the natural environment (an otherness often represented as ecophobic life-and-death confrontations for humans) means imagining materials and their intractable grip on our lives and deaths, the utility of theorizing about ecophobia for material ecocriticisms through discussions about pain (and about threats of pain) can help not only to illuminate theoretical connections that allow us to see how we participate in the systems we critique but also to contextualize what it is about nonhuman agency that evokes such strong resistance (philosophical and material).

See All Chapters

See All Slices