Upcoming Simpson Center lecture

Lecture at the  Simpson Center for The Humanities : The Same River Twice: Ethics and Entities in the Anthropocene

Etienne Turpin, Research Scientist

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Wednesday, April 5, 2017, 3:30-5 pm

Communications 120, Reception to follow in Communications 206

The Same River Twice: Ethics and Entities in the Anthropocene

What do contemporary urban ecologies teach human residents about ethics, epistemology, and media? First attributed to Heraclitus of Ephesus by Plato, the remark that we cannot step in the same river twice is at once a statement about the nature of perpetual change and an acknowledgement of a tension between sensation and abstraction in human understandings of nature. More than twenty-five centuries later, the Indonesian island of Java is now inhabited by more residents than lived on Earth during Heraclitus’s time, with many living in densely arranged megacities. In fact, the greater metropolitan area of the capital, Jakarta, has more than 30 million people residing alongside thirteen rivers that run from the mountains of the Sunda Arc to the Java Sea.

What can we learn from the residential knowledges and itinerant practices that characterize this megacity? By way of a survey of his recent design projects with anexact office, Urban Lab Network Asia, MIT, and PetaBencana.id, Etienne Turpin will suggest how the Anthropocene is being locally instantiated through a parametrization of life on earth. Considering the ethical and epistemic consequences of residential life in the city—including dispositions toward nonhuman entities, mediations that enable collaboration and contestation, and contributions to postnatural ecologies—the presentation will unfold some concepts and concerns emerging from this torrential formation.

Etienne Turpin is a philosopher and Founding Director of an exact office, a design research office in Jakarta, Indonesia. He studies and designs knowledge infrastructure and produces platforms, exhibitions, and publications by combining design, archival research, documentary, and ethnography. Turpin also works as a Research Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he coordinates the Humanitarian Infrastructures Group and co-directs the PetaBecana.id disaster mapping project for the Urban Risk Lab. He is the editor of Architecture in the Anthropocene (Open Humanities Press, 2013) and co-editor of Fantasies of the Library (MIT Press, 2016), Art in the Anthropocene (Open Humanities Press, 2015), and Jakarta: Architecture + Adaptation (Universitas Indonesia Press, 2013).

Organized by The Anthropocene, a cross-disciplinary research cluster of the Simpson Center for the Humanities. Co-sponsored by the Center for Creative Conservation, the Southeast Asia Center, and Urban@UW.

The University of Washington is committed to providing access, equal opportunity and reasonable accommodation in its services, programs, activities, education and employment for individuals with disabilities. To request disability accommodation contact the Disability Services Office at least ten days in advance at: 206.543.6450/V, 206.543.6452/TTY, 206.685.7264 (FAX), or e-mail at dso@u.washington.edu.

What would a new old system look like?

As we regularly check ourselves about the nature of governance, political economies, participation in the polis, oppression, exclusion, and power… perhaps one of our next readings ought to look to an older source of wisdom. We have touched on indigeneity, and have read some feminist scholars. But we haven’t really looked at anything that combined the two, and the book below apparently does that. This from a food systems list I’m on, from poster Debbie Hillman, a consultant in Evanston, Illinois:

New System?  If anyone wants to read about a model for the new system, I would recommend diving into the details of the Iroquois Constitution and the Iroquois League.  I think the answers have been right under our noses, in plain sight.

The most detailed book by far (that I have been able to find) is:
Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas
by Barbara Alice Mann
2000, Peter Lang Publishing
“Gantowisas” is variously defined in the book as:
— clan mothers
— government women
— indispensable women
The chapter titles will give you an idea of the structure of the book and of the League itself.  To me, it reads like a poem:
1.  No-Face Husk Doll:  Women Wiped Clean from the Record
2.  The Direction of the Sky:  Gendered for Balance
3.  “They are the Soul of the Councils”:  Women’s Role in Political Life
4.  “Good Rule:  They Assist One Another”: Women’s Control of Economics
5.  “No Whips, No Punishments, No Threats”: Women’s Control of Social Life
6.  “Come, Let me Untangle your Hair”:  Women as Faithkeepers
Epilogue:  Now our Minds are One
Dr. Mann is a humanities scholar at University of Toledo.  She is also a member of the Seneca Bear Clan nation, which is part of the Iroquois League.  The book is both scholarly and fun.  Dr. Mann does not hold back, in truth-telling or in humor.

Hardt on leadership

Yesterday afternoon I went to see Michael Hardt talk about leadership in social movements. The title of the talk was “Where have all the leaders gone?” and his goal was to think through some of the recent “leaderless” movements: BLM, Occupy, etc. One aspect of the talk really resonated with our last discussion on Bifo’s recent book, and that’s what I wanted to post about here.

To set up his analytical framework, he began with the distinction between strategies and tactics. Typically, strategy is the realm of leaders: taking the long view, gauging the field of action, and making plans, while tactics are the purview of the followers, or the grassroots: they involve specific interests, short term action, etc. Rather than doing away with leadership altogether and noting the spontaneity of political events (which is often a mischaracterization of careful planning, in his view), Hardt instead wants to think through what might happen if the realms of strategies and tactics were inverted. In this case, it would be grassroots movements that define the strategies (what he ends of calling the entrepreneurship of the multitude, in an effort to recapture the “e” word from the enthusiasts of neoliberalism) and to have tactical leadership to execute these strategies, which would take place in the short term, serve specific purposes, and rely on leaders’ technical expertise.

But I found this particularly compelling when he spoke about how we should look to other spheres to identify our virtual capacities to strategize politically.  Following the increasing sociality of production that has arisen in the post-Fordist era, he suggests that if people can manage to do this in economic production, for example, then why not in politics? His examples were the role of caring by hospice nurses — who serve as points of contact for the patient and their loved ones — and the role that coding plays in Google’s pagerank algorithm, which continuously makes new connections between the search engine’s performance and the collective intelligence making use of it. Beyond the economic, if this can also be done in other social or cultural relationships, then isn’t the capacity also transferable to political organizing?

It’s this point that I find to be the most compelling. I’m thinking particularly about my comment on the eight-hour immersive play Gatz, and how I — as someone who is not likely to protest in the street — am drawn to this sort of collective aesthetic experience (and want to be more involved, want to discuss and “share breath,” as Bifo says). Or like this reading group, which has functioned as a self-organized body for 6.5 years. In Hardt’s formulation, the ability to organize these sorts of interactions attests to the capacity to organize, and therefore to strategize. The challenge, politically, is to then actualize these (virtual) capacities toward political ends, and to then select leaders/experts that can carry them out.

The fiction you’re not able read right now builds worlds; poetry breathes.

I’ve been hearing & reading a recurring sentiment since the election: I can’t read fiction right now. That I hear it most commonly from those I consider “serious readers” (those who don’t read fiction strictly for entertainment or diversion), is cause for concern — as I understand both the importance they place on reading and the mournful loss they’re experiencing […]


PKD’s Timothy Archer on music (vs. Bifo on poetry?)


Regarding our conversation on why Bifo was interested in poetry, rather than, say, music: this is a short passage from Philip K. Dick’s The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, in which the title character is discussing Beethoven’s Fidelio with his daughter-in-law:

“It goes beyond beauty,” Tim said. “It involves an apprehension of the nature of freedom itself. How can it be that purely abstract music, such as his late quartets, can without words change human beings in terms of their own awareness of themselves, in terms of their ontological nature? Schopenhauer believed that art, in particular music, had — has — the power to cause the will, the irrational, striving will, to somehow turn back onto and into itself and cease to strive. He considered this a religious experience, although temporary. Somehow art, somehow music especially, has the power to transform man from an irrational thing into some rational entity that is not driven by biological impulses, impulses that cannot by definition ever be satisfied…”

David Ruccio on “Class before Trumponomics”

Perhaps of interest in the wake of Lazzarato and Bifo.

My Desiring-Machines

Ruccio has posted three incredibly clear and insightful installments on the state of class relations in the US since WWII. They’re great empirical support for many of the economic trends that those of us who deal in political/urban theory are used to reading, but without any concrete evidence.




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Sure, you can learn French words from an app…

…but if you really want to learn it, get a French lover. Evan’s words of wisdom today reminded me of this commercial — or one like it — that I saw within the last year or so.

We were talking about Bifo’s assertion that children today learn more words from the “linguistic machine” than their mothers. This machine, as we understood it, is the network if caretakers and media that participate in the child rearing process. Bifo was raising the question of the potential effects of severing the emotional connection to the mother from language acquisition, and he pointed out the way that contemporary fiction renders the fragility of affective connections (he mentions Franzen’s The Corrections, and I assume he’s referring, at least in part, to Chip’s strange fall and distance from his family — a drug-fueled affair with a student, stealing fresh salmon by stashing it in his leather pants, etc.).

But this video shows something different altogether:  an attempt to expand the range of potential emotional relationships  via another addition to the linguistic machine. This machine, however, does not teach the user anything, but rather stands in for learning — a mere tool. How does this technology fit into Bifo’s scheme? A way to promote connection? (This seems like a great illustration of a standardized connection rather than a conjunction as a becoming-other). The birth of a new affective relationship– a dependency on the device to expand capacities? (Also understood as another move by the “tryborgs” to make conjunctions, to become-other…thanks to Cheryl for introducing me to this idea).  A deepening of the economic logic that has distanced children from their mothers in the first place? It seems to me like it’s at least some combination of these three things, and probably more.