Nature: Animal, Moral, Technological

May 26, 2022 - May 29, 2022
Association for Philosophy and Literature

405 Spray Ave
Banff T1L 1J4
Canada

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  • MacEwan University

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When, in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads (1802), William Wordsworth insisted that an “overbalance of pleasure” entails the “circumstance of meter,” he confirmed a philosophical assumption far older than Kant’s theory of the sublime. The pervasive assumption—which, today, can be tracked in an on-going “affective turn” (necessarily entangled in matters of form and style)—is that the artificial makes possible an understanding of the natural. 

But Wordsworth was writing in the twilight of the Industrial Revolution—or what is arguably the dawn of the Anthropocene. For this reason alone, we might be justified in dismissing his romantic conception of poetry as mere “correlationism”—what Ian Bogost caustically defines as the “the tradition of human access that seeps from the rot of Kant.” Faced with the impending consequences of climate change, withering biodiversity, proliferating microplastics, etc.—is it not finally time (as various “new materialists” have asserted) to undo Kant’s “Copernican revolution” and, thus, the primacy of human perception within the nature of things? But what are the alternatives? To approach Quentin Meillassoux’s “great outdoors” we must employ very human tools, such as carbon dating and mathematics. To know and describe Bogost’s various non-human “things” we must resort—à la romanticism—to “metaphorism.” As in Aristotle, phúsis remains inextricable from tékhnē: from art, from technology. Or, to follow Derrida, the latter persists as an inescapable supplement.   

In our efforts to surmount the problem of “human access,” do we therefore risk repeating (even more blindly) the violence and immorality of anthropocentrism? If so, is our only option to re-approach nature paradoxically via its antithesis: solar panels and wind turbines that can save us from green-house gases; virtual simulations that can measure distance better than any animal eye; digital photography and narrative structures that might preserve the nature of indigenous life; genetic engineering that can dissolve the distinction between nature and its others? Should we then re-consider the moral roadblocks embodied in our narrative and philosophical efforts to imagine the posthuman—from Mary Shelley’s monster and Philip K. Dick’s androids to Donna Haraway’s cyborgs and Octavia Butler’s aliens?

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