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The spectre 

A spectre is haunting humanity. Or rather, it is haunting every 
human effort to establish humanity as central, foundational, and 
of ultimate consequence in the world. That spectre is reality it- 
self, a reality that supersedes, trumps, and outwits all our ideas 
about it. 

This spectre of reality is not exactly humanity's shadow. It is 
more the other way around: reality has become shadowed by a 
humanity, an Anthropos, that thinks itself real and reality a mere 
shadow. As the fossil-fueled sun that has powered the rise of 
this entity begins its long descending arc, this humanity-shaped 
shadow lengthens, and the Anthropos finds itself taken aback, 
thinking: what spectre is this, in a world we thought had no 
more spectres? 

“The Anthropocene” is an attempt to name this situ- 
ation—this reversible shadowing of humanity and _real- 
ity — while, at the same time, maintaining the centrality of the 
humanity that is haunted by it. In thinking it can perform this 
double task — to recognize the realism of a reality that will over- 
come and bury it, as the Anthropocene will sink one day be- 
neath the next layer of geologies to come, and to simultaneously 
name itself, humanity, the Anthropos, as the central actor in its 
drama — the Anthropocene is a contradiction. 



The task for a true realist in Anthropocenic times is to unveil 
this contradiction, to expose it for what it is. The realist’s task 
in the shadow of the Anthropocene — the task of the shadow of 
the Anthropocene, for those who align with that shadow — is to 
bury the Anthropocene, if not literally, then at least conceptu- 
ally. It is to develop a conception, and an accompanying attitude 
and emotional stance, through which the empire of the Anthro- 
pocene can be undermined by the larger reality that undergirds 
it, makes it possible, and will ultimately overtake it. The only 
question for the undertaker-realist is how best to do that and 
what quality of compost to leave behind with that burial. 

“The Anthropocene” names an event that is ultimately not an 
event at all. It is an Event of the highest, or deepest, order — an 
order of a burial, a burial that already knows its future as a layer 
among layers on a planet of sleepy layers, and in a universe that 
forgives, forgets, and subsumes them all. This is the geological 
truth that is harbored within the Evert of the Anthropocene. 
(I'll have more to say about Events soon enough. But for starters, 
let us say that an Event is a momentous occurrence that has not 
quite occurred, and perhaps cannot occur, yet which displaces 
reality even in its non-occurrence.) 

Why is Anthropocenic burial a task for realists? Who is a re- 
alist today? 

Realism, in the way I will use the term, is not a belief that one 
knows the nature of reality and that it is such and such. Nor is it 
even a belief that the nature of reality is knowable at all. Rather, 
the realism I propose is a belief in a reality that outwits and ex- 
ceeds us, and a belief that it always will. It is a tempered and 
humbled belief in a crossed-out Real, a Real under erasure. Such 
a Realisna acknowledges its own incapacity to specify the reality 
in which it believes, and to thereby account for its own realism. 
It is the belief of an optimist who cannot name the reason for 
her optimism, nor even be certain that it isn’t folly. She can only 
speculate, knowing full well that the end of her speculation is 
likely to be quiet and inconsequential. No tragedy, no comedy. 
No grand finale or victorious homecoming. Just something be- 
yond. Such is Speculative Realisna for our time. 



What follows is a series of philosophical engagements, 
conceptual proposals in effect, that proceed from such a real- 
ism —engagements with the challenges of the Anthropocene 
and with certain philosophical efforts to address those chal- 
lenges. The realism I propose is an eco-realism because, like 
the science of ecology, it engages with the relations between 
things (and between humans and other things) in their thickly 
entangled and interdependent complexities. And it is an imma- 
nent realism, one that finds the tools for unmaking the master’s 
house already present, all around, in the master’s house. As I 
will explain, however, the house is not really a house, the master 
not a master, and objects not really objects. We live in a world of 
events within which we find ourselves always already poised to 
act; the question is how to do so. 

The philosophical efforts with which I contend and engage 
include the object-oriented ontology of Graham Harman, the 
transcendental materialism of Slavoj Zizek, the critical post-sec- 
ularism of Charles Taylor, the immanent naturalism of William 
Connolly, and the ontological pluralisms of Isabelle Stengers 
and Bruno Latour. The tools I apply are those from the philo- 
sophical tradition I identify as “process-relational” — a tradition 
that harkens back to ancient Greek, Indian, and Chinese meta- 
physicians, and that winds its way through history to the pro- 
cessual pragmatisms of Charles Sanders Peirce, Alfred North 
Whitehead, and Gilles Deleuze, among others. 

The philosophical positions are less important than what 
they offer for living. That is what this book, and especially its 
second section, attempts to outline. 

The first part presents the basic contours of a process-rela- 
tional understanding of reality, a view that takes reality to be 
ceaselessly creative, semiotic, and “morphogenetic” in the sense 
that its forms are perpetually being generated through the rela- 
tional acts of its constituent members. 

The book’s second part, aided and abetted by a practical psy- 
chology developed from Buddhist and other sources, offers a 
guide for slicing into a moment of reality so as to be able to gen- 
uinely act in it. The point of that section is to help us develop an 



attitude appropriate to our historical moment, and especially to 
address the crisis of agency that is very much a part of that mo- 
ment—an attitude that would allow us to “slice through” this 
moment of the Anthropocene so as to act in ways that would 
bury it effectively and lovingly.’ Burial is, of course, never only 
a matter of covering over, or of overcoming; it is always also a 
matter of rearranging and of mixing together into a larger, deep- 
er, and more mysterious set of vital substances. The question, 
then, is how to contribute to what kind of rearrangement. 

The third and final part fills out the picture by examining the 
role of images and meanings — the sorts of things that cultural 
beings like us spend our lives debating, negotiating, and fighting 
over, as we collectively constitute our common worlds. If, as I 
will argue, we are cultural beings who dwell in and through im- 
ages and the meanings they carry, then the Anthropocene is for 
us also a crisis of imagery, meaning, and culture. There is no way 
to bury it — together, lovingly and mercifully — without recog- 
nizing the diversity of relations humans have with their images, 
their icons, and their gods. This part proposes an “iconophilic” 
approach to the diversity of those gods and other entities that 
serve as the vehicles or mediators of creative agency in times of 

Together, these three efforts follow a triadic structure whose 
rationale is articulated early on in the book and developed 
throughout. The parts need not be read in sequence. Readers 
more interested in philosophical debates around the process- 
relational perspective and its alternatives may find the practical 
“tool kit” of Part Two distracting. Others who find the overall 
theoretical armature difficult to follow, but who are seeking for a 
practical “therapeutics” — what I call a “logo-ethico-aesthetics” 
to apply in one’s daily life— may find Part Two of particular in- 
terest (and may wish to supplement it with the exercises found 

1 I take this idea of the eco-crisis as a “crisis of agency” from my co-con- 
spirator, artist, engineer, and eco-visionary Natalie Jeremijenko. See Jer- 
emijenko, “The Art of the Eco-Mindshift? Tep, 



in Appendix 3). Those more interested in debates over culture, 
“post-secularism,’ and the messy world of “multiple moderni- 
ties” and hetero-globalizations may find the arguments of Part 
Three more provocative. In any case, it is okay to skip around 
between the parts, getting enough of a foothold in one before 
moving on to another. But each part yields the most when read 
from start to finish. 

Taken collectively, the three parts of this book make up my 
attempt at a manual for living, thoughtfully and reflectively, in 
the shadow of the Anthropocene. 



Space junk 

The signs are there for those who pay attention to them. Re- 
ports of melting glaciers and impending crashes. Crashes of the 
ocean’s fish stocks, mass extinctions on a scale not seen in 65 
million years. Stock market crashes, internet seizures and data 
breaches, doomsday viruses online and off. Plane crashes and 
mysterious disappearances in Indian or Mediterranean seas. 
Rising sea levels and strengthening storms, with tag-teamed 
hurricanes battering and flooding coastal areas. Hundred-year 
droughts arriving in back to back years. Swirling accumulations 
of trash in the middles of the world’s oceans. Accumulations of 
toxic particles, radioactive dust, and microscopic plastic pellets 
in the bodies and bloodstreams of every living thing on Earth. 
Accumulations of space junk in the atmosphere. Mountains of 
waste, electronic and otherwise, building up to WALL-E-like sce- 
narios, but without Disney/Pixar’s (or the Buy-N-Large corpo- 
ration’) interstellar cruise-ship escape. 

Sooner or later, the trash will hit the fan, the crash will burst 
the dam, the supercollider will hit with the full force of its im- 
pact. The mad rush for land, for survival, for salvation, will be- 
gin in earnest, even for the most protected of us. 



These are among the material ecologies that make up the era 
tendentiously and contentiously called the Anthropocene, the 
New Era of the Human. There are other kinds of ecologies be- 
sides these material ones: social ecologies, and perceptual ecolo- 
gies. Pll explain why it’s better to think in threes than in twos, 
and why the social, the material, and the perceptual make a use- 
ful frame for thinking of the ecologies that constitute the world. 

Our social ecologies work the same way as our material 
ecologies, with blowback to widening inequalities and horrific 
injustices coming in the form of movements of growing refugee 
populations — economic refugees, climate refugees, refugees 
from wars fought over the stakes of all these crashes and the 
political violence and terror that accompanies them. 

Between the material and the social are the fleshy, intersen- 
sorial dynamics from which the material and the social, or the 
“objective” and the “subjective,” continually emerge. Drawing 
from the ecosophies of Félix Guattari and Gregory Bateson, 
I will call these our mental or perceptual ecologies. Blowback 
there comes as guilt, bad dreams, ghostly observances fractur- 
ing our sensory perceptions, inarticulate rage against those who 
question the tacitly held consensus. This is the hauntedness of 
the present by the abyss of an ungraspable and inconceivable fu- 
ture. It is these affective undercurrents that are our responses to 
the eyes of the world haunting us from out of the corners of our 
vision. (More on those eyes later.) They are what makes us feel 
that things aren't right —a hint at the traumatic kernel of real- 
ity that both psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan and, with a different 
inflection, Buddhist philosophers have placed at the origin of 
the self, but which in a collective sense is coming back to haunt 
us globally. 

We misperceive the nature of the world for the same reasons 
that we misperceive the nature of our selves. Every social and 
linguistic order interpellates its members — it shapes and hails 
them into existence with a call of “Hey you!” Each does it differ- 
ently. But over the course of the storied history of humans — not 
the meta-narrative of the Anthropos, just the patchy tale of 
humanity in its quiverings and coruscations — most such or- 



ders have incorporated into that interpellation some sense of 
responsibility to more-than-human entities or processes. In 
whatever way they were conceived —as spirits or divinities, or 
as kin, or in terms of synthetic narrative or conceptual meta- 
phors like life-force, the Way, the path, li and ren, *L and {=, the 
four directions, Muntu and Ubuntu, Buen Vivir, Nepantla, some 
gift-giving and life-renewing sacrifice, and so on—these have 
typically borne a central connection to the kinds of relations we 
now categorize as ecological. (At least for those social orders that 

Modern western capitalism has fragmented these relations, 
setting us up individually in relation to the products of a seem- 
ingly limitless marketplace. But it has left us collectively rudder- 
less. So if scientists, the empirical authorities of our time, tell 
us we are fouling our habitat, we have yet to figure out how to 
respond to that, at least at the global scales where most of the 
problems become manifest. 

This is why it is the relational, more than the substantive or 
“objectal,” that humans, especially westerners, need to come to 
terms with. That is in part the argument of this book. Commod- 
ity capitalism has been profoundly successful at encouraging us 
to think that objects are real, and at projecting value into those 
objects so that they serve the needs of individuals, even if they 
never manage to do that (which is, of course, the point). The 
effects of our actions, on the other hand, are systemic and rela- 
tional, and we wont understand them unless we come to a bet- 
ter appreciation of how systems and relational ecologies work 
and of how we are thoroughly enmeshed within them. 

At the same time, it is the objects that haunt us: the refuse 
swirling around in the middle of the Pacific, the mountains of 
excreted e-waste, the stuff we send down our chutes, out our 
drains, off to the incinerator, the river, the ocean, the atmos- 
phere —the black holes, out of sight and out of mind, from 
which we hope they never re-emerge. When they do re-emerge, 
in our fantasies and nightmares, we reify them as the Thing, a 
Demon, a Host—as in Bong Joon-Ho’s thriller of that name, 



about a river monster embodying the legacy of industrial pol- 
lution in South Korea's Han River. The objects become sublime. 

If our consumptive, commodity-captivated and spectacle- 
enraptured society has privileged the object over the process, 
the thing at the center of our attention over the relations that 
constitute it, this thing-centeredness should not surprise us. In 
part, it is an effect of the human perceptual apparatus, with its 
heavy reliance on vision, a sensory modality that shows clear 
edges to objects and that facilitates distanced observation and 
predation. Where traditional cultures de-emphasized the visual 
in favor of the auditory or multisensorial, the narrative, and the 
relational, societies like ours— fragmented and individualized, 
intensely visually mediated, and ecologically and historically 
disembedded societies (in the sense described by Karl Polanyi 
in his paradigm defining The Great Transformation)' — push the 
ontological objectivism, literally the “thing-ism,’ about as far as 
it can go. 

An object flies out the window 

Two earlier working titles of this book were Why Objects Fly 
Out the Window and Against Objects. The second one was not 
intended to be taken literally. How could I be against objects if, 
as will become clear, my argument is that objects are not real, 
at least not in the ways we tend to think they are? Or, as the 
founder of Tiantai Buddhism, sixth century Chinese master 
Zhiyi, would put it: they are real, and they are not real, and both 
of those are equally true at the same time and could not be oth- 
erwise. (More on him below.) 

The point is not the objects, but nor is it what they mean. 
There is a current philosophical fashion for objects — a celebra- 
tion of the uniqueness and distinctiveness of everything one 
might happen upon — that posits itself as a critique of human 
meanings, or at least of the idea that it is haman meanings alone 

1 Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins 
of Our Time, 2nd edn. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1944/2001). 



that count, or that human meanings are central to whatever 
does count. In the debate between these object-loving ontolo- 
gists and the human-meaning lovers they critique, it is reality 
itself that is at stake—a reality that I will argue is not one of 
objects, but of something more elusive than that. 

The objects of my title, then, are sneaky little things that have 
come to populate a world where their underside — their actual 
reality —has become invisible. They are also a not-as-sneaky 
reference to the object-oriented metaphysics that have been 
gathering adherents in the world of popular philosophy. Many 
of the ideas in this book were initially developed in conversa- 
tion with leading proponents of those metaphysics — conversa- 
tions that took place on blogs and web sites more often than in 
print. Those interlocutors included Graham Harman, Levi Bry- 
ant, Tim Morton, and Ian Bogost, all of whom have identified 
as “object-oriented” philosophers (though Bryant has recently 
shifted camps somewhat), alongside tangentially connected ob- 
servers like Peter Gratton and Ben Woodard.? And they have 
included many allies on the “relational” or “processual” side of 
this debate such as Steven Shaviro, Christopher Vitale, Leon 
Niemoczynski, Adam Robbert, Jason Hills, Matthew Segall, and 
many thinkers to whom I am indebted including Bruno Latour, 
Isabelle Stengers, William Connolly, Jane Bennett, Karen Barad, 
Brian Massumi, Erin Manning, Donna Haraway, Tim Ingold, 

2 For a sampling of relevant works, see Graham Harman, Object-Oriented 
Ontology: A New Theory of Everything (London: Penguin, 2018); Graham 
Harman, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (Peru: Open 
Court, 2002); Timothy Morton, Being Ecological (Cambridge: mir Press, 
2018); Levi R. Bryant, The Democracy of Objects (Ann Arbor: Open Hu- 
manities Pres, 2011); Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to 
Be a Thing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012); Peter Grat- 
ton, Speculative Realism: Problems and Prospects (New York: Bloomsbury, 
2014). For an iteration of my critique of object-oriented ontology in their 
most influential form (Graham Harman’s), see Adrian Ivakhiv, “Beatnik 
Brothers: Between Graham Harman and the Deleuzo-Whiteheadian Axis,” 
Parrhesia 19 (2014): 65-78. Others can be found at 



Anna Tsing, Arturo Escobar, John Protevi, Nigel Thrift, Eduar- 
do Kohn, and Marisol de la Cadena.3 

The short answer to the question implied in my original ti- 
tle — why do objects fly out the window? — is not for any reason 
of their own. They fly because they are the sort of disconnecti- 
bles that can fly under the right conditions. Typically this occurs 
when there is a sufficient difference between two atmospheres 
encountering each other for the first time: as when a high-speed 
vehicle opens its window to the outdoors, unleashing a wind 
capable of carrying away many objects-suddenly-become-pa- 
per-airplanes. Objects gain their ability to fly when other objects 
(or subjects) induce those conditions around them. Objects 
are precisely the kind of thing that can be removed from their 
processual contexts and made to enter into new ones. And in a 
highly artificial world, where such disconnectibles proliferate, 
and where the zone of encounter between environments pro- 
duced by one disconnectible (say, a moving vehicle, or a mov- 
ing national economy) and the connective network in which it 
moves disconnectedly gets amped to the max, objects fly all the 
more quickly. They fly all around. 

There is, I will posit, an important difference between the 
world of disconnectibles that has flourished since the emer- 
gence and spread of carbon burning industrial civilization — the 
world marked by the dawning of the singular Event named the 
Anthropocene, or, as I prefer, the AnthropoCapitalocene, or A/ 
Cene — and the world of connectibles that preceded it and that 
continues to support, encase, subtend, and resist it. There may 
be no clear line demarcating the pre-industrial from the indus- 
trial eras, the pre-A/Cene from the A/Cene; these terms over- 
generalize from a long and densely tangled set of lineages. But 
there is value in distinguishing between these variants based on 
the simple fact of the sheer production of objects: that is, based 
on the rapid and dramatic proliferation of objects, the extent of 

3 Steven Shaviro has been particularly active in the “object-processes” debate; 
see Shaviro, The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism (Minneapolis: 
University of Minnesota Press, 2014). For other relevant titles, see Appendix 1. 



their dissemination, and the breadth and depth of impacts they 
have on the world that burbles, thrums, and hisses alongside 

In other words, there is value in distinguishing between dis- 
connectibles — which this book will call objects — and the pro- 
cesses out of which those disconnectibles arise, within which 
they move, and to which they return. 

Those disconnectibles are one kind of object. This book will 
propose a second and more precise definition of object, one 
which does not last longer than a moment. The things that do 
last longer than a moment I will call entities or things. In con- 
trast, real objectness, objecthood, object-being, is something 
that arises in a flash of relationship with an equally elusive sub- 
jectivity. Objects in this second sense —let us, in an irreverent 
nod to psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, call them objects-a— are 
defined by the relationships they have with subjects, or subjects- 
a. And vice versa, subjects-a are defined by the relationships 
they have with objects-a. These relationships arise for the mo- 
ment that they arise —a flash of experiential reality — and then 
they are gone, subsumed within the substance of a universe that 
can scarcely be sighted before it is something else. Encountering 
an object-a is one move within a circle, or rather a circulation; it 
is something that a subject-a does. The next moment that object 
is no longer there, and neither is the subject. Both objects and 
subjects are winking in and out of existence all the time; what 
continues in and around and beneath them is process. 

A world full of disconnectibles, however, encourages us to 
see objects everywhere, and nothing but objects. What you hold 
(if you are reading this from a book) is an object, but it is an 
object intended to perform a certain work upon you and upon 
others. As it does this work, it enters into processes that preced- 
ed it, parallel it, and have existed independently of it (more or 
less) until now. Process-relational thought is the thought that is 
intended to redirect thought toward the contexts, the relations, 
and the processes that surround, subtend, and inhabit objects. 

Process-relational thought is not new; it is in fact ancient. 
This book is an attempt to articulate it in terms of recent de- 



bates over objects, processes, events, images, and the meanings 
of recent global events and developments in particular. It is not 
a philosophical treatise. Its spirit is more of an animated restau- 
rant conversation than a systematic legal case. It is intended less 
for philosophers than for those it might reach through its sheer, 
object-like ability to fly out of windows. It is a paper airplane, 
and where it lands is anyone's guess. 

Things (scribbled on a restaurant napkin) 



Things are always already in process. More complex things 
are more in process, or in more (and different) processes, 
than simpler things. 

Growing/developing things tend to become more complex; 
their trajectory, when they are on a roll, is uphill, which takes 
effort and builds capacity. Other things tend to become less 
complex; they roll downhill. But these tendencies are contin- 
gent on complex interactions with their environments, and 
on habits enfolded out of previous such interactions. 

Being in process, things elude capture. Those that are cap- 
tured become other things, and generally simpler things, 
than they were before. 

You can never do only one thing. 

You can never isolate one thing from the rest. When you try, 
that thing ceases to be what it is, or it drags other things with 

. Knowing is doing; doing is knowing. But neither of them is 

only and fully the other. 

Mind and matter go hand in hand; facts and values dawdle 
together. Separating them is possible only at the expense of a 
diminution of each. 

The present is all that there is; how you respond to it is all 
you can do. 

Every action feeds a relation, tweaks a process, builds (or un- 
builds) a network. 

A world full of things made by the AnthropoCapitalist Thing 
makes it seem that things are merely things, simple things, 


physical things, dead things. Even those things aren't that 
(because the mental and physical always go hand in hand). 
But other things certainly aren't that. 



“Things” is a generic term for bits and pieces of world and 
universe. They are related to matter, but are never matter 
alone (mind or form are always part of them). Things do; 
things are done. There is no such thing as still life. Complex- 
ity and simplicity are relative. 

. Entropy and negentropy are general trends. In reality, most 

things don't just move all in one direction. 

Everything becomes different from itself anyway. The ques- 
tion is always what to become. 

But you can try. 

Form is substance; substance is form. But... same story. 

. Epistemology and ontology are never fully independent of 

each other. 

Segregating them commits the error that Whitehead called 
“the bifurcation of nature.” More on that soon. 

The past is what is no longer present, though its effects may 
remain and continue to shape future possibilities. The future 
is what is not present yet. Absences are present as absences; 
they, too, shape what is present. The present that you can re- 
spond to is not the entirety of the present. One cannot re- 
spond to things that one is not sensitive to; they don’t make 
a difference, so they cannot make a “difference that makes a 
difference.” But in general, this point #8 summarizes most of 
what we need to know in life. Everything else is extra. 

Or many at once. 

The AnthropoCapitalist Thing (henceforth, A/C Thing) in- 
cludes humans, ruminants, cereal grasses, fossil fuels, com- 
bustion engines, cities, techno-economic networks, and a 
proliferating array of things made for the Thing and things 
made to make other things for the Thing. Even things made 
by the A/C Thing seem to be getting livelier and more com- 



plex: digital life, nanotechnology, online worlds. We are 
building a complex meganetwork atop a complex meganet- 
work, but with relations between the two—Terra 1.0 and 
Terra 2.0 — growing ever more tenuous and fragile. 

Metaphysical entry point 

Metaphysics is the philosophical field that studies the general 
nature of reality. Ontology is its sub-field that focuses on the 
make-up of reality, or the kinds of things that exist, and on how 
they do that. 

One of the recent efforts to develop a realist metaphysics 
adequate to the world in which we live is that called “object- 
oriented philosophy,’ or “object-oriented ontology.’ The starting 
point of 000, or oop (its representatives have occasionally been 
lampooned as oops), is the premise that the best description of 
the world is one that attends closely to the objects that make it 
up. This is its realism more broadly, and its “objectivism” more 

While this premise sounds, at first blush, not unlike phenom- 
enological philosopher Edmund Husserl’s call, a century earlier, 
“back to the things themselves,’ the difference is that Husserl 
approached those “things” through the human perception of 
them. To that perception, later phenomenologists like Mar- 
tin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, Paul 
Ricoeur, Luce Irigaray, and Jean-Luc Marion added an emphasis 
on interpretation, language, discourse, decision, embodiment, 
gender, and other dimensions of human experience. 

Object-oriented philosophers reject this interest in correlat- 
ing human perception to reality, which Quentin Meillassioux 
has labeled “correlationism.”* They are interested in decentering 
human perception and experience so that it is no more valued in 
principle than any other kind of experience, or indeed than any- 
thing at all. In part, this is out of a desire to account for a world 

4 Quentin Meillassioux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contin- 
gency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Bloomsbury, 2010). 



that, as Levi Bryant has put it, “far from reducing the number of 
existing objects as alleged by reductive materialisms, has actu- 
ally experienced a promiscuous proliferation and multiplication 
of objects of all sorts.” 

Let’s name a few of these objects. In fact, let us borrow a list 
of such objects from one of eco-radical Derrick Jensen’s polem- 
ics against industrial civilization. Jensen and his co-author, Aric 
McBay, ask us to consider whether life would be worth living 
“without cps, plastic pacifiers, plastic wrap, sandwich bags, sy- 
ringes, bottled water (and soda bottles), single serving packets 
of potato chips, automobiles, straws (and crazy straws!), plas- 
tic grocery bags, freezer bags, ice cube trays, bubble wrap and 
packing peanuts, carpet-backing, Styrofoam life preservers and 
take-out trays, disposable pens, disposable diapers, hairspray 
and plastic hair brushes, plastic toothbrushes (and toopaste!), 
milk crates, packing tape, plastic forks, telephones, computers, 
hair clips, billiard balls, shower curtains, beach balls, balloons, 
latex condoms, and polyester pants?”® 

One thing all these things have in common is that they ex- 
ist — they are as real as you and I, and for object-oriented on- 
tologists that it enough: they need to be accounted for. 

But there is something more specific shared by the objects 
on Jensen's list. It is their plasticity — a plasticity that, for all its 
malleability (by definition) and intended disposability, presents 
an obduracy that comes closer to permanence than to the kind 
of usable life that, for centuries, carried the day among objects. 
What they have in common, in other words, is that once they 
are used by people for the limited time of their intended use, 
they all become space junk. They are thrown away, with the ca- 

5 Levi Bryant, “Onticology—A Manifesto for Object-Oriented Ontol- 
ogy, Part 1,” Larval Subjects, January 12, 2010, par. 1, http://larvalsubjects. 

6 Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay, What We Leave Behind (New York: Seven 
Stories Press, 2009), 113. 



veat that, globally speaking, there is no “away.” So they pile up 
around us, and inside us.’ 

This desire among philosophers to acknowledge the prolif- 
eration of objects is a valuable step insofar as it returns philoso- 
phy to a concern for the world, and not merely for humanity. 
Yet it is important to recognize that this proliferation results, in 
large part, from the tremendous proliferation of commodities 
in a capitalist world-economy— the most productive economy 
the world has seen, whose productivity relies on the extraction 
of substances from their processual relations to produce things 
that appear to have no such relations — objects that are simply 
there, for us to admire, desire, purchase, use, and in the end dis- 
card. The “objectivity” of these objects is a product of a set of 
relations; it is illusory, or partial in any case, to the extent that 
these objects are not simply objects as such, but that they, for 
all their specificity, arise out of certain kinds of processes (ex- 
tractive, productive), give rise to others (consumptive, waste- 
producing), and entangle their owners in relational ecologies 
that are morally imbued, materially generative, and dramatic in 
their effects on the world that is passed on to future generations 
of humans and our planetary co-inhabitants. 

The approach I advocate in this book shares object-oriented 
philosophers’ goal of a metaphysical realism — which puts us 
all into the newish category of “speculative realists.”* But it ap- 
proaches this goal from a direction that is in certain respects 
their polar opposite. It begins from the premise that, in an ul- 
timate sense, there are no objects, only events, and that what 
defines those events is a relational encounter in which subjectiv- 
ity is central. Seeking subjectivity in the world of plastic objects 

7. Foran insightful and varied set of responses to the “plastic ocean” that has 
been accumulating around humanity, see Julie Decker, ed., Gyre: The Plastic 
Ocean (London: Booth-Clibborn, 2014). 

8 Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek, and Graham Harman, eds., The Speculative Turn: 
Continental Materialism and Realism (Melbourne: Re-Press, 2011); Peter 
Gratton, Speculative Realism: Problems and Prospects (London: Blooms- 
bury, 2014); Leon Niemoczynski, Speculative Realism: An Epitome (Leeds: 
Kismet Press, 2017). 



may be counter-intuitive, but that is the whole point. If we can- 
not find it there, we might as well not find it anywhere. 

This does not mean that my approach begins as a “revolt 
against substance,’ for the world of events—a world of rela- 
tional process — is as substantial as any world of objects can 
be. It begins, however, from the subjective encounter. It begins, 
following the work of philosophers like Charles Sanders Peirce, 
William James, Alfred North Whitehead, John Dewey, Martin 
Heidegger, Isabelle Stengers, Bruno Latour, Donna Haraway, 
and Karen Barad, from “matters of concern,” and it does this 
because it is such matters that we are always in the midst of. It 
begins with a refusal to extricate the “knowing self” or “subject” 
from the relations that constitute it. 

More specifically, the ontology I propose in this book — one 
of a series of variations that a process-relational ontology can 
take —is one that brings together two powerful insights from 
two of modern philosophy’s most original voices, Alfred North 
Whitehead and Charles Sanders Peirce. 

From Whitehead, I take his turning inside-out of Cartesian 
dualism and of the two philosophical faces it brings togeth- 
er — one being idealism (or rationalism), the other being mate- 
rialism (or empiricism). Rather than the subject and the object, 
or mind and matter, or value and fact, being two kinds of sub- 
stance or quality that either interact in some form of dualism, 
or that subsume each other —into an idealism or a material- 
ism — Whitehead takes subjectivity and objectivity to be active 
poles within a single, dipolar relational process. That process 
is the process that makes up every real entity in the universe, 
which is an entity of occurrence, an event, a becoming. Every 
being is a becoming, characterized by what Whitehead called 
prehension. Every becoming is a response to things given. As 
such, it involves emergent subjectivity taking account of, or 
“prehending,’ what has become objective for it. Once that re- 
sponse is completed, it becomes material for the next response. 

By rendering subjectivity and objectivity internal to all 
things, Whitehead gives us a universe that is alive and filled with 
experience. The things that appear to us to be “just there” — ob- 



jects to be measured, handled, or otherwise kicked around, but 
not to be negotiated with or granted the respect with which one 
might honor, say, a companion or a divinity — are not things at 
all, except insofar as they are figments of our perception. Their 
reality — their experiential interiority, or rather the specific mix- 
ture of interiority and exteriority, the same kind of mixture that 
constitutes all real things as processes of subjectivation and ob- 
jectivation — this reality eludes our experience except insofar as 
something of it — its objectivity or “outsideness” — is accounted 
for in our own subjective experience. And crucially, the same 
goes for them. We are all inside-outnesses winking into exist- 
ence moment by moment through prehensive encounters, with 
stability achieved through the complex movement of masses of 
such winkings. What that means should become clearer as we 

From Peirce (pronounced “purse”), I take his revolution- 
ary reframing of the logical categories found in Aristotle, Kant, 
and Hegel (among others) into a tri-categorial schema accord- 
ing to which everything in the universe is composed of triadic, 
“semiosic” process: the firstness of things in themselves, the 
secondness of things in relation, and the thirdness of relations 
in relation. This parsing results in a triadic ordering whose fruit- 
fulness will, I hope, become evident over time. But listing some 
of its variations might begin to give a flavor of it. There is po- 
tentiality (a firstness), existence (a secondness), and meaning (a 
thirdness). There is chance, actuality, and necessity; vagueness, 
singularity, and generality; quality, relation, and representa- 
tion; feeling, reaction, and thought. By means of these catego- 
ries, Peirce was able to define meaningfully ordered relations 
between everything else: aesthetics (the Beautiful), ethics (the 
Good), and logic (the True); phenomenology (the study of what 
appears), normative science (the study of how we ought to re- 
spond to it), and metaphysics (the study of what it all means); 
and so on ad infinitum. 

Far from being merely an ordering principle, Peirce took this 
triadism as an insight into the order that underlies all things 
(not over and above, but in and through), and as a way of en- 



suring that one of the three does not subsume or outflank the 
others (as Peirce thought occurred with most philosophies that 
preceded his). Peirce was a fierce logician and a brilliant math- 
ematical mind, so these categories didn’t come cheaply with 
him; he worked on them his entire life. And because that life 
was marred by professional failure and much of his writing re- 
mained, and still remains, unpublished (and difficult to make 
sense of), his prime discovery remained unsung and underuti- 
lized. This book attempts to sing it. 

This marriage of Whitehead and Peirce is purely my own 
and no doubt deviates from other presentations of either phi- 
losopher. It is an experimental proposal, still in the process of 
being worked out, and is inspired for me by the spirit of Gilles 
Deleuze, who deeply admired both philosophers, even if he did 
not write much about either. Marrying these powerful concepts 
from Whitehead and Peirce creates a theoretical engine that I 
believe can help us out of numerous intellectual quandaries that 
mark our time of social and ecological crisis. 

There are two other, larger and more diffuse, players I will 
bring into my philosophical machine at certain moments. The 
first is a particular variant of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, 
which will make its distinct appearance in Part Two. The second 
is a more general ally whose presence I would like to open a 
path toward, but which I feel largely unable to speak for in these 
pages: this is a “decolonial” movement in the worlds of non- 
western and indigenous thought, and in anthropological efforts 
to dialogue with those forms of thought. I hope the influence 
of the latter is felt in Part Three, but its full development (and 
recognition) requires another book. 

Let us, then, begin with some matters that concern us. 



Matters of concern 

Everything begins with matters of concern.’ Such matters are 
always, as they have ever been, matters that involve us, touch 
and brush up against us, envelop us, or otherwise call on us to 
respond to them. 

By “us,” I have in mind not only humans, the collective “we” 
who have become the default in-group of philosophical think- 
ing in the western tradition. I do not exclude humans; they con- 
stitute a relevant and useful category. But neither would I circle 
my philosophical wagons around them. This “us” is more like a 
call, an appeal, a network-building probe or vector. Sometimes 
the extent of that network has been taken for granted: mem- 
bers of a tribe or nation, philosophers, citizens, humans. But in 
times like ours, the “us” ought to be much more open than that, 
and this opening-outward is the vector I would like to pursue 
in what follows, even if the tools I use —language, of a philo- 
sophical kind — will not reach all of us directly. The “us” is the 
coming-into-being of responsiveness, in its many forms. 

As for the “matters,” they are such because they matter, they 
make a difference; so we call them to mind, we pay them atten- 
tion. Mattering, they come to mind; minding, we come to mat- 
ter. Matter and mind are nothing of themselves except as they 
come, and in the time that they come, to each other. The same 
can be said of subjects and objects: they are nothing except as 
they arise with respect to each other. “Concern” is precisely that 
“with respect to” that brings them together. 

It has been argued that “concern” sounds too distant and pa- 
ternalistic, that “care” is more direct and exposed.’° The terms 
are somewhat interchangeable. Karen Barad puts it beautifully 

9 Bruno Latour, “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of 
Fact to Matters of Concern,” Critical Inquiry 30 (2004): 225-48; Bruno La- 
tour, What Is the Style of Matters of Concern? (Amsterdam: Van Gorcum, 
2008). See also A.N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: Free Press, 
1933/1967), 135 on “concernedness” as “of the essence of perception.” 

10 Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, “Matters of Care in Technoscience: Assembling 
Neglected Things,” Social Studies of Science 41, no. 1 (2011): 85-106. 



when she writes that “matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, 
yearns and remembers." Even so, matter alone does little with- 
out, say, processes of form-building. A wave crossing an ocean 
contains no matter, but it shapes and moves the matter in its 
path, moving molecules up and down as it moves; its substance 
is its form, which is always related to the other waves of which 
it is a vector. To speak of the “mind” of a wave is of course also 
presumptive. Its internal energy is a part of larger movements 
whose full extent we have some trouble grasping because of the 
limits of our own imagination. 

Let us, then, eliminate the terms “matter” and “mind” in their 
usual meanings — as, respectively, mindless stuff and immate- 
rial agency — and refocus the words on the how, or the minding 
of matterings. To engage with matter is to mind what matters, 
to care for it, to “take a concern” — which for Quakers is to take 
something as an obligatory call to action. (More on those Quak- 
ers in Part Two below.) 

To be sure, there are things, things that happen. There are 
matters, matters that come to mind. The sequence I will posit, 
considered as an ideal or logical progression, not a chronologi- 
cal one (this is important), follows the triadic phenomenology 
laid out by Peirce: there is, first, the thing, then the happening, 
then the matter of which the happening is a sign, a reminder, a 
call, a prompt, an issue, a problem, a pattern, or a law.” There 
are, in other words, spontaneously generated qualities — not 
Platonic Ideas, but simply the potentials inherent in anything, 
structured by their forward movement coupled with the play of 
chance. Peirce calls these firsts; taking a hint from Deleuze, we 
might call them virtuals, which means that they are effectively 


11. Rick Dolphijn, Iris van der Tuin, and Karen Barad, “Matter Feels, Convers- 
es, Suffers, Desires, Yearns and Remembers: Interview with Karen Barad;’ 
in New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies, eds. Rick Dolphijn and 
Iris van der Tuin (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2012). 

12 Charles S. Peirce, “The Principles of Phenomenology: The Categories in De- 
tail? in Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, eds. Charles Hartshorne 
and Paul Weiss, vol. 1, 148-80 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 



(causally and generatively) real. Then come the relations, as cer- 
tain of these potentials become actualized in real encounters, 
real events, in a multiplicitous universe. These are seconds, or ac- 
tuals. Finally, there arise the mediated consistencies, habits, pat- 
terns, regularities, laws, generalizations, and meanings — these 
are the thirds, generals, or relationals (as opposed to mere rela- 

This dynamic of firsts, seconds, and thirds is always at work. 
Peirce insisted on its universality: if any of the three is ignored 
or de-emphasized —the bursting forth of chance, connective 
causality, significance and generality — we will be drawn up one 
or another philosophical rabbithole. This triadism constitutes 
the heart of the worlding of the world (any world). In this way 
things become, and in this way they come to signify.” 

But to call the things “objects” is already to suggest too much 
about them. There are, from this perspective, neither subjects 
nor objects at the outset, just things in their singularity. This is 
the world of virtualities, differential fields on the cusp of break- 
ing into something: a wave, a motion, an event. They are not yet 
a world, but they enable worlding. Breaking, those virtualities 
become happenings: they intervene into the times and spaces 
of other things, each imposing itself on another, each resisted 
by others. This is the world of relational events, which is the 
world in the process of being made, of being woven into tan- 
gles of force and counterforce. This is the world that scientific 
analysis likes to probe, methodically and systematically. Finally, 
there is the world of significance, the world that is now fully a 
world, inhabited. Humanists prefer to start here, analyzing our 
significances as things not to be taken for granted, but always 
produced, negotiated, and lived. But where humanists often 
stop short is in recognizing that neither the happening nor its 
significance is peculiar to humans. Humans do it, but so do 

13 Peirce’s triadic outline of the logical categories of all experience was an ob- 
session throughout his philosophical career. It took many forms, and in the 
end was the single contribution he felt was most original and significant in 
his philosophy. For one version of it, see Peirce, “The Principles of Phenom- 



many others: we make sense of things, which thereby become 
signs, meanings obtained about a world through the things, the 
images, the objects we encounter. We feel, and respond, to that 
which happens, and in responding we generate a world. 

I am describing here a view of the world as made up of re- 
lational processes, events of encounter, acts of experience, and 
nothing else. Everything there is takes place; which is to say that 
it gives place, it places. Its taking place is what gives it existence, 
but its specific kind of existence comes from what constitutes it 
at the outset, as the thing that it is, the thing in its firstness; the 
dynamics of its prehensive encounter with other things; and the 
subjective aim that is realized in the encounter. In coming to ex- 
ist and relate to others, the origins of both are selectively taken 
up and turned into potentialities for the next set of existents. As 
Whitehead described things — that is, events —these are con- 
stituted by the encounter of an emergent subjectivity, a mental 
moment of pure feeling, with some matter that is there for it to 
behold and to respond to. The occasion is dipolar: at one end 
mental or subjective, at the other physical or objective. But the 
subjectivity lasts as long as the moment, which begins with a 
“prehension,” a taking into account, and rounds off with a satis- 
faction, a “concrescence,’ at which point the subject becomes an 
object, a datum, for the next set of moments that may emerge. 
And so on, ad infinitum. 

With Peirce, what becomes clear is the semiotic and triadic 
(or “depth”) nature of prehension — that is, the fact that any 
meaning created (which he called an interpretant) is performed 
through an intermediary, a representamen that stands in for 
something else, that “something” being the distant and with- 
drawing semiotic object. There are two movements going on in 
such a triad: there is the prehensive grasping of the object(s) 
of one’s concern; and there is the withdrawal (for instance, by 
differing and by deferral) of the original object from that rep- 
resentamen, and thus from the grasping. It is the prehension, 
or the act of “possess[ing] or intuit[ing] a datum, a given,” that 
provides the openness, the forward motion or evolutionary mo- 
mentum at the heart of things. And it is the withdrawal, the de- 



ferral and différance (to use Jacques Derrida’s term, but applying 
it not only to language but to everything without exception), 
that provides for the elusiveness and opacity of the universe. 

Peirce’s triadic account of signs— which are moments or 
events of signification — insists on the rootedness of those signs 
in the world, their connection to and dependence on things 
that preceded them and that are there in the virtual-processual 
chance-structure of the universe. What constitutes a “sign” can 
be something as basic as the way a sequence of nucleotides is 
decoded in the synthesis of proteins, or something as complex 
as the idea I have of my self or of “democracy.” 

In this way the world proceeds, an “advancing assemblage” 
of “processes of experience,’ a simmering ocean of becoming, 
subdivisible into streaming, temporal, relational vectors.’* None 
of these processes is exactly alike: there are different kinds, vary- 
ing in texture, in extent, in stability, in rate of change and style 
of movement, in manner of organization. In the encounters be- 
tween emergent processes, the organization of such processes 
folds over, takes on a layering of surfaces and depths, of out- 
wardness and inwardness, and interacts to create larger pro- 
cesses, larger networks, whose consistencies give us the world, 
or worlds, that we and others perceive and inhabit. Perceiving, 
we respond, and responding we come to inhabit; we habituate. 
The world, in the end, is a world of evolving habits shot through 
with chance and with novelty, which seed it with further novelty, 
further habituation, further evolution. 

Between Whitehead and Peirce and the other thinkers who 
have variously contributed to a process-relational account of 
things, there are discrepancies, gaps, and divergences one could 
spend lifetimes lumping, splitting, splicing, or smoothening 
over. The list of such thinkers might include Heraclitus, Zhuang 

14 Mine is only one of multiple ways of potentially reconciling Peirce and 
Whitehead. On a few others, see Adrian Ivakhiv, “Peirce-Whitehead-Hart- 
shorne and Process-relational Ontology,’ Immanence, June 9, 2010, http:// 

15 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 197. 



Zhou, Nagarjuna, Santaraksita, Zhiyi, Fazang, Suhrawardi, Do- 
gen, Mulla Sadra, Bruno, Spinoza, Leibniz, Schelling, Goethe, 
Nietzsche, Haeckel, Bergson, James, Dewey, Aurobindo, Ni- 
shida, Nishitani, Hartshorne, Bateson, Merleau-Ponty, Souriau, 
Simondon, Deleuze, Guattari, Deely, and many still among 
us— Michel Serres, Nicholas Rescher, David Bohm, Robert 
Cummings Neville, Robert Corrington, Isabelle Stengers, Bruno 
Latour, Sandra Rosenthal, Michel Weber, Roland Faber, Jason 
Brown, William Connolly, Catherine Keller, Freya Mathews, 
Karen Barad, Christian de Quincey, Jane Bennett, John Law, 
Manuel DeLanda, Brian Massumi, Ken Wilber, and others." Be- 
tween them one can find debates over the constitutive weight 
of continuity versus discontinuity, novelty versus habit, un- 
bounded creativity versus a mere choice between options, re- 
lational symmety versus asymmetry, structural topographies 
and “levels” of reality with their respective forms of emergence, 
and other themes. A wall built with the materials these think- 
ers together provide might not withstand the spring’s first flood. 
But a life-raft built from them could carry us far from where 
we started. And since nothing stays in place for long (at least if 
what they tell us is true), it is the carrying that counts, not the 
flood control. 

Having laid out this set of primary constellations to orient us, 
we must eventually return to what we have in our midst, which 
are always those matters of concern. Projects, in other words, 
but projects that take their start from situations. 

Projects in the making 

An ant colony builds itself from the actions of its members: 
gathering leaf litter, sticks, bits and pieces of the environing 
world, tunneling, communicating, building, nursing. None of 
these ant “individuals? not even the queen herself, could act 
in this way without the rest of the colony. Both the body and 

16 For an introductory bibliography of contemporary process-relational 
thought and its close relatives, see Appendix 1. 



the mind of the colony — its “objective” or material parts, those 
we can see, describe, dissect, and measure, and its “subjective” 
parts, which are the moments of felt decision that turn an ant 
this way rather than that way in its crossing of a trail in a forest, 
or those that bring a team of ants together to haul a large leaf 
or dead grasshopper — these are all dispersed in space, they are 
spaced, detached from each other physically (or so it appears 
when we observe them), but mentally, in terms of the interactive 
processing of signs and relations, they are networked together 
into a coordinated collectivity, a form that seemingly aims to 
reproduce itself. That aim may be dispersed across many aris- 
ing subject-objectivities, which are its actual occasions, but its 
global coordination is something, not nothing. 

The networked form of the colony is not only made of those 
ant bodies, but also what they are capable of and what they do 
with things — with soil, leaves, sticks, pieces of food. By most 
measures, anthills are cities: they include complex systems of 
transportation, communication (pheromone-based), ventila- 
tion, sewage disposal, food production (the farming of plants, 
the growing of fungus, the raising of aphid cattle), cooperative 
labor, warfare, and slavery. As entomologist Mark Moffett de- 
tails in his comparison of ants and people: 

Both alter nature to build nurseries, fortresses, stockyards, 
and highways, while nurturing friends and livestock and 
obliterating enemies and vermin. Both ants and humans ex- 
press tribal bonds and basic needs through ancient, elaborate 
codes. Both create universes of their own devising through 
the scale of their domination of the environment. [... Both] 
face similar problems in obtaining and distributing resourc- 
es, allocating labor and effort, preserving civil unity, and de- 
fending communities against outside forces.” 

17 Mark Moffett, Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Tril- 
lions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 223. 



In the worlds of ant colonies, what are the “objects” and what 
are their “relations”? An individual ant could hardly exist on its 
own, though a lost ant might be able to find food and maneu- 
ver its way into another colony. (What will happen to it there 
is another matter: if it is an Argentine ant from San Francisco 
being dropped off in San Diego, it will fit in seamlessly within 
its new host group, which is of the same colony or “nationality, 
as Moffett calls these groups. But if it is dropped off in Mexico, 
or in one of the other three colonial territories of Californian 
Argentine ants, it will likely be quickly murdered.) 

A colony could hardly have emerged without its environ- 
ment, such that the colony-landscape network, the subterrane- 
an city with its above-surface hinterlands and the patterns and 
relations holding them together, is itself an object of sorts. But 
if one is to say that the reality is made up of “objects” engaged 
in “relations,” one would have to draw lines (around ants, or 
colonies, or something) that, like light waves and particles, are 
sometimes there and sometimes not. The result would be little 
better than acknowledging that reality includes textural lumps 
and nodes in the networks that make it up. 

Lumps, nodes, and networks are descriptions of things from 
their outside. A process-relational view insists that there is also 
an inside to everything, an interiority, but that this interiority is 
not normally evident at the level of the everyday distinguishable 
object. Such distinguishing will vary depending on the thing 
doing the distinguishing; ontology and epistemology, in this 
way, are tightly interwoven within each fragment of existence. 
Rather, the interiority is of the moment, the event, the act of 
prehension and concrescence. The reality of the ant metropolis, 
then, is one of events of feeling and decision, acts in response 
to those matters of concern, the entanglements of subjectiva- 
tion and objectivation that are occurring everywhere in their 
own time. What we — non-ants observing ants— see is not the 
real events themselves, but only what our own subjective grasp 
makes available of them to us. 

A process-relational ontology takes the world to be dynam- 
ic and always in motion. Its fundamental constituents are not 



objects, permanent structures, material substances, cognitive 
representations, or Platonic ideas or essences, but relational en- 
counters or events, moments, or acts of existence which take 
on formal properties as they interact. An actual occasion, as 
Whitehead calls such an act of existence, is a “drop” or “throb 
of experience,” a process of “actualization of potentiality” that is 
inherently “emotional” and “prehensive” in nature. Whitehead 
revises Descartes’ claim that “the subject-object relation is the 
fundamental structural pattern of experience” by disentangling 
this relation from enduring substances (and from the knower- 
known relation) and placing it instead in the momentary arising 
of each actual occasion." Each such occasion is characterized 
by a mental pole set against a physical pole, a subject emerging 
momentarily in relation to an object, which is the datum or data 
set that comes inherited from the immediate past and from its 
immediate outside. 

“The basis of experience; Whitehead writes, is “emotional” 
(Peirce refers to it as one of “feeling”).” Its “basic fact” is “the 
rise of an affective tone originating from things whose relevance 
is given.” A subject emerges in concern for an object, with each 
defining the other in the process. “An occasion is a subject in 
respect to its special activity concerning an object; and anything 
is an object in respect to its provocation of some special activ- 
ity within a subject?” Individual subjectivity, for Whitehead, 
or “our consciousness of the self-identity pervading our life- 

18 A.N. Whitehead, “Objects and Subjects,’ The Philosophical Review 41, no. 2 
(1932), 189. 

19 Whitehead, “Objects and Subjects,’ 189; Peirce, Collected Papers, 7.364, 
6.265 (1931). For further comparative insights on Whitehead and Peirce, see 
Charles Hartshorne’s chapters on each in Creativity in American Philoso- 
phy (Albany: suny Press, 1984); Sandra Rosenthal’s “Contemporary Process 
Metaphysics and Diverse Intuitions of Time: Can the Gap Be Bridged?” 
Journal of Speculative Philosophy 12, no. 4 (1998); Robert C. Neville, “White- 
head and Pragmatism,” in Whitehead’s Philosophy: Points of Connection, 
eds. Janusz Polanowski and Donald Sherburne (Albany: suny Press, 2004); 
and the writings of Robert S. Corrington. 

20 Whitehead, “Objects and Subjects,” 130. 

21 Ibid., 131. 



thread of occasions, is nothing other than knowledge of a spe- 
cial strand of unity within the general unity of nature,” a unity 
in which the “general principle is the object-to-subject structure 
of experience; the “vector-structure of nature,” “the doctrine 
of the immanence of the past energizing in the present, “the 
transference of affective tone, with its emotional energy, from 
one occasion to another. “Each occasion has its physical in- 
heritance and its mental reaction which drives it on to its self- 

These quotes address the microscopic or molecular level of 
the view I am presenting. There are other levels, including a 
level of complexity in which the universe can only be conceived 
as a tumbling forward of such interrelated and interacting, 
differentiating and coming together, moments of experience. 
Whitehead’s descriptions of “nexus” and “societies” — constella- 
tions of mutually coordinating occasions, which enjoy a relative 
persistence over time, over space, or both — begins to account 
for the more stable entities making up the universe. The human 
organism is such a society, at least insofar as it works in a unified 
way (which it does far from perfectly). The self that thinks “T” is 
little more than a kind of superintendant of an apartment build- 
ing, as Jim McAllister puts it: “I hear the complaints [...], I have 
to feed the furnace, put out the garbage, sweep the hallways, 
but I have no experience of the lives of the apartment dwellers,’ 
who happen to be the trillions of cells, bacterial assemblages, 
and all the rest that makes up the grand assemblage I call my- 
self. Other relational descriptions — dynamical and emergent 
network theories, assemblage theories, actor-network theories, 
and others — are better at accounting for the different ways that 
different things come together into patterned networks, with 

22 Ibid., 143. 

23 Ibid., 144. 

24 Ibid., 146. 

25 Quoted in Dorion Sagan, “Coda: Beautiful Monsters: Terra in the Cyano- 
cene,’ in Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the An- 
thropocene, ed. Anna L. Tsing et al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota 
Press, 2017), M172. 



agency (subjectivity) and givenness (objectivity) distributed in 
divergent ways through those networks.”° 

A process-relational ontology that attempts to provide a re- 
alistic depiction of the world must take note of distinctions be- 
tween different sorts of relational processes. Such processes can 
be fast or slow, thick or thin, complex or simple, opaque or trans- 
lucent, extensive or intensive, linear or multilateral, smooth or 
stratified, hierarchical or egalitarian. Relational processes have 
unfolded historically in ways that have given the world its com- 
plex and variable textures: its folds and forms with their relative 
thicknesses, speeds, durations, movements, rhythms, consist- 
encies, patterns, and trajectories. The universe, in this view, is 
continuous (for the most part), but the continuities are pleated 
and enfolded, inflected with waves, currents, undulations, and 
vortices. It is a generative and open universe governed by in- 
tensifying, differentiating, and habit taking tendencies. And it 
is within these habit-formed folds and pleats that we, human 
“subjects,” typically find ourselves. 

No thing alone 

If there are discontinuities in this account of the universe, there 
is no thing alone, none that is capable of remaining itself un- 
der every set of conditions. Because it is in process, there is al- 
ways an interdependence between a thing and its environment 
(which means, other things that preceded it and with which it 
has been in recurrent, complex, prehensive or semiotic contact). 
An organism and its environment mutually shape each other, 
not only in the evolutionary history that the organism has in- 

26 See, for instance, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s assemblage theory, 
Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory, and the many variations that build 
on their work, such as Manuel DeLanda’s, John Protevi’s, and others. More 
generally, biologists study a variety of forms of relations — mutualistic, 
commensal, parasitic, et al.— between species, organisms, and other enti- 
ties. On the virtues of a process metaphysics in the biological sciences, see 
Daniel J. Nicholson and John Dupre, eds., Everything Flows: Towards a Pro- 
cessual Philosophy of Biology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018). 



herited, but in the active life-history of that organism.” And 
where there are many organisms mutually shaping themselves 
and their environments, there is, to misquote Jerry Lee Lewis, a 
whole lotta shapir’ going on. 

In Graham Harman's evocative account, in Circus Philosophi- 
cus, of the world as a giant ferris-wheel filled with things, be- 
ing observed and responded to by people and other respondent 
things, Harman describes an object that becomes his example 
of a “dormant object” —an object that is and remains itself 
apart from any relations with other objects. This object hap- 
pens to be a flag, “a purple lozenge on a field of amber,’ which 
used to be celebrated by a union of arrowsmiths, but the guild 
was disbanded long ago, and now the flag merely flaps in the 
wind, unrecognized.** “Yet there is a certain reality possessed by 
this flag” Harman writes, “no matter how cruelly ignored, and 
someday a new throwback union or sarcastic artist may arise to 
adopt it as an emblem once more.” 

The flag’s dormancy, in Harman's account, consists in the fact 
that it no longer means what it used to mean for anyone, and 
that it therefore no longer triggers celebration — but that it one 
day might do that again. The implication is that the flag’s mean- 
ings, or at least the flag’s flagness — what makes it what it is — is 
all still there, hidden away in some withdrawn essence, and that 
it can at some future point re-emerge in its glory. But what Har- 
man does not acknowledge is that in order for that “throwback 
union or sarcastic artist” to retrieve the flag’s forgotten mean- 
ings, they would need more than just the flag. They would need 
access to some retained memory of what the flag meant, or at 
least what flags in general mean: history books, web sites, redis- 
coverable underground archives, storytellers passing on stories 
to other storytellers, memories of attention-rapt bodily postures 

27 See Richard Lewontin’s classic argument in “Organism and Environment, 
in Learning, Development, and Culture, ed. Henry C. Plotkin, 151-70 (New 
York: Wiley, 1982). 

28 Graham Harman, Circus Philosophicus (Washington: O-Books/John Hunt, 
2010), 8. 

29 Ibid., 9. 



as flags were raised or lowered, national or cultural identities, 
eyes that can perceive and distinguish colors. Each of these re- 
quires ongoing relations to keep the information — the social 
significance, the bodily held posture, the words and syntax, the 
ink on paper or data on disk— from deteriorating to the point 
that it becomes illegible and unreconstructible. If it is the flag’s 
meaning, and not merely the fabric and the colors, that con- 
stitutes its inner essence, then that meaning was never found 
in the material of the flag alone; it always required recording 
and decoding instruments of some kind, instruments that have 
persisted in some form elsewhere, beyond the actual lozenge on 
its field of amber flapping in the wind of Harman’s ferris wheel. 
In his effort to privilege the object — the flag as a piece of the 
ferris-wheel — Harman has apparently forgotten the relational 
networks within which that object becomes what it is, networks 
that include practices and experiences. The flag, after all, is not a 
flag unless there are flags in the world, or the memory of them, 
or the possibility of them — by virtue of there being social soli- 
darities that group together under symbols like flags, names, or 
identifiable howls or other calls. As long as those relational net- 
works persist, the flag is never dormant because it is never alone. 
In contrast to Harman’s account, what is real for process-re- 
lationists is always what is happening. (Of course, for any com- 
plex entity there are usually many things happening, at different 
speeds and involving different relata. There is no reason to as- 
sume that what I see happening is all that is happening.)° 
Experience, in other words, is as real as anything gets. Not 
only does this accord with our own experience of the importance 
of experience (without which we may as well be in a coma), the 
assumption it elicits — that all things have something akin to ex- 

30 Harman has more recently shifted to the view that objects can undergo 
“symbioses” in their “lifespans” —“turning-points” that mark “genuine 
points of irreversibility” which “transform” the “realities” of those objects, 
but leave their identities intact. While this concession to process thought is a 
welcome one, its implications for his ontology are hardly followed through. 
See Harman, Immaterialism: Objects and Social Theory (Cambridge: Polity, 
2016), 47-48 et passim. 



perience, some kind of interiority that gives them what is their 
own — suggests a need to respect those things whose experience 
we are not privy to. It is not because they are alone with them- 
selves that they are important; it is because they are connected 
to many others through their experience, and ultimately to eve- 
rything else in the universe. But let us leave ethics aside for now 
and focus on what the doing and mutual shaping might be for 
some of those others. 

With living things, the case is fairly straightforward: all such 
things consume, produce, and metabolize other things. In the 
process, both the thing and its environment change, even if cer- 
tain sets of formal relations are conserved over time. Individual 
organisms maintain a structural coherence; humans maintain a 
recursive sense of identity over time. Such sets of persistent for- 
mal relations make it possible for us to recognize certain things 
as “individuals” or “persons.” But any such designation is a so- 
cial, context-dependent designation; it applies conditionally and 
relationally to selected kinds of things and not to others. 

A human, for instance, is an individual to another human, 
or to a dog, but probably not to an ant, a bacterium, a quark, 
a fungal growth, a corporation, or a star. Its individuality is a 
matter of its location within a set of relations where its indi- 
viduality counts, where it makes a difference, where it matters. 
Mattering, in this sense, is what makes a world. What matters is 
what is significant, what is to be taken into account; it is mate- 
rial, but what is material is always also processual, relational, 
formal, and energetic, always a mix of the subjective or mental 
(viewed from the “inside”) and the objective or physical (viewed 
from the “outside”). And by the same token, what to us appears 
individual, an object in its own right, to another sort of entity 
may be nothing of the sort. Each in its own domain defines its 
world, perceives and orders its world. Here is the Kantian cor- 
relation, the mind-world relationship that Meillassoux identi- 
fied as the crutch at the heart of philosophy since Kant. But it 
is not an exclusively human crutch, separating an “us,” those 
who think, from a “them” who do not. It is spread through all 
things, an opening that takes root at the heart of each thing, 



each event, each occasion of which the universe is made — and 
which comes to pass itself on to others at the end of that event, 
and so on and so forth. 

But that world, the Umwelt of the thing in question — the 
term is ethologist Jakob von Uexkiill’s for the experienced or 
lived world of any organism — is never merely that organism's 
own. It is built of signs, of things standing in for other things, 
where the signs, or the meanings they carry, are not merely con- 
ceived “in the mind” of that thing. The meanings emerge out of 
a set of dependent, triadic relations, as Peirce described them. 
For something to carry meaning there must be, in his terms, 
a representamen, or sign vehicle, which carries the meaning by 
standing for something else; an object, which is the inaccessible 
“something else” being referred to; and an interpretant, which is 
the meaning created for a beholder at a given moment.” 

Signness happens; it is a process of becoming. But it is an- 
chored within the universe, and once it has happened, that sign, 
the vehicle of meaning, becomes datum for the next instance of 
semiosis. As the subject of an occasion (in Whitehead’s sense) 
takes another as its object, prehending and responding to it, so 
that other (the object) is always connected to a more distant 
otherness, a withdrawing otherness that lies beyond the given 
occasion. It is that which ties that occasion to the rest of the 

There are, then, the moments that move together in various 
ways to create the patterned regularities of the world we know. 

31 Like Peirce’s sign, Whitehead’s prehension involves three factors: “There 
is the occasion of experience within which the prehension is a datum of 
activity; there is the datum whose relevance provokes the origination of 
this prehension; this datum is the prehended object; there is the subjec- 
tive form, which is the affective tone determining the effectiveness of that 
prehension in that occasion of experience” (Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 
176). Peirce’s description of the sign as the elemental process making up the 
universe stresses interpretability or the generation of meaning as the core 
of that process. Whitehead’s emphasis is on feeling or affective tone, which 
he elsewhere relates to “appearance” as opposed to “reality.” In both cases, 
novelty arises in the subjective form — Whitehead’s “affective tone,” Peirce’s 
“interpretant” — that emerges in each prehensive or semiosic occasion. 



And this world is unique to the “we” who “know” it, though it 
is always connected to the worlds of the other we’s who know 
their worlds in their own ways. For humans, this world is made 
up of distinct objects: persons, cats, cars, and cans of soup, each 
performing the activities that makes them what they are. But 
for many unlike us — ants, amoebas, bacteria, electrons, oxygen 
molecules, biospheres, stars — things may be quite different. We 
share the same universe, however, and so we may as well use 
our imaginative abilities to describe that universe in a way that 
might apply as well to amoebas and stars. A process-relational 
ontology differs from an object-centered ontology, then, in its 
belief that the best first step toward a more cosmopolitically 
common ontology — a common world, whose members will al- 
ways remain somewhat elusive to each other — is the claim that 
subjectively-experienced events and processes, and not endur- 
ing objects, are primary.” 

That world has a relational complexity that eludes a divi- 
sion into objects. There are boundaries — firewalls, as Harman 
calls them — between the internal and external, or “domestic” 
and “foreign” relations of an object, an entity or set of relations 
that persists over time and external change. But even a firewall 
requires maintenance, and its activity is a matter of doing, of 
behavior, or at the very least of habit. A wave builds or recedes as 
it merges with the contours of other processual trajectories in its 
crossing of an ocean. A bear or tree goes into hibernation for the 
winter, then re-emerges into action when spring comes. A cater- 
pillar recedes into a larva, which one day is shed by a butterfly. 
I learn how to consume vast quantities of alcohol, or become 
a heroin addict, or learn to spend most of my time in online 
gaming worlds, surfacing for food or drink only once or twice 
a day but dramatically affecting the features of the game world. 
My partner grows a fetus within her body, which is born and, 
in intimate interaction with her and other humans, becomes a 
child and eventually an adult. The Earth begins to convert car- 
bon dioxide into oxygen, leading to the emergence of aerobic 

32 Isabelle Stengers, Cosmopolitiques, 7 vols. (Paris: La découverte, 1997). 



organisms. Each of these is a transformation, which may be pat- 
terned over time in relation to its environment, or which may 
be singular and irreversible. Among the irreversibles is the point 
at which a body we call living collapses in its vital circulations, 
those that maintain it with a certain integrity of structure and 
allow for an integrated engagement with its outside, and resta- 
bilizes at a reduced level of activity, at which the hair becomes 
mere hair, the bones mere calcium compounds, the body mere 
body, no longer social, no longer person. At this level, too, mo- 
lecular and electrochemical life continues. 

Topographies of morphogenesis 

Another way to get at the firewalls is by thinking of them as 
force-fields between form-takings. Let us build up the descrip- 
tion of amoment as such a series of form-takings. 

A dog is walking to a park. That park exists — it is its own 
thing, a park-thing, a first (for the purpose of our analysis). It 
consists of a particular layout and boundaries, of grass, mounds, 
ditches, and play structures, all of which can serve as affordanc- 
es — for dogs, or for kids, or for other creatures. It is, of course, 
in process and never quite the same as yesterday's park, just as 
Heraclitus’s river is never yesterday's river, despite the similari- 
ties that are maintained through formal relations with other 
processes — traffic flows, city ordinance makings, lawn watering 
schedules, weather patterns, sunrises and sunsets, squirrel for- 
agings, ant crossings and mound-buildings, and so on. 

At night, the park retains the scents of the day that has ended. 
The next day, it adds the scents of those who were there this 
morning, or who run around in it now. It is different today, but 
not altogether different. Today there is that pooch I like to run 
after, to sniff and play with, and those hounds I better keep away 
from, or growl back if they get mean. I know the etiquette of en- 
counter and the territorial affordances for running; none of that 
is much different from yesterday’s park adventure. My interac- 
tion with this particular Tuesday-afternoon-park is a second, a 
real encounter. The interaction of that dog with the very same 



Tuesday-afternoon-park is a different second. Our meeting is 
yet another second. Time is not measured in seconds here; it 
explodes with them — with real events, with actual instances by 
which one set of processes, one wave, meets and meshes with 
another to produce something novel, a new disturbance pattern. 

Accompanying all these seconds, these real interactions, is 
the sense that is made of them — their significance and mean- 
ing. One such significance for dog-me might be “going for a 
walk with my human,’ or “going to that park again, woohoo!” 
The park visit is in this way akin to my human's reading of a dai- 
ly newspaper (though I might not know that) — it’s how I learn 
that foul-smelling Rover was here recently, having eaten some 
pig fat, and that someone has blotted out my own scent mark- 
ings beneath this lamp post. (Sometimes I see Rover still there, 
or back again, as if the characters in the newspaper articles have 
come to life. Don’t I love going to the park!) Any particular sig- 
nificance and meaning I get from any of this — any particular 
thirdness — is likely to have been somewhat anticipated but also 
somewhat surprising, which means that it is part of the shap- 
ing of the interactions (the secondnesses) and of the thing itself 
(the firstness/es). The thirds cannot be disconnected from the 
seconds or from the firsts; they are all there in any eventing that 

For analytical purposes, then, we are calling the thing it- 
self— whatever we are bracketing out from the rest of the uni- 
verse —a first. In this case, it is the park-world. (There’s no as- 
sumption that the park-world “subjectivates” in any way; it’s 
more likely to be an aggregate of subjectivating things, but that’s 
immaterial to this exercise. Inasmuch as it is a real, “encounter- 
able” thing and is what it is, it is a first. It firsts.) My doggish in- 
teraction on this day with that park-world is a second, or rather 
a long string of seconds. It takes place during a specific duration 
of time which has a beginning (Hey, there’s the park! Woohoo!) 
and an ending (See yall later!), rounded off by anticipatory prel- 
udes and more or less satisfactory dénouements. 

How this park-experience relates to my larger world and 
the impactful significances it generates in that world, or in any 



world, is a third, or (again) a string of thirds. The visit to the 
park may put me into a better mood (Mmm, yes!), make me 
stronger (Lookit here!), strengthen my appetite (Yumm...), lead 
to new friendships or enmities. My going to the park has also 
allowed my human to make new friends (or enemies), fertilized 
the grass, added to the pile of dog-poop-filled plastic bags going 
into the landfill or the incinerator, and even generated a little de- 
mand for more urban green space (or at least demonstrated that 
demand for a city councilor who had been previously uncon- 
vinced). These are all “upshots” or “realizations,” significances 
for someone of the dog-in-the-park experience. 

This sort of analysis can go on indefinitely, stringing along 
firsts to seconds to thirds in concatenations that, at their maxi- 
mum extent, include everything in the universe. In Ecologies of 
the Moving Image, I analyzed the experience of viewing a film.® 
There was, first, the film-world, which is the world of a film that 
exists in its thingness, if one could separate it from its view- 
ing — the film in its qualitative distinctiveness, with its internal 
structure of unfolding, intersecting lines of potential relation 
and tension, and so on. This was the film as a viewerly accessi- 
ble object. Second, there was the film-experience, which is what 
happens to any particular viewer when they allow themselves to 
be taken into that film-world while watching it unfold. Third, 
there was the relation between this film-experience (the second- 
world) and the world at large (the third-world) — the way my 
viewing of this film interacts with and changes the world I had 
brought to it and, in aggregate, the world other viewers bring 
to it. 

These three—film-world, film-experience, and film-real 
world relation — can be broken down in turn into three other 
triads. The film-real world relation is the largest, or most higher- 
order, of the set. It unfolds within three dimensions, which are 
roughly equivalent to the three “ecologies” I described earlier: 
the material ecologies, or the relations involving “stuff” that is 
there in and around the production and consumption of the 

33 See Ivakhiv, Ecologies of the Moving Image, chs. 1 and 2. 



film, which are materialities insofar as they are “stuff seen from 
its outside”; the social ecologies, or relations involving agency 
and its recognition — the interplay of recognitions of interiority 
or subjectivity in and around the production and consumption 
of the film; and, between them, the mental or perceptual ecolo- 
gies, which are the actual, causally connective, prehensive (or 
sensory-perceptual) relations involved in the generation of so- 
cial and material ecologies. 

Why distinguish between these three sets of ecologies? 
Because the two poles, the mental and the material — which 
means the interiority or “subjectivation” and the exteriority or 
“objectivation” — are part and parcel of every relational event. 
This means that in a world where relational events accumulate 
and take on forms, interiorities and exteriorities come to de- 
fine the perception of those forms. When we view the things of 
the world from their “outside,” we see material objects, things 
in their givenness. When we view those same things from their 
“insides” — which we can only do for ourselves, but which we 
can adduce is doable from multiple perspectives — we see men- 
tal subjects, or active doings. Each of them is part of the reality 
of the world of our experience, though the reality itself is fully 
definable only in their interplay. Science has come to master- 
fully describe the materiality of the world along with some of 
the apparent forces governing action, but ultimately the method 
of studying external relations alone breaks down. A fully coher- 
ent explanation can only come from acknowledging both the 
internalities and externalities as they are shaped in and through 
prehensive, or triadic, encounters. 

Now if we take these encounters — these doings or seconds, 
these events of prehension —and analyze them triadically, we 
get something similar. There is, first, the “stuff” that is experi- 
enced, which serves as object to our subjective responses: the 
other dogs in the park, the trees or bushes, and so on. In the 
viewing of a film, there is the audio-visual stuff that shimmers 
on the screen in front of us (which, in my film volume, I called 
film’s “spectacle”). Second, there is the response itself — the sub- 
jective, prehensive encounter: my bark, the gleam of fear in the 



other dog’s eyes, the running to and fro, and so on. (With film 
viewing, there is the sequential connectivity in my following the 
stuff happening on the screen in front of me.) And third, there 
are the subjective significances generated within these encoun- 
ters: “mean dog,” “watch me as I run around the bastard,’ “next 
time Pll get him,” and so on. 

The basic formula for parsing these components might be 

summarized very simply: 

1. Stuff > 
2. Stuff Happens > 
3. So that’s what’s happening! 

The first is virtual (in Deleuze’s sense), the second actual, and 
the third semiotic. The second mostly covers the causalities, 
though meaning always infuses (and helps to shape) the actions 
of world-dwelling agents. (More on who qualifies as such an 
agent soon.) 

Finally, we can take the things themselves, the firsts — in our 
examples, the park-world and the film-world—and analyze 
them likewise. With the park-world, there is the apparent stuff 
that is out there as it is, in its objectness: the park as such, as 
an object-entity, a set of specifiable relations and boundaries. 
There is the interactive to-and-fro of the running, sniffing, 
looking, barking, biting, listening, interacting, pretending to 
be mean, being mean, and all of what makes up “parkness” in 
my dog-experience of it. And there is the agency that drives it 
forward — my desire to run around with those other dogs, our 
sheer dogness — which is always in process, always becoming- 
dog, never quite finished or sated in its dogability, its canimor- 
phism. These are all morphisms, all becomings. 

For animal-ish entities of a certain size on a certain planet's 
land surface, the objectification might as well be called geomor- 
phism, where the “geo-” refers to the ensemble of things in the 
background of our activities that we can rely on for their being 
there for us, in support of our active worlds. The subjectifica- 
tion, the becoming-dogness, is its own kind of thing, which we 



(humans) might as well call canimorphism. And the middle- 
ground, where all the negotiation occurs — where the objects 
and subjects are parsed out to render things somewhat under- 
standable, moment to moment —let’s call that biomorphism, 
since it is the kind of interactive, dynamic thing we recognize as 
definitive of the living. 

With the film-world, we get a similar kind of “geomorphism” 
in the ways that things take on the character of being there, giv- 
en and accessible but mostly in the background, and the ways 
they are spaced or distributed in particular ways. Classical Hol- 
lywood westerns are grounded on assumptions about wilder- 
ness (that sandy, rocky, spacious stuff) versus civilization (the 
homes and ranches and towns that have been laboriously carved 
out of the latter). We understand that division or distribution of 
meanings; it’s taken for granted. It is the geomorphism of the 
film, at least until it gets disrupted and renegotiated. 

Since making, watching, and interpreting films is a human 
thing, the subjectomorphism of the film-world is best catego- 
rized as anthropomorphism (we'll unpack this a bit more soon). 
In a film-world, this is the way in which the becoming-subjec- 
tive of things takes on its own distribution of agency — who gets 
to be an agent, a hero, an effective challenger to the villain or 
problem faced by a community, and so on. Geomorphism is the 
givenness; anthropomorphism is the capacity to do. 

But it is in between the two where the real negotiation always 
takes place — the interactive to-and-fro between becoming-ob- 
ject and becoming-subject. All the real activity is always here, 
driven forward by the aim embodied in the subjectivation, yet 
held together (and resisted) by the objectness of what is given. 
The creativity in the response is not infinitely open, but nor is 
it random. It is motivated in a particular direction chosen from 
the array of potentialities available to the act (and the momen- 
tary actor). 

Everything in the living universe is like that, ceaselessly (if 
pulsatingly) moving forward. Peirce’s triadism helps us under- 
stand three things. There is that which is driving these move- 
ments forward: the emergence into thirdness, or the way in 



which all things move toward taking on meaning for other 
things and for themselves, subjectivating as they semiotical- 
ly flourish. Then there is the stuff is that provides the fodder 
(or the matter) for that movement: the firstness, or qualitative 
“stuffness,’ of things. And there is how it all happens, which is 
the secondness of interactive co-responsiveness. There is the 
pulling toward the world, the world-that-becomes (the “third- 
ing”); there is the world being pulled, the world that had been 
and that is being tugged forward (in its firstnesses); and there 
is the pulling itself, in its specific shapes, feels, contours, and 
stretchings (the “seconding”). There is subjectivation, objectiva- 
tion, and prehension. 

“Anthropomorphism,’ in this redefinition, has little to do 
with the traditional definition of this word. That definition was 
representational: the bird sings, just as I sing; it is like a human, 
so maybe it also means the same things as I mean when I sing. 
The bird resembles the human, but the human itself is taken for 
granted. My redefinition of the word is anti-representational: 
whatever the bird, or the human, becomes will be the form (the 
morphism, the morphology) that it takes. The human itself acts 
as if it were human, but this “as if” is left open, referring not 
to what is known (and past) but to what is potential (and fu- 
ture). It is the forward pull of subjectivation. Canimorphism is 
the same for dogs, avimorphism for birds, corvomorphism for 
crows, amoebomorphism for amoebas, and so on. Since we can 
never be sure what a body is capable of doing (pace Deleuze and 
Spinoza, but to be explored more soon), we are never sure where 
this subjectivation will lead. 

Humans just may canimorph—and presumably have, to 
some degree, from millennia of co-evolving with dogs. Chim- 
panzees just may anthropomorph, as those brought up in cap- 
tivity and learning American Sign Language to some degree do. 
(Others, retained in zoos, become little more than signifiers of 
chimpanzeeness, ossified chimpanzomorphs.) Or a human can 
strive to “become bear,’ as “grizzly man” Timothy Treadwell ap- 
parently tried to do; or to become computer, to become virtual, 
to become cyborg. Success at any becoming-other will not likely 



result in a human-bear hybrid (or another kind), but it will ex- 
pand the capacities for humanness, or bearness, or machineness. 
The point is that there is no essence to the future or the capacity 
ofa thing, only to its past. Essentialism weds us to the past, while 
radical constructivism disavows it, but a process-relational view 
simply recognizes the past as past, carried forward in novel and 
creative ways into the open, ever-becoming present. The degree 
of creativity an “eventity” is capable of introducing into a given 
moment may vary, but it is always somewhere between none 
and all. It is never nothing. And in that span is the openness of 
all things.*4 

The soul(s) of things 

Let us return to the question of agency. Martin Heidegger rather 
famously (or infamously) declared rocks to be “worldless” and 
animals to be “poor in world”; for him, only humans qualified as 
rich in our worldhood. Biological aliveness and mortality play 
a role in these distinctions, but object-oriented ontologists have 
resisted them, for philosophically valid reasons. 

Even as I have mostly resisted thing-language, I have suggest- 
ed that only things that prehend— only unities that are centers of 
subjectivation, that relate to objects in their surrounding world, 
translating those objects (as data) into a newly concrescent uni- 
ty — can be said to harbor agency. Most forms of panpsychism 
(a school of metaphysical thought that has recently been gaining 
adherents) agree that there is mental activity, or mentation, in 
all things, but then they specify the criteria for what qualifies as 

34 Distinguishing triadically between geo-, bio-, and anthro- is not original. It 
can be found, for instance, in soundscape ecologists’ distinction between 
the acoustic worlds specific to landscapes, living things, and the human 
world, respectively called “geophony,’ “biophony,’ and “anthrophony.” See 
Bryan Pijanowski et al., “What Is Soundscape Ecology? An Introduction 
and Overview of an Emerging New Science,’ Landscape Ecology 26, no. 9 
(2011): 1213-32. 



such a “thing.” If a thing is biologically alive, then of course it 
qualifies. Beyond that, it may as well; let’s talk. 

Whitehead innovatively suggested that the subatomic world 
consists of such mentating, psychically active things. But that 
can only ever be speculation on our part. With larger entities, 
things get a little more clear. Whitehead distinguished between 
aggregates, such as a rock, and genuine “societies” such as a hu- 
man, a dog, or a flower. Rocks may include some semiotically ac- 
tive doings (at the molecular or subatomic levels, for instance), 
but they may not be semiotically active in the unified or coordi- 
nated way that humans and other organisms are. 

This is the kind of claim that object-oriented ontologists 
dislike. Timothy Morton has suggested, for instance, that, on- 
tologically speaking, a pencil lacks nothing that a human or a 
flower possesses. It may not be aware of the ways it maintains 
its form, but it does maintain its form, and it is its own thing: it 
retains some mysterious underside that will never be known by 
anyone else.*° 

If there are only objects that are “real” and objects that are 
“sensual” (perceived but not real), as object-oriented ontologists 
claim, then the pencil is certainly as real and as substantial as 
you or I, or as the spider descending in front of me as I write. The 
challenge for a process-relational account is to specify in what 
its reality lies. We can easily anthropomorphize a rock (in the 
traditional sense of the word) by imagining that it acts, rather 
like us. This is what animists have always been accused of doing 
(and animism is really just another, more loosely deployed word 
for panpsychism). There are animists for whom humans, and 
bees, and possibly rocks and clouds may be “persons” (though 
it may depend on the specific rocks and clouds), but for whom 
pieces of paper, electric backscratchers, and numbers may not 

35 On panpsychism, see David Skrbina, ed., Mind That Abides: Panpsychism in 
the New Millennium (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009), and David Skr- 
bina, Panpsychism in the West, rev. edn. (Cambridge: mir Press, 2017). 

36 See Timothy Morton, “Anthropomorphism,’ Ecology Without Nature, 
December 22, 2010, 



be. There are neo-animists who go further, acknowledging the 
personhood of their backpacks and laptops and business cards 
and fingernail clippings and thoughts and shadows.” But do 
they all act, or are they merely involved in processes of inter- 
action within which they play an active but not agential role? 

One of the solutions to this quandary is to speak of distrib- 
uted agency.** For instance, as I sit writing, my shadow — which 
my body casts on the part of my office that it blocks from the 
sun’s rays — darkens the space around the flower sitting on the 
coffee table behind me. The flower, being a flower, presumably 
senses the presence of sunlight nearby and slowly twists its way 
over toward it. To say that the shadow is an agent here in its 
relationship with the flower is going too far, as it doesn't act of 
its own accord on the flower. The shadow could be called an act- 
ant — something that “could be said to act” (in Bruno Latoutr’s 
non-committal phrase) — but it is more reasonable to say that 
the system of relations “sun-body-shadow-flower” incorporates 
a kind of distributed agency. 

The shadow, however, is fully formed by the interaction of my 
body and the sun (and any other nearby light sources). Those re- 
lations exhaust it; apart from them, it is nothing. Tim Morton’s 
pencil, on the other hand, has more going on than the “external” 
relations that affect it. It has a structure of capacities that is its 
own. It has been shaped to do certain things —to be used for 
writing, primarily — but its form and structure give it additional 
capacities that may not have been intended by its makers: the 
capacity to roll off a desk, hit the floor, and cause a lead mark- 
ing on that floor; to collect dust on a shelf; to be poked into an 
infant’s eye or nose; and so on. This certainly makes it an actant, 
a thing that affects the processes within which it is involved. But 
it is a stretch to say that it interacts creatively with the world 
around it, as an active agent interacts with its Umwelt. It does 

37 On animism and some of its novel varieties, see Graham Harvey, ed., The 
Handbook of Contemporary Animism (London: Routledge, 2014). 

38 See N.J. Enfield and Paul Kockelman, eds., Distributed Agency (New York: 
Oxford University Press, 2017). 



not enworld, though it may be worlded by others who do. It does 
not pencilmorph in the sense that pencilmorphing is either (def- 
inition #1) responding to others as if they were (like) pencils, 
or (definition #2) becoming (open-endedly) pencil — penciling. 

Unless we define “morphism” more broadly. The pencil is 
part of a morphogenetic network within which its pencilness 
plays an active, co-constituting role. Pencils, pens, and similar 
writing implements have made it possible to keep track of large 
numbers of tradable items, to write poems and books, to doodle 
in a way that made boring school lessons tolerable, and to add 
to one’s hair-do when placed behind the ear. They did change 
the world — so much so that we live today in a “pencilmorphed” 

So in this sense Morton is correct: pencils do pencilmorph. 
But this is a different definition of morphing than the usual 
one, and different as well from my revised definition. Viewed 
through a Whiteheadian lens, the subjective agency of the pen- 
cil may reside in the molecules and other “actual occasions” 
making up that pencil, not in the pencil qua pencil, since it has 
no central, regnant unity directing the way in which it responds 
creatively to its environment. But even the fact that it is humans 
who have done most of the writing with pencils doesn't take the 
penciling away from the pencils; it is their pencilness that ena- 
bles that penciling to occur. 

This is where it is helpful to bring a very different tradition of 
thought into the conversation, one that traces itself to the psy- 
chodynamic ontology of Carl Jung. James Hillman, Edward Ca- 
sey, Thomas Moore, Susan Rowland, Robert Romanyshyn, and 
others in the Jungian line of descent have argued for a revival of 
the idea of “soul” and for an acknowledgment that things have 
soul. This can be thought of in a purely relational sense — that 
soul or soulfulness is a quality of relations, for instance, between 
me and my pencil, or the painting in front of me, or the gar- 
den I have been patiently cultivating for several summers. In 
this sense it indicates a capacity for objects to trigger responses 
in others, and thereby to make us (humans and other subjects) 
shimmer and vibrate alongside them in ways that are not “of 



our own making.” Or it can be thought of in an object-oriented 
sense, such that the soul of an object refers to its capacity to 
withdraw from relations. In this sense, “soul” is a way of indi- 
cating the ways in which things withdraw to their fathomless 
depths —the depths of the pencil, of a hammer, of a pair of 
peasant’s shoes (such as Van Gogh's famous pair), a lotus flower, 
a sunset, and so on. In that sense, the shadow cast by the moun- 
tain whose side I live on clearly also has soul. 

The two kinds of soul may be reconcilable, in fact, if we take 
soul not as a possession of the pencil, but as a quality of the 
relationship between myself and my pencil. Soul in this sense 
deepens the middle-ground between two (or more) entities. It is 
a “depth of field” that makes images — that is, particular kinds 
of relations — possible while making sure that they are never ex- 
haustive. In this way, the concept of soul defers and disperses the 
question of agency (and of subjectivity) into the depths of mat- 
ter — depths in which subjectivity might reside, but need not. It 
shimmers and hums within and around those things, setting off 
circulations of energy made possible by them. This, at least, is 
one way we might posit a sort of “object-process ontology.” 

Soul, in this sense, refers to the depth—potentially fath- 
omless — of objects as perceived by subjects, and at the same 
time of subjectivity in its captivation by objects. It is a quality 
of relations (which makes it relational) that is indicative of the 
recessive character of objects (which makes it object-oriented). 
It points toward objects’ withdrawal from relations, but is pro- 
duced relationally, through networks in which it circulates. Soul 
can expand or contract, and there may be objects or relations or 
practices that lead to the expansion and deepening of soulful- 
ness, and others that lead to its constriction. That would mean 
we could come up with ethical criteria or at least suggestive in- 
dicators for how to act and how to live (more on those in Part 
Two). In this sense, a pencil may have soul, but a world full of 
pencils, rulers, papers, and abacuses may be a little less soulful 
than a world full of old-growth forests, streams full of salmon, 
Japanese gardens, and whalesong. And it is the larger world of 
relational networks through which agency circulates that evokes 



questions of how to act in relations involving pencils, salmon, 
and other loci of soulful action. 

Earth jazz 

To further evoke the enactive nature of soulful, circulating agen- 
cy, consider musical improvisation. The universe gives rise to 
wondrous entities in its long history of spontaneity, relational 
responsiveness, habit-formation, and form-building. The hab- 
its start as rhythms, melodic chirps that turn into territorial 
refrains and calls, and that gradually maneuvre their way into 
verse patterns, melodies, harmonies, and polyrhythms. Distinct 
songs develop for particular purposes and gradually get released 
from those purposes, taken up into improvisational routines 
and performances, some of which crystallize into larger-scale 
structures, but only ever temporarily. 

There is a tendency to think that certain musical tradi- 
tions —the classical European, Indian, or Chinese, for in- 
stance — are more “highly evolved” than others. But there is no 
height involved here, just distance: they may be more distantly 
evolved, in the sense that they are more professionalized, spe- 
cialized, and extracted from any relationship with the rhythms 
of everyday labor (save for that of the musicians). That profes- 
sional distance is something that genres like rock, folk, and 
blues have historically rebelled against, and in the process have 
helped to maintain a broader scope for musical ecology. 

In their references to music and to the semiotic ethology of 
Jakob von Uexkiill, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari are pen- 
etrating guides into this musical-ecological-philosophical ter- 
ritory. Territories, for them, are built from a refrain. But so are 
openings to novelty: “One launches forth, hazards an improvi- 
sation. But to improvise is to join with the World, or meld with 
it. One ventures from home on the thread of a tune.” 

39 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and 
Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minne- 
sota Press, 1987), 313. 



An analogous, if more straightforward, account of ecology as 
a kind of “earth jazz” is found in Evan Eisenberg’s The Ecology of 
Eden. Eisenberg writes: 

All life plays variations on the same few chord changes. Each 
taxon improvises, following certain rules but obeying no pre- 
determined destiny. Each responds to the riffing, comping, 
noodling, and vamping of those around it. Life makes itself 
up as it goes along. [...] How do you collaborate with Gaia 
if you don't know exactly how she works, or what she wants? 
You do it, I think, by playing Earth Jazz. You improvise. You 
are flexible and responsive. You work on a small scale, and 
are ready to change direction at the drop of a hat. You en- 
courage diversity, giving each player—human or nonhu- 
man—as much room as possible to stretch out.*° 

That is as good a summary of adaptive management, one of the 
key principles of systems-theoretical ecological management, as 
any. Eisenberg’s Earth Jazz is about process and relationality. 
An objectologist may reply that even an improvisational 
outfit as perversely relational as the Grateful Dead is not im- 
mune to the reality of objects: their song “Dark Star” is still 
“Dark Star, “El Paso” is still “El Paso” and not “Morning Dew” 
(which it almost transmogrified into in one performance, ac- 
cording to the Deadheads commenting on YouTube), and Tom 
Verlaine’s band Television is still Television and not the Grateful 
Dead. (Verlaine once lamented the repeated comparisons made 
between his punk-ish “Marquee Moon” and the Dead’s “Dark 
Star,’ a song that Jerry Garcia and company amphibiously wove 
into a meanderingly delightful half-hour improvisation.) Or, to 
put it into more cashable terms, that “Stairway to Heaven” is 
still “Stairway to Heaven” and not Spirit’s “Taurus,” as a Califor- 
nia jury decided in June of 2016 despite the two songs’ similari- 
ties. And that rejoinder would be appropriate. But each of these 

40 Evan Eisenberg, The Ecology of Eden (New York: Vintage Books, 1998), 



songs can be traced to their origins, to the processes that gave 
rise to them, crystallized them, and carried those crystalliza- 
tions forward temporally and spatially. And those origins would 
be messy. 

This is something that is relevant to blogger Skholiast’s medi- 
tation on “Buddhism, objects, and eternity,’ which captures a 
few key points in the objects-processes debate. Skholiast’s de- 
fense of the idea of eternity is daring: “The ‘eternal objects’ of the 
sort I have in mind, he writes, “are the aspect of any object, the 
“side” if you like, that faces away from us in time. Within time, 
things come into being and pass away; they are determined by 
the churning or flow of a fractal interdependent causality. But 
eternally, in what one might not hesitate to call the World Soul, 
things are themselves, alone with the alone?" 

Skholiast is hewing close to Whitehead here, with the lat- 
ter’s “eternal objects” and his God who suffers with the sufferer 
and thereby redeems that suffering for eternity. Referring to the 
task of “re-enchanting the world” —a theme we will pick up in 
Part Three of this book— Skholiast contrasts the “religions of 
the book,’ with their Platonist presuppositions, against recent 
eco-Buddhist efforts to forge such a re-enchantment “out of in- 
terdependence alone,” “The eternal object,’ he writes, is “pre- 
cisely the face of the object in the sense Levinas uses the term,’ 
which is something ignored by the more fully relational forms 
of Buddhism. Then he cites an epiphany related in G.K. Chester- 
ton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday,” when the protagonist has a 
glimpse into the double-sidedness of human beings: 

When I see the horrible back [of a man], I am sure the noble 
face is but a mask. When I see the face but for an instant, I 
know the back is only a jest. Bad is so bad, that we cannot but 
think good an accident; good is so good, that we feel certain 
that evil could be explained... Shall I tell you the secret of the 

41 Skholiast, “Eternity and objects,’ Speculum Criticum Traditionis, June 10, 



whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the 
world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. 
That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, 
but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is 
stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in 

This could be taken as a response to Paul Klee’s “Angelus No- 
vus,” the painted angel (pictured as the frontispiece of this book) 
about whom Walter Benjamin wrote: 

This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is 
turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, 
he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage 
upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel 
would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what 
has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it 
has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel 
can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him 
into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of 
debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call 

Benjamin's angel, turned toward the past, sees only the backs of 
men and the wreckage they produce. Were he to turn toward 
the future, he may see more wreckage, but beyond it he may 
see its redemption by the World Soul, the anima mundi whose 
soul and intelligence contains all sin, all forgiveness, all continu- 
ity. Chesterton’s protagonist concludes, in defiance of Benjamin: 
“One might say, for shorthand: objects have souls.” 

Skholiast’s use of the Chesterton passage provides a redemp- 
tive twist to the objectologists’ notion of the perpetually with- 
drawing object, the object whose soul remains firmly and finally 

42 Walter Benjamin, “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” in Illuminations: 
Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn, 253-64 (New 
York: Schocken Books, 1969), 257-58. 



unknown, which also, they argue, makes it as worthy of respect 
as any other. But it also suggests that much depends on how we 
know things at all, and that the how is a variable we can learn to 
play with. Earth Jazz, of the relationalist sort, does not presume 
to ever know the others with whom and with which it plays 
along. But it maintains that play we must, whether this means 
muddling forward (as the Dead do through much of that ver- 
sion of “Dark Star”) or attaining peaks and plateaus (as Deleuze 
and Guattari urge us to, and as Television manages toward the 
end of “Marquee Moon’) that settle into further and different 
plateaus, never retracing their steps but always finding rhythms 
to lock into for a while, and then to release into another set. 

Earth Jazz in this sense recognizes that objects have 
souls—this is the precondition of living in an ensouled 
world — but it perceives those objects as players, relational pro- 
cesses, whose souls work their way into the playing, and which 
continue to develop, soulfully, in and through the playing. Soul, 
in this sense, is not the possession of objects; it is the way in 
which those objects are possessed (and prepossessed). It is their 
very nature. 

Skholiast, like the objectologists, opts for an idea of “eter- 
nity” (or in their case, withdrawal) that is a little too separate 
from the playing itself. Instead of Eternity — or a side of things 
locked away into a realm where it can never truly encounter 
others —I will opt for what Whitehead and especially Deleuze 
proclaim a virtuality, a space where the unmanifest and unac- 
tualized continues to churn, while remaining intimately inter- 
folded with the manifest and actualized. This virtuality is nei- 
ther present as actuality, but nor is it separate from actuality. It 
is folded through, but there are many folds and pleats to choose 
from in its patterns. If this is an eternity, it is a changeable one 
consisting of “back sides” that are not the eternal dark side of a 
unrevolving moon, but the mobile and ever withdrawing arcs 
of a moon that revolves in its relations with us and with oth- 
ers. And if the temporary “back sides” include some that are 
cosmically scaled, then there is no need for an Eternity to lure 
us toward new possibilities. That, perhaps, is why Whitehead 



himself replaced his “eternal objects” with the lure of “Eros, 
which, he wrote, “endows with agency all ideal possibilities.” 
And it is why his student and influential interpreter, philoso- 
pher Charles Hartshorne, insisted on the non-predetermined 
nature of those “eternal objects,” rendering them as “universals” 
that were “emergent” in an open and indeterminate universe. 

Meanwhile, improvisations degenerate, their elements get- 
ting whipped into commercial formulas, national anthems, or 
martial hymns. And new ones emerge out of our efforts to en- 
gage with their provocations, and to invent new and contrasting 

Where we find ourselves 

The point, for a process-relational philosophy, is to develop a 
vocabulary sensitive to the various kinds of relation, interaction, 
inhabitation, flow, change, emergence, network-building, and 
system-maintenance that make up a dynamic world, a world 
that develops new habits and actualizes new potentials at every 
step of its way. We find ourselves amidst those relations, tied to 
things, material densities, in specific ways, and come up against 
the challenges those ties, habits, and tendencies conspire to gen- 

Our questions, our matters of concern today — such as how 
to satisfy the requirements of seven and a half billion humans, 
how to balance these against each other, and how to manage 
our activities so they remain within an allowable basin of er- 
ror, rather than bifurcating through an irreversible shift in 
global climate systems to something unseen in millions of 
years — these are all questions of relational design (where design 
is a verb and not a noun), questions of composition. Habits and 
patterns of interaction have developed over time. Alliances have 

43 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 270. 

44 Charles Hartshorne, Whitehead’s Philosophy (Lincoln: University of Ne- 
braska Press, 1972), 32. And see Steve Odin, Tragic Beauty in Whitehead and 
Japanese Aesthetics (New York: Lexington, 2016), 144-45. 



been built — between humans, photosynthetic processes we call 
grasses, and herbivorous processes we identify with sheep, cows, 
and the like; and between humans and flesh-compounding pro- 
cesses that have given us fossil fuels. Interactions have intensi- 
fied, but knowledge of the sustainability of those interactions 
has lagged behind their novel production. Humans, like other 
animals, are experimental and pragmatic modes of functioning 
for whom error follows trial, learning follows error, and innova- 
tion, where it occurs, follows or accompanies learning. 

There are, in all such relations, matters of concern. There 
are things that happen, and that provoke a response. Observing 
the many things that happen, relational processes all, we note 
a scale of complexity and differentiation, of pattern-making at 
variable levels of order. There is feeling, feeding, oxygenating, 
reproducing, socializing, swarming, migrating, erupting, quak- 
ing, thinking, dramatizing, road- and city-building, boundary- 
maintaining and boundary-crossing, warring and peacemak- 
ing, atmosphere-carbonizing and ocean-plasticizing, and much 
more. These relational events, these networkings, are always and 
everywhere temporal, dynamic, interactive, effective, and affec- 
tive. They are verbs rather than nouns, processes rather than 
objects; they are verbs connecting nouns or nodes, which are 
temporary congealments, eddies in the stream. 

An amoeba responds to an object in its environment by mov- 
ing toward or away from it, or by ingesting a part of it. The mol- 
ecules of a slab of metal mingle with oxygen to produce rust. 
The slowness of the latter, and the minimal amount of agency 
compared to what we humans are used to, in no way eliminates 
the structural parallel with our own activities. Neither does the 
magnitude and impact of a much grander scale of event: a lake’s 
damming by a family of beavers; a gathering of world leaders 
upstream from the dam (say, in Bretton Woods, New Hamp- 
shire, in 1945, agreeing on an international financial architecture 
that will shape the world for the next forty-five summers); a vol- 
cano’s erupting 28 million years previous to that, extinguishing 
many of the life forms on the planet’s surface. Where in that 



range future geologists will place the Anthropocene is, as yet, 

There are events, which become matters of concern, and 
that is where we find ourselves. Mattering, they come to mind. 
Minding, we come to matter. And in the moment of contact 
there is a feelingful act, a decision, a choice, which is the hinge 
on which all things (perpetually) turn. It is where the action is. 
And with each turn of the wheel, each point of decision, each 
feelingful response to the world, a next world, with its new ar- 
rangement of possibilities, comes into being. 

Time’s arrow is in this sense asymmetrical, with novelty en- 
tering into every moment, changing the equation for the next 
moment and the next. As Whitehead put it, “[t]he creativity of 
the world is the throbbing emotion of the past hurling itself into 
a new transcendent fact. It is the flying dart, of which Lucre- 
tius speaks, hurled beyond the bounds of the world?* In the 
process, the world is continually renewed, and we are invited to 
be part of its renewal. How we, all of us — subatomic particles, 
organisms, suns — follow our invitations determines the trajec- 
tory of its further renewal. It is this matter of how we take up 
those matters of concern that matters most of all. (That will be 
the topic of Part 2.) 

Slice of time 

This model of time is worth contrasting a bit further with the 
more usual one. When we think of slicing into time to depict a 
moment of it, we typically picture it as a linear flow. Slicing into 
time, in this view, is like slicing into bread: on the left of the slice 
is the past (for those who read from left to right), on the right is 
the future, and the cut itself is where we are right now. The world 
as it appears to us is a cross-section of the loaf. Or, since we are 
in motion, we might conceive of ourselves as a train moving for- 
ward on the track of time: the tracks ahead of us are the future, 
those behind are the past, and we are the train. 

45 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 177. 



Physicists, at least since Einstein, complicate this with the 
notion of spacetime as a container that we are caught within. 
The tracks may move forward ahead of us, but on some level it 
is assumed that future and past are also in motion — that they 
make up a curved continuum within which we are caught, un- 
able to step out of (and thereby to become truly free), but some- 
how aware of the tension between the fact of our imprisonment 
within time and the desire to be able to act in it. 

A process-relational slice of time— which means a slice of 
the universe, or pluriverse, since time is not a container but only 
the durational dimension of the things that actually make up 
the pluriverse — is not like this. It looks more like a circle or a 
sphere, the outside perimeter of which is expanding, and the 
inside of which is being sucked into a black hole at its center. If 
we like the idea of time as a train, this train is one that is going 
in countless directions at once, spreading outward from a center 
and laying down its tracks, while swallowing those behind it, as 
it goes. It is a spherical train, a train as chaosmos. 

The expanding edge of the sphere consists of virtuali- 
ties — firstnesses, in Peirce’s terms — emerging into actuality, or 
secondness, and actualities emerging into significance, organ- 
ization, pattern, habit, law, or (together) thirdness. It is these 
that give shape to the universe. The secondnesses are its outer 
form, its exteriorities, or what Gregory Bateson (drawing on 
Carl Jung) called “Pleroma,” which is the empty, asignifiying 
“fullness” of what is observed and studied, say, by science. The 
thirdnesses are its felt meanings, its interiorities, its meshes of 
distinctions, or what Bateson (and Jung) called Creatura, that is, 
the meaning-laden Umwelten that creatures like us live. 

Since we are there at the outer edge, we see only what is with- 
in our perceptual-semiotic orbit, where our Umwelten meet the 
world; but this is true for all actual entities. (That orbit expands 
with recording and decoding mechanisms of various sorts such 
as oral and textual literacies, optical and archaeological tech- 
nologies, and so on; but let us leave that aside for now.) 

If there could be a seer who was able to see everything, he or 
she would only see that outer edge of the universe, where the ex- 



panding circle is continually becoming new. In Whitehead’s best 
known systematization, in Process and Reality, this seer, who is 
also a feeler and a sympathetic experiencer, is God. Opting for a 
non-theistic language (as do some of Whitehead’s interpreters), 
I prefer to think of it as Rigpa, the Dzogchen Buddhist term for 
the subjectless subjectivation that is “empty in essence, cogni- 
zant in nature, and unconfined in capacity:’** Or Satcitananda, 
the Advaita Vedanta word for the subjective experience of all 
that is, “existence-consciousness-bliss.” It is the background lu- 
minosity of the universe that surrounds the circle we are de- 
scribing, bathing it in a sympathetic cognizance. Perhaps we can 
agree to call it God and leave aside the question of what kind of 
relationship one might have with it (for the moment). 

The firstnesses emerge out of the differential structure of vir- 
tualities that makes up the interior side of the outer rim of the 
circle. This structure changes moment to moment alongside the 
processes of actualization that are its exterior side. 

The sucking that occurs in the middle of the circle is that 
of unactualized virtualities sinking into oblivion. Actuality is, 
in effect, always escaping away from the great sucking at the 
heart of the universe, the “dark flow” speeding into nothingness. 
Some virtualities escape into being, the rest escape into noth- 
ingness. Which of them go one way and which go the other is 
something that is determined by the decisive acts occurring all 
around at the outer perimeter of the sphere. And insofar as we 
act decisively, we contribute to the forward motion. For White- 
head, it is at the circumference of the universe where everything 
happens, where the darkness of virtuality emerges into the light 
of actualization. At the same time, the actualized world is cease- 
lessly passing over into objectivity: it becomes object, which 
means it becomes virtuality, potentiality, stuff from which, or 
in response to which, other stuff emerges. For Whitehead, any- 

46 See, e.g., Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Fearless Simplicity: The Dzogchen Way of Liv- 
ing Freely in a Complex World (Hong Kong: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 
2003), 88ff. For another non-theistic interpretation of Whitehead’s meta- 
physics, see Donald Sherburne, “Whitehead without God,’ Process Studies 
15, no. 2 (1986): 83-94. 



thing that has died to its own subjectivity — become object (or 
“superject”) — in this way becomes available for the creativity of 
subsequent arisings. 

It is here, at the circle’s edge, that the world that has been, 
the brute objectivity of the world that has concresced from 
previous acts, meets the spontaneously arising spaciousness of 
Rigpa, the emergently responsive luminosity of naked, subject- 
less subjectivity. In countless acts at this Edge of Things, this 
luminous subjectivity — which is neither mine, nor yours, nor 
anyone else’s, except that it is the becoming of each of us, sub- 
jectlessly subjectivating — selectively takes up the data arriving 
from the past, the virtual potentialities that are to shape the next 
moment, and the next, and casts aside those that will not shape 
it except by their absence. 

At this edge, then, is where the universe constantly folds 
out into new orchestrations, improvising along a million lines 
of feelingful decision. In his exegetical account of Whitehead’s 
“pancreativism,” Michel Weber explains why it is that concres- 
cence, which means the becoming of actuality, “does not hap- 
pen in the World, but at the edges of the World” It is there that 
novelty germinates, in and through the decisions that are part of 
every actual entity coming into being. “When [novelty] enters 
the World, it is fully integrated within its existing structure and 
modifies it?4 

Weber continues: “Subjectivity, i.e., existence of actuality per 
se [i.e., becoming], is articulated with objectivity, ie., being or 
potentiality. The former is the locus of (free) final causation; the 
latter of (deterministic) efficient causation. The durational pre- 
sent (i.e., the existence outside physical time) of the free con- 
crescing ‘actual occasion’ is bound with the past experiences 
sheltered by the transitional actual entities.”* 

Subjectivity arises in intimate embrace with the objectivities 
that it responds to, which are the bodies cast off by the men- 

47 Michel Weber, Whitehead’s Pancreativism: The Basics (Frankfurt: Ontos, 
2006), 26. 
48 Ibid., 27. 



tal potencies of other subjectivities. Put otherwise, “existence,” 
which is “actuality in the strong sense of the term—i.e., sub- 
jectivity as redefined by Whitehead independently of conscious 
experience [...] — takes place in an immediate present that does 
not belong to physical temporality and to its deterministic or- 
der. It belongs instead to the durational temporality that has 
been eminently explored by Bergson and James. Consequently, 
being, i.e., the World, is always already potential, past, deter- 
mined, temporalized.”*? 

To say that existence takes place outside the World while be- 
ing is both “past” and “potential” may sound paradoxical. Past 
is potential in that it is virtual; it is no longer real except insofar 
as it provides the conditioning determinations, the differential 
structures, with which becomings-subject contend with. Exist- 
ence itself is the contending, the subjectivating, the feeling—re- 
sponding-doing that constitutes all that is really real at any 
given moment. It is the World in its openness, its freedom, yet it 
is outside the World-as-already-there, because it is always what 
World is in process of becoming. “When the actuality-subject is 
satisfied,” Weber writes: 

[I]t topples into objectivity — it is released into the World in 
solido —, and becomes available as material for further con- 
crescences (ie., it starts exerting causal efficacy). There are 
thus two ways of speaking of the “after” of a concrescence: to 
speak of ‘actuality-object’ is to emphasize that it is the out- 
come of a concrescence; to speak of “actuality-superject” (as 
Process and Reality does) is to underline that it is itself at the 
root of further concrescences.” 

The “secret of the Whiteheadian ontological reform,’ Weber 

49 Ibid., xv. 
50 Ibid., 27-28. 



is quite simple: the actuality-subject grows, concresces, at 
the edges of the World — beyond the bounds of the world—, 
buttressing itself on the determinism materialized by the ac- 
tualities-object. “When” its organic growth is terminated, it 
topples into objectivity and becomes an actuality-object fully 
integrated in the mundane plenum.” 

Everything in the universe follows this movement, each in its 
own way, with its own degree of freedom or creativity and its 
own durationality. The percolating rhythm by which actualiza- 
tion occurs, one concrescence after another —a rhythm which 
differs for everything that is actualizing, but which congeals into 
patterns across differentiations — is the composite heart-beat of 
the universe. 

Another way of saying all this is that the only reality is the pre- 
sent moment. In the present moment we respond, feelingly and 
effectively, to things that affect us, and those responses create 
the conditions for the next present moment. What was possible 
a moment ago is no longer possible (in quite the same way) in 
this moment. “Virtualities” in this sense are possibilities or po- 
tentialities present to this moment. They are real in their pres- 
ence, which shapes the moment; they are virtual in that they 
have not been actualized. Most of them pass, they go down the 
black rabbit hole. Some get cashed, or actualized — like winning 
lottery prize tickets that get redeemed for $5 and turned into 
quarters for the next set of slot machine calls. (This is the uni- 
verse as Las Vegas.) 

All of this happens everywhere at once, for everything from 
quarks to neurons to rhizomes to people to nebulae (or, at least, 
for anything that’s thinging, for anythinging). At any given mo- 
ment, the range of possibilities for action is determined by eve- 
rything that led up to this moment, but the actual decision of 
what happens is left up to us to the extent that we (quarks, peo- 
ple, nebulae, whatever) are capable of acting on it. This capacity 

51 Ibid., xv. 



is the capacity for freedom in every moment, and it is present in 
every real thing going. 

The only “cash” carried over from one moment to the next is 
made of the effects of what we do, which is what in South Asia 
has been called karma (and which has been repeatedly misun- 
derstood by westerners, and maybe by easterners, too). If we 
carry less of it around with us—less gluey wanting-things-to- 
be-this-way-or-that-way — and instead receive and respond, go 
with the rhythm, doing what's best in a world of shared expe- 
rience among entities that recognize their solidarity with each 
other — that makes for the best jazz. What this looks like, if we 
could slice into the whole thing at once, is a circle that keeps 
expanding (on the outside) and contracting (on the inside), on 
and on. Or so it appears to the knife-edge that is doing the slic- 
ing. (To us, when eyes are most open, it is much richer, more 
divergent, and more beautiful.) 

Eventology 1 

For an object-oriented ontologist, an important question to 
answer is: How do things enter into relation with other things? 
And what happens (in the world) when they do? For a process- 
relational eventologist, on the other hand, there is no question 
of entering into relations, since they are always already entered 
into. The question is always how to alter existing relations, how 
to move them and shape them, how to respond to what is given. 
What are the different ways of moving with and against existing 
relations so as to reshape them, enhance them, enlarge them, 
soften them, tweak them, beautify them, link them with others? 

If everything is an event, the question is how to distinguish 
between different kinds of events. Events can be defined as new 
relations arising somewhat unpredictably from the encounter 
of previously unconnected processes. If all things are taken to 
be organized sets of processes, bounded or unbounded, open 
or closed in varying degrees, then events would be occurrences 
that do not merely repeat cycles of activity, but that bring new 
things —new relations —into existence. They always feature 



the setting-off of processual action into a new direction, or into 
many. The general parameters of an event may be more or less 
predictable, but there is always an element of unpredictability, 
because of the creativity instantiated in the “creative advance 
into novelty,’ as Whitehead termed it, that constitutes that event. 

To an eventologist, an archaeologist of what happens in the 
moment after it has happened, there are at least three kinds of 
events: events, Events, and Events. The first is the class of any 
and all events. “Wherever and whenever something is going on,” 
Whitehead wrote, “there is an event.’* Events are things that 
happen —hyper-forms of relational enactment, consisting of 
assemblages becoming something other than themselves. What 
is required for something to be an event is a doing and a being- 
done-to: a bipolar passage between a becoming-subject and a 
becoming-object (or several such). An event is, in this sense, 
any smallest movement or shift in the structure of the universe, 
a universe that is made up precisely of such movements. 

The second kind, the Event, is an event that wraps far more 
into itself than a typical observer (if there were such a thing) 
could have predicted. There is a certain confluence of trajecto- 
ries and flows, and then suddenly, a manifold of new events has 
arisen. Things have shifted, dramatically. A set of relational sys- 
tems finds itself suddenly spun into a higher orbit. One might as 
well call this a Hyper-Event — analogous to Timothy Morton's 
“hyperobject;” but that capital “E” saves us from the question- 
able suffix. Such an Event encompasses not a single prehensive 
occasion, but a meeting of processual consistencies out of which 
arises an unpredictable set of distinctly new processes, which in 
turn expand the circle of affective horizons by which their ef- 
fects reverberate into the universe. 

Uprisings and political revolutions are examples of such 
Events, and their causes are always somewhat mysterious.® 

52 A.N. Whitehead, The Concept of Nature (New York: Cambridge University 
Press, 1920), 78. 

53 Alain Badiou’s conception of “the Event,” which is always unpredictable and 
radically contingent, yet which always ruptures a given social order, would 
seem to qualify as a form of “the Event” as I am describing it. While all 



Historians may reconstruct some of their contributing streams 
and may come up with theories to account for them, but these 
almost always remain contestable. They are moments when sud- 
denly much more is at stake than is normally the case. 

Of course, there is no universal measure for distinguishing 
a mere “event” from an “Event.” The Events of interest to me 
will be different from those of interest to the ant crawling on 
the window in front of me. Epistemology in this sense always 
impinges on ontology; categories are affected by the perceptual 
capacities of those for whom they are relevant. In a process-rela- 
tional view, all that there is consists of events, which we can take 
as open moments — relational alignments opening up onto 
particular sets of possibilities, of which some become actualized 
and others do not, through the activity of the singular points of 
agency woven into each of them. But revolutionary moments 
are big moments, those in which many highly dynamic process- 
es converge to create possibilities for radical change spanning 
layers and levels of activity that rarely get aligned all together in 
one fell swoop. 

Moments like these take a lot of groundwork to become pos- 
sible — preparation such as the various action plans drawn up 
by Egyptian activists in the lead-up to Tahrir Square in 2011, or 
the manifestoes and years of agitation leading up to the Rus- 
sian or Chinese revolutions. But they also arrive very much of 
their own accord, a re-alignment of stars and planets (or class 
formations and technological capacities) as much as of anything 
else. In the midst of such moments it is impossible to tell where 
things will end up. What will be the shape of the new constel- 
lation that emerges once the dust is settled? Which social and 
political groups will take power into their hands, and what kind 
of redistribution of power (and of its shadow, exclusion) will oc- 

of Badiou’s primary examples of such “Events” are of political revolutions 
(the Paris Commune, the Russian and Maoist revolutions, and May 68), 
his secondary examples range more freely across human (but always hu- 
man) experience: for instance, falling in love, or Schoenberg's invention of 
12-tone seriality. See Badiou, Being and Event, trans. Oliver Feltham (New 
York: Continuum, 1995). 



cur? Which figures, and which slogans and ideas, will rise above 
others? Which elements (military, police, churches, intellectual 
groupings, and so on) will turn against their traditional allies 
or masters, and which will not? Or will it all slide back into a 
hardened and more brazen authoritarian grip for another few 
years or decades? 

When there is so much in play, the possibilities for 
change—for high-amplitude remodulation, quantum leaps, 
and unpredictable reconfigurations — reach the level of a chaot- 
ics that cannot be controlled by any single player. This is when 
the cosmos is really and truly a chaosmos, a fluctuating order 
that is generative of novelty on such a scale as to be out of any- 
one’s hands. Agency is splintered along a million points of light, 
points that can only be coordinated through an affective reso- 
nance and a momentum that is notoriously difficult to shape 
and direct. 

There are moments that combust (Berlin and Prague 1989, 
Egypt 2011, Kyiv 2014, Chiapas 1994) and those that fail to com- 
bust (Tehran 2009, the protests at cop-15 in Copenhagen, the 
attempted coup of July 2016 in Turkey). There are moments 
whose combustion is partial and symbolic, more a redistribu- 
tion of what is already burning than a combustion of the total 
field (as with the first public declaration of the Zapatistas on 
New Year’s Day, 1994). Each such moment consists of poten- 
tialities emerging out of a mega-constellation of processes and 
turning in a certain new direction — launching into a different 
orbit — which resuscitates the set of conditions that gave rise to 
it, in an altered yet loosely related form. What is time if it is 
punctuated by swirling moments, some of which leap into a new 
orbit and some of which fail to do so? It is a cyclical yet always 
differentiating space. 

The larger the constellation, the less predictable its aftermath. 
The East European revolutions of 1989-90 left behind a mixed 
legacy, but only a die-hard Bolshevik or authoritarian central- 
ist would argue that they did not open up possibilities that, 
whether realized so far or not, are better left open than bottled 
up as they had been under Soviet rule. Ukraine's 2004 Orange 



Revolution changed a few things for the better (making media 
more pluralistic, and giving people a taste, at least, of radical 
democratic action) but merely realigned others (such as the oli- 
garchic clan formations that had carved up power since Ukraine 
became independent) in ways that ensured their pliability for 
larger powers-that-be. Iran 2009 merely slid back into a more 
hardened authoritarian rule. Iran 1979, on the other hand, cata- 
pulted a reserve of seething energy into a form of totalistic au- 
thoritarianism that was entirely different from, yet not distinctly 
better than, what it replaced. Michel Foucault wasn’t the only 
one enthusiastic for that revolution at the time, and many have 
harkened back to that outcome in warning against enthusiasm 
over current events. 

Eventology 2 

The events mentioned so far are cast against the background of 
a stable, more or less unified human subject. They are events 
of Humanity. None threaten that subject thoroughly and com- 
pletely. Which leads us to posit a third kind of event, an Event 
sous rature: not a non-Event, nor (exactly) a non-event, but an 

Let’s take the Event of La Soufriére, Werner Herzog’s 1977 
film about the anticipated eruption in 1976 of an active volcano 
on the island of Guadeloupe. As in his quasi-science-fictional 
films — Fata Morgana (1971), Lessons of Darkness (1992), Wild 
Blue Yonder (2005) — Herzog affects a tone of tender and lyri- 
cal, apocalyptic beauty, a resignation in the face of what appears 
to be humanity's passing. Like Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), 
Heart of Glass (1976), Grizzly Man (2005), and several of his oth- 
er films, it is also about the human encounter with an indifferent 
but powerful (capital-n) Nature. 

The same elements that later appear in Lessons of Darkness, a 
film about the burning oil fields of Iraq, and in different permu- 
tations in several other films — moving vehicle and helicopter 
shots of a landscape emptied of humans, orchestral music in- 
cluding the Prelude to Act I of Wagner’s Parsifal, and the feeling 



ofa waiting, as if something momentous is about to occur, or has 
already occurred, or both —are already present in La Soufriere, 
though without the cinematographic intensity of Lessons of 
Darkness. At times the film is like an archaeological dig through 
an abandoned city, or a devastated one (the town of Saint-Pierre 
in Martinique). At others it is about sheer contact — between 
the camera and the world — and about its embarrassed failure, 
the “inevitable catastrophe that did not take place” This is the 
failure that, Herzog seems to be suggesting, haunts the cinéma 
vérité desire to be there when It, whatever It may be, occurs. 

Like most of Herzog’s films, La Soufriére blurs several sets 
of lines: between documentary and fiction (a line that Herzog 
prides himself on dissolving, though here he hews closer to the 
first pole), between observation and performative enactment 
(in that his own persona is ever-present — here taking his crew 
up to the caldera to poke their camera inside the steaming vol- 
cano, as if to dare nature to scald them with some smoke and 
ash), and between the hilarious and the deadly serious. The film 
highlights the barbed irony that when, in 1902, the inhabitants 
of neighboring Martinique were preparing to leave before an 
anticipated volcanic eruption, their governor persuaded them 
to stay; 30,000 died. Now, seventy-five years later, the inhabit- 
ants left (except for the few that Herzog’s crew finds and inter- 
views, and of course, Herzog himself, attracted to the volcano 
like a moth to the flame). And the volcano... balked. 

Herzog notes an “embarrassment” in this, “something pa- 
thetic for us in the shooting of this picture,’ in that the film be- 
comes “a report on an inevitable catastrophe that did not take 
place.” Catastrophe here, however, is accompanied with pathos 
and wry comedy, as with the schmaltzy, orchestral rendition of 
Eric Carmen's pop hit “All By Myself? its melody taken from 
Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, adding a layer of sur- 
reality to the camera's panning across the island’s vacated land- 
scapes. (Anyone who has heard the Carmen song — “All by my- 
self,/ Don't want to be/ All by myself/ Anymore” — knows it is 
the kind of melody that can never be unheard, even if the chorus 
ist actually heard in the film.) 



Or take Lessons of Darkness, a film composed of documen- 
tary images of the burning oil fields of Kuwait in the wake of 
the First Gulf War of 1990-91. Herzog shows little interest in 
the film in helping us understand why the war occurred or who 
should be held responsible for it. Instead, he presents us with 
just the images themselves clothed in the quasi-science-fiction- 
al, apocalyptic garb of his occasional voice-over narration and 
subtitles: “A planet in our solar system,” “A Capital City,’ “The 
War, “After the Battle, “Finds from Torture Chambers,’ “Satan’s 
National Park,” “And a Smoke Arose Like a Smoke from a Fur- 
nace,’ and “I am so tired from sighing; Lord, let it be night.” The 
result is an ironic apocalypse of a hell on earth that is visually 
sublime but politically intangible — “a requiem,’ as he has called 
it, “for a planet that we ourselves have destroyed.”** Like an ex- 
traterrestrial visitor to the post-apocalypse, Herzog is vulner- 
able here to the same critiques that followers of deep ecology 
have faced for years: that by identifying the perpetrators of the 
ecological crisis with an all-embracing “us,” we lose the political 
precision necessary for understanding how it came about, who 
has benefited from it, who has suffered most, and how to chal- 
lenge the institutional actors responsible for it. 

Yet Herzog’s artistic decisions can be defended on the grounds 
that we already knew enough about the war. Viewers at the time 
had already seen the videogame-like images that characterized 
American media coverage of the war, and they were likely to al- 
ready have well-formed opinions about the justifications for the 
war. With its “stubborn refusal to contextualize itself? as Nadia 
Bozak puts it, the film intended to present the images differently. 
Bozak writes that in contrast to the frenzy of cable television 
coverage of the war, Lessons of Darkness “slows down and even 
fossilizes the events of the war, turning fire-fighting machinery 
into dinosaurs, abandoned weaponry into ancient bones.”* Such 
aestheticization had long been Herzog’s response to the politi- 

54 Paul Cronin, ed., Herzog on Herzog (London: Faber and Faber, 2002), 249. 
55 Nadia Bozak, “Firepower: Herzog’s Pure Cinema as the Internal Combus- 
tion of War,” CineAction 68 (2006): 18-25, at 24. 



cal violence of the world. In a 1979 interview, he stated that “we 
live in a society that has no adequate images anymore” and that 
“if we do not find adequate images and an adequate language 
for our civilization with which to express them, we will die out 
like the dinosaurs.” Referring to the environmental issues of the 
time, he continued: “We have already recognized that problems 
like the energy shortage or the overpopulation of the world are 
great dangers for our society and for our kind of civilization, 
but I think that it has not been understood widely enough that 
we absolutely need new images.”® If this was true in the 1970s, 
one would presume it no less true in the 1990s, and perhaps 
much more so in the second and third decades of the twenty- 
first century. 

The newness of Herzog’s images can be disputed. They are, 
after all, a reiteration of well-known western tropes: apocalypse, 
humanity’s decline, and the futility ofhope, all set to a soundtrack 
of Wagner, Mahler, Prokofiev, Verdi, Schubert, Grieg, and Arvo 
Part. My interest in these images is that the event they point to 
is not an event that has actually happened, but nor is it an event 
that can happen — to a subject that experiences events, that lives 
through them, that survives them. The Event can never be wit- 
nessed fully insofar as it undermines the very subjectivity, the 
very witnessing capacity, of those for whom it is an Event. It can 
only be ever gestured at, only witnessed through its before and 
its after, its ominous, rumbling premonitions and its decisive yet 
ambiguous aftermath, an aftermath that remains ever fictional, 
virtual, ever on the horizon, but never fully present. 

Unlike Alain Badiou’s “Event,” the Herzogian Event is not 
historical. It is not a lightning streak that marks history with 
the shadow of its exposure —as with May 68, or the Russian 
or French or American revolutions, or the messianic event that 
initiated the history of Christendom (alongside its Pauline rec- 
ognition, from which the historical event of “Jesus of Nazareth” 

56 Werner Herzog, Roger Ebert, and Gene Walsh, Images at the Horizon: A 
Workshop with Werner Herzog (Chicago: Facets Multimedia, 1979), 21. 
57 Badiou, Being and Event. 



can hardly be separated). Rather, the Event is one before which 
humanity pales into insignificance, even if our creative capacity 
to reach out to that Event is worth celebrating (as Herzog does). 
The Event is closer to an anti-Event, a form of anti-matter to 
the matter of human events (or Events). And Herzog, sublime 
ironist that he is, takes this Derridean absence of Eventness to 
be part of the Evental structure. 

Introducing his translation of Feu la cendre (Cinders), Jacques 
Derrida’s poetic meditation on time, loss, language, and trauma, 
Ned Lukacher asks, “At what temperature do words burst into 
flame? Is language itself what remains of a burning?”* Derrida’s 
reference point is the Holocaust, but it is also the entry into lan- 
guage, which resonates with Jacques Lacan’s notion of a gap be- 
tween the Real and the Symbolic. With its implied reference to 
the cultural memory of Pompeii— Western civilization’s arche- 
typal reference point for volcanically cataclysmic trauma — Her- 
zog’s La Soufriére dwells on the signature of the Event. Like a 
nuclear explosion that leaves its radioactive shadow splayed 
across everything, the traumatic Event leaves everything askew, 
haunted by a spectre and ringing with inaudible or incompre- 
hensible sounds. The vacated city, the empty landscape, the city 
frozen in time, with its illegible ciphers, the Event is an Event we 
can never return to because it has not yet happened, but which 
we can nevertheless perpetually circle around. Something at its 
core eludes us like a black hole that sucks its own reality away 
from our efforts to find it. 

That Event today goes by the name of the Anthropocene, if 
only because that name projects forward to a time when the 
present will have become covered over, one layer sandwiched 
between others in a past that is only accessible through its cin- 
ders. A time when time as we know it (or don’t, rather) will have 
overcome the us who know it, along with the time in which it 
was known. 

58 Ned Lukacher, “Introduction: Mourning Becomes Telepathy,” in Jacques 
Derrida, Cinders, ed. and trans. Ned Lukacher (Lincoln: University of Ne- 
braska Press, 1991), 3. 



The eruption of Eyjafjallajokull as seen from Porolsfell on May 10, 
2010. Photo by David Karna/Wikimedia Commons. 

It eludes us because it is no longer there: once we have rec- 
ognized it, it is gone. That, after all, is the nature of dwelling in a 
universe of perpetual becoming that is also a perpetual perish- 

Glimpses of the Event have been around forever; we like to 
call them “sublime.” In modern times, science has brought many 
to us. Geology in its emergence portended a vastness that threat- 
ened common conceptions of humanity’s centrality to all things. 
In recent years, there has emerged a veritable industry of such 
posthuman Events, found in books like Alan Weisman’s The 
World Without Us and media productions like National Geo- 
graphic’s Aftermath: Population Zero and The History Channel’s 
Life After People (both partly inspired by Weisman’s volume). 
Many of these make use of real places, such as Chernobyl’s Zone 

59 Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007); 
Aftermath: The World After Humans (National Geographic/Cream Produc- 
tions, Canada, 2008); Life After People (dir. David De Vries, History Chan- 
nel, USA, 2008). 



of Alienation (the roughly 1000-square-mile zone evacuated af- 
ter the 1986 nuclear accident, to which I will return in Part 3), to 
depict this rendering of human absence. In this sense, there are 
real places that have become emblems, reminders, of this Event 
of our extinction. 

There is, in all of this, a dialectic between Events and Events. 
What better name, one might wonder, for this dialectic than Ey- 
jafjallajokull? As an Icelandic tourist site put it in 2010, under 
the redundantly emphatic heading “No reason for travelers to 

There are no reasons for travelers to worry about their trip 
to Iceland. This is a small volcano. Yet immensely beautiful 
and uniquely situated in stunning surroundings. The lava 
waterfalls tumbling down hundres of meters are a lifetime 
memory for all that can behold it! [...] It is difficult to predict 
how long the volcanic eruption will last. It could end tomor- 
row but it could also last for days, weeks or even months. All 
the more reason to COME Now and see nature at its finest!” 

Come. See. Nature at its finest. Unlike Herzog’s Soufriére, Eyjaf- 
jallajokull blew... 

Humanity’s extinction, like the end of the world and the end 
of the self, is the primal extinction that defines us (to the extent 
that there is an “us”) in our finitude and our ultimate empti- 
ness. This posthuman gesture is toward a beyond that is familiar 
to the tradition of apophatic mysticism, which has carved out 
a less than comfortable home within Buddhist, Christian, and 
other mystical traditions (and to be explored more in Part Two). 

In the words ascribed to the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara by 
the Buddhist text known across East Asia as the “Heart Sutra? 
we are exhorted to go altogether beyond: Gate gate paragate 
parasamgate bodhi svaha! “Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone al- 
together beyond. Oh what an awakening, all hail!”*° Going be- 

60 This translation of the famous mantra from the Heart Sutra, the most re- 
nowned of Buddhist sutras (teachings) in much of the East Asian world, is 



yond humanism, beyond anthropocentrism, and even beyond 
the possibility of a world that is knowable to us or to anyone 
who identifies with our “us.” 

This is its impossibility, and thus its Reality. As Tweedledee 
remarked to Alice in response to her protestations that she was 
real: “You won't make yourself a bit realer by crying” Perhaps he 
meant: you, humanity, will only make yourselves a bit realer by 
crying. But a bit realer is not quite Reality itself, which is, and 
will remain, forever inaccessible. Always beyond. 

But then so is humanity itself. Ever beyond our reach. Which 

is Reality. 

Edward Conze’s; see Conze, Buddhist Scriptures (New York: Penguin, 1959), 
164. On the Heart Sutra, see Kazuaki Tanahashi, The Heart Sutra: A Com- 
prehensive Guide to the Classic of Mahayana Buddhism (Boulder: Shamb- 
hala, 2016). 





Returning to immanence 

Going beyond, or remaining here: that is the decision-point of 
every decision, the openness at the heart of every becoming, 
the difference that differentiates each repetition from the same. 
How to remain here and go beyond at the same time. 

Here we come to the paradox of the immanent. The word 
“immanence” has become a slippery signifier in continental phi- 
losophy. In a work examining four currently influential French 
philosophers of immanence— Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, 
Michel Henry, and Francois Laruelle—John Mullarkey notes 
that “Immanence is everywhere, but its meaning is completely 
open: that is our problem.” He then provides four “lexical defi- 
nitions” of immanence: “Existing or remaining within’; being 
‘inherent’; being restricted entirely to some ‘inside’; existing and 
acting ‘within the physical world” 

Immanence here, and most commonly, is counterposed 
against transcendence: either the world accounts for itself, 
needing no further explanation, or we must appeal to larger 
forces — God or gods, spirits, the Cogito, Being, Ideas, the tran- 

1 John Mullarkey, Post-Continental Philosophy: An Outline (London: Con- 
tinuum, 2006), 20. 



scendental consciousness, non-material forces of one kind or 
another, and so on — something that transcends the world and 
gives it its dynamism, its reason, or its meaning. In religious, 
and especially monotheistic, thinking, a theology of transcend- 
ence provides the background of all thinking. (Which, ironical- 
ly, makes it immanent to all thinking.) By contrast, a theology 
of immanence is one that posits that god(s) or spirit(s) are not 
relegated to some heavenly realm from which access is close- 
ly guarded, but that, if they are to be found at all, they will be 
found in the world, in matter, and at the heart of every moment. 
(In the reaching.) 

Putting it this way suggests the terms are always relative: if 
there is transcendence, it is because we have restricted the im- 
manent to a certain domain — materiality, or physical law, or 
something else — and thereby rendered it insufficient. But if the 
world is unbounded, then its immanence is always open. That is 
the leap of faith in the philosophies of Deleuze and Whitehead, 
to name two philosophers of “immanent transcendence.” At 
the heart of the world, and of things, is an openness that breaks 
apart the causal dependencies that would otherwise lock the 
universe into stasis. 

All four of Mullarkey’s thinkers of immanence are process 
philosophers of a sort: they seek “process truth (for Badiou); 
process vitalism (for Deleuze); process theoretics (for Laruelle); 
process phenomenology (for Henry). In each case,’ Mullar- 
key continues, “there is a focus on how immanence relates to 
change.”? Deleuze differs from the others in his insistence that 
there are two “worlds” within the immanent: an actual world 
that is conditioned by a virtual world, for which repetition al- 
ways comes with difference. The immanent, for Deleuze, is itself 
the source of novelty. Creativity, or creative repetition, as it is for 
Whitehead, is at the core of becoming; and becoming is all that 
there is. This suggests not that there is no transcendence, but 
that transcendence is of the immanent, that it is the openness at 
its heart. Or as Deleuze puts it in one of his last writings, entitled 

2 Ibid, 21. 



“Immanence: A Life,” the transcendent precedes “the world of 
the subject and the object,’ and immanence is itself a “transcen- 
dental field,” an activity that can only be ascribed to the sheer 
indefiniteness of “a life”: 

A life is everywhere, in all the moments that a given living 
subject goes through and that are measured by given lived 
objects: an immanent life carrying with it the events or sin- 
gularities that are merely actualized in subjects and objects. 
This indefinite life does not itself have moments [...], but 
only between-times, between-moments.* 

Whitehead, likewise, writes: 

The only intelligible doctrine of causation is founded on the 
doctrine of immanence. Each occasion presupposes the an- 
tecedent world as active in its own nature. [...] We are in the 
world and the world is in us. [...] The body is ours, and we 
are an activity within our body.° 
Taking issue with the common translation of Descartes’ “Cogi- 
to, ergo sum” as “T think, therefore I am, Whitehead writes: 

I find myself as essentially a unity of emotions, enjoyments, 
hopes, fears, regrets, valuations of alternatives, decisions — all 
of them subjective reactions to the environment as active in 
my nature. My unity [...] is my process of shaping this welter 
of material into a consistent pattern of feelings.° 

There are three elements making up this “unity”: 

3 Gilles Deleuze, Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life, trans. Anne Boyman 
(New York: Zone Books, 2001), 25. 

4 Ibid., 29. 

5 Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought (New York: Free Press, 1968), 

6 Ibid., 228. 



If we stress the role of the environment, this process is causa- 
tion. If we stress the role of my immediate pattern of active 
enjoyment, this process is self-creation. If we stress the role of 
the conceptual anticipation of the future whose existence is 
a necessity in the nature of the present, this process is the te- 
leological aim at some ideal in the future. This aim, however, 
is not really beyond the present process. For the aim at the 
future is an enjoyment in the present.” 

Life, he continues, “is the enjoyment of emotion, derived from 
the past and aimed at the future. [...] Each occasion is an activ- 
ity of concern, in the Quaker sense of that term. It is the con- 
junction of transcendence and immanence.”® 

In a time of AnthropoCapitalist turbulence, how might we 
take this enjoyment of the present and hurl it into an objective 
engagement with the things that concern us deeply? 

A time of suffering 

There will be death and dying and weeping there, and gnashing 
of teeth. There will be suffering. 

To point to something like this today is to risk discrediting 
the finger one points with. Suffering is, suffering will be: such 
was the message of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, twenty- 
five centuries ago. Saying that in a world of apparent plenty 
sounds quaintly doomish. Is the universe a universe of (only) 
suffering? Does the extent and quantity of suffering outmatch 

7 Ibid., 227-28. 

8  Ibid., 229-30. For other articulations of “immanent transcendence” see Pa- 
trice Haynes, Immanent Transcendence: Reconfiguring Materialism in Con- 
tinental Philosophy (New York: Bloomsbury, 2012); James Williams, “Im- 
manence and Transcendence as Inseparable Processes: On the Relevance of 
Arguments from Whitehead to Deleuze Interpretation,’ Deleuze Studies 4, 
no. 1 (2010): 94-106; Kenneth Inada, “Immanent Transcendence: The Pos- 
sibility of an East-West Philosophical Dialogue,’ Journal of Chinese Philoso- 
phy 35, no. 3 (2008): 493-510; Jan Engberts, “Immanent Transcendence in 
Chinese and Western Process Thinking,” Philosophy Study 2, no. 6 (2012): 
377-83; and the work of Japanese Kyoto School philosopher Nishida Kitaro. 



the extent and quantity of hope, of joy, or of the satisfaction 
(however temporary) of desires, projects, and pursuits? On a 
cosmic scale, how could we even begin to know the answer to 
that calculus? Is it not a bit comical to ask it today? 

In times of catastrophe, the only genuine question is what 
to do now. This is not because of the catastrophe. If the calls of 
catastrophe turn out to be false alarms, the question will still be 
what to do now. To an eventologist, that is always the question. 

When Siddhartha Gautama developed an analysis of the fun- 
damental dissatisfaction at the heart of human existence, he (or 
his followers) characterized it according to a medical model, 
with a diagnosis, an etiology, a prognosis, and a prescription 
for treatment. His Four Noble Truths denote four fundamental 
facts attested to by the Buddha: the fact of dukkha, or existential 
suffering; the cause of it, which is craving for and attachment to 
that which passes; the possibility of eliminating that cause; and 
the path toward that elimination.? 

Following a similar model today, we might try to diagnose 
something that is specific and unique to our time. Let us call 
it the excess suffering attributable to the processes of the An- 
thropoCapitalocene. Its four truths run roughly parallel to the 

1. The Existence of Excess Suffering: We all hunger, thirst, experience 
misfortune, get sick, witness others’ deaths, and die ourselves. 
But some get sick more often, experience more misfortune than 
others, and die more often (metaphorically speaking, but also 
statistically) for reasons that are not “natural,” but that are po- 
litical and economic in origin. While such suffering has gone on 
for as long as humans have had the polities and economies that 
generate it, its quantity has taken a measurable upward curve in 

9 Buddhism includes a vast philosophical tradition, and even summarizing 
something as simple as its “Four Noble Truths” is tricky territory. For those 
interested in Buddhist philosophy’s intersections and differences from ma- 
jor western philosophical positions, I strongly recommend Jay Garfield’s 
Engaging Buddhism: Why It Matters to Philosophy (New York: Oxford Uni- 
versity Press, 2015). 



recent times. In conditions of the A/Cene, it is likely to continue 
increasing. It constitutes a new turbulence within the fabric of 
socio-ecological relations on this planet. 

2. The Cause of Excess Suffering: This uneven distribution of environ- 
mental benefits and risks is produced by a particular system of 
relations, a system that works through extractive capitalization, 
or the rendering of more and more of the world into ownable 
resources, tradable commodities, exchangeable labor markets, 
and opportunities for economic profit. (Capitalization can pro- 
ceed comfortably even under labels that reject the term “capital- 
ism, as in so-called Communist China or the Soviet Union.) 
By rendering buried and stored carbon deposits into industrial 
fuels, this system created the most productive and, at the same 
time, most destructive civilization in human history. Fossil fuel 
capitalism in its various forms has created great abundance, but 
at the price of high health risks, toxic by-products, large-scale 
disruption of ecosystems, and impending global climate change, 
with potentially suicidal intensification of risks to humans and 

These costs have usually been deflected outward, off-loaded, 
rather than being accounted for internally. This is a kind of mis- 
recognition by the system of its own nature, a misrecognition 
Nicholas Mirzoeff has called “auto-immune climate-changing 
capitalism syndrome,’ or aicccs (which rhymes with “aches” 
and is accompanied by pains)." It is a state of “dis-ease,” but also 

10 This argument has been made (with numerous variations) by an expand- 
ing cadre of sociologists, geographers, economists, and others. For a few 
perspectives on it, see Jason W. Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life: Ecol- 
ogy and the Accumulation of Capital (London: Verso, 2015); Tim di Muzio, 
Carbon Capitalism: Energy, Social Reproduction and World Order (London: 
Rowman & Littlefield, 2015); and R. Scott Frey, Paul K. Gellert, and Harry 
FE. Dahms, eds., Ecologically Unequal Exchange: Environmental Injustice in 
Comparative and Historical Perspective (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). 

uu Nicholas Mirzoeff, “Autoimmune Climate-Changing Capitalism Syndrome: 



a form of self-protection for the system as it slowly destroys the 
basis on which it thrives. 

This self-protective deflection of reality has been aided by 
two “bubbles.” The first is a very long-term real estate bubble: 
the 12,000 year Holocene Bubble that humans and our com- 
panions have flourished within, but which now is bursting. As 
it bursts, the “established patterns and regularity of Holocene 
phenology” are “unraveling, in Glenn Albrecht’s words. They 
are likely to be followed by a “new abnormal” in which “life 
will be characterised by uncertainty, unpredictability, genuine 
chaos and relentless change. Earth distress, as manifest in global 
warming, changing climates, erratic weather, acidifying oceans, 
disease pandemics, species endangerment and extinction, bio- 
accumulation of toxins and the overwhelming physical impact 
of exponentially-expanding human development will have its 
correlates in human physical and mental distress.”” 

The second bubble is a shorter term, more intensive per- 
ceptual (and political-economic) bubble, a Bubble of Willed 
Ignorance. This is the real or pretended ignorance about inter- 
dependency and global injustice that is perpetuated within sys- 
tems of media paid for and dominated by the classes that benefit 
most from the A/Cene regime. 

3. The Healing of Excess Suffering: It is possible to eliminate this excess 
socio-ecological suffering in at least two related ways: by inter- 
nalizing the costs, or the “bads,’ so that they are factored into 
the production of the “goods”; and by spreading the goods and 
bads much more justly and evenly. The first is a form of indus- 
trial ecology, requiring the transformation of systems of produc- 
tion and consumption from open and debt-bearing ones into 
closed-loop, regenerative ones; it is mostly a technical task. The 
second is a form of economic (but not only economic) democ- 

12 Glenn Albrecht, “Exiting the Anthropocene and Entering the Symbiocene,” 
Minding Nature 9, no. 2 (2016), 



racy: it would democratize decisions over what to produce and 
how to produce it; this is a mostly political task. 

Astrobiologist Adam Frank has suggested that energy- 
intensive planetary civilizations like ours can expect to face a 
“sustainability bottleneck” once we begin to use up the stored 
carbon of millennia.? The fact that the universe apparently gen- 
erates the conditions for the emergence of such civilizations (we 
are, in fact, here) tells us that, to the best of our guesses, we are 
part of a game of chance and of skill, a kind of cosmic evolution- 
ary process, which in turn gives us a realistic hope that we might 
make it through. (Or not.) Realistically speaking, our chances 
are somewhere between abysmal and possible. So it makes sense 
to try. 

4. The Path Forward, or the Nimble Path of Liberation: Pooling together what 
we know from a range of efforts to understand environmental 
issues scientifically, social-scientifically, and humanistically, it is 
reasonable to conclude that the path forward requires at least 
the following four elements. 

Technical knowledge: We need scientific data gathering, 
which remains the main source for our knowledge about the 
state of the Earth’s biogeophysical systems. We also need the 
engineering know-how for addressing specifical technical chal- 
lenges — in energy production, food production, infrastructure, 
ecology, and many other areas. Where scientists often consider 
this knowledge to be the main requirement, humanists would 
respond that we have plenty of it to work with, but that it alone 
is simply far from enough. 

Institutional Capacity: Addressing problems requires having 
the organizational, institutional, and functional mechanisms for 
doing that at all levels, from the local to the regional, national, 
and transnational. We are beginning to develop institutional 
capacities locally in select places, and globally through interna- 

13. Adam Frank, “Is a Climate Disaster Inevitable?” New York Times Sunday 
Review, January 17, 2015, 



tional institutions. There are examples of communities, cities, 
and nations taking the lead on developing policies to facilitate 
transition to a more just and sustainable relationality. But there 
is a long way to go. If, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 as the goal, 
our knowledge (the first of these four elements) has achieved a 
7 or 8, our institutional capacity is hovering down somewhere 
around a 3 or 4 at best. 

Coherent, integrative, and motivating images and narratives: 
We need images and narratives that could reframe people’s 
awareness of their place in time and in space toward one that is 
more enabling of the radical actions that are called for. While 
scientists often think of the arts and humanities as a handmaid- 
en for communicating scientific knowledge (the first element) 
to the broader public, humanists and artists insist that there be 
a two-way movement between the two realms, and that working 
with image, discourse, and narrative is both more complicated 
and quite autonomous from anything generated by science. This 
area is, rightly, where the critical and creative work of the eco- 
arts and humanities is focused; its lessons frame the background 
of this book. But it, too, is not enough. 

Affective preparedness: No matter how much information, in- 
stitutional capacity, and “storied imagery” there is, people will 
not move into action until they are affectively prepared for doing 
that. And until circumstances create an opening for it. Those 
circumstances tend to be rapid events: eco-disasters, political 
shock waves, or revolutionary situations that emerge unpredict- 
ably, revealing business-as-usual to be inadequate and calling 
forth rapid and responsive action. They tend to be Events, which 

14 On the eco-arts, see, for instance, Linda Weintraub, To Life: Eco Art in Pur- 
suit of a Sustainable Planet (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012), 
and T.J. Demos, Decolonizing Nature: Contemporary Art and the Politics of 
Ecology (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2016). On the environmental humanities, 
see Robert S. Emmett and David E. Nye, The Environmental Humanities: 
A Critical Introduction (Cambridge: mit Press, 2017); Serpil Oppermann 
and Serenella Iovino, eds., Environmental Humanities: Voices from the 
Anthropocene (London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017); Ursula Heise, Jon 
Christensen, and Michelle Niemann, eds., The Routledge Companion to the 
Environmental Humanities (London: Routledge, 2017). 



are unpredictable in their genesis and in the trajectories they 
make possible. Artists are often more sensitive than others to 
this affective level. But what needs more thinking today are the 
critical connections between it and the infrastructural — social 
media, organizational links between diverse groups around the 
world, and so on. 

More crucially, developing a sense of agency adequate to 
the demands of the A/Cene requires the cultivation of a kind 
of engaged Anthropocenic mindfulness (or bodymindfulness, 
bodymind-heartfulness, bodymind-soulfulness). This means an 
ability to act with the full awareness of how our actions play 
into the aesthetic, ethical, and political-ecological dynamics of 
the A/Cene. Those dynamics include multiple legacies of social 
and ecological violence rooted in colonialism, racism, sexism 
and heterosexism, classism, inter-ethnic and inter-religious ri- 
valry, and other forms of oppression and strife. But they also 
include multiple desires and visions for collective betterment, 
which are in turn rooted in real experiences of wonder, tran- 
scendence of personal limits or fears, and empathic embrace of 
others (including nonhuman others). The complexity of both 
the “negative” and the “positive” kinds of relations is difficult to 
come to terms with in one’s own life; doing the same with one’s 
interactions with others is all the more difficult. It requires skill- 
ful practice. 

Where do we begin finding this sort of affective prepared- 
ness? In what follows, I will try to suggest a few tools for doing 
that. They are not meant to replace others — variations of psy- 
chotherapy, spiritual or somatic practices, or collective activities 
of one kind or another, from religious ceremonializing to politi- 
cal organizing to direct action. But I hope they can supplement 
the other kinds of strategies. They are intended to do that by 
making process-relational insights more approachable, experi- 
enceable, and “intuitive; such that the others are seen as exam- 
ples within an underlying process of “process-relationalizing” 



Situating ourselves 

Before one can act to change anything significant, anything that 
requires determination and resolve, it is important to be able to 
account for one’s situation. That means being able to take it on 
and embrace it as one’s own, with one’s full existential capacity. 

If the global predicament as I have described it rings true 
to any significant degree, then genuine understanding of that 
predicament — the sort of understanding that can inform effec- 
tive action — can only occur through understanding one’s own 
situatedness within it. That means that this predicament will be 
a different one for a migrant farm laborer, an Asian or African 
textile worker, or an aids sufferer or forced prostitute than it will 
be for a university professor, a Hollywood actor, or a bank ex- 
ecutive. Some have great difficulty extricating themselves from 
precarity; others have little direct experience of it. 

If you are reading this book, you are likely to be in the class 
of people with the luxury to read such books — which means 
somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, though likely closer 
to the top, on a global scale, than to the bottom. This means you 
are either capable of feeling the predicament in some of its daily, 
embodied dimensions, or at least able to imagine those dimen- 
sions from reports, literary or cinematic depictions, or other 
forms of cultivated empathy. Those dimensions might include 
experiencing daily anxieties —ranging from eating disorders 
to chronic depression to lesser or greater degrees of trauma- 
induced stress stemming from the competitive pressures of 
consumer-capitalist industrialism, systemic racism and sexism, 
and the like. 

To be sure, we may all be alienated (as Marx described) from 
our work, or from our places of residence, or from those around 
us. But many of us also feel a sense of possibility: we have ca- 
reer options we can choose from, products or gadgets we might 
buy that could enhance our enjoyment of life, physical or other 
kinds of practices we could try on for size, places we could vis- 
it, foods we could eat. The global middle class is that class for 
whom the world may be its oyster, but the oyster shell weighs 



more or less heavily on our backs at least part of the time (if only 
in our dreams and nightmares). 

If we think of our personal feeling of that predicament as a 
form of Peircean firstness, then gauging our capacities for action 
is the entry point to secondness. What can I do about the world 
from where I am? What are the hinges or action-points from 
which I can act? How can J act, or who could I become in order 
to be able to act effectively? With whom, and in what contexts 
of collective endeavor? Effective or satisfying action is likely to 
involve some modification of our habits — habits of perception, 
of interaction, and of understanding. (Those will be explored 

Finally, thirdness would relate to the larger vision that might 
draw forward such action, to which it would contribute and 
which it would enable. Some variation of the account offered 
in the preceding section (“A time of suffering”) may suffice to 
provide a working understanding of the global predicament. 
(Consider it an example, then write your own.) To be effective, 
a Peircean approach would insist that any such vision be triadic: 
it should convey a sense of the reality of the day-to-day and ex- 
cess sufferings of the A/Cene; a sense of the possibilities for re- 
sponding to those sufferings creatively; and a vision of how those 
possibilities might figure into the longer-term crap-shoot of an 
open-ended cosmic process. Put differently, these are: a feel for 
the situation, a method for action to overcome or transform that 
situation, and an aim or rationale for why it should be bothered 
with at all. 

A Peircean approach insists that each of those three steps is 
necessary. (I challenge you to propose a variation that fails to 
include one of the three, and then to make that variation viable.) 
Much of what will follow will continue to reiterate this triad, so 
we might as well line up some terms to help us think it: 



Firstness Secondness Thirdness 
Feeling Action Realization 
What How Why 
Object(ivation) Method Subject(ivation) 
Aesthetics Ethics Logic 

Quality Resistance Representation 

But first, as always, we must start with the moment. 
Philosophy of the moment 

In the shadow of the Anthropocene, philosophical speculation 
is best applied to life so as to change that life. Not (necessarily) 
because of the possibility of doom, but simply because that is the 
only task allowable to a process-relational realist. This may not 
be the common understanding of what philosophers do today, 
but it has arguably been at the heart of philosophy since ancient 

Philosophical historian Pierre Hadot has been the most 
articulate recent proponent of this view, finding the notion of 
“philosophy as a way of life” — accompanied by rigorous spir- 
itual practices—in Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, the Epicureans, 
the Cynics, the Neoplatonists, and numerous other ancient and 
(less frequently) modern philosophers. A similar model held 
among many of the philosophers of ancient India, China, and 
elsewhere. It has held also for many in the American pragmatist 
tradition of Peirce, James, and Dewey, and has been revived not 
only in popular books like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Main- 
tenance or in Philosophy Now magazine, but also in the thought 
of influential Continental philosophers, from the existentialists 
to Deleuze, the later Foucault, and Peter Sloterdijk. Michel Fou- 
cault’s late focus on the “aesthetics of existence” and the “arts of 
the self” almost singlehandedly aimed to revive this tradition.” 

15 See Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from So- 
crates to Foucault, trans. Michael Chase, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995); Pierre 



To the extent that there is a loose consensus within the pro- 
cess-relational tradition on what constitutes a philosophy of life, 
its core would likely include two shared intuitions. The first is a 
trust in life process, or as Gilles Deleuze calls it, a “belief in this 
world, which he explains is also “a link between man and the 
world.” Elucidating Deleuze’s phrase, Lars Tonder notes that “to 
believe in this world” is “to perpetuate life, to affirm its cracks 
and dissonances as sites of undisclosed potentiality” The sec- 
ond intuition is a willingness to experiment — an openness and 
even eagerness to engage in things decisively so as to see where 
they will go, and a willingness to change directions when it be- 
comes evident that they aren't going where they might better go. 

These are not universally held intuitions. Among many Bud- 
dhists, for instance, life process is sometimes seen as unreliable 
to the point of being illusory. (Here is where it’s worth distin- 
guishing between life-affirming and life-escaping wings of the 
twenty-five century tradition of Buddhist thought.) But both of 
these views make clear why the focus of any process-relational 
practice is on the present moment. 

The present moment is our most direct foothold in experi- 
ence. The moment is also the basic unit of experiential coher- 
ence, and the locus of whatever agency is to be had in experi- 

Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy?, trans. Michael Chase (Cambridge: 
Harvard University Press, 2002); Pierre Hadot, The Present Alone Is Our 
Happiness: Conversations with Jeannie Carlier and Arnold I. Davidson, 
trans. Marc Djaballah (Stanford University Press, 2009); and, for slightly 
divergent perspectives, John M. Cooper, Pursuits of Wisdom: Six Ways of 
Life in Ancient Philosophy from Socrates to Plotinus (Princeton: Princeton 
University Press, 2012); Horst Hutter, Shaping the Future: Nietzsche’s New 
Regime of the Soul and Its Ascetic Practices (London: Lexington, 2006); Ed- 
ward F. McGushin, Foucault’s Askesis: An Introduction to the Philosophical 
Life (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2007); Richard Shusterman, 
Body Consciousness: A Philosophy of Mindfulness and Somaesthetics (Cam- 
bridge University Press, 2008); Peter Sloterdijk, You Must Change Your Life! 
(Cambridge: Polity, 2013). 

16 Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and 
Robert Galeta (London: Continuum, 1989/2005), 166. 

17 Lars Tonder, “A Secular Age: Spinoza’s Immanence,’ The Immanent Frame, 
December 5, 2007, 



ence. Analogous to what in a film would be a “scene,” moments 
attain toward a unity within the multiplicity of elements that 
make them up and the ambiguity of those elements’ involvement 
in them (since those elements usually precede the moment and 
continue on after it has ended). Moments occur at a mesocos- 
mic level — they are neither the kind of entity Whitehead called 
the “actual occasion” nor the event that I have called an “Event.” 
They are something more experientially tangible than either. 

Understanding a moment of experience is useful for the 
bearer of it insofar as it allows one to get a handle on what is 
happening here and now and what one can do within the pos- 
sibilities on offer. Isolating or slowing down a moment allows 
us to analyze what our range of action is. It also enables us, ul- 
timately (with dedicated practice), to begin to see the nature of 
experience as a dynamic flow characterized by the mutual co- 
arising of subjectivity and objectivity. In turn, a more accurate 
understanding of the nature of reality contributes to more effec- 
tive engagements with that reality. 

Following our Peircean-Whiteheadian approach, we could 
characterize a moment in two primary ways. The first analyzes 
it into its firstnesses, or things in their “in-themselfness,” their 
thusness; its secondnesses, or existential action-capacities — the 
living edges of firstness grappling against each other in the mo- 
tion of effortful engagement; and its thirdnesses, or significances 
taking account of such encounters of secondness. 

Walking in the woods with my young son on my back one 
afternoon, I heard sounds that struck me in their sonic distinc- 
tiveness, simply as they were; I responded to these sounds with 
an affective thrust — a quickened heartbeat, a prick of the ears, 
a sudden stop, an unpremeditated gesture to my son to listen or 
look in that direction; and I recognized some of the sounds via 
thoughts like “There's that thing I heard before, which sounds 
like a woodpecker, and I wonder what sort of woodpecker has 
made its way over here this week,” and “It’s a beautiful spring 
here this year, isn’t it?” While my hearing the sounds was al- 
ready a second, the sounds in themselves (apart from any per- 
ception of them) were firsts; the reactions were seconds; and the 



thoughts or meanings arising from and accompanying those 
reactions were thirds. 

Alternatively, a moment can be characterized by the dynamic 
co-arising of subjectivity (which is a thirdness), objectivity (in 
and through secondness), and withdrawal or perishing. The first 
of these co-active elements, subjectivation, is what occurs when 
I recognize sounds and make some sense of them: “I wonder 
what sort of woodpecker that is” and “It’s a beautiful spring this 
year” contribute to the narrative timeline I have of living where I 
do, in northern Vermont; of recognizing birds (as poorly as I do) 
and noticing their comings and goings over time; and of living 
(and constructing) my life in the context of seasonal changes, 
moments and conversations with my son, public debates over 
global warming, and much more. At the same time, my gesture 
to my son becomes an invitation for his subjectivation; and my 
stopping and listening to the bird becomes an invitation to that 
bird’s subjectivation, wherein it might notice me and sing in 
some particular way in recognition of a new listener. 

The second element, objectivation, is the other thing that hap- 
pens when I recognize sounds and make some sense of them: 
that sound becomes “that woodpecker,’ a sequence of seeings 
and hearings becomes “this spring,” and so on. Things become 
pinned to labels (verbal or other kinds) whereby they can be 
stitched into a fabric of habitual responses, incorporations, har- 
nessings. They, like any commons, can be “enclosed” into the 
narrative fabric that comes to constitute a “self” and a world. 

And thirdly, there is the withdrawal of these others even as I 
have pulled them into these semiotic arrangements. The sound 
ended, the bird flew off, the moment passed. All the other firsts 
that I failed to notice or to capture in my webs of meaning — all 
are gone to me, swift as a shadow disappears when a light is 
switched on. Withdrawal constitutes the imperceptible back- 
ground of the moment. It becomes lost to experience, or to fu- 
ture experience (though these are not identical destinies). 




Let us now build up a more sophisticated methodology for ac- 
cessing the present moment. 

The easiest way to do this is to begin with the feeling of one’s 
self: Who or what am I, you, us? How are we, and where are we? 
Where and how do we arise and find ourselves — in the midst of 
what actions, what becomings? And finding ourselves, what can 
we do with ourselves? 

We arise at decision points, poised at new folds in the fabric 
of eventness. The “we” that do this are everyone: humans (sort 
of), mitochondria (sort of), single-celled organisms (sort of), 
and whatever else does anything with some sense of the doing. 
Generalizing about this range of doings is difficult, so it makes 
sense to start from our own experience and then to speculatively 
branch outward. What is it that we can do at all? 

To find out how we in fact do anything, how our machinery 
works, it is helpful to have a rigorous practice of self-observation 
based on some language or map of the possibilities. Maps of the 
psyche are a dime a dozen, but some are more phenomenologi- 
cally informed and time-tested than others. To continue with 
our Peircean triadism, it makes sense for us, writer/readers of 
this book, to look for triadic models. As it turns out, there are 
several that fit this bill. In what follows, I will propose a map 
of doings that distinguishes between a series of three sensory 
modalities (because we are sensory-perceptual creatures), three 
relational categories, and three orientations. Because the senses 
provide an easy foothold into our experience, and because there 
exists a simple but effective model for classifying them, let us 
start there. 

Westerners typically think of the senses as being five: see- 
ing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and the vague and overburdened 
category of “feeling,” which others would distinguish into more 
nuanced subcategories like moving or kinesthetic feeling, gut 

18 See, for instance, Charles Hampden-Turner’s dated yet informative com- 
pendium of mental models, Maps of the Mind (New York: Macmillan, 1982). 



feeling, and others. Helpfully, a model exists that reduces these 
to three and that maps out well against a series of other “maps 
of the mind” This model happens to be a perceptive distillation 
of centuries of quasi-scientific introspective practice associated 
with Buddhism — primarily Theravada Buddhist practice (es- 
pecially the Vipassana tradition of mindfulness), with Japanese 
Zen, Tibetan Vajrayana, and several other reference points. This 
is a model developed by contemporary meditation teacher and 
Shingon Buddhist monk Shinzen Young. (It is a model that I en- 
countered through a series of experiential retreats that Young led 
in Vermont several years ago, and which he has developed into 
new formats since.” Henceforth I'll refer to Young as “Shinzen.”) 
Shinzen’s system describes human subjective experience as 
phenomenologically distinguishable into three primary fields, 
spaces, or elements”: the visual, the auditory, and the bodily- 
felt. Each of these is characterized as either internal or external 
in its orientation, and is labeled with a single word when ob- 
served within mindfulness meditation practice: “See” or “Im- 
age” for the visual; “Hear; “Sound” (if it is external), or “Talk” (if 
it is mental-internal) for the auditory; and “Feel” or “Touch, for 
the bodily-felt. The last of the three includes tactile, olfactory, 
gustatory, kinesthetic, visceral, affective, and emotional func- 
tions, which are grouped into “Feel-Out” for those experienced 
as external in their source (the first four), and “Feel-In” for sen- 
sations that are “internal” to the bodymind (the last three). 

19 Shinzen Young’s websites, and, and 
his YouTube site contain an enormous array of material. See, for instance, 
the detailed explications of terms in Shinzen Young, “Five Ways to Know 
Yourself: An Introduction to Basic Mindfulness, 2011-16, http://www. 
ver1.6.pdf. For more general discussion, see Shinzen Young, The Science of 
Enlightenment: How Meditation Works (Sounds True, 2016), and Shinzen 
Young, “What is Mindfulness? A Contemplative Perspective,’ in Handbook 
of Mindfulness in Education, eds. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl and Robert Ro- 
eser, 29-45 (New York: Springer, 2016). 

20 He uses these terms somewhat interchangeably. The account that follows 
draws in particular on personal conversations and guided exercises con- 
ducted between 2010 and 2014. 



These three modalities can be conceived as developing 
somewhat autonomously over the course of human evolution 
and over the course of individual ontogenesis. First, we learn to 
feel with our bodies — in the oceanic mix of feelings and sounds 
that occurs in the womb. Then, once born and tasked with the 
need to make sense of visual experience, we start to see things as 
distinct entities. Finally, we learn the words and the linguistic- 
discursive constructs that come to shape both our subjectivities 
and our conceptual worlds for us. Learning to hear is, in this 
sense, a two-stage process. For the infant in the womb, and per- 
haps for early humans in the evolution of our senses — ontogen- 
esis and phylogenesis, respectively — distinguishing sounds 
evolved as part of the repertoire of feeling: kinesthesia, tactility, 
hapticity, and the like. So it could be treated as an element of 
“Feel” up until that time when it becomes distinctly linked to 
verbal and linguistic awareness. 

In practice, of course, these three are usually thickly mixed 
and highly interactive. And over time the three kinds of elements 
become tangled and knotted into emotionally laden force fields. 
Distinguishing between them is, in any case, a matter mostly of 
convenience; they serve as hooks onto which mindfulness prac- 
titioners can hang their impressions, sensations, and percep- 
tions as they observe them arising and passing. Sensory blur- 
ring and interaction occurs all the time in human experience, 
but as we are familiarizing ourselves with what our bodymind 
does, it makes things easier if we can bring some order to it. 

There is a provocative correlation to be made between these 
Buddhist-derived phenomenological categories and psycho- 
analyst Jacques Lacan’s tripartite analysis of the psyche, with its 
distinction between the Real, the Imaginary, and the Symbolic. 
For Lacan, the Real represents a kind of nondual state of na- 
ture, one from which we become alienated as we learn to assume 
the qualities of socially defined subjective experience. The Im- 
aginary represents the image-based world of self-other relations 
and fantasies that emerge through the “mirror phase,” with its 
recognition of the body that appears in a mirror as the same 
one that others see when they see “me.” Finally, the Symbolic is 



the language- and narrative-based world that “interpellates” or 
“hails us” into being the kind of subject that finds its uneasy fit 
in the social world. The first is correlated with bodily feeling, 
the second with image, and the third with the textualized sound 
of language.” With the movement from the first to the third, 
the emergent human subject undergoes a rupture between the 
non-dual, felt-bodily experience of infancy and the subjective 
constitution of the “self? This rupture plays out differently in 
different socio-historical conditions, with the characteristic in- 
securities and pathologies of a society laying themselves onto 
the subject more or less violently (according to Lacan), but with 
some sort of rupture or gap being a basic condition of human 
social existence. 

Another model that resonates with Lacan's and, albeit loosely, 
with Shinzen’s is neurophysiologist Paul McLean's triune brain 
model, which subdivides the brain into three complexes: the 
reptilian, which accounts for instinctual behaviors connected 
to aggression, dominance, territoriality, and ritual displays; the 
paleomammailian, or limbic system, which supplies the emotion 
and motivation related to feeding, reproduction, and parenting; 
and the neomammalian, or neocortex, which enables planning, 
abstract thinking, and language. While the correlations are im- 
precise, one could easily connect the first with “feeling” and the 
Real, the second with “seeing” (insofar as it pertains to the soci- 

21 For Lacan's tripartite description of psychic life, 1 am relying mostly on 
secondary literature. See Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts 
of Psychoanalysis: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book XI, ed. Jacques-Alain 
Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1998); Slavoj 
Zizek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989); Philippe Ju- 
lien, Jacques Lacan’s Return to Freud: The Real, the Symbolic, and the Imagi- 
nary (New York University Press, 1994). In Gramophone, Film, Typewriter 
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), Friedrich Kittler correlated 
these three registers with those three technologies: the Real with the gramo- 
phone, the Imaginary with cinema, and the Symbolic with the typewriter. 
Others have correlated them with Peirce’s index (with its traces and effects), 
icon (with its imagery), and symbol; see, for instance, W.J.T. Mitchell, What 
Do Images Want? The Lives and Loves of Images (Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 2005). While somewhat simplified, these correspondences 
remain provocative. 



ality of groups) and the Imaginary, and the third with “hearing” 
(specifically that of language) and the Symbolic. Of course, nei- 
ther this nor any other model should be taken as scientifically 
accurate maps of the brain, even if McLean's was originally in- 
tended that way. The carving up of this landscape is best consid- 
ered somewhat arbitrary, but some kind of carving is necessary, 
if only to break practical experience down into more workable 
bits. And this particular tripartite analysis is suggestive in its 
evocation of sensorily-bound force fields. 

Let us assume a loose correspondence between Lacan’s and 
McLean’s models. Consider the “rupture” (gap, sevrage, “basic 
fault” in psychoanalyst Michael Balint’s terms) that is experi- 
enced between the felt (reptilian) Real, the phantasmic (pale- 
omammalian) Imaginary, and/or the linguistic (neocortical) 
Symbolic. Freudian psychoanalysis works at mitigating the ef- 
fects of such rupture through its “talking cure,’ a lengthy (and 
costly) process that comes with risks of transference and coun- 
ter-transference and no guarantees of success. Wilhelm Reich 
built on Freud’s insights to develop a physical form of therapy 
that worked directly with patients’ bodily “armoring;” that is, 
with psychosomatic blockages built to prevent the Real from 
overcoming the Symbolic and/or Imaginary self (allowing for a 
some hasty overgeneralizing here). Buddhist Vipassana medita- 
tion arguably works at the same “rupture” by allowing for the 
patient accumulation of observations and insights via trained 
introspection of a kind that “settles” the mind to a lower-level 
reactivity, such that the basic patterns might become directly 
evident. Zen Buddhism, in its classic form, does the same 
through a kind of methodically applied psychological sleight- 
of-hand that is highly dependent on a good teacher and setting 
(and subject to more particular pitfalls because of this). Tibetan 
Vajrayana Buddhism, in turn, works at it through a kind of “re- 
patterning” using various tools of sensory, bodily, emotional, 
and linguistic-imagistic practice; but this takes time and carries 
its own risks. Jungian analysis can be seen as a mix of the psy- 
choanalytic talking cure and the Vajrayana-style multi-modal 
approach. Hermetic and esoteric forms of magical practice offer 



combinations of one type or another. Each of these takes place 
within a social context that, over time, can become encrusted 
with its own institutional misdirections and derangements, so 
frequent modification and renewal might be recommended in 
order to keep things operating more or less as they were intend- 

A more modern approach like Shinzen’s provides a toolbox 
and “playbook” that lets users experiment on their own, with 
guidance available but not required. The point is that through 
regular practice one can gain leverage points into the dynamic 
structure of subjective experience, and, with guidance, to work 
toward untangling that structure and peering “beneath” or 
“behind” it to the underlying nature of things. A related meth- 
od, Russian-Armenian spiritual philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff’s, 
stressed practices of “self-remembering” and self-observation 
informed by a similar model of a “triune brain” and a startlingly 
Peircean, if independently developed, “Law of Three.” 

The first methods taught in Shinzen’s system are typically 
those of “Focusing In,” whereby one learns to note and distin- 
guish between internally produced feelings (Feel), sights (See), 
and sounds (Hear), and “Focusing Out,” which does the same 
with sensations, images, and sounds in or of the world around 
us. These three sets—Feel-In and Feel-Out, See-In and See- 
Out, Hear-In and Hear-Out — respectively make up the internal 
and external coordinate spaces of subjective experience. 

Normally the “internal” ones come packaged in tightly wo- 
ven, momentum-driven flows, and often — such as when they 
matter most — in rapid onslaughts. The stories we tell ourselves, 

22 The resonances between Gurdjieff’s and Peirce’s triadisms are fascinating, 
but we must leave them for another time. The same, incidentally, goes for 
the Christian trinity, the Hindu trimarti, and other trinitarian deities, with 
their diverse interpretive permutations over the centuries; comparative tria- 
distics is yet to be developed as a serious research field. On Gurdjieff, see 
Jacob Needleman and George Baker, eds., Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections 
on the Man and His Teachings (New York: Continuum, 2004); on the Law of 
Three, see Basarab Nicolescu’s chapter in that book, “Gurdjieff’s Philosophy 
of Nature,’ 37-69. 



the images and internalized voices of our parents, siblings, 
spouses, children, friends and enemies, bosses and co-workers, 
all come to us wrapped in affective adornments, muscular tight- 
enings, bodily armorings, and the like. But the practice of no- 
ticing, acknowledging, and focusing in on the pieces of these 
emotional entanglements allows us to build spaces between 
them and, over time, to begin disentangling their knotted webs. 
As Shinzen has put it (?m mostly paraphrasing), it’s the “un- 
detected micro-emotional experiences” that drive the parade of 
horrors known as human history; and it is these that mindful- 
ness practice allows us to observe, gain insight into, and over 
time begin to neutralize. Beyond that, his additional methods 
of “Focusing on Rest” (finding the restful states between active 
states, such as the spaces of silence between bits of “mental chat- 
ter, and resting in those spaces) and “Focusing on the Positive” 
(generating positive states) offer two more variations on tradi- 
tional contemplative practices such as meditation using man- 
tras, Metta or “lovingkindness” meditation, Christian “center- 
ing prayer,’ and the like. 

It is the fifth and final of Shinzen’s “Five Ways” that makes 
things yet more interesting.* This is what he calls “Focusing on 
Change” or on “Flow,” where we watch things coming, going, 
transforming, scintillating, undulating, vibrating, expanding 
and contracting, winking in and out of existence, and ultimately 
disappearing down the cosmic rabbithole (and taking us with it, 
for a little while at least). He describes this as a way of attuning 
to the “wave” as opposed to the “particle” structure of reality, 
with the eventful winkings in and out being sourced in a “foun- 
tain of energy” out of which everything comes and to which it 
all returns. Shinzen’s language here uncannily resembles not 
only the traditional Chinese cosmo-physiological tradition of 
Qi with its emanating energy flows and Yin- Yang polarities, but 
also Whitehead’s ontology of “actual occasions,’ with their dipo- 
lar structure of co-related subjectivation and objectivation. 

23 See Shinzen Young, “Five Ways to Know Yourself? 



But let us first mine the riches of the model before complicat- 
ing it with the fact that things aren't things at all, but different 
forms of flow. (At this point, it would be useful to spend some 
time practicing the exercises suggested here. Specific practices 
related to this and other sections of Part Two can be found in 
Appendix 3.) 


To put these three sensory fields — feeling, hearing, and see- 
ing—into the context of everyday life means making them 
more than something to observe while sitting motionless on a 
meditation cushion. There is a more primary categorization of 
activity that should provide a better starting point, and it is di- 
rectly related to Peirce’s categories. 

For Peirce, again, there is (1) that which there is at all, and 
which precedes any doing on our part (which becomes the ob- 
ject-pole of our doing); (2) that which we do in response (the 
relational prehension); and (3) that which is realized in and 
through the doing (which becomes the subject-pole, momen- 
tarily, only to offer itself up as object for other doings to come). 
And insofar as these are categories for noting what is happen- 
ing — noting firstness, secondness, and thirdness — we can also 
add a zeroness for those things that occur without our conscious 
awareness. So we have four categories: 

0. Free Activity: This is bodymind doing what it does, as it does, on 
its own. It is a kind of primordial flow— things arising spon- 
taneously as responses or results of previous arisings — which 
captures the world prior to the cut made by a new agent. We 
could think of this as our base-zero, “nonconscious” state of 

1. Sensing (See, Hear, Feel): Sometimes I see it happening. IfI only saw 
it and resisted the impulse to act, I would be here, observing, 
noting. Like the trained Buddhist meditator, I can watch what 
arises, moment to moment, and gain a feel for what is there. 



This can be aided by mentally labeling, categorizing, and clas- 
sifying — at which point I have moved onto the next two phases, 
those of acting and interpreting, but for purpose of learning 
what is going on it is worth distinguishing between passive sens- 
ing and intentional acting. So, when I hear a sound— say, an 
airplane engine in the sky outside my window, or thumping mu- 
sic from a passing car —I can label this “Hear-Out,” to indicate 
that I have noticed a sound that is “out there” in the world. Its 
point of origin is not just outside my window, but outside of the 
psycho-physical system I identify as “myself” And when I hear 
a sound “in my head” — say, my inner voice saying “This is bor- 
ing” — I can call that “Hear-In,’ to indicate that it has originated 
inside my internal mental field. 

The same with images, which can be somewhere in my gaze 
(See-Out) or inside my mind’s eye (See-In). And the same with 
feelings, smells, kinesthetic sensations, and everything else: 
“Feel-Out” refers to things that originate outside of us, “Feel-In” 
to things that originate inside us (such as the breathless feeling 
when we suddently remember something important we had just 
forgotten to do, or that complex mix of angry and depressive im- 
pulses that take us over when we realize the love of our life has 
betrayed us). Humans being complicated creatures, we probably 
have more of the “In” things to note than most creatures, but in 
principle any actual occasion is responding to something aris- 
ing outside itself or inside itself. (Let us set the ambiguities aside 
for now.) 

To be consistent with Whiteheadian, Peircean, and Shinze- 
nian interpretations, this sensing or noting should also be con- 
sidered a “feeling”: one notes what has arisen, feels or “tastes” 
it, and then allows it to go on its own course without attaching 
anything of “self” to it. Here we have added a step to the normal 
course: a very small step — mere (feelingful) observation — but 
an important one. Most forms of the first category of meditation 
mentioned above fall into this category of (minimal) action. But 
calling everything, including a sound or an image, a “feeling” 
takes away from some of the precision of the analytical scalpel 
we are wielding with our experience. So let us instead take the 



words “image” and “sound” to be as emotional or feelingful as 
they need to be. 

2. Intervening (Show, Sound, Touch): Action may be what I am doing most 
of the time—and what many forms of meditation aim to stop 
or at least slow down — but this category is meant to indicate 
intended action. Some things, and perhaps most things, I do un- 
thinkingly. Important things — speaking significant words to a 
loved one, driving to the hospital in an emergency —I do inten- 
tionally. Intended action involves responding to stimuli, resist- 
ing them, replacing one stimulus (external or internal) with an- 
other, or even cultivating specific states or modes, for instance, 
through mental exercises with specific goals in mind. Again, we 
can distinguish between actions whose intended locus is outside 
of what we conventionally think of as ourselves —the move- 
ment of my body as I push open a door, the clearing of a throat 
to let someone know of my presence — and those whose locus 
is internal to our mental or emotional space, such as my visu- 
alizing of tomorrow’s meeting with a boss or a lover. In place 
of the Feel-Hear-See triad, let’s call these Touch, Sound (as in 
sounding or making a sound), and Show (for action with respect 
to a visual observer). 

3. Realizing (Map, Convey, Move): This is the upshot of action, the re- 
sult or realization of actions upon the external-sensory-bodily 
(“out”) and internal-mental (“in”) fields. The labels refer to the 
modalities through which the action is accomplished: seeing 
and showing become “mapping,” hearing and sounding become 
“conveying” or “speaking” (as in “it speaks to me,’ auditorially 
or verbally), and feeling and touching become “moving” or “be- 
ing moved.” Those with a locus of realization that is internal to 
the bodymind are labeled “in,” while those external are labeled 

Adding numbers here makes this schema consistent with 
Peircean phenomenology, at least as a first approximation. It is 
true that Noticing may already involve a turning of the mind 
toward the firstness of what’s arising in the mental-perceptual 



field. To the extent that this “turning” is already an encounter 
between one thing and another— mental contents arising, and 
a mental observer that is produced through the action of obser- 
vation or “turning” — it becomes, or is always becoming, a form 
of secondness, not a pure firstness. But the point is to try to get 
as close to firstness as possible. If the observation affects what is 
being observed (as arguably always occurs), then the injunction 
is simply to “observe that, too.” It is the orientation toward the 
arising firstness that makes it “Noticing” 

Analogously, Action or Intervention, in this system, is an 
intentional response to something, which involves a turning to 
what is there and an action upon it or in response to it. Alterna- 
tively, it may be an action replacing what would normally arise: 
for instance, the recitation and focusing of one’s mind upon a 
mantra so that the mental field will not be taken over by other 
habitual activities. The goal may be to cultivate particular states 
of mind, as in meditative or trance states of one kind or another, 
or states valued for their positive valence in a particular reli- 
gious or cultural tradition (such as a devotional, compassionate, 
or solidaritous state, identification with a deity, and so on). 

Finally, Realization in the sense meant here also involves the 
intention of making sense of the activity in question. 

Each of these has its common or “normal” forms as well as 
the specific, cultivated (or cultivable) forms they take within 
meditative, yogic, or psycho-spiritual training of some kind. 
Furthermore, to say that action or interpretation is “intended” 
is to beg the question “intended by what or by whom?” One’s an- 
swer to this — for instance, “by me,” “by the self? “by the process 
of conditioned arising that envelops a mental-bodily field? or 
something else — already depends on an onto-epistemological 
interpretation of what arises. If you believe there is an active 
“self” behind everything your mind does, then you are already 
committed to a subject-object duality that process-relational 
philosophy (and Buddhism) rejects. 



How to make a bodymind flow, or, deconstructing experience with Reality 

This is where things get interesting. For most process-relation- 
ists (and most Buddhist philosophers), subjectivity and objec- 
tivity are not static conditions or polar categories holding up the 
universe. Rather, they are results — outcomes, however tempo- 
rary and ultimately insubstantial — of a less differentiated, more 
constructive, and more flowing activity. Shinzen Young simply 
calls this activity “flow,’ while other metaphysicians — from Na- 
garjuna and Vasubandhu to Whitehead, Bergson, James, and 
Deleuze — analyze it at more microscopic or rigorously concep- 
tual levels. 

What this means is that our categorization of things as in- 
ternal or external to the bodymind is inaccurate. It doesn't hold 
up, at least not for long. But it feels as if it does, so we might 
start by paying attention to those points at which it slides into 
something less clear. Shinzen refers to many phenomenological 
“flavors” of flow—as expansion and contraction, undulation, 
vibration, tingliness, percolation, electricity, and so on—but 
also to flow as the experience of the ontological fact of imper- 
manence, or anicca (in Pali). Flow is partnered with vanishing, 
for which Shinzen uses the notational label “Gone” 

So, on the one hand, “flow” is indicative of the fact that all 
things pass, and, on the other, of the ebullient energy of their 
continual arising. This corresponds with the ontology of per- 
colating creativity described by Whitehead, which I have built 
on to posit that there is a circulatory undulation — a movement 
between the subjectivation and the objectivation that consti- 
tutes every moment or actual occasion — which gives rise to all 
form. (There is a second movement, which is the difference and 
deferral I referred to as described by Peirce’s semiosic process.) 
If we can learn to pay attention to this movement as it arises, we 
can get a feel for its many flavors, and as a result “subject” and 
“object” begin to soften and melt into dipolar acts of becoming. 

When the arisings of subjects and objects come to crystal- 
lize around certain formations over time, getting habituated 
into “grooves” or “channels” dug into a socio-mental landscape 



through repetition, they come to take the form of — that is, to 
geomorph, biomorph, and anthropomorph as — stable entities 
such as one’s “self” (seen from within), “the world” (seen from a 
situated subjective perspective), “selves like me,’ “others unlike 
me, and everything else that appears to exist, as seen from any 
perspective possible. 

Each social regime produced over the course of human his- 
tory digs its channels a little differently, creating different kinds 
of individual and collective “selves,” in-groups and out-groups, 
networks and relations, and all manner of entities by which 
to populate its world. These are analogous to the “collectives” 
Bruno Latour has written about, some of which “mobilize an- 
cestors, lions, fixed stars, and the coagulated blood of sacri- 
fice; while others “mobilize genetics, zoology, cosmology and 
hzematology.’** Modern western society has come to produce 
specific kinds of selves and social units as well— most com- 
monly, “rational, self-maximizing individuals,’ nuclear families, 
more or less sovereign nations, and so on, but with a wide lati- 
tude for variations in the overall mix. As Latour argues, these 
things aren't social constructions so much as they are relational 
co-productions, made up of matter/mind stuff, that is, of mate- 
rial and semiotic relations that are fully real in their effects, even 
if they are ultimately insubstantial — empty (as Buddhists insist) 
of self-subsistent being. 

Critiquing one’s own social milieu is an important part of 
one’s liberation from circumstances. The primary goal of mind- 
fulness meditation practice, however (in Shinzen’s account), is 
to bring oneself into greater contact and resonance with Real- 
ity, which means to bring one out of the hardened categories 
we have put in Reality’s place, and into the flowing percolation 
that constitutes both those categories and the category-making 
process itself along with everything else. When we add this cat- 
egory of Flow—the rippling and percolating interactivity that 
constitutes and produces all things, which is also the elusive but 

24 Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Cam- 
bridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 106. 



tangible background hum of the universe — we get a set of pos- 
sibilities that looks like this: 

O. (Free activity; 
nondual flow) 
1, SENSE Sense Out Sense In Sense Flow 
2. ACT Act Out Act In Act Flow 
3. REALIZE Realize Out Realize In Realize Flow 

For each of these categories, we could further distinguish be- 
tween feeling, seeing, and hearing, and combinations thereof, to 
get the following possibilities. 

0. Free activity: This is simply the ongoing arising of phenomena 
without a “self” or watcher intervening or even witnessing. It 
precedes what a bodymind can do. 

1. Noting, Sensing, or Observation: Sensing-Out refers to the pure aware- 
ness of external phenomena, or of what goes on in the world. It 
can also be the casual observation of behavior or a more hypnotic 
merging with the observed; or it can be the controlled merging 
of “absorptive” forms of sensorially-based meditation. Sensing- 
In is the pure awareness of internal mental states and phenom- 
ena. It can be done casually and without particular intention, 
as in the observation of dream or hallucinatory phenomena, or 
it can be done with meditative discipline, as in Vipassana (in- 
sight) meditation. And Sensing-Flow is the pure awareness of 
flow states, for instance, of the rippling-flowing arising of sub- 
ject-object circulation as things arise and pass away. This kind 
of flow state can and does arise spontaneously. It is perhaps the 
most “natural” state of mind in some sense —a form of nondual 
flow where the observer and observed are more or less merged, 
both present and not clearly separated. This is also where in- 
tersubjectivity — the relational field encompassing oneself and 



others — is experienced from within (or, technically, across the 
border separating within from without). In its meditative form, 
Sensing-Flow is nondual awareness of the present moment. 

2. Acting, or Intervention: Acting-Out is equivalent to “acting in the 
world, which names most of what we do when we are recog- 
nizably doing anything that affects the surrounding world. It 
includes speaking, moving, arguing, making love, building and 
destroying things, and all the rest. Technically, it means the in- 
tentional response to, resistance against, replacement of, or cul- 
tivation of, external states of activity. In its meditative or yogic 
forms, it includes all types of physical activities such as rituals 
and devotional actions performed for a particular spiritual or 
religious purpose, such as for the benefit of all beings or to please 
a deity. Its paradigm cases are Karma- Yoga (action performed 
as yoga) and the performance of “good deeds.’ Acting-In is the 
intentional response, resistance, replacement, or cultivation of 
internal states. This is what we do when we visualize scenes “in 
the mind’s eye” while listening to a story or reading a novel, or 
when we train ourselves to learn a poem or a language. (To the 
extent that we are focusing on the meanings of words, they are 
being treated as mental objects rather than mere shapes seen 
on a page.) In its meditative or yogic forms, Acting-In includes 
all those traditional practices that involve the generation of im- 
agery, sound, feeling, or mental and emotional activity, such as 
Metta or “loving-kindness” meditation, mantra meditation, and 
deity meditations of one kind or another. (Many and perhaps 
most of these qualify under Shinzen’s “Focus on the Positive” 
rubric.) Finally, Acting-Flow is the realm of intersubjective ac- 
tion, that is, action that emerges and is carried out collectively, 
characterized by blurred boundaries between oneself and oth- 
ers — for instance, by “emotional contagion” and some degree of 
shared awareness. We can catch a flavor of it in special kinds of 
events, such as revolutionary events, which is why those events 
leave such a strong imprint on their participants. In its medita- 
tive form, Acting-Flow is nondual action or what Daoists call 
Wu-wei, action that effectively “does itself? effortlessly, with 



one’s own “self” being merged with and in the action. It is what 
the phrase “going with the flow” is intended to convey. It is an 
important part of what many of the more this-wordly spiritual 
systems (such as Daoism, Tantrism, Mahayana Buddhism, and 
certain forms of Paganism) aim for. 

3. Realizing, or Interpretation: Realizing names the process of making 
sense of or effecting change in the world, with a realization be- 
ing a “completed event,” as it were. Realizing-Out does this in 
the external, outwardly observable world. In its mental forms 
(See, Hear), it generates knowledge or understanding in oth- 
ers — which, for instance, is what all types of science and educa- 
tion, at their best, aim to accomplish. In its physical (feeling) 
forms, it generates physically felt change. Realizing-In is the 
same with states internal to the observer and actor. It includes 
the interpretation of the workings of one’s own mental or emo- 
tional states. Realizing-Flow in its “normal” variants consists of 
the kinds of things that process-relational theory aims to do: 
to make sense of the process-relational, nondual nature of all 
things. In its meditative or yogic variant, Realizing-Flow be- 
comes the free, unobstructed flow of subjectivation-objectiva- 
tion: perceiving and being-perceived, doing and being-done-to, 
understanding and being-understood, all co-arising and pass- 
ing in the continuous percolation of one moment after another. 
We can think of this as meditative or nondual praxis, or as a 
kind of “enlightened Thirdness.” 

If the latter sounds like the “free activity” that characterizes 
the zero-level (the Zeroness that precedes Firstness), that is be- 
cause it is very much the same —it is a return to free, unob- 
structed activity — but with continuity of awareness added. That 
continuity of awareness, according to Dzogchen and related tra- 
ditions of Buddhism, is everpresent but obscured to start with. 
The difference here is that now “I? the “self? has also opened up 
to that recognition, which means that this “self” is no longer an 
obstruction to the flow of recognition (clear awareness, effort- 
less action, understanding). The arising of the self has become 



part of the arising of world that is being observed, acted (and 
acted upon), and realized. 

It is tempting to distinguish this final activity of meditative 
praxis or “enlightened realization-flow” by granting it a further 
level —a “fourthness” — since it both encompasses and expands 
upon the previous three levels. It is a synthesis of Sensing, Act- 
ing, and Realizing, mediated over time into an ongoing recur- 
sive praxis. Peirce would have advised against calling it “fourth- 
ness,” since according to his phenomenology any term beyond 
a third is merely a third of a third. Thirds do not exclude firsts 
and seconds; they include and transcend them. Realization in 
this sense always includes some form of both observation and 
action. Shinzen refers to the “complete experience; which is 
equivalent to the realization of a momentary “enlightenment” 
insofar as the latter is considered a quality of experience and not 
a permanent state. 

There is a combination worth commenting on further. The 
combination of Acting-Out, Realizing-Out, and Realizing-In 
(or processing those actions and their results) — that is, of chang- 
ing the world according to an analytical understanding of how 
it ought to be changed — is what most forms of “critical social 
theory” or “critical educational praxis” aim for. In less coherent 
forms, they are what people's lives, at their best, tend to be most 
about: doing things, reflecting on what we have done, and learn- 
ing in the process to do things better. The movement between 
these is a continuous one between observation, intervention, 
and theorization. 

Religious or spiritual practices usually combine more than 
one of these as well. The generation of positive mental states, 
for instance, is typically accomplished not only through mental 
discipline, but through physical change in the world — such as 
through the creation, maintenance, and use of sanctuaries, tem- 
ples, meditation rooms, altars, sand mandalas and tangka paint- 
ings, retreats and spas, and the like. Political practice, in turn, 
can be more than mere outward “action” and “realization”: it can 
include the cultivation of mental states and the institutionaliza- 
tion of practices of working, relating, and cultivating. 



Rather than a set of individual options or “slots” into which 
observations or behaviors would be classified, all of this is un- 
derstood to be a more flexible sort of tool—a game-board, as 
Shinzen calls it, that can be used in various ways. For instance, 
one could focus on one or a few sets of options at a time (such 
as Hear-In, Touch-Flow, or Note-Out). Or one could focus on 
dynamic relations or interdependent “constellations” connect- 
ing different modalities: for instance, on the ways that external 
sounds give rise to internal feelings, or how bodily touch elic- 
its both internal feelings and external impacts on someone else 
whom one is interacting with (such as during physical or sexual 

If taken up as “bodymindfulness practice,’ the choice of what 
to focus on can range from being fully predetermined for a 
given length of time —as is the case in fairly typical meditation 
practice where one might focus exclusively on the sound of a 
mantra or the feeling of one’s breath — to being an open-ended, 
free-flowing form of mindfulness, akin to Vipassana “insight” 
meditation but applied to all mental, sensory, bodily, social, and 
interactive activities and phenomena. The goals of this practice, 
as with the mindfulness practice taught by Shinzen, are three- 
fold: they are to develop sensory, mental, and emotional clarity 
(a practice related to firstness); to develop attention (a practice 
related to secondness, as it involves the effort of attending); and 
to develop equanimity in the face of life’s exigencies (a practice 
related to thirdness, involving the cultivation of an attitude and 
an understanding). 

At its most complete, then, this becomes a fully conscious 
mode of living. The goal here is not necessarily to bring eve- 
rything that is un- or pre-conscious to consciousness. Rather, it 
is to serve as a practice by which consciously chosen aesthetic, 
ethical, and logical principles are established within one’s bodily 
and mental habits for living in the world. 



The hodymind Rubik’s Cube 

Let us summarize what we have so far. This system of interpre- 
tive practice might best be visualized in the form of a Rubik’s 
Cube, with three rows, three columns, and three levels inter- 
secting with each other to create nine domains, along with the 
variable relations between them. ‘The three sets classify the fol- 
lowing strata: 

1. Sensory modes (See, Hear, Feel): Sensations and perceptions are 
grouped into three modalities: the visual; the auditory; and the 
bodily-felt, which includes the tactile, olfactory, gustatory, kin- 
esthetic, visceral, affective, and emotional. The latter group is 
further distinguishable into the “felt-out” (the first four) and the 
“felt-in” (the last three) based on whether the sensations refer to 
relata that are “internal” or “external” to the bodymind in ques- 
tion (see #3 below). These three sensory modalities may develop 
somewhat autonomously, but they get blurred and interactive 
in practice. Distinguishing between them does not follow any 
universal or essential triadism; it is just a useful heuristic. 

2. Relational categories (Sensing/Noting, Acting, Realizing): These are based in 
Peirce’s triad of categories: there is the sensing of firstness, the 
acting upon secondness, and the realization of thirdness. A first 
is something in and of itself, and perception of a first is percep- 
tion of it simply as it is, a noticing of it in its purity, insofar as 
this is possible. A second is an actual, existential interaction with 
something. As an interaction, it is an action, with conscious or 
unconscious intent and with a resistant (to one degree or an- 
other) object of that action. A third involves the grasping of a 
second (an interaction) through some form of mediation, which 
generates a semiotic relationship: a meaning or significance, an 
interpretation, a pattern, a habit, a regularity — which we are to- 
gether defining here as realization. 

3. Orientations (In, Out, Flow): On the surface, “In” and “Out” distin- 
guish between whether the second — the object perceived in the 



case of perception, the object being acted upon in the case of 
action, and the object generated in the case of realization — is 
internal or external to the referencing bodymind. In sensing/ 
noting (firstness), they are distinguished according to their im- 
mediate source; in acting (secondness), they are distinguished 
according to their intended goal or destination; and in realiza- 
tion (thirdness), according to their achieved direction. Whether 
realization has actually been achieved outside oneself — say, in a 
listener, a viewer, or an audience — is a matter of speculation or 
approximate knowledge. In a Peircean understanding, realiza- 
tion is always on the move toward a truth that is logically con- 
ceivable, but practically elusive. 

Distinguishing between “internal” and “external,” however, 
implies a dualistic ontology—a separation between subject 
and object, perceiver and perceived —that process-relational 
ontologies reject or transcend in one way or another. Such an 
ontology corresponds to what foundational Buddhist metaphy- 
sician Nagarjuna called “conventional truth” and what Tiantai 
Three Truths doctrine affirmed as the “provisionality” of exist- 
ent and impermanent things. By contrast, “flow” states, where 
the boundary between internal and external is breached or sus- 
pended, acknowledge nonduality, or what Nagarjuna called “ul- 
timate truth” and Tiantai doctrine referred to simply as “empti- 
ness,’ though its understanding of this “emptiness” is not at all 
empty, but dazzlingly lively. 

A word here on Buddhist metaphysics is in order. Nagarju- 
nas Two Truths doctrine underpinned Madhyamaka philoso- 
phy which, with its main sparring partner, Yogacara philosophy, 
informed much of the Mahayana Buddhism that spread across 
wide swaths of central and eastern Asia in the first millennium 
of the Common Era. Upon their arrival in China, these ideas 
met and mingled with an extant Chinese preference for a prag- 
matic realist metaphysics, as found in Confucian, Daoist, and 
related schools. The most philosophically sophisticated synthe- 
sis that emerged from the encounter was arguably the Tiantai 
metaphysics developed by sixth century Chinese Buddhist phi- 
losopher Zhiyi (Chih-i), with its doctrine of Three Truths, which 



contemporary Tiantai philosopher Brook Ziporyn translates as 
the truths of Provisional Positing (jia), Emptiness (kong), and 
the Center (zhong). The first two are equivalent to Nagarjuna’s 
conventional and ultimate truths, while the third, “Centrality” 
or “the Middle,’ insists on the necessary “intersubsumption,’ or 
mutual dependency, of the first two. In doing so, it simultane- 
ously affirms the contingency of all things as the reversible and 
accompanying precondition of their ultimate reality. Subject- 
object duality is thus not denied but realized in nondual flow, 
and vice versa. Let us look more closely at Ziporyn’s articulation 
of these Three Truths.» 

The first truth is that of “conventional truth? “local coher- 
ence,’ or “provisional positing,’ which means that a thing really 
is what it appears to be: sky is sky, an arrow is an arrow, a slap 
on the face is a real slap on a real face. The second truth is that 
of “ultimate truth” “global incoherence,’ or “Emptiness,” which 
understands an object alone as utterly empty of self-subsistence, 
meaning that it is nothing outside of the context of its relations. 
This also means that the object is, at the same time, everything 
that it appears not to be. Not only is the arrow not really a simple 
arrow — since its arrowness is but a factor of its material body, 
the motivations that shaped it and its present motion, and all of 
the things that went into producing them — which are ultimate- 
ly all of the things of the universe up to this moment, and which 
by now (however many moments later) no longer exist as they 
appeared to then. The arrow is also the non-arrow that will kill 
(and therefore not kill) the (not) me when it pierces me through 
the (non-) heart. All of these are “empty” in their complete and 
utter non-self-subsistence. There is nothing intrinsic to them 
except for the directional flow that continues in and through 
them, which, even a second later, is already gone beyond, al- 
ready something different, differing and deferring as it goes. 

25 Ziporyn’s most complete accounts of Tiantai philosophy are Emptiness and 
Omnipresence: An Essential Introduction to Tiantai Buddhism (Blooming- 
ton: Indiana University Press, 2016), and Being and Ambiguity: Philosophi- 
cal Experiments with Tiantai Buddhism (Chicago: Open Court, 2004). 



While Two Truths theory had acknowledged the validity of 
both of these “truths,” its built-in tendency was to privilege the 
ultimacy of “emptiness” — that is why its second truth has come 
to be known as ultimate truth. Tiantai rejects this apparent priv- 
ileging and insists on the “reversible as-ness” of the two truths, 
according to which it is the synthesis of the prior two that makes 
them both and neither what each of the two claim. As with Pei- 
rce’s thirdness, this “both and neither” is irreducible. The lat- 
ter insight is the goal of Zen and Chan enlightenment practice, 
where the body, the house, the arrow, and all other things are 
seen to really be all those things and, at the same time, to be 
empty of any such substance as we ascribe to them, since they 
really do “intersubsume” all other things in order to be anything 
at all. Tiantai further posits that the Three Truths are nothing if 
they are not used, and that the means of using them, in Ziporyn’s 
translation, is by “opening the Provisional to reveal the Real” 
That is, once the provisional reality of any one thing is “opened” 
and seen clearly, it is revealed not merely as emptiness, but as si- 
multaneously (1) provisionally itself in its uniqueness; (2) glob- 
ally not itself at all, but “intersubsumptive” with everything else; 
and (3) irreducibly both at the same time. 

Shinzen Young’s concept of Flow captures an essential ele- 
ment of this “irreducibly real and not real at the same time” na- 
ture of things, with an emphasis on the “at the same time,” which 
is always not “at time X” but in the perpetual time of simultane- 
ous becoming and vanishing. Flow can be classified into a few 
different types. First, there is cross-modal flow, which crosses 
between the sensory modalities, as in experiences of “Hear-See 
Flow,’ “Touch-Sound Flow,’ “See-Sound-Move Flow,’ and so on. 
In themselves, these are not nondual flow states except to the 
degree that they also are, or become, one of the next two forms 
of flow. But they can be a focus for mindfulness practice, and 
in that context are helpful for providing a feeling of flow. Sec- 
ond, there is cross-directional flow, which refers to the blurring, 
movement between, or achieved unity of the internal (“In”) and 
external (“Out”); by definition, this is, or includes, nonduality. 
And third, there is evental-processual flow, which is the category 



consisting of flow experiences characterized by change over 
time (temporal flow) or variability in nature and sensation (tex- 
tural flow): for instance, arising/passing (which Shinzen labels 
“Here!” and “Gone!”), vibratory, undulating, and so on. 

Considering all of these as forms of “flow” and taking them 
as intersecting with the other two orientations (“in” and “out”), 
the following set of possibilities is generated (Table 1). In each 
category, I am including examples taken from ordinary experi- 
ence, indicated by “O? and examples taken from mindfulness/ 
meditation or spiritual practice, indicated by “M” (See Appen- 
dix 2 for a more complete rendition of the cube.) 

It is important to remember that this map tells us nothing 
specifically about the things encountered in life—the others, 
which, for humans, could include other people, animals, dream 
semblances, or stars. Rather, the map is intended to be used for 
orienting oneself from the inside of one’s own experience. One 
could use it in any of the following ways: as a classification of 
types of experience, and of types of meditative and spiritual ex- 
perience in particular; as suggesting the relations between these 
different types of experience; as a map of the territory travers- 
able during insight or “open monitoring” styles of meditation, 
both in traditional sitting practice and during active participa- 
tion in everyday life; as suggesting what a complete system of 
human developmental education might include; and as a man- 
dala-like object of contemplation that would help one habituate 
one’s thinking into a triadic, process-relational style.*° 

26 Overviews of research on mindfulness meditation techniques and how they 
affect their practitioners include Kirk W. Brown, J. David Cresswell, and 
Richard M. Ryan, eds., Handbook of Mindfulness: Theory, Research, and 
Practice (New York: Guilford, 2015); Social Cognitive and Affective Neurosci- 
ence 8, no. 1 (special issue on mindfulness neuroscience); Claire Braboszcz, 
Stephanie Hahusseau, and Arnaud Delorme, “Meditation and Neurosci- 
ence: From Basic Research to Clinical Practice,” in Integrative Clinical Psy- 
chology, Psychiatry, and Behavioral Medicine, ed. Roland Carlstedt, 1910-29 
(New York: Springer, 2010); and the classic study by Antoine Lutz, John 
Dunne, and Richard Davidson, “Meditation and the Neuroscience of Con- 
sciousness,’ in Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness, eds. Morris Mosco- 





O: Absorption in 
sensory activity, 
“pure” sensing 
M: Sensory-ab- 
sorptive medita- 


O: Action in the 
world, doing (of 
any kind) 

M: Active medita- 
tion, “spirit pos- 
session’; Karma 
Yoga, “good 


O: Science, logical 
reasoning (about 
external world) 
M: Integral sci- 



O: Dream states, 
absorption in subjec- 
tive/internal activity 
M: Vipassana 
(insight) medita- 
tion; See-in, Hear-in, 


O: Visualizing scenes 
in “mind’s eye” (e.g., 
while listening to a 
story or reading a 
poem or novel) 

M: Visualization, 
metta, mantra medi- 
tation; Tantra, deity 
meditation; “Focus- 

O: Psychology, Car- 
tesian introspection 
M: Analytical medi- 
tation, Jnana- Yoga 

Table 1 


O: Free activity 
M: Nondual flow 

O: Intersubjec- 
tive observation 
M: Nondual 
awareness; See/ 
Hear/Feel flow 

O: Action with 
the world, doing- 
with, social/col- 
lective action 

M: Nondual Tan- 
tra/deity ritual; 
nondual action 


O: Integral, 
M:Nondual free 
activity, enlight- 
ened flow, Praxis, 
“complete experi- 


With practice, as one begins to get familiar with these mo- 
dalities in one’s own experience, one also begins to experience 
the flow that connects them, and us, to all the other sentient be- 
ings (and beyond) making up the universe. That, at least, is the 
promise offered by such practices. 

Dark flow, or the great sucking sound at the heart of things 

But all of that still sounds too smooth, too graspable and tame; 
it disguises the harshness of Reality. For there is always the great 
sucking sound at the heart of all things: that of their withdrawal. 

The image of “dark flow,’ described in a New Scientist article 
as 1400 galaxy clusters streaming toward the edge of the universe 
at blistering speed in the ongoing “afterglow” of the big bang, 
has haunted me ever since I first read about it. Caused “shortly 
after the big bang by something no longer in the observable 
universe,’ and possibly by “a force exerted by other universes 
squeez[ing] ours” (a force doing what...?), I can’t help thinking 
that astrophysicists are arriving at the point where the known 
universe is being bounded and taking its place amidst a more 
mysterious space of otherness, where we have no clue — indeed, 
cannot have a clue— about what goes on.” So it becomes the 
realm of poetry, of dreams and nightmares, of haunted imagin- 
ings, like the deep sea, beyond the reach of sunlight, that still 
fascinates us, but even more deep, dark, and vital. 

Einstein famously said that “as our circle of knowledge ex- 
pands, so does the circumference of darkness surrounding 
it” Perhaps recent events and their reflections in popular cul- 
ture — terrorist incidents, refugee emergencies, economic crises 
with their Ponzi schemes, bank machinations, and the West’s 
growing interdependence with poker-faced and unreadable na- 
tions (like North Korea), gradually accumulating reports about 

vitch, Philip Zelazo, and Evan Thompson, 497-549 (Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 2007). 

27 Quotes from Marcus Chown, “Mystery ‘Dark Flow’ Extends Towards Edge 
of Universe,’ New Scientist, November 14, 2009, 11. 



climate change, and films about forthcoming apocalypses, zom- 
bies, and vampires — all are conspiring to make things seem 
more curious, more spooky, and more surrounded by a kind of 
lingering, lumbering darkness. 

Slavoj Zizek’s account of the Robert Heinlein novel The Un- 
pleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag includes a lovely passage 
where Zizek equates the Lacanian Real, the unassimilable kernel 
around which subjectivity is formed, with the “grey and form- 
less mist, pulsing slowly as if with inchoate life” that emerges at 
the boundary of the known world and the unknown, outside a 
traveling couple’s car window. Buddhist accounts of emptiness 
generally lack the Lacanian spookiness conveyed here (though 
its hardly foreign to the Tibetan tantrics, with their nighttime 
graveyard meditations), but, to the goth-loving nature hound, 
these make a comforting addition. The passage is worth repro- 
ducing in detail. “At the denouement of the story,’ Zizek writes, 

Hoag invites Randall and his wife to a picnic in the country. 
He tells them that he has at last become aware of his true 
identity: he is actually an art critic, though of a peculiar kind. 
Our universe, he says, is only one of several, and the masters 
of all the universes are mysterious beings who create differ- 
ent worlds, including our own, as experimental works of art. 
To maintain the artistic perfection of their efforts, these cos- 
mic artificers from time to time send into their creations one 
of their own kind disguised as a native, to act as a kind of 
universal art critic. The mysterious committee members who 
summoned Randall are representatives of an evil and inferior 
divinity attempting to corrupt the work of the cosmic artists. 

Hoag informs Randall and his wife that, in the course of 
his visit to this universe, he has discovered one or two minor 
blemishes which he intends to have put right during the next 
few hours. Randall and his wife will notice nothing; but on 
the drive home to New York, they must under no circum- 
stances open the windows of their car. They set off, and the 
journey is uneventful until they witness a road accident. At 
first they ignore it and continue on their way; but when they 



see a patrolman their sense of duty prevails and they stop to 
report the accident. Randall asks his wife to lower her win- 
dow a little.” 

Here Zizek quotes from the original Heinlein novel: 

“She complied, then gave a sharp intake of breath and swal- 
lowed a scream. He did not scream, but he wanted to. Outside 
the open windows was no sunlight, no cops, no kids — noth- 
ing. Nothing but a grey and formless mist, pulsing slowly as if 
with inchoate life. They could see nothing of the city through 
it, not because it was too dense but because it was — emp- 
ty. No sound came out of it; no movement showed in it. It 
merged with the frame of the window and began to drift 
inside. Randall shouted, “Roll up the window!” She tried to 
obey, but her hands were nerveless; he reached across her 
and cranked it up himself, jamming it hard into its seat.The 
sunny scene was restored; through the glass they saw the 
patrolman, the boisterous game, the sidewalk, and the city 
beyond. Cynthia put a hand on his arm. “Drive on, Teddy!” 
“Wait a minute,” he said tensely, and turned to the window 
beside him. Very cautiously he rolled it down — just a crack, 
less than an inch. It was enough. The formless grey flux was 
out there, too; through the glass city traffic and sunny street 
were plain, through the opening — nothing” 


“What is this ‘grey and formless mist;” Zizek continues, “if not 
the Lacanian Real—the pulsing of the pre-symbolic substance 
in all its abhorrent vitality?” This substance “irrupts on the very 
boundary separating the ‘outside’ from the ‘inside; material- 
ized in this case by the car window.” Like the car window, from 
which “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear” (and 

28 Slavoj Zizek, “The Undergrowth of Enjoyment: How Popular Culture Can 
Serve as an Introduction to Lacan; New Formations 9 (1989): 7-29, at 12. 

29 Ibid. 

30 Ibid. 



through which our starting objects flew out, in Part 1), this car 
window creates a discontinuity between the world as known 
and that which is typically mere backdrop, but which here is 
something altogether different. Zizek writes: 

It is as if, for a moment, the “projection” of the outside world 
has stopped working; as if we have been confronted momen- 
tarily with the formless grey emptiness of the screen itself, 
with the Mallarmean “place where nothing takes place but 
the place? 

David Lynch’s Red Room (from Twin Peaks) comes to mind as 

Continuity and proportion are not possible because this dis- 
proportion, the surplus of inside in relation to outside, is a 
necessary structural effect of the very separation of the two; it 
can only be abolished by demolishing the barrier and letting 
the outside swallow the inside.” 

This “excess” of the inside is “the fantasy-space — the mysterious 
thirteenth floor, the surplus space which is a persistent motif in 
science fiction and mystery stories.”® It is at this point that we 
wake up from our dream, like Chuang Tzu, not knowing if we 
are Chuang Tzu having dreamt we were a butterfly (or Zizek 
dreaming he was a black widow spider) or vice versa: if the spi- 
der is dreaming of this reader and viewer carried along by a text 
toward oblivion. 

That oblivion, at the macro level, is the window out of which 
we ourselves disappear into the darkness, the quiet whimper 
of our world flushed out into the heat-death of the universe. 
Philosophers can debate whether the flushing out is balanced 
by an equivalent in-flush or “reflux” elsewhere, with the whole 

31 Ibid., 13. 
32 Ibid. 
33 Ibid. 



constituting a closed system, or one redeemed by God, or if it 
is final — an asymmetrical vector where departure is for good. 
Randall and his wife witness the rippling flow speeding back 
down the rabbit-hole, to the source from which it and their en- 
tire world arose and to which all things return in the end, or 
perhaps now. Spiritual traditions often color this flow as bright, 
full rather than empty (full of light, for instance), but it seems 
more reasonable to propose the image of Dark Flow as the cos- 
mic Real, the shimmering atomic structure of things behind the 
structured object-world we (think we) see. Dark Flow is the 
wave-like spirit-energy that Buddhists call “emptiness” only be- 
cause giving it a more substantialist term would already be a 
way of trying to contain and claim it. This Reality is unclaimable 
and uncontainable. If astrophysicists hadn't “seen” it, we would 
have had to invent it. (I mean we, invent, #.) 

The apophatic, inside-out twist 

Zizek’s articulation of the Real provides a nice backdrop for what 
we might call the Quaker, or apophatic, shift in our bodymind 
mapmaking. (Apophatic, adndgaotc, refers to something ob- 
tained through negation or denial; something like our crossed 
out Real.) 

Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, are the ones 
within the Christian tradition whose practices have been most 
shaped by the idea of silence. Quaker “silent worship” cultivates 
a receptivity to the “voice of God within,” which is taken to pre- 
cede the ability to live “in the light” of that quiet voice, a voice 
felt “in the heart.” We could just as well refer here to the cosmic 
immensity of Vishnu (or Cthulhu, for that matter), where even 
the heart is rendered elusive in the light of what is beyond it. 
The point is that there is an opposite move to be made with each 
of the forms of positive noting indicated by Shinzen’s system of 
practices. There is something, yes, but there is also the nothing 
that surrounds it, from which it arises and to which it returns. 

If our game-board is a Rubik’s cube, the apophatic game- 
board is that cube twisted inside out, or, better, entered into, 



as if we were entering the Red Room at the heart of all six sides 
of our triply-cubed cube. Inside out, the game-board’s three di- 
mensions appear as follows: 

1. Behind all appearance—all sound, all image, all feel- 
ing—there is the void: the Emptiness beyond feeling, the 
Silence beyond hearing, the Darkness beyond seeing. There 
is that which withdraws from appearance, which is the place 
from which appearances arise and to which they return. It is 
dark matter, the ocean of being, the zero state of appearance. 

2. Behind all action — all touching, sounding, and showing — is 
the rippling tenderness felt by the heart, from which action 
arises and to which it returns: the palpitating Tremor of flesh 
at the origin of feeling and touching; the tremulous Murmur 
of sound at the origin of hearing, sounding, and speaking; 
the radiant Flicker of light at the origin of sight and of show- 
ing. It is unbounded feeling, the ocean of becoming, the zero 
state of relationality. 

3. And behind all realization — all movement, all communica- 
tion, all mapped understanding — there is the unfathomable 
Mystery, the “cloud of unknowing” that precedes knowing 
and that engulfs it in the end: the Immovable, the Unspeak- 
able, and the Invisible and utterly Unknowable. It is the shad- 
owy presence that withdraws from realization, from which 
all realization arises and to which it returns, realization in its 
zero State, the realization that is non-realization. 

These can in turn become focal points for one’s bodymindful- 
ness practice in three ways that reverse the terms of the pre- 
vious. First, where Sensing (or Noting) practice typically pays 
attention to what is going on, “Reverse Sensing” involves pay- 
ing attention to the background from which “what is going on” 
arises and to which it returns, that is, to the silence, the dark- 
ness, the emptiness, the void. Second, where Action practice 
typically pays attention to what one is doing (in interaction 
with others), “Reverse Action” involves paying attention to the 
background from which “what one is doing” arises and to which 



it returns, that is, to the heartful flicker, murmur, and tremor 
within and out of which all relational engagements unfold. And 
third, where Realization practice typically pays attention to 
“what is realizing” from one’s actions (or from intersubjective 
activity), “Reverse Realization” involves paying attention to the 
background from which “what is realizing” arises and to which 
it returns, that is, to the mystery that is unknowable, invisible, 
unspeakable, and immovable. 

Things start to sound Zen-like and paradoxical at the point 
that one undertakes these shifts. This triad of Emptiness, Heart, 
and Mystery pertains to context, or to the dark absence that 
surrounds what is emerging into presence. It is the shadow of 
the original triad (Sensing-Acting-Realizing), the Triad of Ab- 
sence to that Triad of Presence. It is the penumbral Real that 
surrounds all things in their irreality and ungraspability. It is 
also an indicator of how we might shadow the “reality” of the 
Anthropocene. (For practices associated with this apophatic 
shift, see Appendix 3.) 

Returning to the things themselves, differently 

Maps like the one presented here make it sound as if the goal of 
such bodymindfulness practice is to accede to the “top” which 
is the level of complete thirdness, complete Realization in and 
as Flow. But then, you might ask, why do meditation systems 
most commonly gear their practitioners toward the lower levels 
of this diagram, especially the observation of mere internal or 
external experience? 

The reason for this is that by the time we get to the stage 
in our lives at which a rigorous meditative or spiritual practice 
comes to seem useful, the world has for us become so pre-inter- 
preted and predigested, its meanings and thirdnesses so settled 
and overburdened with habit that a return to the basic build- 
ing blocks becomes necessary. (It’s true that, for Peirce, habit is 
in the nature of all things, and always on the increase, but it is 
always habit shot through with chance and infinitely revisable. 
It is habit raised to the level of meaningfulness and reasonable- 



ness, in the best sense of these words.) It is precisely because 
self and other, subject and object, interior and exterior, are so 
settled — and at the same time so shot through with dissatisfac- 
tion — that one must go back to firstness (and then secondness) 
with an eye for unsettling them. This enables seeing that things 
are not what we think they are, but rather, that they are a flow 
that overflows the boundaries in which we have contained them 
all along. Once this flow is observed in experience and lived in 
action, it can be realized as “complete experience.” 

Observation is therefore the first step of a disciplined pro- 
gram for learning what the bodymind can do. But this observa- 
tion —if it successfully notices the process-relational nature of 
all things, including self and world, subjects and objects — be- 
comes a movement with what is observed. There is no halting 
the process at firstness or secondness. Insofar as attending to 
what is before us is a choice, a movement on our part, we can say 
that conscious firstness is secondness. Similarly, conscious sec- 
ondness — intentional, reflexive responsiveness to that which 
moves us to response —is thirdness, or realization. And con- 
scious thirdness is completion in the moment, which impreg- 
nates the next moment with its novel possibilities. As always and 
ever moving, we (bodyminds) enter into relations with other 
bodyminds — entities or processes characterized both by men- 
tality and physicality — which are all moving in their own ways, 
and which are ultimately never quite “their own” 

Even if one follows an object-oriented metaphysics here and 
opts for thinking of these as entities that ultimately withdraw 
or withhold something from all relationality, that withdrawn 
essence, in a process-relational view, is always a withdrawing- 
to: it is never simply a withdrawing-into, that is, a withdrawing 
into something stable, steady, and predetermined called “one- 
self? What the withdrawal withdraws to is the source of the flow 
that gives rise to it, which is the destination for the dark flow of 
the universe, and which is always — if we follow Deleuze and 
Whitehead — becoming different from itself. It is, in a word, elu- 
sive. The stream moves as we speak, as Heraclitus suggested and 
as Derrida, in his wordsmithy ways, demonstrated. (Derrida 



demonstrated it only for words, but we can take the next step, 
with Nagarjuna, to the deconstruction of experience itself.) 

Toward a logo-ethico-aesthetics of existence 

If there is process both at the heart of every “eventity” and folded 
into, and unfolding through, the capacities that are actualized in 
every moment, then we are at the core of the crystallization of 
every moment in our experience. But, then, who we? 

We are those who attend, act upon, and realize. To the extent 
that something — anything —is capable of noting, responding 
to, and realizing something, of subjectivating in relation to ob- 
jectified facts so as to create a new realization, a living effect that 
is added to the universe — to that extent it is a real agent. (And 
to the extent that our agency is intimate only to ourselves, we 
are secret agents. We become public through recognition by oth- 
ers, but our own experience always retains its secrecy. Not only 
that — it always dissolves from us when we attempt to still and 
to grasp it. Its secrecy retains its own secrecy.) 

Agency is an event in the sense that its realization eventuates, 
at which point it is turned into grist for the mill for future events. 
But if there is continuity from one event to the next — which 
there is for anything that works to maintain some stability of 
identity over time — then it is a real entity that can be said not 
only to act, but to note and to realize. This is the Peircian contri- 
bution to how we understand agential things. The simultaneous 
“folding into” and “forking out of” that sense of our own agency 
is what makes us up, and in the unfolding of triads — of not- 
ing, acting, and realizing — there is continual flowering. (It is a 

34 On the parallels between Derridean deconstruction and Nagarjuna’s Mad- 
hyamika philosophy, see Harold Coward and Toby Foshay, eds., Derrida and 
Negative Theology (Albany: suNny Press, 1992); Robert Magliola, Derrida on 
the Mend (West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1984); and Cai Zong-qi, 
“Derrida and Madhyamika Buddhism: From Linguistic Deconstruction to 
Criticism of Onto-Theologies,” International Philosophical Quarterly 33, no. 
2. (1993): 183-95. 



rhizomatic flowering, always on the move. But its aroma is real, 
knowable, tastable, for the moment that it lingers.) 

Another Peircean triad that plays a particularly acute role in 
the moments of decision by which entities (or “eventities”) like 
us become, is the triad referred to by Peirce under the deceptive- 
ly technical label of “normative sciences.” Unlike phenomenol- 
ogy, which for Peirce inquires into phenomena as they appear 
(that is, in their firstness), and metaphysics, which inquires into 
reality as it really and ultimately is (in its thirdness), the norma- 
tive sciences examine phenomena in their secondness — that is, 
in the ways they act upon us and we in turn act upon them. It is 
with these that we find our opening to act and affect the world, 
to respond to it creatively, and to renegotiate and reframe our 
own and others’ potentialities for future action. 

The three normative sciences, for Peirce, are aesthetics, eth- 
ics, and logic.* As entities capable of acting both upon others 
and upon ourselves, we are, for Peirce, called upon to cultivate 
habits by which we can manifest the ethically good, the logically 
true, and the aesthetically beautiful — or at least to decide upon 
how we would define our own “good, true, and beautiful,” to be 
tested out in action within our lives. Insofar as they are mat- 

35 The division of the normative sciences into aesthetics, ethics, and logic 
came relatively late in the development of Peirce’s thought and is found 
in its most complete form in his writings and lectures from 1902 onward. 
See especially the fifth of his Harvard Lectures on Pragmatism, “The Three 
Normative Sciences,” in The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings, 
Vol. 2 (1893-1913), ed. Peirce Edition Project, 196-207 (Bloomington: Indi- 
ana University Press, 1998); and “An Outline Classification of the Sciences” 
in the same volume, 256-62. See also Beverley Kent, Charles S. Peirce: Logic 
and the Classification of the Sciences (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University 
Press, 1987); Bent Sorensen and Torkild Leo Thellefsen, “The Normative 
Sciences, the Sign Universe, Self-Control and Relationality — According to 
Peirce? Cosmos and History 6, no. 1 (2010): 142-52; Martin Lefebvre, “Pei- 
rce’s Esthetics: A Taste for Signs in Art,” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce 
Society 43, no. 2 (2007): 319-44; Carl M. Smith, “The Aesthetics of Charles 
S. Peirce? Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 31, no. 1 (1972): 21-29; Her- 
man Parret, ed., Peirce and Value Theory (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 
1994); Aaron Massecar, Ethical Habits: A Peircean Perspective (New York: 
Lexington Books, 2016). 



ters of cultivation, the normative sciences are as much science 
as art. They are akin to Michel Foucault’s “techniques of the self” 
or “arts of existence”>*— arts by which we cultivate habits that 
allow us to appreciate and manifest the beautiful or admirable 
(aesthetics), the just and virtuous in our relationships with oth- 
ers (ethics), and the truthful in our understanding of the world 

A “logo-ethico-aesthetics” is in this sense not mere study, but 
always an appreciation (being aesthetic), an action (that is ethi- 
cal), and a commitment to learning alongside others into the 
indefinite future (which is logic, as conceived broadly by Pei- 
rce). With his focus on the cultivation of habits, Peirce strove 
in his ethics, in Aaron Massecar’s words, “not to advocate for 
one ideal over another, but to ensure that the ideals that one 
is already striving for are actually worthy of admiration.”” Aes- 
thetics, here, involves the capacity to appreciate the admirable; 
ethics, the capacity to pursue it through action; and logic, the 
pursuit of it through thought. 

It is through the cultivation of new habits of mind and body 
that we can modify our behavior in coordination with our be- 
liefs, so as to test whether those beliefs ought to be accepted 
or rejected. Aesthetic habits concern firstness, the “quality of 
feeling” of a phenomenon, and so an important supplement to 
aesthetics will be the cultivation of “habits of feeling” that al- 
low us to appreciate the “admirable.”** Ethical habits concern 
secondness, or reaction and relation, such that ethics relate to 
“the deliberate formation of habits of action consistent with the 

36 See Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collége 
de France 1981-1982, ed. Frederic Gros (New York: Picador, 2005); Luther 
H. Martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick Hutton, eds., Technologies of the 
Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault (Amherst: University of Massacusetts 
Press, 1988). 

37 Aaron Massecar, Ethical Habits, 139. 

38 See Charles S. Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, eds. Charles 
Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958), 
5.129 and 8.256; and Parret, “Peircean Fragments on the Aesthetic Experi- 
ence,” 181ff. 



ethical ideal” and with the “deliberately adopted aim’? Logi- 
cal habits concern thirdness, or mediated representation, pat- 
tern, and law. The goal of logic is to discover the “habits of in- 
ference that lead to knowledge, including positive knowledge” 
(supposing there is a reality to a given phenomenon), and “to 
such semblance of knowledge as phenomena permit (supposing 
there is no perfect reality).’4° While logic is about truth and fal- 
sity, and ethics is about “wise and foolish conduct,’ aesthetics is 
about “attractive and repulsive ideas” and more generally about 
“expressiveness.’" Let us examine each of these further in light 
of process-relational thinking. 

Aesthetics. An aesthetic of firstness, for Peirce, was not merely 
about our appreciation and evaluation of things that appear to 
us, such as art or physical appearance. It is also about our com- 
portment toward those appearances: about the ways we allow 
things to appear to us and the ways we cultivate the appearance 
of things to us. This aesthetic of appearances concerns perceiv- 
ing and cultivating something like the beauty in things. “Beauty” 
is a risky term here, since it is culturally variable. Peirce found it 
inadequate, preferring the Greek terms kalos and agamai, since 
they accommodated the unbeautiful within their scope, and 
Peirce acknowledged that aesthetic goodness is hardly encom- 
passable within our perception of what is pleasant or not.” 
Like Peirce, Whitehead prioritized aesthetics as an essen- 
tial and primordial facet of all experience, more fundamental 
than either ethics or logic, and from which the latter two are 
at least in some measure derived. For Whitehead, the produc- 
tion of beauty was in fact the telos of the universe. In Adventures 
of Ideas, where it figures as one of five qualities of a civilized 

39 This phrasing is Beverley Kent’s, from Charles S. Peirce, 165, 133. 

40 Ibid., 170. 

41 Peirce, Collected Papers, 5.551; “The Three Normative Sciences,” in The Es- 
sential Peirce, vol. 2, 203. 

42 Kent, Charles S. Peirce, 154-55. Similarly, Whitehead spoke of the value of 
Discord for the development of Beauty (terms that he capitalized in Adven- 
tures of Ideas, 252ff.). 



society, Whitehead defined beauty initially as “the mutual ad- 
aptation of the several factors in an occasion of experience,’ 
but then qualified and complicated this by discussing “major” 
versus “minor” beauty (the former produces intensity through 
novel contrasts, while the latter merely exhibits harmony among 
factors), and by insisting on the importance of dissonance or 
discord in prompting “adventure.” 

In his theory of aesthetics, Whitehead distinguished the more 
conventional form of perception “in the mode of presentational 
immediacy,’ with its vivid, focused sense percepts, from “per- 
ception in the mode of causal efficacy,’ which perceives through 
feeling-tones disclosing the wholeness, interrelatedness, and 
background texture surrounding events in time. Causal efficacy, 
Catherine Keller writes, “is the underworld of actuality: the past 
energetically decomposing as the very ground of the present’s 
composition.’“* The two modes combine into the hybrid form 
of perception Whitehead called “symbolic reference,’ which he 
thought was able to render the focal percepts of the first mode as 
poetic evocations of the flow of time, with its “perishability” and 
“tragic beauty.’ Steve Odin compares Whitehead’s “poetics of 
evanescence” with the use of images found in Romantic poetry 
(which Whitehead often quoted) and in Japanese aesthetics. In 
his last book, Modes of Thought, for instance, Whitehead quotes 
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Hellas”: 

World on worlds are rolling ever 
From creation to decay, 
Like Bubbles in a river, 

43 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 252. 

44 Catherine Keller, “Psychocosmetics and the Underworld Connection, in 
Archetypal Process: Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman, ed. 
David R. Griffin (Northwestern University Press, 1989), 141. 

45 Whitehead’s most extended treatment of aesthetic perception comes in 
Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect (New York: Fordham Unviersity Press, 
1927/1985). Steve Odin’s Tragic Beauty in Whitehead and Japanese Aesthet- 
ics (New York: Lexington Books, 2016) provides a detailed exegesis of the 
later Whitehead’s axiological “process aesthetics” with its focus on “beauty 
as perishability.” 



Sparkling, bursting, borne away.** 

Aside from being an effective evocation of Whitehead’s entire 
ontology, a quote like this demonstrates the kind of “tragic 
beauty” that is the culminating note of Whitehead’s 1933 book 
Adventures in Ideas: 

At the heart of the nature of things, there are always the 
dream of youth and the harvest of tragedy. The Adventure of 
the Universe starts with the dream and reaps tragic Beauty. 
[...] The immediate experience of this Final Fact, with its 
union of Youth and Tragedy, is the sense of Peace. In this way 
the World receives its persuasion towards such perfections as 
are possible for its diverse individual occasions.“ 

In Steve Odin’s exegesis, this provides a key to Whitehead’s “aes- 
thetic of perishing,” which resonates with the Buddhist-Lacani- 
an perception of “dark flow” articulated earlier and with Peirce’s 
sense of aesthetics as the capacity for perceiving the arisings of 
firstness in the world. Odin compares it also to Dogen Zenji’s 
thirteenth century Zen Buddhist metaphysics of “reality as gen- 
jokoan, with its emphasis on the “presence of things as they are” 
in their perishability and impermanence. 

Summarizing, we can say that to the extent that all percep- 
tions arise in relational contexts, aesthetic perception as such 
involves perception of a thing against and in relation to its back- 
ground — a perception of the wholeness of what appears in the 
clarity of its appearance, but always framed by the background 
of its arising and its passing. This also means an awareness of 
its emergence into being (firstness), into interactivity (second- 
ness), and into meaning (thirdness). In the context of our eve- 
ryday lives, this suggests expanding our capacity to perceive and 
appreciate the nature of things — to see them not just as objects, 

46 Whitehead, Modes of Thought, 44. See Odin, Tragic Beauty in Whitehead 
and Japanese Aesthetics. 
47 Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, 296. 



present-at-hand (Vorhanden) or ready-to-hand (Zuhanden), 
but as processual enactments and achievements with a fragile 
and distinct integrity of their own, set against the background 
of their disappearance. 

Ethics. The tradition of ethical thought associated with process- 
relational theory is longstanding and rich. The core of such 
thought commonly rests on a disavowal of the fact-value dis- 
tinction, wherein values are considered to be separate from the 
concrete particulars of existence. At the foundation of a White- 
headian ontology, Brian Henning posits, is the rejection of “in- 
dependent existence”: “every entity,’ Whitehead wrote, “is only 
to be understood in terms of the way in which it is interwo- 
ven with the rest of the Universe.’** With his understanding of 
creativity as the “universal of universals,”” Whitehead simultane- 
ously affirmed the particular and the universal, the individual 
“actual occasion” and the solidarity of the whole to which it is 
responding and contributing. At the same time, it is not the ab- 
stract judgment but the concrete, relational act that is central 
in his account. As Whitehead wrote, “in the case of those actu- 
alities whose immediate experience is most completely open to 
us, namely, human beings,” he writes, “the final decision of the 
immediate subject-superject, constituting the ultimate modi- 
fication of subjective aim, is the foundation of our experience 
of responsibility, of approbation or of disapprobation, of self- 
approval or of self-reproach, of freedom, of emphasis. This ele- 
ment in experience,’ he continues, “governs the whole tone of 
human life?*? Beyond any causally constitutive determinations 
of any action, in other words, there is always the decisive act 
by which subjectivation occurs, the act by which subjectivity, 
responsibility, and effectiveness is constituted. Biologist Charles 
Birch and theologian John Cobb have influentially advanced the 

48 Whitehead, “Immortality, quoted in Brian G. Henning, Ethics of Creativity: 
Beauty, Morality, and Nature in a Processive Cosmos (Pittsburgh: University 
of Pittsburgh, 2005), 29. 

49 A.N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, ed. David R. Griffin and Donald W. 
Sherburne, corr. edn. (New York: Free Press, 1978), 47. 



argument that Whiteheadian theory advocates the “liberation of 
life” at all levels at which decisions-making are made, “from the 
cell to the community” — which Cobb has argued must extend 
today to that of the planet.°° 

Judith Jones has proposed an ethic based on Whitehead’s no- 
tions of attention and intensity, wherein agency is reconceived 
as “the organ of attention to reality.” For Whitehead, she writes, 

Each moral event, in its quest for intensity of feeling, stands 
forth as the locus of our moral being. The moral significance 
of our existence cannot be relegated to some dim ‘other time, 
for we pervade all times by virtue of our very immediacy. 
Any given individual experience bears not only on the cu- 
mulative history of our past, but also on the real potentiali- 
ties of our future.” 

What endures, in all cases of our action, “is the character of the 
present achievement, not a self that can disown it or ‘make up’ 
for it? Ethical action is therefore not a matter of living up to 
a standard, but a matter of acting in a way as to yield beauty, a 
beauty conceived as the “intensity of feeling” arising from the 
patterns of experience that are possible among the subjectal 
arisings akin to this one, and those that are conceivable as con- 
tributing to the greater beauty of the whole in which we find 

The ethical imperative, conceived in this way, is also about 
cultivating ways of responding to others such that we sympa- 
thetically recognize their positioning in their interactions with 

50 Charles Birch and John B. Cobb, The Liberation of Life: From the Cell to the 
Community (London: Cambridge University Press, 1981). And see Theodore 
Walker Jr. and Mihaly Toth, eds., Whiteheadian Ethics: Abstracts and Pa- 
pers from the Ethics Section of the Philosophy Group at the 6th International 
Whitehead Conference at the University of Salzburg, July 2006 (Newcastle: 
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008). 

51 Judith Jones, Intensity: An Essay in Whiteheadian Ontology (London: Van- 
derbilt University Press, 1998), 182. 

52 Ibid., 181. 

53 Ibid. 



us. If ethics is the cultivation of skillful action in response to 
others, and if self and other are perceived as dynamically in- 
teractive forms arising out of patterned relations, then ethics is 
a matter not of rules and injunctions, but of motivated action 
amidst encounter. Ethics (a second), for Peirce, builds on aes- 
thetics (a first), just as logic (a third) builds on both. An aes- 
thetic of process-relational ethics is a cultivation of empathic 
relations, relations amidst subjectal arisings— self-semioses 
(since the self, as understood by Peirce, is a sign) that we know 
arise independently of us, yet are in some sense analogous to 
our own subjectivation. Those encountered become not mere 
objects for our admiration or judgment, but elusive strangers, 
whose faces beckon to us even as they decline to reveal them- 
selves fully. Each relation places us at risk that out of it we may 
emerge no longer ourselves, but other. 

Logic. Finally, informed by the aesthetic (in-habited feelings 
and percepts) and the ethical (in-habited action), logic is also 
something different from the rule-based form of reasoning that 
is commonly counterposed against the failings of illogic. It is, 
for Whitehead and for Peirce, more akin to what we might call 
ecologic, a skillful understanding of relational emergence (ap- 
pearance), interaction, and generality. An ethico-aesthetics of 
ecologic—an eco-logo-ethico-aesthetics — involves recogniz- 
ing, and in turn cultivating, the vitality of the systemic connec- 
tions that sustain a whole, which means a cultivation of skillful 
understanding that emanates as praxis, since it enfolds action 
and perception within itself. 

Each of these three aesthetics I have outlined — of appear- 
ances, of relational encounters, and of ecology —is a selective 
response to a broader array of possibilities that encompass 
beauty alongside ugliness, good alongside evil, justice alongside 
injustice, and systemic cohesion alongside disorder and col- 
lapse. Being attentive to these options, and acknowledging their 
viability even as one opts for one of them over another, means 
recognizing that chaos or injustice, for instance, are not neces- 
sarily “bad” In given circumstances one might even decide that 



it is right to cultivate the beauty and truthfulness of the chaotic, 
or the dissonance of justice. 

Such a logo-ethico-aesthetics, in other words, is not pre- 
scriptive in advance of a situation. It is a method of movement 
through situations that recognizes the dependence of thirdness 
(logic, ecology, pattern) on secondness (ethics, action, actual- 
ity), and of both on firstness (appearance, aesthetics, qualitative 
potency).* It involves a continual “thickening” or “deepening” 
of the moment, with its arisings and passings, to receive its 
“soulful” call to us for action and response in light of their back- 
ground of flow and transitoriness. 

If there is an essential action here — a kind of primal gesture 
of process-relational awareness — it isa movement that proceeds 
from (1) careful attending to (2) “widening” and “deepening” to 
(3) motion or action, which in turn realizes the valuative capaci- 
ties presented by those widened and deepened contexts. That 
is, one begins by attending to that which is there (whatever it is 
we are encountering); expands that attention through a simul- 
taneous widening of contextual relevances and a deepening of 
valuative feeling; and responsively moves with and in relation to 
the object or matter at the center of our concern. Through that 
movement, the contexts and values are “played,” as it were, in a 
kind of echoing or rippling of the resonant harmonies set off by 
the responsive action. (For an exercise related to this “gesture, 
see “Widening and deepening practice,” Appendix 3, Exercise 5.) 

In attending respectfully to what we encounter and open- 
ing ourselves to the perception of what in it is admirable, we 
learn to master the art of firstness, or the aesthetic. In valuing 

54 Peirce’s thinking on beauty and ugliness, good and evil, and coherence 
and incoherence, retained some ambiguity right through to the end of his 
life. For instance, he wrote: “Man comes to his normal development only 
through the so-called evil passions, which are evil, only in the sense that 
they ought to be controlled, and are good as the only possible agency for 
giving man his full development” (cited in Kent, Charles S. Peirce, 155). Evil 
is, in this sense, “perfection in God’s eyes? but while people can move to- 
ward a God-like vision, they have not at present (if ever) attained that vi- 



and contextualizing the significances of the situation, we do the 
same with the art of thirdness, that of logic. And in acting ac- 
cording to the valuative resonances enabled thereby, we exercise 
ourselves in ethical secondness. (The order of the categories, as 
you see, is not linear; they interact at every level and in each di- 
rection.) This “triple gesture” involves a willingness to consider 
the multiple factors at play in a given situation, to weigh them 
out in terms of the intensities they make available and the op- 
portunities for producing beauty in any resulting synthesis, and 
to seek always to “go beyond” any given synthesis as one reaches 
toward a future that remains open and pregnant with further 
possibility. To act logically, in this sense, is to give sustenance to 
the flowering of an open and dynamic universe. 

Praxis. Any such ongoing effort when turned into a logo-ethico- 
aesthetic praxis, if it is to be effective, ought to become embod- 
ied and ina sense “ritualized,” so that it can sediment within the 
“in-habited” bodymind of its practitioner. Doing this requires 
developing some set of iterative techniques, with ritualized ways 
of taking account of how one is doing. In his later years, Peirce 
seemed to be moving toward an elaboration of techniques for 
this cultivation of habits — an elaboration that Aaron Massecar 
classifies into nine steps by which aesthetically derived “ideals” 
are adopted, tested, and embodied as habits aimed toward the 
growth of what Peirce called “concrete reasonableness.”® Fortu- 
nately, examples of how such practices can be incorporated into 
one’s life are found much more widely than this, scattered as they 
are across the world’s religions and their respective traditions of 
“self-cultivation, from those of Stoic, Neoplatonic, Daoist, or 
Confucian philosophers to Christian, Jewish, and Sufi mystics, 
to those practiced by Neo-Pagans, ritual magicians, and other 
psychospiritual explorers today. I will not elaborate on these ex- 
cept to say that in almost all of these traditions, a daily regimen 
has been recognized as particularly helpful. 

55 Aaron Massecar, “The Fitness of an Ideal: A Peircean Ethics,’ Contemporary 
Pragmatism 10, no. 2 (2013): 97-119. 



A morning practice, for instance, might include the ritual- 
izing of concepts and images guiding one’s current practice, 
embodied in some physical and psychological gestures, move- 
ments, and reflective practices that prepare one for the day 
ahead. An evening practice might include a retrospective over- 
view of the day, its challenges, one’s responses to those challeng- 
es, and the action-points at which those responses themselves 
might be tweaked in future iterations. The larger triadic point 
with these is that the practices are taken on deliberately to culti- 
vate one’s capacities for reflective action in the service of desired 
goals. The goals are not always known in advance; they may be 
shaped in part by a level of trust, either in the communal institu- 
tions that aid one in these practices or in the “images” that guide 
them (and to which we will turn in a moment). 

A logo-ethico-aesthetics built on these understandings situ- 
ates us as active respondents in the midst of matters of concern, 
and nudges us toward perceiving these matters as relational in 
ever widening contexts. At a time when these contexts raise ur- 
gent questions about our relations with a thickening and expan- 
sive array of others —all of those others implicated in the cli- 
mate changes and ecological disruptions industrial humanity’s 
actions are producing— such a practice of “integral ecology” 
(if you will) becomes far more than a mapping of scenarios, a 
strategy of containment or crisis management. It becomes a cos- 
mopolitical project, an active and ongoing logo-ethico-aesthetic 
practice whose ends we cannot foresee or forestall. 

As we are all caught amidst matters of concern, minding our 
matters and mattering what we mind, and as our interrelations 
become ever more conjoined — agonistically, yet always with a 
promise of reaching new perceptions and understandings — so 
we grasp toward a cosmopolitics that brings ever more of us to- 
gether. With the prospect of a radically altered cosmos, the “us” 
that is called into being is open-ended, never pre-determined, 
and will ultimately take us beyond any “us” we might imagine. 

It is in this sense that Michel Foucault may have been cor- 
rect when he described the figure of “man” as “a recent inven- 
tion” that, with a shift in structural relations, might “be erased, 



like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.”** The time of 
the Anthropo(s)cene is a time of recognition that this figure 
of Man has drawn its imprint upon all the sands surrounding 
all the seas of the earth. But it is a figure not of humanity, but 
of a particular constellation — of “man” as written by a certain 
caste of men, and of capital, and of petrochemicals and other 
allies — that in denying its dependencies is also denying its ulti- 
mate survivability. Sand, salt, and sea will outlast the figures we 
draw in them, but the figures to come will need to be of a differ- 
ent order than those marking the appearance and imperium of 
this figure of “man,” the Anthropos of the present Scene. All will 
depend on how we respond to the others with whom we share 
our predicament. 

Process-relational aesthetics, ethics, and (eco-)logics begin 
not from the ontological task of describing what the universe 
and the things in it are, but from specifying what matters con- 
cern us and how we might come to mind, attend, and respond 
to them. As subjects of concern, we then raise such questions as 
“who are we?’, “who are the others who bring these questions to 
us?”, “how do we meet with them in coming to grips with these 
concerns?”, and “what abstractions — what ontological fabrica- 
tions and abductive guesses — might help us to do this creatively 
and satisfyingly, for all those concerned?” This means starting 
from where we are not merely out of expediency but because 
we — all of us in this universe — start from there, from the mat- 
ters of concern in which we find ourselves, which means from 
our relations. It is there that we can find our commonalities. 
From such a start we might build a more common world. Let us 
turn to that task now. 

56 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sci- 
ences (New York: Vintage, 1994), 387. 




Mundus imaginalis 

If objects, as detailed earlier, are nothing but objectifications co- 
arising alongside subjectifications as parts of events, then the 
status of perception becomes different as well. The third and final 
part of this book explores the ramifications of that difference in 
the world of perception, of images, of signs and meanings, and 
of the ways those images take us with them, inhabiting and pos- 
sessing us like gods, angels, and demons. 

Object-oriented ontologist Graham Harman argues that 
there are real objects — self-sufficient entities that are what they 
are in and of themselves — and there are sensual objects — things 
that arise between objects, that mediate for them, that do the 
touching for the real objects that cannot possibly touch. In Har- 
man’s dichotomy, perception is a matter of these sensual objects 
that arise at the interface between real objects. 

A process-relational view shares the view that results from 
this, which is that relationality is impossible without sensual- 
ity, or in fact without aesthetics. Harman calls aesthetics “first 
philosophy” because it is what arises whenever an object en- 
counters another — whenever it reaches out beyond itself. As he 
and Timothy Morton describe it, aesthetics is the way objects 
encounter each other, even if they can never fully exhaust each 



other. It is the way I encounter the sights and sounds of this 
autumn morning (which I do today by noting and admiring it, 
and by adding my own exhalation to it as it adds pleasure to my 
day). Aesthetics is the way fire encounters cotton (which it does 
by burning it)." 

As we have seen, Whitehead and Peirce, like others in the 
process-relational tradition, agree about this firstness or prima- 
cy of aesthetics. For Whitehead, “the teleology of the Universe 
is directed to the production of Beauty.”* For Peirce, aesthetics 
precedes ethics, which in turn precedes logic. The object-ori- 
ented ontologist and her process-relational cousin agree also in 
their insistence on reality. The difference comes in the objectolo- 
gists’ insistence on something beyond the aesthetic— beyond 
the relational — that both precedes and completely eludes the 
aesthetic and relational. If that “beyond” is something that be- 
longs to an object, which is never touched in its depths, then 
here is where the process-relationists part company. The latter 
consider this a spatialization — a kind of reification, or thingifi- 
cation — of something that is temporal because it is in the nature 
of the process of all things.? 

Process-relational ontology, in other words, rejects this di- 
chotomy of the real and the sensual. It takes the touchings, or 
prehensions — the sensual perceptions, mediations, sense-mak- 
ings, interpretations, graspings, prehensions, efforts to move or 
act upon things as they are grasped — as fundamentally real and 
not as secondary to anything else. There is, in this view, no thing 
separate from its thinging. 

That is not to say that there is no separation in the thinging; 
there is. It is what occurs in the relational act itself: in the move- 
ment by which the world is grasped, or prehended, and in the 

1 Graham Harman, “Aesthetics as First Philosophy: Levinas and the Non- 
Human,” Naked Punch 9 (2007): 21-30; Timothy Morton, Realist Magic: 
Objects, Ontology, Causality (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2013). 

2  A.N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: Free Press, 1961), 264. 

3. My lengthier critique of the object-oriented position on this is found in 
Adrian Ivakhiv, “Beatnik Brothers? Between Graham Harman and the 
Deleuzo-Whiteheadian Axis,’ Parrhesia 19 (2014): 65-78. 



movement toward the world that the prehension is for (that is, 
in the subjectivation). And, on the underside of all this, there is 
separation in the withdrawal of the world from that grasp. In- 
sofar as there is continuity across thingings (which there is in 
the worlds that we deal with every day), that continuity comes 
from relational coordination — which can be spatial, temporal, 
or both— across thingings. To thing, in this sense, is to respond 
to things, which is always a matter of perception or creative in- 
tegration of what is given. 

This means that reality itself is perceptual; it is prehensive. 
There is nothing beyond that except the movement toward and 
away from it. Reality is imagistic. It consists of mediations that 
arise out of the congealed mediations of previous arisings. It is 
prehension all the way down, with crucial differences arising in 
the qualities of each prehension — how they reshape what they 
(selectively) inherit, how they move with that which they have 

Image is, in this sense, everything. But image is never pure, 
true, accurate, or complete. It is never a perfect representation 
of something else, because it is always slipping from what it is 
imaging. It is always in motion, between what is imaged from 
and where it images to. Image, in this definition, is a creative 
reconfiguration of elements perceived or prehended, a configu- 
ration that, once satisfied, is passed on to the world for further 

This thought of the image as immanent, active, moving, and 
engaging, is enriched by a certain tradition of thought on the 
imagination that runs parallel to the tradition of processual re- 
alism, a tradition that we can now bring to the aid of the latter. 

Traditionally, imagination has been thought of as something 
like the ability to produce internal images, and as intermediate 
between sensing and thinking, but prone to fallacious percep- 
tion of the world. William James defined “imagination” as “the 
faculty of reproducing copies of originals once felt; but added 
that this can be both “reproductive” and “productive,” where “el- 
ements from different originals are recombined so as to make 



new wholes.’* The German idealists, including Kant, referred to 
a productive and “transcendental” imagination that, in forming 
images, was a precondition for all knowledge of the world. 

A series of twentieth-century philosophers and psycho- 
analysts — including Ernst Cassirer, Paul Ricoeur, Gaston Ba- 
chelard, Gilbert Durand, and Cornelius Castoriadis— have 
pursued this idea of a productive and dynamic imaginaire 
which underpins human interpretive and symbolic activities.> 
Some have drawn on the writings of French historian of religion 
Henry Corbin, whose idea of imaginal, or the mundus imagi- 
nalis, was intended as a revival of Islamic Sufi and Neoplatonic 
conceptions of the “intermediary world” between the sensible 
world of material forms and the ideal or intelligible world of 
Platonic or spiritual forms.® This idea of the imagination as an 
active, creative capacity that mediates between human percep- 
tion and an ontologically real beyond-human world has long 
found a home within the tradition of esoteric and hermetic 
thought, a tradition historians have traced back to the late Hel- 
lenistic world, but which emerged more fully in the Renaissance 
and early modernity (in figures like Marsilio Ficino, Pico della 

4 William James, The Principles of Psychology, vol. II (New York: Henry Holt 
& Company, 1902), 44. 

5 Ernst Cassirer, Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 3 vols. (New Haven: Yale Uni- 
versity Press, 1965); Cornelius Castoriadis, World in Fragments: Writings on 
Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination, ed. David Ames Cur- 
tis (Stanford University Press, 1997); Gilbert Durand, The Anthropological 
Structures of the Imaginary, trans. Margaret Sankey and Judith Hatten (Bris- 
bane: Boombana, 1999); Richard Kearney, Poetics of Imagining: Modern to 
Post-Modern (New York: Fordham University Press, 1998). 

6 Corbin drew on medieval Islamic thinkers such as Suhrawardi (1154-91) 
and Mulla Sadra Shirazi (1571-1640). See Henri Corbin, “Mundus Imagi- 
nalis, or, the Imaginary and the Imaginal; Spring (1972): 1-19; Henri Cor- 
bin, “Towards a Chart of the Imaginal,” Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth: 
From Mazdean Iran to Shiite Iran, 2nd edn. (Princeton University Press, 
1977), xv-xix; Laura Marks, “Real Images Flow: Mulla Sadra Meets Film- 
Philosophy,’ Film-Philosophy 20 (2016): 24-46; Christopher Vitale, “The 
Metaphysics of Refraction in Sufi Philosophy: Ibn Arabi, Suhrawardi, and 
Mulla Sadra Shirazi; Networkologies, May 17, 2012, http://networkologies. 



Mirandola, Paracelsus, and Jacob Boehme), to be picked up later 
by Romantics (such as Blake, Coleridge, and others) and occult 
and New Age metaphysicians of the last few centuries.” Others, 
suspicious of any notion of a “higher reality,” nevertheless speak 
of an intersubjectively shared, intermediate world of symbolic 
forms and cultural meanings, variously described as an “imago- 
sphere,’ “iconosphere,’ or “semiosphere.”® 

A key point here is that the image is not merely visual; it is 
perceptual, polysensorial, and affectively primed. An image is 
itself —it is an image, the image — but it is always also part of a 
relational network by which images and meanings, material ob- 
jects and interpreting subjects, intersect, and from which their 
acts of imaging originate, deviate, and to which they remain al- 
ways tethered. Imaging, or image-making, is subjective, inter- 
subjective (or collective), and infrasubjective (unconscious or 
preconscious) all at once. There is no such thing, really, as the 
imagination, or one’s imagination. There is imaging. 

In the post-Freudian context of psychological theorizing, the 
notion of the “imaginal” has been most thoroughly rendered by 
archetypal psychologist James Hillman. Following Corbin and 

7 See Antoine Faivre, Western Esotericism: A Concise History, trans. Christine 
Rhone (Albany: suny Press, 2010); Wouter Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the 
Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge 
University Press, 2013); loan P. Couliano, Eros and Magic in the Renaissance 
(Chciago: University of Chicago Press, 1987). On the creative imagination 
more generally, see Richard Kearney, The Wake of Imagination: Toward a 
Postmodern Culture (New York: Routledge, 1988); Eva Brann, The World of 
Imagination: Sum and Substance, 25th anniv. edn. (Lanham: Rowman & Lit- 
tlefield, 2017); Gillian Robinson and John Rundell, eds., Rethinking Imagi- 
nation: Culture and Creativity (New York: Routledge, 1994); Joshua Ramey, 
The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy as Spiritual Ordeal (Durham: Duke Uni- 
versity Press, 2012). 

8 Corin Braga, “Imagination, ‘Imaginaire, ‘Imaginal’: Three Concepts for De- 
fining Creative Fantasy,’ Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies 16 
(2007): 59-68; Jesper Hoffmeyer, Signs of Meaning in the Universe (Bloom- 
ington: Indiana University Press, 1996); Juri Lotman, “On the Semiosphere,” 
Sign Systems Studies 33, no. 1 (2005): 205-29; Chiara Bottici, Imaginal Poli- 
tics: Images Between Imagination and the Imaginary (New York: Columbia 
University Press, 2014). 



Carl Jung, the foundational datum for Hillman’s archetypalism 
is the image conceived not as a representation of something else 
but as irreducible and autochthonous, “psyche itself in its imagi- 
native visibility.”® The source of images, for Hillman, is “the self- 
generative activity of the soul itself? with “soul” being a term for 
the “tertium between the perspectives of body (matter, nature, 
empirics) and of mind (spirit, logic, idea). Soul, in Hillman’s 
definition, is “the perspective between others and from which 
others may be viewed,’ “a perspective rather than a substance, a 
viewpoint toward things rather than a thing itself?” This makes 
it a close relation to the mental-perceptual mediating dynamic 
between subjectivation and objectivation, or Shinzen Young's 
“flow,” that is at the heart of reality conceived as relational pro- 

The image, in Hillman’s account, is not only what is seen 
but also the way of its seeing, and soul is the way of seeing that 
“deepens” events into experiences.” It is, in this sense, a way of 
perceiving that allows the fruition of secondness (action) into 
thirdness (realization). Archetypal or mythic images are not im- 
ages that “ground” or “compensate” for some lack or deficiency, 
as in other forms of psychoanalysis. Rather, they enable and 
open up: they are “images of intelligibility” that disclose “the 
plot of things, the way in which the world appears and we are 
in its images.”” 

Humans, in this account, are not mere viewers of images; we 
dwell in (and as) images, and in so doing we make the world. The 
human is “a sense-enjoying, image-making creature,’ an animal 
“in an ecological field that affords imagistic intelligibility” Our 
task is not merely to see and respond to things, but to see “the 
face of the Gods in things.” This requires an active imagination 
and an “aesthetic culture,” and it calls for a “polytheistic psychol- 

9 James Hillman, Archetypal Psychology: A Brief Account (Dallas: Spring, 
1983), 6. 

10 Ibid., 5, 16. 

1 Ibid., 16. 

12 James Hillman, “On Mythic Certitude? Sphinx: A Journal for Archetypal 
Psychology and the Arts 3 (1990): 224-43, at 230. 



ogy” appropriate to a pluralistic universe — the kind of universe 
proposed, among others, by Whitehead and James.” 

The method of archetypal psychology is a “giving over to the 
images and cultivating them for their sake.’"* Images, accord- 
ing to Hillman, make a “moral claim” upon their subjects, and 
the appropriate response to this claim is metaphorical, poetic, 
and imaginative, a method of “sticking to the image” so that the 
image can “release and refine further imagining’ This releas- 
ing is a releasing into the image, which, since it is a moving im- 
age, always means into a world that takes one somewhere else. In 
and through that movement one becomes other. Where a more 
conservative Jungian interpretation (and Hillman was a close, 
if somewhat iconoclastic, follower of Jung’s) might consider ar- 
chetypal images to be those things that keep us tethered to an 
underlying substrate of foundational meanings, the reading I 
am proposing is one that keeps us tethered only to the ongoing 
creative becoming of the universe. In selecting which images to 
enact, we become the aesthetic, ethical, and (eco-)logical enac- 
tors of the worlds we create, alongside the others we create them 

This notion of cultivating images for the sake of the images 
themselves is not the kind of thing one hears from a semioticist 
like Peirce, for whom semiosis is ultimately moving in the di- 
rection of greater reasonableness. For Hillman, by contrast, the 
movement often seems to be away from reasonableness toward 
something more mysterious and unfathomable. Yet the move- 
ment, for both, is in the direction of realization. And to the ex- 
tent that Peirce’s reason remains grounded in ethics and, ulti- 

13 James Hillman, “Back to Beyond: On Cosmology,’ in Archetypal Process: 
Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman, eds. David Ray Griffin, 
213-31 (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1989), 226. See also James 
Hillman, Archetypal Psychology, 14, 34. For an updated, neo-Jamesian argu- 
ment espousing a pluralistic universe, see William Connolly, A World of 
Becoming (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010). 

14 James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology (New York: Harper Colophon, 
1975), 40. 

15 Hillman, “Back to Beyond,” 253; Hillman, Archetypal Psychology, 9. 



mately, in aesthetics, the implication is that reason itself is the 
fruition of the very possibilities found in ethics and aesthetics. 
If the image is understood in a process-relational sense as move- 
ment, or, more precisely, as a particular constellation of possi- 
bilities for movement, as a fragment of time that looks simulta- 
neously backward and forward to its past and future virtualities, 
then every image ought to be seen as a living and moving image. 
Images in this sense contain affective and semiotic capacities, 
vectors along which we can move if we open up to them. 


And if image is everything (or at least part of everything), then 
we are fated to dwell in a universe of what Bruno Latour calls 
iconoclash — conflict over the nature of the images by which we 
reflect, refract, and diffract ourselves and our world, and from 
which we can never extract ourselves except at the expense of 

The two extreme reactions to such a world, Latour posits, are 
iconoclasm and idolatry.’ The first denies the power of icons, or 
images, except as passive intermediaries of other things. (Most 
commonly, it denies the power of others’ icons, not recognizing 
its own denial to be iconic or imagistic in the least.) Iconoclasm 
takes images to be mere representations, dead photographs, 
more or less accurate, of something else that may be or may 
have been alive and whose significance is primary. Dreaming of 
an “unmediated access to truth,” it distinguishes the thing itself 
from its representation, and assumes the first is of an order of 

16 Latour’s taxonomy of responses to the image is more complex; see “What 
Is Iconoclash? Or Is There a World Beyond the Image Wars?” in Iconoclash: 
Beyond the Image Wars in Science, Religion, and Art, eds. Bruno Latour and 
Peter Weibel (Cambridge: mir Press, 2002). The two extreme positions, 
with Latour’s “iconophilia’ mediating between them, are introduced in 
“How To Be Iconophilic in Art, Science, and Religion?,” in Picturing Sci- 
ence, Producing Art, eds. Caroline Jones and Peter Galison, 418-40 (New 
York: Routledge, 1998). 



reality and significance that the latter cannot possibly attain.” 
Alternatively, it may deny that even the object of the representa- 
tion has any reality apart from what people fallaciously ascribe 
to it. In this harsher version, iconoclasm not only denies the 
icon any validity outside the realm of humanly created mean- 
ing; it also denies such validity to anything else. (Strict social 
constructivism, if taken as a claim about reality rather than as 
analytical method, belongs in this category.) 

The second reaction, idolatry, takes the images as fully pre- 
sent and final, as only what — and as powerful as — they claim 
to be, and not as relationally dependent at all. They are “tran- 
scendental signifieds,” which stand in independent glory apart 
from the universe of muddy entanglements that define the rest 
of us. 

Instead of these two opposed positions, Latour advocates 
iconophilia, which he calls “respect not for the image itself but 
for the movement of the image,” for “the movement, the pas- 
sage, the transition from one form of image to another.* Im- 
ages, by this definition, are always in motion. They are the re- 
sponsiveness that objectifies in subjectivating, the vehicles for 
the mutually co-constitutive subject-objectifications that make 
up reality in any and every moment. 

Adam Miller takes Latour’s writings on religion as the basis 
for theological speculations that approximate what I am getting 
at here. Miller writes, “Every object is a kind of icon that bears 
rather than reflects the mobile presence of the other objects that 
constitute it” In contrast to iconoclasm and idolatry, iconophilia 
is the approach that “patiently solicits” the icon. It “stay[s] with 
objects and suffer[s] the grace of their work, the grace of both 
their making-available and their packing-away.”” Iconophilia is 
much like the “critical idolatry” advocated by W,J.T. Mitchell, 
which “does not dream of destroying” idols, but “recognizes 

17 Latour, “How to be Iconophilic, 421. 

18 Ibid. 

19 Adam S. Miller, Speculative Grace: Bruno Latour and Object-Oriented Theo- 
ry (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 131. 



every act of disfiguration or defacement as itself an act of crea- 
tive destruction for which we must take responsibility’ It is a 
“playing” and “sounding” of idols, by which they are made to 
“speak and resonate.””° 

For the iconophile, icons or images are the vehicles that carry 
us and the world across the spaces that render the immanent 
transcendent, and the transcendent immanent. They are the 
gods, the angels and daimones, the deities with whom we are 
co-dependent. “If the gods exist in Latour’s pluriverse,” Miller 
writes, “they are not pure, unconditioned, or exceptional. They 
are not free from the necessity of translation, negotiation, and 
compromise. Nor are they free from a need for techniques, in- 
struments, technologies, calculations, and metrologies. The 
gods too, like every other object, must receive the resistant avail- 
ability of the proliferating multitude as the gift that it is.” 

If image is everything, and if image is always impure — nev- 
er a mere representation, but also never a totality in and of it- 
self—then we find ourselves in a universe that is once again 
polytheistic and pagan: a universe in which images are as gods 
that possess those who are imaged, but who never do so fully 
and whose possessions must always be negotiated. The question 
is always how to subject ourselves to them, how to venerate the 
gods, comply with them, transgress against them, defile them, 
and negotiate our relations with them. 

Without us, no gods; without the gods, no us. The gods here 
may well be Whitehead’s “eternal objects,’ which are eternal 
only insofar as they are not dependent on time, as they can arise 
anywhere when the conditions are ripe for their appearance. 
They are dependent, rather, on us, for without our active par- 
ticipation they have no reality. Without us, they remain only as 
“pure potentials.” In and through us they are worlded. 

20 W).T. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images (Chi- 
cago: University of Chicago Press, 2005), 26-27. 

21 Miller, Speculative Grace, 43. 

22 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 22. 



What I am suggesting here is that a certain paganism — an 
iconophilic and pluralistic practice of engagement with deities, 
or something akin to deities —can help us think through the 
place of the image in perception and sensibility. Paganism serves 
as something like the ancient and original ground of imagistic 
consciousness, the ocean in which we semiotic beings swim. 

In my book Ecologies of the Moving Image, I argued that the 
moving image is central to how moderns make sense of the 
world. If the modern world, as Martin Heidegger claimed, was 
the “age of the world picture,” then it makes sense to think of 
the twentieth and twenty-first century worlds as the “age of the 
world motion picture.” (That it has become a digital age, in part, 
is relevant, but let us leave that for later.) And, of course, the 
oral and textual traditions of literacy that mark much of human 
history have hardly gone away. But if we take prehension — the 
creative act of taking account — as the paradigmatic act, then it 
is precisely acts of imaging, of moving semiotically from what 
is given to its uptake, via whatever organs or vehicles of percep- 
tion and cognition may be available, that make up the universe. 
How we image the world, and how we take up those images in 
our acts of imaging, is both how we add to the world and how we 
constitute ourselves in the process. There is no safe space into 
which we can retreat without being defiled and transformed by 
our acts of imaging. 

A pagan world 

Adding a word like “pagan” to our vocabulary at this point is 
not intended to confuse. It is intended to acknowledge an origi- 
nal confusion, an original hybridity — between self and other, 
image and imaged, within which we always find (and lose) 
ourselves. The term paganus emerged historically, in the late 
Roman empire, as part of an effort of purification whereby the 

23 See also Adrian Ivakhiv, “The Age of the World Motion Picture: Cosmic Vi- 
sions in the Post-Earthrise Era,” in The Changing World Religion Map, vol. 1, 
ed. Stan Brunn, 129-44 (London: Springer, 2015). 



complex meta- and trans-human politics of appeasement and 
local obeisance, a politics of negotiated relations and genuflec- 
tions, translations and syncretisms, idols and propitiatory rites, 
was subsumed within the universal calculus of a monotheistic 
verticality.** Here was the self, sinful and needing of correction, 
agent-like within clear limits. There was the one true God, ulti- 
mate agent and arbiter. 

Christianity almost inevitably failed at this purification. 
From the Catholic veneration of saints, angels, and the Holy 
Theotokos herself to the spirit-filled graces and possession-like 
movements of Pentacostalism, the world’s complex enchant- 
ments have continued to churn up from the imagistic produc- 
tion engine of reality. Here is where Charles Taylor's thesis on 
the “immanent frame” — a thesis that poses modernity as a kind 
of purification of transcendent realities — needs to be examined 
(which we will do presently). 

In an account of the political theology of ancient Greece, his- 
torical anthropologist Marcel Detienne claims that “over three- 
quarters of the world is naturally polytheistic” “Consider,” he 
writes, “the eight hundred myriad deities in Japan, the count- 
less metamorphoses of the deities of Hinduism, the thousands 
of genies and powers of Black Africa. Likewise, the forests and 
mountain ranges of Oceania, the Indian subcontinent, and 
South America are teeming with pantheons with great clus- 
ters of deities.” These, like the gods and goddesses of ancient 
Rome or of West Africa, with their descendant mixtures in the 
Afro-Caribbean religions of Vodoun, Santeria, Candomble, and 
others, are characterized by fluidity and flexibility, with multi- 

24 See Owen Davies, Paganism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford 
University Press, 2011); Ramsay McMullen, Christianity and Paganism in 
the Fourth to Eighth Centuries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999); 
Ken Dowden, European Paganism: The Realities of Cult from Antiquity to 
the Middle Ages (London: Routledge, 2000); A.D. Lee, Pagans and Chris- 
tians in Late Antiquity: A Sourcebook, 2nd edn. (London: Routledge, 2016). 

25 Marcel Detienne, “The Gods of Politics in Early Greek Cities,’ in Political 
Theologies: Public Religions in a Post-Secular World, eds. Hent de Vries and 
Lawrence Sullivan, 91-101 (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006), 95. 



ple names and personalities blurring into others and fulfilling 
overlapping functions as one moves from one place to another. 
The “field of polytheisms,” in Detienne’s account, “constitutes 
a vast continent,’ one in which gods are not only everywhere, 
but are “plural, constituted by the intersection of a variety of 

The figure of paganism has played a curious role in the in- 
tellectual history of the modern world, bobbing up and down 
at various times against the horizon of philosophical thought. 
It thoroughly infused the humanism and artistic flourishing of 
the Renaissance, just as it helped power the Enlightenment pro- 
ject with hopes of a revitalization of the worldliness of Classical 
thought.” More recently, pagan thoughts have figured heavily in 
the ruminations of philosophers from Nietzsche and Heidegger 
to Lyotard, Serres, and Sloterdijk. To deepen our understanding 
of the implications of the “pagan” perspective I am proposing 
and to better establish its polytheistic iconophilism — this open 
engagement with the middle-ground of images and icons and of 
how they take and carry us, and we them, in turn — will require 
engagement with some alternative perspectives. 

Specifically, in the forthcoming pages I will engage, critically 
but I hope productively, with two alternatives to my proposed 
iconophilism: Canadian social philosopher Charles Taylor’s 
analysis of modernity and secularism, and Slovenian cultural 
theorist Slavoj Zizek’s critique of all manner of “holist” or total- 
izing metaphysics (which echoes similar critiques by Graham 
Harman and Timothy Morton). The first of these laments (albeit 
ambivalently) the loss of an enchanted world, while the second 
celebrates it, but both agree on a kind of alignment between left- 
wing politics and Christianity (in name if not in substance). To 
negotiate the differences between an iconophilic process-rela- 
tionalism and these alternative perspectives, I will draw upon 

26 Detienne, “The Gods of Politics,” 95. 

27 See, e.g., Jean Seznec, The Survival of the Pagan Gods: The Mythological Tra- 
dition and Its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art (New York: Harper, 
1953), and Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation — The Rise of 
Modern Paganism (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1967). 



the work of allies: in particular, political philosopher William 
Connolly’s “immanent naturalism” and Bruno Latour’s and Isa- 
belle Stengers’s writings on cosmopolitics. 

In the process, I hope to build a case for an iconophilic and 
imagistic process-relationism that is neither secular nor post- 
secular, but that can mediate between the world-building efforts 
of theists and secularists alike. In a world where the play of im- 
ages, deities, religiosities, and the ghosts of multiple life-ways 
are all in undiplomatic flux, such an approach can help us navi- 
gate the rapids. 

The immanent frame 

According to a well established narrative, most closely identified 
with sociologist Max Weber, technological modernity has dis- 
enchanted our world and created rifts between humans and na- 
ture, spirit and matter, body and soul, sacred and secular. Many 
modern thinkers celebrated this disenchantment as a liberation 
from the shackles of faith and superstition. Others accepted it as 
the price to pay for the benefits of modernity. For thinkers like 
Condillac, Marx, and Comte, an enchanted world may have had 
its comforts, but we are past it now and there is no going back. 
Enlightenment requires a clearer, more sober understanding of 
ourselves and our world. 

A second, more critical tradition lamented this disenchant- 
ment and proferred ways of reversing or revaluing that which 
was lost in the process. Representatives of this critical tradition 
range across the political spectrum: from pessimist Roman- 
tics, religious fundamentalists, and conservative traditional- 
ists — whose ranks include the likes of Carl Jung, Rene Guenon, 
Ananda Coomaraswamy, Ernst Jiinger, Martin Heidegger, and 
Alain de Benoist—to socialists and neo-Marxists like Max 
Horkheimer, Theodore Adorno, Ernst Bloch, and Michael 
Lowy. Some, like medieval historian Lynn White, Jr. and cul- 
tural historian Morris Berman, have suggested a quasi-religious 
solution to what is essentially a problem of the disappearance 



of religion. Variations on such a “re-enchantment” are popular 
among ecological thinkers. 

There is a third tradition that rejects the disenchantment/re- 
enchantment frame altogether, seeing it as a modern construct 
that misses the complexity underlying terms like enchantment, 
wonder, and even the sacred— qualities that have not disap- 
peared at all, but have simply shifted from some places (tem- 
ples and religious experiences) to others (technological gadgets, 
Hollywood stars, bodies, sexual conquests, ostentatious displays 
of wealth, nature, the world itself).** Here we find the views of 
those who see the universe as open, emergent, and in a state 
of ceaseless becoming, a world in which enchantment, wonder, 
or spirit are immanent rather than transcendent: philosophers 
and scientists like Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, Bruno Latour, 
Donna Haraway, Stuart Kaufmann, Ilya Prigogine, William 
Connolly, and Catherine Keller.” It is from them that I take my 
impetus in teasing out the fault-lines of the secular and the re- 

In recent thinking about the sacred and the secular, the sec- 
ond, critical view has found an influential champion in Cana- 

28 Jane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments Crossings, Eth- 
ics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); Birgit Meyer and Peter 
Pels, Magic and Modernity: Interfaces of Revelation and Concealment (Stan- 
ford: Stanford University Press, 2003); Alex Owen, The Place of Enchant- 
ment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern (Chicago: University 
of Chicago Press, 2004); Randall Styers, Making Magic: Religion, Magic, 
and Science in the Modern World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); 
Christopher Partridge, The Re-Enchantment of the West, vols. 1 and 2 (Lon- 
don: Continuum, 2005-6); Steve Pile, Real Cities: Modernity, Space, and the 
Phantasmagorias of City Life (London: Sage, 2005); Joshua Landy and Mi- 
chael Saler, The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational 
Age (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009); Jason Josephson-Storm, 
The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human 
Sciences (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017). 

29 E.g., Stuart Kauffman, Reinventing the Sacred: A New View of Science, Rea- 
son, and Religion (New York: Basic, 2008); William Connolly, Why I Am Not 
a Secularist (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000); Catherine 
Keller and Mary-Jane Rubenstein, eds., Entangled Worlds: Religion, Science, 
and New Materialisms (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017); and 
many books already cited. 



dian social philosopher Charles Taylor. Taylor’s celebrated 2007 
tome A Secular Age presented an exhaustive analysis of the “ma- 
laises of modernity,’ including a wide-ranging account of the 
constitution of modern secular subjectivity and of the “condi- 
tions of belief” that shape it. Inspired in part by Heidegger's her- 
meneutic phenomenology and by Foucault’s analysis of the dis- 
cursive and pre-discursive shifts shaping people’s orientations 
in the world, Taylor posited a categorical opposition between 
“transcendence” and “immanence,’ an opposition he aligned 
closely with religious belief and “unbelief” 

Taylor’s argument, in a nutshell, was that modernity has 
achieved a “great disembedding” that has produced a “buffered” 
modern self —a kind of self-as-object, which is as disconnected 
from other selves as it is from the world at large. This bounded 
object-self has become disengaged from the larger world in at 
least three significant ways. First, in the “enchanted” and “em- 
bedded” world of pre-modernity, religious life had been “in- 
separably linked with social life,”*° with sociality embedded in a 
cosmos “populated by spirits, demons, and moral forces.”® For 
moderns, this embeddedness has been sundered. Second, “the 
primary agency of important religious action” had always been 
“the social group as a whole, or some more specialized agency 
recognized as acting for the group,’ such that people “related to 
God as a society.’* Today, the primary agent is the individual. 
And, third, “Divinity’s benign purposes” were “defined in terms 
of ordinary human flourishing”;® that, too, for Taylor, is gone. 

According to Taylor, this triple embedding within “social 
order, cosmos, and human good”* was disrupted not in one 
fell swoop, but over the course of several historical shifts. The 
emergence of “Axial” religions and philosophies in the middle of 
the first millennium BcE— including the teachings of Plato and 

30 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), 

31 Ibid., 26. 

32 Ibid., 148. 

33 Ibid., 150. 

34 Ibid., 151. 



Aristotle, the Buddha, Confucius, Lao Tzu, and Jesus — enabled 
a transcendence of the human condition that, significantly, was 
individual. For instance, elements within Christianity individu- 
alized the understanding of religion through their focus on re- 
pentance, the monastic vocation, the facing of Judgment Day 
rather than seeing death as part of the round of life, and so on. 
But these eventually developed into “post-Axial compromises” 
wherein individual salvation could be sought, but always within 
a moral landscape shaped by socially shared understandings of 
virtue and wickedness. 

It was not until much later that a fully non-religious alterna- 
tive became available as a counter-force to religious faith. This 
alternative was “exclusive humanism,” which first developed as 
an intellectual alternative to Christianity. Exclusive humanism 
was “an achievement” that required “training, or inculcated in- 
sight, and frequently much work on ourselves» — work that 
included articulating and internalizing a notion of benevolence 
as internally rooted (either in reason or in a natural propensity 
to sympathy, or in a synthesis of the two), of disengaged rea- 
son and individual agency (accompanied by many forms and 
practices of “interiorization’), and of secular public space. For 
those who followed this shift, the “porous self” was replaced by 
a “buffered” self, “for whom it comes to seem axiomatic that all 
thought, feeling and purpose, all the features we normally can 
ascribe to agents, must be in minds, which are distinct from the 
‘outer’ world?2° And the social and cosmic embeddedness of the 
person was replaced by out-and-out individualism. Gradually, 
there emerged the possibility of a self that is both “ontologically 
prior to and independent of its surroundings.”” 

Once this stage was set, a variety of religious and non-re- 
ligious options began to spread along the continuum between 
traditional religion and “exclusive humanism,” with belief itself 

35 Ibid., 255. 

36 Ibid., 539. 

37 David Gordon, “The Place of the Sacred in the Absence of God (a review 
of Charles Taylor, A Secular Age)? Journal of the History of Ideas 69, no. 4 
(2008): 661. 



becoming an individual option. Taylor calls this proliferation of 
options a “nova effect,” which contributed to the spreading of a 
background “malaise” of meaninglessness. This “malaise of mo- 
dernity” was characterized by a sense of the fragility by which 
meaning and over-arching significance can be attained, a flat- 
ness experienced, for instance, in the lack of ways to solemnize 
the crucial moments of passage in our lives, and an “emptiness 
of the ordinary.” The inevitable yearning for “something more” 
created “cultural cross pressures.” 

Finally, as a response to this malaise, there was a flourishing 
of “expressive individualism” rooted in Romanticism but de- 
mocratized by the cultural revolutions of the 1960s. In the end, 
the previously reliable, if not natural, links between spirituality, 
society, and a felt experience of order within which we humans 
were embedded, was gone. We live, today, in an “immanent 
frame” in which “the buffered identity of the disciplined indi- 
vidual moves in a constructed social space, where instrumental 
rationality is a key value, and time is pervasively secular,’ and 
all of this is understood as “natural.3* This immanent frame, 
which for Taylor has become hegemonic, allows for an openness 
to “something beyond,’ but does not demand nor necessarily 
encourage it. 

Taylor’s ambivalence toward this immanent frame is palpa- 
ble. He tries to view it positively, but also seems to fear its impli- 
cations, saying that if one opts against transcendence, “one can 
indeed live in a world which seems to proclaim everywhere the 
absence of God. It is a universe whose outer limits touch noth- 
ing but absolute darkness; a universe with its corresponding hu- 
man world in which we can really experience Godlessness.” This 
means “the sense of an absence; [...] the sense that all order, all 
meaning comes from us. We encounter no echo outside.” The 
implication is that something novel has appeared in the world: 
“A race of humans has arisen which has managed to experience 
its world entirely as immanent” “In some respects,” he acknowl- 

38 Taylor, A Secular Age, 542. 



edges, “we may judge this achievement as a victory for darkness, 
but it is a remarkable achievement nonetheless.” 

More than one way to be porous 

The scope of Taylor’s argument is audacious, and his method 
is rich and engaging. In probing into the framework of tacit 
assumptions by which people make sense of the world — its 
embodied intentionalities, discursive frames and practices, 
communal bonds and conditions of belief — Taylor pushes far 
beyond the behavioral, mechanistic, and rational choice as- 
sumptions that characterize too much of modern psychological 
theory. His may be, as Wendy Brown calls it, “the first erudite 
phenomenology of secularism.”*° 

But critics have pointed out that Taylor’s critique is both too 
ethnocentric and too monological. It is, on the one hand, too 
focused on the experience of a small subset of humanity — those 
who personally experience the loss of what sociologists of reli- 
gion have called a “sacred canopy.’ The majority have remained 
either strongly committed to religion or do not abide by the par- 
ticular parsing of the “transcendent” and the “immanent” that 
Taylor insists on. As Cassidy writes, even Augustine had taught 
“that God is neither to be found outside of nor beyond us, but is 
rather to be found in the depths of interiority, even ‘closer to me 
than I am to myself?*' For other Christians, God is to be found 
in the face of “the other,’ the neighbor and stranger, and not 
at all somewhere beyond humanity. At the same time, counter 
to Taylor’s assumption that God brings “fullness” while the im- 

39 Ibid., 376. 

40 Wendy Brown, “Idealism, Materialism, Secularism?” The Immanent Frame, 
October 22, 2007, 

41 Eoin G. Cassidy, “Transcending Human Flourishing’: Is There a Need for 
Subtler Language?” in The Taylor Effect: Responding to a Secular Age, eds. 
Tan Leask et al., 26-38 (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publish- 
ing, 2010), 31. 



manent frame remains “empty,” there are Christian mystics for 
whom God precisely offers an “emptying” rather than a “filling” 

More significantly, Taylor relies on an overly internal under- 
standing of the North Atlantic “West; as if there has been no 
rest of the world against which the West both defined itself his- 
torically and depended on for its self-constitution. As a hetero- 
geneous group of scholars and historians have been persuasively 
arguing for decades now — Edward Said, Aimé Césaire, Frantz 
Fanon, Gayatri Spivak, Walter Mignolo, Enrique Dussel, Talal 
Asad, Chandra Mohanty, Tomoko Masuzawa, Dipesh Chakra- 
barty, Arturo Escobar, Gloria Anzaldua, Timothy Fitzgerald, 
Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Akeel Bilgrami, and others — the 
last five centuries of western history are inconceivable without 
reference to the expansion of imperialist and masculinist Euro- 
pean economies to other continents, the “discovery” and colo- 
nization of the Americas, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and 
encounters (direct or indirect) with the “otherness” of China, 
India, the Ottoman Muslim world, Orthodox Christianity, and 
the West’s internal other, Judaism.” Then there is the persistence 
of a dynamic natural world that has interacted with human soci- 
ety in complex and mysterious ways: through plagues, diseases, 
and natural disasters, and through intermeshing political-eco- 
logical dynamics such as the rise of an international merchant 
class, the enclosure of common lands, intensification of private 
property relations, rural to urban migrations, and the produc- 
tion of new “natures” around the world. 

42 E.g., Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978); Arturo Escobar, 
Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World 
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995); Peter Van der Veer, Imperial 
Encounters: Religion and Modernity in India and Britain (Princeton: Prince- 
ton University Press, 2001); Walter Mignolo, Local Histories/Global De- 
signs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking (Princeton: 
Princeton University Press, 2000); Talal Asad, Formations of the Secular: 
Islam, Christianity, Modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003); 
Tomoko Masuzawa, The Invention of World Religions: Or, How European 
Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (Chicago: Univer- 
sity of Chicago Press, 2005); Enrique Dussel, Ethics of Liberation: In the Age 
of Globalization and Exclusion (Durham: Duke University Press, 2013). 



Once these are all added to the picture, it becomes clear that 
various forms of otherness—cultural and ecological differ- 
ence — have perpetually bubbled to the surface, to be encoun- 
tered as background and as foreground, and to be made sense of 
both ideologically and practically. These have given rise to new 
projections or imaginaries of transcendence, from classical to 
Enlightenment and evolutionist notions of “the savage” and “the 
barbarian” to Rousseuian ideals of the “noble savage; and for 
reaction formations in which efforts to gain cultural superiority 
were made through the vertical projection of identity towards a 
distant God and affirmed through hierarchic ideologies, tech- 
nologies of discipline and control, and the like. Discourses of 
“religion,” “barbarism, “civilization,” and “primitivity” arose in 
the midst of such encounters. 

In light of these complexities, Taylor’s account appears to 
rely on an ahistorical discourse of transcendence-versus-im- 
manence that is unable to account for the ways in which tran- 
scendence itself has been relational and historically mutable. 
His analysis is premised on a duality according to which “be- 
lievers” hold to a faith in a “fullness” that is “beyond human life” 
and beyond the living world itself, while “unbelievers” believe 
in other things — in nature, the power of art and sensual beauty, 
human generosity and kindness, and so on—but fall short of 
the transcendence Taylor seeks. For Taylor, as David Gordon 
observes, “the sacred is historically invariant, always and only 
God, a divinity that transcends not only the human world but 
the natural world as well.” 

A more relational view would have to acknowledge that 
any historical change in fundamental background assump- 
tions — which is what Taylor is aiming to diagnose — “means a 
transformation in the sorts of entities that can show up”: such 
as gods or a single transcendent God, a lawfully defined Na- 
ture, the sovereign Nation, the Economy, a Humanity that is the 
single source of meaning, and so on and so forth.** If each of 

43 Gordon, “The Place of the Sacred,” 670. 
44 Ibid., 669. 



these discursive objects is a product of history alongside other 
products, then Taylor’s dichotomy of an exclusively human im- 
manence and an exclusively divine transcendence comes to look 
fragile indeed. 

This suggests that there may be many other ways of being 
“porous” than the one that Taylor privileges. Why, for instance, 
would it not be possible to conceive of a world inclusive of hu- 
mans but not exclusively human that is itself meaningful, value- 
filled, and agential in its nature?’ As Gordon puts it, “To con- 
ceive of oneself as a purely material being of flesh and bone is 
to understand oneself as more porous to one’s surroundings, 
not less so, since one is metaphysically of the same substance 
as the world” Naturalism, he suggests, “has its own humility:’* 
And the range of variations between religiosities and natural- 
isms comes to seem much richer when they are not assigned 
some point on a historical timeline — from pre-Durkheimian 
to Durkheimian to post-Durkheimian, as Taylor calls them.* If 
religion is not exclusively about transcending “the world,” then 
the embedded cosmos that ostensibly made up the pre-modern 
world might not be entirely played out. And if we have not all 
fallen from grace, we may not need to choose between climbing 
back or lamenting the loss. 

All that said, there is something to Taylor’s frame that speaks 
to a recognizable division among people today. It makes sense 
to claim that something like secularism — in combination with 
capitalism, modernization, liberalism (or neoliberalism), devel- 
opmentalism, and other factors —has tended to corrode and 
dissolve the bonds that have kept “traditional culture” alive to- 
day, whether among indigenous or peasant communities or reli- 

45 This is Akeel Bilgrami’s argument in Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment 
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014), particularly in the chapter 
“The Political Possibilities of the Long Romantic Period” 

46 Gordon, “The Place of the Sacred,” 667. 

47 For examples of other variations on the spectrum of hybrids between reli- 
gion and naturalism, see Bron R. Taylor, Dark Green Religion: Nature Spir- 
ituality and the Planetary Future (Berkeley: University of California Press, 



giously unified regional, national, or transnational cultures. The 
term “traditional” is loose at best, and it is exceedingly difficult 
to qualitatively compare the different forms of such “traditional 
culture” Cultures have always been multiple, disunified, strati- 
fied, and complex. Cultural encounters and clashes have always 
resulted in divergent outcomes, ranging from peaceful or con- 
tentious assimilation of one group by another to various forms 
of mutual acommodation, co-existence, or syncretic mixing. 
Positing a singular culture of “global, liberal, secular modernity” 
is hazardous at best, and opposing it to any and all other cultural 
variants is an even more outrageous overgeneralization. 

Yet, just as it is possible to situate people and communities on 
a scale divided between those who benefit most from the condi- 
tions of Anthropocenic capitalism (the A/Cene) and those who 
are almost entirely victims of it, so it is also possible to situate 
people somewhere on a spectrum between those who are fully 
assimilated into a globalizing “liberal, secular, modernity” and 
those who have almost entirely resisted such assimilation. Most 
of the world falls somewhere in between, with options for lean- 
ing one way or another (as Taylor skillfully points out). In this 
sense, Taylor’s argument, if not taken as a historical one, suc- 
ceeds in addressing a profound divergence in the world today, 
one that helps explain a variety of significant global develop- 
ments — from “9-11” and the “wars” on “terror” to the rise of 
religiously fundamentalist, ethnically exclusivist, anti-globalist, 
and anti-immigrant movements in many countries. 

“Secularism, “liberalism” “tradition” “faith” “globalism,” 
“fundamentalism,” “development”: all these terms carry potent 
punch today, even as they are notoriously slippery in their defi- 
nitions. Religious traditions have certainly not gone away, as 
secularization theorists had long predicted. The question has be- 
come not when they will finally go away, but whether the world 
is becoming post-secular in any recognizable way, or whether it 
is merely continuing in a kind of see-saw dance between faith 
and secularity, multiple modernities, and other forms of identi- 
ty-making and contesting on scales ranging from the local and 



infra-local to the national and transnational. If a shift “beyond 
the Anthropo(S)cene” is to take hold among a significant pro- 
portion of humanity, it will have to do so across these divides 
between the educated, urban, liberal, secular “moderns” and the 
rest — which may mean a majority — of humanity. 

Jamesian maneuvers 

In the debates that followed the publication of Taylor's book, a 
third position took shape that attempted to navigate between 
the religious “transcenders” or “traditionalists” and the areli- 
gious secularists or “exclusive humanists.” This position, rep- 
resented in the writings of David Gordon, William Connolly, 
Patrick Lee Miller, Lars Tonder, Elizabeth Hurd, Akeel Bilgrami, 
and others, in one way or another attempted to bring together a 
sense of “enchantment” with a “worldly orientation to religion 
and politics.’ This tradition is key to negotiating the “post-sec- 
ularizing” terrain of global culture. 

Perhaps the most detailed and persistent elaboration of such 
a third position is that undertaken by political theorist Wil- 
liam Connolly. In a series of books including Why I Am Not A 
Secularist, Neuropolitics, Pluralism, Capitalism and Christianity 
American Style, A World of Becoming, and Facing the Planetary, 
Connolly has presented a sustained defense of what he calls 
“immanent naturalism,” a view that sees the universe as open, 
creative, and pluralistic, and that advocates a “reverence for the 
protean diversity of being.” With an eye toward the practical, 

48 E.g., Michael Rectenwald, Rochelle Almeida, and George Levine, eds., 
Global Secularisms in a Post-Secular Age (Boston: de Gruyter, 2015); Philip 
Gorski et al., eds., The Post-Secular in Question: Religion in Contemporary 
Society (New York: New York University Press, 2012). 

49 Lars Tonder, “Spinoza’s Immanence,’ The Immanent Frame, December 5, 

50 William Connolly, Neuropolitics: Thinking, Culture, Speed (Minneapo- 
lis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002); William Connolly, Pluralism 
(Durham: Duke University Press, 2005); William Connolly, Capitalism 
and Christianity, American Style (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008); 
William Connolly, A World of Becoming (Durham: Duke University Press, 



I will compare the kinds of spiritual practices suggested in the 
writings, respectively, of Charles Taylor and William Connolly. 
To facilitate this comparison, I will focus particularly on their 
respective use of a shared resource, the ideas of pragmatist 
philosopher and student of religion William James, and on the 
thread of the imagination and the “imaginal” 

As mentioned, Taylor’s A Secular Age is highly attuned to the 
background assumptions and pre-discursive orientations shap- 
ing our understandings of the sacred, but his analysis is overly 
constrained by the elite internal dialogues of the North Atlantic 
“West.” If, following Corbin and others, we think of the middle- 
ground between explicit thinking and tacit background assump- 
tions and orientations as an “imaginal” field or “imagosphere,’ 
then Taylor’s understanding is constrained by the Eurocentric 
model he assumes for our history. The constitutive “others” that 
have shaped that history — internal and external, cultural and 
natural others— might well seem unimaginable from within 
that frame. 

In his analysis of modernity’s “immanent frame,’ Taylor 
invokes William James in his description of the “open space 
where you can feel the winds pulling you, now to belief, now to 
unbelief” To stand in this “open space,” he writes, “is to be at 
the mid-point of the cross-pressures that define our culture” 
He singles out two particular forms or “leanings” within this 
“open space”: that of the ex-believer who feels “the imminent 
loss of a world of beauty, meaning, warmth as well as of the per- 
spective of a self-transformation beyond the everyday,’* and 
that of the believer who remains “haunted by a sense that the 
universe might after all be as meaningless as the most reduc- 
tive materialism describes.” “Confidence,” for the latter, “must 

2010); William Connolly, Facing the Planetary: Entangled Humanism and 
the Politics of Swarming (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017); Connolly, 
Why I Am Not a Secularist. 

51 Taylor, A Secular Age, 549. 

52 Ibid., 592. 

53 Ibid. 

54 Ibid., 593. 



always remain anticipatory. Parallel to the continuing regret of 
ex-believers is this sense that the struggle for belief is never de- 
finitively won.» 

Where Taylor’s Jamesian “open space” remains epistemologi- 
cal, caught between the two views that ostensibly frame our cul- 
ture, William Connolly’s use of James is ontological, making a 
claim about the universe itself as being pluralistic and, on some 
level, undecideable. For Connolly, James is “a pluralist in two 
senses: in the image of the universe that he embraces,” which is 
pluralistic through and through, “and in his appreciation that 
others might legitimately adopt other images of it”°* In Con- 
nolly’s take on James, the universe itself is considered “open” 
and capable of bringing in unexpected novelty. Translated into 
Taylor’s terms, this is a recognition of a transcendence that, in- 
stead of being relegated to an outside (whether to a transcend- 
ent deity or a supernatural realm), is built into the immanent 
structure of the cosmos itself. 

The upshot for practice is significant. When Taylor comes, 
in his final chapter, “Conversions, to discuss spiritual practice, 
it is to the “experience” of transcendence, “(re)conversion,” and 
“fullness, in which “one feels oneself to be breaking out of a nar- 
rower frame into a broader field, which makes sense of things in 
a different way.” Taylor urges us to resist the temptation to psy- 
chologize this as individual “experience.” Rather, it is a break- 
through to a transcendence which “corresponds to reality” out- 
side of the “immanent frame.’® He refers to various mystics and 
saints, but focuses particularly on three modern figures — Ivan 
Illich, Charles Peguy, and Gerard Manley Hopkins— who in 
different ways grapple with “the inescapable tension between 
the ultimate order of the Parousia, which is in gestation today” 
and “the established order of civilization as we live it” and who 

55 Ibid. 

56 William Connolly, “Deep Pluralism,” in William E. Connolly: Democracy, 
Pluralism and Political Theory, eds. Samuel A. Chambers and Terrell Carver, 
85-104 (New York: Routledge, 2008), 85. 

57 Taylor, A Secular Age, 768. 

58 Ibid. 



find “their own way” within this tension. The choice of the three, 
interestingly, reflects the persistent influence on Taylor of Mar- 
tin Heidegger: Illich is as much a critic, if not more so, of in- 
strumental technological rationality as was Heidegger; Peguy, 
building on Bergson, is said to “anticipate” Heidegger’s “famous 
analysis of the three ekstaseis”; and Hopkins is a Christian ver- 
sion of the kind of poet Heidegger came to celebrate in his later 
writings. What we see, then, is an expansive interpretation of 
spiritual practice, including social critique and poetry, held to- 
gether only by the fact that each of them is a Christian. 

Taylor does refer on numerous occasions to Buddhist or oth- 
er forms of religion, occasionally suggesting, for instance, that 
“what may have to be challenged here is the very distinction 
nature/supernature itself; but he fails to follow up on these 
suggestions. In the book's final two pages he gestures, hesitantly, 
to the potential virtues of “paganism” or “polytheism” in a brief 
critique of two weaknesses found in Christianity and the “axial 
religions” — Christianity’s “repression and marginalization” of 
embodiment and its tendency “to homogenize.’ But he internal- 
izes these critiques by claiming that “Christianity, as the faith of 
the Incarnate God, is denying something essential to itself as long 
as it remains wedded to forms which excarnate.’® This poten- 
tial opening onto something transcendent to Christianity is thus 
deflected into itself.** Meanwhile, the thinkers who show a more 
radical openness to embodiment, pluralism, and the blurring of 
the nature/supernature dichotomy are mostly brushed aside as 
marginal voices of an “immanent revolt” that, for all its revolt- 
ing, remains always “immanent.” 

William Connolly has long championed an “immanent re- 
volt” that redefines transcendence in ways consistent with the 
process-relational thinking of this book. Connolly consistently 
calls for a Spinozist “ethic of cultivation,’ a philosophy “of ethics 
not as obedience to the command ofa personal God or a categori- 

59 Ibid., 732. 
60 Ibid., 771, emphasis added. 
61 Ibid., 772. 



cal imperative, but as cultivation by tactical means of hilaritus, a 
love of life that infuses the body/brain/culture network in which 
we live? For him, the kind of “deep pluralism nourished by a 
generous ethic of engagement” that he calls for “requires mic- 
ropolitical work on the subliminal register?’ work that includes 
the kinds of things he variously refers to as “relational arts,” “arts 
of the self? “spiritual exercises, “ethical artistry, and “corporeal 
practices.” Such activities “work on interceded layers of relation- 
al being. They help to organize those complex mixtures of word, 
image, habit, feeling, touch, smell, concept, and judgment that 
give texture to cultural life” It is in these “interceded layers” that 
the “dense, often intense, relation between mystical/subliminal 
states and doctrinal representation and interpretation” is “effec- 
tuated”: not only “by gods, genes, traumatic experiences, and 
neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, seroto- 
nin, and acetylcholine,” but also “by ritual, tactics, arts, and ex- 
ercises variously practiced by members of religions of the Book, 
Buddhists, Freudians, and Nietzschians.”™ 

This list may bring to mind many of the techniques of spir- 
itual exploration found in today’s spiritual marketplace — the 
sundry healing practices, meditation and visualization tech- 
niques, image and symbol systems from runes to Tarot cards to 
I Ching to “centering prayer” and “Sufi dancing” and spiritual 
journaling and “power place” pilgrimage, all intended to bring 
about change in the consciousness of the technique-accumu- 
lating seekers. Neither Taylor nor Connolly would uncritically 
endorse all (if any) of these methods. Taylor would undoubt- 
edly find them too instrumental, too invested in the “self” that 
does the seeking, self-exploring, and self-enhancing, with little 
necessary reference to a transcendent domain. Connolly, on the 
other hand, deploys language (such as “arts of the self”) that 
suggests some complicity with this individualist frame. But his 

62 William Connolly, “Europe: A Minor Tradition,” in Powers of the Secular 
Modern: Talal Asad and His Interlocutors, eds. Charles Hirschkind and Da- 
vid Scott, 75-92 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 84. 

63 Connolly, Neuropolitics, 129. 

64 Ibid., 132. 



voluminous writings on politics conveys the clear message that 
selfhood is not a bounded and unchanging container, but is al- 
ways in process, dynamically related to others and to a world 
on which it is intimately dependent. His ethos of pluralization 
specifically encourages an engagement with one’s critics and in- 
terlocutors, and his “quasi-pagan faith” of immanent naturalism 
is one that, he claims, cultivates a sensibility of care and “love of 
this world.”® 

Connolly here is proposing an alternative model of the re- 
lationship between reason, values, and practice both to those, 
such as Taylor, who assume a predetermined view of value or 
transcendent meaning, and to those (like Kant, Habermas, and 
Rawls) who privilege reason at the expense of affective and pre- 
rational processes. His “arts of the self” include practices that 
“corporealize” culture and reshape both “thinking and sensibil- 
ity in profound ways.”® Culture, in this understanding, is em- 
bodied “in repetitive practices that help to constitute the dispo- 
sitions, sensibilities, and ethos through which meaning is lived, 
intellectual beliefs are settled, and relations between constitu- 
encies are negotiated” Ritual, in turn, is “a medium through 
which embodied habits, dispositions, sensibilities, and capaci- 
ties of performance are composed and consolidated.”® All of this 
is entirely consistent with the Peircean and Whiteheadian views 
espoused in this book, which aim to change the ways we relate 
to ourselves and the world through the cultivation of habits of 
perception, action, and realization. 

In all of this, Connolly is no less an urban intellectual than 
Taylor, if not more so. To say, as Connolly does, that he is “not a 
secularist” is certainly not the same as saying that he is not secu- 
lar. The Latin word saeculum, at any rate, refers to the shared 
world of the present: the age, time, generation, world, lifetime, 
or breed of those who belong to a given world. Connolly es- 

65 On his “quasi-pagan” faith, see ibid., 124. The phrase “love of this world” 
comes up frequently in Connolly’s recent writings. 

66 Ibid., 84. 

67 Connolly, Pluralism, 56. 

68 Ibid., 57, emphasis in original. 



pouses a certain faith and seeks out practices to render that faith 
as real as any; in this, he is not separating the saeculum from the 
eternal or transcendent, but is expanding it to invite in possibili- 
ties that others may be leaving out. He mentions churches and 
other religious organizations in his list of allies for building an 
“eco-egalitarian resonance machine” to counter the “evangeli- 
cal-capitalist resonance machine” that has ascended to power in 
the United States of late. 

But Connolly’s option of philosophical exploration remains 
the option of an individual who is quite capable of standing 
apart from any community because his grounding in the world 
of modern, secular culture is solid. To effectively engage with 
cultural worlds whose relationship to secular liberalism is much 
more conflicted may require the capacity to move even further 
across the divide between the secular world of intellectuals and 
reasoned arguments, and the worlds of what we might call other 
rationalities — those that are culturally still somewhat intact, but 
whose cardinal reference points bear little resemblance to those 
of liberal political dialogue, democratic pluralism, and respect- 
ful debate. 

For this we require an ontological politics that understands 
that humans already live in different worlds, different kosmoi, 
and that any effort to bridge them will always be precarious, 
with neither guarantees nor shared foundations on which to 
build such bridges. 

Ontological politics 

In her multivolume work Cosmopolitiques (1996-97) and publi- 
cations that followed it, Belgian philosopher of science Isabelle 
Stengers forwarded a “cosmopolitical proposal” that, unlike 
most forms of cosmopolitanism, does not presume the exist- 
ence or even the possibility of a “good common world, an ecu- 
menically peaceable cosmopolis. It assumes, instead, that such a 
peaceable common world would always have to be cobbled to- 
gether by whatever means of negotiation are available. Her pro- 
posal, furthermore, is intended to “slow down the construction 



of this common world, to create a space for hesitation regarding 
what it means to say ‘good””® The “cosmos” of her cosmopolitics 
“refers to the unknown constituted by [the] multiple, divergent 
worlds and to the articulations of which they could eventually 
be capable””? Such a cosmopolitics cannot pre-assume what will 
count as “common” — whether, for instance, it may be “nature” 
along with “human nature,” the laws and discoveries of science, 
sovereign nations, “cultural differences,” or (on the other hand) 
gods, souls, ancestors, spirits, demons, or anything else that 
could be brought to the negotiating table. 

Stengers’s call has been echoed and amplified by an array of 
theorists, of whom Bruno Latour has been the most influential. 
If Latour’s decades-long work studying the relations between 
science, technology, society, and modernity has had a dominant 
refrain, it is that we can no longer rely on the singular founda- 
tion of a “nature” that speaks to us through the unified voice 
of science —a “nature,” as John Law puts it, that is the “unique 
author of a single account” propping up a “reality that is inde- 
pendent, prior, singular, and definite” 

Instead, we must learn to live amidst a multiplicity of ways of 
knowing, ways of living, and ways of building worlds, a multi- 
plicity in which the very foundations of our world may not even 
be recognized by others. One of these foundations for the “mod- 
erns” (which means for us, if we align with that world) is the one 
that sees “culture” and “nature” as radically opposed terms. For 
Latour, this dichotomy presumes two interlinked things: first, a 
“multiculturalism” for which culture is taken to differentiate us, 
one group from another, in ways that could be evaluated based 
on commonly accepted standards of human rights or goods; 
but, second, a “mononaturalism” that takes nature to be sim- 
ply there, singular, lawful, and invariable. Science, in turn, is the 

69 Isabelle Stengers, “The Cosmopolitical Proposal,” in Making Things Pub- 
lic, eds. Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel, 994-1003 (Cambridge: mir Press, 
2005), 994. 

70 Ibid., 994. 

71 John Law, After Method: Mess in Social Science Research (New York: Rout- 
ledge, 2004), 123. 



social force that has been delegated with the power to reveal 
nature for us and to speak on its behalf.” 

Latour rejects this division: nature, he argues, does not pro- 
vide a bedrock of reality against which our activities can be 
measured, because each culture is always already enacted and 
embedded within a particular set of ecology-making processes. 
Each is always already no less than a “nature-culture.” And all 
such natures-cultures are both similar and different. They are 

in that they simultaneously construct humans, divinities and 
nonhumans. None of them inhabits a world of signs or sym- 
bols arbitrarily imposed on an external Nature known to us 
[westerners] alone. [...] All of them sort out what will bear 
signs and what will not. If there is one thing we all do, it is 
surely that we construct both our human collectives and the 
nonhumans that surround them. In constituting their collec- 
tives, some mobilize ancestors, lions, fixed stars, and the co- 
agulated blood of sacrifice; in constructing ours, we mobilize 
genetics, zoology, cosmology and hzmatology.” 

The key is that there is no privileged vantage point for sorting 
through these semiotically disconnected worlds. Coordinating 
some common understanding across the gaps requires not im- 
posing one’s own categories, but working toward some form of 
“translation” and “diplomacy,” a process in which “everything 
takes effort, continuing effort.” 

How, if there are no pre-given grounds for adjudication, 
might we navigate between dramatically different interpreta- 
tions of the world and the human place within it? Latour sug- 
gests beginning with a different set of questions than the usual 
ones. Rather than asking “who is right and who is wrong?” or, 

72 Bruno Latour, Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, 
trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004). 

73 Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. Catherine Porter (Cam- 
bridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), 106. 

74 Law, After Method, 131-32. 



more typically, “why do they persist in believing their wrong 
ideas?” he proposes such questions as: “What sort of people are 
they?” (People, after all, are products of formations in which 
personhood, subjecthood, of one kind or another, is recog- 
nized.) “What are the entities under which they assemble?” To 
what do they ascribe their assembly as such? “And how do they 
distribute the agencies making up their cosmos?” 

Latour takes as a precondition that we live in perilous times, 
when scientists evoking a looming climate catastrophe are asked, 
“Why should we trust you any more than anyone else?” His in- 
quiry is intended to answer this question in the only way that is 
admissible once the foundations are taken away. The answer is 
always: look to what they do. Look to how they make their world, 
and how we make ours. Compare on the basis of what is made, 
and what we might make together — through the mediations we 
might come up with in the diplomatic project that lies ahead of 
us all. Science, by this account, is not what it says it is; it is how 
it works. Much of Latour’s earlier work was devoted to showing 
precisely how carefully and sophisticatedly scientists enact their 
practices and how, in doing so (when they succeed), they build 
worlds that are robust and resilient. 

In his 2013 Gifford Lectures, Latour refers to the cosmopo- 
litical project that is ahead of us as an experiment in “demo- 
genesis”: an attempt at creating a “people” and a “body politic” 
out of the many who confront each other in the wake of the 
Anthropocene. These people might include the human as well 
as the animate, the organic, the technological, the fantastic, 
and so many others —all those agents formerly called “objects” 
alongside those formerly called “subjects.” The great challenge 
for his project is this: How does one conduct diplomacy with 
things that do not speak, at least not in a language known to 

75 Bruno Latour, “The Puzzling Face of a Secular Gaia,” The Gifford Lectures: 
Facing Gaia: A New Enquiry Into Natural Religion, https://www.giffordle- The lectures 
have been substantially reworked into the book Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures 
on the New Climatic Regime, trans. Catherine Porter (Cambridge: Polity, 



the moderns? How can we envision a diplomacy —a messy and 
rambunctious “parliament” — that could translate the languages 
spoken by all the entities of the shadowy super-entity hesitantly 
being hailed “Gaia”? (More on her momentarily.) 

The take-home point here is that once we abandon the no- 
tion of a nature that is fully outside culture, and of a culture that 
is fully separate from nature, we are left with the fact that all that 
there has ever been is different kinds of relations made between 
people (as long as there have been people) and the places, forc- 
es, gods, and other beings that are taken to make up the world. 
Humans have always been thickly entangled within this larger 
world: we have always been enworlded, enspaced, territorial- 
ized, and folded over with so many other others. Our relations 
to places and landscapes have always been morally imbued and 
ontologically loaded. No “nature” has been pure backdrop, pure 
“abstract space; in Henri Lefebvre'’s felicitous phrase — until 
someone came along to make it so and to enforce such an ab- 
straction onto reality.”* That abstraction underpins the A/Cene. 
It is a colonial creation, and it is time for us to decolonize. 

If our relationship to the world’s other agents has always been 
variable, it has also always been contractual insofar as those re- 
lationalities that “worked” required maintenance over time. The 
contracts of these natural-cultural collectives take their force 
from relations that are felt to be morally obligatory and that ex- 
ceed its participants in time and in space. There is some sort 
of contract, entity, constellation of divinities, or web of under- 
standings and patterned relationalities that continues beyond 
the time of our own being here. That is what makes them non- 

At the very least, the cosmopolitical option is one that ac- 
knowledges that there are obligations at stake: that we are 
caught in a world riven with multiple obligations, whether to 
“the economy” and “infinite growth,’ or to “the nation,’ to some 
“revolution, or to the ancestors and deities, the sacred waters 

76 Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith 
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1991). 



of South Dakota, the mountain hollers of Appalachia, or the 
Ubuntu or Buen Vivir of any particular natural-cultural collec- 
tive. (And once we put it that way, is it not evident how few of 
us are ready to put our lives on the line for “the economy”?) 
There is some element of choice in these relations, but there is 
also always some element of being chosen: by our places, by our 
predicaments, by our gods. 

The subject and the subjectless 

Invoking the spectre of the sacred, of Gaia, of the divine and 
the ecological, and of the other figures I have stitched into my 
argumentative fabric (the relational, the pagan, the Buddhist) 
is bound to raise hackles with those concerned about the dis- 
appearance of the human subject. Relational philosophies have 
frequently been subjected to the criticism that any kind of rela- 
tional “holism” is anathema to the ethical particularity that is 
the great gift of modernity, of liberalism, of the Christian West, 
or of some related historical protagonist. 

In the debates over rival forms of speculative realism, object- 
oriented ontologists have made some variation of this argument 
(though the fault lines might be drawn a little differently, as 
when Timothy Morton argues on behalf of an “object-oriented 
Buddhism”). Where Harman, Morton, and others have defend- 
ed the object, others have defended the human subject. Slavoj 
Zizek’s arguments are compelling in this regard, and are worth 
considering here for at least three additional reasons: because 
his psychoanalytical approach engages with an affective level of 
the political that other approaches fail to adequately consider; 
because of certain parallels between his Lacanian model of the 
psyche and the process-relational view I am proposing; and be- 
cause of Zizek’s resonance in today’s anti-capitalist political left. 

In a world of manifest injustice, Zizek has come to celebrate 
a Leninist decisiveness in political action, which he allies with a 
Pauline Christian love of “the act,” and which he sees as ineradi- 
cably linked to the possibility of subjectivity. In opposition to 
these, he has critiqued a long line of theoretical opponents and 



ideological “ersatzes,” from complacent “liberal multicultural- 
ism” to obsessive ecology, “New Age spiritualism,” “neo-pagan- 
ism, and “Western Buddhism.” To all of them he ascribes some 
version of an “indifference” or “noninvolvement,’ which alleg- 
edly comes from their shared ideal of “absorption” in a cosmic 
“balance of the One-All?” a “balanced circuit of the universe” 
that, according to Zizek, Pauline Christianity and its political 
successor, Leninist revolutionism, throw off the rails. In particu- 
lar, Zizek claims that “Western Buddhism” has established itself 
as “the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism.” 

To understand his critique, we must start by understand- 
ing his own presuppositions. In tracing his “creative synthe- 
sis of German idealism and Lacanian psychoanalysis,” Adrian 
Johnston's analysis in Zizek’ Ontology helps us immensely with 
this. (About Johnston’s book, Zizek himself has said that “While 
reading it, I often had the uncanny feeling of being confronted 
by a line of argumentation which fits better than my own texts 
what I am struggling to formulate — as if he is the original and I 
am a copy.) Johnston articulates Zizek’s ontology as a form of 
“transcendental materialism” according to which “Cogito-like 
subjectivity ontogenetically emerges out of an originally corpo- 
real condition as its anterior ground,’ but “once generated, this 
sort of subjectivity thereafter remains irreducible to its mate- 
rial sources.”” In other words, autonomy or subjectivity “imma- 
nently emerges” as an “excess or surplus” from out of a plurality 
of corporeal-material, pre-subjective existence. That founda- 
tion — which is “asubjective, heteronomous” and “libidinal-ma- 
terial” — includes conditions that make it possible for subjective 
autonomy to emerge. But once it has emerged, it “cannot be re- 
inscribed back” within that “ontological register out of which it 

77 Slavoj Zizek, “Human Rights and Its Discontents,” Olin Auditorium, Bard 
College, November 15, 1999, 

78 Zizek, quoted on back cover of Adrian Johnston, Zizek’s Ontology: A Tran- 
scendental Materialist Theory of Subjectivity (Evanston: Northwestern Uni- 
versity Press, 2008). 

79 Ibid., xxiv. 



grew. For better or worse, the genie of subjectivity, one might 
say, cannot be put back into the bottle.*° 

All of this is to say that, for Zizek, we are not born as subjects, 
with anything like the “freedom” to act, but we become subjects 
and thereafter act within a socio-linguistic system that recog- 
nizes our subjectivity. From the moment we have done that, 
there is no going back. We are left, instead, with an irreparable 
“gap, a non-dialecticizable parallax split” that haunts our being 
and, at the same time, makes some measure of freedom pos- 
sible. This freedom is both precious and, in an important sense, 
anti-systemic. It is eccentric. “Being free,’ Johnston writes, “is a 
transitory event arising at exceptional moments when the his- 
torical, psychical, and biological run of things breaks down." 
The genesis of subjectivity, then, is material, but its essence is 
non-material, yet more than epiphenomenal. 

A process-relationalist might ask in response to this: what 
can be more Deleuzian than this account of networked systems, 
productive organic-machinic assemblages out of which arise the 
capacity to act and, from one moment to another, to perpetu- 
ally become? And what can be more Whiteheadian than the gap 
that opens up in the event of every moment that makes up the 
(processual) universe? But where Zizek and Lacan seem to limit 
the experience of subjectivity to the human, and Johnston to 
“exceptional moments” of humanity, Whitehead and Deleuze 
would extend it to all things — which in each of their systems 
are always events rather than object-things. 

Moreover, what can be more Buddhist than the recognition 
that the “gap” that opens up in each moment, between each 
thought or mental impulse, can be penetrated through medita- 
tive practice precisely to free us from the fantasy images and 
objects and “things” we think are real, so as to make it possible 
to experience the fluidity of life with some measure of liberated 

80 Ibid., 271. 
81 Ibid., 286-87. 



Let us explore this latter point of apparent convergence. 
Buddhism (for the most part) and Lacanianism both posit an 
emptiness at the center of the human subject, which that subject 
perpetually strives to fill. Lacan sees the psyche as built on an in- 
assimilable gap between the bodily-material substrate on which 
subjectivity is built and the subject itself. Buddhism sees the 
self as a relational construct with no essence, whose underlying 
reality is a flux of dependently-originative causal forces. Both 
traditions aim to help us face the emptiness or gap that is at our 
core, so that we can live with it rather than deflecting it into il- 
lusory and ultimately unsupportable fantasy-constructs — such 
as those of the ego (the subject, the “T”) and the objects that 
will ostensibly satisfy its desires, or various collective identity 
projects (ethnic, national, or other kinds) with their ideological 
props and scapegoats. And both posit that only by facing this 
gap directly can some kind of amelioration (salvation, or genu- 
ine love) be possible. 

Zizek admits this commonality. In Less Than Nothing, he 
writes, “The only other school of thought that fully accepts the 
inexistence of the big Other is Buddhism.” Considering Bud- 
dhist ethics, he continues: 

Does not Buddhism lead us to “traverse the fantasy”: over- 
coming the illusions on which our desires are based and 
confronting the void beneath each object of desire? Further- 
more, psychoanalysis shares with Buddhism the insistence 
that there is no Self as a substantive agent of psychic life: [...] 
the Self is the fetishized illusion of a substantial core of sub- 
jectivity where, in reality, there is nothing. This is why, for 
Buddhism, the point is not to discover one’s “true Self”; but 
to accept that there is no such thing, that the “Self” as such is 
an illusion, an imposture. [...] Crucial to Buddhism is the re- 
flexive change from the object to the thinker himself: first, we 
isolate the thing that bothers us, the cause of our suffering; 
then we change not the object but ourselves, the way we re- 
late to (what appears to us as) the cause of our suffering [...]. 
This shift involves great pain [... it is] the violent experience 



of losing the ground under one’s feet, of being deprived of the 
most familiar stage of one’s being.” 

But in the end, for Zizek, Buddhists “do not repair the dam- 
age; rather, [they] gain the insight into the illusory nature of that 
which appears to need repair’ The difference between Bud- 
dhism and psychoanalysis, he claims, is that 

for Buddhism, after Enlightenment (or “traversing the fanta- 
sy”), the Wheel no longer turns, the subject de-subjectivizes 
itself and finds peace; for psychoanalysis, on the other hand, 
the wheel continues to turn, and this continued turning-of- 
the-wheel is the drive.* 

The death drive, according to Freud, “is the tension which per- 
sists and insists beyond and against the nirvana principle.” Zizek 
calls Buddhists’ “nirvana principle” the “highest and most radi- 
cal expression” of the “pleasure principle, which psychoanalysis 
(according to Zizek) militates against. “Even if the object of de- 
sire is illusory,’ he continues, “there is a real in this illusion: the 
object of desire in its positive content is vain, but not the place it 
occupies, the place of the Real; which is why there is more truth 
in the unconditional fidelity to one’s desire than in the resigned 
insight into the vanity of one’s striving”® 

This last passage is revealing: instead of recognizing “the van- 
ity of one’s striving” and opting for inner peace, Zizek seeks an 
“unconditional fidelity to one’s desire.” That desire, for him, aris- 
es out of the tensions in the (Freudian) drives, generating the 
subject and making us human. Ironically, this “unconditional 
fidelity to one’s desire” sounds not so different from what some 
forms of Vajrayana Buddhism aspire to. In Vajrayana, what the 
practitioner aims for is not extinction in the blissful passivity 

82 Slavoj Zizek, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Mate- 
rialism (London: Verso, 2013), 129-30. 

83 Ibid., 130. 

84 Ibid., 131. 

85 Ibid., 132-33, emphasis added. 



of nirvana, but the following of desire in order to unite with 
the deities that are its emanations — which, since those deities 
are themselves “empty,” means a union with Desire itself. Zizek 
dispenses with Vajrayana by caricaturing it as one of the most 
“ridiculously ritualized” religious forms, humorously compar- 
ing its invention of the prayer wheel with television’s canned 

But the difference can be specified more precisely. In Zizek’s 
understanding, it is the empty subject that we need to retain. 
For Mahayana Buddhism (at least), it is emptiness itself, which 
is taken to be something like an open cognizance that is empty 
of all reifications, all stillings of the flow, yet which is irrepress- 
ible in its nature. (I'm drawing more on the Tibetan tradition 
of Dzogchen here than on other forms, but the general point 
holds for other strands of Mahayana Buddhist thought.) The 
difference, then, is this: what counts for Zizek is the subject at 
the point of his or her individual production; for Buddhists, it is 
subjectless subjectivity, or subjectivity at the point of its disap- 
pearance, its self-emptying. 

Understanding this distinction requires asking not only what 
subjectivity is, but also what the nature of reality is. If reality is 
inert substance, mute matter, or mere existence without subjecti- 
vation, and if the human subject is the one thing that transcends 
mere matter, then there is nothing more significant than human 
subjectivity at the point of its origin. Zizek would in this case 
be quite right about what needs to be protected, defended, and 
cultivated: human subjectivity in its preciousness, and the indi- 
vidual human subject above all. The only alternative would be 
passivity (of the sort that Zizek ends up ascribing to Buddhism). 
But if reality — not just human but all reality —is the ongoing 
production of subjectless subjectivity, or subjectivation-objecti- 
vation, then subjectless subjectivity is always already active, not 
merely passive, and it is not something that belongs to anyone. 

In this sense, Buddhist prayer wheels are not exactly identical 
to sitcom laugh tracks, but they operate on the same principle. 
Both acknowledge that the world is always already in affective- 
semiotic motion, and that we, moving beings, are affected on 



a preconscious level by the in-motionness at work around us. 
With its mantras, prayer wheels, and other habit-making prac- 
tices, Mahayana Buddhism attempts to shift that motion into a 
movement toward liberation. Sitcom laugh tracks, by contrast, 
attempt to shift that motion into pleasurable distraction. The 
goals are entirely different. If Zizek dislikes both equally, it is 
because he values willful subjectivity — the kind that speaks “T 
into the void of its own creation — at the expense of the affec- 
tive but subjectless subjectivity that a more processual ontology 
would ascribe to both humans and to the world. 

Concluding his foray into Buddhism in Less Than Nothing, 
Zizek refers to a paradox, whose formal structure is that of the 
“double vacuum” of a Higgs Boson field. This double vacuum 
“appears in the guise of the irreducible gap between ethics (un- 
derstood as the care of the self, as striving towards authentic 
being) and morality (understood as the care for others, re- 
sponding to their call).” For Zizek, “the authenticity of the Self 
is taken to the extreme in Buddhist meditation, whose goal is 
precisely to enable the subject to overcome (or, rather, suspend) 
its Self and enter the vacuum of nirvana.”** To this, a Buddhist 
might say: yes, perhaps this is part of Buddhism (though neither 
“overcoming” nor “suspension” sound quite right in a Buddhist 
context). But it is certainly not the whole of it, at least not in the 
Mahayana tradition where care for others — or for the liberation 
of others — is equally, if not supremely, important. 

Zizek acknowledges that Buddhism has oscillated between 
a “minimal” and a “maximal” goal: the first, related more to 
Theravada Buddhism, is a “spiritual shift” that occurs “within? 
while the second, Mahayana’, is the more radical goal of liberat- 
ing everything from suffering. But he concludes by pointing to 
the “irreducible gap between subjective authenticity and moral 
goodness (in the sense of social responsibility): the difficult thing 
to accept is that one can be totally authentic in overcoming one’s 
false Self and yet still commit horrible crimes — and vice versa, 
of course: one can be a caring subject, morally committed to the 

86 Ibid., 134. 



full, while existing in an inauthentic world of illusion with re- 
gard to oneself?” The “two vacuums,” he writes, “never coincide: 
in order to be fully engaged ethico-politically, it is necessary to 
exit the ‘inner peace’ of one’s subjective authenticity?” 

In the end, Zizek’s critique is not so much a critique of Bud- 
dhism’s philosophical core as it is a critique of one of the tropes 
by which that philosophical core has so often been adumbrated: 
the trope of inner peace and happiness — the cessation of suf- 
fering and attainment of bliss through the elimination of ig- 
norance. In its contrast, he poses the Judaeo-Christian ethic of 
external, traumatic “encounter, of “the Fall” into the world, and 
into love. The virtue of his critique of Buddhism is in the value 
he places on suffering and on choice. Subjectivity is only pos- 
sible because of our condition of separation, the very gap that 
underlies our suffering. Eliminating that gap, he argues, should 
not be the point of a spiritual or philosophical practice. What 
should be is recognizing that the gap is one we share with all 
manner of gapped, broken, suffering (because groundless yet 
ground-seeking) beings. 

Analogously, a philosophy that values the arising of subjec- 
tivity out of the drives (or wherever subjectivity comes from) 
without recognizing the fundamental entanglement of those 
drives with everything else that lives, that moves, that suffers, 
that dies, is a philosophy that privileges will without offering 
a means for deciding how that will should act. Here is where 
Zizek’s ontology privileges freedom over solidarity— which, 
ironically, aligns him with political liberals and even libertar- 
ians. That is precisely why Zizek needs his Marxism: it provides 
him with an ethical foundation for action, and a goal wider than 
freedom itself: that of human solidarity. To the extent that it of- 
fers an understanding of our relations with all beings who suffer, 
Buddhism may be more inclusive in this respect. It provides a 
wider vision for justice and solidarity than Marxism, even at its 
humanistic best, has ever provided. But to the extent that both 
seek not inner peace but subjectless subjectivity, both are reach- 

87 Ibid., 135. 



ing out to the “beyond” at which genuine action becomes pos- 

Totality, or original hybridity? 

Zizek’s account of paganism and ecology take a similar tack. He 
sees both as embracing a cosmic-organic totality, which acts as 
an imposition on human fallibility and subjective freedom. To 
critique ecology, he latches onto the idea that ecology, or nature, 
serves as a kind of Big Other, which with its pattern of regular 
rhythms and homeostatic balances provides a reassurance that 
papers the gap that would otherwise tell us that we, and reality, 
are riven, torn open and fundamentally meaningless, lacking ul- 
timately in any comforting balance and harmony.* 

Here one could reply with a technical disagreement: the sci- 
ence of ecology has long abandoned the notion of homeostatic 
balance as a universal baseline for all ecological processes. In- 
stead, it mixes cybernetic metaphors of homeostasis with others 
taken from the competitive individualism of Darwinian biolo- 
gy, the nonlinear stochastics and “chaotics” of complex systems 
theories, and the pragmatics of adaptive management.” But it 
is not scientists that Zizek is most concerned with. In his argu- 
ment’s favor, there have certainly been environmentalists who 
have pursued their cause as if its attainment would provide a 
“wholeness” and “plenitude” that they (delusorily) imagine will 

88 For Zizek’s ecological writings, see “Nature Does Not Exist,” in Slavoj Zizek, 
Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan Through Popular Culture 
(Cambridge: mir Press, 1991); Slavoj Zizek, “Of Cells and Selves,” in The 
Zizek Reader, eds. Elizabeth Wright and Edmond Wright, 302-20 (Oxford: 
Blackwell, 1999); Slavoj Zizek, “Nature and Its Discontents,” SubStance 37, 
no. 3 (2008): 37-72; Slavoj Zizek, “Censorship Today: Violence, or Ecology 
as a New Opium for the Masses, 18 (2008): 42-43; and Slavoj 
Zizek, “Unbehagen in der Natur,’ in In Defense of Lost Causes, 420-61 (Lon- 
don: Verso, 2009). 

89 E.g., Donald Worster, Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas, 2nd 
eds. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994); Kevin deLaplante, Bry- 
son Brown, and Kent A. Peacock, eds., Philosophy of Ecology (Amsterdam: 
Elsevier, 2011). 



close the Lacanian gap for them. A warning against totality —a 
reminder that we live in an open and fundamentally unknow- 
able and uncontrollable universe — may in this sense be war- 

All the same, environmental advocacy harbors a long his- 
tory of writers and activists explicitly aiming to break open the 
comforting illusions of bourgeois social reality: asking their 
readers, for instance, to confront the mysteries of the universe 
rather than merely assume that we are comfortably ensconced 
in a transcendent social or moral-religious realm locating us hu- 
mans well “above” and outside of nature. Environmental histori- 
ans have often pointed to the history of human projections onto 
nature: as cosmic harmony, as goddess and mother, as “red in 
tooth and claw,’ as cybernetic computer, and so on.°° The more 
informed response to this history of ideas is neither to fixate on 
one episode of it— such as the Disney “Lion King” mythology 
of nature as cosmic harmony, as Zizek sometimes does — nor 
to reject them all as “social constructions.” Rather, the nuanced 
response is to ask how and why these ideas have reflected and af- 
fected their social and ecological contexts and what that means 
for us today. 

As for paganism, Zizek’s generalizations again get the better 
of him. Of course paganism, like any religious system, can be 
used to excuse the grossest violations of others’ rights. (Christi- 
anity has itself been no stranger to such abuses.) But paganism 
in its practice rarely presented the kind of fully systematized 
cosmic harmony Zizek is suggesting. The world of Greek and 
Roman religion presented a barely coherent landscape of ener- 
gies, relations, and divine forces. The polytheism of the ancient 
Greeks, writes Robert Parker, was “indescribable”: “Gods over- 
flowed like clothes from an over-filled drawer which no one felt 
obliged to tidy.” It can more reasonably be argued that polythe- 

90 See my summary of these in Adrian Ivakhiv, “Nature, in The Oxford Hand- 
book of the Study of Religion, eds. Michael Stausberg and Steven Engler, 
415-29 (Oxford University Press, 2016). 

91 Robert Parker, Polytheism and Society at Athens (Oxford University Press, 
2005), 387. 



istic systems are precisely not systems of monological “totality, 
but that they represent something closer to an “originary hy- 
bridity”: a production of forces, variously anthropomorphized 
or not, at the many interfaces between humans and the extra- 
human world, whose plurality has always been syncretic and 
endlessly negotiable. 

If pagan religion seems to be about a maintenance of system- 
ic relations and mutual obligations between humans and their 
deities, then, the forms these relations take are neither universal 
nor unchanging. The generic principle of sacrifice, for instance, 
so seemingly widespread in those cultures labeled “pagan,” can 
best be thought of as a principle of mutual obligation, a system- 
icity of a sort characterized by a flowing back-and-forth of re- 
lational bonds and expectations. In a messianic Christian con- 
text, this back-and-forth systematicity does not disappear, but 
only becomes centralized and sublimated into the figure of the 
dying-and-resurrecting messiah (and that only where Marian 
and saintly cults have not predominated). Monotheistic religion 
has certainly had its bouts of “totality” and “purification” Secu- 
lar modernity may have attempted to slough off this sacrificial 
economy, but in the process merely enabled the other main nar- 
rative function of Christian eschatology: its messianic linearity, 
which became the myth of progress and Enlightenment (later 
supplemented by the Marxian myth of revolutionary salvation). 

Paganisms today (where they are named as such) remain mi- 
nority persuasions. While they sometimes aim to reconstruct 
ancient faiths, at least as often they follow the contours of a post- 
secular persuasion marked by the recognition that the human 
is not transcendent of nature, but is an intimate part of an open 
and emergent natural world.” 

By way of contrast with Zizek’s analysis, Jean-Francois Lyo- 
tard has written of a paganism of the borderlands, a place, as 

92 See, e.g., Graham Harvey, Contemporary Paganisms: Religions of the Earth 
from Druids and Witches to Heathens and Ecofeminists, 2nd edn. (New York 
University Press, 2011). The Pomegranate: International Journal of Pagan 
Studies presents the best scholarship on the topic. 



Martin Jay describes it, “of endless negotiation between peoples, 
all in a kind of exile, a porous boundary through which differ- 
ent intensities clashed without resolution.’® Lyotard called his 
paganism “godless” “without Olympus and without pantheon, 
without prudentia, without fear, without grace, without debt 
and hopeless.** This paganism is “a name” for “the denomina- 
tion of a situation in which one judges without criteria” As 
Daniel Smith puts it, Lyotard’s paganism reflects the “ground- 
lessness” according to which humans “are constantly having to 
match wits with the fate that has been given them” by a “shifting 
plurality of gods who are themselves subject to persuasion and 

To a modern eye, which means to one for whom belief in 
God is a private matter, the history of God in a western context 
includes his removal from the world to a place outside it, where 
he can safely remain as creator, but eclipsed by the processes 
that maintain that world. By contrast, to see the world as filled 
with gods—to epistemologically repaganize it—is to break 
down this barrier between deity and world, flooding it with the 
possibility of minor interventions everywhere. Paganism in this 
sense refers to the modes of being and practice — imaginal, ar- 

93 Martin Jay, “Modern and Postmodern Paganism: Peter Gay and Jean-Fran- 
cois Lyotard, in Cultural Semantics: Keywords of Our Time, 181-96 (Am- 
herst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998), 192. 

94 Jean-Francois Lyotard, “Lessons in Paganism,’ in The Lyotard Reader, ed. 
A. Benjamin, 122-54 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), 123; Jean-Francois Lyotard, 
“The Grip (Mainmise),’ in Political Writings, trans. Bill Readings and Kevin 
Paul Geiman, 148-58 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 

95 Jean-Francois Lyotard, Just Gaming (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota 
Press, 1985), 16; and see Martin Jay, “Modern and Postmodern Paganism.” 
Lyotard was to later revise his stance and shift to an ethical position of “ob- 
ligation.” In Peregrinations: Law, Form, Event (New York: Columbia Unvi- 
ersity Press, 1988), he admitted that “the polymorphic paganism of explor- 
ing and exploiting the whole range of intensive forms could easily be swept 
away into lawful permissiveness, including violence and terror” (15). 

96 Among the more helpful and provocative accounts of what a contemporary 
polytheism might look like is Jordan Paper’s The Deities Are Many: A Poly- 
theistic Theology (Albany: suny Press, 2005). 



tistic, religious, philosophical, and scientific— that somehow, 
of their own accord, bleed out of the everyday relationalities 
and dependencies between people and earth. To use Bruno La- 
tour’s terminology, such a post-secular paganism would reflect 
the “polynaturalism” of a world that has “never been modern, 
never having been purified into a single cosmic governmental- 
ity. Rather, it is always already contaminated by an original hy- 
bridity, where image and icon, god and person, community and 
shadow are and have always been interpenetrated in multiple 

Image, archive, cloud: on the ecology of images 

All this talk of images makes it difficult to avoid the acknowl- 
edgment that we live today in a world of images run amok. Or 
at least in a sea of images whose thickness and generativity is 
beyond anything the Earth has seen before. What, if any, is the 
qualitative distinction between those images and the ones that 
might (or do) serve as our gods? 

Consider the following six trajectories. 

1. More and more people are being born today, and more and 
more of them live out a full life. About one in ten people who 
have ever lived are alive today. (The estimates range from 
6.5% to over 12% depending on the weight given to various 
demographic factors.) With birth rates exceeding death rates, 
that percentage is increasing.” 

2. More and more of these people are growing up with record- 
ing technologies —image and sound recording tools that 
preserve something of the present for the future. It is likely 
that over one-third of humanity now owns digital cameras. 

97 Jonathan Good, “Crunching the Numbers: How Many People Have Ever 
Lived?” 1000memories, May 9, 2011, 
number-of-people-who-have-ever-lived/; Clara Curtin, “Fact or Fiction? 
Booming Population Growth Among the Living, According to One Ru- 
mor, Outpaces the Dead,” Scientific American, March 1, 2007, http://www. 





Facebook users upload over 350 million photos per day to 
the site, which already includes some 300 billion, more than 
15,000 times larger than the Library of Congress. Every two 
minutes we snap as many photos as the whole of humanity 
took in the 1800s; and one in ten photos we have were taken 
in the past twelve months. YouTube and its siblings provide 
an ever-expanding archive of cinematic material uploaded, 
downloaded, re-edited, cross-referenced, spoofed, and end- 
lessly commented upon. While some of these images are 
added to our archive by individuals for their individual and 
collective consumption and narrative construction, others 
are added by state or private organizations with an eye for 
monitoring, surveilling, managing, predicting, marketing, or 
As images recording the present are preserved, they become 
past. At the same time, what is past becomes archived and 
opened to the present. Film reels, photographic imagery, and 
other productions are being added to the archive of what is 
digitally viewable, storable, sharable, and remixable. Tech- 
nologies of retrieval— from digitization software and sam- 
pling technologies to historical, archaeological, detective, 
and forensics tools of various kinds — enable an ever deeper 
digging into and unlocking of the past. The “datability” of 
the past — of the earth as fossil repository and echo cham- 
ber — adds to the archive of images, sounds, signs, and docu- 
ments that can be dredged up and set into motion. 

With image and sound technologies, the past is now di- 
visible into the era of reproducible images and the era that 
preceded it: Bp (Before the Photograph) and ar (Anno Foto- 

Cooper Smith, “Facebook Users Are Uploading 350 Million Photos Each 

Day,” Business Insider, September 18, 2013, 
facebook-350-million-photos-each-day-2013-9; Jonathan Good, “How 
Many Photos Have Ever Been Taken?” 1000memories, September 15, 2011, 
and-analog-in-shoebox; Salman Aslam, “Facebook by the Number: Stats, 
Demographics & Fun Facts,’ January 1, 2018, https://www.omnicoreagency. 


grafici, the Year of Our Lord Photograph). One day we may 
count backwards to the year 1825, which will be the new Year 
Zero, when the first permanent photograph was produced 
by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in Chalon-sur-Sadéne, France. 
Sound technologies came later, and touch and smell repro- 
duction remain in their infancy. But even these demarca- 
tions in time are malleable. Recreations of the past, stillings 
of moments intended for preservation as teaching tools, sa- 
cred objects, memory emblems, political symbols, personal 
mementos — these have been with us at least since the cave 
walls were painted at Lascaux and Chauvet. 

. Interactive media, from Google Glass (whatever happened to 
it?) to multiuser video games to increasingly lifelike virtual 
worlds, render data space more immersive, more embodied, 
and at the same time more fluid. Even if many of the audio 
and visual recordings on YouTube and Vimeo are moments 
found in the “real world” — found objects in a discoverable 
reality — the default mode of cinematic imaging is no longer 
the mimetic representation and photo-indexical recording 
of reality. Rather, it is once again, as it was in its beginning 
(125 years ago or so), a matter of animation, the graphic ma- 
nipulation of images. The growing archive of images and 
sounds becomes a database available for manipulation for 
a multitude of purposes — aesthetic, economic, political, or 

. Then there is the storage of all of that. Every piece of data 
is material, and every object that stores, reads, produces, re- 
produces, manages, recombines, and even deletes data is also 
material. These entities are premised on an infrastructure 
by which materials like copper, lead, silver, tin, chromium, 
barium, silicon, mercury, beryllium, arsenic, and a variety 
of petrochemicals and otherwise hazardous compounds, are 
mined, smelted, refined, manufactured, transported, and dis- 
posed of, by oil rig, airplane, land and sea cable, human hand 
and lung, and so on — with handling and exposure extend- 




ed all along the way.” E-waste has been the fastest growing 
waste stream for years.’ Digital storage capacity overtook 
analog storage capacity in 2002, and within five years of that 
date, 94% of storage was already digital. As of 2011, humanity 
stored some 300 exabytes of information — that is, 300 fol- 
lowed by 18 zeroes.’ Data disks, however, degrade and must 
be replaced; and with the emergence of new formats, there 
is a need for format conversion and migration, which means 
new storage replacing old storage. But old formats do not go 
away; they remain as relic and waste, a material ghost whose 
materiality never dissipates. 

. Finally, there is the cloud. Cloud computing is the frontier 

of the personal computing industry and, in a certain sense, 
marks its end—the end of the personal and the triumph of 
the nodal. By definition, the Internet is a distributed sys- 
tem: it links billions of devices into a network of networks 
that share data, images, and documents across the world. 
The infrastructure it requires is immense. In theory, cloud 
computing replaces local storage and software with storage 
and management of files in distant data centers or “server 
farms.” In practice, it often supplements the former with the 
latter as a means of adding security to data files, which in- 
stead of being saved in one place— on a home computer or 
hard drive — may be saved in several places to ensure ready 

Sy Taffel, “Escaping Attention: Digitla Media Hardware, Materiality and 

Ecological Cost,” Culture Machine 13 (2012): 1-28; Leslie Byster and Ted 
Smith, “The Electronics Production Lifecycle, from Toxics to Sustain- 
ability: Getting off the Toxic Treadmill? in Challenging the Chip: Labour 
Rights and Environmental Justice in the Global Electronics Industry, eds. Ted 
Smith, David Sonnenfeld, and David Naguib Pellow, 205-14 (Philadelphia: 
Temple University Press, 2006); Electronics Take-Back Coalition, Facts and 
Figures on E-Waste and Recycling, 

100 Byster and Smith, “The Electronics Production Lifecycle,” 210. 
101 Lucas Mearian, “Scientists Calculate Total Data Stored to Date: 295+ 

Exabytes,” ComputerWorld, February 14, 2011, 



access by home computer, smart phone, tablet, and an array 
of wireless devices. Cloud computing contributes to the per- 
ception that digital media “dematerialize” our relations with 
the earth, but any image or data requires materiality for its 
existence. As Maxwell and Miller put it, “The metaphor of a 
natural, ephemeral cloud belies the dirty reality of coal-fired 
energy that feeds most data centers around the world?” 

Debates over the sustainability of cloud computing revolve 
around the possibility of its shifting from fossil fuels to renew- 
able energy sources, and toward a smart grid that accounts for 
how much data one is using, through what operations, and so 
on. To date, data centers’ energy usage pales in comparison with 
that of transportation technologies (about 2% to about 25%), 
which shows, as Google’s Urs Hélzle has argued, that it takes 
less energy to ship electrons than atoms. But even as data stor- 
age moves to the cloud, 15% of global residential energy is spent 
on powering domestic digital technology. Even so, a smart-grid 
style accounting of the cloud would limit its “rematerialization” 
to the arithmetical and statistical. Inherent in the expanding ar- 
chive of digital information, images, texts, audio and video re- 
cordings, is a slipperiness where data objects cannot be pinned 
down. They are not exactly here, where I am accessing them, nor 
there, on a server somewhere in Wyoming or Illinois or Central 
Australia; they are in between, mobile, in the rush of semio- 
sis. As the amount of data each of us produces increases, and as 
more of it gets stored in multiple data servers, available upon re- 
quest in the ever more ubiquitous datasphere, so does the need 
for data security measures that also require secure storage and 

As the archive of images and sounds continues to grow, and 
as it “dematerializes” — that is, as it is globalized into a cloud 

102 Richard Maxwell and Toby Miller, “Greening Starts with Ourselves,’ New 
York Times, September 24, 2012, 



that is fuzzy in its spatial parameters, but is as thoroughly mate- 
rial as anything — boundaries distinguishing the personal from 
the public are deterritorialized into a multitude of spaces, traces, 
databanks, strata, and flows. Access to these spaces and data- 
banks — and, more importantly, the capacity for management 
and manipulation of the data they hold— becomes the prize 
among a competing array of local and global players. With this 
de- and re-territorialization, the struggle to re-establish a demo- 
cratic commons takes on new forms. 

Ultimately, such struggle is part and parcel of every de- and 
re-territorialization the planet has seen. Image technologies 
bear witness to this history. As Nadia Bozak delineates in The 
Cinematic Footprint, cinema, like photography, has always been 
ecologically embedded. It depends on a powerful combination 
of at least two forms of solar energy: the capture of reflected so- 
lar light, and the indirect products of that energy that have been 
stored and compounded over millennia in the form of fossil fu- 
els." As Henri Bergson might have put it, cinematic images are 
a form of captured, organized, and released light-heat-energy- 
movement. In this, they take what is common to all of us —all 
living substances — and reorganize it in the crafting of meaning- 
ful worlds. To make cinema is to craft worlds from worlds, and 
in doing so, to bear an obligation to the light, heat, and energy 
used in their making. 

All life on this planet is the product of one or another permu- 
tation of the interaction between energy originating from the 
sun (light and heat) and the surface of the Earth that it strikes. 
Everything we know is an evolved permutation of that endlessly 
differentiating process. Modern image technologies, analog or 
digital, are products of a certain political ecology: they arose 
alongside the industrialization of material production, an un- 
leashing of productive capacities that had been stored on or be- 
neath the surface of this planet for millennia. The digitalization 
of the image (still or moving, or some combination of the two) is 

103 Nadia Bozak, The Cinematic Footprint: Lights, Camera, Natural Resources 
(New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2012). 



not of a matter of post-industrialization, but merely of the digi- 
tal, post-Fordist globalization of that same political ecology. It 
is the latest phase of the development of the bio-socio-technical 
apparatus that has undergirded industrialization. Image tech- 
nologies are part and parcel of a world that has become faster, 
more mobile and fluid, and more diversely integrated — eco- 
nomically, politically, and culturally — even as its tensions have 
become intensified and globalized. 

Time of the image 

If we live in a world whose outer circumference has become 
thickened with the production of millions of images, it is impor- 
tant to realize that these images are not merely visual: they are 
bits or “moments” of “world? which are produced, reproduced, 
and sent reeling into an ocean already thick with recombinant 
imagery. And these moments of world are not individual images 
so much as they are affective currents. 

Take music videos. This form packs in, often with utmost 
intensity, the animate mobility of the audiovisual image: the af- 
fective spectacle of a particular set of motions, speeds, sounds, 
glimpses, gazes, sensations, feelings; the cutting together of one 
thing into another, sutured by rhythm and song, to create some 
sense of a narrative arc, or at least of movement or tension be- 
tween the kinds of structuring oppositions that make narrative 
possible; and the semiotic openness by which what would nor- 
mally stand on its own—a song or musical piece — becomes 
overlaid by and adjoined to other things entirely. One might ar- 
gue that music videos reduce the interpretive openness of a piece 
of music by locking it into a series of visual and narrative refer- 
ence points. But every such reduction is also a transformation 
that creates new possibilities for interpretation. The images of 
a music video, propelled by its music, are intended to stay with 
viewers, and because most music videos are under five minutes 
in length, those images are carefully chosen, with little digres- 
sion from their basic sense. Their external reference points may 
be focused, more than anything else, on the production of the 



artist’s persona, such that the viewer might be expected to say 
something like “This is the best thing she’s done yet!” — where 
she may be Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Adele, or Katy Perry. 
But this artist's persona is always implicated in broader cultural 
relations, within which fan responses find their meanings and 
chart their affective paths through the world. At their most ef- 
fective, music videos elicit a deeply affective charge, a frisson or 
wave intended to carry a viewer somewhere, both over the sat- 
isfactory burst of duration that constitutes the video itself and 
well beyond it afterward. 

Much the same could be said of any video that goes viral 
on the Internet. This is the same whether they are “found” or 
“spontaneous” videos — random shots of life that happened to 
be caught on camera—or carefully planned and orchestrated 
works of budding video auteurs. In the first category, one finds, 
for instance, the video shot by a Chinese security camera show- 
ing a two-year-old girl being hit and run over by a truck, fol- 
lowed by several passersby ignoring her — a video that elicited a 
round of anguished soul-searching, blame seeking, and recrim- 
inations among Chinese citizens. The clip itself was short, no 
longer than the original film reels of the Lumiére brothers, and 
just as silent, but it became a live and mobile moment, a moving 
episode, an event that captured and transmitted an intensity of 
feeling for its viewers. 

Also in this category one might include the images from the 
undersea “Spillcam” that brought the Deepwater Horizon oil 
spill seeping eerily into thousands of viewers’ bedrooms in the 
summer of 2010, or the many YouTube videos of the massed 
movement of starling murmurations (as the formations are 
called), or of cute or bizarre animal encounters — brief cin- 
ematic outtakes from a trans-human world that delights view- 
ers irrespective of any extinction crisis we might collectively be 
responsible for. 

Taken collectively, cinematic imagery in the digital age pre- 
sents a universe whose outer circumference is always expand- 
ing. That circumference is not bounded; it is open, with new 
works being added like thoughts and exhalations of a cinematic 



humanity. And within that circumference, the dots that connect 
it are no longer singular, bounded units so much as they are 
fluid bursts — more like bacteria that share genetic information 
across boundaries, or rhizomes that connect with others in ev- 
er-widening webs, than like sedentary organisms that take root 
and bear fruit in a single plot of soil. The moving images shared 
on YouTube and other social media mix with the reports of ca- 
ble television and other forms of reportage to provide a staged 
running commentary about the world that, in turn, builds and 
binds our world. By the minute, they are adding new vectors of 
transmission on which future worlds might be borne if only the 
creative advance — the reach toward a new intensity of beauty, 
relationality, and meaning — was there. 

Whether this situation strikes us as fortunate or not, it is 
here where experimentation can occur for carving out spaces in 
which the A/Cene could be challenged. 

Of gods and the eyes of the world 

Filmmaker Werner Herzog has argued that while “destruction 
of the environment” is an “enormous danger,’ “the lack of ad- 
equate imagery is a danger of the same magnitude.” “If we do 
not develop adequate images, he warns, “we will die out like 

If we define images as broadly as a pansemiotic, process- 
relational ontology suggests, then Herzog’s claim is both trivial 
and comprehensive. It is trivial in that we will die out, after all, 
like dinosaurs, and perhaps much quicker than they did. It is 
comprehensive in that it is precisely our capacity to develop ad- 
equate images that will define the future of our worlds. If mov- 
ing images are not just things that we see, but ways of seeing 
that draw us in and take us places, and if we ourselves are made 
of such drawings-in and takings-places, then the play of such 
drawings, takings, goings, movings, and becomings constitutes 

104 Cited in Werner Herzog, Roger Ebert, and Gene Walsh, Images at the Hori- 
zon: A Workshop with Werner Herzog (Chicago: Facets Multimedia, 1979), 21. 



the universe. And then it is fitting to consider our most power- 
ful moving images as the “gods” that carry us across the gaps of 
a folded, bumpy, fraught, and turbulent universe. 

Countenancing gods may seem retrograde and contrary to 
the democratic and humanistic goals many of us harbor. But 
gods have more to do with democracy’s origins than is evident 
at first blush. The earliest examples of democratic public assem- 
bly including those in ancient Athens, the Hellenistic city-states, 
and republican Rome, did not separate the political from the 
religious, artistic, scientific, legal, or other domains. The Greek 
political world, as Nancy Evans puts it, “was governed by civic 
rites.” Every Greek city “relied on countless religious practices 
in every aspect of its daily functioning. Citizens stood not only 
in political and social relationship to each other but also in reli- 
gious and cultic relationship to each other, to their children and 
ancestors, and to the city’s gods." 

Assuming the category of gods to be not yet exhausted is 
something that a post-secular world may need to do. In any 
case, we should define that category liberally, to include spirits, 
angels, prophets, saints, ancestors, descendants, culture heroes, 
tricksters, and many other non-human or para-human agen- 
cies — “meta-personal” powers, as Marshall Sahlins calls them, 
to which people defer, which they attend and honor, with which 
they maintain relational compacts, and which they are generally 
loath to give up.’ They may or may not be human constructs, 
but they are always also more than that, and it is that “more 
than” that largely defines them. Gods in this sense can be male 
or female, neither or both, human-like or utterly other than hu- 

105 Nancy Evans, Civic Rites: Democracy and Religion in Ancient Athens (Berke- 
ley: University of California Press, 2010), 5. 

106I prefer “para-human” to “metahuman,’ the term Sahlins employs in his 
important recent piece on “The Original Political Society,’ Hau: Journal 
of Ethnographic Theory 7, no. 2 (2017). “Para-” suggests something similar 
but different, “beside” or “near” to the human. “Meta-” suggests something 
“later? “beyond, or of a different order to the human. Each has its virtues, 
but I prefer to leave the ontological ordering ambiguous. That said, “meta- 
personal” works well. And see Paper’s The Deities Are Many for a well ar- 
gued case on behalf of a theology of such meta-persons. 



man, and they can be something discovered along the way, not 
pre-existing history but elaborated alongside it in the historical 
unfoldment of a people, a demos. 

But to the extent that there exists “a people” — and it is always 
risky to define such a group—that people will have its gods. 
And when there are multiple and overlapping configurations of 
such demoi— organized in families, clans, moieties, batallions, 
neighborhoods, cities, tribes, nations, gangs, political parties, 
sports teams, secret societies, and other formations — they will 
be engaged with multiple and overlapping configurations of di- 
vinities, spirits, or ancestral and other powers. 

We can see such configurations in ancient Greece, Rome, and 
Egypt, and endless variations of them in indigenous and tribal 
societies. They are among us today as well, in the bumpy and 
multifaceted religious landscapes of East and South Asia, Af- 
rica, and South America, and in Catholic and Orthodox christi- 
anities to the extent that that monotheistic faith has allowed its 
polymorphous impulses to thrive. To a visitor unprepared for it 
(as I was on a recent visit), the presence of altars, shrines, and 
temples across the urban and rural landscapes of a country like 
contemporary Taiwan is overwhelming and somewhat perplex- 
ing. (One expects it more in India, Bali, or Thailand.) 

It is not necessary to argue that every form of social organiza- 
tion is a religion and that its symbols are deities; or that religion 
is exclusively social in a Durkheimian sense. But it is worth con- 
sidering that to the extent that social forms maintain allegiance, 
it is through mediators that act something like gods— that 
sometimes are explicitly that, but more often are something a 
little godlike, a little humanlike, and more than a little mysteri- 

Continuing this speculative exercise, we might say that gods 
have always been the ones who see us and in whose presence 
we justify our existence. As Diana Eck writes in her study of the 
divine image in India, the “single most common and significant 
element” of religious practice in India is darsan, or darsana, the 
“seeing” of the divine image which is simultaneously a meeting 



of gazes, a seeing and being seen through the mediator of the 
divine image.” 

Accounting for such divinities has been one of the many 
goals of Bruno Latour’s ambitious Modes of Existence project, a 
collaborative and international scholarly-cum-artistic endeavor 
that aimed to develop a language that could help bring diplo- 
macy to the gapped and fractured worlds of a “multinatural” 
humanity. In his monograph initiating the project, Latour di- 
vided up the powers of the godlike into “beings of presence” and 
“beings of metamorphosis.” The first are recognizably religious, 
forces which initiate conversion or salvation in us, but who are 
not subject to transaction, while the second are psychologically 
dynamic and centrifugal in their effects. This distinction may 
betray Latour’s own Christian assumption that some forces (“di- 
vinities,’ which “bear psyches”) take us out of ourselves, to 
some unspecified elsewhere, while others (“gods”) bring us back 
to ourselves, to the fundamental withness of being with oth- 
ers, here, now, not in chronological time but in eternal, kairotic 
time.’ (Latour may share a Christian bias with Charles Taylor, 
but he insists precisely on the kind of God who is closer to us 
than we ourselves, not the kind seemingly preferred by Taylor, 
who is transcendent of ourselves and of nature.) In times when 
we may need to be brought back to a new and different sense 
of ourselves, our community, and our Earth, this distinction 
between beings of metamorphosis and beings of presence may 
not hold up very well: they all take us out of ourselves and into 
ourselves, for the movement “out” is the movement that shapes 
the next subject in the sequence. 

In any case, together these beings would mediate the rela- 
tionship between psyche, earth, and cosmos, where the bound- 
ed, modern, liberal “subject” is rendered open and permeable to 
the passages of elemental winds and divine circulations. What 

107 Diana L. Eck, Darsan: Seeing the Divine Image in India, 3rd edn. (New York: 
Columbia University Press, 1998), 1. 

108 Bruno Latour, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the 
Moderns (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013), 309. 

109 Ibid., chs. 7 and 11. 



would such beings see if they were to look at us? What, for that 
matter, does the world see when it looks back at us? (This may 
or may not be the same question.) 

The first thing to say in response, of course, is that in the 
planetary context there most certainly is no “us” yet. Humanity 
as a collective agent does not yet exist; and whether it ever will is 
an open question. In our global world, there is no single people, 
no demos. The demos of a reassembled democracy remains to be 
constituted. Nor, then, is there any unified compact of earth, sky, 
gods, and mortals, as Martin Heidegger famously called for. But 
it is apposite to ask whether it is possible for a demos to emerge 
without the appropriate gods — gods who would look back at 
that people and offer it an opportunity to cultivate the capacity 
to see themselves as they appear in eternity’s eyes. That eternity, 
of course, is the same one that will bury that demos, along with 
the Anthropos that masquerades as one today. 

Paul Klee’s 1920 ink, chalk, and watercolor drawing “Ange- 
lus Novus” (pictured as the frontispiece of this book) presents a 
suggestive model here. As related earlier, Walter Benjamin took 
it to represent the “angel of history,” with his face “turned toward 
the past” and seeing “one single catastrophe” piling “wreckage 
upon wreckage” at his feet. “The angel would like to stay, awak- 
en the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.’ Ben- 
jamin’s reading was his own, a wartime reading of a relatively 
unknown (at the time) artwork from a previous wartime. We 
could equally choose to see the angel as facing not the wreckage 
of the past, but us as we view the wreckage of the present build- 
ing up around us, or the wreckage of a future we might, in some 
measure, avert. 

Of the fifty or so paintings of angels produced by the Swiss- 
born Klee, most of them in his last few years of life, this early one 
remains the one that most directly faces us, the viewer. It gazes 
less at us than into us. This gaze that discomforts us — what does 
it see, in the Era of the Human? 



Film still from Austerlitz, dir. Sergei Loznitsa, Germany, 2016. Cour- 
tesy of the director. 

In Sergei Loznitsa’s remarkable 2016 film Austerlitz, the eye 
of the camera plays the role of such an unseen angel.”° What it 
sees is visitors to the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration 
camps — Holocaust tourists, in effect. Loznitsa sets up his cam- 
era in front of the crowds to give us several-minute long blocks 
of time watching the visitors arrive and move through the 
camps, with tour guides, listening devices, or without. Loznitsa’s 
ethical challenge here is: how to show us the Event of the death 
camps today, three-quarters of a century after they were used for 
the machinery of mass slaughter? How to lead us into it, without 
providing the decades of narrative that have become custom- 
ary to it, but which have lost their potency? His answer is: by 
not showing us that machinery at all, but instead, by showing 
us — today’s viewers and visitors — and letting us lead ourselves 
into it. 

“We?” are, of course, not we, for as long as we maintain the 
distance afforded by the viewer’s irony — we, viewers, on this 
side of the screen; they, the tourists, on the other. But that dis- 
tance, which is what gives us the sense that we are superior to 
them, cannot be maintained indefinitely, and this is our viewerly 

110 Austerlitz, dir. Sergei Loznitsa, Germany, 2016. 



challenge. If it— the world, the dead, the death camp victims, 
the Angel of History, Time itself — could look back at us, this is 
what it would see today: these faces of curious, T-shirted, cam- 
era-toting onlookers and selfie-takers. The materiality of a tour- 
ist mass making its way across the viewscape of death. Looking, 
snapping photos, eating, looking, moving, chatting, listening (to 
a hand-held device), looking some more. Advertising a bod- 
yscape of T-shirt logos, brands, and slogans that identify us as 
incorporated into the symbolic order of our society. 

Are not the death camp victims, and the death camps them- 
selves, the ancestral deities to whom the visitors pay their re- 
spects, haltingly, haphazardly, not quite knowing how? Can they, 
can we, learn to do that better? The film, in its open-endedness, 
suggests that perhaps we can. 

What I am trying to suggest is that there is a need for di- 
vinities, for angels, or for ancestors and descendants to serve as 
the eyes and faces by which we see ourselves. Those gods and 
descendants exist, circulating spectrally at the peripheries of 
our worlds. Sometimes they are more human than ourselves. 
What does not yet exist is the People that can account for its 
own collective action on this earth. If and when such a People 
comes into being —the “new earth” and the “people to come” 
that Deleuze and Guattari heralded, in their final co-authored 
volume™ — will it look anything like us? And will it not include 
a range of intermediate beings, angelic or godlike ones that help 
us deal with the more elusive tricksters on which our planetary 
future inescapably rests? 

Skin of the living 
One of the names of the deities being invoked into presence to- 

day is that of Gaia. First named by novelist William Golding 
to denote his neighbor’s, James Lovelock’s, theory of a quasi- 

111 Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tom- 
linson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 



unified system of planetary biogeochemical processes, Gaia’s 
icons have proliferated into numerous scientific, popular, and 
para-religious forms. 

Bruce Clarke describes the scientific majority view on Love- 
lock’s hypothesized Gaia as denoting “an Earth system with a 
panoply of open and closed loops, circular feedbacks intercon- 
necting biotic and abiotic systems into an elastic but coherent 
consortium.” He qualifies this “consortium” as “heterogene- 
ous,” “disunified,”” and “metabiotic” — meaning that it is emer- 
gent from “the systemic coupling of living operations with the 
abiotic dynamics of their cosmic, solar, and Earthly elements.”™ 
As far as the science goes (and it’s been shown to be a fruitful 
theory, if hardly accepted so far by anything approaching a con- 
sensus), so far, so good. 

Isabelle Stengers tweaks this Gaia in the direction of some- 
thing a little different — not a Gaia that is the Earth-sized god- 
dess of New Age and pagan religiosity (which she is well aware 
of), but a Gaia that is “the name of an unprecedented or for- 
gotten form of transcendence: a transcendence deprived of the 
noble qualities that would allow it to be invoked as an arbiter, 
guarantor, or resource.” This Gaia is “a ticklish assemblage of 
forces that are indifferent to our reasons and our projects.’"* 

This indifferent but ticklish assemblage responds, unfeeling- 
ly, to our activities. And yet she is one whose responses we need 
to figure into our calculations — which is something that, to be 
effective, will need to be done feelingly. How, then, to do that? 

The short answer is: experimentally, through trial and er- 
ror. Ideas are not enough, and nor are images. As Jane Bennett 
writes in Vibrant Matter, “We need not only to invent or rein- 
voke concepts like conatus, actant, assemblage, small agency, 
operator, disruption, and the like” —I would add Gaia, gods, 

112 Bruce Clarke, “Rethinking Gaia: Stengers, Latour, Margulis,’ Theory, Cul- 
ture & Society 34, no. 4 (2017): 3-26, at 17. 

113 Ibid., 18, 22; and see Michael Ruse’s The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan 
Planet (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013). 

114 Isabelle Stengers, In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism, 
trans. A. Goffey (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2015), 47. 



the posthuman, cosmopolitics, the parliament of things, and all 
the rest. We need also “to devise new procedures, technologies, 
and regimes of perception that enable us to consult nonhumans 
more closely, or to listen and respond more carefully to their 
outbreaks, objections, testimonies, and propositions.” 

The first step, in any case, is to retrain our perception so that 
we could learn to hear those outbreaks, objections, testimonies, 
and propositions. Bennett suggests one “everyday tactic” by 
which to begin doing that, a method that she associates with 
Charles Darwin's practice of allow himself to “anthropomor- 
phize, to relax into resemblances discerned across ontological 
divides.” As examples she offers: “you (mis)take the wind out- 
side at night for your father’s wheezy breathing in the next room; 
you get up too fast and see stars; a plastic topographical map 
reminds you of the veins on the back of your hand; the rhythm 
of the cicadas reminds you of the wailing of an infant; the falling 
stone seems to express a conative desire to persevere.””® 

There is a playfulness and gentleness here, a relaxing into 
the folds of a larger, livelier world, that seems at odds with any 
injunction to pay heed to the stern-faced gods of some new 
dispensation. Bennett reminds us that there is pleasure to be 
gained in a re-entry into the world of the living. There is ten- 
derness to be found in the folds of a world of overlapping bod- 
ies, once the shadow of the Anthropos dissipates into the leafy 
textures of a half-lit, half-shadowy world with its soft embraces. 
That is where, amidst the wind outside and the rhythms of the 
cicadas, we might come to hear the outbreaks, testimonies, and 
other propositions of our suitors. 

In a piece on the cosmology of Whitehead, James Hillman 
addresses this question of the intelligibility of the world and 
how to regain it. All things, he argues, “are inherently intelli- 
gible”; their intelligibility is “given with the shapes or physiog- 
nomy of the world which is afforded directly to our sensate im- 

115 Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham: Duke 
University Press, 2010), 108. 
116 Ibid., 120. 



aginations, to us as animals.” Why, then, “do we feel lost, behind 
a dark glass, disoriented?” Hillman asserts that it is our Lockean 
theory of perception that has removed “the emotional face of 
things.” Hillman is referring here to John Locke's carving up of 
nature into its mathematically measurable “primary qualities” 
and the “secondary qualities” that are byproducts of percep- 
tion —a “bifurcation of nature” that Whitehead spent his last 
twenty-five years attempting to overcome. 

Theories of how things went wrong inevitably mislead, but 
the point for Hillman, and by extension for Whitehead, is that it 
is a matter of perception to correct this: “Seeing the face of the 
Gods in things means noticing qualities as primary and speak- 
ing in a richly qualified language. Adjectives before nouns.” For 
Hillman, it is in paying attention to the sensually perceptible 
qualities of the world that we can recover an “aesthetic cosmol- 
ogy” in which human beings would be “resituated” within “a 
world ensouled?™® 

Sacrifice zones, Chernobyl, and the post-human 

The place of the gods, from which they would gaze down upon 
us, has in the past been the scene of sacrifice. The only details to 
be determined might typically be: what is to be sacrificed, how, 
when, and to whom? 

Two linked but differently inflected histories of modern sac- 
rifice could be instructive here. The first national parks were 
created in part with the intent to “save” nonhuman Nature from 
us, to honor and protect it as a relic of an earlier time. These 
places, in effect, sacrificed the instrumental or commodity value 
of these lands for their perceived intrinsic, ecological, or even 
spiritual values. That America’s first national parks were sacri- 
ficed at the altar of the nation — as part of America’s effort to be- 

117 James Hillman, “Back to Beyond: On Cosmology,” in Archetypal Process: 
Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman, ed. David Ray Griffin, 
213-32 (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1989), 225-26. 

118 Ibid. 



come a respectable nation among other nations, one that lacked 
cathedrals but made up for it in “nature’s cathedrals” — is simply 
reflective of the fact that the nation itself was the prime deity 
of the young American becoming-nation. (And that its indig- 
enous inhabitants and their worlds were also sacrificed was an 
unstated precondition.) 

At a global level, uNEsco’s world heritage sites and biosphere 
reserves have in turn sacrificed instrumental uses for the sake, 
and at the altar, of a more global concept of heritage, patrimony, 
legacy, ancestrality, and by implication, futurity — the future of 
a world and an Earth imagined to be held in common by all 
humanity living and to come. Insofar as it preserves the nonhu- 
man world from the hands of those who would destroy it (and 
often its effects are more complicated), this first form of sacrifice 
could be thought of as a form of self-sacrifice. 

The second form of sacrifice is less gratifying to ponder, and 
its victims are still among us all around. In 1972, the us National 
Academy of Sciences recommended that the Four Corners Area 
of the us Southwest, primarily populated by Native American 
tribes and subjected to decades of uranium and other forms 
of mining, be designated a “National Sacrifice Area” Industri- 
al technologies have since produced hundreds of scars on the 
landscape and imposed sacrifice on many communities, who 
have been forced to relocate or simply left to suffer the conse- 

In a time of climate crisis, much of the world is becoming an 
ecological sacrifice zone. And in times of Anthropocenic cri- 
sis, one might suggest that a summons, a call to prayer, is being 
issued by these zones of sacrifice, and by the victims of sacri- 
fice — calling upon us to sacrifice of ourselves at the altar of a 
larger Earth community whose membership is not yet known 
and whose contours not yet shaped. 

The Chernobyl Zone offers a suggestive model here. When 
reactor number four of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 
northern Ukraine exploded on the night of April 26, 1986, it 
launched a series of events that was to dramatically affect the 
lives of hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens, along with a 



Rooftop view of the post-human city of Pripyat, abandoned in 1986. 
Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Photo by the author, 2016. 

vast geography of living organisms and ecological relations. The 
accident qualifies as an Event, or hyper-event— an event that 
triggered chain reactions, which in turn rearranged agential re- 
lations operating on multiple spatial and temporal scales. 

A few of the ways it did this are evident to anyone who has 
studied the details."? More than any other single event, the Cher- 
nobyl catastrophe and its aftermath — including a near-total 
state-wide news blackout about the extent of the event for a full 
eighteen days — served to sunder the emotional commitments 
that held together the Soviet Union. It not only tolled a final 
death-knell to the “sputnik religion” that had guided many So- 
viet scientists’ commitments to the state-celebrated marriage of 
technology and socialism,”° but it also unleashed popular forces 

119 I’ve detailed these more fully in Adrian Ivakhiv, “Chernobyl, Risk, and the 
Inter-Zone of the Anthropocene,” in The Routledge Companion to Risk and 
Media, eds. Bishnupriya Ghosh and Bhaskar Sarkar (New York: Routledge, 

120 I take the term “sputnik religion” from Joachim Radkau, The Age of Ecology 
(Cambridge: Polity, 2014), 214. And see Eva Maurer et al., eds., Soviet Space 
Culture: Cosmic Enthusiasm in Socialist Societies (London: Palgrave Mac- 
millan, 2011), and Sonia D. Schmid, Producing Power: The Pre-Chernobyl 
History of the Soviet Nuclear Industry (Cambridge: mir Press, 2015). 



that had begun to boil during the economic stagnation of the 
late Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and Gorbachev eras. The 
environmental movements that resulted paved the way, in turn, 
for the emergence of republican independence movements, 
until the Union could no longer hold together. For Ukraine, 
in turn, Chernobyl’s legacy provided a set of narrative resourc- 
es — both about Ukraine’s historical victimhood and about its 
long-denied sovereignty — that served as powerful impetus for 
that country’s herky-jerk dance away from its “elder brother” 
Russia and toward “Europeanization, both in the overwhelm- 
ing initial vote for independence in 1991 and in the partial if not 
entirely successful revolutions of 2004 and 2014. 

On a more global scale, the accident, which unleashed the 
largest release of radioactive contamination in human history, 
helped propel humanity into a “global risk culture,” as Ulrich 
Beck designated it, characterized by deep uncertainty, instabil- 
ity, and disparity in social groups’ capacities to avoid or absorb 
risk.” Like similar events, the accident remains a harbinger 
of a more global ecological collapse that remains ever virtual, 
hovering on the horizon, yet which is manifested in countless 
data points connecting the impacts of industrial activities — the 
production of pollutants, toxins, and hazardous wastes affecting 
terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, climate systems, and social 
systems, and together resulting in a sense of the future’s precar- 
ity and uncertainty. The full impact of the Chernobyl accident 
remains hotly debated, with competing reports claiming wildly 
varying tolls of excess cancers and related fatalities.” 

121 Ulrich Beck, The Risk Society (London: Sage, 1992). 

122 E.g., see International Atomic Energy Agency, Division of Public Informa- 
tion, Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-economic Im- 
pacts and Recommendations to the Governments of Belarus, the Russian Fed- 
eration and Ukraine, 2nd rev. edn. (Vienna: IAEA, 2006); Alexey Yablokov, 
Iryna Labunska, and Ivan Blokoy, eds., The Chernobyl Catastrophe: Con- 
sequences on Human Health (Amsterdam: Greenpeace, 2006); Alexandra 
Dawe et al., Nuclear Scars: The Lasting Legacies of Chernobyl and Fukushima 
(Amsterdam: Greenpeace International, 2016); Pamela Abbott, Claire Wal- 
lace, and Matthias Beck, “Chernobyl: Living with Risk and Uncertainty,’ 
Health, Risk and Society 8, no. 2 (2006): 105-21. 



But it is what transpired in the Zone of Exclusion, or Zone of 
Alienation (Zona Vidchuzhennya), that is most evocative of the 
Event’s otherness. Depopulated of its human residents after the 
accident, the area known as the 30-kilometer Zone (while not 
exactly 30 km in diameter, it totals approximately 1000 square 
miles within the territory of Ukraine) includes the former city of 
Pripyat, a handful of smaller towns (including Chernobyl), and 
over a hundred now empty villages. 

Over the years, several hundred of the resettled villagers, 
generally elderly, have elected to come back and effectively squat 
on their land. Others have come to loot: for home appliances, 
carpets, metals, cultural-historical artifacts, jewelry, and any- 
thing else of potential value on any market. 

Still others have come to “stalk” the Zone. The latter term is 
taken from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker and the science- 
fiction novel, A Roadside Picnic, on which it was based, about 
an anomalous Zone (created, in the novel, by extraterrestrial 
debris) that is cordoned off behind an army-patrolled border, 
with travel into it prohibited. Those who do lead unsanctioned 
tours into the Zone are called “stalkers” As an apparently un- 
inhabitable Zone, the Chernobyl Zone has attracted hundreds, 
and perhaps a few thousand, such stalkers over the years. The 
Zone invites curiosity and even a kind of utopian aspiration. It 
has more recently become a zone of “dark” or “doom tourism,” 
with some 15,000 to 20,000 visitors a year touring it since tours 
were legalized in 2011. Then there are the gamers — avid enthu- 
siasts of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video games (S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow 
of Chernobyl, Call of Pripyat, and Clear Sky), in which players 
“battle zombies, mutant animals, and other improbable foes in 
a hyper-sensationalized contaminated “zone of alienation” “Im- 
agine Chernobyl’s absolute worst possible effects,’ Sarah Phillips 

123 See my account of the film in Adrian Ivakhiv, Ecologies of the Moving Image: 
Cinema, Affect, Nature (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2013), 



writes, “multiply by ten, add steroids, bring on the Kalashniko- 
vs, and you have S.T.A.L.K.E.R?4 

Finally, there is the tremendous ecological bounce-back that 
has transpired in the exclusion zone ever since most of the hu- 
mans left it. As Mary Mycio wrote in Wormwood Forest: A Natu- 
ral History of Chernobyl, the Chernobyl zone has become “a vast 
and beautiful wilderness of forests and wetlands that are gradu- 
ally consuming the remains of towns and villages” and “teeming 
with moose, deer, wild boars and some 250 species of birds; 
with wolves seen in broad daylight, wild Przewalski horses re- 
introduced and thriving, and even endangered lynx making a 

The Zone has thus become a zone of presence and absence: 
the presence of forces unleashed by industrial calamity; the ab- 
sence of the very causes of those forces — the human and indus- 
trial activities that precipitated them, except as ruins, memories, 
and odd remainders and bizarre outliers. Most interesting is 
that the abandoned city of Pripyat, once a Soviet “model nuclear 
city,” has now become the model post-human city, featuring as 
a stand-in for the post-apocalypse, or for the simple idea of the 
disappearance of humanity, in numerous media projects includ- 
ing National Geographic’s Aftermath: Population Zero, History 
Channel’s Life After People, and the book that inspired both of 
these, Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us, and in fictional- 
ized dramatizations like the post-nuclear horror flicks Cherno- 
byl Diaries and the Return of the Living Dead series.”* 

124Sarah D. Phillips, “Chernobyl Forever? Somatosphere, April 25, 2011, See also Sarah 
D. Phillips, “Chernobyl’s Sixth Sense: The Symbolism of an Ever-Present 
Awareness,’ Anthropology and Humanism 29, no. 2 (2004): 159-85; and Sa- 
rah D. Phillips and Sarah Ostaszewski, “An Illustrated Guide to the Post- 
Catastrophic Future,” Anthropology of East Europe Review 30, no. 1 (2012): 

125 Mary Mycio, Wormwood Forest: A Natural History of Chernobyl (Washing- 
ton: Joseph Henry Press, 2005). 

126 Alan Weisman, The World Without Us (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2007); 
Aftermath: The World After Humans (National Geographic/Cream Produc- 
tions, Canada, 2008); Life After People (dir. David De Vries, History Chan- 



The trope of post-humanity situates the Event of Chernobyl 
into the narrative of the Anthropocene and what would follow 
it. There are four main variations of this narrative, which date 
it back, respectively, to the agricultural revolution,” the de- 
mographic collapse in the Americas following the Columbian 
encounter,”* the Industrial Revolution, and to the so-called 
“great acceleration” of the mid-2oth century, with its atom 
bombs, petrochemicals, fertilizers, and other novel substances 
disseminating rapidly into the Earth’s biosphere, hydrosphere, 
and lithosphere.”° Of these, Chernobyl most obviously fits the 
fourth variation, its release of radioactive isotopes being the 
single largest in history. Michael Marder writes in Chernobyl 
Herbarium that “Chernobyl’s 30-km radius is an advanced labo- 
ratory, at the leading edge of what is going on with the entire 
planet. In a consummation of the alienation or self-alienation 
that has unfortunately proved to be constitutive of the human, 
the whole world is on its way to becoming Chernobyl or a gu- 
lag” “Entire regions of the world, Marder continues, “are con- 
verted into no-go areas, whether as a consequence of wars or 
environmental devastation. The effects of climate change leave 
no place unaffected.”"° 

Chernobyl in this sense qualifies as part of a growing list of 
ecological sacrifice zones, sites of “negative ecological heritage” 
that mark the places where the sacrifice that is algorithmically 

nel, usA, 2008); Chernobyl Diaries (dir. Bradley Parker, usa, 2012), Pripyat 
(dir. Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Czech Republic, 1999); Return of the Living Dead: 
Necropolis (dir. Ellory Elkayem, Usa, 2005); Return of the Living Dead: Rave 
to the Grave (dir. Ellory Elkayem, usa, 2005). 

127 William F. Ruddiman, “The Anthropogenic Greenhouse Era Began Thou- 
sands of Years Ago,” Climatic Change 61, no. 3 (2003): 261-93. 

128 Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin, “Defining the Anthropocene,’ Nature 
519 (March 12, 2015): 170-80. 

129 Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer, “The Anthropocene,’ Global Change 
Newsletter 41 (2000): 17-18; Jan Zalasiewicz et al., “When Did the Anthro- 
pocene Begin? A Mid-2o0th Century Boundary Level is Stratigraphically 
Optimal, Quaternary International 383 (2015): 196-203. 

130 Michael Marder, Chernobyl Herbarium: Fragments of an Exploded Con- 
sciousness (Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2016), 54. 



factored into global risk society takes its specific toll on distinct 
human and nonhuman populations. This makes it also the scene 
of a kind of global future heritage, a virtual heritage insofar as 
it represents both the much anticipated eco-apocalypse and the 
return of “nature” implied in the geological model, according 
to which the Anthropocene will be followed by an era in which 
humans are no longer central at all. (And another layer after 
that, and another.) 

In this, we can argue that the Zone may not be the 30-km Ex- 
clusion Zone at all. Rather, it is the other way around: the Zone 
is us, industrially equipped human collectives transforming the 
surface of the Earth on a scale that is geological. The Zone, at 
its maximum extent, may also be the Holocene, the safety zone 
shaped around human activities over the last 12,000 years, 
which in fact provided the conditions for everything we know 
as civilization, and which today may be on its way out. 

Chernobyl, in its multiple visualizations — as an error regis- 
tering the nuclear and technological sublime; as the limit case of 
a bipolar military-industrial modernity; as a cipher of contested 
narratives, including those that would yoke it to an emergent 
new-old national sovereignty (that of Ukraine); as an emptied 
yet ambiguous and alluring terrain; and as a signpost on the 
accelerometer of the Anthropocene— scrambles the reference 
points that preceded it and renders them anomalous. It is both 
an anomaly and a new set of references that marks us as anoma- 
lous. It is a hyper-event and an Event, which serves to remind 
us that we might begin to mark limits around ourselves — in the 
same way that the Onkalo deep geological nuclear repository 
in Finland has been conceived as needing a circle cast round 
it, “to create a boundary between the world of humans and the 
realm of all that exceeds us?" Or at least to begin enclosing and 
excising the System to which we have been sacrificing, the An- 
thropoCapitalist Moloch — so as to create sacrificial spaces in 

131 Friends of the Pleistocene, “Containing Uncertainty,’ FOPnews, February 24, 



which the Earth and its intermediaries, its intercessors, may ap- 
pear to us of their own accord, in their own time, if and when 
they choose to do so. 

In this sense, the key is not sacrifice so much as it is vulner- 
ability (vulnus meaning wound, thus, woundability). It is by rec- 
ognizing our mutual vulnerability, as humans and nonhumans 
sharing today’s interstitial spaces, that our Zones of Sacrifice 
can become emblems of the temporal interstitiality in which 
we might together negotiate a common world. In these inter- 
stitial spaces we might begin to hear new divinities calling us to 
the Agoras of a new Demoikracy — an oikos consisting of many 
demoi, each ruling itself and gathering in unspecified maidans 
where a new post-global commons might be conceived and as- 
sembled. Its assembly would scramble the contours of our own 
worlds, with their nation-states and property relations, and pro- 
duce new ones around very different forms of neighborliness, 
eco-regional assemblage, and biotically complex “transnations” 
consisting of agents known and as yet unknown to us. 

There is today neither a humanity nor any other “we” capable 
of taking this on by ourselves. The new demoi must be cobbled 
together from diverse ensembles of moving parts, all of them 
living, dynamic, and elusive in their agency and in their com- 
mitments, and many of them not at all human. 

Cultivating anthropocenic mindfulness, in this context (let 
us finally decapitate the “A’ of the anthropos), means cultivat- 
ing the capacity to wait watchfully, with eyes and hearts open to 
the ethico-political dynamics of the webs that bind us. Our ma- 
terial, social, and perceptual ecologies are the sites of multiple 
projects, formations, and legacies, both oppressive and libera- 
tory. Through them we might hear the calls of rival ancestries, 
descendancies, and image-bearing divinities. It is our task to 
open to those who might carry us through the mutual vulner- 
abilities of the work of creating a habitable Earth that is not ours 
to own, but is ours to honor. 



The long revolution 

This book has argued for a realism that acknowledges the ulti- 
mate unsustainability of current human systems of living on this 
planet. Some, of course, are more sustainable than others, and 
there is even a reasonable chance that we, or some version of us 
anthropomorphs, will make it through the current sustainabil- 
ity bottleneck. But in the end we will all get buried. 

Is this realism a form of cosmic pessimism? I don’t think so. 

C.S. Peirce’s whole philosophical work was an extended ar- 
gument for an expanded concept of reason. Reason, for Peirce, 
was rooted in human nature and in nature itself; it is a devel- 
opment of the very process of making meaning that is the es- 
sence of all living things (and, Peirce would say, all things liv- 
ing or not). Reason grows out of intuitive common sense — the 
hunches that Peirce labeled “abduction? which supplement and 
ground the better-known processes of induction and deduction. 
As logical reasoning, it is rooted, furthermore, in aesthetics and 
ethics — the capacity to cultivate habits of perception and rela- 
tion commensurate with the habits of reason that beckon to us 
through our efforts to know the universe. And reason develops 
through dialogue and increasingly refined communication into 
something that is shared across a community of reasoning be- 



Peirce of course is not a Cartesian. He does not believe in a 
division between mind and matter, soul and body, reason and 
passion. This brings him closer in spirit to those — Buddhists, 
Daoists and neo-Confucians, Sufis and Catholic integral ecolo- 
gists (like Pope Francis), and others — for whom reason is sub- 
ordinate to the heart, that organ of perception by which we feel 
the solidarity of those whose sentience (like ours) appears and 
disappears on a sea of interdependent relationality. 

The following quote from Peirce is the kind of thing that 
gives me hope: 

Inanimate things do not err at all; and the lower animals very 
little. Instinct is all but unerring; but reason in all vitally im- 
portant matters is a treacherous guide. This tendency to er- 
ror, when you put it under the microscope of reflection, is 
seen to consist of fortuitous variations of our actions in time. 
But it is apt to escape our attention that on such fortuitous 
variation our intellect is nourished and grows. For without 
such fortuitous variation, habit-taking would be impossible; 
and intellect consists in a plasticity of habit.’ 

In other words, reason alone is risky, and it is often better to go 
with our instinct. But it is because we can err that we can learn, 
and because learning is possible, learning will ultimately occur, 
however long it may take. 

Other process-relational philosophers have conjured up oth- 
er driving forces to the cosmic process — something that would 
account for a built-in “upward” trend in the universe. For the 

1 Charles S. Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, eds. Charles 
Hartshorne and Paul Weiss (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1958), 
6.86, emphasis added. Peirce sometimes claimed a preference for instinct 
over reason, especially when it came to moral questions, and he referred to 
this as his “sentimental conservatism.” For a nuanced account of what this 
consisted of, see Richard Atkins, Peirce and the Conduct of Life: Sentiment 
and Instinct in Ethics and Religion (Cambridge University Press, 2016). See 
also Lara Trout, The Politics of Survival: Peirce, Affectivity, and Social Criti- 
cism (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013). 



Whitehead of Process and Reality, it was a dipolar God who acts 
as a “poet of the world” and “fellow sufferer”: a God who “spurs” 
the universe forward in his “primordial nature” by acting as a di- 
vine “lure” for the envisagement of all aesthetic value possibili- 
ties, and who in his “consequent nature” saves and enjoys every 
vestige of every heartfelt struggle. In Whitehead’s next major 
book, however, he dropped the deity and replaced it with a non- 
theistic “Eros of the Universe” which serves as “the living urge 
towards all possibilities,” and with “the Unity of Adventure,’ or 
“an Adventure in the Universe as One,” which “embraces all par- 
ticular occasions” and “claims” the “goodness” of the realization 
of their possibilities. “In this Supreme Adventure,” he wrote, 
“the Reality which the Adventure transmutes into its Unity of 
Appearance, requires the real occasions of the advancing world 
each claiming its due share of attention. This Appearance, thus 
enjoyed, is the final Beauty with which the Universe achieves its 

There are more down to earth variations of “realistic opti- 
mism” to choose from. Novelist and cultural historian Raymond 
Williams referred to the faith that things are moving, however 
chaotically (or dialectically), towards a better human future, as 
the “long revolution.” Williams was a socialist, and the optimism 
of his particular formulation may not ring as true today as it did 
for him sixty years ago. It is interesting, however, that Williams 
wasnt just intending this as a description of change; he was also 
aiming to cultivate an attitude toward that change. “In naming 
the great process of change the long revolution,’ he wrote, “I am 
trying to learn assent to it, an adequate assent of mind and spirit. 
I find increasingly that the values and meanings I need are all in 
this process of change.” 

If, as this book has tried to suggest, and as Peirce, Whitehead, 
and many new ontologists and speculative realists have argued, 

2  A.N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: Free Press, 1961), 295; and 
see pages 253, 296, xvii. 

3. Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (Orchard Park: Broadview Press, 
1961/2001), 13. 



the social and the natural are not opposed to each other but are 
integrally, if complexly, intertwined, then there is something be- 
yond socialism that would be a good description of Peirce’s long- 
term optimism. A socialist in this understanding is a believer 
in the eventual triumph of an ever better, more just and more 
sustainable social world. A naturalist, by the same token, would 
be a believer in the eventual triumph of an ever more beautifully 
evolved natural world. (The Darwin of The Origin of Species is 
one of our better representatives of the latter view.) Peirce would 
instead be something like a cosmist (and there was a tradition of 
Russian thought by that name which envisioned things rather 
similarly), or a cosmopolist, a believer that the cosmos itself is 
evolving toward something better, more complete, or more fully 
harmonized. In that evolution, sociality and reason play impor- 
tant, and increasing, roles, but never in separation from nature. 

Such an “even longer revolution” may take many deep, dark 
turns along the way. Contrary to what our human pride sug- 
gests, it may shed civilizations, even worlds (not to mention spe- 
cies like our own), in the process. Peirce seemed to believe that 
those, too, will be redeemed in the end—that, to paraphrase 
Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin, they, too, will have their 
homecoming festivals. That is a leap of faith that might be diffi- 
cult for those without experience conforming to it. But there are 
forms of logo-ethico-aesthetic practice (such as those outlined 
in Part Two of this book) that aim explicitly to engender such 

With his insistence that habits are to be cultivated, Peirce 
belongs to the class of believers in the practice of cosmopolism, 
or the practice of William Connolly’s “immanent natural- 
ism” — that is, the cultivation of a better, more reasonable, more 
ethically satisfying, and more beautiful universe by the universe 
itself, which fortunately includes us within it. Just as the onto- 
logical constructivism of Whitehead, Stengers, and Latour is 
broader and more capacious than social constructionism, so 
this cosmopolism is more capacious than socialism as hereto- 
fore understood. In the end, its vision is very much a social vi- 
sion, but its sociality is extended, deepened, and redefined by 



the deepest withdrawals of dark matter we can imagine. It is a 
faith in what is unencompassable by faith itself. It is a realism 
that believes in a reality that supersedes and outwits all our ideas 
about it — believes in it not only intellectually, but emotionally 
and spiritually. And it believes in its goodness, “assents” to it “in 
mind and spirit,” as Williams would have it. 

Will such a faith help us respond to the refugee emergencies 
that are and will be arising all around us as climatic and ecologi- 
cal crises continue to deepen? The refugees are not only our fel- 
low humans — Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis, Bangladeshis, Haitians, 
Maldivians, and others. They are also Gaia's vast proletariat of 
threatened nonhumans, whose abodes are being demolished, 
destroyed, and abandoned in the wake of the growing emergen- 
cy. To deal with them adequately, we will need all the resources 
we can muster. One of those is the faith in responsiveness itself, 
“agapistic” responsiveness, as Peirce would call it. Because that 
is what grows the universe into the new folds that are worth 
growing into. 

Of times and beyond time 

In a literal sense, a revolution is nothing spectacular: it is an 
Event, but viewed in the context of time, it is mere turbulence. 
It may be a reclaiming, an overturning, an upheaving of things 
that needed to be upheaved. But in the solar time of planetary 
circling (or the growth rings of trees), a revolution is just a 
measurement of one. 

So it is worth pondering three kinds of time in which we find 
ourselves in this time of the AnthropoCapitalocene. 

First, there is chronological time, the time of Chronos, which 
is the time that dates, that punctuates, that traces causes and 
orders them into their sequence. This time finds us constantly 
pursued by our own demise: one moment replaced by another, 
all of them subjected to the indifferent measure of a universal 
timekeeper. The Anthropocene, measured thus, is a matter for 
scientists to probe and debate. Its significance is that we will be 
measured to our fate as a layer among layers, a fate to be deter- 



mined by Saturn, who oversees this time. We will be subject to 
the exhaustion that comes to all things in their own time. That is 
the sobering realization at the heart of our realism, which recog- 
nizes the mundane fatedness of itself alongside that of all things: 
the fatedness to pass (while passing on something, nevertheless). 
An era, a revolution, a turning, to be followed by the next, and 
the next. 

A different kind of time is that of Aion, who is the god that 
takes the measure of our time and installs it within the sacred 
time of eternity. This is the time of our destiny, our world-his- 
torical significance, but it is a time that cannot be known in ad- 
vance unless we are willing to give the game away at the outset. 
The Anthropocene, rightly considered as a minor block of time 
in earth history, is nevertheless an achievement, whose ultimate 
significance we can only guess at. If Chronos measures the time 
of “one thing after another; the time of determining but blind 
secondness, Aion is the time of qualitative thirdness, the time 
of significance that may or may not be determined in advance. 

But before and between them, there is the time of Kairos. 
Kairotic time is the time of possibility, a time we can only intuit 
when we engage with the timeliness of the moment. What ac- 
tion can we take right now? What action is appropriate to this 
moment? This is the time of firstness, in which we must forget 
ourselves in order to hear the call of the kairoi, the gods who 
beckon us toward a new creative advance.‘ 

While acknowledging the times of Chronos and of Aion, it is 
the time of Kairos that I have favored in my negotiation with our 
time(s). Without the Kairotic, any process-relational ontology 
risks becoming the predigested stew of “one occurrence after 
another,” one thing turning into another, as the universe churns 
forward in the turning of its wheels. Alternative to chrono- 
logical forward motion, there is the cyclical time of organisms, 
seasons, lives (births and deaths) and, yes, revolutions. Aionic 

4 lam grateful to Michel Weber and Matthew Segall for provoking my think- 
ing on these three temporalities, even if my interpretation differs from each 
of theirs. 



time is Zodiacal time, the movement of the wheels across the 
qualitatively rich, archetypally anchored heavens. It is the time 
of gods, but precisely those whose time is eternal. It is the time 
of Whitehead’s “eternal objects.” Kairotic time, by contrast, is 
discontinuous and ruptured: it is the time that always remains 
open. Kairotic time is premised on the leap of faith in a future 
that is neither determined nor determinable. It is the time of 

We will, of course, be buried. Dorion Sagan manages a note 
of sober optimism in his evocation of the Cyanocene, the era he 
playfully (if darkly) envisions as following the Anthropocene. 
“We should worry,’ he urges, “but not despair.” This is because 
the “rock record shows that after each mass extinction, the or- 
ganismically interweaving biosphere has regrown to form more 
species, cell types, metabolic skills, areas settled, networked in- 
telligences, and complex sensory skills than before. Maybe this 
time, instead of hurting it” Sagan suggests, “we can help it con- 
tinue its multispecies energy-transducing recycling ways for bil- 
lions of years more.” 

We have options. We do not even have ourselves, a viable 
“we; yet, but it is an option for us to work toward one, a work- 
able demos of some sort or other. We are poised at a bifurcation 
point, if we opt to take ourselves that way. And we certainly have 
many others, companions and secret agents, to work with, to 
work for, and to work alongside. 

And no matter how beautifully, if fleetingly, we succeed, and 
how miserably we fail (for fail we must), there are many good 
planets in the universe besides ours. They will get their try as 
well. And their own homecoming festivals. 

But there is no better time for action than now. 

5 Dorion Sagan, “Coda: Beautiful monsters: Terra in the Cyanocene,’ in Arts 
of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene, 
eds. Anna L. Tsing, Heather Anne Swanson, Elaine Gan, and Nils Bubandt, 
M169-74 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), M174. 



Contemporary Process-Relational Thought: A Primer 

The term “process-relational” has been most closely associated 
with the later metaphysical writings of Alfred North Whitehead, 
and Whitehead’s influence on contemporary process-relational 
thought is undeniable. The influences of others, however, in- 
cluding Henri Bergson, C.S. Peirce, William James, and Gilles 
Deleuze, are also evident in current writing. All (though less 
frequently Deleuze) are sometimes included in the broader cat- 
egory of “process philosophers,” but this term alone does not ad- 
equately capture the centrality of relations in process-relational 
ontology. Similarly, the term “relationalism, frequently under- 
stood to be opposed to various kinds of atomism, individualism, 
and “essentialism,” and more recently to object-oriented ontol- 
ogy, fails to adequately emphasize the processual nature of any 
and all relations. My use of the term “process-relational” is thus 
intended to highlight the temporal dynamism, emergent rela- 
tional systematicity, and inherently creative openness of a living 
universe composed of interactive events characterized by some 
measure of perception, responsiveness, subjectivity, or “mind.” 
Seen this way, process-relational philosophy overlaps in key 
respects with other classifications, including “panpsychism” (see 
especially David Skrbina’s volumes on the topic), “new materi- 
alism” (a larger and more amorphous category, which says less 



about what it is than how it is new), “constructive postmodern- 
ism” (a category proposed and developed by David Ray Griffin, 
but which has not been taken up widely outside the Whitehead- 
ian community), some forms of semiotic theory in the tradition 
of Peirce, several forms of post-Deleuzian thought (including 
the “assemblage theory” of Manuel DeLanda and the ever evolv- 
ing work of Levi Bryant), and various network- and systems- 
based approaches, including developmental systems theory and 
other ecological approaches in the life sciences, and the post- 
actor-network “method assemblage” of John Law, Annemarie 
Mol, and others. 

More generally, process-relational themes can be found scat- 
tered across a wide historical swath, and this background is 
relevant to the resurgence of the tradition today. In the ancient 
world, such themes are clearly found in some of the Greek and 
Hellenistic schools (most obviously in the thought of Heracli- 
tus, fragmentary as it has come down to us, but also in Stoi- 
cism and Neo-Platonism) and in various ancient Chinese and 
Indian schools of thought, especially Daoism, Buddhism, and 
neo-Confucianism in their many stripes (sometimes the lat- 
ter have been lumped together as “Asian field theories,” though 
the category is rather elusive). The historical thread can then 
be pursued to medieval Islamic thought (Suhrawardi, Mulla 
Sadra), the early modern thought of Bruno, Spinoza, Leibniz, 
and others, Romanticism in its many variations (as in Schelling, 
for instance), the Japanese Kyoto school of Nishida, Nishitani, 
and others, the American Transcendentalists and pragmatists 
(James and Dewey especially, alongside Peirce), and even to 
some key aspects of such central modern figures as Hegel, Marx, 
Nietzsche, and perhaps Heidegger. 

Beyond the purely philosophical realm, process-relational 
thinking has flourished in the arts, as in the work of Coleridge, 
Blake, and Goethe, and it is highly resonant with many indig- 
enous philosophies around the world, which have typically been 
more pragmatic “knowledge-practice complexes” than “pure” 
philosophies. It is clearly linked also with the mystical and spir- 
itual writings of historical figures from Plotinus and Shankara to 



Jelaluddin Rumi, Jakob Boehme, and more recently Sri Aurob- 
indo Ghose, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Ken Wilber (most 
of them philosophers in their own right). A simple iteration of 
a process-relational ontology can be found, for instance, in Af- 
rican-American science-fiction writer Octavia Butler’s “Earth- 
seed” tenet, which opens her futuristic-dystopian novel Parable 

of the Sower': 

All that you touch 
You Change. 

All that you Change 
Changes you. 

The only lasting truth 
Is Change. 

Is Change. 

Analogous statements can be found in oral and written litera- 
tures from around the world. 

While there is great diversity and divergence between these 
many strands of thought, focusing on their commonalities 
has the benefit of clarifying important differences over and 
against other philosophical positions. It has been argued (for 
instance, by David Ray Griffin, Freya Mathews, and Christian 
de Quincey) that process-relational thought provides an alter- 
native to two forms of thought that have long dominated west- 
ern philosophy: materialism, which views matter as fundamen- 
tal and human consciousness or perception as a by-product or 
“epiphenomenon” arising out of material relations, and ideal- 
ism, which takes perception, consciousness, thought, spirit, or 
some other non-material force as fundamental and material 
relations as secondary, if not illusory. A range of interactive and 

1 Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (New York: Warner Books, 1993), 3. 



dialectical philosophies have been proposed to mediate be- 
tween the material and the ideal, but many of these presume 
the underpinning of a relatively static binary structure of one 
kind or another, such as matter versus spirit, idea, or mind, or, 
alternatively, a conception of opposites (such as the Chinese Yin 
and Yang), in which homeostatic balance rather than evolution- 
ary change is considered the baseline norm. Process-relational 
thought, by contrast, focuses on the dynamism by which things 
are perpetually moving forward, interacting, and creating new 
conditions in the world. (Arguably, the traditional Chinese con- 
ception is process-relational even if it favors balance or a “mid- 
dle way-”) Most especially, process-relational thought rejects the 
Cartesian idea that there are minds, or things that think, and 
bodies, or matter that only acts according to strict causal laws. 
Rather, the two are considered one and the same, or two aspects 
of an interactive and dynamically evolving reality. In this sense, 
process-relational views are clearly related to panpsychism (and 
to “pan-experientialism,” a term applied commonly to White- 
headian metaphysics), that is, to philosophies that understand 
“mind” or “mental experience” to be not the possession of spe- 
cific objects or subjects, but part of the relational expression or 
manifestation of all things. 

At the core of process-relational thought, then, is a focus on 
the world-making creativity of things: on how things become 
rather than what they are, on their emergence (which may be 
structured) rather than on their structure alone. According to 
this understanding, the world is dynamic and always in process. 
As Soren Brier puts it, describing the ontology of C.S. Peirce, 
reality is a spontaneously dynamic “hyper-complexity of living 
feeling with the tendency to form habits.’? That is to say that 
reality is emergent, evolutionary, and creative — a view that, not 
coincidentally, finds much resonance within twentieth-century 
developments in physics and biology including quantum me- 
chanics, ecology, chaos and complexity theories, and develop- 

2 Soren Brier, Cybersemiotics: Why Information Is Not Enough (Toronto: Uni- 
versity of Toronto Press, 2008), 204. 



mental systems theory. This resonance is especially visible in the 
speculative writings of theoretical physicists and biologists such 
as David Bohm, Ilya Prigogine, Brian Goodwin, Stuart Kauff- 
man, Lee Smolin, and John Dupré. (See David Bohm, Whole- 
ness and the Implicate Order [London: Routlege, 1980]; Ilya 
Prigogine, From Being to Becoming: Time and Complexity in the 
Physical Sciences [New York: W. H. Freeman & Company, 1981]; 
Brian Goodwin, Form and Transformation: Generative and Re- 
lational Principles in Biology [Cambridge: Cambridge Univer- 
sity Press, 1996]; Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe: The 
Search for Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity [New York: 
Oxford University Press, 1995]; Lee Smolin, Time Reborn: From 
the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe [New York: 
Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2013]; Daniel J. Nicholson and 
John Dupré, eds., Everything Flows: Towards a Processual Phi- 
losophy of Biology [New York: Oxford University Press, 2018].) 

Comparatively oriented explications of process thought in- 
clude Nicholas Rescher’s Process Metaphysics: An Introduction 
to Process Philosophy (Albany: suNny Press, 1996) and Process 
Philosophy: A Survey of Basic Issues (Pittsburgh: University of 
Pittsburgh Press, 2000); Douglas Browning and William T. My- 
erss Philosophers of Process (New York: Fordham University 
Press, 1998); and David Ray Griffin’s Founders of Constructive 
Postmodern Philosophy: Peirce, James, Bergson, Whitehead, and 
Hartshorne (Albany: suny Press, 1992). David Skrbina’s works, as 
mentioned, present panpsychist philosophy in all its variations; 
see Skrbina, Panpsychism in the West, rev. edn. (Cambridge: mit 
Press, 2017), and Skrbina, ed., Mind That Abides: Panpsychism in 
the New Millennium (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2009). 

The rapidly evolving dialogue between different processual 
and relational positions is evident in many books of the last two 
decades. Listed chronologically, these include Catherine Keller 
and Anne Daniell, Process and Difference: Between Cosmologi- 
cal and Poststructuralist Postmodernisms (Albany: suNy Press, 
2002); Guy Debrock, ed., Process Pragmatism: Essays on a Quiet 
Philosophical Revolution (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2003); Michel 
Weber, ed. After Whitehead: Rescher on Process Metaphysics 



(Frankfurt: Ontos, 2004); Anne Fairchild Pomeroy, Marx and 
Whitehead: Process, Dialectics, and the Critique of Capitalism 
(Albany: suny Press, 2004); Janusz Polanowski and Donald 
W. Sherburne, eds., Whitehead’s Philosophy: Points of Connec- 
tion (Albany: suny Press, 2004); Keith Robinson, ed., Deleuze, 
Whitehead, Bergson: Rhizomatic Connections (Basingstoke: Pal- 
grave Macmillan, 2008); Steven Shaviro, Without Criteria: Kant, 
Whitehead, Deleuze, and Aesthetics (Cambridge: mit Press, 
2009); William Connolly, A World of Becoming (Durham: Duke 
University Press, 2011); Roland Faber and Andrea Stephenson, 
Secrets of Becoming: Negotiating Whitehead, Deleuze, and Butler 
(New York: Fordham University Press, 2011); William S. Ham- 
rick and Jan Van der Veken, Nature and Logos: A Whitehead- 
ian Key to Merleau-Ponty’s Fundamental Thought (Albany: suNY 
Press, 2011); Roland Faber and Andrew Goffey, eds., The Allure 
of Things: Process and Object in Contemporary Philosophy (Lon- 
don: Bloomsbury, 2014); Steven Shaviro, The Universe of Things: 
On Speculative Realism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota 
Press, 2014); Christopher Vitale, Networkologies: A Philosophy of 
Networks for a Hyperconnected Age — A Manifesto (Washington: 
Zero Books, 2014); Erin Manning and Brian Massumi, Thought 
in the Act: Passages in the Ecology of Experience (Minneapolis: 
University of Minnesota Press, 2014); Levi Bryant, Onto-Car- 
tography: An Ontology of Machines and Media (Edinburgh: Ed- 
inburgh University Press, 2014); Brian G. Henning, William T. 
Meyers, and Joseph D. John, eds., Thinking with Whitehead and 
the American Pragmatists: Experience and Reality (London: Lex- 
ington, 2015); Manuel DeLanda, Assemblage Theory (Edinburgh 
University Press, 2016); and Catherine Keller and Mary-Jane 
Rubenstein, eds., Entangled Worlds: Religion, Science, and New 
Materialisms (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017). 

On Whitehead’s process-relational metaphysics more spe- 
cifically, the best sources are of course his magnum opus Process 
and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, rev. and corr. by David Ray 
Griffin and Donald Sherburne (New York: Free Press, 1978), and 
the more elegant synopsis found in Part Three of Adventures of 
Ideas (New York: Free Press, 1933/1967). His writing from Sci- 



ence and the Modern World (New York: Macmillan, 1925) on- 
ward reflects variations on the processual metaphysics that he 
took many years developing. C. Robert Mesle’s Process-Relation- 
al Philosophy: An Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead (West 
Conshohocken: Templeton Foundation Press, 2008), while 
a simplified introduction to his thought, makes clear why the 
titular term is appropriate. Other concise and accessible intro- 
ductions to Whiteheadian metaphysics include Philip Rose’s On 
Whitehead (Belmont, California: Wadsworth/Thomson, 2002) 
and. Pierfrancesco Basile’s Whiteheads Metaphysics of Power: 
Reconstructing Modern Philosophy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Uni- 
versity Press, 2017). More extended and rigorous treatments in- 
clude recent works by Leemon McHenry (The Event Universe: 
The Revolutionary Metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead [Ed- 
inburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015]), Didier Debaise 
(Speculative Empricism: Revisiting Whitehead |Edinburgh: Ed- 
inbugh University Press, 2017]), Steven Shaviro, and others. 
David Ray Griffins longstanding championing of White- 
headian metaphysics in the “postmodern” context has been 
notable; see, for instance, his Whitehead’s Radically Different 
Postmodern Philosophy: An Argument for Its Contemporary Rel- 
evance (Albany: suny Press, 2007). On Whitehead’s more recent 
uptake within the loosely “continental” philosophical milieu, 
see especially Isabelle Stengers’s influential treatise Thinking 
With Whitehead: A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts, trans. 
M. Chase (London: Harvard University Press, 2011); Nicholas 
Gaskell and A.J. Nocek’s anthology The Lure of Whitehead (Min- 
neapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014); and some of the 
comparative works listed above. For intriguing applications to 
physics, psychology, ecology, and neuroscience, see Timothy 
Eastman and Hank Keeton, eds., Physics and Whitehead: Quan- 
tum, Process, and Experience (Albany: suny Press, 2013); Michel 
Weber and Anderson Weekes, eds., Process Approaches to Con- 
sciousness in Psychology, Neuroscience, and Philosophy of Mind 
(Albany: suny Press, 2009); Ralph Pred, Onflow: Dynamics of 
Consciousness and Experience (Cambridge: mit Press, 2005); 
neuropsychologist Jason Brown's Process and the Authentic Life: 



Toward a Psychology of Value (Lancaster: Ontos Verlag, 2005); 
and Robert Ulanowicz’s A Third Window: Natural Life Beyond 
Newton and Darwin (West Conshohocken: Templeton Founda- 
tion Press, 2009). 

Much of the literature on Charles Sanders Peirce has focused 
on his significant contributions to logic and to semiotics; his 
work on metaphysics has often taken a back seat to these, but 
this has begun to change. Notable contributions include Vin- 
cent M. Colapietro’s Peirce’ Approach to the Self: A Semiotic Per- 
spective on Human Subjectivity (Albany: suny Press, 1989); Carl 
R. Hausman’s Charles S. Peirce’s Evolutionary Philosophy (New 
York: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Sandra Rosenthal’s 
Charles Peirce’s Pragmatic Pluralism (Albany: suNy Press, 1994); 
Kelly A. Parker's The Continuity of Peirce’s Thought (Nashville: 
Vanderbilt University Press, 1998); and Leon Niemoczynski’s 
Charles Sanders Peirce and a Religious Metaphysics of Nature 
(New York: Lexington, 2013). Perhaps the clearest general expo- 
sition of Peirce’s philosophy is Albert Atkin’s Peirce (New York: 
Routledge, 2016). 

The territory between Whitehead and Peirce has been in- 
sightfully traversed by Charles Hartshorne, who studied with 
the former and edited the latter’s manuscripts; see his Creative 
Synthesis and Philosophic Method (LaSalle: Open Court, 1970) 
and Creativity in American Philosophy (Albany: suny Press, 
1984). Peirce’s influence in semiotics, including its many cog- 
nate fields (such as biosemiotics, ecosemiotics, and zoosemiot- 
ics), is bearing interesting metaphysical fruit as well. Terrence 
W. Deacon's Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter 
(New York: W.W. Norton, 2012) presents an ambitious synthe- 
sis of Peircian semiotics and emergent systems theory. Eduardo 
Kohn’s How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the 
Human (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013) applies 
Peircian theory to human-ecological systems in the Amazon. 
For more general background, see Vinicius Romanini and 
Eliseo Fernandez, eds., Peirce and Biosemiotics: A Guess at the 
Riddle of Life (Jansas City: Springer, 2014). And Floyd Merrell’s 
writings offer particularly intriguing complements to my own 



suggestions for Peircian “practices” in Part 2 of this book; see, 
for instance, his Change Through Signs of Body, Mind, and Lan- 
guage (Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 2000). 

Other significant ontological engagements in a pragmaticist- 
processual vein include those of Robert S. Corrington (Nature's 
Sublime: An Essay in Aesthetic Naturalism [New York: Lexington, 
2013]; Deep Pantheism: Toward a New Transcendentalism [Lon- 
don: Lexington, 2016]), Sandra B. Rosenthal (Speculative Prag- 
matism [Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986]), 
James Williams (A Process Philosophy of Signs [Edinburgh Uni- 
versity Press, 2016]), and John Deely, whose magisterial Four 
Ages of Understanding: The First Postmodern Survey of Philoso- 
phy from Ancient Times to the Turn of the Twenty-First Century 
(Toronto University of Toronto Press, 2001) deserves wider rec- 
ognition. Corrington draws also on another philosopher, whose 
potential contributions to the objects-processes debate seem to 
me very promising, yet which are as yet quite untapped: that is 
Justus Buchler, whose “ordinal metaphysics” attempts to tran- 
scend Whitehead’s “privileging” of the real and actual over other 
“natural complexes” — a term that could be fruitfully compared 
with Harman's notion of the “object.” See Armen Marsoobian, 
Kathleen Wallace, and Robert S. Corrington, eds., Nature’ Per- 
spectives: Prospects for Ordinal Metaphysics (Albany: suNyY Press, 
1991). (I must apologize to a dear friend and helpful reader of 
the present book, David Brahinsky, for resisting his urges that I 
explore Buchler in greater depth. In time, I will, but the present 
book has proceeded without that exploration.) 

Comparative studies of process philosophy and Asian 
thought, whether historical or contemporary, include Steve 
Odin, Process Metaphysics and Hua-Yen Buddhism: A Critical 
Study of Cumulative Penetration vs. Interpenetration (Albany: 
suny Press, 1984); Nolan Pliny Jacobson, The Heart of Buddhist 
Philosophy (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 
1988); John H. Berthrong, Concerning Creativity: A Comparison 
of Chu Hsi, Whitehead, and Neville (Albany: suNny Press, 1998); 
Wenyu Zie, Zhihe Wang, and George Derfer, eds., Whitehead 
and China: Relevance and Relationships (Frankfurt: Ontos Ver- 



lag, 2005); Peter P. Kakol, Emptiness and Becoming: Integrating 
Madhyamika Buddhism and Process Philosophy (Delhi: D.K. 
Printworld, 2009); Hyo-Dong Lee, Spirit, Qi, and the Multitude: 
A Comparative Theology for the Democracy of Creation (New 
York: Fordham University Press, 2014); and Steve Odin, Tragic 
Beauty in Whitehead and Japanese Aesthetics (New York: Lex- 
ington, 2016). Kakol’s book and Odin’s latter volume are espe- 
cially recommended. And for a provocative example of a “non- 
Western” (but Western hemisphere) philosophical system read 
as a form of process philosophy, see James Maffie’s Aztec Phi- 
losophy: Understanding a World in Motion (Boulder: University 
Press of Colorado, 2014). 

Farther afield, one finds process-relational thinking enliv- 
ening many other disciplines and discourses including science 
studies (Bruno Latour, John Law, Donna Haraway), anthropol- 
ogy (Arturo Escobar, Tim Ingold, Marisol de la Cadena), so- 
cial and political theory (William Connolly, Brian Massumi, 
Michael Halewood, Romand Coles), environmental philosophy 
(Freya Mathews, Brian Henning, Robert Ulanowicz), theory 
and practice in the performative and media arts (Erin Manning, 
Mark Hansen, Steven Shaviro, Andrew Murphie, Xin Wei Sha), 
and the physical and biological sciences (Stuart Kauffman, Lee 
Smolin, John Dupré, and others already mentioned). A few of 
these figures are discussed in some detail in this book; to list 
and discuss all of the others would make this book much longer. 
Some are listed in the bibliography; others not. 



What a Bodymind Can Do: Full Rubik’s Cube Version 

O = Examples from ordinary experience 
M = Examples from meditative or spiritual practice 




Note, observe 

“This is” 

2. ACT 

Respond, inter- 


| can” 




external states 

O: Absorption in 

sensory activity, 
«. » . 
pure’ sensing 

M: Sensory-absorp- 

tive meditation 

Respond externally 
/ Generate external 


O: Action in the 
world, doing (of 
any kind) 

M: Active medita- 

tion, “spirit posses- 
sion’; Karma Yoga, 

“good deeds” 



Note/observe internal 

O: Dream states, ab- 
sorption in subjective/ 
internal activity 

M: Vipassana (insight) 


Respond internally 
/ Generate internal 

O: Visualizing scenes in 
“mind’s eye” (e.g., while 
listening to a story 

or reading a poem or 

M: Visualization, 
metta, mantra medita- 
tion; Tantra, deity 

SY: “Focus-on-the- 


O: Free activity DARK FLOW 
M: Nondual flow 


Respond in flow with inter- 
nal/external world(s) 

O: Action with the world, 
doing-with, social/collective 

M: Nondual Tantra/deity 
ritual; nondual action (wu- 






Affect/generate understand- 
ing internally/externally 

O: Integral, process-relational 

M: Nondual free activity, 
enlightened flow, Praxis 

List of modalities, by sensory mode and category: 

1 2 3 
Note/Sense Act Realize 
[Void] [Heart] [Mystery] 
Visual See Show Map 
[Darkness] [Flicker] [Invisible] 
Auditory Hear Sound Speak/Convey 
[Silence] [Murmur] [Unspeakable] 
Feeling* Feel Touch Move 
[Emptiness] [Tremor] [Immovable] 

*Note: “Feeling-Out” includes tactile, olfactory, gustatory, and 
kinesthetic sensations; “Feeling-In” includes visceral, affective, 
and emotional sensations 




The following is a selection of exercises derived from ideas 
and propositions laid out in Part 2 of this book. The idea with 
these is that they internalize or habituate the concepts fleshed 
out herein, allowing practitioners to try them on for size and 
to learn to “in-habit” them if appropriate. They are creative and 
experimental arts, to be worked with, modified, and mastered 
over time. The descriptions below are only the most basic ker- 
nels of these exercises. Several are derived from longstanding 
traditions of existential or spiritual practice found across the 
mystical wings of the world’s religions (Buddhism being espe- 
cially prominent here, and Shinzen Young’s system of practical 
instruction being the most common direct source). 

Other exercises can be developed from other suggestions 
provided in the book. If you are interested in working more di- 
rectly with any of these exercises described here, please feel free 
to write the author via my University of Vermont email address 
or at the blog Immanence, at 

Exercise 1: Basic triad practice 

(Relevant section: “Philosophy of the Moment”) 


Choose an activity that does not require your full attention, 
such as sitting comfortably, walking outdoors, or engaging in a 
safe physical exercise. Scan your field of awareness and note the 
distinctly qualitative characteristics (the “firstness”) of specific 
things in it. Select no more than one or a few of these initially, 
moving from one to another or across several as you gain pro- 
ficiency for sensing how they feel to you. After a period of time 
working with firstness, add the “secondnesses” by which you are 
interacting with one or more of these objects: the force or ef- 
fort needed to interact with them, the specific resistance they 
present to you, and the intimately distinctive feel of those inter- 
actions. Finally, add the “thirdness,” or the meaning and signifi- 
cance, of one or more of these interactions. Keep each of these 
levels in your awareness over a period of time while engaged in 
the specific activity. (Note: See the example of the walk in the 
woods described in this section of the text.) 

Exercise 2: Prehension practice 
(Relevant section: “Philosophy of the Moment”) 

Choosing an activity that does not require your full attention, 
scan your field of awareness and note the distinctly qualitative 
characteristics of specific things in it that you are encounter- 
ing as “objects” of your awareness. Select one or a few of these 
at first, moving from one to another or across several as you 
gain a sense for how they feel to you. Then, add to your aware- 
ness a sense of how you are engaging with those objects — your 
thoughts, feelings, and reactions to these in your “subjectivation” 
of these objects. Next, focus on the interactive middle-ground 
between one or more subjective prehensions and the objects be- 
ing prehended. For a time, explore this middle-ground to gain 
a feel for the prehensive encounter itself as it occurs between 
“you” and one or more “objects” of your awareness. Finally, if 
and when you feel prepared for this (which may require devel- 
oping some proficiency with the above practices alone), add the 
dimension of “withdrawal} that is, the feel of the disappearance 



of objects from your cognition or capacity to retain, control, or 
manage them. 

Note that in its full form, this exercise is quite advanced, rely- 
ing on an understanding of concepts explored in depth later in 
Part 2 of this book. It is recommended that you return to it after 
reading the entirety of the chapter and trying some or all of the 
exercises described below. 

Exercise 3: Sensory field practice 
(Relevant section: “Sensings”) 

Set yourself a certain amount of time, say twenty minutes, with- 
out interruption. Sit comfortably, spine erect but not strained, 
and choose one or more of the “spaces” or “fields” mentioned in 
this section: See-In, See-Out, Hear-In, Hear-Out, Feel-In, Feel- 
Out. Watch what comes up in your awareness of that space, not- 
ing things as you observe them (labeling them as such, if it is 
helpful) and “tasting” their quality, before letting them go and 
awaiting another thing to note. 

If you feel that there is not enough happening, add another 
layer or space to what you are noticing. If you feel overwhelmed 
by what there is, reduce the number of things you are noticing, 
and feel them each a little longer (even staying with each feel- 
ing for a certain number of breaths). Find a workable rhythm, 
perhaps in alignment with your breathing. If you find yourself 
getting “lost in thought,” just come back to what you were in- 
tentionally doing. Alternatively, if thoughts or concerns keep 
intervening, you could decide to work on breaking down and 
noting the components of one of these intervening strains. For 
instance, with thinking, label words “hear-in, visual images 
“see-in, and physical feelings or sensations “feel-in” If musi- 
cal phrases or random images arise in your mental field, do the 
same (noting “hear-in,” “see-in’, and so on). Treat them as any- 
thing else that is being noted and then released. 

Come back to this exercise on repeated occasions until you 
have developed a good feel for not only the six different sen- 


sory-orientational “spaces,” but some of the cross-modal rela- 
tionships that may arise frequently (for you) between them. For 
instance, do specific sounds (“hear-out”) trigger specific feelings 
(“feel-in’)? Do certain mental images (“see-in”) come accompa- 
nied by certain physical feelings or sensations (“feel-in”)? And 
so on. If you find yourself emotionally drawn to a particular 
“space,” work with it over time, connecting it to other spaces, 
until you feel some insight or resolution of whatever the draw 
in it is for you. 

Exercise 4: Advanced triad practice 
(Relevant section: “Relatings”) 

Set yourself a certain amount of time in the midst of some regu- 
lar activity, such as walking, bicycling, driving to work, eating, 
taking a shower, listening to music, or browsing the internet. 
Choose one or more of the eighteen “spaces” or “fields” de- 
scribed so far, that is, the “In” and “Out” variations of any of the 
following: (1) See, Hear, Feel; (2) Show, Sound, Touch; (3) Map, 
Convey, Move. Watch how you actively engage with the chosen 
spaces, labeling any individual event, act, or realization as such 
and “tasting” its quality, before letting it go and awaiting another 
to note. Find a workable rhythm, perhaps relating your notings 
to your breaths. 

It is best at first to select the most relevant fields for a given 
activity. For instance, when walking or bicycling, focus on See- 
Out, Hear-Out, Touch-Out, and Move-Out. When listening to 
music, focus on Hear-Out and Feel-In (how the music makes 
you feel). With time and practice, it is possible to focus more 
widely. When selecting a wider range of space-activities, you 
can use more general terms, such as “Sense-Out,” “Act-Out; 
“Realize-In,’ and so on. (This adds six “gameboard options” to 
Exercise 3, bringing the total from 18 to 24.) 

Treat this as a recurrent practice over time, accumulating in- 
sights (or shedding habitual patterns) as appropriate. 



Exercise 9: Flow practice 
(Relevant section: “How to Make a Bodymind Flow”) 

Continue working as in the above exercises, but focusing on one 
or more of the Flow states, either exclusively or in combination 
with others. This means that to the 24 options mentioned above 
(18 sensorially distinct options, plus the 6 general options as- 
sociating with Sensing, Acting, and Realizing in each of their 
internal and external modes), you are adding at least 12 varieties 
of Flow: See-Flow, Hear-Flow, Feel-Flow; Show-Flow, Sound- 
Flow, Touch-Flow; Map-Flow, Convey-Flow, Move-Flow; and 
the three generals, Sense-Flow, Act-Flow, and Realize-Flow. 

In addition, there are variations of Flow states that could be 
focused on, i.e., “cross-modal” flow, “cross-directional” flow, 
and “evental-processual” flow. (See descriptions in main text.) It 
is recommended to spend some time familiarizing oneself with 
each of these forms of flow, in order to learn to recognize them 
in any situation. 

Exercise 6: Apophatic practice 
(Relevant section: “The Apophatic, Inside-out Twist”) 

These add a further level to the “Rubik’s cube,’ but instead of 
adding another 24 options, they are best worked with in the fol- 
lowing three ways. 

Reversal (outline) practice. This works exactly like the regular practice 
of the triadic gameboard, with the difference that instead of not- 
ing the “positive value” of an appearance (sensing), an action, 
or a realization — for instance, “Hear-In” when noting internal 
talk, “Sound-Out” when noting the sound one is making, and so 
on— the focus is on the negative background surrounding that 
positivity: that is, on the silence surrounding a sound, on the 
indistinct tremor surrounding one’s touch of something, on the 


unspeakable mystery surrounding one’s understanding of what 
someone else just said, and so on. 

Shadow triad practice. Follow the triadic shadows alone, singly or to- 
gether: that is, on Emptiness, Heart, or Mystery. This is difficult 
without the practice of the appearances, actions, and realiza- 
tions, but with time one can develop a “feel” for the three apo- 
phatic shadows to the point that a “resting” in the shadows alone 
becomes possible. These practices alone can provide a profound 
dimension of experience. 

Gap practice. Focus attention on the “jumps” across gaps between 
zeroness, firstness (sensing), secondness (acting), and third- 
ness (realizing). Each of the apophatic “shadow” categories fills 
in one of the gaps: (1) Emptiness comes before the observation 
of appearances; (2) Heart comes between appearances and the 
arising of action; and (3) Mystery comes between action and the 
arising of insight or realization. Focusing on these jumps em- 
phasizes the flow between firstness, secondness, and thirdness 
in the continual generation of reality from Reality. 

Exercise 7: Widening and deepening (recollection) practice 

(Relevant section: “Toward a Logo-ethico-aesthetics of Exist- 

Choose an activity that, for a specified period of time, will not 
require much active responsiveness from you: for instance, go- 
ing for a casual walk in a wooded or natural area you are famil- 
iar with, riding a bicycle on a familiar bike path, sitting alone 
in a house looking out a window, and so on. At a relaxed and 
manageable pace, begin to notice features of the world around 
you and allow them to “reverberate” in you— for instance, by 
triggering memories of analogous places or situations you have 
been in, similar objects you have seen in prior or later stages of 
their existence, and so on, together with the emotional contours 
that come with those memories. Allow the memories and sen- 



sations triggered in you to resonate in your “depths,” such that 
they elicit a sense of meanings or significances they may have 
had for you or may hold for you today in the context of your 
life, your interdependencies with others, your present goals, and 
your place in time and space (in reference, for instance, to the 
Anthropocene, the near or distant future, and so on). 

Note these widened contexts and the feelings accompanying 
them, adding an acknowledgment of gratitude for the ways in 
which they may bring value or meaning to your life. Make space 
for them in your awareness, perhaps adding an image, keyword, 
or “hook” by which you may remember them in the future (such 
as before going to sleep tonight, or in future interactions with 
others related to those memories and recollections). 



This book is written in a more provocative voice than I am ac- 
customed to in my scholarly writing. This is partly due to the 
milieu from which it grew, which was a set of online encounters 
with a heterophonic, and sometimes cacophonic, array of inter- 
locutors, with whom I connected through my online weblog Im- 
manence ( and through their blogs 
and other discussion forums, beginning in about 2009. Many of 
those interlocutors, whose thinking has served variously as in- 
spiration, instigation, clarification, and (mostly friendly) dispu- 
tation, have already been named in the preceding pages. Many 
others have helped along the way. 

The kindness and generosity of friends and colleagues who 
encouraged my writing and thinking, engaged with it in helpful 
ways, and in some cases invited me to speak and share those 
ideas and even supported my travels, has been especially impor- 
tant. That varied list, ordered alphabetically, includes Whitney 
Bauman, Hannes Bergthaller, Dominic Boyer, Rob Boschman, 
David Brahinsky, Levi Bryant, Vitaly Chernetsky, Sean Cubitt, 
Shane Denson, Marta Dyczok, Paul Ennis, Andy Fisher, Ted 
Geier, Alexandre Grandjean, Taras Gula, Olena Haleta, Graham 
Harman, Natalie Jeremijenko, Ju-Pong Lin, Svitlana Matviyen- 
ko, Harlan Morehouse, Tim Morton, Natalia Neshevets, Leon 
Niemoczynski, Matthew O'Connell, Anatoly Oleksiyenko, Mar- 
cia Ostaszewski, Sarah Pike, Patricia Pisters, Jone Salomonsen, 



Gabriélle Schleijpen, James Schwoch, Steven Shaviro, Maria So- 
nevytsky, Adrianna Stech, Bron Taylor, Sarah McFarland Tay- 
lor, Temenuga Trifonova, Catherine Tucker, Hunter Vaughan, 
Christopher Vitale, Janet Walker, John Whalen-Bridge, Michael 
York, and Shinzen Young. It also includes numerous friends and 
colleagues at the University of Vermont, among them Frank 
Zelko, Cami Davis, Mark Usher, and Anthony Grudin, all co- 
conspirator Lattie Coor Environmental Humanities Fellows; my 
collaborators in BasTA! (Bridging the Arts, Sciences, and Theory 
for the Anthropocene) and the EcoCulture Lab including Nancy 
Winship Milliken, Cami Davis (again), Al Larsen, Stella Marrs, 
Brian Collier, and Tatiana Abatemarco; the “Facing Gaia” read- 
ing group; and my many students, especially grad students Emil 
Tsao, Finn Yarbrough, and Dan Cottle. There are many others I 
could mention, to whom I apologize for any unwitting neglect. 

I am deeply grateful for grant, sabbatical, and other support 
from the Steven Rubenstein Family for its support of me as Ste- 
ven Rubenstein Professor since 2016; from the University of 
Vermont's Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Re- 
sources and its dean, Nancy Mathews; from the uvm Environ- 
mental Program’s Enrichment Fund and the program's current 
and recents directors, Nate Sanders, David Massell, and Steph- 
anie Kaza; from the uvM Humanities Center and its long-time 
co-director, Luis Vivanco; from the Rachel Carson Center for 
Environment and Society at Ludwig Maximilians University in 
Munich, for a richly rewarding short-term fellowship in 2017; 
and from the School of Advanced Research for hosting me and 
a group of others at a week-long seminar on science, nature, and 
religion in 2011. 

Ideas as well as segments of the book have been presented 
in various forums, including as conference papers and keynotes 
at Oslo University’s “Reassembling Democracy” conference, the 
“New Materialism, Religion, and Planetary Thinking” Seminar 
of the American Academy of Religion, “Under Western Skies 
3” at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, the University of Cali- 
fornia Davis and its Environments and Societies Colloquium 
Series, Ukrainian Catholic University’s Open Access Lecture 



Series, the Visual Culture Research Center of Kyiv, CENHS at 
Rice University, the iCreate Cape Breton iEngage Workshop at 
Cape Breton University, the “Popular Culture, Religion, and the 
Anthropocene” symposium at National University of Singapore, 
the University of Amsterdam’s School for Cultural Analysis, the 
Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, the Munk School for 
Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, the 11th Interna- 
tional Whitehead Conference at the University of the Azores, 
the Stories of the Anthropocene Festival at the Swedish Royal 
Institute of Technology in Stockholm, the “Power Dynamics” 
media and environment conference at the University of Califor- 
nia Santa Barbara, the Charles S. Peirce International Centen- 
nial Conference at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, the 
University of Wisconsin Milwaukee's Center for 21st Century 
Studies “Nonhuman Turn” conference, Antioch University New 
England’s Environmental Studies Colloquium, Vermont’s Gund 
Institute for Environment; at the universities of Hong Kong, 
Taichung, Lausanne, Kansas, York (in Canada), and Bucks Col- 
lege, Pennsylvania; at meetings of the American Academy of 
Religion, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, the Inter- 
national Association for Environmental Philosophy, the Asso- 
ciation for Environmental Studies and Sciences, and the Inter- 
national Society for the Study of Religion, Nature, and Culture; 
and on the Imperfect Buddha Podcast. 

Many segments of the book originally appeared in my blog 
Immanence; they are thoroughly reworked here. Portions have 
also appeared in the following publications: “Chernobyl, Risk, 
and the Inter-Zone of the Anthropocene,” in The Routledge 
Companion to Risk and Media, edited by Bishnupriya Ghosh 
and Bhaskar Sarkar (New York: Routledge, forthcoming); “The 
Event That Cannot (Not) Happen,” in Contemporary Visual 
Culture and the Sublime, edited by Temenuga Trifonova (Lon- 
don: Routledge, 2017); “On a Few Matters of Concern: Toward 
an Ecology of Integrity,’ in The Variety of Integral Ecologies, ed- 
ited by Sam Mickey, Adam Robbert, and Sean Kelly (Albany: 
suny Press, 2017); “The Art of Morphogenesis: Cinema In and 
Beyond the Capitalocene;’ in Post-Cinema: Theorizing 21st Cen- 



tury Film, edited by Shane Denson and Julia Leyda (Falmer: 
Reframe, 2016); and my previous book, Ecologies of the Moving 
Image: Cinema, Affect, Nature (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier Uni- 
versity Press, 2013). I am grateful to the editors and reviewers 
involved for their help in refining my arguments, and to the 
publishers for allowing me to re-purpose those materials in this 
very different form. 

I am especially grateful to the remarkable Eileen Joy and 
Vincent WJ. van Gerven Oei at punctum books, who enthu- 
siastically welcomed my proposal and have made it a delight 
to publish with them. Open-access is the saving grace for aca- 
demia’s global future; few do it better and more devotedly than 

This book, and most obviously its second part, is inspired 
in no small part by Shinzen Young’s radically innovative teach- 
ing of Buddhist mindfulness practice; and more generally by my 
son, Zoryan, whose presence in my life is such a heartwarming 
delight. Most of all, however, the book is dedicated with love 
and gratitude to Auriel, whose support, presence, understand- 
ing, and deep companionship have been foundational through- 
out the years in which the book took seed, germinated, grew, 
and matured. May our love continue through all the ages. 



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aesthetics 18, 34, 101, 137, 
138, 139, 140-42, 145-46, 
148-49, 151-52, 158, 223, 
Japanese 141 
of perishing 142 
Peircian 138, 139, 140 

See process-relational 
philosophy, aesthetics 
affective preparedness 

agency 18, 37, 46, 55-57, 59, 
61-64, 69-70, 79, 98, 102, 
137, 144, 146, 166-67, 183, 
206, 212, 222 
distributed 61, 183 
non-human 206 
para-human 206 

angels 151, 160, 162, 206, 
209, 211. See also gods; See 
also Klee, Paul, “Angelus 

AnthropoCapitalism 29, 92, 

AnthropoCapitalocene 26, 
93-95; 98, 100, 173, 184, 
205, 227 
Thing 29-30 

Anthropocene 15-19, 22, 26, 
45, 71; 85, 95, 97 101, 135, 
183, 216, 220-21, 227-29, 
critique of concept 15 
dating 71 

Anthropos 15, 22, 149, 209, 

ants 42-43 

Badiou, Alain 78-79, 84, 

Barad, Karen 25, 33, 36-37, 41 

Bateson, Gregory 22, 41, 72 

Beck, Ulrich 217 

Benjamin, Walter 

on Paul Klee'’s “Angelus 
Novus” 67, 209 



Bennett, Jane 25, 41, 165 
Vibrant Matter 212-13 
Bergson, Henri 41, 75, 116, 
177, 202, 231, 235-36 
Bilgrami, Akeel 170, 172, 174 
Birch, Charles and John Cobb 
143, 144 
bodymind 98, 106-7, 112, 114, 
116, 118, 123-24, 133, 136, 
Bozak, Nadia 83, 202 
Bryant, Levi 25, 31-32, 232, 
Buddhism 17, 22, 35, 66, 73, 
87-88, 93, 102, 106-7, 109, 
112, 116, 124, 130, 142, 177, 
185, 187-88, 190-91, 239 
Dzogchen 73, 120, 190 
Heart Sutra 87, 88 
Mahayana 35, 88, 120, 124, 
Siddharta Gautama 92-93 
the Buddha 92-93, 167 
Theravada 106, 191 
Tiantai 24, 124-26 
Vajrayana 106, 109, 
Zen 101, 106, 109, 126, 135, 
Zizek’s critique of 186 

capitalism 23, 94, 172-73, 186. 
See also AnthropoCapi- 
capitalization 94 


Chernobyl 86, 214-21 
Zone of Exclusion 218 
Chesterton, G.K. 66, 67 
Chinese philosophy 
Qi 111, 240 
Yin- Yang 111 
Christianity 162-63, 167, 170, 
174, 177, 186, 194 
and Charles Taylor 163 
climate change 94, 130, 148, 
cloud computing 200-201 
and “dematerialization” 
sustainability of 201 
Cobb, John. See Birch, 
Charles and John Cobb 
concern, matters of 33, 36, 41, 
43, 69-71, 148,-49 
Connolly, William 17, 25, 41, 
157, 164-65, 174, 175-80, 
226, 236, 240 
on immanent naturalism 
164, 174, 226 
on secularism 179-80 
versus Charles Taylor 
175-76, 178-79 
Corbin, Henry 155, 175 
Vimaginal, mundus imagi- 
nalis 154 
correlationism 30 
cosmopolitics 148, 164, 181, 

Darwin, Charles 213, 226, 238 

decolonial(ity) 35 

Deleuze, Gilles 17, 35, 37, 41, 
46, 56, 58, 64, 68, 89-92, 
101-2, 116, 136, 155, 165, 187, 
211, 231, 236 

democracy 40, 95, 206, 209 

demos 207, 209, 229 

Derrida, Jacques 40, 85, 136, 

Detienne, Marcel 162, 163 

digital media 201. See 
also cloud computing 
“datability” 198 

disconnectibles 26-27 

divinities. See gods, divinities 

dogs 52, 55,56, 58 
canimorphism 56-58 

Durkheim, Emil 
Durkheimian 172, 207 
post-Durkheimian 172 
pre-Durkheimian 172 

eco-arts 97 

material 22, 54, 55, 222 
perceptual 22, 55, 222 
social 22, 55, 222 

Eisenberg, Evan 65 

enchantment 162, 165, 174 
disenchantment 164-65 
re-enchantment 66, 165 

environmental change 49, 52 

ethics 34, 49, 101, 138-40, 143, 
144-45, 147, 152, 157-58, 


165, 170, 177, 188, 191, 
Events 16, 26, 77-79, 81, 
84-87, 196, 210, 216, 218, 
93.0; 221, 237, 237 
Event 16, 26, 78, 81, 84, 85, 
86, 87 
eventology 77-88 
Hyper-Event 78 
experience 102, 156, 176 
as foothold into reality 
102, 105 
extinction 21 
human 87 

film 54-57, 81-83, 103, 204, 
210-11, 218 
film-experience 54 
film-world 54, 56-57 
dark 73, 129, 136, 142 
Foucault, Michel 81, 101-2, 
139, 148-49, 166 
aesthetics of existence 101, 

arts/techniques of the self 
101, 139 

man as “recent invention” 

Gaia 65, 183-85, 211-212, 227 
Isabelle Stengers on 212 
James Lovelock on 211 



William Golding on 211 
gods 18, 89, 151, 160, 162-63, 
171, 178, 181, 184-85, 196— 
97, 205-9, 211-14, 228-29 
deities 110, 160-62, 164, 
184, 190, 195, 207, 211 
divinities 23, 182, 184, 
207-208, 211, 222 
polytheism 163, 177, 194, 
Gordon, David 167, 171-72, 
Grateful Dead 
“Dark Star” 65, 68 
Greece, ancient 162, 207 
philosophy 17, 232 
polytheism 194 
Guattari, Félix 22, 41, 46, 64, 
68, 165, 211 
Gurdjieff, D.I. 110 

Hadot, Pierre 101-2 

Philosophy as a Way of 
Life 101 

Harman, Graham 17, 25, 32, 
47-48, 51, 151-52, 163, 185, 
Circus Philosophicus 47 

Hartshorne, Charles 37, 
40-41, 44, 69, 139, 224, 235, 

Heidegger, Martin 25, 30, 33, 
59, 161, 163-64, 166, 177, 
209, 232 
phenomenology 166 


“poor in world” 59 
Heinlein, Robert 131 
The Unpleasant Profession 
of Jonathan Hoag 130 
Henning, Brian 143, 236, 240 
Herzog, Werner 81-85, 87, 
La Soufriére 81-82, 85, 87 
Lessons of Darkness 81-83 
on adequate images 84, 
Hillman, James 62, 141, 155, 
156-57, 213-14 
and archetypal psychology 
on images 156-57 
on soul 156 
Holocaust tourism 210 
Husserl, Edmund 
phenomenology and 30 
hybridity, original 161, 193, 
195, 197 

iconoclasm 157-59 

iconophilia 18, 158-59, 161, 

idealism 33, 233 
German 186 

imaging 153, 155, 161, 199 

images 18, 28, 39, 63, 83-84, 
97, 108, 110-11, 113, 141, 
147-48, 151, 153-61, 163-64, 
176, 187, 197— 206, 212, 

as affective currents 203 
digital 198, 204 
ecology of 197-202 
image-making 155-56 
imagosphere 155, 175 
moving 157-58, 161, 205-6 
mundus imaginalis 151-157 
reality as imagistic 153, 162 
Time of 203-205 
immanence 45, 89, 89-92, 
102, 166, 171-72, 174, 247 
immanent frame 162, 164, 
168-69, 175-76 
immanent naturalism 17, 
164, 174, 179, 226 
philosophies of 89 
vs. transcendence 89-92 
Indian philosophy 17, 232 
Ivakhiv, Adrian 25, 40, 54, 
152, 161, 194, 216, 218 
Ecologies of the Moving Im- 
age 54, 161, 218 

James, William 101, 153-54, 
157, 175-76 
Jay, Martin 195-96 
earth jazz 64-65, 68 
Jensen, Derrick 31 
Johnston, Adrian 186, 187 
Jones, Judith 144 
Jung, Carl 62, 72, 156, 164 
Jungian psychology 109, 


Kant, Immanuel 34, 49, 154, 
179, 236 

Keller, Catherine 41, 141, 165, 

Klee, Paul 
“Angelus Novus” 67, 209 

Lacan, Jacques 22, 27, 85, 107, 
108-9, 131, 187-88, 193 
the Imaginary 107-9 
the Real 85, 107-9, 130-31, 
the Symbolic 107-9 
Latour, Bruno 17, 25, 33, 36, 
41, 46, 61, 117, 158-60, 
164-65, 181-83, 197, 208, 
212,226, 240 
Gifford Lectures 183 
Modes of Existence 208 
on “beings of presence” 
and “beings of meta- 
morphosis” 208 
on iconoclash and icono- 
philia 158-161 
on modernity 181 
on polynaturalism 197 
We Have Never Been Mod- 
ern 117, 182 
Lefebvre, Henri 184 
logic 101, 138-40, 145-47 
eco-logics 145, 149 
logo-ethico-aesthetics 18, 137, 
139, 145-46, 148 



Loznitsa, Sergei 
Austerlitz 210 

Lyotard, Jean-Frangois 163, 

Marxism 164, 192 
Massecar, Aaron 138-39, 147 
matter 90, 117, 146, 148 
materialism 17, 33, 169, 175, 
186, 231, 233 
mattering 37, 148 
matters of concern 33, 36, 
41, 43, 69-71, 148-49 
mind and 33, 224 
McLean, Paul 108-9 
meditation. See mindfulness 
Meillassoux, Quentin 49 
Miller, Adam 159, 160 
mindfulness 106 
bodymindfulness 98, 122, 
practices of 106-7, 111, 122, 
Mitchell, WJ.T. 108, 159-60 
moment 27, 34, 39, 40, 42,-45, 
50, 52, 57; 71, 73-80 
analysis of 76 
morphism 56, 58, 62. See 
also dogs, canimorphism 
anthropomorphism 57, 
58, 60 
biomorphism 57 
geomorphism 56, 57 
subjectomorphism 57 


Morton, Timothy 25, 60-62, 
78, 151-52, 163, 185 
Mundus Imaginalis 154 
music 64 
Chinese 64 
classical 64, $1 
improvisation 64-65 
Indian 64 
music videos 203-4 

Nagarjuna 116, 124, 125, 137 
Nature 171, 182, 214 
Neoplatonism 101 
neuroscience 127, 237 

eternal 160 
objectivation 34, 43, 55; 
58, 104, 111, 116, 120, 156, 
objectivism 24, 30 
objects-a 27 
proliferation of 27, 31, 32 
sensual vs. real 151 
Odin, Steve 69, 141-42, 
ontology 17, 25, 29-31, 33, 40, 
43, 46, 48, 51, 62, 63, 79, 111, 
116, 124, 128, 142-43, 152, 
186, 191-92, 205, 228, 231, 

object-oriented 17, 25, 30, 
31-32, 595 60, 63, 7h 136, 
152, 185, 231 

paganism 120, 147, 160-63, 

177; 179, 185, 193-97, 212. 

See also gods; polytheism 

Jean-Frangois Lyotard on 

neo-paganism 186 

Slavoj Zizek on 194-95 

panpsychism 59, 60, 231, 234 
Peirce, C.S. 17, 33-40, 44, 50, 

57 72, 101, 108, 110, 112, 116, 

121, 123, 126, 135, 138, 139, 

140, 142, 145-47, 152, 157, 

223-27, 231, 232, 234-35, 


on aesthetics 34 

on beauty, kalos 140 

on ethics 34 

on firstness 72, 103, 138-40 

on logic 34 

on secondness 72, 138-39 

on thirdness 72, 103, 138, 

Peircian semiotics 238 

secondness 103 

triadism 18, 34, 37-40, 50, 
55, 57%) 100, 105, 123, 127, 
148, 251, 252 

phenomenology 34, 37, 90, 

114, 121, 138, 166, 169 
Husserlian 30 
Peircian 34, 37, 121 


philosophy 25, 30, 32-33, 35, 
38, 49, 69, 89, 93, 101-2, 
115, 124-25, 137, 151, 154, 177, 
192, 231, 233, 235, 238-40 
as a way of life 101 

plastics 21, 31, 32, 54, 70 
plasticity 31, 224 

Polanyi, Karl 24 

polytheism 156, 160, 162-63, 
as iconophilism 160 
Greek 162, 194 
Indian 162 
Marcel Detienne on 


post-human 214-222 
post-humanity 220 

post-secularism 17, 19, 164, 
173-74, 195, 197, 206 

prehension. See Whitehead, 
Alfred North 

processes 23, 26,—28, 32, 34, 
37 39 40, 46, 51,-53, 61, 
66, 68, 793 735 7/A- 80, 93, 
136, 179, 182, 193, 196, 212, 
223, 239. See also process- 
relational philosophy 

process-relational philosophy 
17-18, 33, 40-41, 43, 46, 51, 
59-60, 69, 721 77> 79> 98, 
101-2, 115, 120, 124, 127-28, 
136, 140, 143, 145-46, 
151-52, 158, 163, 177, 185, 
205, 224, 228, 231-34, 236, 
240, 244 
aesthetics 149, 152, 158 
ontology 152, 205 



Quakers (Religious Society of 
Friends) 37, 92, 133 

realism 16, 223, 227 
eco-realism 17 
immanent 17 
metaphysical 32 
processual 153 
Real 16, 135 
Realism 16 
Reality 117, 129 
speculative 185 

realization 114, 120-21, 
123-24, 134, 136-37, 156-57, 
179, 225, 228, 250-52 

relations 17, 18, 23-24, 27, 30, 
32-34, 38, 42-43, 46-52, 
54-56, 61-64, 68-70, 77) 
94, 98, 107, 117, 122-23, 125, 
127, 136, 145, 148-49, 160, 
162, 170, 179, 181, 184-85, 
192, 194-95, 201, 204, 216, 
BOS, 334, 353 
domestic vs. foreign 51 

revolutions 78-80, 84, 168, 
184, 217, 220, 223, 225-28 

Ricoeur, Paul 30, 154 

sacrifice zones (ecological) 

214, 220 
Sagan, Dorion 45, 229 


Sahlins, Marshall 206 

secularism 17, 19, 163, 169, 
172. See also post-secular- 
secularization 173 

semiotics 238 
semiosis 50, 157, 201 
semiosphere 155 

Shaviro, Steven 25, 26, 236, 
237, 240 

Shelley, Percy Bysshe 
“Hellas” 141 

sign 21, 37, 39-40, 42, 50, 145, 
151, 182, 198 
signness 50 

Skholiast 66- 68 

socialism 216, 225-26 

soul 59, 62-63, 67-68, 102, 
156, 164, 204, 224 
World Soul 66-67 

speculative realism 32, 185, 

Stengers, Isabelle 17, 25, 33, 
41, 51, 164, 180-81, 212, 226, 
and cosmopolitics 164, 

181, 213 


subject and subjectless 

subjectivation 34, 43, 55; 
57-59» 73» 104, 111, 116, 
120, 143, 145, 153, 156, 
190, 248 

subjectivity 27, 32, 33, 39, 
44, 46, 55> 63, 74-75» 84, 

103, 104, 116, 130, 143, 
166, 185-88, 190-92, 231 
subjectomorphism 57 
subjects-a 27 
suffering 66, 92-96, 188, 191, 
excess of 100 
socio-ecological 94 
Sufism 147, 154, 178, 224 


Tarkovsky, Andrei 
Stalker 218 
Taylor, Charles 17, 162-63, 
166-79, 208 
A Secular Age 102, 166-68, 
Eurocentrism of 175 
on “immanent frame” 162, 
164, 168-69, 175-76 
on “porous self” 167 
temporality. See time 
things 234, 248-49 
chronological 227-28 
Kairotic 228-29 
process-relational concepts 
of 228 
triadism 34, 38, 57, 105, 123 

Uexkiill, Jakob von 50, 64 
Umwelt so, 62 


virtuality 158, 199, 217, 221 

Weber, Michel 41, 74, 75 
Weisman, Alan 86, 219 
Whitehead, Alfred North 17, 
29, 33, 35-36; 39, 40, 44-45, 
50, 60, 66, 68-69, 71, 
73.-75» 78; 90-92, 103, 111, 
116, 136, 140-45, 152, 157, 
160, 187, 213-14, 225-26, 
229, 231, 235-40 
Adventures of Ideas 36, 40, 
50, 69, 71, 140-42, 152, 
225, 236 
and Japanese aesthetics 
anti-Cartesianism 33 
on actual occasions 44, 62 
on aesthetics 152 
on beauty 140-142 
on eternal objects 69 
on prehension 33, 39, 50, 

on the “Supreme Adven- 
ture” 225 

Process and Reality 73,75, 
143, 160, 225, 236 
Whiteheadian metaphysics 
234, 237 
withdrawal 39, 63, 68, 104, 
129, 136, 153, 248 
of objects 63 



Young, Shinzen 106, 108, 
110-11, 116-17, 119, 121-22, 
126-27, 133, 156, 247 
“Five Ways to Know Your- 

self” 106, 111 
Flow 111, 116-20, 122, 123, 
126, 129, 133, 135, 154, 251 
mindfulness meditation 
106, 117, 127 
See/Hear/Feel 128 

Zhiyi 24, 41, 124 
Ziporyn, Brook 
on Tiantai Buddhism 
Zizek, Slavoj 17, 108, 130-33, 
163, 185-95 
Less Than Nothing 188-93 
on Buddhism 186, 188-93 
on ecology 193 
on New Age spiritualism 
on paganism 195 
ontology 186-87 


© punctum books 

pontaneous acts of scholarly combustion 

Ivakhiv, Adrian 

Shadowing the Anthropocene: Eco-Realism for 
Turbulent Times 

punctum books, 2018 
ISBN: 9.7819474479e+012 9781947447875