A Philosophy of the Insect, Jean-Marc Drouin (2019)

A Philosophy of the Insect

A Philosophy of the Insect

Jean-Marc Drouin. Translated by Anne Trager.

Columbia University Press


The world of insects is at once beneath our feet and unfathomably alien. Small and innumerable, insects surround and disrupt us even as we scarcely pay them any mind. Insects confront us with the limits of what is imaginable, while at the same time being essential to the everyday functioning of all terrestrial ecosystems.

In this book, the philosopher and historian of science Jean-Marc Drouin contends that insects pose a fundamental challenge to philosophy. Exploring the questions of what insects are and what scientific, aesthetic, ethical, and historical relationships they have with humanity, he argues that they force us to reconsider our ideas of the animal and the social. He traces the role that insects have played in language, mythology, literature, entomology, sociobiology, and taxonomy over the centuries. Drouin emphasizes the links between humanistic and scientific approaches—how we have projected human roles onto insects and seen ourselves in insect form. Caught between the animal and plant kingdoms, insects force us to confront and reevaluate our notions of gender, family, society, struggle, the division of labor, social organization, and individual and collective intelligence. A remarkably original and thought-provoking work, A Philosophy of the Insect is an important book for animal studies, environmental ethics, and the history and philosophy of science.

Climate, Capitalism, Control (Video by Ian Alan Paul)

Watch it here.
The work aims to diagram the conjunctive power of planetary-scale computation, commodification, and climate change, and begins with the following voice-over:

“Dispersed across the surface of Earth, computer clusters electronically hum in vast air-conditioned rooms.
One models sea level rises, precipitation rates, temperature increases, and property values in coastal metropolises
over the coming thousand years. Another runs simulations of various military strategies designed to respond to
the ensemble of armed insurgencies and mass migrations that are predicted to accompany expanding droughts
and crop failures. This cluster runs affect recognition algorithms on videos streamed from malls, schools, bridges,
beaches, cafes, prisons, subway cars, and stadiums in order to forecast the spatial distribution of criminal activity
in a bustling financial district. That cluster hosts a seemingly endless grid of lush virtual gardens that users
digitally water by periodically tapping on their phones while commuting to work. These clusters compete with one
another to mine cryptocurrencies while quantitatively speculating in weather derivatives markets. All of this silicone
only senses, analyzes, and simulates the planet in order to grow as a more total power over it.”

Over the duration of the ~30 minute project, a détourned montage of YouTube videos including data visualizations, drone recordings, defense industry promotions, corporate advertisements, news reports, Silicon Valley product demonstrations, protest documentary, and machine learning research is swiped through in order to visually survey the technical, political, and aesthetic dimensions that compose our disastrous present. Voice-over narration is algorithmically performed by the synthetic voices of Google’s WaveNet deep neural network, and a soundtrack is streamed on an Amazon Alexa.
Inspired and informed by diverse revolts, militant research, and contemporary anarchist and communist thought, the project aims to explicate the entangled operations of climate, capitalism, and control as well as to speculatively propose methods of bringing about their eventual undoing. In addition to its formalization as a video essay, “Climate, Capitalism, Control” is also presented as a standalone text which can be read as well as downloaded as a pdf here: https://www.ianalanpaul.com/climate-capitalism-control-text/

Following its online release, I will also be organizing exhibitions and screenings of the work in the year ahead. Please don’t hesitate to let me know if you are interested in showing “Climate, Capitalism, Control” or if you know of potential events, venues, or curators that you think I should reach out to. Thank you for taking the time to read this far, and I hope that you find the project meaningful and worthwhile.

All of the best,

           ~Ian Alan Paul

Interview with Vicki Kirby

Quantum Anthropologies

Interview with Vicki Kirby

First Published September 7, 2019

Theory, Culture & Society