Being and Motion, Thomas Nail (2018) Published Dec 10th

Being and Motion is officially published and available today.

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More than at any other time in human history, we live in an age defined by movement and mobility; and yet, we lack a unifying theory which takes this seriously as a starting point for philosophy. The history of philosophy has systematically explained movement as derived from something else that does not move: space, eternity, force, and time. Why, when movement has always been central to human societies, did a philosophy based on movement never take hold? This book finally overturns this long-standing metaphysical tradition by placing movement at the heart of philosophy.

In doing so, Being and Motion provides a completely new understanding of the most fundamental categories of ontology from a movement-oriented perspective: quality, quantity, relation, modality, and others. It also provides the first history of the philosophy of motion, from early prehistoric mythologies up to contemporary ontologies. Through its systematic ontology of movement, Being and Motion provides a path-breaking historical ontology of our present.

Poetry in Motion: On A.R. Ammons’ “Corsons Inlet”

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The stanza formation ripples, rises, and falls like waves. The poem both speaks about and performs the movement of the sea, dunes, reeds, birds, and fish at the same time. Form yields to the material process of undulation and continuous deformation. Life and death become the Janus faces of entropy.

In nature there are no straight lines. It is a simple idea but profound. The “pulsations of order” in the minnows, the dunes, the reeds, the inlet, all reveal the metastability of form. Form is a “kinomorphic” process of undulation and metastability. The poet discovers all this in media res, by walking, in motion (pedesis). This is not chaos, but a kind of entangled relational dance of which poetic form does not capture or “wall in” but tries to respond to. There is no prison house of language but a becoming of poetic matters. Poetic form becomes mobile, drifting like sand dunes.

The use of colons allows for a rhythmic continuity without period breaks. Waves rise and fall, minnows gather and disperse, and colons punctuate without stopping the flow. The subjective “I” does not disappear but in Ammon’s poem enters into the flow of poetic matters: “I think in eddies.” The “I” emerges in and through the eddies. Ammons does not think “about” eddies. The preposition “in” is not a representation. I think in the middle or in the midsts of, or through, eddies. I think in the folds of flows. The poetic matter is folded up flows: flows of thought, flows of sand, water, and flows of ink and electricity, pooled up into little colons that hover like the wind just above the period.

The period sinks to the bottom of the line like a rock dragging the whole thing back down to a stop. But the colon resists and floats just above. The colon is like a vertical ellipsis dragging the poem and the speaking body up out of the line into the eddies of air—throwing the lines into the next line like an air bridge.

The colon holds together and entangles only regionally independent clauses. The Greek kôlon, is a limb or tentacle, an extension, like a root, branch, or prosthesis that reaches out and entangles itself with others in a knotwork, meshwork, or mangle. In Ammons poem, the poem becomes a living and decaying tentacular rootball: khthṓn, from the ground or soil.

But the colon does not originate in grammar or even in Greek language. What are the immanent material conditions for the twisted tentacular colon? The earth already produces mineralogical veins, vegetable branches, and animal appendages. There are only colons because the earth is already tentacular and knotted. There are colons because there are  bayberry roots and crab legs. The colon appendage keeps things moving with wings, fins, fins, and roots. This is not determinism or even metaphor. The colon really is an appendage. Crabs do not necessarily produce or lead to poetic colons in any linear sense. Yet, they are the material and historical conditions for the colon. Is there a world in which there are colons and no earthly appendages? The colon is just one more mobile appendage on a different creature. The poem creature.


I went for a walk over the dunes again this morning
to the sea,
then turned right along
   the surf
                         rounded a naked headland
                         and returned
   along the inlet shore:
it was muggy sunny, the wind from the sea steady and high,
crisp in the running sand,
       some breakthroughs of sun
   but after a bit
continuous overcast:
the walk liberating, I was released from forms,
from the perpendiculars,
      straight lines, blocks, boxes, binds
of thought
into the hues, shadings, rises, flowing bends and blends
               of sight:
                         I allow myself eddies of meaning:
yield to a direction of significance
running
like a stream through the geography of my work:
   you can find
in my sayings
                         swerves of action
                         like the inlet’s cutting edge:
               there are dunes of motion,
organizations of grass, white sandy paths of remembrance
in the overall wandering of mirroring mind:
but Overall is beyond me: is the sum of these events
I cannot draw, the ledger I cannot keep, the accounting
beyond the account:
in nature there are few sharp lines: there are areas of
primrose
       more or less dispersed;
disorderly orders of bayberry; between the rows
of dunes,
irregular swamps of reeds,
though not reeds alone, but grass, bayberry, yarrow, all …
predominantly reeds:
I have reached no conclusions, have erected no boundaries,
shutting out and shutting in, separating inside
          from outside: I have
          drawn no lines:
          as
manifold events of sand
change the dune’s shape that will not be the same shape
tomorrow,
so I am willing to go along, to accept
the becoming
thought, to stake off no beginnings or ends, establish
         no walls:
by transitions the land falls from grassy dunes to creek
to undercreek: but there are no lines, though
       change in that transition is clear
       as any sharpness: but “sharpness” spread out,
allowed to occur over a wider range
than mental lines can keep:
the moon was full last night: today, low tide was low:
black shoals of mussels exposed to the risk
of air
and, earlier, of sun,
waved in and out with the waterline, waterline inexact,
caught always in the event of change:
       a young mottled gull stood free on the shoals
       and ate
to vomiting: another gull, squawking possession, cracked a crab,
picked out the entrails, swallowed the soft-shelled legs, a ruddy
turnstone running in to snatch leftover bits:
risk is full: every living thing in
siege: the demand is life, to keep life: the small
white blacklegged egret, how beautiful, quietly stalks and spears
               the shallows, darts to shore
                            to stab—what? I couldn’t
       see against the black mudflats—a frightened
       fiddler crab?
               the news to my left over the dunes and
reeds and bayberry clumps was
               fall: thousands of tree swallows
               gathering for flight:
               an order held
               in constant change: a congregation
rich with entropy: nevertheless, separable, noticeable
          as one event,
                      not chaos: preparations for
flight from winter,
cheet, cheet, cheet, cheet, wings rifling the green clumps,
beaks
at the bayberries
    a perception full of wind, flight, curve,
    sound:
    the possibility of rule as the sum of rulelessness:
the “field” of action
with moving, incalculable center:
in the smaller view, order tight with shape:
blue tiny flowers on a leafless weed: carapace of crab:
snail shell:
            pulsations of order
            in the bellies of minnows: orders swallowed,
broken down, transferred through membranes
to strengthen larger orders: but in the large view, no
lines or changeless shapes: the working in and out, together
            and against, of millions of events: this,
                         so that I make
                         no form of
                         formlessness:
orders as summaries, as outcomes of actions override
or in some way result, not predictably (seeing me gain
the top of a dune,
the swallows
could take flight—some other fields of bayberry
            could enter fall
            berryless) and there is serenity:
            no arranged terror: no forcing of image, plan,
or thought:
no propaganda, no humbling of reality to precept:
terror pervades but is not arranged, all possibilities
of escape open: no route shut, except in
   the sudden loss of all routes:
            I see narrow orders, limited tightness, but will
not run to that easy victory:
            still around the looser, wider forces work:
            I will try
       to fasten into order enlarging grasps of disorder, widening
scope, but enjoying the freedom that
Scope eludes my grasp, that there is no finality of vision,
that I have perceived nothing completely,
that tomorrow a new walk is a new walk.

 


 

(Thank you to Andrew James Brown @caute for sharing this poem with me)

What is the Philosophy of Movement? Part II: The Mobilities Turn

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What is the “Mobilities Turn” and what is its Relationship to the Philosophy of Movement? 

In 2006, Mimi Sheller and John Urry announced the emergence of a “mobilities paradigm” or “mobility turn” in the social sciences.[i]Their edited journal issue showed quite dramatically what many scholars studying movement across several different disciplines had already felt was going on for some time. That despite their different domains and topic of study, they were in fact studying the same thing, but from different perspectives: motion. The recognition of a common something that was being studied, despite the empirical differences in the areas of study was an important event and has led to further expansions of the paradigm into the humanities over the last ten years.[ii]

This event has at least two consequences for the development of a philosophy of motion. First, it takes the study of motion one step further by explicitly expanding the de facto methodological starting point of the primacy of motion to multiple areas and topics of study in the humanities and social sciences including anthropology, cultural studies, geography, science and technology studies, tourism and transport studies, and sociology, to name only a few.

Second, and even more importantly, this expansion introduced the possibility of a theoretical or methodological unity to the study of motion, as well as the possible limits for such a method. Does this method apply only to studies where things are obviously, dramatically, and empirically moving around like tourism, migration, the spread of viral epidemics, portable computers, airports, automobiles, and so on?[iii]Or should we still adopt the methodological primacy of motion in cases where things seem more immobile, like borders, states, prisons, desktop computers, roads, and so on? Or for those should we go back to spatial turn of the 1980s for a different method and set of concepts? Should we still begin our method with the primacy of motion if the events are older than the contemporary event of our “liquid” and “mobile” modernity as Bauman, Augé, Castells, Virilio and others all heralded at the turn of the century?[iv]Or for older events when the world was more static should we just rely on the traditional static methods of our discipline? There are as many answers to these questions as there are mobilities scholars, but it is easy to see where this is going. The mobility paradigm extends only as far scholars are willing to take it. At the moment mobility studies is largely, although not exclusively, focused on more obviously mobile bodies (cars, dance, diaspora, airports, and so on) in the twenty-first, often twentieth, and occasionally nineteenth centuries, and mostly in the social sciences, sometimes in the humanities, and rarely in the natural sciences.[v]

In their description of this mobilities paradigm Sheller and Urry even make clear that they “do not insist on a new ‘grand narrative’ of mobility, fluidity, or liquidity. The new mobilities paradigm suggests a set of questions, theories, and methodologies rather than a totalising or reductive description of the contemporary world.”[vi]The mobilities paradigm is, according to the authors, not a metaphysics that describes everything forever and all time. However, it also seems arbitrarily limited in its scope and content. At times this limitation threatens to undermine the methodological primacy of motion all together. As when a binary division is introduced between space-time immobilities, fixities, or moorings one the one hand and mobilities on the other. This is particularly limiting when immobility itself is understood to be the condition of mobility itself. As when Urry and Sheller claim that “the multiple fixities or moorings … enable the fluidities of liquid modernity,” or that mobilities “presume overlapping and varied time-space immobilities.”[vii]Surely there are relative relations of motion and rest, but physically speaking, nothing is absolutely immobile.

Why then limit the paradigm of movement in this way?[viii]

Despite the rather banal empirical fact accepted by every physical scientist that everything is in motion, some mobilities scholars have really dug their heels in on this point arguing that “if everything is mobile, then the concept has little purchase.”[ix]Imagine saying that “since everything is in space or time, the concept has little purchase”! [x]No wonder so few natural scientists seem interested in the mobilities paradigm. I agree that it is at least analytically useless and at most politically pernicious to merely say “everything is in motion” or “motion is a good,”[xi]but that is true of anything. On the contrary, the methodical goal of the philosophy of motion is to give us another robust perspective on reality—with all the same rigor across every domain of inquiry that space and time have.

Surely there is a third way between a metaphysics of motion and only studying some contemporary things that move a lot. Surely it is possible for paradigms and theoretical frameworks to offer a description of everything that has been without being the only coherent or reductive description of those things. There can be and certainly are multiple co-existing descriptions of the same things from different perspectives. Why then can’t the mobilities paradigm offer us a new perspective or dimension to everything in the same way that we quite easily talk about spatial and temporal dimensions to all things? Movement is just as real of an irreducible dimension of being as space or time. There is nothing which is not or has not been in motion. To believe otherwise is precisely to reduce motion to space and time.

A regional ontology of motion can therefore be stretched a long way without impinging on the future or becoming “total,” “absolute,” or “reductive.” In other words, a theory can have a large region and still be regional. Certainly such a theory can be pushed beyond the last fifty years or one hundred years! Everything moves. So why restrict a movement-oriented theoretical perspective to a couple domains, or historical periods, or anything else outside the non-existent future itself? If something moves why can’t a movement-oriented perspective be used to understand it?

So while the mobilities paradigm has and continues to make excellent contributions to the philosophy of motion to some degree it also seems to have some arbitrary de facto limitations to its domains, historical scope, and content, that leave plenty of room for the emergence of a more robust non-metaphysical and non-reductionistic philosophy and ontology of motion.

 

 

 

Notes

[i]Sheller, M, and J Urry. “The New Mobilities Paradigm.” Environment & Planning a. 38.2 (2006): 207-226.

[ii]For an excellent literature review and collected volume on the latest expansions of mobility studies see Endres, Marcel, Katharina Manderscheid, and Christophe Mincke. The Mobilities Paradigm: Discourses and Ideologies. (London: Routledge, 2016).

[iii]Rather, applying the terminology of Foucault’s archaeological approach to discourse analysis, the rules of discourse formation “determine both, what can appear as ‘movement,’ and the subject positions according to which one can move meaningfully and legitimately and according to which one can claim agency and insight in relation to movement” Birgitta Frello, “Towards a discursive analytics of movement: On the making and unmaking of movement as an object of knowledge.,” Mobilities 3(1): 2008, 25–50; 30.

[iv]Augé, Non-places: introduction to an anthropology of supermodernity, (London: Verso, 1995); M. Castells, The rise of the network society (2nd edition)(Oxford: Blackwell, 2000); Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization: the Human Consequences(New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 87.

[v]Most mobilities philosophies or “methodologies,” begin with motion but just as often supplement this with theories of space from Soja, Lefvfre, or David Harvey, or theories of time from Heidegger and Virilio, or theories of affect from Deleuze and Guattari.

[vi]Sheller, M, and J Urry. “The New Mobilities Paradigm,” 210.

[vii] Graham, Stephen, and Simon Marvin. Telecommunications and the City: Electronic Spaces, Urban Spaces(London: Routledge, 2001).

[viii]Peter Merriman and Peter Adey have also taken issue with this binary opposition between mobility and immobility. See Peter Adey, ‘If mobility is everything it is nothing: towards a relational politics of (im)mobilities’, Mobilities 2006, vol. 1, pp. 75–94 (76, 83, 86). In reply, Adey has suggested that as ‘everything is mobile’ and ‘there is never any absolute immobility’, ‘moorings are indeed mobile too’, but at a more fundamental level Peter Merriman argues that the mobility/moorings binary too simplistic. See Peter

Merriman, Mobility, Space, and Culture(London: Routledge, 2013).This is a concern also held by David Bissell, ‘Narrating mobile methodologies: active and passive empiricisms’, in B. Fincham, M. McGuinness and L. Murray (eds) Mobile methodologies(Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 53–68.

[ix]Peter Adey, ‘If mobility is everything it is nothing,” 76.

[x]It is also wrong because space and time are both produced through the folding of quantum fields which are not themselves reudicible to space and time. This is yet another contemporary discovery of the primacy of motion. See Carlo Rovelli, Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, trans. Erica (New York : Riverhead Books, 2017).

[xi]For a critique of such simplistic theories of motion see Cresswell, On the Move. On this also see N. Thrift, ‘Inhuman geographies: landscapes of speed, light and power’, in P. Cloke, M. Doel, D. Matless, M. Phillips and N. Thrift, Writing the rural: five cultural geographies(London: Paul Chapman, 1994), 191–248. Although a few feminist theorists such as Rosi Braidotti have embraced nomadic theory/nomadic metaphors, many others have criticized their gendered nature, see J. Wolff, ‘On the road again: metaphors of travel in cultural criticism’, Cultural Studies 1993, vol. 7, 224–239; Caren Kaplan,

Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement(Duke University Press Books, 2009), 65–100.

What is the Philosophy of Movement? Part I

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The Philosophy of Motion

The philosophy of motion is the analysis of phenomena across social, aesthetic, scientific, and ontological domains from the perspective of motion. As such, the ontology of motion is only one part of the philosophy of motion. Most important, and quite simply, the philosophy of motion is defined by the methodological primacy of motion with respect to the domain of study. Therefore the difference between simply describing the motion of things, which almost every philosopher and even layperson has done, and the philosophy of movement is the degree to which movement plays an analytically primary role in the description.

For example, if we describe a body moving through a space (x, y, z) over a time (t), we are describing motion, but we are also assuming a more primary nonkinetic and immobile space-time within which this motion occurs. From the perspective of motion, however, space and time are not immobile at all, but only relatively immobile patterns of some matter in motion on which another pattern or trajectory is traced. Everything is in motion, but all motions are relative to others. This is a basic tenet of contemporary physics. Giving analytic primacy to motion, however, does not mean that we cannot speak of space or time. It just means that motion is a unique dimension of reality not reducible to space or time.

Given this simple and quite general definition of the philosophy of motion, we can already see it at work across several contemporary domains of inquiry to varying degrees.

 

The Study of Motion

At the most basic level there are a number of domains and subdomains where the movement of bodies defines the study of the domain itself, like fluid and nonlinear dynamics, interactive and generative art, and migration and transport studies, to name only a few. If everything is in motion at one level or another, then quite literally everything deals with motion. The difference, however, is how the study deals with this motion. Does it treat its domain of inquiry like static nodes in a network, like abstract numbers, like preserved works of art? Or does it focus almost exclusively on the vectors, oscillations, and circulatory patterns of mobility itself within which people, things, states, particles, proteins, and so on are all metastable aspects of a more primary kinetic process?

In most major domains the study of motion is not the dominant one. The study of motion is often defined solely by the fact that its domain of inquiry deals exclusively with the study of bodies as movements. In this sense studies of motion adhere to a kind of regional de facto primacy of motion. Their work is a relevant and important contribution to the philosophy of motion even if such studies take no broader position on the primacy of motion in any other domain. The limitation with such studies, however, is that they are often, although not always, limited to a single domain, subdomain, historical period, or methodology.

What would it mean to expand the study of motion more generally as a primary methodology of study?

La Ontología del Movimiento

“The Ontology of Movement” originally published in Qui Parle Vol. 27, No. 1, June 2018 has now been translated into Spanish by Julián Martín Berrío (@julianberriog) here.

“Vivimos en una era de movimiento. Más que en cualquier otro momento de la historia, las personas y las cosas se desplazan distancias más largas, con mayor frecuencia y más rápido que nunca. Todo lo que era sólido se derritió en el aire hace mucho tiempo y ahora está en plena circulación por todo el mundo, como lo hacen las semillas de diente de león que son arrastradas por vientos turbulentos. Ahora nos vemos a nosotros mismos, en las etapas tempranas del siglo XXI, en un mundo en el que los referentes de la humanidad se encuentran cada vez más determinados por el movimiento.”