Black Hole Sun: On the Materialist Sublime

The first image of black hole has just been released today. This is a profound and important aesthetic moment from a new materialist perspective. The image is not beautiful because we enjoy a free play of our imagination as we try to figure out what we are looking at and how it fits with our existing conceptual framework. The image is also not sublime in the sense that a black hole is an infinitely dense singularity that defies all calculation by general relativity, and thus “blows our mind,” as we try to conceptualize the radically unconceptualizable. The black hole is itself a work of art. Nature, according to Kant, cannot be art because nature is passive and mechanistic. Art, for Kant, is radically free because it is a strictly human feeling of our own freedom.

The black hole is an excellent example of the materialist sublime. Nature and matter are not passive or deterministic. They are indeterminate material processes. They perform precisely the sublime that Kant restricts to humans alone. Black holes are not infinitely dense singularities. At the heart of a black hole is a specific (and very small) spatio-temporal region measured by the Planck scale and related to the size of the black hole (its Schwarzschild radius). However, and more importantly, below the Planck level of the black hole there are quantum processes that produce the spacetime of that region. These quantum processes below the Planck unit are fundamentally indeterminate—meaning that they are neither in one spacetime or another. They are the indeterminate material conditions for the emergence of spacetime itself (quantum gravity).

In other words, nature is not just the passive conditions for the human experience of its own aesthetic faculties of beauty or the sublime but itself performs the sublime activity of radical indeterminism without concrete form. Humans have the experience of sublimity only because nature is already performatively and materially sublime.

 

 

What Is Real? | Giorgio Agamben

Eighty years ago, Ettore Majorana, a brilliant student of Enrico Fermi, disappeared under mysterious circumstances while going by ship from Palermo to Naples. How is it possible that the most talented physicist of his generation vanished without leaving a trace? It has long been speculated that Majorana decided to abandon physics, disappearing because he had precociously realized that nuclear fission would inevitably lead to the atomic bomb. This book advances a different hypothesis. Through a careful analysis of Majorana’s article The Value of Statistical Laws in Physics and Social Sciences, which shows how in quantum physics reality is dissolved into probability, and in dialogue with Simone Weil’s considerations on the topic, Giorgio Agamben suggests that, by disappearing into thin air, Majorana turned his very person into an exemplary cipher of the status of the real in our probabilistic universe. In so doing, the physicist posed a question to science that is still awaiting an answer: What is Real?

— Read on www.sup.org/books/title/

Two Recent Articles on New Materialism

The Head, the Hand, and Matter: New Materialism and the Politics of Knowledge

P Rekret – Theory, Culture & Society, 2018
This article seeks to examine the political connotations of a recent ‘material turn’ in social and political theory and its implications for theorizations of political agency. ‘New materialist’ theories are premised upon transcending the limits which social constructivism places upon thought, viewed as a reification of the division of subject and object and so a hubristic anthropocentrism which places human beings at the centre of social existence. Yet new materialist theories have tended to locate the conditions of the separation of mind and world they seek to overcome upon the terrain of epistemic or ethical error. By taking the work of Quentin Meillassoux, Jane Bennett and Karen Barad as exemplary, this article contends that new materialist theories not only fall short of their own materialist pretensions insofar as they do not interrogate the material conditions of the separation of the mental and material, but that the failure to do so has profound repercussions for the success of their accounts of political agency. This essay seeks to offer a counter-narrative to new materialist theories by situating the hierarchy between thought and world as a structural feature of capitalist social relations.

Materia Agens, Materia Loquens: Ecocriticism and the Narrative Agency of Matter

S Iovino – 2018

Inspired by the theoretical debates about distributed fields of agency and of meaning, the so-called “material turn” sheds its effects also on ecocriticism. Its main conceptual tenet, the agency of matter, has in fact vast implications on the ideas of narrativity and text. If matter is agentic, and endowed with meanings, every material configuration, from bodies to their contexts of living, is “telling,” and therefore can be the object of a critical analysis aimed at discovering its stories, its material and discursive interplays, its place in a “cho- reography of becoming.” In this article I will explore this new dimension of ecocriticism looking at the example of some meaningful narratives about the intermingling of living bodies, social forms, and what, following Bruno Latour, we can call “actants”: “things” or assemblages of things that, in various forms and patterns, interact and interfere with human life, interlacing with the emerging meanings and agencies. In particular, I will concentrate on visual media and literary “embodied” narratives that show how the “material self” is a crossroads of multiple agencies.

The Birth of Nomos, Thanos Zartaloudis (2018)

This book looks absolutely essential. My only resource on this important term for the last decade has been Emmanuel Laroche, Histoire de la racine nem- en grec ancien (nemō, nemesis, nomos, nomizō) (1949).

 

Delves into the history of the ancient Greek word nomos (and related words) to reveal the interdisciplinary depth of this term beyond its later meaning of ‘law’ or ‘law-making’

This is a highly original, interdisciplinary study of the archaic Greek word nomos and its family of words. Thanos Zartaloudis draws out the richness of this fundamental term by exploring its many uses over the centuries.

The Birth of Nomos includes extracts from a wide range of ancient sources, in both the original and English translation, including material from legal history, philosophy, philology, linguistics, ancient history, poetry, archaeology, ancient musicology and anthropology. Through a thorough analysis of these extracts, we gain a new understanding of nomos and its foundational place in the Western legal tradition.

Key Features

  • Assembles a genealogical history of the ancient Greek work nomos, showing how it contains a richness that is not reflected in its classical and modern usage as simply ‘law’ or ‘law-making’

  • Draws on works by ancient Greek philosophers, poets and tragedians including Homer, Hesiod, Alcman, Pindar, Archilochos, Theognis, Heraclitus, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Plato

  • Includes extracts from ancient primary sources, in both the original and in English translation, to analyse how nomos has been used in the literary evidence and in context

  • Considers how nomos has been used by contemporary philosophers, including Agamben, Foucault, Heidegger, Schmitt, Deleuze and Axelos, and re-examines their interpretations

https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/book-the-birth-of-nomos-hb.html

Thanos Zartaloudis, The Birth of Nomos – Edinburgh University Press, November 2018

Political Geology: Active Stratigraphies and the Making of Life (Palgrave 2018), ed. Adam Bobbette and Amy Donovan

Image result for Political Geology Active Stratigraphies and the Making of Life

“This book explores the emerging field of political geology, an area of study dedicated to understanding the cross-sections between geology and politics. It considers how geological forces such as earthquakes, volcanoes, and unstable ground are political forces and how political forces have an impact on the earth. Together the authors seek to understand how the geos has been known, spoken for, captured, controlled and represented while creating the active underlying strata for producing worlds.

This comprehensive collection covers a variety of interdisciplinary topics including the history of the geological sciences, non-Western theories of geology, the origin of the earth, and the relationship between humans and nature. It includes chapters that re-think the earth’s ‘geostory’ as well as case studies on the politics of earthquakes in Mexico city, shamans on an Indonesian volcano, geologists at Oxford, and eroding islands in Japan. In each case political geology is attentive to the encounters between political projects and the generative geological materials that are enlisted and often slip, liquefy or erode away. This book will be of great interest to scholars and practitioners across the political and geographical sciences, as well as to philosophers of science, anthropologists and sociologists more broadly.”

This looks like a great collection!

Table of Contents

Political Geology: An Introduction
Adam Bobbette, Amy Donovan

Political Geologies of Knowledge
Front Matter
Pages 35-35

Genealogies of Geomorphological Techniques
Rachael Tily
Pages 37-69

Baroque Soil: Mexico City in the Aftermath
Seth Denizen
Pages 71-104

Geo-Metrics and Geo-Politics: Controversies in Estimating European Shale Gas Resources
Kärg Kama, Magdalena Kuchler
Pages 105-145

From Becoming-Geology to Geology-Becoming: Hashima as Geopolitics
Deborah Dixon
Pages 147-165

Amodern Political Geologies
Front Matter
Pages 167-167

Cosmological Reason on a Volcano
Adam Bobbette
Pages 169-199

Against ‘Terrenism’: Léopold Sédar Senghor, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the Fear of a De-spiritualised Earth
Angela Last
Pages 201-217

How the Earth Remembers and Forgets
Bronislaw Szerszynski
Pages 219-236

Political Geologies of the Future
Front Matter
Pages 237-237

Attention in the Anthropocene: On the Spiritual Exercises of Any Future Science
Simone Kotva
Pages 239-261

Political Geologies of Magma
Nigel Clark
Pages 263-292

Politics of the Lively Geos: Volcanism and Geomancy in Korea
Amy Donovan
Pages 293-343

Epilogue
Front Matter
Pages 345-345

Encountering the Earth: Political Geological Futures?
Adam Bobbette, Amy Donovan
Pages 347-371
Back Matter
Pages 373-379