Designing the Apocalypse: On the Limits of Cartography

January 22, 2014

I was thinking of forwarding a comment to Adam Robbert’s post at knowledge-ecology.com (Earth’s Aesthetics: Knowledge and Media Ecologies) about his concept of mapping ecology when for some reasons my mind wandered off into Guattari. Nonetheless, I find Robbert’s concept of mapping ecology reminiscent of Guattari’s cartography, though some obvious lines are drawn in Robbert’s that make his initial work considerably way above Guattari’s emphasis on decomposing oedipal desire which, though radical in its gesture, is still dependent on a residual humanistic framing as we will try to illustrate.

Well, this has been a part of the project I’m pursuing, to make sense of the anthropocene about accommodating the apocalypse as a properly post-human standpoint. Accommodation would need designing an anthropocenic apocalypse whose conceptualizations were already implied in pre-anthropocenic models (pre- in terms of before the awareness of what Morton describes as hyperobjects, or the awareness of our enormous influence on geological evolution since the last two hundred years or so). This will implicate modernist paradigms but also post-modernist paradigms as pre-anthropocenic. I am thinking of the direction of post-continental philosophy today as an ongoing foray into the anthropocenic proper in terms of formulating a model of designing the apocalypse of our time. Roughly stated, the apocalypse of our time is one whose requirement is no longer critical (or the business of critique that Kant started), finding the limit, critiquing it, and developing devices to stay within the limit, but rather a post-critical, post-cartographic engagement in terms of performing the limit that humanity has set upon itself since the advent of Enlightenment. This is somehow similar to Latour’s call to arms, to become modern which, among others, necessarily entails that we decompose the knowledge of the limit, centralized in nerve centers or ecologies of knowing and have it made available for a compositional performance (not mastery which requires control) of limit. But above all, this will entail a decomposition of the ‘subject’ that has been the most efficient operator of pre-anthropocenic models of designing the apocalypse, one of which is to protect this ‘subject’ from external danger in terms of providing a map, say, an opportunity for second creation or a serialization (which of course depends on the assumption that the earth will not betray us, a sort of vitalism).

Guattari’s mapping is particularly instructive for us as it provides us key approaches to locating the position of the subject that in Althusserian terms is always interpellated by ideology. Guattari’s schizoanalytic cartography aims to position the subject outside of the totalization of ideology (which operates on the unconscious level) and capital (a stumbling block to intensive flow of desire) by providing the subject of desire a cartography of ins and outs, circuits and flows, exits to creation and deterritorialization, which ideology and capital obstruct by stratifying, denying possibilities of second creations. For Guattari, the best model of this cartographic project is the arts or the way the arts emphasize the process of creating and not of pursuing a goal.[i] The emphasis on process raises a challenge to anthropological biases that have defined human progress since the last two centuries which celebrate goal-oriented activities at the expense of process as an autonomous molecular flow.

In light of the threat of ecological extinction, Guattari’s cartography can be extended to mapping geological possibilities of forging what Morton says of relationship with hyperobjects now poised to dominate the initial phase of what climate science describes as the sixth cycle of mass extinction. Nonetheless, schizoanalytic cartography is limited to flows of desire which are still human-oriented. If anything, geology only serves as the background of nomadic serialization of individual autonomy and its desire to deterritorialize the landscape that capitalism is fast transforming into a system vulnerable to chaos. If there is one singular lesson we can obtain from climate change it is that desire (which traverses the human and animal distribution of difference) is no longer a key object of investigation. If this is really the case, the focus now shifts into the otherwise than human, more specifically, the material vitality of non-human congregation enmeshed in networks of hyperobjects interacting as actants.

Still, Guattari’s transversal approach towards the subject’s autonomy (weaned off the Cartesian influence) provides us a model of the subject as performativity within a creative field of virtualization in which the very expression of performance constitutes its actuality. We contend that this kind of subject is amenable to human extinction just as it is already performing a kind of subjectivity as post-human in terms of allowing itself, just as any artistic subjectivity, to blend with the flows of the non-human, of objects and things populating the strata of known creation.[ii] If not by mixing herself with the flows then by “[throwing] an aesthetic dimension into the mix, causing the materials to engage with each other.”[iii] Guattari calls this subject ‘machinic’ (indeed, post-human) insofar as a machine works in a network of relationality. The ‘human’ is an appropriate description for the Cartesian (modified by Kant); a subject that suppresses relationality in the extent to which it despises the machine which cannot operate without the participation of other machines. Participation is to the machine; introspection is to the calculating subject of modernity.

This is where actor-network theory becomes an important contribution to designing the apocalypse. We are here capitalizing on the non-hierarchical emphasis of actor-network theory or its modern conception of flat ontology in which all beings are actants and as actants they differ just the same in terms of their modes of influencing one another, a process of negotiation, blending, mixing, or getting in the mix in the sense of adaptation and complimentarity.

What actor-network theory can improve in schizoanalytic cartography is its theory of the subject which is rather limited to a conception of human as undergoing changes whose cause is largely of another human making (capitalism). But climate change, though for the most part caused by human activity (anthropocene), threatens to break the causation of change by extinction. What lies at the end of the anthropocene is not human but arguably post-human. Unlike schizoanalytic cartography which still entertains the hope of another order where post-humans could thrive (Marx’s species-being), post-cartography is offering humanity a chance to flourish in an order without a world. This is different from the ordering world or the capitalist world order that Guattari is challenging.

But unlike Kant who offered humanity a way to live without a world (because ultimately the world, that which exists outside of cognition, is unknowable) by assuming a different world (the moral world) populated by values and not by objects of experience, such as Morton’s hyperobjects, post-cartography (similar to Latour’s interobjectivity) encourages us to abandon the moral world that is the kind of world that thrives in anthropological prejudices; in a nutshell, humans taking charge of objects by investing values in them because they could not speak for themselves. It is in this light that Guattari’s cartography remains within the fold of the moral by challenging a moral hegemony in terms of creating new (human) values. The post-human sense we can therefore obtain from Guattari’s cartographic project is simply ‘another-human’, presumably, better than the moral hominid. Needless to say, this is perfectly intelligible in a Kantian world. Donna Haraway offers an ethical alternative, cognizant of the Kantian trap, of “caring for entanglement, learning the art of paying attention”—a multi-critter thinking, patterned after the critter relating to its own environment.[iv]

But that is no longer the case with the anthropocene (to designate the assemblages of ecological threats). The post-human that is already this humanity is being prepared for an appropriate kind of dwelling without a world. The challenge is to make sense of being deprived of a promise of another world.  The aim is to design a better apocalypse by performing the apocalypse of our timeIn this light, designing the apocalypse of our time would mean making extinction actual, here and now.

See Adam Robbert’s post :

http://knowledge-ecology.com/2013/07/14/earth-aesthetics-knowledge-and-media-ecologies-3


[i] It is in this sense that Guattari speaks of a new aesthetic paradigm: “The aesthetic power of feeling, although equal in principle with the other powers of thinking philosophically, knowing scientifically, acting politically, seems on the verge of occupying a privileged position within the collective Assemblages of enunciation of our era” (Felix Guattari, “A New Aesthetic Paradigm,” in Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis [Bloomington and Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1995], 101).

[ii] This I think is well summarized as follows: “I am once my body proper…the build environment I inhabit… my creative ideas… and the relations between those three elements. In Guattari’s mapping of subjectivity, there is a continual interplay between content, that which is represented (an idea, a concept, a physical body, lived space and its representation or expression… (Stephen Luis Vilaseca, “Felix Guattari and urban cultural studies,” in Journal of Urban Cultural Studies, Vol. 2, 3 [2014],140)”

[iii] Ibid.,141.

[iv] Isabelle Stengers, Heather Davis and Etiiene Turpin, “Isabelle Stengers in Conversation with Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin,” in Architecture in the AnthropoceneEncounters Among Design, Deep Time, Science and Philosophy (Michigan: Open Humanities Press, 2013),179.

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3 Responses to “Designing the Apocalypse: On the Limits of Cartography”

  1. Adam Robbert Says:

    Thanks for your thoughts here. You’re right to connect my little essay to Guattari. My MA thesis from a few years ago made some use of Guattari’s work in a similar way:

    https://www.academia.edu/1328780/Nature_Media_and_Knowledge_A_Transdisciplinary_Study_of_the_Nature_and_Impact_of_Ecological_Research_in_Science_Culture_and_Philosophy


  2. Thanks for the additional material.im now following you at academia.

  3. Michael- Says:

    Reblogged this on synthetic_zero and commented:
    “accommodating the apocalypse”?

    Roughly stated, the apocalypse of our time is one whose requirement is no longer critical (or the business of critique that Kant started), finding the limit, critiquing it, and developing devices to stay within the limit, but rather a post-critical, post-cartographic engagement in terms of performing the limit that humanity has set upon itself since the advent of Enlightenment.


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