[-empyre-] Introducing Week Four :: Capitalocene Times: from Entangled Plants-People to Cheap Food-Sick Consumers::

Elaine Gan eganuc at gmail.com
Sat Oct 28 05:43:45 AEDT 2017

Thanks so much for these! Sorry for delay; I'm reposting because previous
one got stuck!

It's been really generative to think about *resistances*: what Jason just
described as a "complex of resistances", which might translate into the
unruly temporalities of weeds, invasives, queers, outlaws, pirates. It
seems that this complex challenges the categories through which we consider
Anthropocene and Capitalocene. Maybe that complex is the Chthulucene--the
feral, haunted, rhizomatic saboteurs that refuse systematic orders. and not
a metaphorical refusal as Joline writes, but material dismantling in the
way that the massive roots of a city tree eventually crack through its
concrete sidewalk cage. (See attached photo of a tree that refuses city
planning and is going to keep breaking through those layers of
anthro/capitalocenic concrete in Frogtown, LA!)

That tree is not alone. I like to think that one can actually trace its
roots to Haitian revolutionaries that Jason raised, and many-headed hydra
<https://www.versobooks.com/books/1128-the-many-headed-hydra> of unrulies
that shaped Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, etc. modernities. Mapping out these
ecologies that are pushing back against toxic industry seems crucial. In
commercial rice fields (an infrastructure akin to concrete city sidewalks),
insects and viruses are pushing back and destroying harvests (akin to tree
roots breaking concrete). This is happening with many green revolution
crops like corn, soy, cotton... Even as we read about the mass death of
insects worldwide, we also need to know more about those that are really
having a party in the cheap dumps that we've created just in the past 50-60
years: brown planthoppers, boll weevils, sugarcane beetles, pine sawyer
beetles, stem borers, etc. These have a lot to do with declining farm
yields and greater reliance on technoscientific fixes. We can't keep up and
paying attention to these unrulies raises all sorts of ethical and
political questions.

If we consider the arguments of Anthropocene discourse, human industry
(incl war machines) has created an entirely new strata --it's unprecedented
and irreversible, and we've got to figure out how to live with
naturecultures, this "complex of resistances" that is evolving
relentlessly. So for me, considering naturecultures and the possibillities
of art/science is not only a matter of caring or saving or critique-ing
(whether in symbolic or material registers). Naturecultures are deeply and
violently political matters and increasingly so (as we've seen in recent


On Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 11:34 AM, Joline Blais <jblais at maine.edu> wrote:

> Thanks Margaretha, Jason & Elaine for this great set of opening
> topics/questions.
> In forming a response, I find myself reaching for a bowl of blueberries,
> and trying through think through my relations with these plants.  This is
> not metaphoric for me.  My neighbors and blueberry stewards,
> the Passamaquoddy are named for the Pollock which they (used to) eat.  They
> do not say “ We eat Pollock", they say "We are the People of the Pollock”
>  or "We are Pollock".  My work on the blueberry project has been largely
> volunteer so far, but the payment in blueberries sustains me. I suspect the
> farmers know of their magic when they offer them to me, and that I too will
> come under their spell. So I speak from an enchanted place, and under the
> spell of that enchantment.  And these forms of enchantment are
> just barely strong enough to sustain the mourning I also feel when I
> consider the risks facing this “ Oikeios”
> In  Seven Cheap Things Jason clarifies:
> Oikeios names the creative and multilayered pulse of life making through
> which all human activity flows, shaped at every turn by natures that
> consistently elude human efforts at control. It is through the oikeios that
> particular forms of life emerge, that species make environments and
> environments make species.
> So the Blueberry oikeios begins with glacial deposits and glacially
> formed “barrens” that sustain very few plants with the exception of white
> pine, wild low bush blueberries, and weeds.  During the past 10,000 years
> these barrens have existed in co-productive relationships with Wabanaki
> peoples like the Passamaquoddy who tended, harvested, and burned the
> barrens.  Burning (also practiced by Plains Indians to maintain both
> prairie & bison) rejuvenated the berries, and kept weeds in check (without
> destroying them completely). They also used blueberries to preserve meat,
> and as a medicine. This nutrition/medicine gave rise to the
> annual pilgrimages that brought whole families to the barrens to rake,
> reunite, celebrate and party! So ceremony and ritual, community building
> and fun were also part of this oikeios.  So was death.  In more recent
> times, and with the addition of both mechanized harvest and migrant labor,
> these parties have resulted in drunken fights and occasional deaths. This
> discovery reminded me that this culture was not utopian, just a
> biologically,  socially and ecomonically productive oikeios. And more
> important, a very old oikeios that might be sustained for another 10,000
> years.  Local reporter Ruth Leubecker, who was recently interviewed by one
> of my students said that blueberry farms had been in her family for 7
> generations.  She represent a more recent oikeios,  one in which european
> settlers, having pushed the former residents onto reservations took over
> the barrens and tried to keep them productive.  Through the Maine Land
> Claims Settlement in 1980 and the resulting reacquisition of lands, some of
> these former blueberry barrens returned to the Passamaquoddy.
> In the past generation some of these family farms grew bigger and were
> acquired by corporations who saw the potential for profit. Enter capital,
> and multinational food corporations.
> Currently, with favorable government subsidies, and climate
> change dramatically increasing Canadian production of low bush berries, and
> with the cultivation of monocropped, engineered, and single species high
> bush blueberries,  we’ve seen two years or market collapse for local
> wild blueberries. Farmers have left berries on the fields to rot, because
> they can’t sell them. About half of the field are in the hands of
> multinationals, and the other half in family farms and Passamaquoddy.
> This economic crisis may shift that balance, and the small family farms
> here will go the way that the Maine potato industry went, and the way that
> so many local, family-based enterprises have gone.  In comes
> mechanization, mono cropping, and the possible end of the million-clone
> wild blueberry.  Once the single most marketable clone is found, the others
> will likely go the way potato varieties and apple varieties have gone.
> Having spent nearly a decade creating a more resilient community
> ecovillage,  I begin to understand the invisible labor required to “make
> life” that is resilient, biodiverse, regenerative, and also the terrible
> loss when that “making life” is in jeopardy by a “making more money than
> life” formula.
> Our current solution is to create a disruption, and resistance in the form
> of an online and physical museum that would tell the story of these wild
> plants and the people who tend them.  The word "wild” here is both
> descriptive and strategic.  UMaine researchers, funded by a blueberry tax
> paid by local farmers, engineered the highbush plants that are outcompeting
> their local low bush varieties.  The high bush plants are mono-species,
> planted by humans, and cultivated like most ag crops.  The wild low bush
> are not planted—they spread slowly and rhizomatically, and can also follow
> a burning of later succession plants, including trees.  Local organic
> growers spurn the word “cultivate” and instead use “tend”.  The most
> significant inputs are small amounts of fertilizer, and imported bees for
> pollination. Irrigation spoils the flavor. One pass, low volume pesticides
> may occasionally be used.  It is not too difficult to turn many fields into
> organic ones. And this is one possible direction that might shift the power
> balance.  In addition, local producers are trying to educate consumers
> about the difference in health benefits, community culture, and
> local economies that “wild” Maine blueberries make.  “Take the Wild Pledge
> <http://www.wildblueberryland.com>” is a local campaign by one of my
> community partners.
> Elaine & Jason, I wonder of the stories of sugar and rice can guide us in
> our current work?  If there are lessons we need to know? Tragedies we might
> avoid?  What kinds of art making might disrupt this flow of capital into
> our backyards? What kinds of academic research or teaching might create
> solidarity with our food/culture producers?
> Joline
> On Oct 24, 2017, at 8:08 PM, Jason W. Moore <jasonwsmoore at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Dear Elaine!
> What a wonderful set of questions. Let me try to give a short response to
> just one of these great questions.
> The question of temporality is of course central to our times. I think
> some of the confusion over Anthropocene/Capitalocene turns on geological
> and geohistorical time: both of which are multilayered with each other, and
> as they interpenetrate each other. There are a vexing set of dimensions to
> these historical-geographical relations, and disciplinary structures tend
> to reinforce the problem.
> In critical agrarian studies, the tension between the "production time" of
> a specific primary product -- timber, wheat, cotton, etc. -- and the "labor
> time" of the humans involved has been a recurrent question. Of course for
> capitalism as a whole, there's a profound antagonism between the
> reproduction time of capital and the reproduction time of other forms of
> life, especially but not only that which capital prizes: labor-power. In
> the history of sugar, we are dealing -- as ever -- with layers within
> layers. It's easy to lapse into agronomic determinism with something like
> sugar, whose ecology mandates some form of the "factory in the field":
> sugarcane, once cut, dessicates quickly and must be processed with 48
> hours. It's not the only crop with this kind time-sensitive dynamic at the
> point of cultivation. But because the modern world's dynamics of race,
> colonialism, and commodity agriculture find their epicenter in the
> slave/sugar plantation, it's an expressive world-ecological weave of power,
> and capital, and nature in a way that tells us much about how our world
> came to be. Of course, in the modern world, neither the "time of nature"
> nor the "time of capital" are static; they interpenetrate each other: if
> capital's fantasy is to act as it pleases in disciplining and controlling
> natures of every kind (humans included), that fantasy, that project, is
> consistently upended, upset, and challenged by all manner of unruly
> natures. With sugar, as with all plantation crops, there is always a
> complex of resistances: weeds, rats, soils, and of course the humans who
> work the fields. Some of these resistances have been more spectacular --
> e.g. the Haitian Revolution -- than others. It's the question of power that
> produces and is produced by the temporalities of "life" and "capital"
> (which is but a heuristic and provisional simplification). Where a certain
> world-historical sensibility is useful is in the ways that such resistances
> have been "fixed" albeit temporarily: largely through great waves of
> imperialism, geographical expansion, and the restructuring of
> agro-ecological spaces on an increasingly planetary scale. But even here
> there's no escape, as one notes the upsurge in resistances to neoliberal
> agriculture in recent decades, underscored by the progressive stagnation of
> agricultural productivity in the heartlands of capitalist agriculture over
> the past three decades -- here is a possibly epochal failure of
> capitalism's agricultural model, shaped by a logic of time and space that
> pursues a utopian goal: the endless increase in the biological productivity
> of life and the endless decrease in the human work necessary to achieve
> such increases.
> A few thoughts to close out the evening.
> Warm regards to all, Jason
> On Tue, Oct 24, 2017 at 4:26 PM, Elaine Gan <eganuc at gmail.com> wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> Thanks so much, Margaretha, for bringing discussions together! It's been
>> exciting to hear so many commitments, approaches to radical aesthetics and
>> multispecies worldings. Very much looking forward to exploring
>> "Capitalocene Times" with Joline and Jason, and hope many will feel free to
>> chime in.
>> Much of my own work in the past few years has focused on rice. To take
>> "it" seriously involves recognizing that "it" is always and already
>> multiple: grass, food crop, code, companion species, currency, hope,
>> crisis, dump. It's a more-than-human relation that materializes through
>> contingent encounters. To describe rice, I needed to really start thinking
>> about temporalities --not only timescales of long and short,
>> geos-bios-anthropos, speeds of fast and slow. But temporalities that are
>> made in relation. Following postwar miracle rice, for example, involved
>> thinking about differences in acceleration and reproduction cycles.
>> Following deepwater rice in the Mekong involved thinking about synchrony
>> and asynchrony. And the relationalities include vegetal, animal, fungal,
>> chemical, etc. Lots of natureculture times.
>> I wonder if I might throw a couple of questions into our hat:
>> first, if I can interest Jason and Joline: how might you describe the
>> temporalities of wild blueberries, and sugar or sugar cane plantations?
>> What is the temporality of "cheap" and how does it interact with the
>> temporality of "wild", "feral", or the lifemaking pulse of "oikeios"?
>> and, a more open question: how might we map or visualize the Capitalocene
>> (or Anthropocene, Plantationcene, Chthulucene, etc)  as it unfolds
>> across speeds and scales? I'd love to hear what the empyre group is finding
>> intriguing lately --or historically. For a few years, my friend Michelle
>> Bastian <http://www.michellebastian.net/> and I have been in
>> conversation about more-than-human social times. She is currently on leave
>> but has kindly agreed to share this fun piece she wrote (attached) about
>> imagining other possible futures through clocks. I also have been
>> working with amazing collaborators, Sarah Lookofsky and Steve Lam. We
>> co-curated an exhibition entitled "DUMP! Multispecies Making and Unmaking
>> <http://elainegan.com/dump.html>" (2015) to engage an array of creative
>> and critical practices that think across the nature-culture divide. And we
>> are always negotiating what is the "work of art" and how/what/for whom it
>> mobilizes worlds otherwise.
>> Best,
>> Elaine
>> On Mon, Oct 23, 2017 at 8:36 PM, margaretha haughwout <
>> margaretha.anne.haughwout at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>>> Dear -empyre-,
>>> One of the many themes of this week was the nature of our solidarity
>>> with the more-than-human. How do we understand the nature of our
>>> relationships, in revolution, in celebration, grief, and excess? Do we
>>> configure weeds as guides, Immortal Strangers as revenge tutors (as Cassie
>>> and Max's University of the Phoenix does), as re-enchanters who are and
>>> have always been -- "us"?
>>> At Johannes' prompting, we continued to extend our understandings of
>>> cross-species media between and through; Ellie and Chris discuss conceptual
>>> art strategies that create new framing devices, and new ways of knowing and
>>> being with our weedy relatives. Adam urges us to consider that our
>>> inter-species "knowing" is a facet of all of life, and argues that we all,
>>> already know, because we are already not human, and more-than-human.
>>> A heartfelt thank you to this week's discussants (and their
>>> microbiomes): Ellie Irons & Christopher Kennedy of the Environmental
>>> Performance Agency, Max Haiven & Cassie Thornton of The University of the
>>> Phoenix, and to Adam Zaretsky.
>>> These threads are alive! Not structured by abstracted moon cycles!
>>> Please continue to post to them.
>>> --
>>> Speaking of re-enchantment, of enlivened relational environments, and
>>> temporality.... Joline Blais, Elaine Gan, Jason W. Moore are Week Four's
>>> discussants, under the title "Capitalocene Times: from Entangled
>>> Plants-People to Cheap Food-Sick Consumers" -- and I for one (?) am totally
>>> enchanted and enlivened by their presence here.
>>> Interestingly, each of our discussants this week have done considerable
>>> work on specific crops: Joline on blueberries -- the stories, and the
>>> matrix of relationships blueberries enable in Northern Maine, Elaine on
>>> rice varietals as technology and "time machine," Jason on the relationship
>>> between sugar and early capitalism. So we can begin by asking whether
>>> specific crop commodities such as sugar, rice, and blueberries teach us
>>> alternate ways of mapping global (sugar), regional (rice), local
>>> (blueberries) economies? And what kinds of temporalities and historical
>>> materialisms are enacted or destroyed by the cultivation of particular
>>> crops (in fact, can we reconcile historical materialism and speculative
>>> futures?). We might also look broadly through these crops and others at how
>>> processes of appropriation and exploitation function together to render
>>> Jason's articulations of Cheap Natures.
>>> There are so many threads we can pull in to this final weave. One is
>>> where we began, a question of systems and entanglements. In Week One we
>>> asked how systems inform a radical aesthetics of multispecies worlding, and
>>> where and how entanglements challenge systems thinking. I'd also like to
>>> connect this question to some of the conversations about interspecies
>>> relationality that came up in Week Three, and (again) ask Jason to outline
>>> his term oikeios; is this concept useful for us here, and can it help us
>>> out of some of the binaries that are so easy to become ensnared in? If so,
>>> what kind of oikeios do we want to create? How can the oikeios help us
>>> understand how to form "revolutionary ecologies of work"?
>>> With warmth and gratitude,
>>> -M
>>> --
>>> Joline Blais
>>> Joline Blais, Associate Professor of New Media at UMaine, is a mother,
>>> educator, writer, permaculture practitioner, ecovillage founding partner,
>>> competitive rower, avid hiker, and alpine ski coach.  She co-directs Still
>>> Water, and co-founded LongGreenHouse, a “communiversity” project
>>> integrating the Wassokeag K-8 school, UMaine classes, permaculture
>>> practices, and Wabanaki Longhouse traditions. Her subsequent work at the
>>> Belfast Ecovillage spanned 8 years and involved permaculture design, art
>>> projects and workshops, land use governance, restorative justice
>>> facilitation, dynamic governance, non-violent communication and transition
>>> town training, and initial development of food forest orchards, as well as
>>> design, construction and research of a net-zero, solar energy "passive
>>> haus."
>>> Her 2006 book At the Edge of Art investigates how new media art puts the
>>> power of networks and distributed creativity into the hands of ordinary
>>> citizens in a variety of non-art contexts. Her other publications and
>>> creative work explore the overlap of digital culture, indigenous culture
>>> and permaculture.  Currently she is working on Wild Difference, a project
>>> to prevent the extinction of Wild Maine blueberries and the local culture
>>> that support them via a lead grant for the development of a physical Wild
>>> Blueberry Museum, and a pending NEH grant to develop the companion online
>>> virtual museum. Her time in the forests, and on and in the water (liquid or
>>> frozen) help maintain her own wild connection to her homeland.
>>> Elaine Gan
>>> Elaine Gan is Mellon Digital Humanities fellow at University of Southern
>>> California and art director of Aarhus University Research on the
>>> Anthropocene (AURA). Raised in the big old cities of Manila and New York,
>>> Gan is an artist and interdisciplinary scholar who studies how human-plant
>>> interactions situate geopolitical histories. Recent projects include
>>> co-editing an anthology, Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and
>>> Monsters of the Anthropocene (Minnesota 2017) and co curating an artscience
>>> exhibition, DUMP! Multispecies Making and Unmaking (Kunsthal Aarhus 2015).
>>> http://elainegan.com
>>> Jason W. Moore
>>> Jason W. Moore is an environmental historian and historical geographer
>>> at Binghamton University, where he is associate professor of sociology. He
>>> is author or editor, most recently, of Capitalism in the Web of Life
>>> (Verso, 2015), Capitalocene o Antropocene? (Ombre Corte, 2017),
>>> Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism
>>> (PM Press, 2016), and, with Raj Patel, A History of the World in Seven
>>> Cheap Things (University of California Press, 2017). His books and essays
>>> on environmental history, capitalism, and social theory have been widely
>>> recognized, including the Alice Hamilton Prize of the American Society for
>>> Environmental History (2003), the Distinguished Scholarship Award of the
>>> Section on the Political Economy of the World-System (American Sociological
>>> Association, 2002 for articles, and 2015 for Web of Life), and the Byres
>>> and Bernstein Prize in Agrarian Change (2011). He is chair (2017-18) of the
>>> Political Economy of the World-System Section (ASA), and coordinates the
>>> World-Ecology Research Network.
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> empyre forum
>>> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
>>> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
>> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
> --
> Jason W. Moore, Associate Professor
> Department of Sociology, Binghamton University
> Recent books, *Capitalism in the Web of Life *
> http://www.versobooks.com/books/1924-capitalism-in-the-web-of-life
> *Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of
> Capitalism*
> https://secure.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=779
> Many of my essays are posted on my website:http://jasonwmoore.com
> Recent short essays can be found here: http://jasonwmoore.wordpress.com/
> For more on the world-ecology conversation, join us on academia.edu:
> https://www.academia.edu/Documents/in/World-Ecology
> And also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/worldecology/
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu
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