The Arts of Living in a More-than-Human World

The Arts of Living in a More-than-Human World

Co-authored with Jane Speedy and published by DIO Press in 2024.

Dav           See: https://www.diopress.com/the-arts-of-living

 

This book is an experiment in the arts of living-thinking-being-becoming. It draws on concepts from new materialist philosophy, bringing them to life with/in a series of creative-relational inquiries. Our conceptual analyses are intermingled with the arts, enhancing our capacity for sympathy with the more-than-human world, of which we are an integral part. We attend to the duration of life—of all life—the life of the world.

Our tale is informed by an ethics that dismantles the centuries-old assumption of human dominance and ascendance over the material world. It is, instead, an exploration of ourselves as emergent, and as embedded in the complex, interwoven materiality of the world, a world that is always in motion, and it pushes at the edges of our understanding, and of our capacity to communicate.

As co-authors we are entangled in each other’s lives, and as well, in the complex array of “more-than-human” lives that we encounter, lives that more often go unacknowledged or down-played in the social sciences and in philosophy. The task we have set ourselves here is to explore our response-ability in relation to each other, both as co-authors, and as living beings entangled in the more-than-human world, and to do so not only through words, but through the arts. When we named “the arts of living” in the title of this work we were referring both to the arts, (specifically to painting and photography and fiction and poetry) but also to daily life as an artform that might be lived differently as we come to understand our embeddedness in more-than-human life. Creative relationality, sympathy, the flow-in-between one and another, work toward dismantling assumptions of human ascendance and individual separation.

Our book necessarily strays off the familiar paths of writing about human life. We explore encounters among different life forms, honing our response-ability, our capacity to respond. We write our way through paint, through fiction, through walking, through encounters with more-than-human others—trees and birds and wood and guns and clouds and mountains and phones and iPads and dragons and water—the many others we encountered. And as we do so we mobilize new materialist concepts, bringing them to life through our conversations with each other.

Theoretically, and in practice, we are both entirely serious, and at the same time open to those playful disruptions that challenge tropes we have, in practice, taken for granted.

We seek a creative-relational ethics—an ethics, in Barad’s words, that “entails hospitality to the stranger threaded through oneself and through all being and non/being” (2015: 163). As co-authors, working creatively and artfully together, we expose our own vulnerability: “The sense of exposure to the other is crucial and so is the binding obligation that is our vulnerability, our openness” (Barad, 2015: 162).

The ethics that emerges in this collaborative work is not informed by the idea of our selves as individual agents, capable of bringing about the necessary changes in faulty systems that are separate from and external to ourselves. Rather, we enter this work of writing and artmaking together, as emergent beings, caught up in the “intra-active becoming of the world” (Barad, 2007: 394). “Writing, like poetry, permits collaboration: between writer and reader, writer and subject, language and perception” (Fry, 2022-2023: 89), and the arts “carve out space at the edges of things, to grant attention to what might otherwise go unseen, the simple fact of bearing witness” (Sprague, 2022-2023:70).

References

           Barad, K. 2007. Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

           Barad, K. 2015. On touching the inhuman that therefore I am (v1.1). In K. Stakemeier & S. Witzgall (Eds.) Power of Material/Politics of Materiality. Zurich SW: Diaphanes. 153-164.

           Fry, D. 2022-2023. Art. The Monthly. Issue 195. P. 89.

Sprague, Q. 2022-2023. The Monthly. Issue 195. Pp. 64-70.