Brian Holmes on Wed, 8 Dec 2021 20:43:28 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> The Dawn of Everything (very short review)

I agree that now, any significant work has to deal with humanity's relations to the environment. And as somebody who looks to art, cosmology and science as the triple way to deal, Chris Godsen's book on the history of magic sounds intriguing (see MP's post). But as far as I've gotten with David and David, they are definitely addressing the climate collapse, because they are focused on dissolving the relations of domination  that cause it: ultimately, the coercive power of the military-industrial state. I find it impressive how they mobilize the disciplinary apparatus of anthropological scholarship to do this. Like Deleuze and Guattari, they use the cutting edges of recent research to make a civilizational proposal.

I'm about two thirds through the book and not sure whether this goes anywhere further, but for me, the most salient idea in there is borrowed from Gregory Bateson, and it's called schismogenesis. They use this concept quite brilliantly to describe the divergent cultural evolution of the Yurok Indians (contemporary California) and the Kwakiutl and other tribes practicing potlatch (Pacific Northwest). The question is, why did the Yurok subsist on acorns (a very labor-intensive food) and not fish, like their northern neighbors? The claim is that the Yurock deliberately developed their culture in differentiation from the potlatch pattern, which depended on slave labor for the processing of salmon and continually manifested what appeared to European eyes as traits of artistocratic violence. Notice I said, not that Yurok culture developed through some abstract universal process of schismogenesis, but instead that the Yurok *deliberately* developed it in this way. The central claim of D&D is that history is made through such active processes of cultural change. That's the dawn of everything.

For an American, the relevance to the present is obvious. We are moving toward a situation of dual power in this country. Should the Democrats lose as badly as it now looks that they might (let me add, it's not a certainty) then we will be forced to experience something really new. This will not exactly be a "fascist takeover" because the Republicans are largely absent from major US cities. In fact they are resisted at all levels in the big metropoli (streets to city halls) and their representatives are basically unwelcome here. So yes, they will gain tremendous power - including the power to strut around with guns, threaten, and kill, plus clear cut, strip mine, make war, etc - but in our territories, they will only be able to exercise that power around the edges. As for us (the not-right), if we cannot hope to tame the worst half of our country and construct some new centrist hegemony, if we cannot go on imagining that military-industrial democracy can be reformed by our liberal city - a city of justice, a shining city on the hill - then we, the urbanites, will finally have to decide what to become. We'll have to collectively decide what it is, how to practice it inclusively, and how to defend it against near neighbors. We will have to create a new culture in differentiation from these goons.

I cannot wish for such an outcome. It's an incredibly violent and dangerous path, including the major unconscious blindspots, frank stupidity and massive incompetence of the contemporary right, with devastating ecological damage hanging in the balance. Yet the really weird and threatening situation of dual power that we are already experiencing does offer a new possibility, with consequences that are already becoming visible. It's the possibility of finally changing. The possibility of definitively cutting ties with the colonial/extractivist pattern. The possibility of developing a new art, a new science, a new cosmology - not as the apotheosis of some universal and predetermined process, but instead, as the last wager of smart and desperate people who have finally lost twentieth-century "modernity" to its true inheritors, the fascists with the AR 15s.

I am certain we can't beat them on their terrain. The challenging thing is not learning how to shoot, nor imagining a world without guns (as liberals fondly do). The challenging thing is to face the schism at the heart of our own unsustainable existence. This is a constructive call, for thinkers, makers and doers, not only on the fringes but also at the heart of the old liberal paradigm. It's time to call on new powers, and to try something generative.


On Wed, Dec 8, 2021 at 11:33 AM mp <> wrote:

Thanks for this...

On 06/12/2021 11:28, Felix Stalder wrote:
> While the book is great, it has a glaring hole in it. What is almost
> entirely missing is the discussion of how this "carnival parade" of
> social forms structured the relation to the environment, or, more
> generally, how they were embedded in, and impacted on, the metabolic
> system. While for much of the historical period they cover, this might
> not have been too much of a concern, it is clearly one for us now and if
> we are to remake our social relations, then this will be a key dimension
> to transform. But it would probably be too much to ask from one single
> book, already long enough, to cover everything, even with this title.

...I am still reading, between other projects, but after the
introduction and going through the index, I could sense it was probably
going to remain absent. I grabbed hold of a .pdf to do a search for
terms like "extractivism", "plough" and so on that relate to the
emerging ideas in regenerative agroecology and beyond, and which would
constitute the needed links with social metabolism etc. But no. Nothing.

That seems like a fundamental mistake with that title and given current

If one wanted to be annoyingly critical, one could say that they've
picked bits and pieces from the archaeological records and applied their
pre-existing political analysis and vision to those records, but there's
no need for that. It's a very useful collection of references, concepts,
and ideas yet to be combined with other contemporary ideas to paint the
picture needed to move towards a more-than-sustainable, gross-negative

You might enjoy the work of Chris Gosden, Oxford archaeologist, who has
been setting out a new dawn for quite some time already. His latest book
moves a little more in the direction that Graeber/Wengrow did not manage
to go. Introducing a conceptual framework he calls 'the triple helix' -
consisting of magic, religion and science - the title is potentially
misleading and understated. I consider it a major contribution to the
history of ideas.

It's titled 'The History of Magic: From Alchemy to Witchcraft, from the
Ice Age to the Present' (2020) and he sets out to bring together the
triple helix in a vision that incorporates elements of the inter-species
interconnectedness that advances in ecology are currently spawning, as
well as quantum physics, and more, with an environmentalist tenor, to
pave the way for what I dream to think of as a 'magical turn' in the
road towards an age of synthesis.

The book ends thus:

"...We will continue to use science to understand and change the world.
But magic has an older sibling’s capacity to calm the energies of
science and its technologies, allowing us to think about the ends to
which scientific discoveries can be put. Religion encourages a sense of
wonder at powers beyond the human; magic helps us to explore our shared
substance and commitments to the rest of the world; and science provides
distance and techniques for manipulating the physical aspects of the
universe. Magic, religion and science all reach inside us to designate
various human capabilities: our empathetic qualities through magic; our
feeling of wonder at the scale and beauty of the cosmos through
religion; and our technical skills and abilities through science. All
elements of the triple helix of magic, religion and science are
necessary, as they help us to reach out to the universe, exploring and
connecting with it in various ways. No one strand is inherently more
important than the other two, and magic is certainly not the least of
the three. Magic offers the possibility of a communal life – a life
lived together with all the cosmos. Although such a change in relations
is difficult, the stakes are high; a truly open community is hard to
obtain or sustain, but the need to cool the planet and live in a greater
state of equality is urgent. Failure invites catastrophe for the fragile
networks of life on Earth, threatening the many strands of sentience.
Magic allows for a sense of kinship with all things, living or not. And
with kinship comes responsibility, the same sort of responsibility we
feel towards our family and friends. Whereas science asks, ‘Can we do
that?’, magic asks, ‘Should we?..".


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