Reading Wilderness [August, 2014]

In 2012 artist and researcher Erik Sjödin hosted a session in a reading circle organised by B-open in Bergen, Norway. With the increasing popularity of “Speculative Realism”, “Object-oriented Ontology”, and “Posthumanism” in mind the participants read and discussed the texts Wilderness Ontology by Levy Bryant and The Trouble With Wilderness by William Cronon.

Speculative realism and object oriented ontology are terms for a variety of rather heterogenic philsophical endeavours. Speculative Realism is often summed upp as attempts to break with “correlationism”, the notion that there isn’t possible to access an objective reality, but that everything is subjective.

Object-oriented Ontology, is an attempt to figure out how entities (i.e. something that exists as a subject or as an object, physically or not.) are ordered, with emphasis on not privileging human existence over the existence of nonhuman objects.

Posthumanism, finally, emphasises the roles of nonhumans such as other animals, plants, and other beings, but also things and concepts.

In doing this speculative realism, object-oriented ontology and posthumanist theory challenges dichotomies and hierarchies that tend to be present in the generally human centered contemporary thought.

Excerpts:

“What wilderness ontology invites us to think is this dizzying array of observing systems or autonomous substances, where no one substance–whether it be God, humans, or cultures–can successfully occupy the position of sovereign mastering all the rest, and to think the entanglements or structural couplings, the intrigues, and aleatory dramas that arise between these entities. Wilderness ontology invites us to become second-order observers, becoming cognizant of both how we observe or construct our referents or openness to the world, but also to begin observing how other entities do this as well. As such, it invites us to become posthuman.”

Wilderness Ontology by Levy Bryant

“The more one knows of its peculiar history, the more one realizes that
wilderness is not quite what it seems. Far from being the one place on earth that
stands apart from humanity, it is quite profoundly a human creation—indeed, the
creation of very particular human cultures at very particular moments in human
history. It is not a pristine sanctuary where the last remnant of an untouched,
endangered, but still transcendent nature can for at least a little while longer be
encountered without the contaminating taint of civilization. Instead, it’s a product of that civilization, and could hardly be contaminated by the very stuff of which it is made. Wilderness hides its unnaturalness behind a mask that is all the more beguiling because it seems so natural. As we gaze into the mirror it holds up for us, we too easily imagine that what we behold is Nature when in fact we see the reflection of our own unexamined longings and desires. For this reason, we mistake ourselves when we suppose that wilderness can be the solution to our culture’s problematic relationships with the nonhuman world, for wilderness is itself no small part of the problem.”

The Trouble With Wilderness by William Cronon.