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Prismatic Ecology

Prismatic Ecology: Ecotheory beyond Green

Jeffrey Jerome Cohen Editor
Foreword by Lawrence Buell
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 384
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    Prismatic Ecology
    Book Description:

    Emphasizing sustainability, balance, and the natural, green dominates our thinking about ecology like no other color. What about the catastrophic, the disruptive, the inaccessible, and the excessive? What of the ocean's turbulence, the fecundity of excrement, the solitude of an iceberg, multihued contaminations?Prismatic Ecologymoves beyond the accustomed green readings of ecotheory and maps a colorful world of ecological possibility.

    In a series of linked essays that span place, time, and discipline, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen brings together writers who illustrate the vibrant worlds formed by colors. Organized by the structure of a prism, each chapter explores the coming into existence of nonanthropocentric ecologies. "Red" engages sites of animal violence, apocalyptic emergence, and activism; "Maroon" follows the aurora borealis to the far North and beholds in its shimmering alternative modes of world composition; "Chartreuse" is a meditation on postsustainability and possibility within sublime excess; "Grey" is the color of the undead; "Ultraviolet" is a potentially lethal force that opens vistas beyond humanly known nature.

    Featuring established and emerging scholars from varying disciplines, this volume presents a collaborative imagining of what a more-than-green ecology offers. While highlighting critical approaches not yet common within ecotheory, the contributions remain diverse and cover a range of topics including materiality, the inhuman, and the agency of objects. By way of color, Cohen guides readers through a reflection of an essentially complex and disordered universe and demonstrates the spectrum as an unfinishable totality, always in excess of what a human perceives.

    Contributors: Stacy Alaimo, U of Texas at Arlington; Levi R. Bryant, Collin College; Lowell Duckert, West Virginia U; Graham Harman, American U in Cairo; Bernd Herzogenrath, Goethe U of Frankfurt; Serenella Iovino, U of Turin, Italy; Eileen Joy; Robert McRuer, George Washington U; Tobias Menely, Miami U; Steve Mentz, St. John's U, New York City; Timothy Morton, Rice U; Vin Nardizzi, U of British Columbia; Serpil Opperman, Hacettepe U, Ankara; Margaret Ronda, Rutgers U; Will Stockton, Clemson U; Allan Stoekl, Penn State U; Ben Woodard; Julian Yates, U of Delaware.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4000-7
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)

    Just as you were perhaps starting to wonder if significant further break-throughs might still be possible after two decades of rapid ecocritical advance from Anglo-American cottage industry to worldwide movement, along comes this new book whose collective accomplishment any author would envy: to develop an insight of the most elementary yet far-reaching importance that had previously been hidden in plain sight, the speciousness of reducing “ecology” or “ecocriticism” to “green.”

    No doubt I was especially susceptible to conversion from having just returned from the white world of prewinter Svalbard in the Norwegian far far north to encounter the Arctic imaginary...

    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Ecology’s Rainbow
    (pp. xv-xxxvi)

    An artist has painted an artist preparing to paint.¹ He sits at his desk, blankness of a white page attending. A world awaits composition—but not ex nihilo. The artist is surrounded by floating bowls of color, each evocative of materialities to come: two shades of yellow (one for hair, one for furniture); a brown and verdant mélange for backgrounds and shadows; forest green and orange mixed with crimson for vegetal flourishes; blue-tinged violet, a shade for stockings and intricate manuscript borders; a lush red for robes and the outline of a historiated capital. The rainbow of oversized paint vessels...

  6. White
    (pp. 1-21)

    What is a white ecology? What does it look like, what does it contain? What is covered, what is left out? In a way, is not a white ecology—at least in the political, racial sense— what has been there, always, what is silently (or not so silently) practiced as the default mode of ecology? Is not green the new white, in such a way that ecology as we know it is firmly set and rooted in the Western Christian—white—tradition of Metaphysics?

    On the other hand, a white ecology could also mean an ecology that encompasses many different...

  7. Red
    (pp. 22-41)

    During its years of operation, the Cavel West slaughterhouse in Redmond, Oregon, killed up to five hundred horses a week and shipped the meat to European and Japanese markets. Cavel West was owned by a Belgian company, Velda Group, which ran several horse-slaughtering facilities in the United States and Canada. Its manager, Pascal Derde, described the speed and transnational scope of the plant’s slaughtering operation this way: “Killed on Friday, processed Monday, Thursday we load the truck, and then it’s flown to Europe. Monday it’s sold in Belgium, Tuesday eaten, Wednesday it’s back in the soil.”¹ Derde’s description of an...

  8. Maroon
    (pp. 42-62)

    From Aurora, the Roman goddess of the dawn, comes aurora borealis and aurora australis, winds of the north and south that speak of beginnings. I have never felt more attracted to a subject I have never seen. From a scientific standpoint, my desire makes sense: auroras are places where light and magnetism meet. Their colors are restless waves of charged particles; every flare catches something else and flickers anew. In a word, these are luminous storms thatbeacon. “Beacon” comes from the Old Englishbéacn:a “sign” or “portent,” a fire set on high to serve as a warning, signal,...

  9. Pink
    (pp. 63-82)

    In early 2012 a number of journalists and bloggers reported, with varying levels of jocularity, that pink no longer existed. The spectrum of color that appears in the sky when the sun shines onto moisture exists, but pink (these stories suggested) does not, since it could be produced only through a combination of red and violet, which are on opposite sides of the rainbow.¹ Since the natural commingling of red and violet light is a theoretical impossibility, pink in a certain sense is about as real as the famous pink elephants Dumbo sees after he accidentally imbibes absinthe. Of course,...

  10. Orange
    (pp. 83-105)

    Waxing lyrical on the figure of the rainbow, bringing us back from the brink of an abstracting adulthood to a childhood in which color manifests as substance, Walter Benjamin posits something on the order of a prismatic materialism in these lines. Color morphs and moves. Insector angel-like, it “flits from one form to the next,” rendering each lively if not alive. This undifferentiated relation to color as substance radicalizes perception. It ties color to the objects that play host to it such that the visual becomes tactile. Color becomes transitive or transactional. Color happens. It happens to you, through you....

  11. Gold
    (pp. 106-123)

    In the late 1990s I coined the phrase “object-oriented philosophy.”¹ By the time of this writing (May 2012), the term had gained widespread international usage.² The two basic principles of my object-oriented approach are as follows: (1) objects have genuine reality at many different scales, not just the smallest, and (2) objects withdraw from all types of relation, whether those of human knowledge or of inanimate causal impact. In short, objects exist at many different levels of complexity, and they are always a hidden surplus deeper than any of the relations into which they might enter. The rest of object-oriented...

  12. Chartreuse
    (pp. 124-146)

    The Carthusian monks are an ancient and venerable order, founded by St. Bruno in 1084, at what is still today their main abbey, the Grande Chartreuse in the Chartreuse Mountains, Jura, France—just to the north of Voiron. The site was chosen for its (at the time) profound isolation: it was known as the “desert of the mountains” because of its utter remoteness.¹ Indeed the order, as conceived by St. Bruno, was meant to accomplish what might seem impossible: to fuse hermetic life with the communal life of an established and official monastic discipline. The sanctity and rigor of the...

  13. Greener
    (pp. 147-169)

    The linguistic stem of my title is now a vital “keyword on the order of ‘gender,’ ‘sexuality,’ ‘nation,’ ‘race,’ and ‘ethnicity’—words that dominated looking, listening, reading, and critical thinking during the last third of the twentieth century.”¹ Green has reached this status in the twenty-first century because it is a “totemic color for popular environmentalism as well as for ecocritical inquiry,”² and it remains the recognizable hue of nature’s beauty.³ To wit, I teach students excerpts fromThe Green Studies Reader: From Romanticism to Ecocriticism(2000) andGreen Shakespeare(2006); I could readjust my daily habits with the help...

  14. Beige
    (pp. 170-192)

    Beige is the average color. If all the light in the universe, from all its known galaxy systems, were mixed together, what results would look like a latte.¹ The universe used to be bluer, but stars turn red as they age. As the age of star production moves toward its end, which is also perhaps a new beginning for the matter utilized in that production, the universe fills with the detritus of exploded stars, the waste of the former systems of the world.

    Prompted by this astrophysical fact, but hardly limited to astrophysics or to astronomical systems, a beige ecocriticism...

  15. Brown
    (pp. 193-212)

    Smelly, rancid, and impure, it is no one’s favorite color. We need brown but do not like looking at it. It is a color you cannot cover up, that will not go away. At the end of a long afternoon finger-painting with the kids, it is what is left, sprawling across the page. A color you cannot see through, brown captures a connecting opacity at the heart of ecological thinking. It comes at us from both sides of our world, the living and the dead. Brown marks the fertile soil that plants consume and the fecal waste that animals reject....

  16. Blue
    (pp. 213-232)

    This chapter is an attempt, and perhaps a failed one, to think about depression as a shared creative endeavor, as a transcorporeal blue (and blues) ecology¹ that would bind humans, nonhumans, and stormy weather together in what Tim Ingold has called a meshwork, where “beings do not propel themselves across a ready-made world but rather issue forth through a world-in-formation, along the lines of their relationships.”² In this enmeshment of the “strange strangers” of Timothy Morton’s dark ecology, “the only way out is down” and art’s “ambiguous, vague qualities will help us to think things that remain difficult to put...

  17. Violet-Black
    (pp. 233-251)

    A violet-black ecology hovers in the bathypelagic, abyssopelagic, and hadal zones, the three regions of the deep seas, one thousand meters down and much deeper, where sunlight cannot descend. The violet-black depths—cold, dark regions under the crushing weight of the water column—were long thought to be “azoic,” or devoid of life. It is not surprising that Edward Forbes’s azoic theory of the 1840s (preceded by that of Henry de la Beche a decade earlier) stood as the accepted doctrine for a quarter century, since it is difficult for terrestrial creatures to imagine what could possibly survive in the...

  18. Ultraviolet
    (pp. 252-269)

    Nature is often taken to be a visible entity or set of easily identifiable entities: a forest populated with squirrels, deer, birds, worms, small plants. The very title of this collection testifies to the purported visibility of nature and the connection of that visibility to ecology and subsequently to ecological politics. This is not an original or spectacular thought: we think of nature and of the nature we wish to (or are told to) protect as this or that plant, this or that animal, this or that landscape. This thinking of the visible runs into trouble as soon as we...

  19. Grey
    (pp. 270-289)

    Grey is the fate of color at twilight. As the sun’s radiance dwindles, objects receive less light to scatter and absorb. They yield to the world a diminishing energy, so that the vibrancy of orange, indigo, and red dull to dusky hues. A grey ecology might therefore seem a moribund realm, an expanse of slow loss, wanness, and withdrawal, a graveyard space of mourning. Perhaps with such muted steps the apocalypse arrives, not with a bang but a dimming. Or maybe ashen grey is all that remains after the fires of the world’s end have extinguished themselves, when nothing remains...

  20. Black
    (pp. 290-310)

    Like the story of Adam and Eve where hominids once lived in paradise and were then exiled for disobeying God’s commandment not to eat from the tree of knowledge, the story of contemporary green ecology either seems to be that once there was an idyllic and harmonious nature that was then destroyed through the advent of humans, or that once nature and hominids lived in harmony only to have this harmony destroyed by the advent of modern science, technology, and capitalist economy. The story runs that something has upset the balance of nature and that we must return to equilibrium....

  21. X-Ray
    (pp. 311-327)

    Going “beyond green” means going beyond nature, which is only an anthropocentric construct, even and especially to the extent that it appears to lie entirely outside the human domain. Nature is the reduction of nonhuman beings to their aesthetic appearance for humans. What is required, contrary to mainstream environmentalism—a term that is curiously close tosexismandracism—is ecology without nature. What exists according to this view? What exists are strange, uncanny beings, some of whom are alive, some of whom are not, and all of whom are uneasily difficult to specify as living, dead, inorganic, organic, undead....

  22. ONWARD. After Green Ecologies: Prismatic Visions
    (pp. 328-336)

    Take a dog, for example. A black-white-and-brown furry little dog. On a shining blue summer day, you take her to a bright green spot and throw her a brand-new yellow tennis ball to retrieve. Over and over again, she will catch the ball and run back to you, her chestnut-haired and purple-and-orange-dressed interspecies playmate. Kneeling down in the terracotta porch, you will give her a nice brown biscuit as a reward, as bees buzz around the yellow Scotch broom bush, just over there, past that crimson bougainvillea. While you—human, dog, and bees—do these things, light is painting in...

    (pp. 337-340)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 341-349)