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Remote Control 3 - Annotated Bibliographies
Jul 21, 2020

Jenny Kendler

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer 

Braiding Sweetgrass is among the most transformative books which I have read. It is a deep meditation on the multi-level interconnectedness of the human and non-human—and a meaningful foundation for Environmental Justice—rooting that work in respect for the natural world via an interweaving of contemporary ecology, biological science, indigenous teachings, plant knowledge and radical personal growth. The book contains a constellation of insights, including a proposal for new pronouns for non-humans (Kimmerer suggests “ki/kin” instead of the deeply problematic “it” or “he/him”), a summary of a field study which demonstrates that the eponymous sweet grass actually thrives best when harvested by humans, and teachings on “the grammar of animacy” which provide a stunning new understanding of ‘beingness’ through insight into Kimmerer’s journey to learn her people’s language. (If only English contained verbs like “to be a bay” and “to be a hill”—we might find it harder to despoil and pollute these places/beings.) These strands weave together an implicit critique of anti-life capitalism with a new path of conscientious nurturance and fealty to our plant teachers. For those who have become exhausted, feeling like all we humans are capable of is to “do less harm,” Kimmerer reminds us that there can, in fact, be mutual care and reciprocity which benefits us all, human and non-human alike.


This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein 

This Changes Everything is an essential read for understanding capitalism as the underlying cause of the climate crisis. As it lays out the deeply entangled forces which shape this anti-life economics, it also presents a guide for meeting this challenge—the greatest of human history. Building on her prior book The Shock Doctrine, Klein reminds us to look to the next crisis (heads up: this is it) as a Brechtian interruptor to the busy-ness of daily life in consumer culture, and seize this opportunity to dramatically turn our culture from one which values capital to one which values care. This book does not shy away from the hard realities of this task, but unlike so much other climate journalism, it contains well researched and well presented, believable, detailed solutions.  Klein’s clarity and precision of thought makes this an unmissable read for those interested in being part of the environmental justice movement and contributing to building this new world.  


Active Hope by Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone

As someone who wrote an essay titled “Against Hope” for the Brooklyn Rail, admonishing the sale of capital-H hope in journalism and climate writing as part of the problem which allowed good people to stand on the sidelines of this fight for out lives—this might seem like a peculiar recommendation. But Macy, one of the great thought leaders of our time—lays out a compelling path for just the sort of hope which I can believe in, which is just what we need in the environmental justice movement to keep the fierce green fires burning: a hope which does not allow us to passively await the changing of the world via mysterious forces, but instead implicates and fortifies us as actors in the creation of what we hope to will come to be.

 

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Jodie Cavalier

Adnan, Etel. “To Be in a Time of War.” Essay. In In the Heart of the Heart of Another Country, 99–116. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, 2005.

I knew Etel Adnan’s paintings before I read her work. They are quite different and yet so similar. This particular piece “To Be in a Time of War”, to me, is the closest to painting; layers and layers of being. It starts “To say nothing, do nothing, mark time, to bend, to straighten up, to blame oneself…” and before you know it you are completely in the room with her and the manic uncertainty of a world falling apart.

Pico, Tommy. Nature Poem. Portland, OR: Tin House Books, 2017.

What do you expect to hear come out of my mouth/ What does my voice sound like to you? You might assume I have something to say about being __________ or from _________. I’m attracted and captured by the ways Tommy Pico reveals intimacy and honesty through this long form poem. Pico expresses the pressure and cliches of writing about (capital N) nature from his queer, Indigenous (NDN), city dwelling perspective. The mundane becomes provocative and political down to its core.

Parker, Morgan. Magical Negro. London: Corsair, 2019.

I never knew how much I needed Morgan Parker's words in my life, in my head as I prepare every morning to live in America. Parker holds history with a fierce grip and creates images of these histories using contemporary metaphors which we cannot overlook. I walk around my apartment, city, etc. with her odes on Beyonce, Adrian Piper, Eartha Kitt, Gladys Knight etched in my mind.

 

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Lindsey french


Hope Against Hope: Writings on Ecological Crisis by the Out of the Woods Collective 

Hope Against Hope takes seriously the against in the title. The essays in this collection posit a form of hope in the midst of the ongoing past/present/future of ecological crises not as an undue optimism, but a hope rooted in collective struggle. While critiquing the underlying strategies of shock and fear that too easily turn climate change crises into preemptive anti-immigrant policies or misanthropic anti-populationism, this book also suggests, and enacts, strategies based in care and in recognition of our relationships with others. This collection of essays, written by a collective of multiple contributors, brings us into their own struggle of learning and relearning. Most of the essays in this book can be read on their blog, but in this collection, older essays are reconsidered after months or years of their original writing to reveal that, upon reflection, the writers have learned and reconsidered or refined earlier positions and understandings. This happens when we’re learning, and as a learner, I love knowing that reading, talking, and other forms of dialogue can allow us to understand things differently than we did before. This book invites its reader into the struggle of learning and making together, and does so in the recognition of the many writers and activists doing this work already – the book owes its richness to Kyle Powys Whyte, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, among others doing the work of collective remaking.


Exile and Pride: Disability, Queerness, and Liberation By Eli Clare

While written by a single author, this book is also a book about collectivity and coalition, and when I first read it two years ago, it quickly became a touchstone for thinking about the centrality of care in making futures. For Clare, personal stories about bodily relationships with landscapes center queerness and disability in his consideration of ecological projects. This book resonated with me particularly for its complex relationship to home – where home might be a sometimes violent setting where relationships must be negotiated, but also where relationships might include a depth of connection with the nonhuman landscape. And how else can we attend to an ecological project, without also negotiation the violences of what we call home? Clare’s book is about exile as much as it is about home, and deals with the complexities and generous possibilities in loss, alliance, and even pride – a pride which swirls among queerness and disability and class. Like Hope Against Hope, this text also invites the reader into the writer’s ongoing process of learning. Published originally in 1999, again in 2009 with preface by Clare, and republished again in 2015 with a forward by Aurora Levins Morales, Exile and Pride includes anecdotes and footnotes that tell the story of how he came to understand something differently, leaving the residue of learning for the reader to follow. Clare’s book highlights the necessity of collectivity in building a “deeply honest multi-issue politics that will make home possible.” 
 

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Mary Maggic

Jungle Laboratories: Mexican Peasants, National Projects, and the Making of the Pill by Gabriela Soto Laveaga

Jungle Laboratories is a comprehensive excavation into the role of barbasco, a wild Mexican yam, in the transformation of the global synthetic hormone industry and Mexico’s own national politics and institutional modes of knowledge production. During the 1940s, once barbasco was identified as a dominant biocommodity for the synthesis of corticosteroids and progesterone, hundreds of thousands of Mexican peasants were implicated in its harvesting and distribution - at least 10 tons of yams per week stretching across several decades. As a hormone researcher, Jungle Laboratories is an excellent case study into how science can never be disentangled from its social, political, and economic ramifications nor its extractivist ripple effects on the ecological and environmental.

Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters by Aph Ko and Syl Ko

In this diverse collection of essays, Aph and Syl Ko take Black Veganism as a theoretical framework for examining oppressions across race, gender, and nonhuman. How do we tackle animal oppression if many of us are not even seen as human (which is largely a colonial Western European construction in the first place)? At the same time, they urge that if the current Black Lives Matter movement is to successfully dismantle systemic racism, they must first address the very foundation of the racial hierarchy: the human-animal moral divide, and the fact that “blackness” has historically and intentionally been aligned with “animality.” The radical care work for racialized bodies must be extended to animalized bodies if we are to live in a more just world as envisioned by #BLM.

Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect by Mel Y. Chen

Taking the concept of animacy through three parts of the book, “Words,” “Animals,” and “Metals," Chen uses this construct to look at the way humanness is defined in contemporary society and how systems of binaries could also be undone in the process. Animacy can be vaguely defined as a quality of agency, awareness, mobility, and liveness, whereas things lying in the fragile oppositional category of inanimate (passive, deathly, immobile) not only produce anxieties for the categories reflecting humanness but also give rise to the lines of inequality across race, gender, sex, class, nonhuman that we see today. I thought it was relevant to revisit this book in relation to the pandemic, and the countless bodies that have been deemed viral, dangerous, deathly, or undeserving of life.



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Ecology is Racist — It’s Time to Eat

A limited annotated bibliography by SPURSE, summer 2020 --ongoing[1]

1. The classical western ecological paradigm is structurally flawed in that it is founded upon a fundamentally false idea: that there is an actual entity called “Nature” which can be in its simplest defined as the living world without humans [2]. This approach to Ecology, as the study of the part of “world without humans”, is only possible if (1) we ignore the near total erasure of peoples living in deeply entangled ways with their environments perpetrated by racially based genocides, ethnic cleansings and enclosures of the early modern period that ultimately produced lands that were seeming uninhabited, and could be defined as “Nature” [3], and (2) we elide the importance of peoples — especially indigenous peoples deep tens of thousands of years long massively transformative co-shaping of all environments [4].

 

2. Prior to the arrival of European colonizers/settlers, every square centimeter of the Americas and the indigenous worlds globally had been profoundly co-shaped for tens of thousands of years by diverse First Nations peoples. The genocide that put a halt to the indigenous co-shaping was unimaginably [5] merciless: in the context of the Americas killing over 90 percent of the first nations populations, possibly as many as 100 million, in a little over a century with practices of ethnic cleansing moving the rest off the land and onto distant imprisonment [6]. The modern natural sciences began (ecology and conservation being very late comers to the field), after the remarkable indigenous co-shapers were already nearly fully silenced, and a post-indigenous so-called “wilderness” was open for discovery, exploration, colonization, study and theorization as a seemingly non-human environment [7]. It is this silenced reality that we now reflexively and unconsciously call “Nature’ [8].

 

3. Classical ecology and its subdivisions (especially conservation) objectivizes and reinforces this problematic structurally racist reality without even being aware that Nature is a culturally limited, historically modern framework based on a racially loaded category error (that humans are distinct from ecosystems). Historically, the conservation (of post genocidal/ethnically cleansed landscapes) [9] movement built upon this conceptual illusion and used it to further a Nativist purification agenda that further removed indigenous communities from lands to produce National Parks and Wilderness Preserves [10]. All the early conservation writers and activists (Thoreau, Emerson, Muir, Roosevelt, and others) were social and ecological racists concerned about both the purity of peoples (the Anglo-Saxon race) and places (a pure unsoiled spiritualized wilderness) [11]. Their logic’s diverse offspring were the Nazi’s (with their program of “Blood and Soil”), Trumps disparagement of immigrants and obsession with walls, and the Native/Invasive conservation practices endemic today— amongst many other equally problematic movements [12]. We do not wish in any way shape or form to conflate these different offspring — but — it is critical that we recognize that they share the same category error, history, structural logic and purificationary zeal [13]. The practices of environmental racism and the poisoning of vast tracts of our world are also built directly upon this framework: we “rightfully” set aside and protect pure untouched-by-human-wilderness, and fully exploit other areas of limited value because of “human intervention”. It is no accident that these binary practices of purification/exploitation impact peoples of color as well as the poor and marginalized most directly [14].

 

4. The classical ecology and conservation disciplines cannot be simply revised, we need alternative practices to Nature, Classical Ecology, and Conservation. Furthermore, these models [15] divest indigenous peoples of their various modes of ecological stewardship which, privileging forms of interdependent multi-species commons, have evolved alongside their unique cosmologies [16] Ecology has evolved significantly beyond this paradigm with far more entangled and dynamic models — and it is these that refute “nature” in radically diverse manners that we should look to for future practices and research programs [17].These exist in great abundance — the full scope is beyond the limits of this annotated bibliography. But, we would suggest that what many alternatives share is an interest in cosmologies that have new models of agency that see humans as one agent in a radically impure world full of equally powerful and equally entangled agents [18]. The Novel Ecosystem framework, Animist Kinship Models, Totemistic Cosmologies, Entangled species models, co-evolutionary models of Niche Construction, TEK cosmologies and others are critical.

 

5. Our own specific interest is in seeing these forms of entangled agency as extended practices of eating. Everything is eating and being eaten. We individual humans are an entangled community [19] of trillions of creatures all eating each other into a semi-stable meta-being we call the individual. Eating is different than food — food imagines a world of product, eating imagines everything is alive and active. The planetary ethos needs to be eating well — the ethics and aesthetics of eating properly and beautifully while similarly being eating.

 

[1] The literature covering the many fields touched upon here is vast and this short annotated bibliography reflects the history of our engagements. We have placed books in relation to specific claims, many other texts that could serve equally well, & the books mentioned could just as well be placed in relation to other claims in this document. This is an ongoing project, please reach out to collaborate: info@spurse.org

[2] Note: Most authors in the annotated bibliography unpack and critique this claim. Below is one starting point: Racist Culture: Philosophy & the Politics of Meaning (David T. Goldberg). Goldberg unpacks the philosophical project of the west/modernity with its conception of reason and truth to disclose its inherent racist logic. Nature as Event (Didier Debase) a critique of the modern invention of Nature, and a powerful mannerist alternative by a French scholar of A. N. Whitehead. The Falling Sky (Kopenawa & Albert) Davi Kopenawa presents an astonishing detailed non-western animist perspectival cosmology of a world filled with “human” beings that take the form of everything from clouds to trees to humans to monkeys. Confronting this cosmology makes it impossible to assume the logic of Nature (or even human/non-human) is universal. The book ends with a Yanomami critique of the west as “the people of merchandise”. Decentring 1788: Beyond Biotic Nativeness (Lesley M Head), an example of one of many research articles on the problematic racial logic of the concept of Nature as applied in ecology and conservation (in this case analyzing the context of Australian conservations). The Western Illusion of Human Nature (Marshall Salins) A brief and powerful critique of both the model of the human and the model of the environment that lies at the heart of the western project to define humans universally and universally distinct from their environments. The Ecology of Others (P. Descola).

[3] See footnote 6

[4] See section #2.

[5] The “Pristine Myth” Revisited (William M. Denevan). A survey of the evolution of the Myth of Nature in the Americas. Evolving views on the Pleistocene colonization of North America (Daniel Amick) A good survey of current knowledge on the early human co-shaping of North America, 1941: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus (Charles Mann) Mann synthesizes the vast literature on how densely populated the Americas were, and how profound the human co-shaping of the environment was prior to European arrival. This book makes it impossible to continue the racist lie that indigenous peoples were simple “noble savages” who lived as one with “nature”. The ecology of the Americas is the outcome of an intensive, long-term, sophisticated engagement by numerous first nation peoples. The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia (Bill Gammage) A work of similar scope and impact of 1491, but in the Australian Context. Gammage makes a passionate argument for an alternative history of agriculture and its impact on human cultures. Part of a movement to uncover and articulate indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) as a radical alternative paradigm to the western model of Nature + Conservation. Persistent effects of pre-Columbian plant domestication on Amazonian forest composition (C. Levis et al) Groundbreaking work showing how the most bio-diverse ecosystems on the planet were strongly manufactured and co-shaped by first nations groups. Tending the Wild: Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources (M. Kat Anderson) A seminal work fully explicating the First Nations co-shaping of the ecology of California. Salish Sea Basin was one of the most populated areas of North America at time of contact (Gordon McIntyre).

[6] Earth system impacts of the European arrival and Great Dying in the Americas after 1492 (A. Koch et al) An analysis of the state of Indigenous co-shaping of the environment and the impact of European arrival which lead to the death of 90% of the human population of the Americas. The authors argue that the end of indigenous engagement with the environment of the Americas as a result of colonial genocide was so dramatic that it lead to the little ice age in the late Middle Ages across Europe.

[7] Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America (Virginia D. Anderson). Empire of Cotton (Sven Beckert) A global survey of the rise of world wide extractive capitalism that reshaped cultures, environments, and all species. The Origins of Capitalism: A Longer View (Ellen Wood) A history of capitalism that refuse to think of it as an inevitable development or progressive outcome that freed humans from constraints of commons and barter economies, a common mistake made by many historians from the popular, Yuval Noah Harari, to the classical, E. P Thompson. Beckert and Wood place capitalism’s emergence within a specific milieu (English farming practices of the late Middle Ages) and connect it to new models of land ownership stemming from the enclosure of the woodland commons.

[8] Shades of Darkness: Race and Environmental History (Carolyn Merchant) Merchant is a critical historian of the American project of producing “nature” and its origins in a racist, Christian model.

[9] Beyond Nature and Culture (Philippe Descola) a wide ranging anthropological rethinking of historical cosmologies, with an exceptional critical investigation of recent historical development of the western model of Nature+Culture as a divide between active humans and nature. Against the Grain (James C. Scott) A detailed account of the entanglement between sedentary agrarian practices and the contingent development of specific characteristics of western civilization. Scott links the emergence of statehood to the domestication of reproduction, be it plants, animals or humans, and the rise in patriarchal domination and hierarchical labor relations.

[10] Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks (Mark Spence) as the title makes clear ethnic cleansing was critical to the production of our modern “wilderness” a very good history of how this came about. Kiumajut: Talking Back (P. Kulchyski & F. Tester), A critical account of how the concept of Nature affected the indigenous peoples of Canada.

[11] Environmentalism’s Racist History (Jedediah Purdy) Good introductory survey article.

[12] An Evolutionary Perspective on Strengths, Fallacies, and Confusions in the Concept of Native Plants (Steven J. Gould) Importantly, despite its popularity in many conservation circles, the Native/Invasive model is as far from settled science as one could get, Gould and the authors below present a good overview of the serious flaws in the paradigm: Researching Invasive Species 50 Years After Elton: A Cautionary Tale (Mark A. Davis), ‘The Denialists Are Coming!’ Well, Not Exactly: A Response to Russell and Blackburn (Mark A. Davis and Matthew K. Chew) Don’t judge species on their origins (Mark Davis et al). Perspectives on the ‘alien’ versus ‘native’ species debate: a critique of concepts, language and practice (C. R. Warren).

[13] Modernity and the Holocaust (Zygmunt Bauman).

[14] As Long as Grass Grows: The Indigenous Fight for Environmental Justice (Dina Gilio-Whitaker) Significant survey and reframing of Environmentalism, Environmental Racism, Ecology and the long history of the Indigenous fight for Environmental Justice, Sovereignty, and a space for their cosmological difference.

[15] Novel Ecosystems: Intervening in the New Ecological World Order (R. J. Hobbs et al) major survey of the alternative ecological models to the Nature paradigm. Capitalist Sorcery: Breaking the Spell (P. Pignarre & Isabelle Stengers), Details the moderns project of delegitimizing alternative cosmologies and difference.

[16] The role of prehistoric peoples in shaping ecosystems in the eastern United States: Implications for restoration ecology and wilderness management (Thomas Neumann) Staying Alive: Women, Ecology, and Development (Vandana Shiva) A detailed account of the resistance to western modes of ecological domination based on historical and contemporary accounts of women in rural India. Shiva’s examples draw from unique embedded forms of interdependent commoning that fall outside the standard model of western ecological thinking, which privileges the separation and conservation of “wild” areas. Agriculture in North America on the Eve of Contact: A Reassessment (William E. Doolittle). Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. (R.W. Kimmerer) Botanist and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, Kimmerer explores the interlocking development of animist cosmologies, ecological practices and ritual within the American context. Rather than a wholesale dismissal of science as a totalizing project of modernism, Kimmerer demonstrates how the specific applications of the scientific methodology can be applied in parallel with Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Ancient Pathways, Ancestral Knowledge: Ethnobotany and Ecological Wisdom of Indigenous Peoples of Northwestern North America (Nancy Turner). Dine bahane: The Navajo Creation Story. (P. Zolbrod). The Relative Native: Essays on Indigenous Conceptual Worlds (E. Viveiros de Castro). How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (E. Kohn).

[17] Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast (Peter Del Tredici). Science for the Sustainable City (Pickett et al).

[18] The Universe of Things (S. Shaviro). The Ends of the World (D. Danowski & E. Viveiros de Castro). A Thousand Plateaus (F. Guattari & G. Deleuze). The Mushroom at the End of the World (A. Tsing). Dark Emu (Bruce Pascoe). Lo-TEK: Design by Radical Indiginism (J. Watson). Culture and the Course of Human Evolution (G. Tomlinson). Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (A. Maree Brown). The Different Modes of Existence (E. Souriau). When Species Meet (D. Haraway).

[19] The Forest and The School: Where to sit at the dinner table? (Pedro Neves Marques ed.) A very large collection of important texts considering Anthropofagia both as a cultural movement and a philosophy — a “cannibal metaphysics” from various perspectives — all informed by an animist logic of which De Castro says “when everything is human, the human is an entirely different thing”, Eat Your Sidewalk Cookbook (SPURSE) our own attempt at reconsidering eat as an act of multi-species commoning/composition. Foraging as a practice of co-composition. After Nature is a model of ecology, Food Sovereignty the Navajo Way: Cooking with Tall Woman (Tall Woman & C.J. Frisbie), The Noma Guide to Fermentation (R. Redzepi & D. Zilber), Symbiotic Planet (Lynn Margulis). Ethnobiology for the Future: Linking Culture and Ecological Diversity (G. Nabhan, ed.).