systems. Think of your laptop, overheating. Natural complex systems use energy and dissipate it elegantly and have learned to do so in stable ways over millions of years of evolutionary time. It is true that we are Promethean, gifted in our ability to locate and exploit energy gradients. It even happens in our own bodies, whose brains use 40 percent of our blood sugar to spin forth fancies of variable value. But the long-term thinking we pride ourselves on is not in evidence when you consider thermal satellite evidence that rainforests are the most efficient coolers of the planet. These biodiverse collectives naturally use energy, but they dissipate it away from their surface, and do so sustainably.
Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas,
Stefan Helmreich writes: “At the conclusion of
The Order of Things,
Foucault, in a phrasing that evokes Rachel Carson’s description of the seashore world, suggested that
may someday ‘be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.’ He did not mean,” he adds, “that humanity might be wiped out by oceanic inundation—though such a literal reading is freshly thinkable . . . in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, and growing evidence of global warming. Rather, Foucault speculated that the
—that biological, language-bearing, laboring figure theorized by human sciences ranging from anatomy to anthropology to political economy—might not endure forever, just as archangels, warlocks, and savages are no longer so thick on the ground of our social imagination as once they were, and just as
as a biological category now wobbles between phantom and Frankenstein as it has been set afloat in a sea of genes.” 26
I believe anthropology’s new engagement with the nonhuman may be another example of “the return of the scientific repressed,” but I believe it also represents increasing pressure on us to become more integrated into more biodiverse, energetically stable ecosystems. Populations tend to be most numerous in the generations prior to their collapse. Stem cells and pioneer species spread rapidly but become integrated in slower-growing adult organisms and ecosystems that optimize and sustain energy use. In this light, humanity as a whole seems to be ending the insular rapid-growth phase typical of immature thermodynamic living systems. This view provides a possible new positive interpretation of Franz Kafka’s witty lament, “There is hope, but not for us.”
BATAILLE’S SUN AND THE ETHICAL ABYSS
Late-Night Thoughts on the Problem of an Affirmative Biopolitics
Nazism treated the German people as an organic body that needed a radical cure, which consisted in the violent removal of a part that was already considered spiritually dead. From this perspective and in contrast to communism (which is still joined in posthumous homage to the category of totalitarianism), Nazism is no longer inscribable in the self-preserving dynamic of both the early and later modernities; and certainly not because it is extraneous to immunitary logic. On the contrary, Nazism works within that logic in such a paroxysmal manner as to turn the protective apparatus against its own body, which is precisely what happens in autoimmune diseases.
TODAY IS THE FIRST DAY of the rest of your strife. In thinking about ethics we come up against some of the most difficult problems. One person’s righteous indignation is another’s reactionary oppression. The citizen’s free speech can be the government’s hate speech. The model’s sexy furs are PETA’s incontrovertible evidence of animal slaughter. Your nice iPhone may entail child labor, environmental degradation, and a Chinese worker’s exploitation. Even the seemingly innocent sweep of a linoleum countertop may represent, from another level, microbial genocide. When this example was brought up before a roomful of students in