´Action Constituting Motion: Revisiting Burke to Revive Ecologyµ My introduction must be brief.
There is much I want to cover and little time to cover it in. We approach apocalypse and our own terministic screesare speeding us along to the edge of that abyss. [Click to #2]In brief, I argue that eco-rhetoric is short-circuited by a harsh and permanent boundary between nature and culture, which operates both in the environmental practices we might critique and in that critique itself. I first trace the nature/culture binary to the distinction between physis and nomos. I then draw out the stakes of this binary using Bruno Latour·s critique of contemporary political ecology. I next articulate the work ofthe anthropologist Tim Ingold as an enactment of Latour·s alternative political ecology.Then, after marking the manifestation of the nature/culture split in Burke, I propose a terministic screen for eco-rhetoric built through Latour and Ingold and uponBurke·s concept of attitude. [Click to #3] Although there is debate surrounding the definition and use of physis and nomos, they were taken by a majority of Greeks (excepting some pre-Socratics) to mean immutable nature (physis) and human convention (nomos). I here follow A.O. Lovejoy·s argument that the dominant sense of physis ´very closely parallel[s] [«] the commonest and most familiar colloquial sense of our word ¶nature·µ (377). Lovejoy suggests that for the Greeks physis meant, ´·the intrinsic and permanent qualitative constitution of things,· or, more colloquially, ¶what things really are·µ (376). Lovejoy additionally marks the moral prescriptions embedded in physisand the distinctionbetween ´objectively moral principles [grounded in physis] and merely conventional onesµ (382). This usage of physis suggests to Lovejoy that ´Greek Philosophy was from the first committed to a more or less sharp opposition of reality to appearance; that the chief quest of the physiologers was not [«] for an understanding of the process of becoming, not for a formula of cosmic evolution, but for a consistent conception of reality as it is ¶in itself·µ (383, emphasis added).
W.K.C. Guthrie concurs, arguing that Plato especially feared the ´distasteful moral thingsµ that would arise if ´chanceµ and ´necessityµ replaced divinity as causes in the physical world. Guthrie writes, ´it is, [Plato] says, the idea that the cosmos has come about by chance that has made possible the denial of absolute standards of right and wrongµ (59). It is this split between things as they really are and chance, necessity, or even convention that is, in the words of Kathleen Welch, ´the source of Plato·s unhappiness with rhetoricµ (197). Plato·s distinction between physis and nomos³and his subsequent privileging of physis³leads to the devaluing of rhetoric. I suggest that physis continues this mission. But the problem is not, finally, a Platonic privileging of physis; the problem is the particular bifurcation of physis and nomos that rigs the argument in his favor from the beginning. Divorced from one another, Victor Vitanza argues, physis and nomos are both problematically fashioned in the negative: custom works to negate the physical or the material or the divine and the natural negates the conventional or cultural (89-90). This negating physis, or physisneg, is particularly problematic for eco-rhetoric. But, like Vitanza, I am not for ´doing away with physisµ (15): the move here is not to replace physis or nomos, but to emplace them in a relationship in order to explore and exploit their boundaries for the benefit of eco-rhetoric. [Click to #4] Bruno Latour·s Politics of Nature surveys the contemporary scene of ecology, which strongly reflects the physis/nomos split. In addition to tracing the negative implications of the bifurcation between politics and nature, Latour·s own approach to ecology nonreductively re-articulates physis and nomos. For Latour there are two ways political ecology can proceed: either ´surreptitiously, by distinguishing between questions of nature and questions of politics, or explicitly, by treating those two sets of questions as a single issue that arises for all collectivesµ (1). By Latour·s reckoning, the surreptitious way of proceeding undermines political ecology by continuing to hold nature (and by
extension, Science, because it supposedly has direct access to nature) to be the arbiter of how politics ought to proceed. Latour writes that Science (as opposed to the sciences) has been conceptualized so as to ´render ordinary political life impotent through the threat of an incontestable natureµ (10).This distinction between ´Scienceµ and ´the sciencesµ is Latour·s way of keeping the work of scientists (themselves an integral part of the political landscape) without the troubling epistemological baggage. For Latour, Science does not actually describe what scientists do; rather, it is a weapon against politics. ´It has only one use: ¶Keep your mouth shut·µ (Pandora·s 258)! Latour writes: ´From the time the term ¶politics· was invented, every type of politics has been defined by its relation to nature, whose every feature, property, and function depends on the polemical will to limit, reform, establish, short-circuit, or enlighten public lifeµ (1). Politics, invented in the shadow of nature, is undermined from the get go when nature is seen as that objective reality that holds in check the subjective power of politics (as in Vitanza·s physisneg). That is, the reality of nature is used to negate political action. Recalling Lovejoy·s and Guthrie·s treatment of Plato and his fears of moral indeterminacy, Latour writes that the bifurcated relationship between politics and nature was unquestionable reproduced ´in order to establish the rights and manners of political ecologyµ (2). As with physis and nomos, nature and culture are distinguished in order to impose and maintain a certain kind of order³a kind of order that allows for the distinction between the True and the false, the permanent and the temporary, the Real and the shadow of the real, and the good from the bad. In charting the surreptitious course to Truth through ´the tyranny of the social dimension, public life, politics, subjective feelings, [and] popular agitation,µ Plato comes to hold politics not only in opposition to Truth but as that which must be aggressively and even violently resisted. In Latour·s turn of phrase, one must free oneself ´from the prison of the social worldµ (11). In the
Platonic system, truth, justice, and morality are all held in place by the difference between reality and appearance.[Click to #5] Proceeding explicitly, however, Latour argues that ´natureµ is ´politicallyµ constituted amongst humans and nonhumans and that we ought to treat questions of nature and politics ´as a single issueµ (1). Indeed, he argues that there is no ´natureµ as we have come to define and understand it, no outside of political life that we must strive to objectively measure ourselves against. Avoiding the Platonic split between nature and politics, Latour re-sets the conversation with respect to how politics should or could proceed unshackled from a monolithic nature used as an external ruler to measure public life. ´We have no choice:µ he writes,´politics does not fall neatly on one side of a divide and nature on the otherµ (1). The question becomes, then, not whether ´natureµ can or should be divorced from ´politics,µ but how political ecology ought to proceed. Rather than theorizing nature as that which is discovered, found, and measured, Latour uses an explicitly political vocabulary to theorize nature as that which is continually collected by those humans and nonhumans alike that participate in it. Humans participate rhetorically through the cultivation of institutions, technologies, and environments. Nonhumans participate through their very living: their own cultivation of the environment, their movements and migrations, their diets, and their mating habits. In other words, our political disputes are not arbitrated by nature but nature is it self composed by ´political disputation.µ A robust political ecology, Latour argues, finally brings ´the intrinsicallyµ (28). [Click #6] Tim Ingold·s brand of anthropology enacts precisely what Latour means by the ´political quality of the natural order into the foreground.µThat is, Ingold understands environments as neither stages upon which humans act nor simply deterministic of human nature, which is not reducible to environmental or genetic determinisms.Ingold uses the concepts of livelihood, dwelling, and skill to mark the human experience outside the harsh and typically Western boundary between nature and
culture. In ´groping towards [a] new ecologyµ (173), Ingold writes, ´Something, I felt, must be wrong somewhere, if the only way to understand our own creative involvement in the world is by taking ourselves out of itµ (173). Additionally, and resonating with Latour·s critique of contemporary political ecology, Ingold writes: Scientific conservation is firmly rooted in the doctrine [«] that the world of nature is separate from, and subordinate to, the world of humanity [«] As a result, we tend to think that only environments that still exist in a genuinely natural condition are those that remain beyond the bounds of human civilisation, as in the dictionary definition of wilderness: ´A tract of land or a region«uncultivated or inhabited by humans beings.µ (67) For example, Ingold explores the work of growing things in order to avoid the dichotomy of either ´findingµ food in nature or ´makingµ food outside of nature. In privileging growing, Ingold shows us what a nonreductive rearticulation of physis and nomos looks like. He writes, ´the work people do, in such activities as field clearance, fencing, planting, weeding and so on, or in tending their livestock, does not literally make plants and animals, but rather establishes the environmental conditions for their growth and developmentµ (85-86). Ingold fleshes this argument out by challenging a presumed distinction between a house as built and a tree as unbuilt, ´rooted to the spot, entirely of its own accordµ (187): On closer inspection, however, this distinction between those parts of the environment that are, respectively, built and unbuilt seems far less clear. For the form of the tree is no more given, as an immutable fact of nature, than is the form of the house an imposition of the human mind. [The many inhabitants of thetree: the fox, the owl, the squirrel, the ant, the beetle, among countless others], through their various activities of dwelling, have played their part in creating the conditions under which the tree, over the centuries, has grown to
assume its particular form and proportions. And so, too, have human beings, in tending to the tree·s surrounding. (187)[Click to #7] Here, Ingold·s ecology emplaces human labor within and as a vital part of the formation of environments. In all of this cultivated growth (animal, vegetable, child), Ingold argues, ´surrounding human beings play a greater or lesser part in establishing the conditions of nurtureµ (87), or what Ingold elsewhere calls a ´sphere of nurtureµ (144). ´It follows,µ for Ingold, ´that the land, comprised by these relations, is itself imbued with the vitality that animates its inhabitants. The important thing is to ensure that this vitality never ¶dries up·µ (149). Thus, to recall Latour and forecast Burke, the work of a vital eco-rhetoric is not to protect or leave unblemished an independent and a priori nature, but to become with and within it in ways conducive to our mutual survival. In stressing growing and growth, Ingold describes human activity in ways fruitful to an ecology struggling against the physis/nomos split.Ingold is not simply arguingthat humans impact the environment, but that environments are not things to be impacted but processes of growth that humans take part in. This fundamentally changes our approach to ecology, as Latour indicates. If environments are objects to be impacted or protected, then the key move is to cut through subjective politics and rhetoric to that nature as it is. If environments are instead processes (grown rather than either spoiled or preserved), the key move is to develop rhetorics and politics in order to cultivate modes of participation necessary for survival.[Click #8] I would like to now tease out one issue in Burke·s action/motion pair with respect to the physis/nomos divide. In marking the contours of motion, Burke writes, ´The human body, in its nature as a sheerly physiological organism, would thus be in the realm of matter, for which our term is ¶motion·µ (809). Additionally, ´The earth would be but a realm of planetary, geologic, meteorological motion, including the motions of whatever nonhuman biologic organisms happened to surviveµ (811). Different from motion but not reducible to it,
Action [«] would involve modes of behavior made possible by the acquiring of a conventional, arbitrary symbol system, a definition that would apply to modes of symbolicity as different as primitive speech, styles of music, painting, sculpture, dance, highly developed mathematical nomenclatures, traffic signals, road maps, or mere dreamsµ (809). Burke is fairly insistent, as Debra Hawhee reminds us, that there can be no action without motion, while there can be motion without action. Hawhee also points out that ´Burke is quite fond of asserting the nonnecessity of symbolic action for motion in terms of the arrival and evolution of the human species in generalµ (160). The planets of our solar system orbit the sun without our approval. On this point we are in agreement, at least with respect to tides and the motions of the planets. Nevertheless, I would ask us to discount Burke·s ´motionµ here in light of both Latour and Ingold. Because there are many Burke·s (too many for Burke himself, if the number of editions, new introductions, new afterwords. and retrospectives is any indication), the specific spot for my critical intervention is the conclusion of Permanence and Changeand the abyss passage that I alluded to in my introduction. In the conclusion, Burke advocates for a philosophy of being over a philosophy of becoming, in the former·s consideration of ´the generic equipment of man as a social and biological organism.µ Burke continues:´To this extent, any schema of the ¶good life· tends to be anhistoric in quite the same way that an account of digestion or metabolism would beµ (271).From within a philosophy of being we can thereby discover affronts to ´permanent biological normsµ (271), and thus combat and correct ´institutions serving an anti-social functionµ (272). There is in this more than a wiff of Plato and his physis/nomos distinction. Burke does remind us, though, that a philosophy of being ´must not be taken as synonymous with a philosophy of passivity, or acquiescenceµ (271), and that ´one·s natural mode of action will be that of education, propaganda, or suasionµ (272). Rhetoric is still possible and necessary in the context of ´permanent biological norms.µ Burke, however, here limits rhetoric
(alongside traffic) to ´tiny concentration pointsµ in man-made institutions and cities (for cities always bear the brunt of Burke·s ecocriticism). The province of rhetoric thus pales in comparison to the ´eternally unsolvable Engima,µ which is ´right on the edges of our metropolitan bickeringsµ (272). I do not mean to boast of human grandeur or suggest the solve-ability of this Enigma in critiquing the limiting of rhetoric to cities: Ingold and Latour are not arguing that nomos trumps physis. They provide a way to remain humble without making biology permanent and normative. Nor do I mean to suggest that this passage encompasses the whole of Burke·s thought on rhetoric. I mean only to suggest the limitations of treating nature as a permanent normative backstop.And the limitation³the risk³is that this vision tends to result in calls for less rhetoric, less politics, less bickering. But as Latour suggests, it is only by virtue of such bickering, such political disputation that ´weµ (conceived as broadly as possible) have a world at all.[Click to #9] In his article ´Cultivating Human Nature,µ the psychologist Maarten Derksen argues, ´The limits of human nature are first and foremost an everyday topic of concern for ordinary people. It is everyone·s business to find out what one is capable of and what not, what people in general can be brought to do, and what is beyond themµ (202). That is, our motion³our matter, our physiology³ is far from settled in advance. Burke himself recognizes as much, writing in a 1987 retrospective on Attitudes Toward History, ´how substantially the realms of symbolicity transform the realm of nonsymbolic motion we are grounded inµ (392). Our ´potentialµ as bodies in motion is cultivated in and by our use of them, and that use, in human terms, is symbolically as well as nonsymbolically motivated. In the same retrospective, Burkedefines attitudeas ´the point of personal mediation between the realms of nonsymbolic motion and symbolic actionµ (394). Attitude, positioned between and in action and motion, marks´the role of the human individual as a physiological organism, with corresponding centrality of the nervous system, ATTITUDINIZING in light of the experience as
marked by the powers of symbolicityµ (394).Attitude, by its very positionality, articulates nature and culture productively: it avoids reducing one to the other, and in doing so highlights their connectivity and co-constitutionality. That is, attitude is at and is the shifting and contingent boundary between nature and culture, and thus it resists to our traditional either/or categories of nature and culture, physis and nomos. [Click to #10] Attitude, also defined via I.A. Richards as incipient action (Grammar 236), works rhetorically as the position (or as a mode of responses) we adopt in response to and as cultivated by our purpose and scene. Describing Burke·s use of attitude in terms of ´postures,µ Michael Feehan writes, ´Attitudes exist ambiguously as postures we actually take and as a repertoire of postures available in our culture and as that subset of cultural postures which we, as individuals, harbor as potential. Attitudes are physical, social and individualµ (71). Attitudes are responses and modes of action that lead to acts articulated within an ecological nexus of action and motion.Attitude thus describes how humans are positioned and position themselves in a wider flux of social, biological, and environmental relations. Attitude is about figuring out what the hell we can do with our words, our bodies, each other, and our environments and the nonhumans that participate in them. Attitude isn·t only analytical³it is about living and surviving. The question for eco-rhetoric, then, is not only do our terms adequately re-present the nonsymbolic, buy also how do our attitudes cultivate our bodies and the places we inhabit? [Click #11] In fleshing out and emplacing a vital eco-rhetoric, we have to first move rhetoric beyond the boundaries of language. Not just our terms for ´natureµ are loaded, but that nature (physiology, neurology, environment) is itself always loaded, always contested, collected, and grown.Hawhee has persuasively demonstrated the rhetoric in and of bodies, and Burke·s own list of symbolic actions accounts for more than language. To do this, we have to imagine ourselves and our rhetorical work together as emplaced in an environment that we participate in, and we have to see that participation
as constitutive both of ourselves and, in part, the environment. Burke·s attitude, I think, is a good place to start. We cannot short-circuit eco-rhetorics by divorcing nature from culture in a rush to solve our greatest problems. We cannot distinguish between things as they are and things as they appear to be at precisely the moment when we need the machinations of politics to haggle over how we ought to live. Ecology is not, finally, about what is; it is always and ever about what ought to be. Ingold writes that we and our successors ´play a small part, along with the innumerable other beings³human, animal, spiritual³that have inhabited [in this particular case] the forest at one time or another, in creating the environment in which people now live, and from which they draw their sense of beingµ (140, emphasis added). Given the ability to position ourselves and to grow environments differently, we must have ways to productively negotiate attitudes that promote our survival. We can no longer, as Latour reminds us, proceed surreptitiously. Attitudes, Burke argues, must be adjusted if congregations are to remain successful. Ingold argues that ´the most fundamental thing about life is that it does not being here or end there, but is always going onµ (172). The challenge for eco-rhetoric, then, is to become more than descriptive and analytical, and instead become participatory and generative.