Right now I am working not only on my dissertation proposal, but also on an editorial for the forthcoming volume of Undercurrents, which celebrates the 20 year journey from Queer/Nature (Vol. 6) to Queer Ecologies (Vol. 19, forthcoming). The triptych above is from my first notebook on queer ecologies. These are the first few pages of notes from Prof. Cate Sandilands’s 2008 lecture at Yale on queer ecologies. I remember a very cozy and engaged atmosphere in the wood-paneled room at the School of Forestry. Six years later, I am trying to retrace my own steps through the literatures and investigations that comprise queer ecologies. I am asking: What can it do? For whom? Who is here? Who is not? Am I a queer ecologist? What are the boundaries? What counts as knowledge? What can speak? What other modes of engagement besides speaking? Why urban? How did we get here? Where are we going? Who are we now?
“Why does it take an influx of white New Yorkers in the South Bronx, in Harlem, in Crown Heights, for the facilities to get better?”
“And then comes the motherfucking Christopher Columbus Syndrome: You can’t discover this, we’ve been here.”
I’m very excited to announce that I’ll have a chapter in the forthcoming book Urban Forests, Trees and Greenspace: A Political Ecology Perspective (2014, Earthscan/Routledge) edited by the amazing team behind the Urban Forests and Political Ecologies conference held at University of Toronto last year: L. Anders Sandberg (York U, FES), Adrina Bardekjian (York U, FES), and Sadia Butt (UofT, Forestry).
My chapter, “Queering the Urban Forest: The Ecological Ethics and Politics of Arboreal Entanglement,” travels to Detroit, New York, and Chișinău, Moldova with my favorite arboreal guide, the Tree of Heaven. A taste from my intro:
Tree of Heaven is a speculative link in a longer chain of queer and ecological theory and practice. This chapter deploys queer reading and writing of Tree of Heaven. A queer reading looks not only at how the tree reproduces but also at its dis/location, to the symbolic and material crisis of its overabundance, and to its space-making tactics. A queer writing of Tree of Heaven does not speak of success and failures in anything like absolute terms. Instead, it is a gesture of mutualist alliance with the tree. I write as a way of asking where it takes us and where we are taken if we follow it.
What kinds of spaces must we walk through to find it? Where are these spaces in the city? Who and what uses those spaces? Who and what disappears when Ailanthus disappears? The tree tells stories and reveals patterns of displacement, destruction, renewal, and dwelling. It helps us to locate concepts and practices that bring new creativity to bear in dealing with the violent displacements and volatile crises of urban capitalism. Lurking around freshly sprouting stands of A. altissima is just one way to ask how anything survives, let alone thrives, in the midst of those crises and displacements.
I empty my bags. Travel is over for now. I put on my face while nobody is home. One wants to look correct while one is pronouncing to no one in particular. Now it is time to sing and dance beneath an indigo cloud.
The committee is coming.
The committee is coming.
The committee is coming.
I’m going underground to write comps for a while. And, in celebration of the acquisition of concert tickets, I’ve decided that my first set of précis papers will be framed and secretly structured by The Knife’s, “Shaking the Habitual.”
And that’s when it hurts
When you see the difference
It’s a raging lung
And a difference
What a difference
A little difference would make
Our hair is out.
We have made some decisions.
We want to fail more, act without authority.
Plus there’s something phlegmatic about the world state don’t you think?
There’s a blood system promoting biology as destiny.
A series of patriarchies that’s a problem to the Nth degree.
What about hyper-capitalism, this homicidal class system, the school system that’s kaput?
Of course we’re growing restless.
––From the press release for “Shaking the Habitual”
Ta for now.
Today, traditional intellectual practice is sustained by the “fast,” hypercommodified sensibilities of transnational jet-set life. Centered on transnational (but US-centered) publishing networks, conference circuits, and “fly-by” research operations, such sensibilities are most likely to sustain liberal-cosmopolitan intellectualism. The latter one-sidedly celebrates our age of transnational mobility, prefers comfortable “complexity” over radical critique, and screens out the contradictions of territorially mediated politics. Lefebvre’s own critique of traditional intellectual practice stands at an unambiguous distance from jet-set intellectualism, which, despite its critique of cultural nationalism, has failed to provide a counterpoint to the fundamentalisms and colonizations of today’s world. Lefebvre’s insistence on worldwide but plural strategies to embed knowledge creation in lived experience and radical political commitment urges us to combine a worldwide perspective of emancipation with territorially more limited (continental, national, regional, local) practices. This requires a willingness to work through (instead of bypass or ignore) the mystifications, separations, and hierarchies which structure such practices. Only in this way is it possible to realize difference globally—as a worldwide revolution.
“Globalizing Lefebvre?” Stefan Kipfer, Christian Schmid, Kaniskha Goonewardena, and Richard Milgrom in Space, Difference, Everyday Life: Reading Henri Lefebvre (2008). 300–301.
These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men [sic] are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wombs of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” We in the West must support these revolutions. It is a sad fact that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to ad just to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has the revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.
We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.
Now let us begin. Now let us re-dedicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful, struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response. Shall we say the odds are too great? Shall we tell them the struggle is too hard? Will our message be that the forces of American life militate against their arrival as full men, and we send our deepest regrets? Or will there be another message, of longing, of hope, of solidarity with their yearnings, of commitment to their cause, whatever the cost? The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.
Every year, on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (US), I listen to “Beyond Vietnam,” as well as several other speeches by Dr. King. His clear and powerful voice falls heavily on the jagged tyrannies of capital, war, racism, and exploitation. The recording reaches me as if I sat there in Riverside Church, my back pulled away from the hard wooden pew – too many memories of church. My bones rattle, echoing as chills on my skin, which seizes up as his succinct insights into the nature of power and domination resonate throughout the space. This speech invariably brings me to tears, tears for the unresolved nature of this particular call to action, this particular set of truths.
“Beyond Vietnam,” in my opinion, should be the speech with which Americans, and those around the world, commence their annual memorialization of Dr. King. We would do well to remember that this speech, delivered one year to the day that he was viscously assassinated in Memphis, names the United States Government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Should it not still be “incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war[s]”?
What has changed?
Who are the clear voices for justice in the world today?
What would change if we recalled not only Dr. King’s anti-racism and non-violence, but also his anti-imperial and anti-war stances? His deft ability to connect war, poverty, racism, and globalization? His pro-labor activism?
Remember him today.
Whatever the outcome of the elitist quest for community, however, no matter how the relationship between elites and the labouring masses may turn out, the production of a new space commensurate with the capacities of the productive forces (technology and knowledge) can never be brought about by any particular social group; it must of necessity result from the relationship between groups – between classes or fractions of classes – on a world scale.
There should therefore be no cause for surprise when a space-related issue spurs collaboration (often denounced on that basis by party politicians) between very different kinds of people, between those who ‘react’ – reactionaries, in a traditional political parlance – and ‘liberals’ or ‘radicals,’ progressives, ‘advanced’ democrats, and even revolutionaries. Such coalitions around some particular counter-project or counter-plan, promoting a counter-space in opposition to the one embodied in the strategies of power, occur all over the world, as easily in Boston, New York or Toronto as in English or Japanese cities. Typically the first group – the ‘reactors’ – oppose a particular project in order to protect their own privileged space, their gardens and parks, their nature, their greenery, sometimes their comfortable old homes – or sometimes, just as likely, their familiar shacks. The second group – the ‘liberals’ or ‘radicals’ – will meanwhile oppose the same project on the grounds that it represents a seizure of the space concerned by capitalism in a general sense, or by specific financial interests, or by a particular developer. The ambiguity of such concepts as that of ecology, for example, which is a mixture of science and ideology, facilitates the formation of the most unlikely alliances.
–– Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (1974), p. 381 of D. Nicholson-Smith’s (1991) translation
queer ambiguous alliance | tree fucking