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Relationality as a life giving force to land recreates a division between Life and NonLife that turns case



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Relationality as a life giving force to land recreates a division between Life and NonLife that turns case


Povinelli ’16 |Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies at Columbia University, “GEONTOLOGIES: A REQUIEM TO LATE LIBERALISM”, 2016, pg. 34 – 38|KZaidi

The inability of the land commissioner and lawyers to believe is exactly what allowed them to enjoy “authentic difference” without fundamental changes to the metaphysics of the law—an experience of a form of difference that has been denuded of any threat to the hierarchy of governance in late liberalism. At the heart of this experience, what makes it work, are the presuppositions of geontopower. While human advocates for animal rights may well be slowly disturbing the consensus of what counts as a legally recognizable person and the new animism is extending Life into all entities and assemblages, Nonlife has remained fairly firmly sealed in its opposition to Life within extractive capital and its state allies.11 The enjoyment of this scene, thus, indexes the safety of those transforming an Indigenous analytics of contemporary existence into a traditional cultural belief about subjects and objects and then assessing the truth of those beliefs not on the basis of the potential truth of the analysis but on the basis of their more-or-less consistency with a past perfect pre- settlement form. Indeed, the solicitation of totemic stories such as seen in Two Women Sitting Down and Old Man Rock is not meant to challenge dominant geontologies on which capital depends but rather a means for the state to sort kinds of humans who are “stakeholders” in geontopower. Rocks separate, divide, and assess different humans based on how, or whether, they differentiate Life and Nonlife. Rocks are a means for colonized groups to gain access to some of the goods that were appropriated from them—or to gain access to some of the capital that will be generated from them. For instance, om Manganese is required to pay native title royalties (a fixed- dollar amount per dry ton shipped) to the traditional owners of the country into which their mines tear— the Kunapa/Kurtinja/Mangirriji, Jalajirrpa, Yapa Yapa, and Pirrtangu groups.12

And here we see the connection between geontopower, the governance of difference and markets, and the figure of the Animist. In Australia, at least, Indigenous groups gain rights to fixed compensations through participating in land-claim hearings, during which they testified that they believe that specific features of the landscape such as Old Man Rock and Two Women Sitting Down are sentient, and equally important, that, as the human descendants of these still sentient sites, they are obligated to act on this belief.13 A fierce insistence that rocks listen creates an enjoyable kind of difference because it does not (or did not) unsettle the belief of those assessing these claims, and the majority settler public listening in, that rocks cannot perceive or intend or aim; that they are nonlife (geos), not life (zoe or bios). The rights that Indigenous groups receive from the state are not the right to make their view the norm but to attach a small spigot in the larger pipeline of late liberal approaches to geontology. Thus, unsurprisingly, the nearly ten years between the Kenbi Land Claim and the suit against om Manganese have seen little containment of mining in Australia.14 It has merely been “rationalized.”15 All of which takes us back to the sovereign people to whom Gillard referred.



The sovereign people of geontopower are those who abide by the fundamental separation of Life and Nonlife with all the subsequent implications of this separation on intentionality, vulnerability, and ethical implication. That is, what is sovereign is the division of Life and Nonlife as the fundamental ground of the governance of difference and markets. Where Indigenous people agree to participate as an Animist voice in the governmental order of the people they are included as part of this sovereign people. Where they do not, they are cast out. But what of Two Women Sitting Down? Does it have standing before the public, law, and market as a politi cal subject? Are the subjects of politics now not merely humans and other forms of living labor and capital— corporations, miners, politicians, and Indigenous custodians, protected plant and animal species— but also the undead and never- have- lived? Is it possible to assert that Two Women Sitting Down and other existents like her should matter equally to or as much or more than a form of human existence? Or, riffing on Fredric Jameson, is it easier to think of the end of capitalism than the intentional subjectivity of Two Women Sitting Down and Old Man Rock?16 If not, on what basis do we allow or deny geological formations like Two Women Sitting Down an equal standing before the law? Is the manganese blood of Two Women Sitting Down as ethically burdened as the vital power of the human worker who extracts it? Doesn’t the ability of these miners to decompose Two Women Sitting Down show its vulnerability and precarity? Is it more impor tant to keep Two Women Sitting Down in place than to support the lifestyle and well- being that most Australians have come to expect? And what about Indigenous people who wish to put their children through private school and look at sites like Two Women Sitting Down as potential capital with which to do so? From what, or whose, perspective should the answers to these questions be posed and answered— cultural, economic, ecological, literary?

The fight over the meaning and significance of the damaging of Two Women Sitting Down provides a perfect example of why a growing number of geologists and climate experts are urgently calling for new dialogues among the natu ral sciences, the social sciences, the philosophies, and humanities and the arts. The governance of Life and Nonlife is no longer, we hear, merely a matter of human differences nor of the difference between humans and nonhuman animals, but is now also a matter of the entire assemblage of Life and Nonlife. If we are to answer these questions, and by answering them, alter the coming crisis of an overtaxed and overburdened planet, we are told that we need to reopen channels of communication across the natural sciences and critical humanities and social sciences. This multidisciplinary perspective is crucial for making sense of the standing that places like Two Women Sitting Down and Old Man Rock should have in the contemporary governance of difference and markets in late liberalism. Indeed, a new interdisciplinary literacy is the only hope for finding a way to square our current arrangement of life with the continuation of human and planetary life as such. Scientists, phi los o phers, anthropologists, politicians, po liti cal theories, historians, writers, and artists must gather their wisdom, develop a level of mutual literacy, and cross- pollinate their severed lineages. The pressing nature of such discussions is glimpsed in the shadow cast by dinosaur- sized mining trucks carving away at the foundation of the Bandicoot and Rat. In the massive twilight of these gigantic earthmovers it is hard not to be seduced by the figure of the Desert, not to imagine that the Anthropocene, the geological age of the Human Being, will be the last age of humans and the first stage of Earth becoming Mars, a planet once awash in life, but now a dead orb hanging in the night sky. By squaring the difference between the natu ral sciences and the critical humanities and social sciences we might be able to decide whether it makes sense to say that om Manganese murdered Two Women Sitting Down—or that “the site” was (merely) desecrated. In other words, honest, considered, but hard- hitting interdisciplinary reflection is the only way we will find the right foundation for a decision about whether it is appropriate to say that such and such happened to Two Women Sitting Down— and whether we should refer to it as “that,” “it,” or “they” (a demonstrative, a third nonperson, or two subjects).

But what if we looked at this conversation between the natural sciences and critical humanities and social sciences differently? What if we asked not what epistemological differences have emerged over the years as the natu ral sciences of life and the critical sciences have separated and specialized, but what common frameworks, or attitudes, anxieties, and desires, toward the lively and the inert have been preserved across this separation and specialization? What unacknowledged agreements were signed long before the natural and critical sciences parted ways? In subsequent chapters I look at how the analytics of existence of my Indigenous colleagues are apprehended across specific theoretical, social, and capital environments. Here I begin by outlining the key features of the propositional hinge that joins the natural and critical sciences and that creates the differences between them. I call this hinge the Carbon Imaginary. The Carbon Imaginary is the homologous space created when the concepts of birth, growth reproduction, and death are laminated onto the concepts of event, conatus/ affectus, and finitude. As I noted in the introductory chapter of this book, the Carbon Imaginary is the central imaginary of the figure of the Desert. It seeks, iterates, and dramatizes the gap between Life and that which is conceived as before or without Life. And, while certainly central to the Desert, the Carbon Imaginary informs far broader conceptual and pragmatic attempts to overcome it— such as the Animist extension of vitalisms across all existents and assemblages.


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Debate is structured by agential fantasy – The affirmative’s demand for a politics of fugitive decolonization is answered and alleviated by judges only to restart the cycle next round. Only a NO to the affirmative can generate a new mode of subjectivity that is capable of true political change


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