michael j. morris

Critical Dialogues Around Ecosexuality

I was so thrilled when Kim TallBear posted her piece of writing, “What’s in Ecosexuality for an Indigenous Scholar of ‘Nature’?” on 29 June 2012. I am so excited to see other academic scholars taking an interest in what I consider to be a significant opportunity for generating new ways of thinking and making our world, bringing ecosexuality into contact with a range of disciplinary perspectives, and allowing for what Donna Haraway and Karen Barad might call “diffractive” readings between them. TallBear does an excellent job in opening up this topic of conversation, and I hope you take a moment to read what she’s written, as well her addendum, and the comment thread that is developing.

This afternoon, I finally took a few minutes to make my own meager contribution to this discussion, which I am posting below. Besides my scattered musings on ecosexuality on this blog, a few conference presentations, a few papers, and a chapter for an anthology that is currently in the editing process, I haven’t had very much opportunity to share my work on ecosexuality with a broader audience. Eventually, ecosexuality in performance will be the project of my disseration, which I’ll start sometime in the spring. Until then, here are some glimpses of what I’ve been thinking:

I want to first say THANK YOU to Kim for authoring what I think is one of the most sophisticated academic accounts of ecosexuality that I’ve yet encountered. I had the honor of presenting my research alongside Praba Pilar, Jennifer Reed, and Sha LaBare on the “Theories of Ecosex” panel at the EcoSex Symposium II in June 2011, and I was excited by the ways in which each of their work rigorously considered the social, political, and personal implications of ecosexuality. The movement around ecosexuality includes a broad spectrum of voices, perspectives, practices, and personal histories. I’ve met artists, activists, academics, and allies, each with subtle and dramatically different inflections in their articulation of what ecosexuality can be, and I think it is great that this movement holds a space for so much difference. At the same time, I have felt discontent at times—a discontentment tempered with an excitement towards the work to be done—with the lack of critical rigor within these discussions, at the symposium, at the weddings (I performed in the Purple Wedding to the Appalachian Mountains and the White Wedding to the Sun), and on the Ecosex, Sexecology, and Sustainable Love facebook group. Far too often, I’ve felt that unquestioned assumptions are being reinscribed and invested with cultural currency through the use of terms like “nature,” “sex,” gender categories, specific (or ambiguous) spiritual traditions, and so on. To be clear, I’m not opposed to these terms themselves; rather, I’ve been resistant to some of the uncritical patterns of their use in discussions around ecosexuality. In this piece of writing, Kim has opened up many of these terms and invited critical attention to both how they are operating within ecosexuality, as well as the potential within ecosexuality to significantly reconfigure how we understand the world in and through such terms.

I also sympathized a lot with Kim’s statement, “…encounters with ecosexuality this past year, it turns out, constitute a pivotal intellectual moment of growth for me.” I remember when I first encountered ecosexuality in Beth and Annie’s work in SF in 2009, interviewing them at their Sexecology exhibit at Femina Potens. I had been awarded a grant to see their work and to interview them about more general themes relating to the intersection of life and art practices. However, when I arrived at the gallery, when I encountered their work—the ephemera from the 2008 Green Wedding and the 2009 Blue Weddings, as well as new ecosexual collages and photographs and videos—and listened to them speak, something began to shift. I could sense that there was something important about this term/idea/identity/practice of “ecosexuality.” And I’ve spent the last three years continuing to articulate that importance to myself and to others in various writings, conferences presentations, performances, and formal and informal discussions.

While reading Kim’s piece, I felt a response to the suggestion that, “On the other hand, some of my UC Berkeley students probably do get turned on by trees if they open up their minds to think about it that way.” This “opening up their minds” is something I address more below, but here is raises the questions: What constitutes getting turned on? Where and how are we drawing the lines between various forms of contact and encounter, states of excitation and attraction? If the parameters of what counts as sex and sexuality blossom out into new variations and possibilities for contact between bodies, flows, and all sorts of material-semiotic actants that participate in the proliferation of life and livability within our world, how might we find ourselves reoriented towards that world—bees and trees and seas and flowers and rocks and all sorts of animals and so on and so on and so on—in ways that generate new possibilities for action? I feel that Beth and Annie’s work, among others, is explicitly reconfiguring the potential for what sex and sexuality can be within a whole spectrum of encounters between bodies (see their ecosexual herstories, among other work).

Most of all, I appreciate Kim’s direction of attention towards “pervasive boundaries and hardened [binary] categories that structure our minds … and our world today.” In my ongoing exploration of what ecosexuality is and can be, where it occurs, and what it accomplishes in through its enactment, I come again and again to the ways in which it restructures the very grounds from which we think and (reiteratively) produce our world. In addition to the structural boundaries between nature/culture, animal/human, female/male, queer/straight, nonwhite/white, and so on, I am aware of the ways in which these categories get deployed towards social/political ends. For instance, the complex alignments of “nature” or “the natural” with purity and “the unnatural” with contamination and/or “culture,” in tension perhaps with alignments of the animal with the savage, the unevolved, or hedonistic, and the human with the rational pinnacle of evolution and culture. Or the centrality of sex and sexuality with psychoanalytic accounts of the formation of the subject, or within legal discourses around rights and representations as they relate to identity. Or even the model within discourses like environmental management that figures the human as somehow outside of environmental conditions which then must be controlled and/or engineered, as if from the outside. The point I am trying to make is that what I find exciting about ecosexuality, specifically Beth and Annie’s performances of ecosexuality, but others as well, is that it does not/cannot operate within these pervasive normative categories that structure who we are, how we think, and what actions are available to us from such perspectival positions. I believe that ecosexuality—or, as I’ve come to prefer in my own work, ecosexualities—operate from new ontological grounds, new ways of conceptualizing the living material world, new forms of sex and sexuality that have profound implications for the understanding of “the human subject”—implications that might even include abandoning this model for articulating life and activity—and thus new routes along which to consider life, livability, and ethical responsibility as a participant in the production of the world.

Regarding the issue of “new age” in ecosexuality: In my own writing and presentations about ecosexuality, one place that I’ve encountered accusations or observations of what has been called “new age” in the Love Art Lab work specifically is in the projects’ use of the chakra system (which stems from various branches of yogic/tantric philosophy and practice) as its organizational logic. This format was in homage to Linda Montano’s 14 Years of Living Art, which has itself been called new age. I have little interest in determining whether something “is” or “is not” “new age”; that term is slippery. Rather, I think there could be value in interrogating the effects of that term in relation to this work, or to ecosexuality more generally. What does it DO to call this work new age? What does it DO to deny that category? Where is appropriation at play, and what are the effects of those appropriation? What discursive traditions are being invoked/incorporated into the work through such appropriations/citations/iterations/etc.? And so on. Certainly whenever appropriation comes up, there is the potential for ethical dilemma or even injury. Yet appropriation itself cannot become demonized; it is a well-worn practice in the development of innumerable species of human and nonhuman naturecultures. I appreciate Kim’s advocacy for “caution” around appropriation in her original post. I think caution and care are more productive modes of approach than moralizing accusations of right and wrong. I think a productive orientation towards the places at which ecosexuality and ecosexual practices incorporates disciplinary/cultural traditions is to ask, “What are the effects of such incorporations, and what are our responsibilities towards those effects and those affected by them?”

Lastly, I wanted to mention a few authors/texts that have profoundly influenced my thinking on ecosexuality, just to invoke them in the dialogic developing here:
-Donna J. Haraway (almost all of her work)
-Elizabeth Grosz (specifically her books Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics and Art; and Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth)
-Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things
-Karen Barad’s Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning
-David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous
-Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology: Objects, Orientations, Others
-Judith Butler’s “Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street”

Kim, thank you again for such a thoughtful piece of writing and for opening up this conversation in such critical ways, and thank you Beth and Annie for pioneering this road down which each of us have turned.
Be well.


1 Comment so far
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Michael, i never did say thank you for responding in such a generous and productive way to my own blog on this topic. And thanks for the cites above! A few of them I have not read, and so you’ve helped me with the next steps of my thinking and writing on ecosexuality. So pleased to make your (virtual) acquaintance!

Comment by Kim TallBear

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