AN END OF THE WORLD -as-we-know-it: AFTER DA SILVA
by Katie Gentile and Kathleen Del Mar Miller
I. [Nature] has her [sic] own particularly effective method of restricting us. She destroys us—coldly, cruelly, relentlessly, as it seems to us, and possibly through the very things that occasioned our satisfaction.
— Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, excerpted from Cosimo Schinaia, “Respect for the Environment: Psychoanalytic Reflections on the Ecological Crisis”
Historically, what has been referred to as nonhuman
has not fared well in psychoanalysis.
Freud himself teetered
on edges of ambivalence,
rubber, plant, ink, cartridge, blue, jay, black, cat, wolf,
theorizing the nonhuman as collections
of subordinate pawns
in the supremely human game of Oedipal development.
horse, rat, pig, chicken, snake, bird, beetle, butter, fly,
Animals are interpreted as symbolic stand-ins
for parents, love and sexual objects, totems
sublimating our desires for sex and oral aggression.
Nature, as the Freud quote above suggests,
becomes theorized as mother,
her innocent human child.
iceberg, monsoon, mushroom, cloud, machine, gun, tidal
These, as well as other, distinctions between human and nonhuman
are effects of a decidedly colonial project,
birthed from the soil of anti-Blackness (Wynter, 2003).
wave, oil, pipeline, neon, sign, FaceTime, food, pantry,
While non-Black people have been afforded varying degrees of human
subjectivity, Black people are not only equated with nonhuman, but
their “flesh” (Spillers, 1987) is used to define it;
reduced to disposable and/or fungible objects (Jackson, 2013, 2020).
Searles (1960), the psychoanalyst most often associated
with the nonhuman,
sunset, sequin, inbox, spam, cryptid, alien, viral
wrote a significant book and prescient paper
enacting his own human ambivalences
about human relationships with the surrounding nonhuman world.
Though he theorizes the role that objects,
nonhuman animals, and environments play
in human development as pivotal,
load, gravity’s pull, false eyelash, facial, tissue, freon,
he takes great care to remind readers:
the human is exceptional,
created through “primal castration,”
the first cut,
between the infant in and of the world,
and the distinctly “autonomous” human child.
Although for Searles it is only psychotic
people who merge with their environments
“I realized my cat and I are not the same person,” cell
or/and substitute love of the nonhuman for human relationships,
he nonetheless describes forms of intimate kinship,
where intimacy with the nonhuman is founded on the reality
that humans are merely another form of matter,
comprised of atoms interchangeably shared
with nonhuman animals and objects throughout time.
phone, “I’m not afraid of dying, I’m just matter,” microbe,
Searles’s approach models fascinating temporal complexity:
humans will materialize,
paraphrasing Manning (2014), become legibly “in-formed”
in particular ways throughout life, and disperse upon death,
re-turned to “the great inanimate environment” (1960).
dust mite, bubble, gum, banjo, honey, bees, space, ship,
Thus, for Searles, we defensively split ourselves from the nonhuman
world in order to disavow what we know to be true:
“my plants are listening,” screen, saver, night, light,
we are only temporarily human,
comprised of “exchangeable matter,”
shared “second-hand” atoms,
particles that have been and will be again
Haraway (2008) famously quips,
albeit decades later, the human has never been human.
prosthetic limb, valve, passport, tv set, test tube, latex,
The human is, instead, a fantasy
of momentary temporal linearity,
dissociated from the temporal density where the human is always already nonhuman.
Pasts, presents, and futures co-occur,
enabling a co-mingling of multiple states of existences.
The human is co-emergent only temporarily
and only with rigid temporal blinders.
Conjuring a denser temporal field,
glove, earth, worm, earth, quake, sink, hole, freeway,
the human is a mere speck within geological time.
Spatially, clouds of bacteria expand
well beyond our skins, co-mingling
with “sloughed skin of the tables, chairs,
mohair, blanket, piggy bank, shoelace, “I’m mostly water,”
and carpet of our shared room” (Chen, 2017).
Nonhuman DNA comprises most of the human
body, begging the question of what human actually is.
Long before watches read our pulses and told us to MOVE,
Haraway (1991) theorized the human as cyborg,
not dependent upon technology but emergent with it.
Through these technologies, we situate the human
as comprising barely .01% of the planet’s biomass (Carrington, 2018).
Yet despite this insignificance,
the human has marked its spaciotemporal territory
through rapid environmental destruction.
bottle, bath, tub, submarine, ocean, earbud, aquifer,
Holding this contradiction of being both remarkably
insignificant, yet a most destructive force,
requires a “dense temporality”
held in dynamic tensegrity (Gentile, 2020, 2021).
With tensegrity, the spaces in-between
emerge through tensions of accumulated times.
Pasts, presents, and futures
coral, reef, sonar, whale song, avalanche, avatar, onion,
create borders and skins, “viscous” and “porous” (Tuana, 2008),
un-re-made or assembled continuously
through rhythms of Bergson’s (1913, 2001) notion of duration.
This avowal, widening of temporal awareness and being,
is imperative to embodying the “catastrophizing”
Kassouf (2017) rightly calls for to face climate change.
lava, lamp, potato, bug, medical, gown, mask, inoculation,
Dense temporalities meaningfully engage Indigenous cosmologies,
where time and space are in perpetual motion
vertically (through generations), as well as horizontally
(encapsulating all bodies, objects, environments),
diversely in-forming bodies-beings-matter.
Ingersoll (2016), Rose (2012, 2017), Simpson (2011, 2017) and TallBear (2017),
among others, describe ways of coming into being
not only with a present materiality in-formed by the agencies of the surrounding
squid ink, strip mall, gold, mine, polyester, corn, colony,
but with generations of such kin, where there is shared
“intimate knowing relatedness of all things” (TallBear, 2017).
II. What if, instead of the Ordered World, we could image The World as Plenum, an infinite composition in which each existant’s singularity is contingent upon its becoming one possible expression of all the other existants, with which it is entangled beyond space and time…[space-time] which is also a recomposition of everything else…not as separate forms relating through the mediation of forces, but rather as singular expressions of each and every other extant as well as of the entangled whole in/as which they exist?
—Denise Ferreira da Silva, On Difference without Separability
Considering the more-than-human environment
and dense temporalities as gestures towards re-“worlding” the human,
psychoanalysis must re-form subjectivity.
88 degrees today and mostly cloudy, storming, air quality
Psychoanalysis must radically open
its forms—of thinking, clinical practice, and writing—
to other fields that theorize subjectivity (e.g., posthumanism,
new materialisms, queer theory, critical feminist, race studies),
while weaving in deep knowledge
poor, lightning bisects the skyline, wildfire smoke travels
about unconscious dynamics, conflict, and ambivalence (Miller 2020, 2021).
Radically opening psychoanalysis
to the more-than-human environment and dense temporalities
requires psychoanalysis engage in epistemological
and ontological—not to mention language—revolutions,
reaching beyond corporeal and psychic skin
as our entwined boundaries of legible subjectivity (Miller 2020, 2021).
east, it’s unseasonably hazy, warm, wet, carbon, nitrogen,
Of particular note, re-forming subjectivity
necessitates a re-formulating of the unconscious.
Kassouf (2017) reminds us of Ferenczi’s concept of the geologic unconscious,
where human anxiety arises from unconscious experience
of life-ending climate changes.
ozone holes beckon, the Earth rotates, flesh as capital,
The human emerges, in part, through memories of geologic shifts.
Following Freud’s naming system,
the human becomes stratahuman—
representing collected layers of sediment,
narrating histories of environment—land as creating the materiality we call human;
human kin and “parenthood” as embodied not only by sperm/egg
but by rocks, land, sea from which we emerge.
But, as the geologic echoes through the fibers of matter,
technologies like big data are used to segregate bodies (Clough, 2018),
plastic, surgery, spray tan, prison industrial complex,
while prosthetics enliven the human,
troubling distinctions between technology, matter, and humanity,
rendering the unconscious—that bastion of supposed psychoanalytic purity—
as not only normative (Layton, 2006) but technological,
what Patricia Clough (2018) refers to as the “user unconscious.”
“outer space can really hold me,” space junk, ringtone,
This re-“worlding of the human” renders the clinical space plenum,
an “infinite composition
in which each existant’s singularity
is contingent upon its becoming one possible expression
of all the other existants” (da Silva, 2016).
satellite dish, black hole, microscope, telescope, xerox,
Subjectivities as expressions are co-emergent, dynamic, and echoing,
temporally dense and radically open more-than-human assemblages:
B, a multiracial, differently abled, bisexual woman rescues cats
and experiences humans as painfully violent.
The psychoanalytic work is not to help her become more social with humans,
but to feel agentic in her life with felines.
S, a white queer and trans adolescent, feels more intimately connected
to “hyperobjects” (Morton, 2013) such as outer space and climate change
than his own human relations.
Exploring these radically open relationships to the more-than-human
paradoxically engenders a deeper sense of aliveness,
while engaging with climate and racial justice activism creates productive channels
for his “catastrophic thinking” (Kassouf, 2017; Miller 2020, 2021).
C, a hetero white woman, tightly ties her dog up to the radiator.
She cannot tolerate anyone who does not bow at her command.
Confidentiality is breached as it is with child abuse,
suicidal or homicidal threats toward humans. The dog is not a pawn
to be sacrificed in her development, Oedipal or otherwise.
A white genderqueer multimedia artist, K’s radical openness to the more-than-human
facilitates their use of the digital technology of video as a second skin,
allowing them to patch up the felt gaps and holes of their skin-ego (Miller, 2021).
da Silva (2015, 2016), Jackson (2013), and others call for
an end of The World “as we know it” (da Silva, 2016, emphasis in original).
Ending this World, emergent from coloniality, anti-Blackness,
and human exceptionalism, profoundly reckons with the knowledge
that who gets to be human
acetate, earring, film, strip, earthworm, ballot, box,
is limited, shifting, emergent,
based only on the needs of those solidly identified as human.
An end of The World-as-we-know-it
is the surrender of Western ontology and epistemology
that narrows temporality to the linear,
“castrates” past-present-future worlds, leading inevitably to destruction.
carcinogen, meteorite, meadow, razor, blade, clam, pillow,
An end of The World-as-we-know-it is our radical hope.
Katie Gentile, PhD, is a professor and chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, faculty at the Critical and Social Psychology Program at the Graduate Center and the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. She is the author of Creating Bodies: Eating Disorders as Self-
Destructive Survival (2006) and the Gradiva Award–winning The Business of Being Made: The Temporalities of Reproductive Technologies in Psychoanalysis and Culture (2016), both published by Routledge. She is the editor of the Routledge book series Genders & Sexualities in Minds & Cultures and the journal Studies in Gender and Sexuality. She is an associate editor for Psychoanalytic Dialogues and is on the editorial board of Women’s Studies Quarterly.
Kathleen Del Mar Miller, MFA, LCSW, is a poet and a psychoanalyst practicing in New York City. Her writing has appeared in various anthologies and journals, including Adam Phillips’s The Cure for Psychoanalysis, Studies in Gender & Sexuality, and Psychoanalytic Dialogues (forthcoming). She is currently a member of the Training Committee for the Analytic Training program at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy (ICP), where she also teaches.
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