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Title:On the political uses of creative darkness: Freedom, subjectivity, and normativity
Author(s):Uhall, Michael Benjamin
Director of Research:Frost, Samantha
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Frost, Samantha
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Pahre, Robert; Rosenstock, Bruce; Miller, Benjamin
Department / Program:Political Science
Discipline:Political Science
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Climate change
Environmental political theory
Philosophy of nature
Political theory
F. W. J. Schelling
Abstract:The relationship between nature and politics informs the tradition of Western political thought from its inception. In its modern formulation, this tradition generally opposes the domains of the natural and the political, characterizing the natural in terms of determinism or necessity and the political in terms of decision or freedom. In the context of the ecological crisis, my dissertation pursues a range of questions about how theorizing nature and politics in new and different ways allows us to revise core political theoretical concepts like freedom, subjectivity, and normativity. In Chapters 1 and 2, I repurpose elements from the 19th-century German Idealist F. W. J. Schelling’s Naturphilosophie in order to lay the groundwork necessary to characterize nature in terms of an alternative process philosophy of nature I call transcalar ecology. Transcalar ecology lets us remap our conceptual landscape to allow categorial domains like freedom, subjectivity, and normativity to appear within nature, rather than in contraposition to nature. Similarly, Schelling’s own materialism emphasizes the dynamic of emergence as a material process that nature generates and sustains. Accordingly, I redescribe Schelling’s materialism in terms of what I call noir materialism, which reconstructs our understanding of matter in resolutely processual terms. As striking examples of this dynamic, I discuss film noir and dark matter. Ultimately, this provides me with an ontological toolkit useful for breaking away from the modern conception of matter as dead or static and the perceived downstream consequences of this for theories of the subject. In Chapter 3, I use Schelling’s philosophy of freedom and evil to illustrate how freedom in nature is possible. For Schelling, it is only in the domain of nature that freedom can take place, for freedom is an ontological power that takes shape as the creative agency of subjects. Freedom results from an ongoing existential decision between good and evil that ultimately issues forth ontological alterations in the order of things. Schelling defines evil as the willful identification of the subject with the entirety of existence. In this regard, Schelling’s definition of evil helps us recharacterize the ecological crisis as an ontological disorder. Foreclosing on evil opens up the possibility of reconsidering the relationship between nature and normativity, and redescribing freedom in this way allows the eventual reconciliation of nature and politics, at least conceptually. In Chapters 4 and 5, I propose a theory of the ecologically conditioned subject and explore some questions about the relationship between nature and normativity as such. In the former chapter, I develop at length the concept of companion ecologies – composite, multimodal phenomena that mosaically constitute the ecological conditions necessary for the emergence and individuation of embodied human subjects. To flesh out this concept further, I discuss architecture, the microbiome, and poststructuralist anthropology in the Amazonian context. In the latter chapter, I elaborate the groundwork of a new normative naturalism, or a theory of econormativity, which articulates an appeal to the normative implications of our irreducibly ecological condition. From the Italian political theorist Roberto Esposito’s work on biopolitics and immunitarian dynamics, I salvage a naturalistic conception of normative obligation capable of informing political judgment without introducing unwanted elements of coercion.
Issue Date:2020-03-12
Rights Information:Copyright 2020 Michael Uhall
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-08-26
Date Deposited:2020-05

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