Concluding remarks and acknowledgements (Taney Roniger)

While I couldn’t hope to summarize all the rich material that’s been explored here over the last ten days, what I can say is that on the subject of form and posthumanism there remains so much lush, beckoning, untrodden terrain. My hope is that the dialogue we began here will inspire further thinking, feeling, speaking, writing, and -- not least -- aesthetic forming on the subject, and that any seeds we’ve planted will grow in directions none of us can foresee. 

 Among the many feelings I leave this conference with is a certain reinvigorating optimism. My sense is that there’s a real longing out there -- a longing to recover our sensual immersion in the world, that carnal belonging we traded in for a misguided and moribund mastery. I see this longing in people’s frustration with online life, but more specifically I see it among artists. What I see, hear, feel from us collectively is a deep yearning for all the things that have been banished from art: sensual form, beauty, the sacred, (dare I say it?) love.  And as David Abram has pointed out, this reclamation of our creaturely belonging cannot but bring with it an attitude of humility  (and is there anything we need more right now than a colossal dose of exactly this?). What if art could serve as an agent of humility by fiercely re-embracing all those exiled qualities? The reinstitution of sensual form, beauty, the sacred, eros: this is exactly what I see in a new posthumanist art, and with this a nudging of the human back into the complex web of relations. 

I have many people to thank for the success of this symposium, foremost among them all the panelists, to whom I give a deep bow of gratitude. Thank you all for your passionate engagement, your enormous generosity, and not least your exquisite eloquence in sharing your ideas. I’m truly humbled by you all. I want to give a special thanks to Deborah for her steady infusion of support throughout this project and to Charlene for her astute feedback on my drafts of the session questions. I also want to thank our readers for offering such meaty and provocative comments. And finally, I want to thank my husband, Colin Selleck, for having the patience of Job while I spent so many of our weekends glued to the computer. I pray he’ll still recognize me when I emerge from the cave.

In response to Taney's request for images (Jon Sakata)

    from ex(i/ha)le (2020)

Scout Dunbar (Arthur Whitman)

 I am posting a link, as I don't have the artist's explicit permission. Scout Dunbar's work, which I've written about on a number of occasions, has a tremendous vitality of form and material. It also points to the continuing currency of abstraction in whatever we would like to call our post-post- era.

In response to Taney's request for images (Christine Corday)


2000F 9090p.

Response to David’s talk (from Charlene Spretnak)

First of all, thank you, Taney, for inviting the visuals today! Greatly appreciated.


During David’s talk – always such a catalyst to seeing more! -- and our discussion afterward, one of the things that came to mind was an observation by the late great cultural historian Theodore Roszak, commenting on an essential premise in Freud’s thinking (the foundation of modern psychology, till the relational turn lately), which, oddly, Freud mentioned only in passing. These two paragraphs from Ted’s seminal/ovular essay “Where Psyche Meets Gaia” in the anthology Ecopsychology (1995), which founded a subfield, are cited on p. 77 in my The Resurgence of the Real. Note: Ted used italics at the beginning of the second paragraph, but they get dropped out in posting here. I’m going to type all this out as a labor of love, Thinglies; I have greatly enjoyed and learned from you all during Taney’s symposium. Bonus: you’ll get to enjoy Ted’s elegant prose style. Here ‘tis:


            The preecological science of Freud’s day that became embedded in modern psychological thought preferred hard edges, clear boundaries, and atomistic particularities. It was predicated on the astonishing assumption that the structure of the universe had simply fallen into place by accident in the course of eternity. Accordingly, the psychology of the early twentieth century based its image of sanity on that model. The normally functioning ego was an isolated atom of self-regarding consciousness that had no relational continuity with the physical world around it. As late as 1930, well after the Newtonian worldview had been significantly modified and the very concept of atomic matter had been radically revised, Freud, still a respected figure, could write in one of his most influential theoretical pieces: “Normally, there is nothing of which we are more certain than the feeling of our self, of our own ego. This ego appears as something autonomous and unitary, marked off distinctly from everything else. . . . One comes to learn a procedure by which, through a deliberate direction of one’s sensory activities and through suitable muscular action, one can differentiate between what is internal – what belongs to the ego – and what is external – what emanates from the outer world. In this way one takes the first step towards the introduction of the reality principle which is to dominate future development.” [from Civilization and Its Discontents, Norton, 1961, p. 14]


            One comes to learn a procedure. . . .” These are among the most fateful words that Freud ever wrote. Whatever else has changed in mainstream psychological thought, the role Freud assigned to psychotherapy, that of patrolling the “boundary lines between the ego and the external world,” remained unquestioned in the psychiatric mainstream until the last generation. Moreover, his conviction that the “external world” begins at the surface of the skin continues to pass as common sense in every major school of modern psychology. The “procedure” we teach children for seeing the world this way is the permissible repression of cosmic empathy, a psychic numbing we have labeled “normal.” Even schools of psychotherapy as divergent as humanistic psychology could only think of “self-actualization” as a breakthrough to nothing more than heightened personal awareness. As for the existential therapists, they were prepared to make alienation from the universe the very core of our authentic being.


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CS:  It seems to me that the posthumanist turn we’ve been exploring in this symposium necessarily requires that we critically revisit – in our own childhood and in modern socialization in general – that repressive “coming to learn a procedure” by which “we differentiate” our inner reality from the world out there. Our healing, corrective, and compassionate reexamination of that dominate frame of reference opens into a grand liberatory effort, a coming home to the world, from which countless possibilities arise in the arts and all areas.







In response to Taney's invitation to post images (Deborah Barlow)



Invitation to post images (Taney Roniger)

There's been so much talk over the last ten days about visual form, and while this has been wonderful, it occurs to me that we've seen so few images. I'd like to invite our panelists to post any images they'd like to share on our final day -- their own or those of other artists.  Let's close this out with a feast for the senses!

Here's my offering (an installation shot from my recent show Never the Same River):

(click on image to enlarge)