- The Strange Agencies and the Seaside(on Stacy Alaimo, Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times)
Let us start with the following observation: we are immersed in matter, we are invaded by streams of living and technological subjects, and our bodies are exchanged and extended in a thousand ways. Thus they are constituted by a thousand materials within human and nonhuman environments, social and biological. Matter is not a stable substance, localizable and identifiable with clearly defined boundaries, as everything changes, and everything materializes constantly. The new materialism thinkers are thinking this incessant materialization of the world.
That everything becomes means that materiality is in “metamorphosis,” as Rosi Braidotti describes (2002, 2). This implies a time period inserted into material processes (see Grosz 2005, 110–11; Barad 2007, 64) that have their own power, their own autonomy, and their own agency (capacity for action, “agentivity”). That everything becomes means that powers are ascribed to elements of the natural and the built environments. Their agentivity is given as endowed intentions and effects and is a way of building an embodied bio-physico-chemical story (water, air, etc.). The natural and built environments, in effect, become an aesthetic intermediary with other agents in time and space.
The “new materialism” supporters (Braidotti, DeLanda, Grosz, and Alaimo, among others) seek to expand and enrich the expression of agency; “new materialism” will distribute the opportunity to act from a plurality of agents, thus becoming the expression of a polycentric capacity to act (Bouvet 2013, 5; Blanc 2015, 117). The argument of a plurality of agencies means to go beyond subjectivity, which eventually reduces for humans the possibility of agency and is thus an expression of anthropocentric thinking. Here, more material also means more connection. First, it is not possible to isolate the human body in its relationship with its external environment, whether it is the natural environment, anthropic (transformed by the action of humans), or purely technological. Second, the human body is itself infested by micro-organisms and by the effects of the technical action of humans on the world. Envisioning polyagencies and their links might require [End Page 139] breaking down the human and material things into communities, biological, chemical, physical, endowed with interiority and externality. In Jean-François Lyotard’s Postmodern Fables, for example, “human-kind is taken for a complex material system; consciousness, for an effect of language; and language for a highly complex material system” (1999, 98). As one of the representatives of the new materialism, Stacy Alaimo says the substance of the human being is “inseparable” from its environment, a condition called “trans-corporeality” — the process by which “the human is always entangled with a world more-than-human” (2010, 2).
Alaimo’s work is primarily concerned with the renewal of an environmental vision. Her book Bodily Natures: Science, Environment, and the Material Self (2010) focuses on environmental health issues and environmental justice. The mixed essays collected in Exposed: Environmental Politics and Pleasures in Posthuman Times (2016) extend these topics, exploring the crossovers between art and environment, nudist events, the conservation of marine wildlife, and ocean protection. Exposed applies a magnifying kaleidoscope to the expression of transcorporeality, providing different perspectives for research into the environment. Alaimo’s work contributes to the creation of an environmental ethics that gives value to ecosystems, biodiversity, and nonhuman lives.
The attention given to material agencies is not limited to an academic project; the author highlights their emergence in different areas, be they activists or artistic movements. Alaimo speaks of Lisa Lewenz, for example (who depicted Pennsylvania’s famous Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station, which suffered a partial core meltdown in 1979, in the calendar Lewenz produced in 1984 ); of the thousands of exposed bodies within naked protest movements; of the “Austintatious Babe” in Austin, Texas, who confronted supporters of open-carry gun laws by bearing her breasts; as well of the FEMEN and others (65–66).
Politically speaking, Alaimo seeks to highlight the causes and material consequences of our environmental choices. She quotes Gert Goeminne, who in 2011 explains in Once upon a Time I Was a Nuclear Physicist: What the Politics of Sustainability Can Learn from...