Psychoanalyzing Nature, Dark Ground of Spirit

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The ontological paradigms of Schelling and the late Merleau-Ponty bear striking resemblances to Spinoza’s ontology. Both were developed in response to transcendental models of a Cartesian mold, resisting tendencies to exalt the human ego to the neglect or the detriment of the more-than-human world. As such, thinkers with environmental concerns have sought to derive favorable ethical prescriptions on their basis. We begin by discerning a deadlock between two such thinkers: Ted Toadvine and Sean McGrath. With ecological responsibility in mind, both actually resist Spinozist reduction of the human being to the status of a mere mode among modes. But despite having the same general aim, they end up endorsing contrary practical conclusions. Our objective is to pinpoint the reasons behind this deadlock, indicative of two strands of post-Spinozist environmental thought which stand in tension, and to begin to propose an integrative way forward. The ethical weight afforded by Toadvine to the notion of resistance in the work of the late Merleau-Ponty, namely nature’s resistance to harmonizing, unifying pretensions, invites inquiry into two Merleau-Pontean notions he does not address: the barbarian principle, and the proposal to “Do a Psychoanalysis of Nature.” We trace these to their origins in the works of Schelling’s middle period, arguing that the Schellingian location of resistance in Spirit’s dark ground—alternately conceived as primordial Dionysiac madness, bottled-up within the substratum of consciousness—lends to an understanding of the human, and human responsibility, that harbors favorable implications for environmental ethics.
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Archival date: 2020-04-17
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