Edited by Tom Cohen

Telemorphosis: Theory in the Era of Climate Change, Vol. 1

    7. Nonspecies Invasion

    The Eco-logic of Late Capitalism

    How do you deal with an enemy that has no government, no money trail, and no qualms about killing women and children? screamed protectingamerica.org, a consortium of insurance companies clamoring for public funding, in an advertisement published in the New York Times on the one-year anniversary of Katrina. Out of this enemy without a face materializes the face of the earth in the next sentence. The enemy is Mother Nature. And then: On August 29, 2005, in the form of hurricane Katrina, she killed 1,836 people, devastated a land area larger than Great Britain and caused over 100 million dollars worth of destruction. Never mind that Katrina remains by most accounts an unnatural disaster, an atmospheric disturbance mobilized by a strategic negligence to become what Tom Cohen and Mike Hill have called the “preemptive first strike in an undeclared US civil war” (12). For the moment this is beside the point. The miscalculation made by protectingamerica.org, its disavowal of a political ecology, is that coming disasters will arrive from a subterranean or atmospheric beyond in the form of a hurricane, earthquake, storm, or any other discrete meteorological or seismic event.

    The Enemy is Mother Nature

    Especially in the migrations, explosions, expansions, and contractions of species assembled under the term biological invasion, the very proliferation of the biophysical world is increasingly perceived and conceived in ecological and economic arenas as the unmitigated disaster of the 21st century. From microorganisms to megafauna, from killer algae to plagues of rats and rubber vines, species are participating in an outbreak of migration greater than any in the history of the planet. Whether in ballast tanks of container ships or on the landing gear of military cargo planes, the biophysical world is on the move, and Robert Kaplan’s call in “The Coming Anarchy” for a dynamic cartography, one that can serve as an “ever-mutating representation of chaos,” is as both appropriate and as unavailable for ecology today as it was for political science in 1994 (75). “Make no mistake,” Charles Elton writes in the seminal Ecology of Invasions, “we are living in a period of the world’s history when the mingling of thousands of kinds of organisms from different parts of the world is setting up terrific dislocations in nature” (8). Yet these novel configurations of nonhuman life have proliferated so extensively as to have infiltrated the locus itself and in the process naturalized dislocation. The explosion of translocated life spells the end of endemism, even as the conceptualization of those species as invasives (other common designations include non-indigenous, exotic, and alien species) promises to preserve the integrity of the border and the bounded community, but only in the very susceptibility and receptivity of those communities to transgression and dissolution. That is to say, the acceptation of invasion, the “favorable reception” by practically every ecosystem to species previously exotic, undermines the acceptation—the “meaning given to a word”—of “invasion” as deployed by invasion biology. What is called bioinvasion or species invasion could be read as an invasion of monstrous nonspecies into the biological, glossed by Derrida as “the as yet unnamable which is proclaiming itself and which can do so […] only under the species of the nonspecies, in the formless, mute, infant, and terrifying form of monstrosity” (“Structure” 292–3).

    Like Kulturkritik, “bioinvasion” has an offensive ring to it, not in the least because of the collision between the Greek bios and the Latin vadere. Polytopic, then, the word itself is the scene of an invasion, a trespassing of territories and temporalities, a disregarding of linguistic proprieties, antiquity gone feral. This unlikely constellation has found a foothold both in biological discourse and the popular imagination. What the latter predominantly responds to is the couched appeal to a smoldering nativism, whereas the former insists it is a mere description of life forms wandering in space. But if ideology can be defined loosely as a command disguised as description, then bioinvasion, with its close ties to conservation practices and its soft exhortations to eradicate non-native species, might be inseparable from a conservative ideology. Yet persisting terminological debates within the blooming field of invasion biology, no matter how “deconstructed” or otherwise meticulous in tracing (or disavowing) an ideological subtext, tend to fail to remark on the extent to which mutations in the terrestrial itself, rather than the suggestiveness of certain key words like “invasion,” frustrate the articulation of key ecological concepts. [1] Calls to “demilitarize” invasion biology will go only so far, since the movement of invasive species oftentimes can be overlain over military expansion, the case of the introduction of the Brown tree snake to Guam by U.S. military cargo planes being the most prolific. [2] With increasing insistence the impinging by shifting configurations of nonhuman life upon agricultural and economic systems requires models capable of comprehending (containing) these emerging and emergent biogeographies, yet the radical and relatively recent changes in the spatial distribution of both human and nonhuman life have delegitimized the retrograde nativisms and oversimplified dichotomies (native vs. exotic; invasive vs. non-invasive; indigenous vs. non-indigenous) with which biology has accounted for these shifts. Instead of polysemy it is the dissemination of polytopic species that insists on retiring the image of an inimical mother—nature—and her unsolicited hospitality. Containment—whether cartographic, conceptual, conservationist, or indemnificatory—increasingly is frustrated. The possibility that the conceptual framework rigidly imposed on the land by these dichotomies is responsible for the perceived material effects on the ground (environmental degradation, decreasing biodiversity, dwindling resources) remains more than plausible; the least required is some critical recognition of the entanglement between linguistic performance and historical event in the arena of bioinvasion, if not a diagnosis of a full blown mal d’archive. While key operators in invasion biology, whose ideological valences can be gauged by their association with conservationist imperatives, would seem to have warranted a more substantial critical investment, the generous lavishing of theoretical attention on domesticated companion species has taken precedent over invasive species, which, after all, cannot be handled so easily. But undomesticated, or should one say underdomesticated species are our companions too: Russian wheat aphids ate an estimated 600 million dollars worth of U.S. cereal crops in the years 1987–1989 (followed, remarkably, by a dramatic drop in reported damages) (US Congress 58). Invasive species are also highly critical of dominant geographic paradigms: not only human geographers but also those migrating species identified as invasives are busy dismantling what Lewis and Wigan call “the myth of continents.” The liquidation of the continental scheme, registered by the geographers as a crisis in conceptualization, continues to occur robustly without academic institutions. What is more, and what remains drastically underconsidered, the turbulent outbreak of undomesticated species from established frontiers demonstrates the astonishing capacity of nonhuman life to opportunistically appropriate the space-time compression called globalization for their own proliferation.

    The Reconstitution of Pangaea, or the Generosity of Infrastructure

    Of all the sea-changes emerging out of the establishment of a global transportation infrastructure the most unsettling might be what Alfred Crosby in Ecological Imperialism calls “the reconstitution of Pangaea”: the uneasy reunion, ecologically speaking, of the planet’s disparate landmasses into a single if splintered supercontinent, facilitated by various transport systems (12). Although Crosby generally considers the space between continents more of a seam than a divide, for most genera the blossoming of species diversity depended upon the break-up of the supercontinent approximately 180 million years ago. The subsequent development of insurmountable geological and climatological obstacles to migration led to the abatement of transoceanic flows of biomatter. As the interchange of genetic material across these seams was extremely limited, evolutionary divergence could take place and biodiversity could flourish. This scheme—usually attributed to Alfred Russel Wallace’s division of the planet’s surface into six highly distinct biogeographic realms, roughly falling along the “seams of Pangaea,” later identified with the tectonic plates—explained the rise of biodiversity over the last 180 million years (Crosby 9–13). Yet the very industrial, economic, and military technological apparatus that prepared the way for Wallace’s extensive field work was at the same time working to render these evolutionary systems and geographic schemes biogeographically obsolete.

    The outbreaks of bioinvasion mark an ecological watershed and a massive blind spot in Crosby’s argument: the drifting networks of adventitious disseminules, which first caught a ride on the imperialist envoys and which tremendously facilitated the expansion of empire (as colonization by other means), mark the limit of any hegemonic biological scheme. Today the “neo-Europes” that Crosby describes are more like neo-Pangeas; contemporary ecologies are no longer imperial but multinational, overwhelmingly cosmopolitan, and in some instances utopically inclusive. Consider the anecdote of a biologist who in 1976 described a hypothetical south Floridian watching “a walking Siamese catfish crawl out of a canal choked with the Asian weed hydrilla while Columbian iguanas scampered through Australian pines beneath a squadron of Amazonian parakeets” (Coates 2). The interspecies soiree undermines its own language, though, because the emphasis on nationality flagrantly disregards the inappropriateness, outside of taxonomical considerations, of a single point or continent of origin. Such scenes also require significant revision of the opening lines of Ecological Imperialism: “European immigrants are all over the place, which requires explanation” (Crosby 2). If the reconstitution of Pangaea by trade once led to the biological hegemony of Europe, increasing ecological awareness shows quite the opposite movement taking place today.

    Whereas biological expansion for Crosby is a one-way street, contemporary invasives unravel Crosby’s narrative of biological imperialism. While the pre-18th century proliferation of political and biological Neo-Europes is undeniably robust—“While some American plants,” Manuel de Landa writes, “including maize and potatoes, tomatoes and chili peppers, did ‘invade’ Europe, they did so exclusively in the hands of humans and not on their own” (154)—the lines opened up by conquest had more than one direction, the dissemination more a product of a pedestrian dispersal than a manual distribution. [3] In the physiology of industrial empire, as Benton MacKaye once pointed out, a source is also a mouth. Consequently the related thesis of the biological unassailability of Europe requires revision on two points: most instances of translocated life today take place outside of humans hands and without so much as a steady grasp, a Begriff, of what is happening, since it is much more a matter of a footloose invader. Secondly, species native to North America have come to invade Europe with the frequency that the European ones invaded North America. As is becoming apparent, for every ship that went to a Neo-Europe, bearing not only articles of trade but also the weeds that would flourish in this new environment, another ship returned, bearing more blind passengers than paying.

    A map published in a 2007 Science article vividly if obliviously illustrates the emergence of said reconstitution. [4] Here the vast oceanic space between Asia, North America and Europe has been virtually filled in by probes marking transoceanic travel, creating a new supercontinent of the Northern hemisphere, a neo-Laurasia. The myth of continents is cartographically, if not yet conceptually, exploded.

    Fig. 1: Earth’s shipping lanes and network of roads. Each shipping lane data point represents the location where an expendable probe was dropped for sampling ocean temperature from 14 October 2004 to 15 October 2005. The road network is a 1:1 million scale representation of paved and unpaved roads (Kareiva 1867). From Peter Kareiva, Sean Watts, Robert McDonald and Tim Boucher, "Domesticated Nature: Shaping Landscapes and Ecosystems for Human Welfare", Science (29 June 2007): 1866-1869. Reprinted with permission from AAAS. Readers may view, browse, and/or download material for temporary copying purposes only, provided these uses are for noncommercial personal purposes. Except as provided by law, this material may not be further reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, adapted, performed, displayed, published, or sold in whole or in part, without prior written permission from the publisher.
    Fig. 1
    Earth’s shipping lanes and network of roads. Each shipping lane data point represents the location where an expendable probe was dropped for sampling ocean temperature from 14 October 2004 to 15 October 2005. The road network is a 1:1 million scale representation of paved and unpaved roads (Kareiva 1867). [5]

    Because of the exceedingly large scale, the individual dots bleed into one another, forming solid lines that suggest land bridges connecting every continent and substantial island. (If air travel were depicted as well surely the same would be true of skybridges; the scintillating flight webs visualized by Aaron Koblin of UCLA’s celestial mechanics lab, foreshadows the pathway of some as yet unknown zoonotic disease). This inference belongs only to a necessary distortion, yet this accident of scale makes an otherwise counter-intuitive claim visually compelling: the continental system is entering a phase of biogeographic obsolescence. So what exactly is mapped in this cartography of maritime and terrestrial commerce? This question must pass through the still-timely “fundamental representational problem” highlighted by Jameson in The Geopolitical Aesthetic:

    Bergson’s warning about the temptations of spatializing thought remain current in the age of the intercontinental ballistic missile and the new infra-red and laser systems of which we are so proud; it is even more timely in an era of urban-dissolution and re-ghettoization, in which we might be tempted to think that the social can be mapped that way, by following across a map insurance red lines and the electrified borders of private police and surveillance forces. Both images are, however, only caricatures of the mode of production itself (most often called late capitalism) whose mechanisms and dynamics are not visible in that sense, cannot be detected on the surfaces scanned by satellites, and therefore stand as a fundamental representational problem—indeed a problem of a historically new and original type. (2)

    A performative reading of the map, however, has the capacity to reprogram reference: what emerges out of the lines is not only a caricature of global commerce but also of a different traffic entirely, namely, some of the otherwise invisible direct dispersal routes currently facilitating a floral and faunal interchange unprecedented in its magnitude and frequency. Major contemporary ecological developments can be read out of this map: that the spatial distribution of nonhuman life today is increasingly the result of this reemergence of a global supercontinent stitched together by transcontinental and transoceanic transportation systems servicing commercial, military, and tourism sectors; that emergent biogeographies are decreasingly the result of natural-historical processes of species dispersion; in other words, that plate tectonics, sea-floor spreading, glaciation, continental drift and the other primary geomorphological factors have had their relevance eclipsed by military expansion, industrial development, integration of financial markets, foreign-direct investment, trans-national trade agreements, and international tourism—movements of capital to which the distribution and frequency of these expendable shipping probes attest. The great physical migration barriers, erected by the massive geological processes, which once gave rise to species differentiation, are being rendered irrelevant by the global transportation infrastructure. The reconstitution of Pangea thus does not signal a return to a state of primeval unity, but rather a further iteration of a tectonic agglomeration that occurs without so much as an earthquake.

    Elsewhere the urge to map human influence takes a more problematic turn for a mapping of the social, as in the case of the phantasmagoric dissemination of the footprint in the ecological imagination. Consumption footprints, carbon footprints, water footprints: the human footprint today bears the mark of a planetary Oedipus, in that the average ecological footprint in the U.S.—which measures how much land and water area a human population requires to produce the resource it consumes and to absorb its wastes—has swollen to an estimated 9.4 global hectares, or roughly a million square feet (WWF). Per pair of feet. At first glance none need ask today, in the manner of that infamous Theban biped, Where shall now be found the footprint, hard to trace, of ancient guilt? Yet the ecological debt of the global North, for all its unmistakability in an industrial and agricultural setting, leaves a harder to trace, but no less destructive legacy (itself bearing the traces of Derrida’s leg work in legs de Freud) in those terrestrial systems otherwise undisturbed by human activity. These hard to trace tracks of bioinvasion—the absence of a familiar birdsong, a persistent cough, a mottled leaf, the soft touch of algae on an otherwise sandy ocean floor—point to a fundamental shift in the organization of the biophysical, one that often goes unregistered topographically, is soundless as opposed to merely “silent”, and seemingly unspectacular, but potentially more destructive and deconstructive of the environment than any other form of climate change. Paradoxically a bioregional attunement to local changes leads to the dissolution of the locus into a polytopic confluence of “socioecological processes occurring at quite different scales” that David Harvey and others have analyzed (542). Following Harvey and Jameson outside of the polis, or less adventurously to the (hardly) vacant lots within the city, I want to argue that the social, its dissolution, and its potential recuperation achieve a certain visibility, and sets off an archive fever, in the promised disaggregation of vibrant ecosystems into “ecoslums” of “weedy species, relics, and ghosts” (Meyer 7).

    Biotic Globalization and the End(s) of Oikopolitics

    These largely untheorized and scarcely administrated spaces contain the traces to which I propose (re)introducing to critical attention. In ecosystems least subjected to administrative control, technological mediation, and economic exploitation we can nonetheless make out the imprint of globalization. This claim can be made without falling into the trap, identified by Bergson and Jameson, that the proliferation of “multinational species” throughout ecosystems, for example, would be so many caricatures of corporate conglomerates. These nonhuman, post-cosmos cosmopolitans are not caricatures but products, however unmarketable, signifying how late capitalism is ghostwriting and multinational corporations underwriting ecosystems across the planet. But there is another side to this story. What is startling is not the eclipse of nature—divested of aura and defined as “a bundle of ecosystem services” (Kareiva 1869)—by history but rather the glimmering awareness that globalization is capable of jumping species. There remains the promise, not unconsidered by growing ranks of biosecurity specialists, that these ghastly and ghostly ecologies of invasion will sabotage the mode of production that unintentionally produced them. As species continue to opportunistically appropriate the global transportation infrastructure for their own dissemination, an unintended modality of globalization appears on the horizon: biotic globalization. [6] Understanding this shift necessitates something of a critical climate change: a turn away from the urban(e) common-places of multinational capital—those spaces well articulated by architect Keller Easterling as “organization space”—and toward the peripheral underinstrumentalized spaces currently in the process of being non-deliberately formatted by globalization: the increasingly cosmopolitan and multinational life systems inhabiting streams, valleys, lakes, meadows, forests and tropical islands. [7]

    Such a call for a change of critical venue might appear embarrassingly belated following the acknowledged penetration of the market into both the most intimate and peripheral spaces and the attendant unavailability of a tenable concept of distance in political and critical theory. This redundancy can be exaggerated by recalling the image of the shipping lanes and the reading that the infrastructures of a global economy underwrite contemporary restructurings of biogeography. But even when the natural-historical production of local ecological communities is facilitated (in both productive and destructive senses of a Bahnung) by a global economic system, and even when the “integrity” and health of the remaining “intact” ecosystems is increasingly dependent on the management of conservationists, the translocation of life referred to as biological invasion signals that these mutating ecosystems cannot be simply absorbed into the dominant economic system. This is where things get interesting. While Timothy Morton offers a compelling account of an “ecology without nature” the unmanageable ecologies of invasion present the apparent aporia of an ecology without the oikos—an ecological thought shorn of the aesthetic ideology of the household, immune to domestication, and requiring a critical vocabulary of the terrestrial that does not prep, already at the level of perception, the landscape for an inevitable anthropogeomorphological modification.

    In the sheer desperation of the sentence, The enemy is Mother Nature, the limit of the economics of nature-as-oikos announces itself. More than an accountable mother, making “nature” an enemy, a hostis, must be understood as a form of primitive accumulation, an underwriting, a first step or first strike toward making nature a host, and thereby subject to the law of hospitality (with statistically calculable lapses into inhospitability), ultimately subject and subjected to the law of the anthropomorphic household, an oikonomia. Derrida’s thinking around the sentence, nous ne savons pas ce que c’est, l’hospitalité, could be a pivot point of a critical re-orientation in an era of invasion meltdowns. Hospitality, or Wirtbarkeit as Kant defines and delimits Hospitalität in the third definitive article of perpetual peace, is glossed by Derrida on the basis of the Wirt that “governs the whole lexicon of Wirtschaft, which is to say, economy and, thus, oikonomia, law of the household” (“Hospitality” 6). But what is the subject of hospitality when ecosystems, overrun by exotics, increasingly stand before the law of the household? [8] Species invasion does not pose a novel challenge to hospitality—the shock comes from the generosity of the ecosystem to the foreigner—but rather illuminates the self-contradiction that hospitality, as latent hostipitality, harbors in its own body. The limit of the project of conflating the feral ecosystem with the “natural” (as “bundle of ecosystem services”) is evident in the fact that most ecosystems not currently expropriated for human or corporate welfare are operating at a loss; the managerial and budgetary framework furnished by oikonomia registers everywhere only “ecological debt” and a sharp downturn in the availability of “ecological services.”

    Out of a politically, administratively, and more or less commercially disciplined movement of the majority of the biophysical world—witness not only these statistics but the budgetary consciousness that registers ecosystems in economic terms: a global North that appropriates nearly half of the planet’s net primary productivity, consumes over one-third of the productivity of the oceanic shelf, uses a majority of freshwater run-off, and operates over 36,000 dams—out of this “administered world” (Adorno) an unregulated, unadministratable and undisciplined circulation of life is emerging under the banner of the invasive, commencing to undermine cemented conceptual frameworks and tropologies—including that of the topos itself, revealed as the polytopic—and even to undermine the economy that bases itself on the anticipated stability of the ecosystems (agricultural and otherwise), whose hospitality to exotics and invasives has been severely underestimated. [9] As the return of the repressed on a planetary scale, species invasion exacerbates, in the frustration of the global attempt to fold ecology into the economy, coming agricultural crises. It portends the invasion of multiple species into every arena of human life, including the political, and in this sense the discourse, or the trope taking the place of a discourse, of “invasion” in ecology could be read as the paroxysm of what Angela Mitropoulos, following Hannah Arendt, terms an oikopolitics—articulated doubly in the blurring of the public (commons) and the private (enterprise) as well as in the attempt of politics to secure “an intimately normative disposition” on grounds “both familial and national” (72).

    Less abruptly dismissive of an oikopolitics we could instead pose the question: if habitat loss and species invasion, as two of the leading forces shaping ecosystems, could stand to alter the make-up of the oikos (as paleonymy designating squat or slum rather than affluent single-family household), then what might an actual oikopolitics, readjusted for this eviction of past associations and occupation by new ones, promise? For the scope of this essay such a question is too speculative to answer, but in the foreclosure of oikopolitics emerges, no matter how rudimentary, a political ecology. In the rise of feral ecologies the eco- will not come out unscathed, but neither will the political where as it is based on, and projects, a certain normative disposition of the domestic. The insolvency of oikopolitics in an era of ecological invasion might be softened, then, to the foreclosure of the purchase of the oikos.

    There’s a loss of features that allow you to describe where you live. When you characterize where you’re from, you look out the window at the plants and animals even if you don’t notice them immediately. I think there’s something wrong with the loss of a distinct sense of being. It comes down to: where’s my home? (Burdick 11)

    Hardly just a question of the house. Already some time ago Adorno identified the contiguity between the seemingly apolitical “protective hand” of the gardener—like the biologist quoted above from Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion—and an extreme hostility to immigration.

    The caring hand that even now tends the little garden as if it had not long since become a ‘lot’, but fearfully wards off the unknown intruder, is already that which denies the political refugee asylum. (34)

    And it should be no surprise that same presidency that in 1999 produced Executive Order 13112, which authorized U.S. federal agencies to prevent the introduction and/or control the spread of alien invasive species had in 1994 militarized the U.S. / Mexico border with the establishment of Operation Gatekeeper; both are, in the words of Mike Davis, not originary events but only so much “gas on the flames of nativism” (11). But before the increasing absurdity of nativism, and the increasingly frequent irruption of nonspecies, the magnitude of the dissolution of the ecological “home” into the “lot” should have the capacity to inform political practice (encompassing even immigration policy) and not the other way around.


    For all that a technologically assisted passage may be an aspect of adventure, biological life’s willingness to take advantage of new openings suggests a capacity for mobilism, dispersal and self-transformation that is not reducible to any anthropic principle, let alone any single moment in the development of the technological apparatus. (Clark 104)

    The task of this critical climate change is no longer to consider the extent to which globalization intervenes in, structures, disarms, imprints, or otherwise acts upon life systems; rather the explosion of translocated life invites consideration of how the biophysical world itself capitalizes on the generosity of infrastructure and the transportation industry for its own dissemination and proliferation. This shift in agency has been posed by Michael Pollan in The Botany of Desire: what if it is the plant that exploits us for its own proliferation and not the other way around? But what if this perspectival shift goes feral, leaving the hortus conclusus in which Pollan, the human bumblebee, is content to dwell? Such a perspective might find in biotic globalization an extreme and perhaps contentious case of what has been called “globalization from below” and in doing so would follow Nigel Clark, who argues that “there is no final cut-off point to this ‘below,’ no guard rail to keep us to the realm of the already humanized” (105).

    By its very deterritorializing capabilities, plurality of affiliations, openness to mutation and hybridization, dissemination operates in a deconstructive modality far outside those textfields to which it has been discursively delimited. The exploitation of the accidental filiations between seme and semen, seeds and semes, is what dissemination is all about: finding new corridors, new communication networks, novel contacts and vectors of contagion, and new generative possibilities. Biotic modalities of dissemination capitalize on these entirely fortuitous resemblances too: the similarity, for a disseminule, between a drifting timber mass and the deck of a steamer, between a prolonged gale and the sail of a ship, between a land bridge and the landing gear of a 747. Floating as well as flying signifiers: “the force and form of [dissemination’s] disruption explode the semantic horizon” (Derrida, Points 41). The extensification of dissemination takes form today in the ecological explosion, not only in the upheavals in the distribution of life, but first in the “enormous increase in numbers of some kind of living organism” (Elton 1). This novel usage of “explosion,” popularized by Elton, itself signals an explosion by the word “explosion” out of a fixed semantic horizon. “I use the word ‘explosion’ deliberately,” Elton confirms on the opening page of The Ecology of Invasions, “because it means the bursting out from control of forces that were previously held in restraint by other forces. Indeed, the word was originally used to describe the barracking of actors by an audience whom they were no longer able to restrain by the quality of their performance” (1). The OED corroborates Elton’s etymology: “to explode: to clap and hoot a player off the stage; to drive away with expressions of disapprobation; to cry down; to banish ignominiously.” The metaphoric “ecological explosion” is at the same time an explosion of the metaphor: an outbreak of the allegorical and a breakdown of the monosemantic within an ecological treatise, and moreover an outbreak that “explodes” out of the semantic horizon of the theater and into the wild: the explosion goes feral. And what does species invasion portend if not an explosion of dissemination in the transgression of one boundary after another? The inverse also deserves consideration: that species invasion signals the implosion of the oikos, and thus a mutation of the eco- into a horizon not constrained by any anthropology.

    A Willingness to Take Advantage of New Openings

    Yet, to return to an earlier point, Nigel Clark’s compelling suggestion—that the explosive dissemination of invasive species could be attributed to a polymorphous perverse “willingness to take advantage of new openings”—still offends the dominant scientific sensibility. A survey of ecological literature evidences a refusal to consider the Pollanian possibility of dissemination outside of an anthropogenesis. “Humans,” one reads, “have surpassed natural forces as the principal global disperser of vascular plants” (Mack and Lonsdale 95). More recently and more encompassing: “Species transfer though human agency is much more frequent, efficient and effective than through natural mechanisms and has no parallel in evolutionary history” (Kowarik and von der Lippe). While the initial articulation as such of “Man as a Dispersal Agent” may stem from a talk given in 1958 by botanist F.R. Fosberg, this talk is limited to domesticated species in agricultural space, whose proliferation and maintenance is dependent at every stage of life on a horticultural agency. Yet today species transfer increasingly deals with “escaped” and non-target nonspecies in peripheral spaces not actively managed. And the extent to which “human agency” is an adequate designation for such non-deliberate proliferation, often occurring outside of agricultural space, remains highly dubious. While the most noxious weeds in Australia, for example, consist mostly of exotics deliberately imported for ornamental gardens, their proliferation outside of horticultural space could not be achieved without their willingness to take advantage of new openings. The very problem of bioinvasion, if one may put it this way, is based on an extreme ecological irresponsibility on the part of human specie(s), coupled with an equally radical response-ability by biological life to technological development.

    To wind down—both this paper and the anthropological machine—I propose turning to a critical passage of American literature, the close of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Set in a crucial moment in American history, the years directly following the colonization and genocide of the Southwest, the closing scene of the novel takes place in a crude theater, which doubles as a bordello, situated amidst a theater of war populated only by “enormous ricks” and “colossal dikes” of buffalo skeletons, the blood of the massacres having evaporated. Amidst this landscape a bear in a crinoline dress, dancing to the sound of a barrel organ, is shot during a drunken altercation, and, though bleeding profusely, continues dancing in the eerie stillness, until it collapses and dies. The Judge, the monstrous Judge Holden, nonspecies par excellence, falls to speaking to the Kid, the novel’s protagonist, of this stage. “There is room on this stage,” says the Judge, “for one beast and one beast alone. All others are destined for a night that is eternal and without name. One by one they will step down into the darkness beyond the footlamps. Bears that dance, bears that don’t” (331). What Judge Holden describes is the subscript of a species whose emblem consists in the image of an unruly audience that will not cease exploding until it has driven every other actor off the stage. As definitive as his totalitarian proclamation sounds in a country currently defined by a military doctrine of full-spectrum domination, the mutually assured destruction of the environmental and financial crises, both greatly amplified by wars abroad, supplants such outdated asymmetries. And while conservationists now propose programs of “managed relocation” and “assisted deportation” for species unable to track climate change fast enough, at the same time new (and far better funded) bureaucracies and biosecurity agencies have been established to stop the flow of invasives into and throughout the country. [10] These seemingly opposing movements, however, work in tandem with the wealth of commercial activities tied to the destruction of habitat—namely, to ensure the subjection of the biosphere to political, administrative, and commercial control. Of all the hats he wears—scalp-hunter, natural-historian, scientist, and politician—Judge Holden’s legendary ledger book, in which he inscribes his anthropological discoveries before consigning them to the fire, places him foremost in the position of a administrator, a manager of budgets.

    Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent. He looked out at the dark forest in which they were bivouacked. He nodded toward the specimens he’d collected. These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men’s knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth. […] The Judge placed his hands on the ground. He looked at his inquisitor. This is my claim, he said. And yet everywhere upon it are pockets of autonomous life. Autonomous. In order for it to be mine nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation. (199)

    But suzerains as well as stewards of the earth, subjected to dialectical Umschlag, both belong to ruined mythologies. In our ecologies of war only a limited and highly discrete control is capable of being exercised. The novel pathways of biotic migration are too engrained in a modern technicity to be eradicated without a total collapse of the global economy, and yet metropolitan space is too sprawling to permit the unassisted passage of most species. Until further notice these government agencies, as well as Judge Holden’s apocalyptic pronouncements, will remain, as one aptly calls them, a security theater.

    Works Cited

    • Adorno, Theodor. Minima Moralia: Reflections on Damaged Life. Trans. E. F. N. Jephcott. London: Verso, 1984.
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    1. See Keulartz and Van der Weele. return to text
    2. See Larson. return to text
    3. “On the return to England of the Durham University Exploration Society’s Eire Expedition in 1954,” writes H.T. Clifford, “the members were asked to scrape off the mud from any footwear worn on the expedition, but not since their return” (129–30). The results of this ingenious experiment, when the mud samples were placed in sterilized pots in an unheated greenhouse, were robust: from 22.1 grams of dry mud sixty-five plants were raised. In a later experiment involving the writer’s own footwear, a sample from a single boot yielded 176 seedlings of Poa annua (annual bluegrass) alone. return to text
    4. See Kareiva et al. return to text
    5. From Peter Kareiva, Sean Watts, Robert McDonald and Tim Boucher, "Domesticated Nature: Shaping Landscapes and Ecosystems for Human Welfare", Science (29 June 2007): 1866-1869. Reprinted with permission from AAAS. Readers may view, browse, and/or download material for temporary copying purposes only, provided these uses are for noncommercial personal purposes. Except as provided by law, this material may not be further reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, adapted, performed, displayed, published, or sold in whole or in part, without prior written permission from the publisher. return to text
    6. See Mark Davis. return to text
    7. See Easterling. return to text
    8. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, the global foreclosure crisis has spawned an unlikely ecosystem: the backyard swimming pool. Thousands of swimming pools of foreclosed properties are rapidly transforming from chemical baths to vernal pools. As pioneered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, city officials are introducing Gambusia affinis, commonly known as the “mosquito fish,” into these pools. Now known as the “foreclosure fish,” these organisms point to the capacity of the abandoned house to transform into an ecosystem in its own right. “The mosquito fish is well suited for a prolonged housing slump. Hardy creatures with big appetites, they can survive in oxygen-depleted swimming pools for many months, eating up to 500 larvae a day and giving birth to 60 fry a month” (Corkey). return to text
    9. See Sanderson et. al. return to text
    10. See McLachan, Hellman, and Schwartz’s “A Framework for Debate of Assisted Migration in an Era of Climate Change.” return to text