Two Excursions into The Mountains [2020]

HD video, ProRes or DCP, color/sound, 14 min., Japan.

I was asked to make a short film about the ecology of mountain rivers in a particular place in Japan. After I started to edit the material, the idea to use Kafka’s short fiction story “Excursion into the Mountains” gradually took over. In the result, in the film one actually goes on two different excursions. First excursion has a responsible attitude to it, we investigate the problems and search for solutions in order to learn something useful. The second excursion unsettles that “learning”, perhaps makes one forget what has just been learned.

Kafka’s “Excursion into the mountains” suddenly emerged in a strange light, when I stopped to think about the “mountains” as an allegory. After placing words of the story over the images to which they could rather literally refer, an unexpected environmental reading of the story appeared. The mountain started to talk and not being talked about: the insects, the river, the sand and the plants read Kafka aloud.

End of synopsis, beginning of something else.

'I don't know,' I cried without a sound, 'I do not know, If nobody comes, then nobody comes. I've done nobody any harm, nobody's done me any harm, but nobody will help me. A pack of nobodies. Yet that isn't all true. Only, that nobody helps me - a pack of nobodies would be rather fine, on the other hand. I'd love to go on an excursion - why not? - with a pack of nobodies. Into the mountains, of course, where else? How these nobodies jostle each other, all these lifted arms linked together, these numberless feet treading so close! … We go so gaily, the wind blows through us and the gaps in our company. Our throats swell and are free in the mountains! It's a wonder that we don't burst into song.'

Kafka was once described by Deleuze and Guattari as a writer of minor literature. From the contemporary environmental point of view, everything minor deserves major attention: plants, insects, microorganisms, viruses, and even elemental particles like carbon or nitrogen are in the centre of today’s political agendas and onto-political interpretations. However, what does “minor” mean in the context of works of art related to environmental issues? How does one negotiate between representationalist speaking-for and necessity to include more-than-humans in narratives which redress political models of commonality, solidarity, equality and togetherness? Can the more-than-human subaltern speak, or shall one speak for them? So the problem remains, if any form of representation, especially integration in the narratives, necessarily involves at least some form of colonization? Deleuze and Guattari, perhaps, take a different stand on the issue, and see the alliance with other-than-human as a possibility to fracture the dominant regimes of grammar and language, make language stutter and implode into a minor-language.

As Jean Baudrillard remarks, there is always a desire not to be interpreted, not to be produced and expressed in the terms that an interpretation employs. The desire to de-code or to deterritorialize seems particularly crucial for the others who want to remain so and affirm perspectives that are not those of the dominant culture they inhabit. The same can be said about our relationship with other-than-humans and natural environments, who are alway an object of our interpretation, an object for storytelling and appropriation. What is at stake is not a matter of "liberation as opposed to submission by interpretation - it is a matter of line of flight, escape … an exit, outlet." I am out for an excursion into the mountains.

Economic imperialism of the 19th century in its british-manchester form was constructed around the notion of free trade. Later this system would be advocated as a deliverer of progress achieved through mutually beneficial exchange. But what is the exchange if not an interpretation of the one thing’s value in terms of the other’s thing value? Axiomatics of exchange is deeply unequal, as the subjective value cannot be truly equalized. Hence the beneficiality of exchange is a matter of whose interpretation scheme or value predicate is hegemonic in a given historical situation. The problem of incompatibility of the lifeworlds is apparent in the indigenous struggles against ecological crimes perpetrated under the auspices of market liberalism. It is also clear that from the point of view of economic imperialism, “other” does not have to be located outside, rather the outside can be folded in the national sovereignty borders: indigenous peoples, rural populations, landscapes, biodiversity, genetic resources, etc...

As diagnosed by Elizabeth Povinelli, a new type of power axiomatics, which she calls “nonlife”, has emerged. Capitalism has been able to integrate life into its governance regimes: “quality of life” defined the narratives of social (under)development and the narrative of biodiversity enabled attribution of value to the bio-resources. In a word life has been valued and seen as a source of value. Elaborating on the biocentrism’s obverse Kathryn Yusoff suggests, that “the division of matter into nonlife and life pertains not only to matter but to the racial organization of life … The biopolitical category of nonbeing is established through slaves being exchanged for and as gold.” She continues, by saying that “this epistemic division sediments a geologic that was necessary for colonial theft, because it allowed slaves to turn into and displace gold and refused to acknowledge indigenous relations with “dead” matter. ... These relations found their neocolonial afterlives in the extraction industries of former colonies”. To this account of the inhumanized bodies turned into a resource, one has to add the green, blue, grey, pale yellow, striped, speckled, chitin and scale covered bodies. As for these bodies, their nonlife, exchangeability and value was established through objectification of their lifeworlds as “services”, “genetic-resources” and “diversity”. Geography and geology are relations of power, and in their Anthropocene incarnations they are materially manifested in infrastructure and extractivism projects.

Nonlife is pertinent to the liberal capitalist governance, since it refers, on the one hand, to the positive limit of life, which is extinction, and, on the other hand, to the practice of non-distinguishing between life and nonlife. The former is becoming a new axiomatics of the Western biocentric value system. Everything is evaluated in the sight of the extinction catastrophe. Extinction and environmental collapse measure relevance of concepts and actions these days, and the catastrophe is seen as an opportunity for capital accumulation. Extinction has emerged as an unmovable center of global circulation, a real abstraction around which stories are told and identities are mobilised. Yet, the particular subject position which masquerades capital for the essence of life, due to the former’s potential to mediate the social growth and organisation, cannot embrace the positive existence of nonlife, it cannot affirm the ancestral values of geological or geographic formations, rights of insects or feelings of things. From this point of view, everything nonlife can only be interpreted to become exchangeable.

Is resistance to extinction, and resistance to be interpreted in terms of your contribution to survival are the same things? Or better, shall the politics of resistance be deontologized?

A mountain has many entrances and many routes, with many turns and twists. No sign announces that one of the routes is a particularly correct way to go. Reading Kafka or climbing a mountain - we deal with a multiplicity of routes, which will generate their own maps; enter the mountain path through a different entrance - draw a new map.

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