I spent most of my life on the shores of the Great Lakes, although I returned to the Baltic to live for a number of years in my twenties. All of these waters that have nourished and carried me have probably been more of an influence on my work than I realise. I am literally made from those many different waters — not only their physical and chemical materiality, but also from their stories, histories, affordances, communities.
Some of these waters have had a direct influence on my writing. Although I am an avid wild swimmer who grew up in the largest system of freshwater on the planet, I have never been swimming at the Lake Ontario beaches in my hometown, Hamilton, Ontario. The water is too polluted; Hamilton is also known as Steel Town, after all! Currently I am working on a project that examines our material and emotional relationships to the toxic waters in Hamilton Harbour: what have we done to these waters, and what have they given back to our bodies?
How are we connected to them, indebted to them, and accountable to them?
Part of this research is also reckoning with a settler colonial relationship to land and water that is stolen, in one way or another. The environmental pollution of Hamilton Harbour cannot be separated out from the social, cultural and economic relations of power that enable colonisation and industrialisation.
Feminism is a major and longstanding influence.
Nor Many Waters
I am only interested in feminisms that recognize how gender relations are tangled up in questions of settler colonialism, white supremacy, anti-poor policies and environmental degradation. None of these oppressions exists in isolation. As critical race and animal studies theorist Claire Jean Kim puts it, they will stand or fall together. My research aims to tease out the complicated and sometimes surprising ways in which these questions intersect.
I strive to develop concepts and frameworks that will forward this kind of analysis. RB: You have been engaging with water and water issues for much of your career. Can you say something about this commitment and why you feel this is important? Neimanis thus declares from the very opening of her book that "water embodiment presents a challenge to three related humanist understandings of corporeality: discrete individualism, anthropocentrism, and phallogocentrism" 3.
She then develops feminist figurations aiming to unsettle all three: her concepts of gestationality, of amniotics, and her posthuman feminist phenomenology build on the work started by Karen Barad, Stacy Alaimo, and many others, which had offered agential realism, transcorporeality, and queer temporalities as their own conceptual figures.
Methodologically, it is worth noting that Neimanis prefers the notion of "figuration" to the Deleuzian "concept," thus stressing the embodied effect and character of concepts, which are repeatedly described, after Elizabeth Grosz, as "movable bridges. Instead, Neimanis synthetically draws from decolonial thought, critical race theory, major figures of feminist philosophy, and from Deleuze, Nietzsche, and Merleau-Ponty to develop her feminist posthuman phenomenology. Ultimately, the book reads as great evidence that posthuman studies cannot do without feminism, and that, as Braidotti has claimed, feminism has always been posthuman.
Before diving into how this feminist posthuman phenomenology thinks with bodies of water, another important methodological point is of note here, regarding Neimanis's deployment of the first-person plural pronoun. Her "hydrocommons" resists the grand, universalizing narrative of a "we are all in the same waters together," promoted by Anthropocene waters. Thus Neimanis carefully resorts to the nonetheless consciously problematic "we. In the author's own words, "a feminist posthuman phenomenology is a methodology that challenges a too-easy 'we,' but won't remain tethered to a bounded 'I,' either" Qualifying carefully her own use of the "we," she deploys Adrienne Rich's feminist figurations of a politics of location to resist a universal reach to representation that may erase difference: Neimanis writes that "we" are bodies of water, in and through bodies of water, affecting bodies of water, sharing this lived experience of flowing amniotically within our hydrocommons rather than merely interacting with one another, as if we were separate and coherent atoms.
This "we" resists and defies the flattening "we" involved in the "we humans who have destroyed the planet," of Anthropocenic spectacular discourse, without abandoning the possibility to recognize what we humans and nonhumans share in commonality and difference.
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The reader may at first be skeptical about a potential tension: phenomenology, especially as developed by Merleau-Ponty--whom Neimanis draws from--has tended to be tied to the humanist tradition. Yet she argues that "our experience as bodies is not only at the subjectivized human level" Chapter 1 pushes beyond a possible humanist and limited reading of Merleau-Ponty. Here Neimanis suggests that feminist theory may intervene in phenomenology as a corrective to anthropocentrism. She anticipates potential criticisms that have also been made of Sara Ahmed's queer phenomenology, according to which the latter wasn't "properly phenomenological" The point is, our bodies, even while wildly imbricated in watery entanglements much beyond our consciousness, are nonetheless lived, and expanding this experience to the posthuman is indeed a phenomenological exercise that may produce a posthuman ethics of difference.
Besides--and this seems to me crucially important--Neimanis hopes that phenomenology might "temper all the language of agency and acting that infuses much new materialist writing, feminist or otherwise for sometimes bodies are quieter than that " I would add that this omnipresence of agency indeed often risks reinserting something like the sovereignty of an individual subject in philosophy, precisely when it should rather surpass such imaginaries.
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Furthermore, agency as the new search-image with which to scrutinize both human and the nonhuman matters rests on a reductive politics of inclusion of the nonhuman into the fold of supposedly human waters. Sameness between the human and the more-than-human is violently sought after and expected to provide a supposedly necessary foundation for our ethical conduct with respect to the ecological others surrounding, traversing, and constituting us. Thus while Merleau-Ponty helpfully insisted that "we are in the world through our body" cited on 44 , suggesting that consciousness is embodiment, Neimanis builds on this insight and pushes his phenomenology into uncharted waters.
She does so with the help of Deleuzian rhizomatics, as these suggest that embodiment is more-than-human. Although Deleuze and Guattari certainly recognized that some sense of subjectivity is needed to live a human life, they famously emphasized the body without organs, that is, a "site of experimentation populated by 'non-stratified, intense matter'" This understanding resonates with Neimanis's emphasis on how our bodies always already are leaking beyond any apparent boundedness.
As she puts it, Deleuze and Guattari showed that the issue, more than the human, was anthropocentrism. No matter how small the order or how far it needs to go, Shipping Pass provides unlimited nationwide shipping.
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