Elizabeth Povinelli: when the rocks turn their backs on us

Two Women Sitting Down

One thing that Australian culture as a whole has in common with the storied American west is the figure of the desert. To white colonists the desert is a place of lifelessness, death valleys, a sky full of nothing but sun and a land full of nothing at all. Spend any time in and you see this isn’t really so, that this figure of the desert is just the crazed metaphysics of a people far away from home. As a descendent of such western invaders, to me the desert sheds a blinding light on the rather old world assumption that the proliferation and abundance of life and the will to control it, cull it and manage it is somehow a given.

The desert might appear denuded of life, but to the colonial eye it is rather blessed with something else: mineral wealth. Thought of as supporting life, the desert is not much, but thought of as nonlife for extraction, the desert has another valence. Australia is a rather large, mostly desert continent but it is also one of the world’s great quarries, exporting iron, nickel, aluminum, copper, gold, silver, uranium, diamond, opal, zinc, silica, rare earth elements, oil and gas.

You could think about Australian politics much as you could that of some European state as being about biopolitics. Biopolitics is about the management of life, of populations, although in Australia there are roughly three times as many sheep as people, so if there’s a biopolitics that matters it might not be about humans. And while grains and flesh are among the top exports, they lag behind the value of various nonliving commodities. One could say that geopoweris rather more important than biopower. It’s a polity far more interested in rocks than in sheep and in sheep than in people. The category of biopower appears as inherently imperialist, fueled by resources from elsewhere, about which it has nothing to say.

This is a place where some concept of geopower might come in handy. There’s something a bit like this in Elizabeth A. Povinelli’s Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism(Duke University Press, 2016). Povinelli draws on the thinking of her indigenous informants to sort through current theories for those that might work best in the desert, for the desert to come. “Life is not, after all, merely in labor, or, for that matter, in life. The key to the massive expansion of capital was the discovery of a force of life in dead matter, or life in the remainders of life: namely, in coal and petroleum. Living fuel (human labor) was exponentially supplemented and often replaced by dead fuel (the carbon remainders of previously alive entities) even as the ethical problems of extracting life from life has been mitigated. Capitalism is an enormous smelter, shoveling into its furnace the living and the dead.” (167)

Biopolitics is habitually conceived as a regime that displaced the sovereign right of kings to take life. It is instead the power to make life. It is about the regulation of fertility, the norms of sexuality, the shaping of individuals and the managing of populations. The object of biopolitics is the social body. Its concern is the boundary between community and immunity. It practices forms of hygiene, both literal and metaphorical. In Foucault it may be something of a provincial concept. Achille Mbembe obliges us to think the relation between European biopolitics and colonial regimes of necropolitics.

Povinelli brings a different critical energy to bear on it. “Have we become so entranced by the image of power working through life that we haven’t noticed the new problems, figures, strategies and concepts emerging all around us…?” (4) She displaces the now habitual concerns with new figures, what she calls the desert, the animistand the virus. Figures on the border between life and nonlife rather than figures interior to life and its governance. Povinelli: “biopower (the governance through life and death) has long depended on a subtending geontopower (the difference between the lively and inert).” (5)

Povinelli: “geontopower is a social project whose purpose is to keep an arrangement of accumulation in place through the specific governance of difference and markets that stretches across human and nonhuman forms of existence.” (173) Why geontopowerrather than just geopower? Povinelli is not particularly interested in the social-technical practices of extraction in this world run by and for the mining industry. These hardly figure at all. Povinelli stays with the conceit that there is an ontological ground that is prior to, and is the order of, the practices that embody or express it. This seems to me to have everything backwards. And actually what seems to happen in these essays is that worldviews extrude out of the various social-technical practices they describe, be they indigenous, settler, ethnographic or western philosophical practices.

Whether one treats it as having additional ontological profundity or not, the practice of a geonotopower at the boundary between life and nonlife seems like a key object of inquiry. So much of the colonizing project is about bringing life out of nonlife. “Make the deserts bloom.” Or if not, excavating the nonliving minerals that makes life bloom elsewhere. Yet the figure has another valence, which looms ever larger on the horizon: genotopower in reverse, or extinction. What happens to an ontology, to social-technical practices, that are premised on life/nonlife if human life is tending towards extinction? “Perhaps the Anthropocene and climate change have made geontopower visible to people who were previously unaffected by it. But its operation has always been a quite apparent architecture of the governance of difference and markets in settler late liberalism.” (21)

From this perspective, the Anthropocene is far from being some hubristic discourse about the powers and destinies of Man. It is rather a malignant, viral human presence in geological time. I think here one could read the Anthropocene through the figure of immunity rather than community. It is not the figure of Man becoming sovereign over the community of the biosphere within geological time. It is rather the biosphere immunizing itself against forms of (non)life that it can’t endure. The Anthropocene may upend rather than affirm the metaphysics it assumes. Povinelli: “are we hearing something other than Logos as the disorganizing principle of a postclimate politics: something more like ‘I can’t breathe’ than ‘listen to me.’” (124)

As Povinelli notes, biology and geology, the sciences of life and nonlife, have histories that parallel that of the rise of the industrial phase of capitalism. The social-technical practices of sinking deep mines or blasting railway cuttings unearths fossil evidence of a deep time for both life and nonlife. To which one could add Kathyrn Yusoff’s connection between colonialism and geology. Worldviews extrude out of the practices of power and retrospectively legitimate them. This is why I think all claims to speak of an ontological ground are ideological, even if they are counter-ontologies pf the kind Povinelli and Yusoff, in their different ways, labor to generate.

The ideologies of global commodification and extraction form the knowledge practices that discover their own limits. Povinelli: “the shift of scale entailed in the study of Anthropogenic climate change is what allows biologists to link the smallest unit of life and death to planetary life and death (the planetary carbon cycle). And this shift in scale allows the thought of extinction to scale up from the logic of species (species-extinction) to a planetary logic (planetary extinction).” (42-43) This obliges a more consistent linking of the geo and bio.

The extraction of fossil fuels unleashes what Povinelli calls the “carbon bomb.” (10) Or what I call the Carbon Liberation Front. Rather than free a people, modernity liberated an element – carbon – free to play in the atmosphere at will. Fossilized carbon compounds, those nonliving residues of life, are extracted in the interests of a certain colonial geopower to fuel its version of life. They may quite likely kill everything. Povinelli: “when the abstraction of the Human is cast as the protagonist of the Anthropocene, a specific set of characters crowd the stage – the Human, the Nonhuman, the Dead, the Never Alive.” (12)

For Anna Tsing, this points to the urgent need for an inclusive politics of wellbeing, of humans and nonhumans, but for Povinelli the question is whether wellbeing can only be seen from the human point of view. She is also a little skeptical about the return to the local that is a feature of the responses to the Anthropocene of Tsing, and I might add also of Bruno Latour. Povinelli: “The global nature of climate change, capital, toxicity, and discursivity immediately demands we look elsewhere than where we are standing…. We can only remain here-ish.” (15) The Anthropocene contains a lot of what Timothy Morton calls hyperobjects, distributed, atmospheric, ambient, detectable only indirectly.

Povinelli: “Critical theory has increasingly put pressure on the ontological distinctions among the biological, geological, and meteorological.” (14) Here I would want to amend this slightly, and replace meteorology with climatology, the branch of the atmospheric sciences more concerned with deep time. Certainly, it now seems dated and unhelpful as well as Eurocentric to be obsessively focused on the forms of power and knowledge encompassed by a biopolitics at the expense of those knowledge practices that took the atmosphere or the earth as its objects. In different ways, Yusoff and Jussi Parikka have asked what critical theory has to say about geology. I have been more interested in what it has to say about climatology.

If geontopower as a mode of governance has a home, it is the desert. The desert is supposedly denuded of life. As Eyal Weizman shows, since settler societies can’t imagine permanent life in the desert they are unable to acknowledge desert-dwellers as in any sense ‘civilized.’ They are peripheral beings to what Povinelli calls the carbon imaginary. Povinelli: “The Carbon imaginary lodges the superiority of Life into Being by transposing biological concepts such as metabolism and its key events, such as birth, growth-reproduction, death, and ontological concepts such as event, conatus/affectus and finitude.” (16-17)

To unpack this a bit: for the carbon imaginary, only life really has being. The set of things that can be considered life can be inclusive, but only at the price of considering otherwise inaimate things as having attributes that seem life-like. Hence the inclusion of Spinoza’s categories of conatus and affectus, which crudely translated might be striving and feeling. The carbon imaginary is the “pulsing scarred region between life and nonlife.” (38) It is about life and what is perceived to precede it.

In the theory world, various mutant strains of Spinoza proliferate like invasive species. The first to propagate widely being that of Antonio Negri. These, for Povinelli, can be characterized as the figure of the animist. The animist insists that the difference between life and nonlife is not a problem. All forms of existence have some animating spirit. This is a kind of vitalism generalized. Everything is alive. Everything strives to remain in being. Everything can affect and be affected. Povinelli’s examples of this are Jane Bennett and Brian Massumi. One might also question here those theorists such as Latour and Isabelle Stengers for whom Gaia is alive, but who have less to say about how this ‘life’ emerges out of, or depends, on nonlife.

These animist approaches to thinking are caught up in the carbon imaginary, imposing life as cardinal value on nonlife, thinking a univocal vitality, but one in which nonlife remains an outside, as the desert. Povinelli troubles it with the figure of thevirus. “The virus is the figure for that which seeks to disrupt the current arrangements of Life and Nonlife by claiming that it is a difference that makes no difference not because all is alive, vital, and potent, nor because all is inert, replicative, unmoving, inert, dormant, and endurant. Because the division of Life and Nonlife does not define or contain the Virus, it can use and ignore this division for the sole purpose of diverting the energies of arrangements of existence in order to extent itself.” (19) Although Povinelli does not go there, the virus could be a figure for both language and for capital.

Povinelli thinks capitalism within the language of vitality. Everything is a potential source of profit, and in that sense, nothing is inert, everything is subsumed into its vitality. “Capital views all modes of existence as if they were vital anddemands that not all modes of existence are the same from the point of view of extraction of value.” (20) To me that sounds closer to the virus figure. It is neither alive nor dead (made of living labor and dead labor) and uses its hosts to replicate its own mutating being.

Povinelli proceeds in a contrapuntal fashion, weaving between western theory and indigenous practices derived mostly from her field work around Belyeun on the Cox Peninsula in the far north of Australia. Her work is less about indigenous people and more about their encounters with settler power. In recent times that power has overturned previous limited attempts at Aboriginal sovereignty. Using the pretext of a moral panic about the welfare of Aboriginal children, self-government has been abolished and police presence and powers expanded. State aid has been reduced and Aboriginal people are supposed to find ‘market solutions’ to their problems.

This amounts to a change in what Povinelli calls late liberalism, which is the management of differences. The postwar policies of multiculturalism and self-determination were ways to tame social movements. Nationalism ended up using the indigenous as a prop. But indigenous power over land went from being about self-determination to capital ownership. Aboriginal ‘stake-holders’ use mining royalties to buy white goods and pay fines. With the old social benefit regime withdrawn, indigenous owners have to grant concessions to mining companies on terms favorable to them.

Since the courts found that some indigenous people have a form of land ownership under colonial law, there is an incentive for Aboriginal people to constitute themselves as the kind of subjects that can be land owners. Here law interacts with the discipline of anthropology, which sets itself up in the business of providing rationales both for and against such land claims.

The state, the law and the mining companies all end up having a stake in an animist worldview. Aboriginal people are held to be totemists, for whom the ancestors, as embodied in the land, are a prior source of life. Animism becomes a kind of control logic recognizable by settler powers. Far from being a critical language, this version of animism is entirely internal to an existing form of state power. It also depends on recognizing a limited range of social organization. Only kinship matters, not any other kind of filiation.

The genocidal logic of settler colonialism apprehends indigenous subject as a kind of living ‘fossil.’ Land rights law consolidated this fantasy of the indigenous as ‘stone age’. Land rights were to be based on continuity of totemic connection passed down through kin. Claimants have to prove a trace from before settler colonial law. They have to find evidence of a time before the state to put before the state. The law is not interested in entanglements of indigenous and settler existents. “Major social and analytic accomplishments that allowed people to survive the present had to be presented as a dumb totemic repetition of the past.” (80)

The new animism extends life everywhere. But extractive capitalism considers desert mostly as nonlife. Totemic stories about sacred sites are meant to sort out which living humans are stakeholders, owners of property. Indigenous claimants argue that the sites are sentient and they are obligated to this sentience. “The rights that Indigenous groups receive from the state are not the right to make their view the norm but to attach a small spigot in the larger pipeline of late liberal approaches to geontology.” (35)

Povinelli discusses a 2013 law case against OM Manganese Ltd who were successfully sued for damages to a sacred site known as Two Women Sitting Down. Even if we think Two Women Sitting Down in an animist or vitalist worldview, in which it is in some sense either sentient or alive, what happens to biopolitics when there are distinctions among the living? Human life differs from other lives, has a different and additional kind of potentiality, another striving. “Does the concept of potentiality consign Two Women Sitting Down… to a form of existence that can only be used or abused by humans in a battle over who will survive and thrive and who will not – about which human livesmatter?” … In the presence of Two Women Sitting Down, ontology’s claim to provide a general account of being reveals a biological bias.” (49-50)

But maybe life can be thought without making a fetish of the epidermal boundary between forms of life and between life and nonlife, and the immunization of life against its others. Eugene Thacker thinks these further divide into inward-turning versus outward-turning accounts of the organization of being. The inward-turning is metabolic, ‘communological,’ about filtering. The outward-turning is immunological, about managing boundaries, exchanges, milieu. (An interesting way for me to think about Bogdanov, who was perhaps interested in a dialectic that was both).

Thacker wants to abandon the concept of life itself, caught between nature and culture, flesh and tech, and think instead of heterogeneous networks: weather systems, carbon cycles, or social-technical systems like what Bratton calls the stack. He is interested in theories of the heterogeneous, of assemblages and their events. Povinelli: “And yet what is this fixation with the event?” (53) Is this a way to think beyond the carbon imaginary, or does it simply generalize it? Why are interruptions always a good thing? “Do we desire the virtual and ceaseless becoming because they allow us to escape what is worse than death and finitude, namely, absolute inertness?” (55)

Maybe a kind of wish-fulfilment returns through a side door. “The Animist says, Life no longer needs to face its terror – the lifeless, the inert, and the void of being – because we can simply refuse to acknowledge any other way of existing than our own.” (55) Lifelike things, such as actualization and becoming, can be seen everywhere. The anxiety of extinction is banished so long as some life lives on.

What if Two Women Sitting Down was neither alive nor dead, but just turned her back on the world? Povinelli recalls her interactions with two women, Betty Bilawag and Gracie Binbin. Together they are digging yams and collecting sea snails. The tide is turning, switching from karrabing, the lowest ebb, heading back to karrakal in their language. Povinelli is in the water, trying not to get her feet cut. She pauses.

Bilawag and Binbin send her toward what might have made her pause. There’s fossil out in the water that only “show himself” in a low, low tide. What she found are sea monster bones, what palentology would call a plesiosaurus. But to Binbin and Bilawag it is a manifestation, that while they are dislocated people, in exile from their country, they now belong to this other place. They had not been back to this site for a while so were pleased that Povinelli found the sea monster. The fossil might have buried itself out of anger or jealousy.

What Povinelli is learning from Bilawag and Binbin is how to perceive the difference between an appearance (gaden) and a manifestation (guman). The latter is “when something not merely appears to something or someone else but discloses itself as comment on the coordination, orientation, and obligation of local existents and makes a demand on persons to actively and properly respond. The fundamental task of training humans how to think, was to learn how to discern a manifestation from an appearance…” (58) Perceiving a manifestation is more than seeing the elements of an assemblage. Assemblages have consistencies, have types. “A yam was a yam.” (58) But it is a matter of learning to be open to perceiving something that is also something else. There is a potential for something to not have a type.

It is a matter of trying to understand the tendencies and predilections of the parts and by extension of the wholes to which they might belong. To keep the part oriented towards its whole so that it might continue to be. Or, if one needed to change the perspective of that whole, to bait or lure it toward a way of being that could car for you. What might a sudden change in the arrangement of existence be about? A manifestation might be about a turning away of you or it, or a turning toward, or a mutual turning away. Manifestations are signs that need heeding. Other forms of existence are assessing the humans just as the humans assess them.

It is a bit like the multinatural perspectivism in Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, only the other perspectives aren’t all other species of animal. This is a world of multiple involvements, all of which can change to help or hinder any of the parts. It is not the unchanging world of the (animist or totemist) traditional indigenous subject that Australian anthropology helped stabilize as a party to settler law and commerce.

Povinelli takes the Aboriginal response to situations forced upon it by ongoing colonial violence as a worldview in action to juxtapose to the more contemplative ones dreamt up recently in the world of High Theory, such as new materialism, speculative realism and object oriented ontology. These are versions of a return of the thing-itself, perhaps at the moment of exhaustion of critical theories of the subject. On the one hand, subjective agency was so roundly defeated, by capitalism, by militarism, and on the other, the subjective agent of history started to fragment into different voices.

Quentin Meillassoux in particular came up with the bold approach of refusing the Kantian critique of a metaphysics of the real without returning to the dogmatism of pre-critical theory. His is a real without dogma but which is then also a real of absolute contingency. It’s a cunning approach, as post-Kantian critical philosophy takes this hyper-chaotic world to be all that can be said of the real outside of a knowledge generated by a subject through one or other mix of innate reason and empirical sensation. So why not take it as the real and ditch the subject that is supposed to correlate to it?

In a now-famous opening gambit, Meillassoux takes up the question of ancestral statements: what can be said of an object of knowledge such as a fossil – what he calls an archefossil– whose existence predates the existence of the human itself? What can be said of this being before givenness? A problem which, incidentally, is only a problem after modern geology vastly extended the time frame of the existence of the earth.

My own response to Meillassoux puts back in the picture the inhuman mix of flesh and tech via which a science comes to mediate a knowledge of a nonhuman archefossil to a human subject. Science as media pictures the nonhuman for the human and in the process makes the cut between them that Meilliassoux takes as given. But what if there was another way the archefossil could be mediated to the human? Would it produce a different kind of human subject? That is perhaps what interests Povinelli, in talking about how Binbin and Bilawag encounter the fossil and attend to it.

Theirs is a worldview made out of repeated encounters with colonial violence brought along the vectors of cattle, tobacco, grog and sugar. Not to mention viruses. Entire linages were wiped out by influenza, not to mention the shooting sprees and forced internments. They struggle to transform violent displacement into proper dwelling, in a world they take as something other than an indifferent desert, but rather as sensing and reacting to them as they react to it. But which manifestations to heed? Were the actions of white settlers being acknowledged and acted on by forces in the landscape? How might mutual obligation occur again after displacement? Povinelli: “the mutual orientation of existents would not be a function of choice but a form of mutually embodied obligation.” (79)

Some, like Bilwag and Binbin refuse to be proper animists and conform to what anthropologists and the state think they should be. The problem with settler recognition of indigenous land rights is that only some kin get to be claimants and they have to make a claim to continuity. Claims have to be ‘traditional’ and not historical. Compensation is distributed only to ‘traditional’ owners not to others. Displaced people can’t really make claims to have established newrelations to country. Perversely enough, settler habits of treating the land as ‘desert’ for extraction or for dumping waste leaves behind territory not even the state wants any more. Povinelli: “Indigenous sovereignty over space is re-emerging in the space of utter state abandonment and total capital despoilment.” (90)

Tjipel is a coastal tidal creek. Here’s is Tjipel’s story, as told to Povinelli by Ruby Yilngi: Tjipel is a beautiful teenage girl who decides to dress as a young man, making hunting implements and men’s clothes. She travels down the coast doing different things, including spearing a wallaby. The crux of her story is an encounter with an older man. A bird tells her the man approaches. She lies on her belly to hide her femaleness. Thinking Tjipel a young man, the older man bids her get up and cook the wallaby. Tjipel refuses. He takes the wallaby and leaves. Another bird comes to tell him Tjipel is female. He returns, a fight ensues. He wins.

Tjipel is the creek, and divides two coastal points, two language groups. Tjipel is also elsewhere. There are multiple other forms of Tjipel. This is not the only connection between Tjipel as story and as place. And where Tjipel is a creek, other beings are there too: rock cod, possum, and so on. What matters about Tjipel is her directionality, her connections, how and why Tjipel responded to various interactions, giving or withholding crabs and fish, for example. Someone who wanted to know more about Tjipel would be advised to interact with her more, follow her traces.

Tjipel and her humans are internal to each other’s arrangement. Tjipel calls for the humans that belong to care about Tjipel. If Tjipel’s humans don’t care, Tjipel won’t die, but just turn away. Tjipel had already changed forms before, changing gender, then changing to a creek, and could become a desert, which is not barren in this geontology, just turned away from humans. Povinelli: “What are the distributions of powers of existence such that certain arrangements of existence endure?” (95) A living thing does not react to an environment so much as create it and be affected by it and by an ability to maintain it.

Two Women Sitting Down and Tjipel refuse to abide by any distinction between life and nonlife. “If Tjipel is an assemblage, therefore, she shows the concept of assemblage to be a paradox – something that is hereand thisbut without a clear extension, limit, sovereignty, or decisive reference as imagined in the biontological logos of western philosophy and critical theory. She is hereishas opposed to thereish.” (103) Tjipel, it is worth mentioning, might be other things too: natural gas, rare earth minerals. She might be a legal device, an electoral talking point. In Jacques Ranciere, politics is a dissensuswithin a given distribution of the sensible. Dissensus is when there is a part of the polity with no share in common, a part that says it has no part. Does this version of politics disallow the existence of Tjipel or Two Women Sitting Down in the first place? Would Tjipel be outside the distribution of the sensible in the first place?

Maybe existing political theory is inadequate here. “If critical theories of the Logos and the demos and the phonos and the event are to have any sway in the coming debates about geontopower, then their political topologies must allow existents that are not biologically and anthropologically legible or do not speak to disrupt the Logos of demos rather than simply to be allowed to enter into it. The generosity of extending our forms of semiosis to them forecloses the possibility of them provincializing us. That is, Two Women Sitting Down, Tjipel… must be allowed to challenge the very foundations of articulate language.” (142)

Maybe a more radical rethinking, and another practice, is called for: “Do the concepts of Logos and subjectivity place a limit on the kind of noise that can enter the dialectic of the demos…? … Does noise need to go to Logos, or is it Logos that must first be decentered by noise in order to become something else?” (143) Political theory has become second nature. It assumes a world it cannot sense. Or maybe two worlds. One it retroactively calls nature, as that which is the mere raw material, lacking in being, out of which second nature makes its substance. But maybe the other is what I would call a third nature, making itself out of the volatile noise it extracts from second nature, to make its derivative and digital substance.

Povinelli toys with some concepts that point to third nature: semiocapitalism, the immaterial, cognitive capital, as popularized by Lazzarato, Virno and Berardi. And she introduces a distinctive problem: how can the existing forms of social-technical practice of indigenous people be translated into the digital? Could an archive be constructed around the patterns of kinship with all their exclusions rather than on an abstract notion of a people or a polity?

This is one of two points where I think Povinelli is best read together with some other Australian anthropological work from the eighties. Eric Michaels asked exactly these questions when he tried to make video with the Walpiri people of Yuendumu in the western desert. Vivien Johnson asked what happened when secret and sacred designs ended up pirated on t-shirts and tea towels, and how the law of copyright, like property law, might protect and yet also harm traditional forms of ownership. And it was Stephen Muecke who asked what would happen if you put something like Deleuzian theory alongside indigenous philosophy and treated them, not as equivalent, but as equals.

Late liberalism is the governance of difference and is connected to neoliberalism, as governance for markets. Late liberalism used a politics of the recognition of difference and combined it with the virtues of open markets as way of at least symbolically overcoming both stagnation and injustice. Recognizing limited forms of Aboriginal sovereignty was part of its project. It was a response to a legitimacy crisis sparked by social movements, but one which now runs up against another kind of legitimacy crisis, for it confronts a different kind of difference – nonlife.

There can be more than one valence to the “tense of the other.” (172) Late liberalism combines the autological subject, who lives in the future tense, and whose future is freedom, with the geneological society, who live in the past tense and are a world of constraints. In late liberalism, animists can have their place but are always backward, and ‘traditional.’ But geontopower now has to articulate a future tense that is one of extinction rather than freedom. Or, as I have it, offers freedom not for humans for any other species but for atmospheric carbon – the Carbon Liberation Front.

What Povinelli offers as an alternative is the modest but interesting work of the Karrabing Indigenous Corporation, and their work in video. It is a group not based on logic of the land rights era which were about meshing geneology with law with anthropology as mediator. In relation to which Karrabing are a noncompliant virus.

This would be the basics of Karrabing practice: that things exist through mutual attention. Things are neither born nor die. Things turn away from each other or change states. Things can withdraw care from each other. The earth is not dying. It is turning away from certain ways of existing. The desert is where certain things have withdrawn care. “Rather than Life and Nonlife, we will ask what formations we are keeping in existence or extinguishing?” (28)