Bio: Stefano Rozzoni is a PhD Candidate in Transcultural Studies in Humanities at the University of Bergamo (Italy) and Justus-Liebig Universität Gießen (Germany). In his research project he wishes to engage with the study of pastoral poetry through the lens of (Critical) Posthumanism.
Style: (Unpretentiously) Creative
Fields: Media Studies, Ecocriticism, Ethics.
Author: Stefano Rozzoni
Dolphins in Venice and Where to Find Them: Or, A Non-Linear Reflection on the Human/Nature Divide at the Time of the Coronavirus
There is no doubt that we-as-humans are now living in an extra-ordinary* time. If this conclusion was not already evident before the outbreak of Covid-19, the current (health, social, political, economic, existential…) crisis has made this awareness plain to – almost – anybod(ies). The combination of the increasing number of contagions and the decrease in freedom brought about by the lockdown has revealed unexpected nuances in relation to the ways in which the concept of “schizophrenia” serves for reflecting on the world we live in.
After almost a month of being confined in my apartment, determining what is now ordinary or extra-ordinary is challenging: the continuous twisting between these two poles has fostered the uncanny feeling(s) of venturing into uncharted territories, even though going outside is, at the moment, an a priori impossibility.
Posthuman studies have long discussed the contradictions and paradoxes of the present-day world, determining a wave of critical thinking that tackles the Humanistic axioms embedded in Western thought. But if, until a few weeks ago, this concern was mostly limited to a circle of inventive minds in academia, the urge to reflect on what it means to be human has now become a much more widespread intellectual effort.
It is now not so uncommon to come across media narratives urging readers to avail of the current crisis by “radical[ly] rethink[ing] […] how our societies work, the necessity of public health care, a necessity of slowness” (1). The present condition has already become established as a watershed between the past and the future (2), which may finally integrates forms of non-human- (significant)-others in a more equal Tomorrow (3). Posthumanists cannot but be more than excited observing the ultimate collective awakening for the paradigmatic shift that they have been advocating in the last few years. However, in any self-respecting schizophrenic world(s), this tendency matches an equally intense prolongation of some – apparently ineradicable – traditional Humanistic values.
Being overwhelmingly exposed to media information since the start of the quarantine, I have come across multiple articles showing these oxymora. My interest in Ecocriticism makes me particularly inclined to spot dualistic narratives that reinforce the human/nature divide while attempting to promote a more eco-logical sensibility. In this alignment, one particular report has grabbed my attention in the last few days: dolphins swimming in Venice due to boat-traffic-free canals (4). The argument is simple: while humanity is on lockdown, non-human(ity) takes advantage of the territories (literally “take[ing] Venice back”) (5) from which it was previously evicted. As much as the idea of the natural world reclaiming what has been subtracted by humans may appear as a pleasant feeling in the time of the #FridaysForFuture, this narrative hides much more complex and
First of all, as National Geographic reported soon after the dolphin-case gained popularity, fake news abounds in social media just like the coronavirus upends life (6). No dolphins were, in fact, actually spotted in Venice. Similarly, (many) other stories about animals entering cityscapes turned out to be fictional accounts, demonstrating how the country/city dualism still plays a relent role among the long-standing tropes entertaining Western culture. Beyond issues of veracity connected to this occurrence, or the fairness of the equation “less pollutants = more favorable conditions for (nonhuman) life”, it becomes essential to reflect on the fact that arguments such as “Nature has pushed up the reset button” (7) are twofold: they also implicitly perpetuate the traditional dichotomy of Man/Nature and stress the ontological separation of the human from the nonhuman. We-as-humans-who-have-read-(at)-(least)-Rosi-Braidotti (see note A) are all well-aware of the subtle implications of this ideal.
The endurance of “naturalizing” conceptual habits of non-human others is not difficult to perceive, as well as the emphasis on a sense of separateness of the human from the nonhuman, in a moment in which their inter/intra-connectedness has never been clearer.
One (or more) question(s) can be raised spontaneously: what does Nature refer to in current news reports? What are the effects of stressing a dualistic conceptualization of Nature? How and why can this term be used? As Timothy Clark famously affirmed: “I’ve seen penguins, plutonium, pollution and pollen. But I’ve never seen Nature” (see note B). However, it is evident how today’s media eco-narratives not only make Nature visible by depicting non-human entities through practices of Othering, but they also make dolphins visible too, where they presently are not.
When one realizes that he or she is spending more time watching a digital window rather than a brick-and-mortar one, it is clear how the changing perspective that we have undergone during quarantine is not a mere quirk of scholars in Philosophy Departments.
“We are in this together” has become an(other) popular motto since the outbreak of the pandemic. (8) However, as Braidotti would add, “(but)-we-are-not-one-and-the-same”. This IS the time for rethinking what it means to be humans. Yet, while doing this, pondering on the risks of perpetuating intellectual humanistic habits and the practice of binary thinking can become an(other) way of (re)imagining a more pluralistic future of co-existence between humans and significant-others. Starting from the virus. And including dolphins too.
*While I am writing this piece, my beloved hometown Bergamo is at the center of international news for being one of the hotspots of the contagion. The suffering and the pain that is touching my famil(ies) and friends, and the many who live in this area, as well as in the rest of the world, are not forgotten. My warmest thoughts are with you all. And this is my affirmative response to this difficult, extra-ordinary time.
A. For a further critique of binary thinking, see Braidotti, Rosi. Posthuman Knowledge, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019.
B. Morton, Timothy, Realist Magic. Objects, Ontology, Causality. Open Humanities Press, 2013. 2013, p. 42.