Matter & Desire: Ecology As Erotic Love
An interview with Andreas Weber, author of "Matter & Desire: An Erotic Ecology"
Posted Dec 24, 2017
An 'Erotic Ecology' is an art of living, of caring for the biosphere and of creating satisfying relationships inspired by the Eros of life — the power which makes everything in our reality yearn for connection and transformation.
Working for "personal rewilding" and a first-person ecology
A few months ago I read a book called Matter & Desire: An Erotic Ecology by biologist and philosopher Andreas Weber. I'm a fan of one of his previous books titled Biology of Wonder: Aliveness, Feeling and the Metamorphosis of Science, in which he develops an idea called "poetic ecology" that clearly shows that we are not alone — indeed, we are one of the gang — and must not behave as if we are the only show in town. The Biology of Wonder is a wonderfully eclectic and wide-ranging work which clearly shows that all beings and landscapes on our fascinating and magnificent planet are deeply interconnected, and I was taken in by the development of what Dr. Weber calls "erotic ecology" in Matter & Desire, which argues that being alive is an erotic process constantly transforming the self through contact with others, desiring ever more life.
I wanted to learn more, so I asked Dr. Weber if he could answer a few questions, and he gladly said, "Yes." Here's what he had to say.
Why did you write Matter & Desire?
I wrote the book in order to understand ecology as a love process. I wanted to show that the world is neither a neutral stage, devoid of any feeling, nor an “only material” setting. My aim was to show that the material world is at the same time an “outside” and a meaningful inside — an experience of inwardness. In living beings, this inwardness becomes an experience. That is what we know on our “inside” — that we exist as selves to whom everything we encounter has a meaning.
To my eyes, we need to rediscover love as a biological principle. As bodies, every living being participates in a live-giving exchange with others, led by the desire to nourish the self through intimate reciprocity with others, through touch and metabolic exchange. An “Erotic Ecology” is an art of living, of caring for the biosphere and of creating satisfying relationships inspired by the Eros of life — the power which makes everything in our reality yearn for connection and transformation.
In The Biology of Wonder, I argued that every organism experiences the world as inwardness. In Matter & Desire, I try to show that feeling and experience are features of the whole reality which in living beings becomes tangible and expressive. Organisms realize a deep quality of reality. We, as organisms, are matter, and we experience being matter from the inside. We know what it means to be matter. In the book, I particularly wanted to show that every experience, all knowledge actually, is related to having a body, to being matter. It is matter which constantly desires to meet other matter and to be intimately touched and transformed by it.
Becoming a feeling self by intimately connecting to others through touch and transformation — that is a definition of love. In Matter & Desire, I try to show that reality follows the desire to lovingly enfold otherness through the touch of matter.
Love — the impulse to establish connections, to intermingle, to weave our existence poetically together with that of other beings — is a foundational principle of reality. Love is the active search for the other, the yearning to be transformed by the other, to enter into connection in order to give life. Love is actually the practice to give life. The need to exercise this practice manifests as desire.
How does Matter & Desire follow up on previous works, including your outstanding book The Biology of Wonder and some of my ideas about personal rewilding?
Matter & Desire enlarges the other book’s core idea that living beings are not objects, but feeling selves. They are embodied processes of desire. This desire means to yearn for individuality and connection at the same time, or rather: all beings long for individuality-through-connection. Not by chance this is the same as what we try to achieve in our personal development and relationships. Individuality-through-connection is actually the definition of any fruitful relationship. And fruitful relationships is what “wild” in depth is about.
I love the term "personal rewilding.” I assume that is precisely what I am after in Matter & Desire when I propose to be as “real” and authentic in our needs as nonhuman organism are. “Wild” in the terms of Matter & Desire means to give in to becoming self through constantly incorporating otherness, to let go of the drive to control a fixed identity and yield to the true and real needs one has, even though they might include something difficult. Wild is a profound truth, not as a particular essence or resource, but as adherence to what is real and to that which needs to be done in order to keep up with reality.
Wild is not about being self-made (organic) against human-made (technological). It is about being oneself, making oneself from the powers of the flesh that yearns for unfolding, against not being oneself, enclosed by powers who tell me what to do, how to behave, what to feel, until I have completely forgotten what my powers are. Wild means to follow the yearning for blossoming. And to blossom means to be totally self through being totally in connection.
Who is your intended audience?
My audience is anyone who is not satisfied with the current paradigm of the world as an assemblage of dead objects, of the body as a machine, of nature as a mere resource, of animals as non-feeling robots. In particular, these could be found amongst:
- People working in nature education and mentoring
- People working in sustainability projects
- Artists and writers
- People working in spirituality-related fields
- Community builders
- Management consultants
What are your major messages?
I probably have three major points to get across. I have already mentioned some of their features in my answers above. So let me try to state my messages here in a neat way:
First: Dualism is wrong; the world is only one, and it is one in the sense that everything material at the same time is a process of desire, an experience of inwardness, and the (material) expression of this inwardness. This world is always about both surface and feeling (or, as Simone Weil would have it, “gravity and grace”). There’s the title of my book: matter is desire. That’s also the erotic aspect in it: all knowledge comes about by touch, by full immersion.
Second: The inwardness I am talking about is not the property of “individuals,” but rather something which arises by the communion of different players. That’s the word “ecology” in the title. Reality is an ecological system in which sense arises always by the crossing of the lifelines of different agents. The flower is a common imagination of the plant and the bee. Metabolism integrates the ingested matter of others into the framework of our own, and lets go of our own flesh that becomes air again. There is a deep sense of communion and interpenetration. But this does not mean that we “all are one.” We are one, and we are individuals — and through this tension comes meaning and inwardness into the world.
Third: The book is about the fundamentally relational aspect of reality. And about the fundamentally material aspects of relations. And about the fundamentally transformational aspect of material encounters. And about the fundamentally experiential and expressive aspect of transformation. The book is hence a profound rethinking of what we understand of a relationship (on any level, from “mere” material to human and personal). It is such a rethinking from the perspective of reality as a love process, as a desire to get into ever more transformative relationships. Matter & Desire argues that the world is relational, because it is material, and that it is emotional, because it is relational. Fruitful relations are those in which an individual grows through the growth of the whole. The underlying desire for that is what makes the clock tick, what calls for change through the ages, what might even create time. This is why I say that every ecosystem is a love process. It is a love process answering reality’s desire to get in touch, to embrace, to enfold, to nourish.
A phrase from a recent essay of mine summarizes all that quite neatly: "Nature is not distant from us. It is not other. It is not matter alone, not the substance of birds and blossoms, but matter as desire. Nature is the embodied desire to connect. The senses are vehicles for this desire; they speak to our own longing to connect.”
Why would practicing biologists, including conservationists, want to read Matter & Desire?
Matter & Desire offers a “first-person-ecology” which includes one’s own aliveness and emotional experience in the understanding of ecology and into the practice to conserve ecosystems. It proposes a practice of commoning as the right relationship towards other beings.
Matter & Desire offers a picture of the living world which emphatically includes our own feeling as a living being into the description of an ecosystem. The “Erotic Ecology” I propose argues that feeling, longing, and emotional connection are actually manifestations of the wild in us, hence not opposed to nature’s forces, but their way to appear in ourselves. Matter & Desire offers a “first-person ecology,” which includes one’s own aliveness and emotional experience in the understanding of ecology and into the practice to conserve ecosystems. It proposes a practice of commoning as the right relationship towards other beings.
In more specific form, readers of Matter & Desire could:
- Gain a view of life and of our own selves that has overcome dualism (mind/matter)
- Understand life from a perspective that includes emotions and feeling
- Allow themselves to access reality through poetic understanding
- Get insights into some of the latest findings in biology and biosemiotics
- Reconnect with their emotions and their body in new ways as a feeling self
- Connect with the more-than-human world in a more natural way
- Get a clearer sense of what their authentic self desires
- Get insights into the connectedness of experience, biology, society and economy
Along the lines of question 5, what practical lessons can be learned from "an erotic ecology"?
I assume that the most important lesson is that we should not longer act as though we were separated from other beings, be it conceptually (they are machines, we are “subjects”) or materially (they are resources for our “market”). If reality is a commons in which meaning arises by mutual transformation of individuals through others, and individuality arises by incorporation of the whole in the process of the self, we should start to treat reality accordingly — by commoning. Surprisingly (or, actually not so) this is something the first people have always been doing — probably for more than a million years since “Homo” had so much separated from the more-than-human world as to need to create a culture to re-enact the transforming connections which the ecosystem calls for. Indigenous people are commoners — they usually know that they are a part of a vast web and need to “love back” in order to sustain it. The challenge is to create a way of “loving back,” a way of commoning, that grows out of our current global Western culture.
What are some of your current and future projects?
In Germany, my latest book has come out, which is a deepened examination of the experience of being as a primal sharing (sein und teilen). This is a sort of “first-person-commons” account. It follows the lines of Matter & Desire, becoming more radical (and personal). So it is another go at “personal rewilding.”
Then there are two more books I am at. One is about “feeling” as the manifestation of the world’s transformational processes, and the way to experience them and to interact with them — as the very human way of “self-experience as world.” This book is going to be an answer to a couple of positions currently found in “new materialism,” and particularly in Timothy Morton’s new book Humankind: Solidarity with Nonhuman People, where he claims a new thinking of “solidarity” as having something in common with all beings (and with all “non-living” things).
The second next book is about the lessons learned from indigenous thinking, what to make of their idea of the cosmos as a vast commons to which one needs to contribute in the light of the needs of our post-capitalist society. I am also more and more into offering workshops to experience ecology from an “erotic” standpoint as a participant in the mutual exchange of touch and flesh, and in order to offer entries into “personal rewilding” by opening up spaces to get into contact with the true feeling self.
Thanks so much, Andreas, for this most eclectic and stimulating interview. I do hope that Matter & Desire will reach a broad global audience, including "academics" and others who are deeply interested in, and concerned with, the state of our planet in a period when its landscapes and species are being decimated at unprecedented rates.