Academic journal article New Formations

Cosmopolitics: The Kiss of Life

Academic journal article New Formations

Cosmopolitics: The Kiss of Life

Article excerpt

Abstract A portrait of Australian flying fox life in the Anthropocene illuminates startlingly familiar stories. These animals are participants in most of the major catastrophic events of contemporary life on Earth: warfare, man-made mass death, famine, expukion, urbanisation, emerging dkeases, climate change, and biosecurity. At the same time they are the targets of conservation action and local/international NGO aid. They are endangered, and are involved in all the major factors causing extinctions. Equally, they are a keystone species and their looming extinction portends wider waves of extinction. My account of flying foxes in Australia focuses on the plan to expel them from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Whilst arguing for an urban cosmopolitics of emergent convivialities, my study is required to move in a darker direction. I am inspired by Stengers's account of cosmopolitics and her definition of politics which focuses on who is entitled to speak about questions of our common destiny. Research with flying foxes shows that in advance of the question of who speaks, determinations involving terror and expulsion depend on severing any sense that there is or could be a common destiny. Radical social exclusion, phrased in righteously banal terms, precedes and comes to authorise the species cleansing involved in expulsion. Peace, if it can grasped at all in such a context, requires multiple recursions across a terrain in which we name and resist the acts of terror that purport to separate us out into divergent destinies.

Keywords cosmopolitics, mutualism, symbiosis, multispecies encounters, terror, Pteropus spp

I YET ANOTHER LOVE STORY

I sat in the backyard of a dilapidated bungalow in south-west Sydney wondering how I could possibly get used to living in this huge, hideous, dysfunctional city. I sat there often, brooding, and I continued to brood until the day the Grevillea Robusta burst into flower. This large relatively nondescript tree, also known as silky oak, has a Cinderella moment when it decks itself out with bright orange heavily nectared flowers. I was sitting there worrying, and suddenly I heard chattery quarrelsome sounds and smelled a glorious muskiness. I felt my senses come alive, and when I looked up and saw that unmistakeable shape in the evening sky I knew for sure that flying foxes were abroad, bringing their blessings even into my backyard. I caught a glimpse of a 'nourishing terrain', of a city in which multispecies gifts of life are on the move, and I thought: 'if you guys can live here, I can too!' The next step was a research project to learn more about the lives of flying foxes in Sydney and other urban areas.

I have written about Australian Aboriginal people's relationships with 'country', and I have spent years in the bush learning from Aboriginal people, many of whom are kin to flying foxes.1 1 hadn't expected to find myself washed up on a distant urban shore where no life but the human seemed to find purchase. And yet, as I came to understand, flying foxes are living an urban life rich with both perils and possibilities, a life that challenges humans to develop a more inclusive cosmopolitics. Isabelle Stengers' concept of cosmopolitics is articulated in an open and generous way that arises from a fundamental proposition that 'we are not alone in the world'.2 She states that she is aiming toward an 'experimental togetherness that makes peace a challenge'. The place of cosmopolitics is to define 'peace as an ecological production of actual togetherness, where 'ecological' means that the aim is not toward a unity beyond differences...'.3 That experimental togetherness is, or has the potential to be, a form of symbiosis: 'a relation between two heterogeneous ways of being, both needing the other because without the other none of them would be able to achieve its own pathways and goals'.4 Flying foxes in Sydney seem to be living (or trying to live) just such a multispecies symbiotic cosmopolitics, and my aim is to articulate ways in which humans might rise to the challenges of peace. …

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