My Big Project this summer -- and main way of ensuring that I never complete the book about the liveliness of stone I received fellowship funding to write, and will thereby end my career in misery and disgrace -- is an edited collection Prismatic Ecologies: Ecotheory Beyond Green (University of Minnesota Press). Mostly, Prismatic been a good experience: the majority of the contributors have been on time and at the peak of their creativity, amenable to the edits I've made to their essays and eager to have this collaboration succeed. Some of its most prolific contributors (Graham Harman, Tim Morton) have also been its swiftest -- no doubt there is a correlation there. I've had a few stragglers, and some essayists who required more prodding than I would have liked. The essay on "Red" had to be replaced this spring, but I love the piece that I now have. I recently lost both "Silver" and "Grey" -- and to ensure that something in that shade appears, I've been reworking my zombie project (which always had an ecological bent) to widen its scope into a grey [undead] ecology.
So far I'm pleased with the result. I'll be giving the essay a trial run in Edinburgh this week, where I'm a speaker at this conference. I paste its opening below; let me know what you think.
Grey is the fate of color at twilight. As the sun’s radiance dwindles, objects receive less light to scatter and absorb. They yield to the world a diminishing energy, so that the vibrancy of orange, indigo and red dull to dusky hues. A grey ecology, then, might seem a moribund realm, an expanse of slow loss, wanness and withdrawal, a graveyard space of mourning: no sensual bodies here, only perished flesh. Perhaps with such muted steps the apocalypse arrives, not with a bang but a dimming. Or maybe ashen grey is all that remains after the fires of the world’s end have extinguished themselves, when nothing remains to burn.
Yet this affective disposition in which greying signals depletion and lifelessness reveals only the stubborn embedment of our anthropocentricity. The colors which constitute the small portion of the spectrum humanly apprehensible recede, but they do not take the world’s vitality with them. The grey hour is liminal, a turning point at which owls, mosquitoes, vampires and the wind thrive, when stone cools for a while and continues its epochal process of becoming dust, when animals and elements continue indifferent to our proclivity to think that an evening’s color drain is a metaphor for human impermanence, or a cosmic acknowledgment of our little fits of melancholy. Grey includes death, but reminds that human mortality is a continuation of life by other means. We are too enamored of the red and blue of catastrophe – of a world destroyed in flame and flood. We like to imagine our own end, and assume at the demise of our race the world likewise terminates (fade to black) or that planet Gaia returns to the balance it possessed before apes became profligate humans (fade to deepest green).
Either way, the apocalyptic imagination has difficulty discerning the vivaciousness of grey. The gloaming is a place of life, but not necessarily in those sublime forms that we expect life to assume. A sensual grey ecology (and the grey aesthetics that accompany its exploration) is inhuman, but that does not render it misanthropic, disembodied or outside the human. Inhuman means "not human," of course, and therefore includes a world of forces, objects, and nonhuman beings. But in-human also indicates the alien within (a human body is an ecosystem filled with strange organisms; a human collective is an ecosystem filled strange objects), and requires as well a consideration of the violently inhumane. Grey, the nightfall hue of the in-between and the uncertain, a tint of many shades, is not easily circumscribed. It's an open aesthetic.
Yet a community comes into being through boundary. Forces, beings and things supposedly left outside dwell in an extimate or medial space, the unsettled oikos of dusk's fade. This liminal expanse marks the habitation of unfinished business, of traumas and exclusions. The story it conveys includes histories of injustice and violence. Grey is therefore the realm of the monster, that which appears at the perilous limit between what we know and what we do not wish to apprehend, what we are and what we must not be, what we fear and what we desire. Like the monster who conveys its force, a grey aesthetics will often take anthropomorphic form: our perceptions of the world are irremediably shaped by our humanity, and although we can attempt to discern what it is like to be a nonhuman thing, “one can never entirely escape the recession into one’s own centrism.” Yet in grey – a process more than a color -- can be discerned (not clearly, but as if it twilight) the inhumanity through which dominating notions of the human come into being, notions that emerge through the sorting of who and what gets to dwell in the house and own a proper life, who and what will be excluded from both. Grey reveals the inhuman as a thriving of life in other modes, a vitality even in death that demonstrates how the nonhuman is already inside, cohabitating and, long after we perish, continuing. Grey is the human in the microbe and the stone as well as the virus and the rock in the human.
A grey ecology is an expanse of monsters, but that isn’t in the end such a dim place to dwell.
 Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012) 80. On the unavoidability of anthropocentrism see also 64.