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The grammar of action in the critical zone

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Publication date31/10/2020
Host publicationCritical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landing on Earth
EditorsBruno Latour, Peter Weibel
Place of PublicationCambridge, MA, USA
PublisherMIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)9780262044455
<mark>Original language</mark>English


In this paper I argue that we can use some distinctive features of language to help reveal the ‘grammar’ of action, of being and becoming, in the densely folded critical zone around the Earth’s surface. I first explore how the evolution of our words for agency have effected a misleading division between initiating and carrying out. I then discuss the imperfective aspect that we naturally use to describe energeia, forms of ongoing action with no natural finish in which potentiality and actuality coexist, and about how plants can be said to ‘embody’ this mode of existence more fully. I finally talk about the middle voice, in which the subject is neither active nor passive, suggesting that this form of speech can help illuminate the important earthly processes of ‘drift’ that are practiced within the animal, vegetal and mineral realms alike. I suggest that such an exercise can help us better discern and express the texture of action amongst humans and non-humans in the critical zone.