The Soil Food Web: Notes towards Cultivating "New" Alliances between Earthlings
Stefan R. D. Morales
Acadia University

How can we grasp our relationship to the Earth through the earth? In dealing with the human and its relationship to the soil food web, this lecture traces translations as they occur through the sense of smell and taste using Thomas A. Sebeok's concept of the chemical sign. What world do we share with nonhumans when we cultivate the soil? Employing Félix Guattari's "pseudo-narrative detour" through myth, ritual and science and Gilles Deleuze's elaboration of uncertainty in The Logic of Sense, the lecture criticizes subject-centred encounters with the soil food web and its complexity, aiming instead for an anexact science of Earth-earthling relations. It advances the notion that the mundane eating and defecating tendencies shared by all earthlings is the basis of a renewed material alliance with the Earth. Though the Earth and its earthlings share what may be called flesh (organic and nonorganic), it is what passes through and is exchanged by flesh that is of interest here. Moving from retracing the "new" assemblies of plants, animals, and microbes that are produced through cultivated efforts at rearranging the mundane (spatial questions), the lecture closes on an exploration of the differing layers of time (Chronos and Aion) bound up in the "new" assemblies.

Before I begin, I want to discuss the context in which I arrived at some of my convictions about the vitality of the soil ecosystem and the humans who inhabit its field of relations for better or worse. For the past two years, I have been directly or indirectly involved in the rewarding experience of growing a garden -- first as a volunteer and later as a program coordinator at the Acadia Community Farm in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and now gardening in Victoria. While at the Acadia Community Farm, myself and other organizers came to realize the power of local education. Those who came to the community farm (myself included) tasted tomatoes fresh from the vine, learned what a broccoli plant looked like, put their hands in some soil and came away from the farm with glowing faces at having experienced the very simple practice of procuring food from the earth. We decided to make this a regular introduction to the community farm -- it was part of our pedagogy. For myself, I decided to keep my hands in the soil and try to think about what farming meant to political theory. In the fall of 2009, I and the other organizers at the farm hosted a conference called The Farm in Education where we encouraged farmers and academics alike to think the agricultural beyond both a theoretical approach and a trade-school approach [1]. For myself, I began to see that interdisciplinary work needed to go beyond those disciplines found within the university and to the trade school, the ecovillage, the local informal experts, and so on.

In a way, what I will present is a reflection on our relationship with our food and the processes that beget it -- in particular, the soil food web as an all-encompassing ecosystem inclusive of humans -- as these may be considered in their material and communicative senses.

First, I will argue that the mundane eating and defecating tendencies shared by all earthlings is the basis of a renewed materialist alliance with the Earth. Though the Earth and its earthlings share what may be called flesh (organic and nonorganic), it is what passes through and is exchanged by flesh that is of import in my exploration.

Second, I will trace the translations within the nutrient cycle that are shared by earthlings as these translations occur through the senses of smell and taste. To do so I will explore Thomas A. Sebeok's concept of the chemical sign in order to propose some preliminary conceptual tools for an approach to this material that passes through the flesh of earthlings.

Finally, I will move past an exploration of our senses of smell and taste in relation to the chemical channel that passes throughout the soil food web and attempt to elaborate the role of uncertainty in our dealings with the material world. By making what Félix Guattari calls "a pseudo-narrative detour through the annals of myth and ritual or... scientific accounts," the complex terrain between subject and object, as well as between past, present and future, can be elaborated (Guattari 2000, 37-38). Describing our inclusion within the soil food web through the anexact means of this pseudo-narrative detour makes cultivators out of dominators, humbling the human earthling in its relation to all earthlings.

Materialist Alliance

The soil food web subsists as a radical outside, or unthought. By subsisting outside, however, the soil food web does not transcend our subjectivity, rather it pushes us to believe in the Earth as a material complexity beyond the bounds of (human) common sense. The soil differs from we humans, but is in no way in opposition to us (as narratives of use value or wilderness would have it). But whether or not the subject can know and understand the true reality of the soil food web is beside the point, since we have always grasped the soil -- whether by the footfall of feet, by the hands, or by the teeth -- and know it in this very physical sense: we dwell in and upon the earth, and so we are named earthlings. I want to put forward the argument that we would do better to think of ourselves as earthlings -- earthlings who participate with the Earth best when we acknowledge that our living habits and habitats are coexistent with other plant, animal and microbial habits and habitats... in short, other earthlings. As bearers of nutritional fruit ourselves, we too participate in the feast of life, eating the bodies and fruits of other earthlings and in turn having our own fruits eaten by others (when we allow this to occur -- as taboo as it might seem). Our fruit, our human manure as it is called by some, is just another animal manure, albeit a more potent brand, but we have the tendency to amass it in one place and flush it into our waterways, leading to further problems downstream, as well as failing to productively participate in the nutrient cycle along with our terrestrial cohorts.

Ecologists, permaculturalists and Gaia theorists define the living and breathing shared habitats of the planet as guilds, and this concept elaborates what I mean when I talk about our position as earthlings among other earthlings. A guild is a group of species that exploit the same resources in the same way. Where a permaculture farmer or gardener would tend to think of guilds as being composed of plants, an ecologist would look to the mutual and/or symbiotic interactions between organisms of entirely different kingdoms of life as a guild (Leveque 2003, 137). Microbiologist and Darwinian author Lynn Margulis defines symbiosis broadly as "the innate living together of two or more organisms, called symbionts, of two different species" (Margulis 1987, 103). This paper's approach is to include the human as an earthling among many others (animal, vegetable, microbial) that participates (or fails to participate) in the ecological space that all earthlings share. Hence, the example of the particular soil food web guild that we will be exploring here includes the shared habitats of animals (including humans), microbes, and plants as this guild unfolds in and upon the soil (leaving out for the time being a fuller account including fungi). Our living habits are shared with others to the degree that we humans tap ourselves into the nutrient cycle shared by other members of the soil food web guild by eating and defecating according to our necessities, tastes and desires. For instance, plant and animal waste becomes accessible to plants as food primarily through the decomposing work of organisms within the soil, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods (bugs), earthworms, and gastropods (slugs) (Lowenfels and Lewis 2006, 20). Our feces contains a potent blend of microbes to add to this mix. Since earthlings on the surface of the soil contribute to the depths of the soil, the soil food web encompasses the interactions of the surface as well through the nutrient cycle.

All too often this scene is rendered in lush objective detail without the material input of humans and their remains as an element of this above- and below-ground scenery; it is only in marginalized accounts of agriculture that one encounters the role that humans play as earth-making animals in a farm or garden ecosystem [2]. This is a role beyond our self-characterization as thinking and pondering would-be cultivators, stretching instead to the level of our productive material addition to the soil food web (namely our urine and feces -- two matters we do not know how to utilize or socialize). All earthlings produce this potent form of proto-earth that must first be consumed, digested and recomposed through processes of decomposition, making the excess nutrients available to plants, which then convert it through their own complicated "feeding" process into plant matter and fruits that are again consumed by earthlings of all sorts. The mundane eating and defecating tendencies shared by all earthlings is the basis of a renewed materialist alliance with the Earth since it is through our animal physicality that the nutrient cycle flows. Hence, although the Earth and its earthlings share what may be called flesh (organic and nonorganic matters), it is what passes through and is exchanged by flesh that is key for an understanding of the soil food web. Acknowledging the matter of all things as a unity of substance -- the flesh of the world -- is an extremely helpful thought experiment that challenges our understanding of our embeddedness in an immanent world. However, for the specific purposes here, this approach seems to reveal a static world, where instead I am trying to articulate a dynamic translation of nutrients as they are ferried forth, exchanged, and brought from feces to fork, or bowel to bowl, through a soil food web with which we are intimate.

I've focused on this nutrient cycle that passes through our bodies because I wanted to first illustrate a direct material tie to the soil that we carry within our gut -- a material flow, feeding the earth and, further down, a richly complex food web: feeding earthlings. From this direct material anchor, I want to move into a consideration of the more indirect communicative anchor that the majority of earthlings share: the chemical sign.

Sebeok and the Chemical Sign

The chemical sign is a field of communication that many different organisms share. Sebeok states that "any form of energy propagation can be utilized for communication" and as a result "visual and auditory signaling do not exhaustively characterize the devices at the disposal of living things, for these include tactile, thermal, and electric physical patterns as well" (Sebeok 1967, 557). If we understand the energy propagation that chemical reactions produce as a form of signaling, then those senses that we humans consider to be the senses directly associated with discerning true from false (the visual and auditory channels of communication that do a significant amount of work orienting us humans in our cultural and physical worlds) become relegated to a minor position in a soil food web run on a chemical communicative channel that is inseparable from the nutrient cycle.

The German biologist Jakob von Uexküll defined the subjective spatiotemporal life-worlds of living organisms as Umwelten, and sought to show how different perceptual and effectual processes in living organisms could exist side by side (in a meadow, for instance), yet be entirely invisible to one another (Uexküll 1992, 5-7). Some perceptual and effectual processes are not shared between species, yet others (such as smell and taste) share a chemical channel of communication by "listening-in-on" the emissions of numerous life-forms and -processes, and could be said to be an Umwelten less "invisible" to other living beings. Because every living creature circulates chemicals within its body or "gives-off" these chemicals as emissions (hormones, wastes, pheromones, nutrients, and so on), the chemical channel exists both within bodies and between them (i.e. between organisms and species); it is a channel of communication that is difficult to isolate and control since fragrances tend to dissipate, waft, drift and linger, and since anything can be tasted to see if it is either good or bad to eat (Sebeok 1967, 550). As a result, a chemical sign is shared (as a pheromone is shared between members of the same species, or as bait for members of another), or is not (as a fragrance cues another species into the existence of something to be attained or avoided). Thus, although a chemical sign's function in the Umwelt of one earthling differs from that of another, it does not necessarily mean that the signal stops at this difference. The chemical emission will drift into another organism's Umwelt, triggering a response even though they were not supposed to respond to it.

The two main ways in which chemicals are sensed by the majority of the earth's organisms is through smell and taste: "smell brings us awareness of distant features in our surroundings, [while] taste is immediate and therefore less obviously communicative" (Sebeok 1967, 550). I want to look at an example of taste first and try to illustrate the way in which it is translated to smell in a passage that goes from one earthling to another, from the microscopic to the macroscopic; these are less two distinct points held together by an aporia than intensities within a chemical channel that is sensed and translated throughout a multiplicity of Umwelten.

First, consider how this immediacy of taste functions at the level of the soil microcosmos through the immediate communication between bacteria within a given species, as well as between kingdoms through autoinducers, or quorum sensing. The term quorum sensing carries the obvious connotation of political decision making once a certain number of members has been assembled. Biologically, it means that the bacteria use their "feeding" activities to sense their "number" in order to "determine" whether or not a "decision" can be made to divide their labor and begin composing a biofilm habitat ("are there enough of us to make this venture worthwhile?"):

Bacteria produce and release signaling molecules (called autoinducers) that accumulate in the environment as the cell density increases. When a certain threshold is achieved a signaling transduction cascade is triggered and leads finally to a change in behavior by increasing the production of the signaling molecules and leading to other individual changes (Schwarz 2008).

Examples of behavioral changes include the regulation of gene expression in relation to increasing cell population density (where bacteria literally begin exhibiting different traits) (Schwarz 2008), as well as the construction of matrices of "sugars, proteins and DNA" called a biofilm that acts as a means of transportation throughout the rhizosphere and habitat ("complete with an infrastructure of channels filled with water for transporting nutrients and waste") and as a defense against the antibiotics produced by other organisms (Lowenfels and Lewis 2006, 49). One author uses the metaphor of cities to describe these biofilm structures (Mojica, 2007). What is perhaps most important to note here is the way in which bacteria sense "quorum" immediately, crystallizing their random wanderings into a concerted effort to build a microclimate for themselves that is more habitable and protective for increased feeding and reproductive processes. The eating habits of the bacteria, insofar as they cross a threshold of number, produce habitats they then inhabit. But this emergent event is in no way based on anything we humans could fathom in the word "taste": nutrients are dissolved into the surface of bacteria's body through an entirely tactile biochemical process that is bound up with their motility. The tactile biochemical processes of moving-about, scavenging, and "digesting" surrounding environs seems to lump taste, smell and touch all in one perceptual and effectual Umwelt.

The obvious effect of this process of creating more habitable spaces is a multiplication of the number of bacteria at work decomposing animal and vegetable matter, breaking down nutrients into more usable forms for both plant and animal life, and in the process creating what we would call fertile soil. Once this quorum is achieved, the fragrant emissions produced by the feeding frenzy waft into the nostrils of would-be cultivators: if the soil smells like feces and food waste, then the cultivator is sure to leave the decomposing mass of proto-soil alone for some time, but if it smells like a forest floor, then the cultivator can be sure to plant seed or seedlings. A translation occurs here, and an "intentional" series of signals between bacteria become translated into cues or signs to which earthlings further up the food chain can respond.

The immediacy of quorum sensing leaves a trace of its frenzy in a lingering scent. Hence, in the cultivator's relation to the soil food web, we find an interspecies signaling system at work in the simple act of smelling the soil: the gardener smells the emissions of millions of microorganisms that tell him or her that the soil is more or less ready and able to support vigorous plant growth. Put into C.S. Peirce's language, the emissions of chemicals from aerobic bacteria and fungi at work in a healthy soil act like a demonstrative pronoun that "forces the [gardener's] attention to the particular object intended without describing it" (Sebeok 1967, 551). This nondescriptive and nonlinguistic force directs the cultivator to a given patch of soil, a given site that emits either an immediate feature of the environment (such as the smell of billions of bacteria still at work feeding on vegetable and animal material) or a distant feature -- distant in either space (like the fungal mat that stretches throughout the length of your garden and your neighbour's garden) or in time (like the long completed decomposition of an unharvested potato in your garden).

The fresh smell of the soil inadvertently attests to the processes of the ecosystem itself -- whether the soil has a high degree of humus, whether the soil has been aided or abetted by the care of a cultivator, and so on -- and marks the point at which the compost heap is ready. When the compost heap is sensed by the cultivator, a response is elicited to the chemical emissions that the quorum sensing bacteria produce through their very life processes. This is clearly a simplified account of the impossibly complicated mixture of emissions that make their way to the cultivator's nose -- we could never hope to map the entire chemical channel of the soil food web and the ways that each earthling within the web participates in inter-mixtures of chemical signs -- but it illustrates the translation that occurs from the microbial Umwelt of soil bacteria to the cultivator's Umwelt along the chemical channel that emerged in the soil food web. The cultivating earthling waits for the right conditions to begin its task and, in doing so, also senses quorum, but this time within the wider habitat of the garden or farm itself, within which numerous species and kingdoms of life interact.

In what ways is growing food according to the rhythms of the season not some form of auto-induction that divides my labors between necessary tasks for the time of year, transforming the very expressions of my body in relation to the Earth's? For the growing season, one's garden becomes a city, a biofilm enabling the passage of nutrients between earthlings of differing species and kingdom. A farm's dynamic system of nutrient transfer and exchange -- the ensured supply of feed and the disposal of waste -- is extended beyond the eating and defecating habits of its larger members (humans and other farm animals) during the growing season when compost piles heat-up and the soil thaws. Biofilms autoinduced by bacteria are rapidly constructed around decomposing plant and animal matters, speeding the process of nutrient exchange and acting as a major boon to growth itself. The solar energy of spring and summer and the thawed biofilms -- the microscopic links of the nutrient cycle -- grow life itself. The fruits of this process feed earthlings into the winter and the next season. In this sense cultivation entails waiting for ripeness, or more specifically, waiting with uncertainty for a number of ripe times: when is the best time to plant? when is the compost ready to be spread? when is the best time to harvest? and so on. Not only is cultivation a sense of the ripe time, but it is also the sense of the time of many different Umwelten that channel their life processes into a growing season. The translation of the chemical sign -- starting with the quorum sensing bacteria and ending with the cultivator's nose -- is a passage from one time to another: from the immediacy of taste to the distance of smell; from an almost instantaneously built biofilm to the drawn out and measured orchestrations of the cultivator's efforts.

Whose History, What History?

This uncertainty that the cultivator feels in the face of the complexity of the soil food web and the question of the ripe time gives way to a practiced art of waiting, tending and experimenting -- never to a self-doubting, self-recursive loop of subjectification, but rather an uncertainty in relation to a complicated, dynamic habitat that will induct him or her into its richness when the time is right. In Gilles Deleuze's words, uncertainty "is not a doubt foreign to what is happening, but rather an objective structure of the event itself" (Deleuze 1990, 3). Our relation to the future and the past that impinges on our present through either our expectations about the potential growth of the soil or through the fragrances of its past decompositions is a relation characterized by uncertainty. René Descartes' liberal use of uncertainty as a tool unsullied by his task ("to destroy generally all my former opinions... if I can find in each some ground of doubt") begins with a skepticism towards accepted truths acquired from the senses (Descartes 1951, 17-18). In The Logic of Sense Deleuze transforms the way that uncertainty can be employed. By pulling uncertainty down from its position as a sort of "transcendental knife" that is capable of scrutinizing and severing the subject's relationship to the objective world, Deleuze employs uncertainty as an objective structure of the event itself (Deleuze 1990, 3). Uncertainty is not a sterile tool, foreign to what is happening and therefore able to intervene in the event without sullying or infecting its objective conditions. This concept of uncertainty is further elaborated in Guattari's Three Ecologies where uncertainty lies somewhere "between the apprehension of the object and the apprehension of the subject; so that, to articulate them both, one is compelled to make a pseudo-narrative detour through the annals of myth and ritual or through supposedly scientific accounts" (Guattari 2000, 37-38). It is this "pseudo-narrative detour" through myth, ritual, and science that we need to employ in our efforts to cultivate alliances with the soil food web in an interdisciplinary manner.

Isabelle Stengers' concept of the Darwinian author articulates this space of uncertainty with respect to the apprehension of the soil and the apprehension of the cultivator in their roles as members of the soil food web guild mentioned earlier.

Stengers identifies the "Darwinian author" with a new style of narrating the fictions that make history. In "Who Is the Author?" she questions the style of scientific narration that is characterized by the scientist who rests his or her case on the reliable witness of invention (or experimental apparatus) (Stengers 1997, 170). Stengers is speaking here of those scientists who back-up their right to speak for nature (or, conversely, those scientists whose work can be questioned according to the degree to which they have or have not made nature speak) with experimental apparatus (Stengers 1997, 170). "Was the result forced somehow by the hand of man?"; "Did this result emerge naturally?"; "In what way can you legitimately represent nature?" "Are your sound judgments supported by demonstration?" and so on. The question here is one of alibis and reliable witnesses rather than grand evolutionary histories that attempt to account for new data in an accumulative manner. It is in this latter vein of the life sciences and evolutionary history that Stengers marks the emergence of a new Darwinian style of scientific narration (Stengers 1997, 170).

Darwinian authors, Stengers argues, have an ethos characterized by a strong passion and interest in the "invention of the earth and the living beings that inhabit it as witness to a long, slow history" (Stengers 1997, 171). This is an ethos of an altogether different power of invention than that harnessed by scientists to demonstrate scientific truth through the use of mechanical apparatus. This new ethos is not out for an explanation of living beings but a constitution of them, a constitution as witnesses to a history (Stengers 1997, 171). Recounting a history "whose interest lies in the fact that one does not know a priori what history it is a question of", the Darwinian style unfolds like a "whodunit": "how can one explain this type of behavior, this anatomical form, this mode of reproduction?" (Stengers 1997, 171). In Stengers' own words:

Each of these explanations is local: none of them confers on the author the power to silence other authors, who investigate other intriguing traits. And yet, the Darwinian authors have managed "to make history together," that is, to make the testimony of one domain intervene in the description of others (Stengers 1997, 170).

The intervention of descriptions within one another, the narrating of history together, the locality of each explanation, the lack of silencing power, and the forever unanswered question of what history we are dealing with, enable a collective description of the soil food web that emphasizes a long slow history behind the composition of its interacting and enmeshed interspecies relations (Stengers 1997, 170).

If our uncertainty extends beyond the spatial bounds of the human subject and the observed object (existing between the apprehension of both as Guattari suggests), then what are the temporal bounds that uncertainty straddles? To approach this question, I employ Deleuze's notion of the times of Aion and Chronos to understand better the meaning of soil as the result of a "long and slow history" where our present is paradoxically both a sliver of time (so small it would seem instantaneous at the geologic register) and a deep and measurable present.

Aion is set up in distinction to Chronos for Deleuze, but in no way are they held apart. Like many of the concepts invented in The Logic of Sense, Aion and Chronos are enmeshed and are to be thought together as, perhaps, paradoxically both mutually exclusive and mutually constitutive. Chronos is a conception of time in which the present fills time, making the past and the future "relative to the present in time" (Deleuze 1990, 162). To the time of Chronos, the present has presence -- it is a measurable mixture of corporeal qualities. Ultimately, Deleuze argues, in Chronos it is God who resides over a present that encompasses both the future and past of our more limited mortal perception. The familiar approach to this is the conception that the entire History of our universe -- as excruciatingly long as it is to us lowly humans -- is but one deep "blink of an eye" in the present of God. In the time of Chronos, the creation and destruction of the universe is but one exhalation and inhalation of God. From within the time of Chronos, however, a question arises for Deleuze (which I think is also a question that a soil ecologist would ask of a Platonist): "Is there not a fundamental disturbance of the present, that is, a ground which overthrows and subverts all measure, a becoming-mad of depths which slips away from the present?" (Deleuze 1990, 163). Further still, "the pure and measureless becoming of qualities threatens the order of qualified bodies from within" (Deleuze 1990, 164). It is this disturbance of the present which corrupts Chronos and opens the way for a conception of a present devoid of measure, a present that is disturbed by the multiple and immeasurable past and future. The depths of the soil food web and all of its many Umwelten, its many interacting Umwelten, are immeasurable, and yet they clearly decompose and recompose waste and food. "The order of qualified bodies" of the present of Chronos have beneath them, within them, and through them a "measureless becoming of qualities" which slips beyond the measure of the present, hinting at instants beyond the pale of the human Umwelt, or the divine Umwelt -- if not for their miniscule contributions, then for their partial, incomplete and impure contributions to the Earth (Deleuze 1990, 164).

From the vantage point of contemporary environmentalism, our present seems to be the fleeting and non-measurable instant between a deep and geologic past and a future characterized by disastrous (for humans) feedback loops that test our expectations and our knowledge. The temporal perspective of environmentalism is very much dominated by Aion, which considers the present as always divided between the future and past -- a present emptied of its presence and measure, so to speak; a present sabotaged by a multiplicity of future and past times of which human time is only one among innumerable others. Likewise, the present is also vast in its complexity, which, when it is not corrupting the time of Chronos from within its depths, is reinforcing the all-pervasive present of Chronos through the qualities of its diverse rhythms: even the microbial body, although incessantly evolving its functions in relation to the environment, is still characterized by the tendency to eat and defecate, live and die. Chronos envelops the depths even in their most radical becoming-mad, yet the becoming-mad of the depths envelops the present of Chronos in-turn, bringing the future and the past (that is to say, the concept of history and the time of Aion) to bear on the self-same time of Chronos, squeezing it down to a sliver of time between an overbearing past and future.

The present of Chronos is not totally eclipsed, but is rather a sliver of eternity that bursts through the overbearing past and future, becoming event in the process. Perhaps this sliver of Chronos within the time of Aion is akin to Deleuze's notion of the singularity that likewise collapses the chaotic plane of immanence into an event that reverberates throughout time (becoming an element of the overbearing time of Aion). It is through the puncture produced by this sliver of time, by this instantaneous and reduced Chronos, that Aion is again reconstituted, since the sliver of present becomes, instantly, of the time of Aion. Uncertainty, then, insofar as it is an "objective structure of the event," is situated between the unqualified depth of Chronos and the immeasurable future and past of Aion (Deleuze 1990, 3). Uncertainty lies between the apprehensions of the subject and the object, as well as the time of Chronos and Aion, and it is, therefore, according to Deleuze's philosophical standpoint, an objective structure of the event since the event subsists in this in-between space of subject and object, and this in-between time of Chronos and Aion.


The material anchor, or alliance, of our eating and defecating habits with the soil and what is called its fertility -- its ability to continually bear fruit -- signals our membership in a community of earthlings that share a soil food web guild through the nutrient cycle that pervades all life. The chemical channel, moving between the immediacies of taste to the spatiotemporal distance offered by smell, helps us consider the cultivating earthling's relationship to the uncertainty of the time for planting: we respond to the signs of the soil and interact with the soil accordingly. The history of both the past and the future of the eating and defecating tendencies of earthlings is thus a history "whose interest lies in the fact that one does not know a priori what history it is a question of" (Stengers 1997, 171). By approaching the soil through our efforts to cultivate it, we face this question of what history we are a component part of, or whether we are an essential component part of any history of soil whatsoever. This uncertainty, however, is no reason to turn inward and begin doubting the truth of the external world within which one is embedded. Instead, this uncertainty is tangled-up with the earth, in such a manner that we cannot untangle or unravel it from the earth without reverting back to an account that prioritizes either the objective rigor of scientific observation or the subjective fluidity of narrative, not to mention the practiced art of practice itself -- the habit of doing things to the earth in certain ways. Again, to return to Guatarri's insistence, we must articulate subject and object (and, I would add, Chronos and Aion) by making a "pseudo-narrative detour through the annals of myth and ritual or through supposedly scientific accounts" (Guattari 2000, 37-38). Through this mixture of "fictions" (some with power, others without) we may begin asking (though not coming to terms or becoming comfortable with) questions such as: is human history actually just an evolutionary history of a complicated type of container or a habitat for the more primary bacterial life inside of us, as Lynn Margulis argues? Is the history of fungus perhaps a better place to begin taking into account the keystone of terrestrial earthling life [3]? Humbling questions such as these seem to offer only more to consider, and I hope that the tendencies of the Darwinian style leave the interaction between disciplines and practices as fresh as the interactions between earthlings leave the earth. The degree that we practice this pseudo-narrative whereby we make connections across practices and sciences in favor of uncontainable complexities is the degree to which we pay heed to Deleuze and Guattari's insistence on an anexact science "not rigorous in the sense that it is at the core of all other sciences," but rather authorizing "passage between exactitude and anexactitude without granting any privilege to one or the other (Beauliea 2009, 266) [4]. In this way science is neither held above nor cast below, but rather couples itself with practices on an equilateral plane. The present of soil is a present devoid of measure because it is unknowably deep; it is a present that is disturbed by the past and the future, which are both multiple and immeasurable and which intervene in the soil's matter and communicative structure in those events of heightened salience and sense.


[1] "The Farm In Education." The Acadia Community Farm. Nov. 3, 2009. (accessed Jan. 16, 2011).

[2] This appreciation of human feces as an integral element of soil fertility on the farm was first articulated in F.H. King's Farmers of Forty Centuries: or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea and Japan. King's inspiration came from southeast Asian agriculture at the turn of the twentieth century, and his documentation of these practices formed the early basis of permanent agriculture or permaculture, as it is known today.

[3] The mycologist Paul Stamets would suggest as much. From the fungal view of Earth history, catastrophic asteroid impacts and the 6 year solar blackouts produced by their debris clouds presented plant and animal life with a decisive choice: either symbiotically team with fungus (which was not so dependant on solar energy) or perish -- a necessary unity between two distinct kingdoms of life that has been favored in evolutionary history. Today we have the symbiotic bond between mycoherrzal fungi and nearly all plant life on earth to thank for the soil food web we know today, and through this history, we have to thank also the history of catastrophic asteroid impacts (Stamets 2005, 3).

[4] "Nomad science is confronted with change by following the 'connections between singularities', and the vague essences that it comes across 'are nothing other than haecceities' (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 369); in other words, non-personal singularities (an hour of the day, a sky blue, a refrain or ritournelle, etc.). It does not seek any generality of the type 'individual essence' or 'universal singularity' (these are the pride of phenomenological science)" (Beauliea 2009, 266).

Works Cited Acadia Community Farm. "The Farm In Education." Nov. 3, 2009. (accessed Nov. 2010).

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Stefan R. D. Morales is working towards the completion of his MA in political science through Acadia University. His thesis -- entitled "Soil Genealogy" -- is on the political history of soil over the past 100 years. Morales is currently co-director of The Wayward School (, a multidisciplinary cooperative school in Victoria, BC.

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